Goody gumdrops

Hey! The Chicago Tribune picked Racing the Dark as a “Best Reads of Fall”!

It’s me and Terry Pratchett, baby! Oh, and Jodi Picoult (huh?) Anyway, it’s pretty awesome. The PDF is here. Scroll down to page 6 to see yours truly.

Oh, and I wrote a little post about my thoughts on synopsis writing for my Amazon blog, if you’re at all curious.

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It’s like deja coup, all over again

Apologies for my ridiculous pun, I just couldn’t help myself. Today’s post is a little exercise in history and maybe a bit of soothsaying. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that an attack on Iran is becoming inevitable. To hear the proclamations from Washington is to be eerily transported to the summer of 2002, when Bush was similarly ramping up his invective against the first target on his “Axis of Evil”: Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Given the hysteria that accompanied the Iranian president’s visit to New York this week, it struck me that it might be instructive if I found a better way to compare what is happening now with what happened in 2002. I immediately thought of Common Dreams, a) because their archives are so easily accessible and b) because the articles they selected were startlingly prescient about the inevitability and costs of the war at a time when the mainstream media were still parroting the administration line about war being a “last option” and being determined to use “diplomacy.” I figured why not take two months in 2002 and compare them with the most recent months of 2007? Replace “Iraq” with “Iran,” and just how inevitable (and more to the point, how soon) does our upcoming new war of aggression seem to be?

The results are below. A few caveats: for obvious reasons, it’s a bit harder to tease out the “Iran” articles in 2007, since the two theatres are so inextricably linked and articles will frequently discuss both. Since I couldn’t possibly read everything, I limited myself to those articles whose main focus was Iran, and not those about Iraq that might have mentioned Iranian involvement. So bear in mind that the actual number of articles that deal with our impending war are almost certainly higher than what I list here. Second, some of the predictions turned out to be wrong in interesting ways. Most notably, writers at the time seemed to believe that the Iraq war would begin sometime in November, in time for elections– no one I saw guessed that it would begin as late as it did. Also, I only referred to their “views”, i.e. the editorials, and not their news items.

If this sort of thing interests you, I encourage you to browse more through the Common Dreams archives yourself. And if you’d like to read the single best resource I’ve discovered online on the subject of our deadly march toward global war through Iran, I strongly encourage you to read Arthur Silber (start here, then follow his links at the bottom of the post for more).

If you just go by the “total counts” of articles predicting or dealing with the implications of imminent war, we seem to be at the equivalent of July 2002 (18 now versus 19 then). Of course this is a very silly way to predict a war, but just running with it: if the war actually began eight months from when these prophetic articles were printed, then that gives us until May.

But, as I said, it’s a silly way to predict a war. After all, the world, and American politics, are very different now than they were in 2002. It strikes me that the Bush administration acts with even less regard for the views of its supposed citizens than it did five years ago. The authoritarian regime has become more entrenched. Much more power is now in the hands of the executive. Congress has demonstrated time and time again that it is perfectly willing to go along with this program of apparent endless, “pre-emptive”, hegemonic war. I think we must always seriously consider the possibility that strikes on Iran could occur much sooner, and with far less popular support than those on Iraq.
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“The” Andrew Meyer, tasered in a fog

I have been reading the growing reaction to the shocking footage of Andrew Meyer’s arrest and tasering at Kerry’s University of Florida speech with mounting horror. The incident horrified me enough, but I had thought that at least among the left-blogosphere, that the obvious unconstitutionality and near police-state brutality the event represented would have been transparent. I thought it would have been universally condemned, even by so-called “left wing moderates.” Apparently, my naivety shows once again.

The comments on Common Dreams for an article written by Naomi Wolf condemning the event are revealing. Because, of course, Common Dreams is far to the left of almost any other newsportal online, and its commenters could generally be relied upon to condemn this sort of obvious (to me) police excesses. And yet all many people can bring themselves to condemn is the tasering itself (and maybe not even that!) instead of the very fact of the completely unlawful arrest.

I’ve seen as many of the videos as I can, including one featuring all of Mr. Meyer’s question to Kerry. I think any person who has attended a lefty event with a Q&A session knows the type of questioner Mr. Meyer represents. They’re the ones who are determined to make their point in as rambling a fashion as possible, with a good deal more statement than question. They can range from fairly mild mannered to considerably more obnoxious than Mr. Meyer. They might be doing it for some cameras, or they might just want to have their rambling views responded to. The fact is that I have been to dozens of events where these types of questioners were one hundred times more annoying and frustrating than Mr. Meyer. Never at any time, even at its worse, did I feel the need to do anything more than perhaps join in the chorus of audience members urging these individuals to wrap it up. Usually the speakers were also familiar with these types, and were adept at disengaging from the long-winded questioner and getting to the answer. Let me repeat this again in clear, unadorned English:

It is EASY to deal with people like Andrew Meyer, no matter HOW you feel about his question. It is done hundreds of times a year and someone as seasoned and experienced as a FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE should not have even batted an eye at Meyer’s behavior.

To make matters worse, it appears that as soon as he asked the Skull and Bones question he had planned to give up the microphone anyway. Obnoxious, loud-mouthed and grandstanding he might have been, but last I checked our First Amendment rights DO cover speech that does not conform to all standards of politeness. His question was more than valid– it was vital and one I doubt any reporter has ever put to the senator. And even if Meyer had spent one minute asking “if you could be any animal, what would you be”, it STILL wouldn’t merit an arrest. People are claiming that Meyer deserved what happened to him because he resisted arrest. They seem to be missing the major point (which is ironic, since Meyer himself shouts it at least ten times on the video):

WHY WAS HE ARRESTED IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Asking a question ISN’T, in the America I hope I still live in, grounds for arrest. He had left the microphone. Kerry was answering the question. Order had been restored. And then, to make the punitive nature of the arrest even more apparent, they wrestle the kid onto the floor and threaten him with a taser. He says, quite clearly, that he will leave if they let him go. Well, that solves their problem, right? That’s the entire point of the fraudulent arrest, right? Apparently not, since they then proceed to zap him with a taser. He’s moaning in pain on the floor while Kerry, former presidential candidate, makes a joke about Meyer not being available to “swear me in as President.”

And this doesn’t make you sick? Do you really think that speech you disagree with, or whose delivery you find fault with, has the right to be censored so violently? Six police officers for one rowdy student?

And significant portions of the left seem to think this isn’t that bad?

Some kind of fog has descended on this country, so thick that we can hardly see through it, and no one even seems to realize that it’s there.

Paul Craig Roberts on this incident.

And a monumentally irrelevant defense of police brutality here, on Common Dreams (apparently, it’s okay to wrestle a non-violent questioner to the floor because he likes posting media pranks and videotaping himself. Who knew?)

Comment by Kyle Mitchell, Freelance reporter, videographer, and columnist
3 hours ago

“As more and more inquiries are being made into who Andrew Meyer really is, the picture of a young man capable and willing to manipulate this weakness of modern media becomes ever more clear.

“An avid prankster and politico, Meyer is a regular at local Gainesville political events. In the past, he has stood on a major street corner with a sign proclaiming “Harry dies” in the final book of the Potter series. His personal website lists interests that include “getting wasted.”

“Moments before publicly berating Senator Kerry – who was gracious enough to allow the question beyond the allotted time available – he gave his own video camera to a complete stranger nearby, simply to ensure that the incident would be recorded. There are also some who have said that he was warned of his impending arrest, though he repeatedly asks “Why are you arresting me?” while it was happening.”

“Kyle Mitchell is a graduate of the University of Florida. He has been working with The Gainesville Sun for more than four years, covering music, entertainment and news.
http://news.google.com/news?hl=en&ie=UTF-8&resnum=1&ct=title&ncl=1120931376&btclp=1&scoring=r

Mr. Mitchell goes on to condemn University of Flordia police in using excessive force on Meyer, and the did just that. U of Flordia police should rightly be condemned, but neither should Meyer beheld as some sort of hero of the First Amendment.

It is clear from Mr. Mitchell’s account that Meyer is a provocateur.

In all likelihood, meyer is sitting in his Gainsville apartment laughing at his own cleverness.

Reading Recommendation

I have just finished University of Manitoba professor Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians. He has released this chilling book for free on the internet, and I really highly recommend that everyone take the time to read it. The professor has spent his entire professional life studying the personality type he calls Right Wing Authoritarians (or RWAs). These are the kinds of people who strongly agree with statements like:

What our country really needs is a strong, determined leader who will crush evil, and take us back to our true path.

and

Our country will be great if we honor the ways of our forefathers, do what the authorities tell us to do, and get rid of the “rotten apples” who are ruining everything.

They strongly disagree with statements like:

A “woman’s place” should be wherever she wants to be. The days when women are submissive to their husbands and social conventions belong strictly in the past.

and

There is no “ONE right way” to live life; everybody has to create their own way.

Remind you of anyone? What’s really remarkable about Altemeyer’s work is that he has taken this basic measure of traits (essentially, how much more or less inclined to authoritarianism are you) and has elaborated and studied the ways that these people think, their fears, their biases and their incredible potential for exploitation by ruthless, amoral leaders (a.k.a. Social Dominators). He has succeeded in explaining why the crazy people who run this country act the way they do, and why they seem to have so much more power than the sane ones among us, tapping indignantly away at our computer keyboards. It’s a little scary to read the things that people will readily admit about themselves and their moral worldview. When I took his RWA test, my score was a 21 (out of a possible 160, for the most frightening among us). I was embarrassed about that extra point (caused by a strange question about the morality of non-religious people), because it seemed to me that his list was filled with such basic ideas of decency (or such obvious affronts to common decency), that they ought to form just the bare minimum of agreement we should all share in order to create a sustainable future and ethical system of government. What kind of constructive conversation can anyone have with a person who wouldn’t fully dissociate themselves from the statement: “There are many radical, immoral people in our country today, who are trying to ruin it for their own godless purposes, whom the authorities should put out of action.”

Maybe the kind of conversation that currently passes for political discourse in the USA?

It’s a throughly mind-bending, eye-opening work. And the style is colloquial and engaging. My only real quibble is that the questions on his surveys often seemed to marginalize the atheist’s point of view (and, for that matter, the non-Christian’s). I wonder if those questions were particularly designed for the Christian RWAs in his studies– in which case, obviously my complaint isn’t valid. If not, however, I’d say that he was missing out on many nuances of belief by forcing people to, for example, agree with the statement: “Our lives should be governed by high ethical principles and religious morals, not by power and greed.” (Chapter Five) Obviously, I don’t think our lives should be governed by power and greed (and you think that this is obvious to everyone else, too? Read the book.) On the other hand, I don’t think “religious morals” have anything to do with “high ethical principles.” There were a few other dubious inferences like that in his questions that I think could have hurt his surveys. Probably the biggest issue I had ended up in a footnote, when he describes a study that he believes shows how atheists can be dogmatic, too.

Essentially, he gave a scenario to a group of high RWA Christians, in which he proposed that there had been a major discovery of ancient Greek documents that, it turned out, significantly mirrored portions of the Christian gospels, only the role of Jesus was played by a child of Zeus named Attis. Everything, from the scenario to the language, was clearly parallel. This would seem to indicate that early Christians merely co opted an older tale. If this were true, he asked the students, would it make you reevaluate your view of the Bible as the literal, inerrant truth? Unsurprisingly, a majority of these fundamentalist Christian students said it wouldn’t change a thing. Now, clearly, this is evidence of a highly dogmatic mind completely closed to countervailing evidence, which was Altemeyer’s larger point. However, in a footnote, he claims that the opposite experiment revealed the same dogmatism about atheists:

Most (64%) of our active atheists also said they would be uninfluenced by the discovery of a “Roman file on Jesus” that confirmed much of the Gospels, including the resurrection…

If by “uninfluenced,” he means, “would not jump in the nearest river and get born again,” I’d say that that is the most rationally defensible position of the scenario, and not at all related to any supposed dogmatism of atheists. The fact is, a discovery of ancient scrolls that seemed to confirm the events recorded in the gospels would only lead me to think it’s reasonable to conclude that Jesus actually existed, and something interesting happened to him at the end of his life that the Romans–with their far less advanced knowledge of physiology and medicine– misinterpreted. Anything more than that just goes far beyond the evidence. You’d think that this would be obvious. Maybe if his “atheist scenario” had instead been about a independent, scientifically confirmed supernatural event, like a flying nun or someone able to communicate with the dead in heaven, it would have been a more valid measure. The one he did use just seems like overenthusiastic Christian archeology.

Obviously, these are negligible quibbles compared to his larger argument, so I will no reiterate my recommendation to go forth and read it. It’s a chilling, fascinating read. As Altemeyer says:

Americans have, for the most part, been standing on the sidewalk quietly staring at this authoritarian parade
as it marches on, becoming more and more dismayed. Polls confirm that the great majority of Americans feel the country has been going in the wrong direction. People know “the room is filling up with smoke,” but most are just watching it happen.