On the Hotness of Their Women

photo courtesy flickr user Muffet
photo courtesy flickr user Muffet

It can be challenging to pick out individual threads from the tapestry of jaw-dropping nuttiness that constitutes the right-wing of the current Republican base. Watching the incoherent, but violent, tempest that was the teabag protest inspired feelings of despair. Here, it seemed, were a mass of people wholly uninterested in fact, in dialogue, who were convinced they knew the truth of how things were. Their desire, from all appearances, was to threaten, to establish that President Obama, and liberals generally, ought to back off, lest they bring repercussions down on themselves.

Yet it is crucial nonetheless to understand the reasons that undergird these seemingly reasonless actions. In the spirit of addressing the question, of what those reasons might be, I submit this recent comment from one Jason Mattera. At the recent Values Voter Summit, Sarah Posner reports

During the panel, Mattera took the David and Goliath metaphor another perverse step: If conservatives (David) smite liberals (Goliath), they will be rewarded with the hot conservative women, just like King Saul promised his daughter to the warrior who slew the evil giant. “You know his daughter must have been beautiful because there’s no guy whose gonna die for an ugly girl,” Mattera chortled. “Our women are hot. We have Michelle Malkin. Who does the left have, Rachel Maddow? Sorry, I prefer that my women not look like dudes.”

Now, there are numerous easy targets in those comments. There is the tiresome insistence that one of the main, if not the main, component of female power and influence is their appearance, specifically their appearance as it interacts with the sex drive of the heterosexual male. This is obviously terrible but also uninteresting. There is the dig at Rachel Maddow for not being attractive like Michelle Malkin (spoiler alert: she doesn’t care if you’re attracted to her, Jason!). The sinister linguistic tic of referring to women in a possessive sense– “our,” “we have,” “my women” –revealing, of course, a certain degree of uncertainty about the degree to which the speaker really has control over the women in his life.

It is no news flash that female freedom terrifies and infuriates the Republicans. The interesting element here is the presumption that sexual attraction must be the underlying factor in David’s decision to fight Goliath. Now, of course we must note that Mattera is likely making a joke. Still, it’s worth remembering the actual reason David fought Goliath: David’s people were at war with Goliath’s. Of course, no one knows how exactly this all went down, but I found it interesting that Mattera, at the Values Voter Summit, emphasized not the religious angle, and not the war/nationalism angle, but the sexy daughter angle.

The thread I am picking at here is the growing trust in emotionality that partly characterizes the recent Republican party. Joe Wilson shouting “You lie!” Glenn Beck weeping. Town hall protestors screaming at their representatives, in some cases expressly hoping to end discussion rather than participate in it. It is a movement that, more and more, relies on the instinctive, passionate, emotional responses to the world. Sexy women are awesome. Ugly women are bad. Obama is black, he is different, he is not to be trusted.

This mindset is, sad to say, awful at all the things a citizen of an advanced nation needs to be doing during a time of crisis and struggle. Complicated issues do not benefit from an emotional consideration.

Science and Religion Misused

There is an amazing column over at the Washington Post right now, by Richard Cohen, called Culture of Intellectual Corruption. You should go read the whole thing. Mr. Cohen concisely summarizes the many intellectual failings of the current administration. Things like stem cell research:

The Bush administration is intellectually corrupt.

Some of this corruption is induced by the inability to keep religion in its place. The president suffers mightily from this. After just eight months in office, George Bush drew a line between acceptable and unacceptable stem cell research and based it entirely on religious views that had nothing to do with science.

This is good writing, and it’s all true. Mr. Cohen deals forthrightly with the administration’s unforgiveable opposition to the morning after pill:

Similarly, the Bush administration has somehow bottled up Plan B emergency contraception so that it is not yet available over the counter to women 17 and older. This is the case not because Plan B is dangerous or ineffective or even because it is an abortion agent (it is not), but because it is manifestly something that’s needed if abstinence is, somehow, not practiced. In other words, the scientific basis for this policy apparently comes down to this: A good girl should not need such a pill.

Honestly, I am loving this column so much, and it seems like such a reflection of some previous blog posts of mine, that I encourage you once more to read the original. He deals with global warming, intelligent design, and the Iraq War with similar incisiveness. Bravo, Mr. Cohen!

Another one of my favorites, Eric Alterman, has written a similarly inspiring column for The Nation, in which he discusses the problem of conservative ownership of religion:

The moronic level of cable discourse notwithstanding, missing from almost all discussions of the role of religion in public life is what William James famously termed the “varieties of religious experience.” The right-wing hijacking of religion’s public role in our political discourse is as undeniable as it is inappropriate, and represents one of liberalism’s most serious problems.

Indeed. Religion has an important role, as a way for people to agree on deeply held beliefs, or discuss the dignity of every human being, rich or poor. Alterman points out that Liberals should own Christianity at least on economic policy alone. The Republican perversion of science and religion alike demeans both.

Conservatives, won’t you please take advantage of Conservative Amnesty Month? At the right hand side of the page is a list of other progressive bloggers who will support you. We want you to know that we’re here for you.

Catholictown USA

Reading this CNN article, at first it all seemed a little too silly to make a big deal of:

During a speech last year at a Catholic men’s gathering in Boston, Monaghan said that in his community, stores will not sell pornographic magazines, pharmacies will not carry condoms or birth control pills, and cable television will have no X-rated channels.

Monaghan is, of course, Thomas S. Monaghan, founder of Domino’s pizza. He plans to build a town around “Ave Maria University, the first Catholic university to be built in the United States in about 40 years.” While I try to decide whether this ridiculousness constitutes a graver sin than the amazingly terrible pizza Monaghan has inflicted on us for decades, read this:

Homebuyers in Ave Maria will own their property outright. But Monaghan and Barron Collier will control all commercial real estate in the town, meaning they could insert provisions in leases to restrict the sale of certain items.

No word in the article about what would happen to you if you drove into a nearby town to purchase condoms. Would there be checkpoints? It is an interesting approach to the problem, though. If I wanted to do something unconstitutional, I would need to do it in such a way that I never had to write any laws or ordinances, so the lease-provisions strategy is ingenious.

Not that it will necessarily work:

“If they attempt to do what he apparently wants to do, the people of Naples and Collier County, Florida, are in for a whole series of legal and constitutional problems and a lot of litigation indefinitely into the future,” warned Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

You’ll remember that this all seemed a little silly to be writing about. What changed my mind were these two quotes from elected officials in Florida:

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist said it will be up to the courts to decide the legalities of the plan. “The community has the right to provide a wholesome environment,” he said. “If someone disagrees, they have the right to go to court and present facts before a judge.”

Gov. Jeb Bush, at the site’s groundbreaking earlier this month, lauded the development as a new kind of town where faith and freedom will merge to create a community of like-minded citizens. Bush, a convert to Catholicism, did not speak specifically to the proposed restrictions.

This does get my dander up. The word “wholesome” in particular shows that the attorney general is taking sides, that he believes this would be a good idea. For the governor to praise such a clearly illegal plan is shameful. How do these people get elected? I’ll give the final word to a more gifted speaker than myself:

“This is un-American,” [Frances] Kissling said. “I don’t think in a democratic society you can have a legally organized township that will seek to have any kind of public service whatsoever and try to restrict the constitutional rights of citizens.”

A Museum Shows the Way


I visited the American Museum of Natural History today, and, as usual, I was amazed at the depth and breadth of the exhibits there. It being the Sunday of a holiday weekend, the place was full to bursting, especially with children begging for astronaut ice cream or a stuffed Tyrannosaurus Rex. The museum taught me something else as well, though, something that can help us deal with the growing anti-science movement in this country.

You’ll notice a prominent element in that photograph. Above the statue of Teddy Roosevelt on a horse, a triumphant Galapagos Tortoise adorns the DARWIN banner. I have been to see the exhibit about his life, and one of the elements that surprised me had to do with Darwin’s conflicted feelings on religion. Indeed, as I thought about the different exhibits I saw today, a common element emerged that showed an effective way to approach the feeling in this country that science and religion do not mix.

You see, museums have become one of the new fronts in this debate. The growing number of Americans who feel that evolution is not accurate have, apparently, decided that museums are as guilty as science classrooms of teaching immoral, inappropriate things to innocent children.

It is no secret why some people feel this way. They believe that they already know the correct explanation for why things are the way they are, and any evidence to the contrary must be wrong. The creationists Darksyde profiles for us are excellent examples of this effect. Once knowing, for certain, how everything works becomes an important part of your self worth, it becomes difficult to handle new discoveries.

amnh_dinotreeUpstairs in the museum, I noticed this interesting illustration among the exquisitely reconstructed dinosaur skeletons. By Odin’s beard! It’s an evolutionary tree of the descent of the Tetanuran (Three-Fingered Hand) dinosaurs. And, as I verified from the skeleton evidence all around me, it seems awfully clear and valid. It also did not seem immediately threatening to the moral development of the many children around me.

amnh_walrusI visited the Hall of Marine Mammals, where I saw one of my personal favorites. This fellow was staring out at the busy floor, surrounded by a whole bunch of scientifically accurate and thoroughly evolution-drenched material, and everyone seemed to be okay. Indeed, they seemed to be enjoying themselves. I became more and more confused. I didn’t get why people would object to this stuff.

When I went to the Rose Space Center to see the planetarium show, Passport to the Universe, I was impressed by the clarity of the scientific narrative of the film. It takes a journey from Earth all the way out to the scale of the observable universe, which is, as I learned, very, very large. As I have mentioned before, there were many children in the museum, and just so there were many in the theater as well. When the show ended, with a scientifically questionable rapid transit back to earth via black hole, one of the children began to cry. The child was saying how this was scary, and how she didn’t like it, and I realized something.

The anti-science crusaders are like this child. They are scared of things that challenge their understanding of the universe. They cherish the idea that they know the truth about the world, and new discoveries threaten this perception. This is the crux of the issue: we think of science as a pathway to beneficial and wonderful discoveries, but they see it as a dangerous fountain, sometimes producing benefits, but other times producing strange, unorthodox, and threatening ideas.

On the way out of the museum, I thought this over more and more. How can you talk with someone about these matters if they refuse to budge on their core belief? Well, I figured, the same way you would talk to anyone unfamiliar with new and intimidating terrain. Show them the wondrous parts first, and engage their curiousity. It might not work in every case, but I think if more creationists went to museums, and could see how amazing the universe really is, they would get less attached to teaching garbage to our children.

If you believe in god, there is nothing in a museum to take away from his glory in having created it all. I don’t believe in god, and I can still tear up at a view of the virgo supercluster, with a tiny highlighted sphere that shows where I live.

Hertzberg’s SotU Thoughts

In this week’s New Yorker Hendrik Hertzberg makes two interesting points regarding the language of W’s State of the Union Speech.

First, the requisite description of the inherent silliness of a term like “War on Terror:”

“War on Terror” has always been problematic, at both ends. The word “war” has the requisite urgency, and it has proved useful in intimidating the political opposition at home. But, as we have seen in Iraq and elsewhere, its associations–pitched battles, clashing states, disciplined armies with general staffs–can invite actions that are, at best, beside the point. “Terror” is not a conquerable enemy, or an end in itself.

This rings very true. As time has passed since 9/11, the War on Terror has become less a system to eliminate extant threats to the United States and more a justification for the President to do basically whatever he wants. Overwrought 1984 references notwithstanding, when the President authorizes himself to do whatever he wants because we are at war, and yet defines that war such that it can never end, it doesn’t take a pessimist to sense dystopia around the corner.

The second point in Hertzberg’s article that I liked dealt with exactly that administration position:

He defended–no, boasted of–the National Security Agency’s vast, formerly secret program of warrantless electronic eavesdropping, undertaken on his orers and rebranded in his speech as “the terrorist-surveillance program.” “If there are people inside our country wwho are talking with Al Qaeda,” he said, “we want to know about it, because we will not sit back andd wait to be hit again.” But those who are questioning Bush’s program, both Democrats and Republicans, agree that terrorists must be surveilled. What alarms them is not jusst that the President is breaking a particular law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but that his rationale for doing so amounts to a claim that he can flout any law at all, as long as the flouting is under cover of an endless . . . war.

Dystopic indeed. I love reading Hertzberg because he gets right to the heart of the matter, and with such clarity. Bush appears to think that as long as the War on Terror is going on, which will be forever, he can do anything he personally deems necessary to prosecute it. I can’t wait for 2006 mid term elections.