The Morning Grumpy – 3/27/12

27 Mar

All the news and views fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

1. Building off an incredible article by Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine, Ira Glasser asks a fundamental question, what exactly are conservatives trying to conserve?

About a month ago, Jonathan Chait published an important article in New York Magazine arguing that demographic changes in the United States will before too long spell doom to the political influence and hegemony of conservatives, and that conservatives, well aware of these changes, regard the 2012 elections as their last, best chance to reverse the course America is on.

This is something I’ve written about frequently, to whom do Republicans think they will appeal in ten years? The faith-based, “fear of the other” messaging to a diminishing audience is marginalizing their future.

What conservatives were desperately trying to conserve was not the values at America’s origin (the Bill of Rights was, after all, ratified in 1791), but rather the privileges and powers of 19th century and early 20th century America. This is what has fueled the reactionary politics of the past three decades, and it is what we are seeing now in the Republican base and its candidates.

Social change and large-scale demographic shifts will further limit the party to regional and rural appeal with people who are angry about the march of time. The campaigns of Rick Santorum and other tea party candidates feel more like a death rattle than a rallying cry.

2. Through the use of over 20 tax shelters, Exxon Mobil will pay a 13% effective tax rate on over $41,000,000,000 in profits (a 35% increase over 2010, no thanks to Comrade Obama, I’m sure).

Think about this next time you’re paying $4.05 per gallon at the pump. Also relevant, domestic oil production is at it’s highest rate in nearly ten years and speculators are profiting at absurd rates.

3. Someday, I’d like to live in a country in which our citizens don’t have to hold Chinese Auctions and bake sales to pay for cancer treatments.

If you happen to see flyers like these while you are out and about, please take a snapshot and email it to I’m building a Tumblr/Artvoice series featuring these photos.

4. Ten lesser known reforms to insurance plans and health regulations included in the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), pretty great stuff.

  • The Physician Payment Sunshine Act under health care reform requires drug, device or medical supply companies to report annually certain payments or things of value that they’ve given physicians and teaching hospitals.
  • The law requires restaurants with 20 or more locations to list calorie content information for standard menu items on menus and drive-through menus. Other fun facts like fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, sugars, fiber and total protein would have to be made available in writing upon request.
  • Mammograms, physical exams, colonoscopies, vaccinations — these are among the preventive care services that will be fully covered by insurance companies. (Note: I currently have a policy that doesn’t fully cover standard preventive procedures like this)

5. Last week, we learned that Encyclopaedia Britannica would discontinue it’s print offering to focus solely on their online product. Wikipedia killed it, right? That’s the conventional wisdom. As Tim Carmody points out, it was Microsoft Encarta that actually killed the print encyclopedia…in the library, with the revolver.

Britannica went bankrupt in 1996, long before Wikipedia was a crowdsourced gleam in Jimmy Wales’ open-access eye. In 1990, the company had $650 million in revenue. In 1996, it was being sold off in toto for $135 million. What happened in between was Encarta.

I loved encyclopedias…I devoured the information in them like a starving wolf. I’ll miss the feel and weight and import of those books.

6. A fascinating interview about the morality of economics with a Czech economist.

We want to live as if we were actors portraying ourselves.

Ethics forms the core of economics. It leads straight to the question of the good and right way of living, or Aristotle’s concept of eudemonia. For him, maximizing benefit without maximizing good would have been pointless. A market economy without morality is a zombie system: The robots function perfectly, but in the end they leave behind a trail of devastation. We have to return to our origins and talk about the soul of the economy.

A little heavy on the religious imagery, but an enlightening read.

Fact of The Day: There is a cat named Hank who is running for Senate in Virginia. No, really. Maybe we can get him to move to Buffalo and run for Mayor. It would be an improvement.

Quote Of The Day: “If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.” – Penn Jillette

Video Of The Day (Great Movie Monologues Week): Captain Koons and The Watch – Pulp Fiction

Cartoon Of the Day (Bugs Bunny Week): Bunny Hugged

Song Of The Day: “Fools Gold” – The Stone Roses

Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas:

20 Responses to “The Morning Grumpy – 3/27/12”

  1. Drew Ludwig March 27, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    Re: the Penn Jillette quote. So what? Science and religion are in different cultures. If all literature and music were wiped out, they would also not be created again in the same way. Yet they are still of immense value.

    I know that some Christians pit the two against each other, but they are asshats. Don’t play on their level. Be smarter, because you are.

    • Chris Smith March 27, 2012 at 8:58 am #

      You just amplified the point. Religion, literature, and music are all creations of men and their imaginations, desires, and fantasies. Science is not, which is rather the point. If you concede that faith is valid, that is a fundamental truth, it becomes pretty hard to defend the position that one faith has more value than any other. Doesn’t it?

  2. Jesse March 27, 2012 at 9:07 am #

    What are progressives trying to progress?

  3. peteherr March 27, 2012 at 9:22 am #

    Progressives believe the world changes and we should change with it, Jesse. You know, progress.

  4. Mike Chmiel March 27, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    “What are progressives trying to progress?”

    The backwards ideas that conservatives have subjected us to for centuries, such as politics based upon religious dogma, racism, ethnocentrism, sexism and homophobia.

  5. Mike Chmiel March 27, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    I should say “progress from”. We aren’t trying to progress racism!

  6. peteherr March 27, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    I particularly like the “US has the highest corporate tax rate”….blah, blah, blah…..but then pay less than half of the actual tax rate. The idea that wealthy people and corporations are overtaxed is just a lie.

  7. Drew Ludwig March 27, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    Technically speaking, “science” is a creation of humans, the facts that underlie it are not. If I concede that religion is a creation of humans (and I do), so what? Religion is the way that we try to make sense of the facts we are handed as humans, which, from the perspective of a believer, involves in one way or another, revelation. Like science, its truth is not in final form. Both, at their best, have a built in humility, even as they ask different questions and seek different answers.

    I’m not sure I understand your second question, but it seems to be asking “If you grant that faith is good, its hard to say that one faith is better and another is worse.” I don’t buy that. We both agree that science is good, but there is good science and bad science.

    • Chris Smith March 27, 2012 at 10:16 am #

      Not sure that I agree that “science” is a creation of humans. I get what you mean in that the organization of data, creation of testable hypotheses, etc., are functions of man. However, we are observing, evaluating and understanding the physical, natural world and universe and we are a part of that. If all scientific records were wiped away, another Isaac Newton would come along and discover gravity and physics all over again, in the exact same way. Because these are things that can be measured and tested. The Book of Mormon, could not be created the same way twice when put to the same standard, correct? The bible we read today is different than the bible that was read 300 years ago, 500 years ago, and 1000 years ago. It’s all made up.

      The world of faith is a series of fables constructed to help us cope with our own limited existence, build a moral construct for social order, and to make sense of a physical world we don’t fully understand. 10,000 years ago, we didn’t have the tools to understand why hurricanes happened, so we created a religious fable to explain that the sea gods were angry. Now, we know why hurricanes happen and they are not a function of a fable, but a result of a tested and proven weather system that exists on this planet.

      Also, if you state that faith is a function of man’s need for meaning, why is your created faith any more valid than anyone else’s faith? Is Islam not a valid faith? Lutheranism? Hinduism? Shintoism? Why is yours better? And based on what standard?

  8. Mike Chmiel March 27, 2012 at 9:39 am #

    No, there is “good science” and “theories or beliefs that don’t pass scientific muster”.

    Ultimately, all scientific theory is required to be proven. Religion is not, and it should not be.

  9. Bbill March 27, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    Would it be accurate to portray those who oppose progressives as “regressives”?

    Seeing as today’s right wing pretty much wants to repeal the Enlightenment, it would seem apt.

  10. Ethan March 27, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    excellent choice on the ol’ Stone Roses there.

  11. James March 27, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    Science! It’s just yesterdays magic. Understanding doesn’t make it any less awesome that it works! Exploring the mechanics and physics of this world is our birthright, but the questions of why that framework is in place is also compelling.
    Currently, it’s to the advantage of mankind to explain things with the rational, consistent mathematics of “science”, maybe it’s for economics or progress or maybe for freedom from the religious overlords that compels it to be that way. Two plus two keeps equaling four, but Penn Jillette is still a blowhard. Religion, literature, philosophy, music are all men’s attempts to rationalize and organize the gravity, motion, life, heat, emotion, chaos, noise, light, and ,perhaps, even love, that we did not create. Once, we said gods made those things, now we try to pretend they don’t exist without our feeble definitions. We didn’t invent truth either. Lets not start now.

  12. Ian March 27, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    “Talking to a preacher, said God was on his side. Talking to a pusher, they both were sellin’ highs” – “Are You Ready For The Country” (Waylon Jennings version of a Neil Young song)

  13. Drew Ludwig March 27, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    Working backwards: My faith being valid for me does not necessitate me invalidating anyone else’s faith. In fact while I have made a commitment to practice the way of Jesus, that does not mean that I cannot learn from other teachers/faiths/practices.

    I really have no standard to go by, and I fully admit that. One cannot simultaneously believe to have experienced God and remain objective. If you COULD somehow stay objective, than obviously said “god” was not very transformative. Is my faith better? Who knows!? Ultimately, I’m a pragmatist. It works for me, it makes sense to me, and I simply do not have time or the desire to immerse myself in other traditions in a similar way so that I can do a proper comparison.

    In the same way, most of the literature I read is written in English, mostly in the same Western tradition. How do I know its better? I don’t. But I like it, and I like the person I become by reading it. Liking Shakespeare does not demand that you hate Confucius. Likewise, like Jesus does not mean that you hate Joseph Smith, or Buddha, or Richard Dawkins. Sure, I disagree with them on things, but that does not mean that I would put them or their followers in the category of “invalid?”

    I do believe that there is divine revelation behind my beliefs, and that there is likely divine revelation behind others. I understand that Christians have misunderstood that revelation. That includes both me personally and the authors of the Bible. If we are often wrong, that ought to humble us as we have conversations with people we disagree with.

    Finally, you don’t have to defend science to me. I’m a big fan of it.

    I’d love to have an extend conversation with you–maybe in podcast form, if you have time, about Christopher Haidt’s work. I am relative certain that he is not a believer, at least not in any traditional sense, but he sees belief as part of the evolution of humanity in social groups. The question he asks, but cannot answer, is whether belief is a byproduct of evolution or an adaptation.

    Of course, an ancient adaptation is not always helpful in a modern world–I’ll grant you that. Fight or flight is often more harmful than helpful in today’s world. I guess what I’m saying is that we don’t have to do everything that we have evolved to do, but we do have to deal with what evolution hands us. I think I can say with confidence that faith is more of a product of evolution than imagination.

    Based on that assertion, while I don’t believe that the same stories about Gods would evolve, I do believe the same types of stories and morals and communities would evolve. Just as some other Newton would discover gravity, some other teacher would discover the golden rule.

    That’s probably enough for now, except that I should add that I really enjoy this conversation, so thanks.

    • Chris Smith March 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

      Drew, thank you for taking the time to respond so earnestly to these types of posts and comments. It’s refreshing and fun to chat with you both personally and virtually.

      I think you’re at a bit of a disadvantage here as you are one of the most open-minded and thoughtful pastors anywhere in the region. Most of my commentary here is intended as rebuttal to the megachurch evangelicalism that dominates our culture and politics. Which is where my point about validity of other faiths comes from.

      Almost every faith promises to be the one true faith and claims that adherents to other faiths are not destined for an afterlife of happiness, ice cream and virgins. So, I guess I would say that’s where the hold “validity” thing comes from. You’re right, you don’t have to hate other faiths, but when you believe that they are destined to burn in an eternal pit of hellfire unless they come around to your way of thinking, well, I guess that’s about the same as “hate” in my book.

      I have much more nuanced thoughts on these matters, and would love to discuss them in more depth than the time allotted during the workday allows. We’ll work something out.

  14. Brian Castner March 27, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    @Chris & Drew – Just as an observer of your conversation, and not seeking to interject too much, it strikes me that the question is whether revelation from a Creator objectively exists like gravity and quantum mechanics. If so, it would rediscovered in your thought experiment. The evidence beleivers find for revelation is often countered (or undermined) by science, and the knocking down of each totem is a story of the history of “science vs religion,” but beleivers have one trump in their favor, (so far) unexplained: that anything exists at all. Even Hawking’s latest work doesn’t answer this question is a satisfactory scientific way.

  15. Jim March 27, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    #2 – Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama is doing his best to help tht $4+ gas price ‘progress’ with his sanctions and threats of war towards Iran. Nah, it’s just those eeeevvil (GOP, natch) speculators. It’s funny watching both sides locked in the two party paradigm death spiral snipe at each other while the elites laugh all the way to the bank.

    • Alan Bedenko March 27, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

      We’ve had sanctions against Iran since 1979. (Despite the Koch family’s best efforts to circumvent them). Yet gas prices oddly never exceeded $1.50/gallon annual average until the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 under false pretenses.

      Odd, that.

  16. Drew Ludwig March 27, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    I get myself in trouble because I tend to agree more with atheists than the majority of my contemporaries in the Christian faith, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t necessary call that at disadvantage though.

    I suppose my disadvantage is that being the favorite pastor of people who will never be part of a church doesn’t really pay the bills.

    Anyway, I agree with you that thinking a person will burn forever if they disagree is pretty hateful. I would say that the popular perception is a perversion of the Biblical material, and has much more to do with platonic philosophy and ancient Greek religion than what Jesus believed and taught.

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