Book Review: “Drift” by Rachel Maddow

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power is frank analysis by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow of the recent rise in American militarism. Fans of her television show will immediately recognize her snarky voice and can-you-believe-this incredulity, which translate effectively to the page. Maddow’s stated goal is encouraging a genuine debate about the role of the military in American life and foreign policy, the usefulness of which is echoed by many of the journalistic elite whose reviews grace Drift‘s covers, including Ira Glass, Tom Brokaw, and even Roger Ailes. I seriously question whether she’s laid on the disdainful snark a bit too thickly for this purpose — skeptics might be turned off rather than engaged — but the book is well researched and smoothly written. At the last, Maddow is hopeful rather than dejected. This creeping militarism, she concludes, is not the result of a conspiracy, but rather the cumulative effect of boneheaded but generally well-meaning politicians and officials doing their inadequate best to try to protect us. And as a result, the damage is reversible. We just need to frankly discuss what has happened.

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Washington Referendum Measure 74: The Righteous Case for Marriage Equality

I’m a dedicated but lazy citizen, so it was only this weekend that I got around to reading the literature presented in the Washington State voters’ pamphlet concerning Referendum Measure 74, the gay marriage bill. The measure was ratified by the legislature, but sufficiently many assholes petitioned for a referendum that it now requires approval from the People. Per the ballot:

This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony.

The state legislature passed and the voters approved the so-called ‘Everything but Marriage’ bill in 2009 that equated domestic partnerships with marriages in every respect except the terminology. That’s obviously very stupid since a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, so don’t dick around with names in the first place: call a rose a rose. It follows that R-74 is a no-brainer, but what really struck me was the stark contrast between the arguments for and against its passage reproduced in the voters’ pamphlet. It is that juxtaposition more than anything else that has solidified my understanding that this bill is not only necessary and proper; but that opposition to it is the basest, most detestable position of any on the ballot this year.

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Book Review: “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins

The God Delusion is a fairly recent nonfiction work by the prolific evolutionary biologist and militant atheist Richard Dawkins. Published in 2006, 30 years after he rose to prominence with the work for which he is best known and which I highly recommend, The Selfish Gene, there is only a little biology to be found on the pages of the The God Delusion. Drawing from well-documented anecdotal evidence and swelling with reason rigorously applied, the book is an orderly and unapologetic assault on belief in God, organized Abrahamic religion, and a culture that sheepishly looks the other way when confronted with either.

A common criticism of Dawkins is that he’s just so nasty when he dissects religiosity; why, ask the faint of conviction, can’t he just leave well enough alone, or at least be respectful when he can’t? Having read several of his books, I can safely declare that Dawkins is actually eminently reasonable. He is deferential to individuals he respects, admits when he’s at risk of speculating more than analyzing, and draws distinction between harmless naivete and menacing intent. He successfully identifies real harms derived from faith-based world views and religious institutions and makes a case for his politely and eloquently expressed incredulity and outrage at them. A careful reading of the The God Delusion should convince the thoughtful believer, explicitly his target audience, not only of atheism but of his brand of powerful evangelistic atheism. Rather than respecting faith, we should all become foot soldiers in the war to eradicate it.

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