New Health Exchanges vs. McDonald’s Health Insurance

Over at Balloon Juice, E.D. Kain compares the numbers and finds that the new health exchanges are a much better deal than the health insurance offered under the golden arches, insurance that the restaurant will reportedly have to dump due to provisions in the Affordable Care Act. Boiled down to a paper-thin but extra-greasy hamburger patty: McDonald's tossing out their healthcare benefits won't be such a tragedy for its employees. E.D. says, "And if I were a McDonald’s employee, I’d be hoping against hope that I could lose the crappy mini-med plans and get onto an exchange as quickly as possible." Of course, being a step up from McDonald's quality isn't exactly a heart-filled endorsement, though it may prove healthier for the heart.

Per Caritatem’s New Series: “Violence and Christian Holy Writ”

Cynthia R. Nielsen has begun a series on her fine blog Per Caritatem called "Violence and Christian Holy Writ." A guest post by yours truly starts the series. I write about how interpreting God as actually having commanded genocide elevates the role of violence in the Christian narrative.

A Long Train of Abuses and Usurpations

Andrew Sullivan's statement that the person targeted in Obama's secretive killing program, "a single American al Qaeda terrorist in a foreign country actively waging war," is merely "a pretty isolated example" misses the point of concern that Alex Massie and others have with the program.  The propositions offered by the administration that it has the legal right to kill al-Awlaki and that its legal right cannot be challenged by a court of law establish a president, a mode of operation, in a word, a power.  It qualifies as one example in a long chain of abuses and usurpations, to use the words of the Declaration, that continues back to the administrations of Bush and Clinton and their predecessors. It ain't isolated in the least.

Daniel Larison adds:
The objection that this power is only going to be used against “those who wish to kill us” trusts that the government is never going to abuse its power and that the government is never going to make a mistake. One of the main reasons why we have due process is the assumption that governments routinely abuse their power and frequently make mistakes.  Has the last decade of American history already vanished from our memories?

Consider how many people were wrongfully rounded up and detained at Guantanamo for years, and then suppose that they were all U.S. citizens, and further suppose that instead of being illegally detained they had all been killed by government forces (after all, they were “terrorists”!). According to this administration, not only would the government be within its rights to kill all those people (because they were “those who wish to kill us”), but that for the sake of national security there can be no oversight, no review and no accountability for the decision to kill them. These are the tactics of military governments, dictatorships and colonial empires. If we adopt those tactics, or acquiesce in them because “we are at war,” we will be embracing the legacy of those regimes.
We are on the dark road to tyranny, but not because we're striving for universal healthcare. Ours is fast becoming a government that can spy, detain, and even kill without accountability. These are the powers unlawfully and unjustly claimed by the current government that should most have the Tea Party in fits of outrage, but too many of them are quite content with the growth of the centralized, secretive Salvific State. Christine O'Donnell, for example, summarizes (expounds?) her position on security with the sentence, "Believes terrorism is an act of war requiring the full force of our intelligence and military resources rather than granting terrorists precious Constitutional rights and outsourcing our foreign policy to the U.N."  Hers is not the belief of someone interested in limiting intelligence and military power, but of someone who would have that power endlessly increased to its "full force" in order to keep us safe. 

Marrying Mythologies

The boy on why he, as a Jedi, has the ability to fly: "My force has fairy dust in it."

State Secrets and Surveillance

Hot on the heels of the Obama administration's offering State secrets as a basis for the dismissal of a lawsuit over its targeting of a U.S. citizen for killing, U.S. officials are proposing a bill that would, according to the New York Times, "require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct 'peer to peer' messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order."  The State must have its secrets in order to keep us safe, but it must have access to our private communications if officials deem it necessary to survey them for our security.  And that assumes the officials doing the surveillance have our safety and best interests at heart, and assumption unwise to make.

It gets worse.  Julian Sanchez adds: "if I understand it correctly, the proposal would insist on a centralized (and therefore less secure) architecture for secure communications, as opposed to an end-to-end model where encryption is handled client-side. In effect, the government is insisting on the right to make a macro-design choice between competing network models for thousands of companies."  A Salvific State must be a Surveillance State, and a Surveillance State must control the surveillance technology.  Sanchez notes some other problems with the proposal, at least insofar as we understand it.  The bill isn't yet a bill, and I hope it never will be.

Journalism Happens

It's amazing what you can accomplish by asking questions.

"The Least of My Brothers"

"I like talking about people who don’t have any power, and it seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come in and do our work, but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet, we still ask them to come here, and at the same time, ask them to leave. And that’s an interesting contradiction to me, and um… You know, 'whatsoever you did for the least of my brothers,' and these seemed like the least of my brothers, right now. A lot of people are 'least brothers' right now, with the economy so hard, and I don’t want to take anyone’s hardship away from them or diminish it or anything like that. But migrant workers suffer, and have no rights."

- Stephen Colbert (himself, not the satirical character he plays)

If I Were Making The Hobbit Movie

When Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, he hadn't developed everything that would be given life in The Lord of the Rings, yet we today can read the former work in light of the latter. Peter Jackson and company may have this interpretive setting in mind while they're writing The Hobbit, and I hope they do, because I for one would like to see a 10-year-old Aragorn in Rivendell and Legolas make an appearance in Mirkwood. These would be the minimum additions I'd incorporate into the film were I running the show. What would you include given your knowledge of a fully-developed Middle-earth?

Secret Killings

Only a fool would have taken Barack Obama for some kind of peacenik, but I had figured his reach for more extensive wartime powers would not have extended as far as McCain's.  I'm less sure of that speculation with each passing day.  The Washington Post reports that "the Obama administration urged a federal judge early Saturday to dismiss a lawsuit over its targeting of a U.S. citizen for killing overseas, saying that the case would reveal state secrets."  Glenn Greenwald summarizes what this means:  "...not only does the President have the right to sentence Americans to death with no due process or charges of any kind, but his decisions as to who will be killed and why he wants them dead are "state secrets," and thus no court may adjudicate their legality."  We'd be fools to trust President Obama, anyone else, or any governmental body with this power.

On Stephen Colbert's Really Outrageous Act

"Critics aren't attacking the substance of Colbert's remarks, they're attacking his technique: that garish and unbefitting trope 'irony.'  [...] On a related note, where was all this outrage when Stephen Colbert dropped out of 'The Venture Brothers?'"

- James Urbaniak


I have compiled here my writings and posts pertaining to my daughter Vivian Marie, who was born in 2009 and died 15 hours after her birth due to the fatal conditional of anencephaly from which she suffered.  The page can also be reached by clicking the link titled "Vivian's Story" under the heading "Pages" in the right-hand column.

A Prayer to St. Vivian

O Beloved Daughter, Child of the Son,
Frail and mighty sister,
To whom our cherished memories run,
You came to us with coo and stir,
Splendid as a lively plume,
Breathing, rooting, bubbling; little sufferer,
Now that you have passed your doom,
And found your holy peace,
We bring to you our hopes this day, your heart so full of room.
Speak for us, and words release,
That we may live and love,
Sing for all the world today, that joy may never cease.

Unprepared for the Past

News reached us Sunday that close friends of my wife's family had just unexpectedly lost their 36-week-old daughter after an emergency C-section.  The baby had no heartbeat at her birth, and while the medical professionals were able to restart her heart, she passed away shortly after being care-flighted to a big-city hospital.  Neither parent was able to be with her when she passed.

I'm not sure and have no interest in knowing whether it is worse to lose a child knowing ahead of time that time is terribly limited, as my wife and I experienced last year, or to lose a child all of a sudden, with no warning and no expectation, as this couple experienced this past weekend.  I took the news harder than I would have expected, feeling grief and anger, especially anger.  I felt sick for them, for the insurmountable sorrow that now tears at their hearts and will always pain their steps in life.  It is the unbearable, impossible pain that comes when the death of a beloved breaks one's soul. 

This coming Thursday will be our deceased daughter Vivian's first birthday.  Though I can never forget the eternally-treasured moments of our 15 hours together, nor her last gasps for air that passed between her parched, tender lips, I strangely feel as though I have yet to experience her life and death, as if all that we went through has yet to occur.  I feel altogether unprepared for what took place in the past.  I can't escape or explain this feeling.  I seem both present now and lost in time a year ago, the present moment of sad memories but an uncertain possibility.  At times my memories, the passage of time, and the world around me all seem strangely unreal, like a half-worked out unwritten story muddled in the mind of an author.  Like scenes I'm merely imagining.  I experience fear that I won't have the strength to endure the heartache and loss or the heart to enjoy the outpouring of love for which my soul yearns.  Perhaps I feel this way now because I know of others who now suffers so wretchedly.  It's a very bewildering experience, in any event.  

Overheard at Dawn

"My cuddles have lots of hugs in them," said my young cuddly son with his always hoped for morning cheerfulness.  Now those are words by which to start the day.

Overheard at the Dinner Table

"What's a vampire, Mom?" asked our preschool age son at dinner this evening, taking us both by surprise.  We hadn't read him any books about vampires, nor shown him films containing the blood-sucking undead.  We didn't expect that there was this entry minus a definition in the boy's mental monster bestiary.  My wife kept the answer vague, telling him that vampires are make-believe monsters, and left it at that.  His follow up question enlightened us on his frame of reference: "Then...what's a vampire slayer?" he asked.  Ah, yes.  We probably should cease and desist talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer when we're in hearing range of the little guy.  Alas, Whedon's works have a way of entering one's conversation at any given moment. 

Ten Things about Tolkien

Mental Floss lists some lesser known facts. An example:
Tolkien’s academic writings on Old Norse and Germanic history, language and culture were extremely popular among the Nazi elite, who were obsessed with recreating ancient Germanic civilization. But Tolkien was disgusted by Hitler and the Nazi party, and made no secret of the fact. He considered forbidding a German translation of The Hobbit after the German publisher, in accordance with Nazi law, asked him to certify that he was an “Aryan.”  Instead, he wrote a scathing letter asserting, among other things, his regret that he had no Jewish ancestors. His feelings are also evidenced in a letter he wrote to his son: “I have in this War a burning private grudge—which would probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler … Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light.”
Hat tip: Heines Site

Misunderstanding the "Crazy (tm)"

In the comment section of my post on Christine O'Donnell over at Vox Nova, Josh Marshall, whom I had criticized, corrects my understanding of what he and the other writers at Talking Points Memo have meant by the jargon phrase "Crazy (tm)."  I had took him to be characterizing as crazy O'Donnell's run-of-the-mill Catholic beliefs about masturbation, when, according to him, the expression is used "to refer to the more antic and extreme rightwing political talk and campaigning." He writes: "I’m well aware of Catholic doctrine on this issue. And regardless of Catholic doctrine, I wouldn’t think believing masturbation is wrong would be crazy, even though I find it foolish."  I can't say I agree with his calling the Catholic view foolish, but nonetheless, as my post branched off from a misunderstanding of his jargon, I think it important to air the correction.

The expression still bothers me, though.  While there are political views I wouldn't hesitate to call crazy, I don't find "Crazy (tm)" to be a very helpful expression for antic-heavy and extreme political discourse.  Jargon of its kind isn't generally my cup of tea, but were I to categorize some talk as "Crazy (tm)," I'd reserve the phrase for discourse that actually crossed the line into the certifiably nutty.

Update:  Andrew Sullivan says I had a point in my previous post.

Glenn Beck on Collective Salvation

As every Catholic should know, the Catholic Church preaches collective salvation: there is no salvation outside of community, outside of the Mystical Body of Christ.  According to Catholicism, there is no individual salvation.  An isolated individual who has never had contact with another human person may be saved, says the Church, but even this salvific act, while seemingly separate from any community of believers, takes place within a mystical community.  The Church is more than the visible institution.  Furthermore, and more foundational, the way in which Christ saved humanity implies collective salvation: Christ shared in our humanity so that human beings could share in his divinity.  For God so loved the world, says the Gospel.  Collective salvation is at the heart of traditional Christian soteriology, whether or not an institution like the Church is necessary.  Daniel Larison notes:
Traditional soteriology in the patristic era taught that Christ assumed human nature like ours in every respect except for sin, which meant that He assumed a sinless humanity that was substantiated in His Person, the Person of the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity. Many of the early doctrinal controversies centered around the assumption that Christ must have assumed the whole of human nature in order to heal it. Through the Incarnation and Resurrection, Christ united our nature with God and redeemed our nature from death and sin. Christ’s saving act was already accomplished then. Of course, it is our responsibility to respond to God’s condescension by willingly entering into and remaining in communion with Him in His Church, but properly speaking the New Adam lifted up all of humanity through His saving Passion and Resurrection. God accomplished our salvation collectively in our nature before salvation could be realized personally through free will. Indeed, the one had to come before the other was even possible.
As a lapsed Catholic turned Mormon, Glenn Beck wouldn't be expected to believe this, especially as Mormonism doesn't preach a Trinitarian baptism or share traditional Christianity's understanding of Christ's two natures.  It is odd for him, though, to say that collective salvation is from the devil, from Satan, and not from God, which seems to imply that Christianity itself was born of the Prince of Lies.  Beck defines what he means by "collective salvation," but this definition is also very odd.  He says it means that "unless we all are saved, none will be saved," a meaning that not only doesn't correspond to the actual historical meaning of the term, but that doesn't really point to any prominent or even moderately-known theological position. I'm not aware of anyone who actually holds this view of salvation, though I suppose they may be out there.  They certainly are not in any way a threat to the "individual rights" that so concern Beck and that he wants every minister, priest, pastor, and rabbi to preach about from the pulpit.

Beck sees religious and theological matters through the cloudy, scratched, and stained lens of political categories reduced to buzzwords.  He rails with passion and awkward pauses against social justice, collective salvation, and liberation theology without the slightest indication that he knows what these words mean.  He seems to think they offend against his political philosophy of individualism, and they do, because his philosophy is actually very much at odds with Christianity.  Given the extent to which Beck conflates and confuses religious and political categories, he's not someone Christians can reasonably uphold as a champion of their faith or as a defender of sound politics.  He's a false prophet, silly to be sure, but, given his influence, a figure to take seriously.

A Limited Defense of Christine O'Donnell [Updated]

I usually find Josh Marshall's political analysis informative and beneficial, but I'm afraid to say he's out of his element when he describes Christine O'Donnell's public statements about sexual purity, lust, and masturbation as indicative of the "Crazy (tm)."  The views she expressed on MTV in the 90's amount to snippets of biblical and traditional Christian teachings on the subjects.  The New Testament attributes to Jesus the saying that adultery is committed with a look of lust.  The Catholic Catechism makes a pretty darn clear statement on the moral gravity of masturbation.  Marshall doesn't agree with O'Donnell here, and granted her views aren't culturally mainstream, but they hardly qualify as crazy.  It's not as though O'Donnell now wishes to stone adulterers and homosexuals or criminalize impure thoughts and sexual self-stimulation.  Those would be crazy.  Sarah Posner astutely cautions Democrats against overplaying O'Donnell's former campaign against masturbation.  The candidate for the senate has some remarkably troublesome views, but her perspective on sexual morality isn't really among them and doesn't deserve the attention it's received.

[Update: See here.]

What?!?! John Mayer Deleted His Twitter Account?!? Oh No! How Ever Will I Live?

And who is John Mayer, by the way? Anyhow, I would love me some celebrity status and 3.7 million plus followers, but probably not so much fame that my deleting a Twitter account would cause such a cataclysmic commotion that Yahoo News finds it worthy to publish a featured story about it

Whatever.  For those interested, I am on Twitter.  You can read my earth-shattering, mind-altering tweets here.  I promise to keep them free of tiny URLs.  Just my wit and wisdom in 140 characters or fewer.

Oh, and feel free to inform me all about John Mayer in the comment thread.  I so really want to know.

Muslims in America

In the informative video discussion below, Abdullah Antepli and Hussein Rashid converse about the history of Islam in America and what it means to be a Muslim living in the States and contributing to the American project, a political experiment they both admire and support.  Their conversation brings to light how much is missed and distorted by our collective memory and imagination, which are informed more by recent geopolitical events and acts of barbarism and terrorism, not to mention media-constructed narratives, than by less recent historical events, from slavery to early twentieth century immigration, or by the stories of Muslim American clerics, scholars, scientists, professionals, and others who have dreamed the American dream.

Sanctions and Reparations

The sanctions imposed by the United Nations on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait, under which Iraq saw the deaths of hundreds of thousands, mostly children, have not been entirely lifted.  Now it looks as though they may soon be, but not because of the progress made by the Iraqis in their post-Saddam era.  The Christian Science Monitor reports that "Iraq has quietly agreed to pay $400 million in claims to American citizens who say they were tortured or traumatized by Saddam Hussein’s regime after his 1990 invasion of Kuwait." The report continues:
The controversial settlement ends years of legal battles and could help Iraq emerge from United Nations sanctions put in place two decades ago – a step Iraqi leaders see as a prerequisite to becoming fully sovereign.

The Iraqi foreign ministry said the $400 million settlement, signed last week with James Jeffrey, the new US ambassador to Iraq, resolves legal claims inherited from the former regime and was in line with negotiations to end the sanctions.

Settling the claims, which were brought by American citizens, has been seen as a key requirement for Washington to be willing to push for an end to the UN sanctions.
Not surprisingly, the settlement is controversial given that Iraq has a new government now and that its people currently face severe economic hardships, including high unemployment, poverty, and very high infant mortality rates.  The Americans who were tortured and traumatized by the former regime may deserve financial compensation for the crimes against them, but whether the Iraqi people today can be justly made to pay for those crimes, before or after the sanctions are fully lifted, is another matter.  There's a further controversy that has not gone unnoticed: if the U.S. government insists that the Iraqi people pay for past crimes of torture and mistreatment, should it itself not also be willing to pay reparations to Iraqis (and others) who suffered mistreatment at the hands of Americans?  A recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision provides the current administration's answer to that question.

The Tension between my Pluralism and Secularism

I tend to shy away from self-applying labels, though there are a few I happily embrace. One is pluralist, by which I mean that I'm an advocate for pluralism in politics, philosophy, culture, theology, and pretty much every other human endeavor. Expressions of truth are many and cannot fit neatly into any coherent whole. I am also a secularist, by which I mean that I advocate a secular society in which political power is not used to enforce or prohibit behaviors based strictly on religious reasons. I've no qualms with people of all faiths teaching, preaching, or otherwise acting in the public square. I take no issue with religious influences upon our social and political thought. I fully expect that religious beliefs will motivate people to act a certain way in the political sphere. All that's fine and dandy with me. I draw the line at coercing others through the power of the state to think, believe, or act in a way that fits the dictates of a particular religion but has no argument from reason. I’m as much opposed to imposing Biblical law as I am to imposing Sharia law.

Being a pluralist, however, puts me in an odd position here: I object to imposing on the populace a conception of God and religious law, yet I seem to support enshrining in law a particular conception of justice. People no more agree on the meaning of justice than they do on the meaning of the sacred. A philosophy of justice can become as much a comprehensive doctrine as a theology of justice. How can I consistently oppose the one while supporting the other?

My advocacy is not for any one conception of justice to forever reign supreme, but for many conceptions of justice to be brought to the table, discussed, challenged, critiqued, and thoroughly reasoned through. Practicality requires that choices are made even when certainty is nowhere to be found. Today's conception of justice will not adequately meet the demands of justice, but we have to choose and act to get anywhere close to a just society. Yet after choosing, after writing a law or instituting a policy, the key is continued openness to the justice to come, as Derrida would say. Keep the doors open to alternative understandings. Keep the debate about justice going. Always. Because justice is never here. For all our conflicting and differing conceptions of justice, however, we can all arrive at a knowledge of justice through the exercise of reason. Reason is a power shared by all, however different our conceptions and practices of it are. Because we can arrive at justice by way of reason, we can put conceptions of justice to reason's test. Religious laws may or may not be reachable by reason, and therefore may or may not be testable in this way.

Human Rights: Origins and Obligations

In a recent address in Slovakia, Charles Chaput, Catholic Archbishop of Denver Colorado, stated the following:
If human rights do not come from God, then they devolve to the arbitrary conventions of men and women. The state exists to defend the rights of man and to promote his flourishing. The state can never be the source of those rights. When the state arrogates to itself that power, even a democracy can become totalitarian.
The long history of philosophical thought on ethics shows that one needn't posit a divine origin of rights or other ethical concept in order to recognize them, reflect upon them, and have reason to respect and follow them.  Rights therefore do not devolve into arbitrary conventions just because rights are thought apart from God.  They would be (and, frankly, are) conventions of men and women, but being conventional isn't tantamount to being arbitrary.  A society comprised of atheists can come to a sense of rights and adopt a ethical language of rights through a shared dialogue on the meaning of justice.  And seeking to form a just society isn't an arbitrary endeavor.  Besides, even if we say that rights come from God, we still have think about them, put them to the test of reason, and ultimately justify their place in the social order.

From Warrior to Savior: A Child's Play

Now that our son is four, my wife and I have allowed him the pleasure of watching the original Star Wars trilogy, minus a few scenes during which I intentionally prove a better door than a window.  Judging by a fundamental change in the way he plays with Star Wars figures, Playmobil knights, and other action figure toys, I'd say he understands the dramatic theme of the series. 

Prior to seeing the films, his toy heroes would battle his toy villains with the objective of defeating them.  Now his toy heroes try to give his toy villains "a second chance," as he says, so that the villains will cease to be bad guys and join forces with the good guys.  He's picked up and now plays with an important truth about the resolution of moral conflict:  real resolution doesn't come from efforts toward destruction, but efforts toward salvation. 

Had Vader allowed the Emperor to murder his son, the Emperor and presumably the empire would have fallen with the destruction of the second death star, but the real triumph of the story, a triumph in a way infinitely greater than the triumph of the rebel alliance, belonged to Luke and Anakin.  It was the triumph of the soul over evil, a triumph that resulted not from the red and green displays a lightsaber duel, but from familial love, self-sacrifice, and the turning of the heart.  I'm glad to see my son has an inkling of this distinction.

E.D. Kain and Jacques Derrida

Having recently declared his independence from the label "conservative" and responded to reactions his departure inspired, the ever-wayfaring blogger E.D. Kain zeroes in on the political power of language with a paragraph worthy of reflection, whether or not one agrees with his decision not to wear an emblematic uniform.  He writes: 
Never underestimate the power of words and especially the power of words that define who we are and what we believe. Language is politics, and vice versa. And the beauty of English, I suppose, is that it can be vague, it can be loaded with double-meanings, hidden meanings, new meanings. We can coin words as fast as we can think of them. Perhaps I shouldn’t worry so much about what to label myself, but on some level we should all always be thinking our way through – and out of – these tight ideological corners that we’re supposed to sit quietly, unthinkingly, in.
With these words, E.D. Kain touches on the spirit of deconstruction, the philosophical project made famous by Jacques Derrida.  (And, really, if one wishes to walk away from the label "conservative," there are few better options than making friends with the father of deconstruction).  Deconstruction aims at taking apart constructs of language, such as philosophical systems or political ideologies, in an effort to open them up to and expose them to what they exclude.

Why deconstruct?  Because what we exclude with words may be unjustly excluded, or excluded not purely on the basis of the reality to which we refer.  Every word and group of words, from the simplest interjection to the most complex theological framework, sets a dividing line between meaning that is included and meaning that is excluded.  By calling oneself a conservative, liberal, or other such political label, one intends to associate oneself with a meaning expressed by the word and distinguish oneself from the excluded meaning.  Ideally, the boundaries established by a word correspond to that to which the word refers, but such correspondence is rarely if ever perfect.  Words are artificial, and so are their boundaries.  Deconstruction discloses one to how artificial the boundaries of linguistic constructs really are by bringing to the surface the subjective origins and aspects of those boundaries. 

E.D. Kain has thought himself through and out of the label "conservative."  I'm not surprised by this, as E.D.'s blogging style could be summed up as an explicit thinking through, with all its winding paths, treacherous trails, detours and dead ends.  He's come to the conclusion that no meaning of the word "conservative" applies to him.  He's looked at the word from multiple sides and realized it excludes his political philosophy.  In his view, he can no longer justly claim the banner. 

So why do I say that E.D. has touched upon the spirit of deconstruction?  After all, rejecting a label for oneself isn't tantamount to following in the footsteps of Derrida.  I say this because E.D. is a writer who refuses to remain in an ideological corner, quiet and unthinking.  Whatever label he chooses next to sew to his shirt will be attached with hesitation and weak stitching.  He'll constantly be tugging at the badge, wondering if it's a good fit, and keeping the threads less than firm.  In other words, E.D. will continue to deconstruct his own thinking, out in the open, for all to see and judge and criticize.

Philosophy TV

Today sees the launching of Philosophy TV, a video website similar to the excellent Bloggingheads TV but that's devoted exclusive philosophical conversations.  The first episode features Tamar Gendler of Yale and the Splintered Mind's Eric Schwitzgebel discussing "implicit association and belief."  Looks promising. 

When Language Doesn't Match Reality: Obama's Iraq War Speech

George Packer writes:
What President Obama called the end of the combat mission in Iraq is a meaningless milestone, constructed almost entirely out of thin air, and his second Oval Office speech marks a rare moment of dishonesty and disingenuousness on the part of a politician who usually resorts to rare candor at important moments. The fifty thousand troops who will remain in Iraq until the end of next year will still be combat troops in everything but name, because they will be aiding one side in an active war zone. The proclaimed end of Operation Iraqi Freedom has little or nothing to do with the military and political situation in Iraq, which is why Iraqis were barely aware when the last U.S. combat brigade crossed into Kuwait a few days ago. And for most of us, too—except, perhaps, those with real skin in the game, the million and a half Iraq war veterans and their families—there’s hardly any reality or substance to the moment.

It’s hard to have an honest emotional response or even know what one feels. After seven years of war, the occasion deserves some weight of feeling, but many Americans stopped paying attention a long time ago. And that’s exactly why the President made his announcement: because Americans want the war to be over, have wanted it for years. Tonight he told us what we wanted to hear. August 31, 2010, will go down in history as the day Americans could start not thinking about the war without feeling guilty.
So we across the ocean who are more or less unaffected by daily violence in Iraq can continue our daily lives only vaguely and abstractly aware that people not us continue to put their lives on the line.  Before we had a name for what we largely ignored.  Now, thanks to the president, what we ignore has gone nameless, making it even easier for us to forget. The name is no longer in use, but the reality of what the name signified will continue. Whatever else President Obama's speech was, it was an abuse of language.  I don't mean that he shouldn't have given a speech or shouldn't be bringing our men and women in uniform back home and to their families, but that the words he used should have reflected their continued if drawn-down presence.  Instead, his words helped to hide that reality. 

Conor Friedersdorf adds his two cents:
George Packer goes on to explain why it isn't entirely ignoble. Read it all. I'll just remark on why it is partly ignoble: because even as President Obama spoke, some Marines were preparing to return to Iraq, having been recalled there, despite the fact that their tours were supposed to be over. They'll risk serious injury and death, a fate likely to befall dozens if not hundreds more Americans before we exit that country entirely, and as Mr. Packer observes, the effect of the speech is to give everyone permission to stop thinking about all the men and women who remain fighting.

Should the United States embark on another foolish war of choice, it'll be due partly to the willingness of our elected leaders across two administrations to hide from us the costs of war, and the complicity of the press in their efforts.

Online Hostility

Alan Jacobs diagnosis a reason for it:
I have thought a lot about why people get so hostile online, and I have come to believe it is primarily because we live in a society with a hypertrophied sense of justice and an atrophied sense of humility and charity, to put the matter in terms of the classic virtues.
If Jacobs is correct, and I think he is, then making the online world a less hostile and more hospitable place requires more than zapping humility and charity into the Internet like characters in Tron; it takes building those virtues within society itself.  People may act more belligerent online than they do in person, but their belligerency isn't something that exists beyond themselves in the artificial world of programs, HTML, and binary.  The inkling to wage virtual war arises from within and finds an outlet online where the face of the other is hidden or reduced to a few pixels.  The Internet will be less hostile when the people who populate it are more virtuous. 

Jacoby's Multiculturalism

Susan Jacoby says she's not "a multiculturalist who believes that all cultures and religions are equally worthy of respect."  Neither am I, not, at least, as she's defined the label.  Multiculturalism implies a judgment against a culture that values only itself, so by definition the multiculturalist doesn't equally value all cultures and religions, but instead favors and seeks to promote multiple cultures within society.  I suppose some who self-apply the title are really cultural relativists, but anyone who argues that no culture is better than another has no basis to promote many cultures in a society as opposed to a few or just one.