Near Earth Archive

A backup of Near Earth Object by Paul Fidalgo

Month: January, 2012

My Treatise on Atheists in Politics is Now a Kindle Book

I know what you want. You want a heavily footnoted, yet deliciously readable academic tract on the plight of American atheists in the contemporary political environment. But you don’t want it to be too long — 50 pages or so will be fine, thank you — and you don’t want it to be so tied to bleeding-edge current events that it has no lasting relevance. Oh, and you’re only interested in reading this tract in an electronic format.

What a coincidence!

In 2008, I wrote a master’s thesis on the above subject, and I recently decided to clean it up, get it all good and formatted, and publish it as an ebook…and a dirt-cheap ebook at that, at 99 cents. So today I published on Amazon’s Kindle Store my once-thesis-now-book, Under the Stained Glass Ceiling: Atheists’ Precarious Place in Modern American Politics. Here’s my description from the Amazon page:

Being atheistic defines what a person does not believe, but it may not sufficiently describe what one does. This is one of the central sticking points for atheists who hope to make their voices heard in American politics: deciding what those voices should be saying, and then, how best to say it.

For some nonbelieving Americans, the goal is simply to be left alone, free to refrain from worshiping any gods, and have religious Americans keep their supernaturalistic beliefs out of government. For others, there is a feeling that nonbelievers have been champing at the political bit for too long.

This book will explore atheists’ precarious place in American politics, both in terms of their potential for impact and the harsh realities of their station in American society. We will examine the oft-conflicting goals of the nonbelief movement and take a critical look at the dominant strategies for achieving those goals. And in the light of their failures and successes, their public image and their political potency, we will evaluate the prospects for atheism in electoral contests and for mainstream social acceptance. Feeling a renewed sense of purpose, and sensing a rare opportunity, atheist Americans are preparing to mark their territory in the political arena. As has always been the case, however, there is little consensus as to what victory looks like.

The preface covers most of the necessary context (how the content was written in 2008, but now in 2012 there’s little changed in the most important areas), but the long and the short is that I am releasing this somewhat on a whim, mainly to get the material out into the hands of those who might find it of interest. I really do think it’s quite accessible and a genuinely enjoyable read, and it seemed absurd that after so much work put into it that it should simply gather electron-dust on my hard drive. I hope to get it to the iBookstore as well, but that has proven more difficult than I expected, despite the release of iBooks Author.

So, if you have a buck to spare, perhaps you’ll give it a download and check it out. If you like it, I hope you’ll bestow some Amazon love on it in the form of a positive review. Most importantly, if you don’t like it, well, pretend you do and don’t tell me.


Newt Gingrich and John King, in Bed Together

"Look what I made!"

(Ooh, what a title for a blog post! I hope it’s as exciting as it sounds!)

Last night, Newt Gingrich, in all his usual bellicosity, harangued CNN’s John King for beginning the South Carolina GOP debate with a question about allegations made by Gingrich’s ex-wife, and it was such a piece of television drama that it may well serve to catapult Gingrich to a victory there tomorrow night.

Gingrich found the question (or claimed to find the question) offensively irrelevant, and I pretty much agreed. John King himself, during the post-debate punditry, continuously asserted that the question needed to be asked because “it was in the news,” implying that it was the right place to allow Gingrich a chance to weigh in on his own terms.

I call bullshit. It would be one thing if at this debate, something was posed to the candidates concerning the topic in abstract (something like “is the sexual behavior of a candidate fair game for considering whether or not that person is fit to serve” or what have you), but it was not at all the place to confront one candidate with one accusation about a private matter. This is not the Barbara Walters special, it’s a presidential debate. Gingrich was right to declare it to be the wrong venue for such a thing.


To get a little meta, everyone knew what would become of such a question. Gingrich knew he’d get asked about it, and no doubt was prepared to do his “I’m being attacked by the liberal media” performance that got him so much attention in this election in the first place. John King no doubt knew that this is exactly what Gingrich would do. He probably didn’t expect to be hit so personally by Newt, with such ferocity, but he knew something of this kind was coming his way. This was theatre from both ends, CNN’s and Newt’s. It may have been only loosely scripted, but the scenario was all but planned.


I like the way this was put by Andrew Sprung:

Newt’s little show of high moral dudgeon when asked at the opening gun about his ex-wife’s allegations of cruel, self-serving betrayal is getting rave reviews as performance art. And it was an astounding display of the Audacity of Hubris. In the space of a minute or two, Gingrich managed to blame or condemn questioner John King, the news media, his ex-wife and Barack Obama for his being forced to address the consequences of his serial adultery.

In other words, spare us, Newt. His hypocrisy and underhandedness on this topic is his own fault. The only media bias of which Newt is the victim is the bias for sensationalism and salaciousness. He is being attacked for being a Republican about as much as he’s being attacked for being a white guy or a Christian (which is not at all).

He is being paraded about as another character in the absurd reality show that is contemporary politics. If anything, he is a celebratory figure for his behavior, because he offers so much prurient content to what would otherwise be a dry subject. And he’s brought it all on himself by his own behavior — he who bemoans the alleged immorality of the “secular state” and he who waged a crusade against a sitting president for sexual activities comparatively banal compared to Newt’s own infidelities.

So both are true: The question was way out of line, but Newt had no business getting on even a medium-sized horse about it. He and John King made that bed together, and now he has to sleep in it, presumably with whomever he is diddling at the moment.

A Campaign for Presiguv…er…Goverdent…Oops.

Speaking of Rick Perry’s chance at a new life, I think I just discovered a big part of why he fared so poorly in this campaign. Seems he wasn’t even entirely sure what office he was running for. Which is it, sir? Which is it?!?!

Rick Perry’s Bright Future

doctored by me, Paul.

Mitt Romney’s Tax Returns Explanation, as Performed by Kermit the Frog

It’s obviously very important to Mitt Romney that people understand with absolute clarity what his position is on the release of his tax returns. To help him out, I’ve enlisted Kermit the Frog to reiterate Mr. Romney’s explanation from last night’s debate.

Hopelessness Watch: Despair the Clueless Voter

Something to ready your mind for the Granite State pandering we’re all about to (voluntarily) endure at tonight’s GOP debate: From yesterday’s New York Times on New Hampshire’s mavericky electorate.

John Hopwood, 52, an unemployed editor from Manchester . . . said he usually voted Democratic — he voted for Bill Richardson in the 2008 Democratic primary and then for Mr. Obama in November — but was disappointed in the administration. He said he was considering Mr. Huntsman and Mr. Gingrich but was unsure which way he would go.

In the end, he said, “I’ll probably vote Democratic and write in Hillary.”

This needs to be called what it is: stupid. If you’re really torn between left-of-center Democrats and the hardest, wing-nuttiest of the right, then you have no idea what’s going on. What could possibly be the swaying factors among this disparate array of candidates — a group of which, at the extreme ends from the Democrats to Newt-Freaking-Gingrich, have essentially nothing in common other than that they are mammals.

This is not being independent. This is being ignorant. And these are the people to which general election candidates have to cater. Jeebus help us.

In Defense of E-ink and Plain Old Words

At The Loop, Matt Alexander predicts the coming demise of e-ink-based readers. His contention, which may be right, is that the rapid evolution and decreasing prices of tablets will render “electronic paper” to sub-niche status. I can believe that if what we now know of as tablets become so crisp and readable for long durations, then yes, e-ink will no longer have much of a purpose.

But here’s where I disagree. Alexander writes:

While I’d say there is much evolution to come for magazines, the e-book, above all others, is overdue for modernization. I love my Kindle Touch for what it is, but it does little to take the concept of the printed word and evolve it. The e-ink display serves its purpose well, but as the concept of the printed word evolves, so too must the technology around it.

I don’t think this is quite right, because I think if anything, the rise of the Kindle has proven that there remains a great desire in the culture and in the market for long-form reading, reading in the form of what we know of as books. And traditional books need no additional bells and whistles.

As much as some kind of “enhancement” for books is predicted by many in the tech blogosphere, I think the novel, the short story, and most nonfiction is best suited to be presented as clearly readable text, and almost nothing else.

Books, on the whole, don’t need a bevy of video easter eggs or audio atmosphere or anything like that. Linking to a dictionary or encyclopedia to look up unfamiliar terms? Great, and e-ink does it. A way to make notes and highlights? Done. Better ways to navigate indexes or to recall characters or ideas? Kindle’s “X-Ray” feature is just the first step in that. There’s almost nothing else one would even want to have added to that mix. (And I should note that Alexander himself is a huge proponent of the latest e-ink Kindle.)

This is not to say that the book or the printed word must not or need not evolve. It’s wonderful to think of what new media may arise with these emerging technologies. But they will rise alongside traditional forms. They will share, at it were, shelf space with our newly-digitized old-school books. And that’s great.

So for these reasons I think e-ink has a longer life ahead of it than Alexander gives it credit for. It may be that more “tablety” displays reach a point of convergence at which e-ink is no longer necessary, but that won’t be because of some enormous shift in what “book” means.

Theocracy from the Bottom Up

Dearest liberal brethren: Still not sure whether Ron Paul is the “sensible” Republican (see my post arguing that he most certainly is not). Read this article from Michelle Goldberg and try not to shudder:

It might seem that Paul’s libertarianism is the very opposite of theocracy, but that’s true only if you want to impose theocracy at the federal level. In general, Christian Reconstructionists favor a radically decentralized society, with communities ruled by male religious patriarchs. Freed from the power of the Supreme Court and the federal government, they believe that local governments could adopt official religions and enforce biblical law.

“One of the things we forget is that when the Constitution was passed, even though the Bill of Rights said there was going to be no federal religions, every state in the union had basically a state religion and the Constitution was not designed to overturn that,” says [Brian D. Nolder, pastor of Christ the Redeemer Church in Pella, Iowa]. Among Reconstructionists, he says, “there’s a desire for a theocracy, but it has to be one from the bottom up, not from the top down.”

She concludes:

Thus, Paul has been able to create one of the strangest coalitions in American political history, bringing together libertarian hipsters with those who want to subject the sexually impure to Taliban-style public stonings. (Stoning is Reconstructionists’ preferred method of execution because it is both biblical and fiscally responsible, rocks being, in North’s words, “cheap, plentiful, and convenient.”)

So on top of the UN paranoia and the stripping of government help from all those in need, Paul is amassing support from the worst kind of Bronze Age, provincial, theocratic tribalism. To be fair, there’s nothing in this piece that asserts Paul’s own belief in this ideology, but he has gone on record as stating that America is an explicitly Christian nation and dismisses the notion of church-state separation as codified by his revered Constitution, and, as Goldberg notes, he has happily trumpeted the support of some of the worst, most backward theocrats imaginable.

Next time you see liberals swoon over Paul in some TV appearance, lamenting that the other GOPers can’t be more like him, think of this.