Saturday, March 31, 2007

Sweet Jesus

You know, I sometimes wonder about people who call themselves Christians. Seriously. An artist takes the time to render an image of Christ crucified, and Bill Donohue, he of the Catholic League, is all up in arms . . . because Jesus is naked and made of chocolate!

I first saw something about it at my friend Park Life's blog, who wondered if Jesus was hollow and contained a prize. I said, in comments, that the prize was a complete, folded set of death wraps. Atrios asked whether a penis-less Jesus would have been better, although that would have completely undermined the whole idea that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine. Duncan linked to this post at Feministe which highlight the "outrage" of Donohue and his followers, who, among other things, threatened the lives of the employees at the hotel where the piece was to be displayed. One of them quit.

Park Life brought up Andres Serrano's infamous photo "Piss Christ", where the photographer snapped a shot of a crucifix in a glass of his own urine. There was much ado about that fifteen or so years ago, and this is equally overdone. Seriously, who in the world could possibly be offended by this rather cheesy (chocolaty?) rendering of the suffering Christ? Mindless anti-Semites among others, it would appear.

More to the point, it brings up an issue that is being addressed, one directly addressed to this blog and its author - the question of "swearing", a subset, one supposes of a much larger question of blasphemy (ironically enough, in 1992 or so, a book with that title was published, and Serrano's photo was the cover art, giving it much wider exposure than it might otherwise have had). I think it only fair to give my thoughts on this question since it has come up twice within the past twenty-four hours. My own view, expressed in a comment on another blog, is simple - I do not believe that there is any utterance I or anyone else can or will ever make that can separate us from divine grace. With all the horrors of this world perpetrated by human beings, to even consider God removing one of us from the divine presence because of a bad word is monstrous. Just consider this - I could use profanity from now until the day I die, and nothing but profanity, and it would never equal the horrors visited upon child soldiers in Africa, recruited in Liberia and Sierra Leone, often to protect diamond smuggling, and very often forced to kill close friends or family members or face death themselves. I could "blaspheme the Holy Spirit" (the one "unforgivable sin" according to the Gospel of St. Matthew, although it is never defined, and is best forgotten)from now until doomsday and it would never be as horrific as a day in Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Occupied Poland, Mao's China, or Pol Pot's Kampuchea. Should God turn out to be the kind of God who would, in fact, terminate a relationship with me because I say a bad word on occasion, then I would rather not have anything to do with that God.

The same thing goes for "My Sweet Lord", "Piss Christ", "The Satanic Bible", and Mel Tillis records, all those things that are offensive to eye and ear. We may not like them (I for one think Serrano's photo childish), but to consider them an offense against Christian believers and the Christian faith is not just ludicrous, it is as childish as Serrano's photographic rant. How could anyone take offense at this?

With all the horrors of this world, one would think Donohue would have better things to do.

Good Intentions, But a Bad Idea

I have made it very clear, I do believe, that I have little truck with idiotic anti-Christians like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. I also think it should be clear that I do not appreciate my fellow Americans' coining the neologism "Islamofascism" and applying it, willy-nilly, to Muslims around the world. I do not like the defamation of any religion; I also do not like the defamation of non-religion by those who adhere to one religious tradition or another. In general, I guess you could say I abhor defamation.

Yet, I do not think this is a good idea; it would certainly be unconstitutional in the United States where people can say whatever they wish about religion, whether it is well founded or not (we produced both Sam Harris and Jerry Falwell; Jonathan Edwards and Anton LaVey). More to the point, while I understand the frustration of my Islamic distant cousins in the faith - a war is being waged against them, being called a "Clash of Civilizations", by some of the most uncivilized elements of the West - I do believe that silencing dissent is hardly the answer. The resolution reads in part:
[Nations are] to take resolute action to prohibit the dissemination of racist and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement and religious hatred, hostility, or violence.

I would go so far as to say that, by pushing and passing this resolution, the UN is actually doing something counter-productive, because they are encouraging the silencing of dissent, based upon religious principles. As an American, I find this grotesque. Perhaps were I a member of a faith group under serious assault around the world, having my faith claims not only insulted but called "anti-religious" by ignoramuses and imbeciles, I might feel differently than I do. Alas, I do not, and while I sympathize, as I said above, I cannot say this is really productive. We need all voices, even those that find religion silly or pernicious, if we are going to move forward.

The Abyss Stares Back

One of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's most famous epigrams is as follows:
Beware of staring into the abyss, for the abyss begins to stare back.

Whatever that abyss might be, it has often been taken to mean the possibility that the nullity that exists at what Joseph Conrad artistically called The Heart of Darkness would begin not only to stare back at us, but to capture us in that stare, and claim us as its own. having recently exited from an entire century when the abyss stared at us - from the trenches and slaughter-bench of Flanders' Fields, to the sign reading Arbeit Mach Frei over the entrance to that most hideous of human realities, Auschwitz-Birkenau, to the insanity of the nuclear stalemate, holding the entire world hostage to the whims of the least stable leader of each superpower at any given time - one would think we might be a bit wiser and more circumspect in our approach to evil. Indeed, we might actually understand it, and the potential within all of us for committing the most horrific acts imaginable. One would hope we would be more cautious in applying the epithet to individuals and groups, although certainly not acts. After all, the mote in the eye of the Other is very often magnified by the beam in our own.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. With David Frum's use of the those three words, "Axis of Evil" - at once invoking the memories of the horrors of the Second World War and the clarity of a black/white vision of our motives and actions over and against the Other - we have returned, like lemmings to a cliff, to the theme of evil in our collective life. Unfortunately, again, too often we see the mote in the eye of the Other and scream about how horrid it is, ignoring the piercing pain and ultimate weight that sits within our own.

We do have resources, however, that can let us be more clear about that beam, although perhaps not what to do about it. Over at, there is this reprint of a story originally in The American Prospect by Tara McKelvey, on former Army interpreter and interrogator Tony Lagouranis. Lagouranis recently participated in a forum at NYU law school on torture and the television show 24, because as an interrogator in various places in Iraq, Lagouranis knows from torture; he performed it. For anyone out there who would claim to have no qualms about the use of torture, I would urge you to read the article. Below is the close of the article, as quote from Lagouranis:
. "I didn't know I would discover and indulge in my own evil," he writes in his forthcoming book. "And now that it has surfaced, I fear that it will be my constant companion for the rest of my life."

The President is wont to spew about "evildoers", always, of course, an Other, never the virtuous Us. Sadly, Larouganis had to learn the hard way that, in fact, evil is no respecter of skin color, nationality, religion, education, or any other mitigating factor. One would have thought that lesson pretty clear by now, but myopia about our own capacity to inflict horror on others is, alas, part of being human. Larouganis, however, no longer has the luxury of indulging in moral blindness. As much a casualty of the immoral policies of the Bush Administration as were his victims, I have nothing but pity for him. For those who ordered him to act this way, and for those who vocally support such acts from a distance, out of whatever motive, I have nothing but scorn. You think you can stare in to the abyss and not be held in its empty gaze, or perhaps can even conquer it.

You, like Louriganis, have already lost. So have we all.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Rethinking Hatred

Over at (quite the source today!) is this interview with Joe Murray, formerly of the American Family Association (AFA), Don Wildmon's group in Mississippi that, among other acts, tried to force a boycott of Disney because it extended employee benefits to same-sex partners (that went really well). Murray wrote several anti-gay rights pieces for the AFA, but has since left the organization and recanted his writings.

Why, might one ask, would someone who was so vocal in his attacks on gay marriage and gay rights in general suddenly support them? According to the interview (which should be read in full for the surprises within) - Murray read the Bible! Low and behold, he learned that the story is one of love and acceptance, one of letting God be God, and making sure we don't usurp the place of God by declaring who is eligible for eternal bliss and who is destined for damnation. While hardly a candidate for progressive politics - by his own admission, Murray doesn't trust political labels - Murray nonetheless followed his conscience rather than the dictates of the grand high poobahs of the Christian right, and discovered within the text of Scripture the resources for overcoming the hatred and bigotry fomented by the organization for which he used to work.

This testimony is comforting for those of us who have been saying for years that the story of love and grace found in Scripture is deeper and more profound than the simple who's-in-who's-out of the Christian right narrative. That someone who was actually an employee of one of these groups found both the courage and intellectual and spiritual muscle to move beyond the narrow confines of this group, and to do so in a way that demonstrated both integrity and honesty shows what a powerful weapon scripture can be, when used properly.

I'm Cameron's Pal!

I sit and write these little missives of mine, tossing them into the great tubes of the internet, wondering where they land. I have had one or two people consider what I say worth pondering, repeating, and commenting upon, and that is more than I could ask for. It seems, though, that some people want more. As I wrote yesterday, Cameron at the blog "Magic Valley Mormon" took umbrage with what he feels is my half-hearted apology from Sunday. I explained, carefully and completely, why I took the position I did. That wasn't enough, because it didn't address the issue for Cameron. He wanted to discuss the whole "Gathering of Eagles" thing - is any issue as dead or irrelevant as that silly little faux-group and their opera bouffe counter-demonstration? - but I insisted that it was just one part of a much larger whole. In fact, I left a comment on his blog, which I reproduce in whole below before he deletes it:
I am so glad you are willing to read what I wrote, even though you completely missed the point. I ignore what you have to say not because of the Gathering of Pigeons, but because that is just one instance where you give aid and comfort to the enemies of the Constitution who currently reside in the Executive Office of the President. It is part of a larger whole, just as the USA purge is part of a larger whole. One cannot understand one part without taking the whole stinking, rotten mess that is the Bush Administration into account.
Again, you want to be taken seriously, apparently. You want to engage with me. Fine. Accept that there is abundant evidence that Bush Co. is rotten to the core, and maybe we can move one from there. Until that happens, until you recognize that I am unmoved by a bunch of photos of radicals being nasty and adolescent, until you admit that, perhaps, our country is in a state of disarray, I doubt we have much to talk about.

March 30, 2007 2:12 PM

We are at loggerheads because he wants to talk about the burning of an American flag and the effigy of a soldier. I refuse to even give this any serious consideration because to do so is already to concede that his position has any intellectual, political, or moral weight at all. He accuses me of throwing a tantrum, but in fact, the tantrum is all his, because I am not discussing what he wants to discuss the way he wants it discussed. I refuse to play his game, and he may not like it, but there's not much I can do about that. One either insists that the entire structure of public debate has fundamentally changed, and that the rules are no longer set by those who want us to acknowledge the legitimacy of what is illegitimate, or one has already lost.

I am honored that he considers my views worthy enough to discuss. He is welcome to come here as often as he wants, to comment as often as he wants. Until and unless he understands that the rules are different, however, he might as well be shouting into an empty well, because we just won't have that much to talk about.

Some Thoughts I Share With Sean Gonzalvez

I found this piece by Sean Gonzalvez over at, and thought it summed up much of what I consider my position on a number of issues not peripheral to this entire blogging enterprise. I urge you to read the whole thing, but I want to highlight something Gonzalves writes at the end of his piece:
I'm talking about pursuing the life of the mind and taking full responsibility for the choices you make. Besides, if I had to bet on either public opinion or expert opinion, I'm rolling with P.O.

Don't take my word for any of this. Check it out for yourself because you certainly won't learn it in school. I'm not hatin' on educators. They've got a work force to train. But while you're learning the "right" answers, don't stop pursuing the wonder-filled questions you had about the world before they tried to turn you into a period. You owe that to the world. And that's word to your GED-gettin', no college degree havin,' self-edge-i-bicated Daddy.

I once thought I would pursue the career of an academic, specifically that most abstruse of academic careers, a professor of philosophy. After two years of course work, and settling on a topic for a dissertation, I decided that being a husband and father took precedence over dissecting the writings of Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, so I left. Part of my disenchantment, besides the obvious personal pressure brought about by the arrival of our first child (whose tenth birthday is approaching much too quickly), was the realization that too much of academic philosophy was done for other academic philosophers. This closed circle, small, erudite, occasionally boisterous, is irrelevant to much of our common life. I had no desire, have never had the desire, to be irrelevant to our common life. When I discovered blogger, and how easy this whole thing is - sit down and type! - I decided that my decision a decade ago was correct; it just took time and technology a while to give me the opportunity to do what I wanted the way I wanted to do it.

When I say that contemporary academic philosophy is "irrelevant", I do not mean that the content of philosophical discussion is irrelevant. Far from it. What I mean is that the debates, discussions, disagreements, diatribes, dialogues, duologues, dissensions (with apologies to King Crimson) within the scholarly journals have little real impact on our common life, nor do the academics, for the most part, consider such impact as either important or relevant. Such intellectual mutual masturbation is abhorrent to me; why else would one consider the pursuit of the the life of the mind if it was not for something besides arguing with other members of the fraternity? This is the kind of intellectual elitism I find distasteful, and all too common.

It isn't difficult to figure out what philosophers are talking about. Some philosophers are actually quite easy to read - Plato and Boethius wrote dialogues; Richard Rorty's writing is a model for how philosophy should be done, clear, concise, flowing prose that eschews the phony erudition and penumbral horrors of Germanified academic prose (Kant and Heidegger are the worst culprits here; they seem to think bad writing is the same thing as being profound) - and what they have to say is important. Indeed, I have been re-reading Rorty, for the first time in over 15 years, and am amazed at how closely much of what he has to say parallels my own thinking (the central idea being, as a line from I believe Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity puts it, "The world is not about anything"). In fact, it has been my wrestling with Rorty that has been partly responsible for my own light blogging this week; I have been trying to figure out a way to work up a post on my own reactions (almost all positive) to my current reading.

Let me repeat, with Gonzalvez, that if you don't believe me, go find out for yourself. There's the internet. There are libraries, and bookstores, and One of the great myths and errors of our society is that "education" is something that is done to you, during regimented periods of your life, to make you a better citizen/consumer/employee. Actually, the root of "education" is the Latin word that means "to draw out" - learning is about drawing one into a larger world, be it philosophy, anthropology, electrical engineering, or whatever. It is something best done on one's own, using one's native resources to travel down strange and interesting byways and pathways that could lead one who knows where. The mystique of the Ph.D. is highly overrated; it just means you know how to jump through certain academic hoops. The information is out there for you to read and digest on your own, at your own pace, and without a professor looking over your shoulder telling you that you are right or wrong.

While the internet is revolutionizing American political discourse, with liberal blogs doing what conservative talk radio did fifteen years ago - getting in on the ground floor of an exciting medium, and starting to set the agenda for our public debate - I think its impact upon intellectual life in general has not yet even begun to be tapped. Like the invention of movable type, which allowed the dissemination of information to an increasingly literate, economically well-off, nascent bourgeoisie five hundred years ago, fueling, among other things, the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution, the internet can be a vehicle for a more articulate, informed public, enhancing our civil life and society, if used properly. The only constraints, really, are artificial - accepting the idea that academic discussion should remain a closed shop for elites who really know what is going on.

Throw off the shackles of imposed ignorance, explore all sorts of areas, educate yourself, whether its how to raise tropical fish or rebuild a transmission or the arguments between Kuhn and Popper. It's all good.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Cameron Wants Reasons

So, Cameron didn't like my apology the other day. I find it odd that, having stated clearly my position vis-a-vis apologists for the Bush Administration and their utter lack of credibility, he would insist that I am simply stamping my feet, refusing to listen like a child having a tantrum. Actually, I think it utterly reasonable to refuse to listen anymore to those who either willingly lie, or enable others to do so, lies that have done more serious damage to our nation than anything since slavery. From the economy to the war to the destruction of the integrity of the federal bureaucracy, one wonders what, exactly, I am supposed to be listening to by way of defense.

I could be all open-minded and say, "You know, there really are two sides to the question, or perhaps even multiple sides, and each is as valid as the other." Except, not only don't I believe that to be true in this case, it is demonstrably false. There is no case to be made for support for the Bush Administration, because there is nothing to support. They do nothing, they offer nothing, they are destructive of everything in to which they come in to contact. As I write this, a former DoJ official is on Capitol Hill trying to explain why the Justice Department not only lied initially about the firing of eight United States Attorneys, but continued to lie about the lies, even as more information became public. My feeling is Sampson is being set up as the fall guy for Gonzalez on this one, but with more information coming to light, that just won't wash. There is already too much information in the public domain - all those e-mails - to sustain the idea that Sampson was anymore than a functionary, carrying out his orders. Why one would want to believe someone who has already demonstrated his willingness to lie under oath is a bit beyond my comprehension, but there are enough facts and enough of a paper trail on the table now to ensure that we get at what happened without anymore nonsensical lying.

I refuse to consider conservative governance as anything but an utter and dismal failure, politically, socially, and morally bankrupt to the core. True believers, be they Islamic terrorists, Christian fundamentalists, or Republicans, are always dangerous because the real world never intrudes upon their carefully crafted desire to create a new world out of the ashes of the old, ashes they themselves have helped to create. You don't like it that I refuse to listen to your complaints about a few anarchists at a protest rally? Sorry, but I've been to enough of these DC shindigs to know the way they work, and these kinds of folks are there for one reason and one reason alone - publicity. You give them what they crave, by flashing their "Fuck the Troops" banner and declaring that this is what Democrats and liberals really believe. Again, you are either ignorant or purposely mendacious, and at this point, the distinction is moot, because the result is the same - you lose any credibility you might have had.

Since most of my complaints about the Bush Administration are rooted in a loathing for their moral vacuity, demonstrated by their endless bleating of "support the troops", only to be revealed that they toss them away like so much garbage to outsourced hell-holes like Walter Reed (formerly) Army Medical Center (I say formerly, because its management and operations are run under contract by a private firm), I find it fascinating that anyone would think that I, for one, care little or not at all for our troops. From the beginning, my central concern has been with the troops - not needlessly putting them in harms way, protecting them as much as possible, sending them to war equipped properly, bringing them home as quickly as possible, giving them a mission that can be accomplished, treating them with the dignity they deserve, giving them not just adequate, but comprehensive physical and psychological treatment after they come home - so to somehow think that I, for one, do not support the troops, when all the evidence is clear that the only ones who do not support our troops are the political leaders who have failed them all along the way in the list I just gave is, again, either ignorant or purposely mendacious; again, I neither know nor care which it is at this point because the result is the same.

For me, you have totally and utterly disqualified yourself from being a dialogue partner unless you are willing to accept the fundamental reality that the Bush Administration is, has been from the beginning, and will continue to be as long as any one of them is in office, an utter, abject, total, colossal failure. These are not opinions, but facts in the public record, denied only by those who continue to support the utter decimation of the American way of life.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Losing Saudi Arabia

When I saw this blurb at Think I went, "Huh," not inquisitively, just with a bit of surprise. The idea that the Saudis would give Bush the diplomatic equivalent of the old "hair-washing" excuse for turning down a state dinner, especially as there are numerous family and business ties between the Bushes and the House of Saud, was odd. Relations between the Kingdom and the Republic have been strained, especially because 11 of the 19 9/11 hijackers happened to be citizens of the Kingdom, and there are a plethora of reports on official and unofficial Saudi support for all sorts of nefarious activities that run counter to stated American interests. Yet, officially, the two countries have pretty good relations; Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former ambassador to the US was once a favorite guest on American television, and the current king, Abdullah, is a model of a modern major monarch (with apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan).

Then I reflected on this article from The New York Review of Books by George Soros that highlighted a recent intervention by the Saudis over disputed governance in Palestine, with the Saudis brokering a deal between Hamas and Fatah that seemed to settle the first stirrings of what might have been a destructive civil war. Of course, British and American refusal to recognize Hamas as a legitimate player in Palestine, or its legitimacy as a partner in Palestinian governance has been an on-going obstacle to moving forward in any kind of substantive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue; it seems the Saudis are filling the vacuum left by American stubborn intransigence.

Then, courtesy of The Huffington Post, I saw this from the AP, in which King Abdullah, speaking at an Arab summit, called Iraq "beloved", and the American occupation "illegitimate". It would seem, with King Faisal gone, Abdullah has finally found his legs, and voice, and American strategic thinking towards the Middle East are going to have to change accordingly. No longer the passive partner of the United States, it would seem that the Saudis are more than willing to do the hard work of actually doing something about the multiple conflicts on its borders, conflicts that threaten to engulf it as well.

So, the questions are answered. The Saudis told Bush they were washing their hair because, to extend the feminine metaphor a bit, it would seem they need the US like a fish needs a bicycle. Things are getting more and more interesting all the time.

BTW, I wonder when Bob Novak will start writing columns about "Who lost Saudi Arabia?"

The Stupid, Like the Poor, Will Always Be With Us

While not a fan of that fascist psychoanalyst Carl Jung, I have had an actual synchronistic experience. My children, home from school on "Spring Break", but stuck inside because of cold, damp weather, are watching the Star Wars movies, and I just ran across this news item at Christian News Wire. Star Wars Jesus is just about the stupidest thing I have ever heard, even more stupid than invading Iraq, or the idea that cutting taxes increases tax revenue.

It is one thing for Christians to write serious, faith-based commentary on pop-culture, from music to film. It is another to take the neo-Campbellian (as in Joseph Campbell, famous reactionary, infamous anti-Semite, and gnostic syncretist who endorses the idea, ill-conceived and ahistorical on its face, that all religions are the same) nonsense Lucas cobbled together and tie it in to the message of the Gospel. Others have tried, of course; the list of Christian commentary on the films is quite long. I just don't see how it works, though, or even why it should be attempted. Why not enjoy the films for what they are, two or three boxes of popcorn and a really big soda kinda movies, instead of mining for minerals in a pile of rocks?

Star Wars Jesus. Please, save us from Gen-Xers who try and fail at being profound.

Who Said Government Oversight Can't Be Fun?

Christy at Fire Dog Lake is live-blogging, here and here. If you visit atrios and click the link, you get a video from Speaker Peolsi's website, The Gavel, of the single most important part of the hearings (but Christy's posts need to be read to catch the hilarity of the Republican vs. Democratic approach to investigation; one wants to whine, the other wants to have serious questions regarding the potential violation of the Hatch Act and the general corruption [there's that word again] of the GSA by the Bush Administration; these people really can ruin anything they touch). Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA), after reviewing portions of a Power Point presentation given to folks at GSA by a member of Karl Rove's staff at the political office in the White House, and getting a stuck record of "I don't remember" answers from GSA administrator Lurita Doan, asks the only question that needs asking:
Can you tell us what if anything these slides have to do with the GSA's core purpose of procuring supplies and managing federal buildings?

The Power Point in question included titles such as "2008 House Targets", and a map showing Senate races for 2008, color coded "Republican offense", and "Republican Defense". After trying to get Ms. Doan to offer her interpretation, and getting no answer, Rep. Braley offers his own conclusion - the presentation, from the White House Political Office, was about how the GSA could be used to assist Republican candidates for the House and Senate (building openings, ribbon-cuttings, directed federal largess are all possibilities that come to my mind although they are not mentioned in the hearings). Ms. Doan concedes the point, sticking to her "I don't recall" position (that is, since she doesn't recall, she unwittingly gives Rep. Braley the last word on the subject; who coaches these people?), and when asked the money question, tries to talk about "team building" and "brown bag lunches". Rep. Braley retorts that Ms. Doan has not answered the question, but has, again, unwittingly given a certain weight to the only possible interpretation to this entire sorry episode, to whit, the Bushies were ensuring that "their team" (whose team was being built, after all?) had the GSA on their side in the run up to the '08 elections.

At one point, Rep. Braley asks Doan if she knows what a "target" is, and she responds that she does, in fact she feels like one now. Poor thing. Poor, poor, innocent little GSA Administrator, under attack by those mean old Democrats who want to know why her office is colluding with the political office of the White House to violate the Hatch Act. The whole thing would be hilariously funny if it weren't so sad. Our government is being run into the ground by corrupt nincompoops, but at least they provide a laugh-track for the collapse.

Using Digby to Reply to Goat (With an Alternative Reply From Mike Stark)

Goat wants to "debate" the USA firings, the whole pile of filth that is the Bush Administration. Fine, debate away - but don't ignore the facts simply because they're inconvenient or don't fit your paradigm. More to the point, I shall now quote Digby, from Hullabaloo, who is the master of the blogs, the one who is our master and guide, because he is just so damned good at it:
I'm sure it sucks not to get the benefit of the doubt on something like this, but that's the price you pay for thinking it's a good idea to ignore civilized norms and base your strategy on appearing to be ruthless and mercilesss [sic]. People tend to lose faith in your decency and good intentions.

That is what I would have liked to have said in that very long post, but, as usual, Digby says it better, and shorter, and more directly than I ever could. To this there can be no reply, not from those who believe that America can be better than it has been since Jan 1, 2001.

UPDATE: Mike Stark at Calling All Wingnuts offers this response to a global warming denier. Truth is, it is a great way to respond to anyone who simply has no credibility (in this instance, Goat, who would wish the entire corrupt Bush Administration away with the wave of a keyboard):
I’m sorry, but I feel like I walked in on you in bed with my wife and you just spent the last two hours asking me if I was going to believe me or my lying eyes.

Too over the top? Ah, well, so is "Serving at the pleasure of the President" if one has a dirty mind.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Death, Life, and Other Lite Topics

Following on my post yesterday about a recent book entitled Ninety Minutes in Heaven, I feel it necessary to explain, with a not-necessarily-boring personal anecdote, why I wrote what I did, especially in light of the comments made by ER, a person whose views and person I respect a great deal.

First of all, thirty years ago, Carl Sagan wrote on the ubiquity of so-called "near-death" experiences, as they had been recently cataloged and commented upon by Elisabeth Kubbler-Ross. Writing in The Dragons of Eden, Sagan speculated that they might be the brain "remembering" the birth experience - the dark tunnel, the light, indistinct voices that were not clearly understood, etc. While I do not accept Sagan's view - why would near-death trigger a "memory" that for all intents and purposes cannot exist - I find it an interesting attempt to grapple realistically with the sameness of these experiences across cultures and time. Does this sameness mean that the after-life is in fact what we have been told it is, all clouds and harps and gates? Or, perhaps, does it mean that the human brain, despite personal differences, are physically the same, including the chemical make-up that triggers certain responses to stimuli, including the rare close approach to death? Of course, there are those who have had near-death experiences that are different - they either experience nothing at all, or they have horrific experiences (more on this below). My point is that there is nothing inherent in the experience, despite its very real psychological and emotional impact upon the individual, to serve as a reference for either research or speculation. Unless someone would willingly volunteer to undergo an MRI while placed in a near-death state to examine what happens to the brain as the body shuts itself off, we simply have no way of determining what, exactly is happening; even then, the firing of various synapses may or may not relate to anything the individual experiences (or doesn't experience) during this state, because we still don't know enough about how synaptic firing relates to the function which, for lack of a better word, we term "mind".

As a Christian, my problem with this whole after-life thing has been present since my childhood. I was an earnest child (actually, I was earnest until about age 33 or so), and took the Bible very seriously, and I failed to see anything in there that countenanced the whole angels-on-clouds-with-harps-St.-Peter-at-the-gate-choirs-singing-us-home after-life. It just isn't there, no matter how hard one tries to find it. The whole structure of belief in the afterlife is as much a fictional creation of a mind unfettered by the constraint of Christian scripture as is creationism. Indeed, it is not too much to say that it is as much an artistic creation - Dore, Bosch, Dante - as a (speculative) theological one.

There is warrant for the idea of the resurrection of the dead - that God's final redemptive act is the end of death itself, with a restoration of that which has died to everlasting life - a difficult, murky subject, one as shrouded in mystery as death itself. The subject itself is complicated by the fact that a mindless version of it is exploited by dispensationalists and other unreflective Christians - the whole Rapture business - to push an unorthodox reading of Scripture and view of history in which they are the heroes, and the rest of us the godless receiving our just reward in a lake of fire, locked away in eternal torment. The idea of New Creation, however, as N. T. Wright has shown, is intrinsic to the Christian message, the impetus behind the ministry of Jesus and the continuing hope of the Church. While I know DL is rolling his eyes as he reads this, all I can say is that this hope, this longing, is the source for the courage of Christians throughout history (although not the source for the crimes of Christians).

In high school, a young man (19 or 20 or so at the time) came to our youth group meeting to talk about the near-death experience he had as the result of a car accident in which his best friend died. Both had various chemicals, including alcohol, in their systems, probably ubiquitously. This young man had the experience, not of a wonderful tunnel of light, but of writhing in the pit of hell, separate from everything, with demons piercing his skin with pitchforks, etc. Upon his revival from his near-death, he got Jesus in a big way, at least for a time. The last time I saw him, he was picking a fight in a bar, and was tossed out after crushing another man's testicles with a pool cue. He was severely inebriated at the time; so much for the punishments of hell serving as a deterrent for bad behavior . . .

Despite my tone, I honestly have no opinion on these matters. They might have been exactly as they are reported. On the other hand, they might be nothing more than the final, overwhelming activity of the brain as its power supply shuts down. Like a private language, there is no way to take this information and turn it into something others can use. My problem is not with the reports of the experiences themselves, but rather the use to which they are put by those who exploit the emotional and psychological vulnerability of those who have experienced them. There is nothing - I repeat, NOTHING - to warrant the anti-intellectual leap from the experience of one, or a hundred million, near-death experiences, to a full-blown personal eschatology of pearly gates, winged cherubs, etc. Do I believe that coming close to death is an emotionally powerful experience? How could I not believe that? Do I believe the detailed reports of all those who have been revived? I neither believe nor not believe - these are matters for which belief, acceptance, whatever word one wishes to use, are inadequate. There is no way to judge or determine or come to a conclusion on these matters, so I refuse to do so.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Classic Comics Theology, Vol. V - Eschatology

You know, it truly boggles the mind. On the one hand, fundies and others who claim to adhere to Scripture as a guide to belief and faithful practice want us to throw away our traditional separation of church and state to teach garbage like creationism and "intelligent design"; on the other hand, I have no doubt that millions of supposedly faithful Christians will pimp this as more "definitive proof" of the existence of life after death and the popularly imagined version of heaven.

As there is no scriptural warrant for anything written in that piece, I wonder how one squares the claims with a defense of Biblically-centered belief. As there is nothing - repeat: NOTHING - in the Bible that even remotely shows the continued existence of a centered personality (some might call it a "soul" or "spirit") immediately following death, what, I wonder, will be the defense of this utter nonsense?

If heaven is so wonderful, if the author was so blissfully unaware of any regrets, any sin, any remorse, why didn't he stay in heaven? This is not an idle question, but exactly the question that needs answering. It is one thing to not fear death, and one need not be a Christian to not fear death. It is another thing entirely to sell one's fantasy-life as proof for every third-grade Sunday School version of the hereafter.

Supporting the Local Nanny City

I don't write much about local issues, if for no other reason than they tend to exist beyond the purvue of this blog. There is something, however, that I want to bring to the attention of readers here. The local newspaper, The Rockford Register-Star, has an ongoing series called "Trash Tracker". After taking calls from neighbors, they investigate cases where property owners may be in violation of various city ordinances and zoning laws concerning their property. On the one hand, the cases they print tend to be the most egregious - property filled with trash, run-down, the occasional part-time crackhouse. They tend to take the time to call property owners, the city, check various ordinances to make sure that more is going on than simple neighborly rivalry.

Yet, it would seem that the potential for abuse is clear. More important for me is the whole issue of property rights versus the rights of the city to ensure a safe and clean environment. At what point do various zoning ordinances transgress from simply making sure there is a good balance between residential and commercial development, and telling people what to do on property that they own. One simple case in point - what bout the idea that it is necessary to get a permit to do construction on one's own property, including construction that would demonstrably improve the value of the property, and those around it? The process is long and complicated (having recently gone through this process with one of my wife's churches, I can speak from experience), and never completely assured of success.

The position of the editorial board is pretty clear - they are looking to enhance the beauty of the City of Rockford. Yet, at what price, including intrusion into the private property of city residents?

Any thoughts?

Getting Beyond Partisan and Ideological Labels

corrupt: 1.orig., spoiled; rotten 2.changed from good to bad; having become evil, depraved, dishonest, etc. from Webster's Third New World Dictionary of the American Language, Student's Edition copyright, 1976, 1981

I begin with the above definition because it sums up the totality of the Bush Administration, as revealed conclusively over the course of the past two weeks, as new details emerged making clear that the worst fears of critics of the firings of United States Attorneys paled in comparison to the realities. Were it just this, the situation would be bad enough, but it is not. The situation at Walter Reed is, to use a sad but apt metaphor, a bleeding sore on the American Army; Guatanamo Bay prison is still open for business, and that business is torture; the war in Iraq goes on, even as our soldiers are sent over, even though they suffer from mental and physical deficiencies that would disqualify them under normal circumstances even from staying in the armed forces; Valerie Plame Wilson is still slandered in the press by know-nothing supporters of our criminal regime, even as her official position and the reasons for the revealing of her position are made abundantly clear in the recent successful prosecution of the former chief of staff to the Vice President.

Let us not forget the peanut gallery for this rogue's gallery of American political history - Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Jonah Goldberg, Dinesh D'Souza, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Reynolds - who are, to a person, moral and intellectual lepers and midgets, unfit to participate in our national dialogue in a sane, normal world by reason of mental disorder or lack of serious contribution, yet listened to and given serious weight by some, not least of them the doting Howard Kurtz from the Washington Post. As we recover from our recent national madness, one can hope these ethically-pox-scarred spewers of political ipecac syrup may be forgotten as quickly as they were embraced by so many millions.

I must confess that it would be so easy to say, "You're a Democrat," or, "You're a liberal," and avoid listening to what follows. Except, of course, I am not a Democrat (party affiliation in our country is by decree and voting habit rather than outright membership anyway, and that would still disqualify me, as I've voted for my passel of Republicans, mostly for local office) and being a liberal in no way blinds me to the realities of intellectual shallowness, defending corruption, and the utter moral vacuity of much our political class today. Were there Democrats who displayed these characteristics (as there have been, in spades, throughout history) I would be as equally dismissive of them, and repudiate them, as I am of our current gaggle of geese. The problem, of course, is that I find it difficult to think of any prominent Democrats who have displayed the utter contempt for our national feeling, our history, our ideals, our laws, our sense of decency, or our Constitution as have those named above (and many more not named). Having said that, the point here is not a partisan one; our current government leaders, at least in the Executive Branch happen to be Republican, and they happen to be the most low and petty corrupt bunch this country has perhaps ever seen. Of course, there are exited members from the previous, unlamented Republican-controlled Congresses (Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, Newt Gingrich) who are as utterly empty of any moral sense as those who remain in power, but we can laugh at them now, ridiculous figures that they are (run, Newt, run!).

The issue is not a liberal or conservative one; there are plenty of conservatives who are outraged by the behavior of the Bush Administration, and wish nothing more than its disappearance from the national landscape. The issue is not a partisan one; Republicans understand that if they take too much time continuing to support Bush & Co., their party might be irreparably damaged by its assault on America. The issue is the one in italics at top - corruption. Making dirty. Making evil. Our entire country is in desperate need of a political high colonic, purging ourselves then washing thoroughly of the virus that has infected it.

The Justice Department has been damaged by what has happened, as has the Army, now the General Services Administration (of all things; they are the bureaucrats bureaucracy) - there are few places left in our national government left untouched by the taint of the filthy fingers of this bunch. I have said it before, and I will say it now - these people are the anti-Midas. Rather than gold, they turn everything they touch into corruption, foulness, dirt, filth. We should be rid of them before the take the whole country down with them.

For those of you who may be inclined to defend the Bush Administration, consider this - in eight years of investigating Clinton, the most you could ever get on him was he couldn't keep his pants zipped. In two months of serious oversight, the Bush Administration has been brought to a screeching halt by the wealth of corruption that has been dragged, kicking and screaming, in to the light. Does this tell you nothing? Are your powers of thought and reason so tainted by ideological fixation that you do not realize what is happening to us? I urge any reader of this blog, whether casual or regular, to consider what legacy you want to leave for your children - the moral and political bankruptcy of an entire country, or the thought that maybe, just maybe, you stood up and did the right thing for the right reasons even though it was also difficult to do?

I will end this with a thought that just occurred to me, as I sat and listened to Dream Theater's song about 9/11, "Sacrificed Sons" - The Bush Administration has done more damage to the United States than any terrorist has ever done.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

To Investigate or Not To Investigate . . . Is That the Question?

In my ongoing bewilderment over the utter stupidity and lack of any sense of what is right, I stand today with two perspectives, diametrically opposed, on the role of Congressional oversight of the executive. One, by the neophyte blogger cum journalist Glenn Greenwald, is both earnest and insistent, correct in both substance and detail about the implications of the ongoing Bush scandals and the role of Congressional oversight in revealing the horrid, fetid corruption rampant in the Executive Branch of government. Greenwald's perspective is identical to mine, as is his insight that the oversight being done is only in its early stages; imagine where we shall be in six months, or a year. In today's post at (please read the whole thing) he writes in part:
And the fact that Alberto Gonzales and top DOJ officials simply got caught lying the minute that minimal amounts of oversight were exercised -- the minute that their statements were investigated for accuracy rather than blindly assumed to be true -- demonstrates just how pervasive this corruption and deceit has been at the highest levels of the Bush administration. And this has occurred principally as a result of a Republican-led Congress that did not just fail to investigate, but deliberately sought to help the administration conceal wrongdoing so as to politically prop up and protect the President.

In light of how quickly and powerfully evidence of wrongdoing and deceit is spewing forth with minimal amounts of prodding, it is just inconceivable that our Beltway stars -- including alleged journalists -- would be more worried about the unpleasantness and disruption that comes from uncovering corruption and illegality than they are about the corruption and illegality itself. But that is exactly the message they are conveying. (emphasis added)

On the other hand, there is alleged dean of political reporters, David Broder. Broder's been a target here before, so this should come as no surprise; yet, standing opposite the judgment of Glenn Greenwald, one wonders how Broder can continue to cash his paychecks with anything resembling a conscience. The fact that Broder is one of a passel who, like Michael Kinsley (on whom I wrote earlier this week), continue to attempt to prop up this disgraceful Administration and dump on Democrats at every possible opportunity should leave us all wondering about the application of the word "integrity" to anything Broder writes. Today's installment (h/t Eschaton) read in part (I suppose you could read the whole thing if you feel up to it):
There is little here that suggests voters' opinion of Democrats is much higher than it was when they lost Congress in 1994. It seems doubtful that Democrats can help themselves a great deal just by tearing down an already discredited Republican administration with more investigations such as the current attack on the Justice Department and White House over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

At some point, Democrats have to give people something to vote for. People already know what they're against -- the Republicans.

Wisdom, sagacity, insight, a moral sense - Broder or Greenwald?

Virtual Tin Cup

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