Saturday, February 17, 2007

On Lincoln Quotes

As any reader of this blog should know, Frank Gaffney of The Washington (Moonie) Times headlined a recent column with a fabricated quote from Abraham Lincoln. Via Digby, who lnks to this blog we have some real Lincoln quotes. The whole post needs to be read, obviously, but I would like to put up just one that is as relevant today as it was back when Lincoln said it in 1849:
The people of the United States are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.

Since this is the exact opposite of both the content and spirit of the fake quote - indeed the entire speech Lincoln gave on the floor of the House is diametrically opposed to the fabrication - it is little wonder it is true. Right-wingers live in opposite world, so it is safe to accept the premise that anything they say is the opposite of reality. (With apologies to my turtle-loving friends to the north who, living in Wisconsin, do not live in opposite world, just in a really cold, cheese-loving land)

The Earth May not Spin, But My Head Does

Yesterday, I read a piece . . . somewhere . . . (I have looked and looked and looked and cannot find the original story to link to; a little help here please, although the piece linked below does have a link also; thank God for the Intertubes) about a Georgia state legislator who has circulated a letter concerning creationism being a Jewish kabbalistic plot; the letter reached a Texas state rep., and now the GA rep. is backing away from responsibility (even though it was sent from his office, on his letterhead etc.; these guys dance so bad, they need new choreographers!). There is a part of me that wanted to be all sarcastic about this - bringing up The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and all that - but I thought better of it because I didn't want to be misunderstood on something as both silly and serious as this. Christian anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are the root of too much evil to snark about, and any Jewish reader who came across even a sarcastic, satiric jibe might be rightly offended. Not only that, but such is just in poor taste; again, the piles of Jewish bodies is a bit too high for my taste.

I was going to ignore the whole thing - the stupid, like the poor, will always be with us - until I saw this story over at I urge you to go read it and find out just how seriously deranged creationists are.

I have had some very good discussions with frequent visitor/poster Democracy Lover on issues of the philosophy of science, including the truth-and-reality-status of scientific theories, including Copernicus' (I should just use his real name, Kopernik, because it is easier to make a plural out of; now, I've ended a sentence with a preposition!). These are both fun and deadly serious. Having read this story, however, I think it necessary to make clear that just because I question the ultimate truth and reality of any scientific theory (as a good scientist should), that in no way means I . . . I can't even type what is such a ludicrous sentence!


Epistemological and ontological skepticism over the status of scientific theories in no way countenances the acceptance of an alternative that has failed, for five centuries, to account for mountains of data. Epistemological and ontological skepticism over science is not anti-science; it is putting a wonderful, useful tool in a larger context of human understanding. Period.

That I should feel at all compelled to write the previous short paragraph shows that, perhaps, DL has a point. I still will not question the faith of those who are claiming this nonsense. I will question their mental status, their intellectual capacity, and their seriousness as public figures.

I have been trying to be nice, but I just need to get this last line out of my system, and go listen to something really loud.


OK, I'm better now.


Friday, February 16, 2007

One Iota of Difference (With Corrections)

As a public service, I will give the source of this particular saying. During the early-4th to early-5th century debates among Christians as to the exact status of the relationship between Jesus as Son and God as Father (I will not bore you with the metaphysical details), in order to make the sameness-within-distinction that was thought necessary, some (who eventually succeeded, in having their definition encoded in what has been called the Nicene Creed) came up with Greek idea of homoousios, meaning that God as God and Jesus as human/divine reality shared the same "substance", ousios, divine stuff. There was a large plurality that thought this took the relationship too far and offered up a compromise - the Father and Son were homoiousios, "of similar substance". The addition of that smallest of Greek letters, iota, made all the difference in the world. Or not, according to which resident of Nicaea you spoke to. Thus the saying.

With that in mind, I offer the following observations on evolving discussion over the President in his Constitutional office of Commander-in-Chief. Some would argue that the President is Commander-in-Chief, thus creating an identity between the whole office and one of its functions. A more responsible reading, many argue is the President as Commander-in-Chief, reducing an identity to a predicate. By changing that one letter, "a" to "i", we change everything, not least of which is the horrific, un-Constitutional idea that the President "is" the Commander-in-Chief, thus a military leader even as a civilian. Do those who make this argument not realize that this is, in essence, an attempted military coup d'etat by means of language? It militarizes a civilian office; it militarizes American public life; it places us all under the restrictions and regulations of military discipline.

It is thus that an iota of difference can mean so much.

*After putting the blog to bed for the night, I realized I had made a couple oopsies. First, I put the Christological debates a century earlier - from early-3rd to early-4th centuries; second, I translated ousios as "essence" rather than the more correct translation of "substance". It might mean little to those who don't know the metaphysics, but it means a lot to me who's supposed to know this stuff.

A couple thing . . .

1) As the saying goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. We have to wait twelve hours to see if this post by Joe Klein confirms it, or is a one-off fluke. Klein link to David Broder's latest column in which Broder predicts that Pres. Bush is poised to make a political comeback. There is something so remarkably insane about Broder's column one would almost have to take it for parody. Read the whole thing, and try to understand it as a serious contribution to our national dialogue, or the insights of our most gifted political reporter. One need not wade through the muck on the right-wing blogs to find something so egregiously out-of-touch with simple reality. Klein is indeed right. I think not.

2) Over at Talking Points Memo, there is an excerpt from a speech on the floor of the Senate by Joe Lieberman that is so tiresomely predictable, so full of right-wing cliches and carefully crafted talking points (no pun intended) one wonders if Joe actually wrote it, or had it faxed to him. In fact, he could have forwarded the fax right on and saved all the oxygen he wasted speaking.
An antidote to Lieberman is, as always, Digby, who says the following in a post that deserves to be read several times, especially by a nincompoop like Lieberman:
[U]ntil we admit that the Bush Doctrine[of pre-emptive war] is an illegal and immoral doctrine and repudiate it, we are going to be stuck in this horrible situation where we are the biggest military power on the earth who are mistrusted, feared, hated, and actively resisted.

This reality, not Lieberman's phony "constitutional crisis" (we are, of course, in the midst of one, we just haven't come to terms with it yet), is what we faced with. Most of the American people realize this. One wonders whether Lieberman is deliberately stupid, or so wrapped up in his own view of himself as some moral arbiter that he deludes himself into believing he has any ethical force whatsoever.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sensible, Thoughtful, Open, Honest - Apparently He Must Be Stopped!

Over at Eschaton, Dr. Black is writing about religion here, here, and here, specifically his own views on "religious consultants" to Democratic candidates (God help us all!), and his discomfort with such claims as that religious liberals could act as the "conscience" of the Democratic Party" (Ugh! Aboslute Ugh!). He then goes on to insist that he is neither hostile to religion nor particularly interested in it; he wants it to be removed from its exclusive pedestal and get down and dirty and open itself to criticism. He also outlines his own rather secular upbringing, although I'm not sure why, other than as a descriptor.

What I like about all these posts are his reasonableness. I even agree with his point about "evangelical" atheists like Sam Harris getting in there and being part of the fray. I also agree with his uneasiness at the comments of "religious consultants" - actually, i find the whole idea distasteful in the extreme; these people need to find other jobs - for the very same reasons Black does. Christians have no monopoly on virtue, on goodness, or on what it means to guide others for right action. One of the most morally consistent thinkers of the 20th century also wrote a book entitled Why I Am Not a Christian. Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Baha'i, Buddhism, the Sikhs - they all have moral codes that are clear, and in some cases (Baha'i, Jain) even more strict than ethic Christians could figure out. To say such things is absurd, counterproductive, and just plain wrong-headed.

I hope Duncan stops being quite so defensive. His words are honestly meant, thoughtful, clear, and honest. He even makes a point many on the left hesitate to do - he welcomes Christian voters into the liberal camp (although he also notes, correctly, that our torturer-in-chief garnered the swag-bag of Christian votes in 2004). I think he is being defensive because he is discovering that, in attempting to be thoughtful, open, honest, balanced, but still critical, he is not playing by the rules of the game. By admitting up front he not only doesn't believe in God, but it just isn't a big deal to him, he is failing to recognize that too many Christians (I can't speak of those of other faiths, because my experience is almost completely with Christians) are so insecure in their faith, and so insecure in their ability to speak of their faith and relate it to their lives, that any admission that God is irrelevant to another's life is ipso facto an attack upon them and the one thing that gives their life roots and meaning and substance. Black's insousciance is a threat because it undermines too many people's belief that there is a necessity to God's existence, and that this necessity is rooted in human beings.

If he were to take my advice, which I'm sure he won't because I doubt he knows I exist, he would end on the note he has - his piece "What I Believe", and go on to other things. His point is made, and those who would attack him will not hear it anyway. They are not interested in thoughtful, nuanced argument. He should recognize that by now. These people need to destroy those with whom they disagree because they are afraid; what they fear most is that Duncan Black and other like him might just be right.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Truth Sets Them Free to Leave, Apparently

The weekly United Methodist News paper, The United Methodist Reporter, has a page 1 story (which you can find online here) entitled "Q&A: Don't Confuse Political Power, Kingdom of God". It is an interview with Greg Boyd, pastor of a megachurch in St. Paul. Wrestling with the political dimension of the Christian faith and what it means in the United States today led Rev. Boyd to insist that the United States is not a "Christian nation", and that to do so destroys the uniqueness and revolutionary power of the Gospel. One thousand of the 5,000 members left.

Boyd, however, remains unapologetic, as it should be.

This is hardly news, although I am sure it might sound surprising to many. Back in 1993, shortly after giving the benediction(? invocation? now I can't remember!) at Pres. Clinton's first inauguration, Billy Graham gave an interview in which he said that one his biggest regrets was his own confusion of the Gospel and what he called "Americanism". He no longer was as confused, and the last years of his public ministry were spent insisting that the social dimension of the Gospel was about care for the poor, the oppressed, service in love to others, and a broader social vision than protecting fetuses and protecting society from gays. Indeed, Graham's message was much broader and liberal, in the conventional sense of the term, than his son and anointed successor's, Franklin. In today's ADHD media culture, however, this is not just not news, but ancient history, and irrelevant to our current situation.

In any event, I encourage you to read the interview, and discover what real preaching means, and the threat such preaching poses to our self-possession and sense of security. We need more Rev. Boyd's in this world.

Killed in Action

Over at Hullabaloo, Tristero follows up on a story reported a while ago concerning an American military helicopter that went down, and how the Pentagon reported the downing as due to "mechanical failure" without getting too specific. Now, of course, the truth emerges that it was shot down. What he writes concerning the way the story is managed deserves repeating as often as fellow-Hullabaloo writer Digby's dictum, "They lie as easily as they breathe":
[The Pentagon] just didn't want to tell you when it [i.e., the downing of the helicopter] was on the front pages.
More misinformation. More time wasted arguing over the patently obvious.
[I]n the real world, when a helicopter crashes and burns in a war zone, it's because it was attacked.
My God, to be the loved ones o f the people that got killed and have to listen to your government's bullshit about their deaths...

Could it be that the Clinton Adminsitration's experience in Somalia, Blackhawk Down and all that, has convinced the Bush Pentagon that reporting a helicopter downing could possibly be viewed badly in the United States? Any less well than the deaths of 3100 Americans for no reason whatsoever, based in lies and the constitution-shredding vehemence of lying, power-hungry maniacs?

I shall say it again, with Digby (repeat this mantra five times a day, especially as you prepare to view or read news reports): The lie as easily as they breathe.

The Debt We All Owe Joe Klein

I know I should probably stop beating this particular dead horse. Obsessing over the vapidity, faux-elitism, and noblesse oblige of Joe Klein is probably as tiresome as it gets. He will not change, because he lacks a fundamental understanding that his readers are both intelligent and discerning - and think he is too often a self-important, self-promoting blowhard, trying much too hard to prove how smart, insightful, and connected he is.

Having said all that, the headlines for Klein's two posts over at Swampland concerning today's Presidential press conference are as follows:

The Bush Press Conference - The Nonimportant Stuff

The Bush Press Conference - The Important Stuff

For sheer audacious assumed superiority, these win this week's prize for media haughtiness. Couldn't he just type, "Here's what you think" and be done with it? In fact, I think that should be the title of Klein's column for Time. It would be more intellectually honest, and reflect his world-view, viz., I am a Washington-based journalist and author of eight books so I of course know more than anyone.

Is it any wonder he is held in such contempt by so many on the left-blogosphere?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Note to Mollify My Wife

I feel a need to clarify an issue here, before I get taken to the verbal woodshed by my Other Half for somehow neglecting religious matters in my blog. At this point in time, I feel the most urgent moral, indeed Christian, task, is doing all in one's power to stop an impending war with Iran. I could sit and list all the possible consequences of such a horrid catastrophe from a political, social, military, and diplomatic standpoint, but for me these are secondary considerations. ATTACKING IRAN WOULD BE A MORAL EVIL. If Bush & Co. thought it would be a political and military triumph of the highest order, they would not hide behind anonymous sources, lie, plan in secret (even as a third carrier battle croup steams toward the Gulf), and obfuscate, dissimulate, and fail to tell the complete truth. As Digby says, "They lie as easily as they breathe."(I try to get this in as often as possible; it needs to be shouted from every rooftop) One does not lie about a moral good.

This alone should tell anyone with any kind of mature moral sense that there is something monstrous in the very idea of attacking Iran. Do not doubt for one minute that the moral-morons who currently run our country would leave, as the good representative from Virginia said in the discussion linked below, "every option on the table" which includes, for targets Bush insists are nuclear, nuclear weapons. These are horrors, ladies and gentlemen, obscenities of the first water - and they must be stopped, aborted before they reach the birthing stage. I cannot emphasize this enough: THERE IS NO ISSUE MORE CENTRAL TO THE VERY SURVIVAL OF OUR REPUBLIC THAN THE PREVENTION OF WAR WITH IRAN; THERE IS NO ISSUE MORE CENTRAL TO ONE'S IDENTITY AS A CHRISTIAN THAN THE PREVENTION OF WAR WITH IRAN.

"Something's afoot . . .

. . . and sounds like the generals are doing everything they possibly can to avoid Bush starting an utterly catastrophic war with Iran." Thus Tristero at Hullabaloo in attempting to firgure out the dissonance from within the Bush Administration. Gen. Peter Pace says one thing, the Bush team rolls out anonymous sources to say another, and Tristero's decoding seems not only plausible but a good, scientific explanation, in that it covers disparate, discrete data, and predicts future behavior as well (Team Bush will repeat themselves, Pace will refuse to play along, Pace will get fired, etc.).

Starting a war with Iran, whether one cooks the intelligence or not, is easy if there are representatives as clearly ignorant AND stupid as the one quoted at length here, again at Hullabaloo. What makes this exchange so unbelievable is the fact that Chris Matthews - hardly a leading intellectual - is as stunned as Rep. Israel by the sheer audacious idiocy flowing from Cantor's mouth. This is sock-puppetry gone bad, with someone clearly too dumb to realize he is being dumb. Of course, the fate of America is in his hands, so perhaps we should pull the covers a bit higher tonight . . .

BTW, I followed my own advice and sent emails to my Senators, Durbin and Obama, on the whole Iran thing. Durbin has responded, Obama has not, and I plan on writing to Durbin again, probably tomorrow when I have more time, and can sit and consider my response. I will not write to my Congressman, Rep. Don Manzullo (R - IL16) because (a) he is a lightweight backbencher in the minority; and (b) his greatest achievement has been failing to get emergency assistance for areas of Rockford hit hard by flooding over Labor Day weekend. If a Republican can't get federal funds during an election year for disaster from Republican-controlled Executive agencies, the this person is clearly of no consequence.

I think highlighting Gen. Pace's comments, as well as the utter foolishness of leaving this monumental decision in the hands of morons such as those in the House would be an excellent place to start.

Monday, February 12, 2007

More on the Somali Air Raid

I mentioned it as a bit of a throw-away yesterday, and to be perfectly honest, it was something that popped into my head as I typed it, but reading again what I wrote about the American air raid against alleged Somali "terrorist" sites (if Bush told me Christmas were December 25th, I would want some kind of evidence) strikes me as, well, insightful. I think it is something worth pondering.

First, the plane used - I think the designation is the AR-51, but I am probably wrong - is a modified reconnaisance plane that has multiple .50-caliber machine guns mounted on one side. Directed by ground troops (thus, there had to be some kind of recon force nearby), the place circles low, firing thousands of rounds of ammunition a second, usually tracers (better for tracking purposes at night, but also usually containing phosphorus or small amounts of depleted uranium, thus harmful even in cases where they are not instantly lethal). This was the plane that failed miserably back in the fall of 2001 at taking out senior Taliban personnel in Afghanistan; the story then denied all sorts of things that simply had to be the case for the mission to be such an abject failure, not the least of which was the capture and/or death of a group of special forces personnel near or inside the Afghan capital building which was the focus of the attack.

So, what we had in Somalia were a few strikes over a couple days, using "terrorists" (what else?) as an excuse, against a country with which we are not at war, and indeed is a country only in the sense that most people in the world agree that there is an area of the world called "Somalia". This poor, tortured land, the victim of multiple sieges from nature and larger countries eager to control its access to the Red Sea (not to mention a potential fortune in mineral deposits, thanks to the Great Rift Valley) cannot catch a break, and the United States using this flying weapons platform around, shooting pretty much willy-nilly is like rubbing sea salt in festering sores.

The larger point is that there has been almost no discussion about this raid, or its potential long-term meaning for the United States as we prepare to do something monumentally stupid and evil in Iran. We managed to pull off the raid with almost no press or blogosphere comment, certainly no Congressional reaction, and what should that tell the Bush Administration? That, despite all the heat, there is little anyone can do to stop them once they give the order to "let fly" or "unleash hell" (depending upon which Russell Crowe movie you prefer). That, despite all the heat, any air action, as long as it even looks successful - that is, no plane is shot down, no bodies dragged through the streets, no movie made years later, etc. - the American people are OK with it.

To my mind it is encumbent upon us to demand answers to certain questions: what was the source of information that led the US to believe that there were al Qaeda personnel in that spot at that time in Somalia? Were they credible? Was there some kind of independent verification? Which members of Congress were consulted, when, and what information were they given, as opposed to what the President, the Joint Chiefs, and other Executive Branch personnel may have received? Were all American service personnel extricated from Somalia? What was the result of the attack - was the target successfully killed, was the mission accomplished with minimal loss of life and minimal property damage? Was notice given to the current rulers of Somalia that an American warplane would be swooping overhead, shooting what to all intents and purposes looks like laser beams at a building? Was permission granted? If not, why not? If not, why did the mission go forward?

These are some questions that should be answered, and probably not even the really good ones. I think it is a start, though, and it might show the Bush Team that the anti-war crowd mean business.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

"Have the media learned absolutely nothing from Iraq? It really appears that way." - Glenn Greenwald

The title, from this post by Glenn Greenwald, highlights our current dilemma here in the United States, as the Bush Administration works "in secret" to prepare a military air strike against Iran. I put in secret in quotes because, as Democracy Lover notes here, the foreign press is on this story with good, solid information, without the lying denials from American officials as "balance". We are in this strange place right now, where the New York Times prints stories that are Administration stenography, anonymously sourced, with almost no independent verification or evidence. As Eason Jordan writes:
After the bogus Iraq evidence debacle in 2002 and 2003 - allegations that led to war, tens of thousands of lives lost, and hundreds of billions of dollars spent - only a fool would accept as the gospel supposed evidence against another country that's presented by officials who insist on making their allegations anonymously.

We deserve better from the US government. We deserve better from the western news media.

"Only a fool" indeed. Of course, the Bush Administration doesn't really care whether they fool anyone or not. The plans go on, a third carrier battle group steams towards the Persian Gulf, and the media have become an echo chamber for Bush Administration lies. To quote St. Digby:
What could be more dangerous than having delusional megalomaniacs playing RISK at a time like this?
They lie as easily as they breathe.

It is past time for the mainstream press in the United States to get on this story and make us aware of the reality that we face a horrible choice - we confront the truth that a war is being prepared in our name, an air war that could very involve nuclear weapons being used (as the plans themselves are still "secret", there is no way to tell for sure, but the instability of these people should not allow us to rest easily on this subject), and take appropriate actions to stop it NOW; or we continue in our daze, arguing over toothless resolutions concerning Iraq, a lost cause if ever there was one, allowing Bush & Co. to move forward. I truly believe that the recent air strikes against Somalia were a test case; would we as a public rally to the President as he ordered military strikes outside Iraq? Would the press investigate them? Would Congress? As everyone has been silent on them, it would appear that, apart from any actual military success that may or may not have resulted, the Administration won that round.

This is not to say the US press is completely silent. Two articles in Newsweek, "Rumors of War" by Michael Hirsch and Maziar Bahari and "Doubts About Iran" by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball are both thorough and disturbing. The problem is that two areticles, even in as prominent a publication as Newsweek hardly constitute a united front against the Administration's continued abuses, and the press's refusal to do anything other than enable the lying.

We need to repeat as often as possible, first to others, then to the press, what Democracy Lover said in the post linked above:
Bombing Iran would be a [sic] act of such utter stupidity that any remaining doubts about the insanity of thie adminstration would be laid to rest.

We need to rein them in - the Bush folks and their enablers in the press (discussed thoroughly by Glenn Greenwald here). We need to demand better, and more of the better. In order to stop them, we need facts, as much information as possible.

What Have We Become?

Ever since the attacks on September 11, 2001, there has been an unbelievable discussion going on in this country - whether or not, under certain circumstances, or perhaps under present circumstances, the torture of human beings is not just an expedience, but a necessity (the ticking time-bomb crap, I mean argument). Once-noted attorney Alan Dershowitz has argued vociferously for the permission to torture. The Bush Administration, never a bunch to worry about legalities, has proceeded to torture anyway, and we, like a bunch rearranging the deck chairs on the sinking ship of state, continue to argue whether we should or not. We are torturing. What we need now is to accept this - and stop it.

Beyond the horrors inflicted upon the victims, our national reputation abroad, our constitution, our international agreements, covenenants, and treaties to which we are signatories, we need to consider the very personal toll torture takes upon those who actually perform it. I urge anyone who reads this to click the following links and read, in full (mentioning where you found them), what is written there:

Arthur Silber's On Torture - this is where you start, and you should return to it when you are finished.

Digby here and here for a commentary upon the honest reflections of one "interrogator" and what his experience has done to him.

TRex at Fire Dog Lake on the mysterious death of one interrogator who refused to follow orders (please note the image at the top of the post; if that doesn't hit home, nothing will).

To all these suprebly written, thoughful, and timely pieces (TRex insists on a new verb, "digby", to describe what happens when you want to write somthing, and discover someone has done it first, and done it better, than you; I couldn't agree more) I would only like to add this.

In Peter Padfield's biography of Heinrich Himmler, the author notes that a persistent problem Himmler faced was the physical and psychological deterioration of he members of the SS assigned to the concentration camps and death camps (there is a difference; Bergen-Belsen was a concentration camp, Auchwitz was a death camp). The members became alcoholics, drug addicts, abusive to their spouses and families, suicide was rampant, and the hazing of new recruits, including homosexual rape and enforced homosexual concubinage upon more senior officers all became part of the administrative problem facing Himmler. As older members dropped out, or sought duties elsehwere, the types that eventually ended up in positions of authority in the camps were those Himmler tried to restrict (oddly enough) as unfit for such duty - sadists, and those with borderline or clearly psychotic personalities.

The mental and physical toll upon those who, as members of the SS, were the most elite and most truly believed Nazi propaganda concerning the less-than-human status of their wards, was nonetheless phenomenal. Confronted, not by a stereotype, but a living breathing human being day after day, and being responsible for their pain, suffering, and death destroys the torturer.

I would ask anyone who advocates torture - would you be willing to do what you advocate? Would you be willing, free of guilt, to influct pain and suffering, day upon day upon day, upon a fellow human being?

This must stop. This has to stop. For the sake of the souls of those young men and women who are ordered to do unspeakable things to their brothers and sisters, young men and women ordered in our names, paid for with our money (and our children's and grandhcildren's money), to purposely inflict suffering on others - it must end.

Virtual Tin Cup

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