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Tuesday, June 13, 2006


The 'C' Word

The "C" Word
By Bill Zide
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Tuesday 13 June 2006

No, not that word.

Once upon a time there were real "Conservatives." They believed in fiscal and political responsibility. They expounded on the virtues of getting government out of people's lives. They talked about caution with regard to the use of military force and foreign intervention. They even promoted a policy of governmental accountability. Many of these people existed in the Republican Party. They might have been off track, behind the curve possibly, or at times deluded, but most tended to be civil, honorable and sincere. They were more often than not the necessary loyal opposition.

Now, "Conservative" has become a particularly dirty word. Worse yet, it seems to be heading toward becoming totally meaningless altogether. Once, the root of the word "Conservative" was "conserve," a word that implied caution and preservation. Now, it seems that this new brand of "Neo-" or "Theo-Conservative" that populates the rank and file of the current GOP leadership has put the "con" back into "conservative." They are more about being against things than being for anything real or substantive. It's all about the "Con": Conceal. Conceit. Concoct. Condescend. Congest. Confabulate. Confederacy. Contradictory. Conformity. Confound. Confrontational. Confused. Conglomerates. Conjecture. Conquest. Conflagration. Conflict. Condemn. Convicted. Con-men. Consolidation. Conspiracy. Consume. Contorted. Contrivance. Control. And, always, always - Contributions.

Interestingly, the "cons" missing from their agenda and concept of the world include: Concern. Contraception. Constitution. Consistency. Conscience. Contriteness. And, always, always - Consequences.

If you are a moderate Republican (a nearly extinct breed) you must be built of stern stuff or simply be a certified masochist. They hate you. No, really really hate you. You are a RINO (Republican in name only). Even though your values are the values of such other "RINOs" as Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln. You are not really a Republican. They need you to hold the seats that no conservative can win, but don't confuse practicality for love. And, should you ever dare to contradict the will of the Right (a rare thing in these days of the lock-step GOP), then you are a traitor (their words, not mine). If you dare to stand up and call them out on a lie, a contradiction, a crime or even treason - you are the criminal. They will call you disgruntled or crazy. And in extreme cases, they will risk national security itself to get back at you. Welcome to the new world order of the GOP.

The Party of Ideas

The Right is always telling us they are the party of ideas. And they are. The problem is that most of their ideas are from the 19th century. For instance, they are awfully fond of Social Darwinism, (although not actual Evolution theory because that involves science). This is a theory that generally believes nature decides who succeeds in business and society, so people always get what they deserve. Essentially, it suggests what we see around us is simply a result of the natural order of things. Natural economic and social selection decides who prospers and who is relegated to a life of menial subsistence. Yet, the fittest to survive are inevitably always rich, privileged and connected. That's just how things work out apparently. Of course, it isn't nature that cares about the color of your skin, or attacks your religion or relegates women to subservient positions regardless of their skills. That takes deliberate action and a system created to those purposes. Still, by the logic of the Right, slavery could be perfectly justifiable, just like keeping women from voting.

The Right tells its constituency that it's about Guns, God and Gays. Always claiming that "they" (Progressives, terrorists or possibly aliens) will repeal the 2nd Amendment and take away our hunting rifles (useful to say in order to get people fired up, even if it's not true or possible). They want to protect the 1st Amendment right to worship freely as long as they get to decide who you worship. Naturally this would involve getting rid of the Establishment Clause within the First Amendment. Should we ever lose track of what they really want, the Theo-Cons keep reminding us we are a "Christian country" even if the facts, Constitution, founding fathers and reality say otherwise.

As for homosexuals, these people have a dangerous agenda that includes serving honorably in the military, monogamous marriage with legal benefits, and raising children. A dangerous agenda to be sure, that apparently threatens the American way of life. Clearly, they must be stopped before they decorate and renovate any more houses, or win any more medals. If we don't stop them, this country will be exactly the same as it is now, only with good color coordination, designer furniture and more organic vegetables.

It seems all the "ideas" of the Right are based on two basic principles which define them to their core: Fear and Entitlement. We have seen how they propagate fear to justify their actions and abuses. But, in a sense it goes deeper than that. They are about the fear of change, progress and responsibility. If they accept change and progress then it involves giving up some of what they have taken for themselves. And, if they accept responsibility it means having to act accordingly and care about the effects of their actions on others. As the Party of the rich and connected, there has always been a sense of entitlement built into the GOP and right-wing mentality. There has to be, to justify the inherently lofty and privileged status they have created for themselves. In the last thirty years they have cleverly extended this sense of entitlement by telling Theo-Cons that they are entitled to power because they are the "right Christians" and to Neo-Cons by offering them a big piece of the pie. Almost everyone loves being told they are special, chosen and entitled. Religion has often served in this way, specifically in old Christian Europe and in many parts of the Muslim East. However, all the religious wars in Europe caused modern Europeans to abandon true state-sanctioned religion. Yet, here in America it's back. Their actions, however, seem in contrast to many of the actual teachings of Christ. Many of these "Christians" aren't about turning the other cheek and helping the less fortunate, but more about self-righteousness and demagoguery.

So, out of these two aspects of Fear and Entitlement, all the "ideas" of the Right flow. Social Security "Reform" is an attempt to rid the country of a program that insures the survival of some of the least amongst us. They would like to do it in the open, but it is by far one of the most successful and popular programs in the history of the country. George W. Bush's bold failure in trying to cover this intent by claiming it was in serious solvency trouble and creating "private accounts" shows the depths to which they will sink to achieve its dissolution. Neither of these things were true, but by trying to claim Social Security was an investment program, when it's actually an insurance program, shows you what they are really after - the money they feel entitled to.

Tax giveaways to the rich and large corporations are the traditional standby of the Right and are cleverly disguised as "Tax Reform" or "Tax Cuts," when they are in fact really Deficit-Financed Revenue Giveaways and redistributions to those who already have most of the country's capital. The end result and intent is to under-fund the government and social programs, thus weakening it at all levels. This creates what amounts to, as some have dubbed it, a centralized Kleptocracy, where those who can take will take all they can. There is no accountability or real oversight, and government comes to serve corporations and the established wealth. This is the GOP's Corporate Ownership Society (which they try to call an "ownership society" except the owner is ultimately a company or bank rather than an individual). All this leads to the majority of the country's wealth and resources being controlled by the largest corporations and richest individuals.

American Oligarchy

In other words George W. Bush, the Radical GOP Right and their cohorts are in the process of trying to turn the United States into a Latin American Oligarchy. Before one dismisses this theory, consider that many of the countries in Latin America were controlled by old European colonial families (much like the Bushes here) who were heavily involved in corporations connected with the state and originally aided by religion (in Latin America's case, the Catholic church). This triumvirate of interests creates a government of the few wealthy land-owning elite over the many (often indigenous) poor. Most of the keen "ideas" and plans of the Regressive Right seem to add up to waging war on the middle class, by decreasing or stagnating wages, reducing educational opportunities, increasing survival costs while reducing social supports. The Oligarchies of Latin America tended to have small middle classes, but a very large source of cheap and vulnerable - often unskilled - labor. They didn't have much of a social support structure or freedom of speech. They, like Bush and the GOP, worked steadfastly against unions and the rights of workers, always favoring management instead. This is essentially a Plantation Culture - or what has been also been referred to as "Plantation Capitalism," which was also the original culture of the American Antebellum South: a culture that more and more centralizes wealth and power in the hands of the few, while making the bulk of the population dependent on them to survive. So, while many in Latin America are trying to break through centuries of stagnation and oppression, we seem strangely headed the other way.

Naturally in this country the corporate and government structure is built into a large standing military, what the enlightened Republican President (and former General) Eisenhower dubbed "The Military Industrial-Complex." As Chalmers Johnson has eloquently pointed out, this permanent structure of corporations, military and government guarantees lucrative contracts and profits for those involved in making weapons and supplying the military. So, as war becomes incredibly profitable, it becomes inevitable that we are going to see a lot more of it. You can't buy more weapons and ammunition or build more bases and landing strips unless you are using them and developing new ones. Now, there are real threats, but when anything is this profitable, you start finding more reasons for war and making up new ones if you need to. The Cold War may be over, but the smaller hot wars across the globe may be even better business. Why even develop new sources of energy and promote conservation when you can get oil and a lucrative war too? The Soviet Union as boogieman has been successfully replaced by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in a new "war" that can never end.

The problem is that it is the poor and young who always get stuck fighting those wars. Patriotism is always the best device to recruit them. After all, it's what got poor white farm boys in the South to fight for and defend the land and wealth of rich white plantation owners during the Civil War. The very slavery that kept them poor (by keeping their own wages down and reducing the available paying jobs) was something they came to champion, because they were told they were better than the slaves because at least they weren't black. So, they fought to preserve a system that in the end kept them poor. They too were told it was about "values" and what they were "entitled" to as Americans. There is a certain dark genius to it that Karl Rove could appreciate and steal from. He may not be original, but he knows what works. Thomas Frank explains in his book just how Kansas has embraced a political path that is slowly destroying its own economy and infrastructure. Yet, they continue down that road to oblivion and even hope to take the rest of the country with them.

Some would argue that since many of these people believe in the "End of Days" scenario they think they see in the Book of Revelation, oblivion may be exactly what they seek. They feel they will be saved, and that this has to happen so that they can meet their maker. So, they work hard to help it along.

So, in this day and age, a "Conservative" has little to do with what was once "Conservatism." Instead, it has been successfully replaced by a self-destructive ideology that is a hybrid of Corporate Plantation Capitalism and Religious Extremism that now rules the GOP. So, now with the Right firmly in charge we take the Great Leap Backwards from a multi-cultural democracy based on checks and balances, to Corporate-Religious Oligarchy promoting a great leap backward.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


'666' The Number of the Beast

Benjamin Radford

It’s that time of year again. Time for summer holidays, barbeques, and high gas prices.

And, oh yes, time for a small but significant number of people to worry about the mystical significance of numbers. Because, you see, June 6 isn’t just any date, it is (or could be) a day of evil and bad luck, a date containing the reputed “Number of the Beast” mentioned in the Bible’s Book of Revelation.

The concern over (and significance of) 666 is the result of a misunderstanding. Scholars note that the notorious number is actually a reference to the Christian-persecuting Roman emperor Nero, though many continue to believe that 666 is somehow satanic.

Pop culture fuels this fear. Rock and heavy metal bands such as Slayer, Iron Maiden, and Dio have long included satanic imagery and references to 666 in their song lyrics and cover art. This sort of pseudo-satanism has less to do with devil worship than clever marketing. Such gimmicks have long been a staple of commercial fiction and film, including the recent remake of The Omen (being released—of course—on 6/6/06). In the new film, the characters believe that world events are fulfilling Biblical prophecy and that Satan is among us. The best-selling Christian series Left Behind also capitalized on this numerological nonsense.

Of course, 666 is hardly alone in having a bad reputation. To this day some office buildings and airplanes avoid the number 13, despite no evidence that there is anything bad or unlucky about it. (Highways, addresses, and area codes have also been renumbered to avoid 666.) After the September 11, 2001 attacks, many people noted that the twin towers could be symbolized by the 11 in the date, which must mean… something.

Why do people find such significance in arbitrary numbers? We are pattern-seeking animals. The human mind is designed to seek meaning, and it often finds meaning where none exists. Some religious fundamentalists have for decades and centuries claimed that the End Times are nearly upon us, interpreting both manmade and natural disasters as signs of the impending apocalypse.

My first brush with numbers of supposedly special significance came as a child at the beach when I was told that every seventh wave was especially big. This intrigued me, and every once in a while I would take a break from making sandcastles and anatomically generous mermaids to count the waves. I’d pick an area of beach in front of me, wait for the biggest wave I could find to hit the shore, then start counting. After about twenty minutes it became clear to me that the number seven, in this case anyway, held no special significance. Big waves came and went without apparent pattern.

It is often claimed that deaths come in threes. Yet a little critical thinking dispels this myth. Tens of thousands of people die every day from disease, accident, suicide, and murder. Out of all those, which are “counted” (and by whom or what?) toward the string of three? If the deaths are ordered in noticeable groups of three, presumably they would come within a certain timeframe, say a few days or weeks. But if you don’t specify or predefine what time frame you’re looking for—or whose deaths you’re counting—you won’t know if you have it. With any set of events, if you pick and choose which ones you notice, you can make groups of anything. People often see patterns they impose, not necessarily real patterns in the world.

Most of these claims are testable. If a person believes that big waves come in sevens, good things come in fives, deaths come in threes, or the number 666 is evil (however one defines that), these can be tested to see if they are true. So far the belief in special numbers rests on faith instead of evidence.

Of course, even if the number 666 did hold some sort of satanic or sinister significance, it would have nothing to do with the date June 6, 2006. No matter how you write out the numbers in the month, day, and year, there is no connection to 666. Even if you leave off the century marker of 2000, as people often do, we are left not with 6 but instead 06.

Since Arabic (some say Indian) mathematicians had the (now-obvious but then-brilliant) idea to invent the zero as a placeholder thousands of years ago, we can’t simply ignore the correct date. The closest one could come would be 6606, which somehow doesn’t seem as scary as 666 but holds the same potential for evil.

Benjamin Radford is managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine and co-author of Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking.

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