Saturday, October 06, 2007

Aren't There Any Democratic Perverts Out There?

It started not quite a year ago with former Rev., former head of the National Association of Evangelicals Ted Haggard getting outed for visiting a male escort. Simultaneous with that were the revelations of pederast Mark Foley and his pursuit of Congressional pages. Since then we've had various local officials in Florida, Michigan, and Indiana - all Republicans, mind you - in various sex scandals and crimes. Who could forget Sen. David Vitter, and old Senator Wide Stance himself, Larry Craig?

I do believe that the humor from this entire business evaporated with the recent arrest of a federal prosecutor being arrested in a sting operation. The man was a federal prosecutor in Florida. He flew to Michigan to have sex with a child he believed to be FIVE FUCKING YEARS OLD!!!! (please excuse the profanity). This marvelous poster-boy for the current Republican Party did the entire known universe a favor and killed himself. As the father of two girls, one of whom is only a year older than the bait that lured Mr. Pervert Prosecutor to Michigan, I can only rejoice that this piece of filth did the only honorable thing and died. I do hope that hell is pleasant enough for him. I doubt there are too many five-year-old girls down there.

Teddy Kennedy, Bill Clinton, even going back in time to Wilbur Mills - all pikers. Kennedy managed his various amorous adventures when not in DC. Clinton had the dignity to get blown in the Oval Office bathroom. Mills may have been nailed driving drunk with a naked stripper's head in his lap, but that's about as adventurous as the Democrats have gotten - and that was thirty years ago. I would ask for the name of just one Democratic politician - on any level of government - in the past year (since the Foley/Haggard double-header) and I will gladly peruse the information.

Are liberals really that boring (except for the pedophiles, of course, who are scum)?

Saturday Rock Show

A two-fer, as it were. A guy I work with went to see Genesis in Chicago on Wednesday. It turns out I probably should have shelled out the bucks for a ticket, as his report was the show was quite good, despite the fact that they all are looking a tad long in the tooth. Among the songs they played, a nice surprise, was "Ripples" from A Trick of the Tail:

We got to talking about other, um, older rockers, and we got to talking about Steve Howe. On the last Yes tour he looked, in my friends words, "Halloween Scary". Indeed. I also noted, for the record, that Howe could be abrupt, rude, dismissive of other musicians (famously Trevor Rabin), and disdainful of fans. Yet, he is an awesome guitar player. The following is from his attempt at a group, in the mid-1980's, with former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, GTR, called "Sketches in the Sun" (also available on Howe's Not Necessarily Acoustic live solo CD):

Even More Stuff That Makes Me Want To Cry

I usually don't do this kind of thing. I enjoy the way the folks at Sadly!No take apart, with equal parts outrage, logic, commonsense, and a good dose of humor, the outrageous idiocy that flows like blood from the stone of right-wing writers. I reach the end of my tether on occasion, however, because I read something where the stupid is luminescent, a kind of transcendent insanity that is greater than the words that make it up. I offer, for your perusal, Gavin's attempt to find a through-line in a piece written by the never-redoubtable Jonah Goldberg.

Reading Goldberg on his own is a bit like entering a fun house designed by someone with Down's Syndrome - it isn't so much scary as it is just confusing. The floors and walls aren't plumb and even. The doors have no hinges. Even the mirrors don't work right.

The thought that thousands of people take him seriously, that he spouts his fact-free nonsense on national television - it is frustrating that someone as monumentally dumb as this is one of the framers of our national discourse. That in itself is enough to make we weep.

More Stuff That Makes Me Want To Cry

Years ago, when the Internet was in its infancy, my brother would badger me about getting on-line. I continued to demur, and one of my reasons was that, from my own exposure (limited to research in grad school, and a bit of floating about here and there), it seemed populated mostly by faux-libertarians, much as my brother is, who are technology enthusiasts, much as my brother is, who are politically ignorant, much as my brother is, who believe that the next invention will end the constant bickering of politics and rescue us from the predicament of our current social and political troubles, much as my brother does.

In other words, the internet seemed to me populated by people much like my brother. One of them is enough, thank you very much.

While this is no longer true, there are still a fair amount of folks floating through the intertubes who earnestly believe that (a) Star Trek is the source of human hope; (b) liberals are really a bunch of technophobic Luddites what with all their moaning about global warming (which is a lie anyway); (c) all we need to do is let engineers have their way - whether they are electrical, chemical, computer, or biological doesn't really matter - and the world will be fixed, not by human acts, but by the next best gadget. It is almost impossible to have a discussion with people like this - trust me, I have to listen to my brother's blathering enough to know how hard it is - because they have no idea, for the most part, what they are talking about outside a very narrow range of topics, say the diagram of an electrical circuit, or the chemical formula for protein synthesis.

A great example of how truly stupid such people are is highlighted here at Sadly, No!, and the original with various comments can be found here.

Brad does a nice job showing how truly inhuman, insipid, and quite out-of-their-minds people who even think like this, let alone recommend it as policy, truly are. Yet, this is the kind of thinking that many on the faux-libertarian right continue to espouse. It is reminiscent of a speech Ronald Reagan gave in which he mused on the possibility of human unification in the face of alien invasion. That's kind of the theme of this movie:

When people take their political cues from the source of The Trouble With Tribbles, you know you are not dealing serious people.

Whether it's Tom Clancy's techno-thrillers, Star Trek's utopianism, or some other science-fiction-based folderol, those who revel in such nonsense miss the obvious point - technology is no more a solution to the problems of social organization than is sociology the solution to the problem of nails sticking out of boards. For the latter you need a hammer. For the former you need politics - that messy, often irrational process whereby human beings negotiate the always-difficult experience of social life. Anyone who would surrender politics to engineers surrenders democracy of autocracy. I would much prefer a messy, irrational politics to the utopias of those who get their political cues from Robert Heinlein.

Friday, October 05, 2007

More On Torture

Yesterday's New York Times story on the "secret memo" authorizing torture has all the political world a-twitter. The memorandum was issued after Alberto Gonzalez became Attorney General, and was legal cover (albeit secret) overriding a previous memorandum that limited what the Bush Administration continues to refer to euphemistically as "interrogation techniques". As the Administration has admitted that such techniques include, but are not limited to, sleep deprivation, "stress positions", and physical beatings, all of which have been outlawed by international covenants to which the United States is signatory, it seems appropriate to discard euphemism and call torture, "torture".

A good rundown on the issues involved can be found here at Glenn Greenwald's column in Salon. The best point he makes is the following:
[I]n another, more important, sense, this story reveals nothing new. As a country, we've known undeniably for almost two years now that we have a lawless government and a President who routinely orders our laws to be violated. His top officials have been repeatedly caught lying outright to Congress on the most critical questions we face. They have argued out in the open that the "constitutional duty" to defend the country means that nothing -- including our "laws" -- can limit what the President does.

It has long been known that we are torturing, holding detainees in secret prisons beyond the reach of law and civilization, sending detainees to the worst human rights abusers to be tortured, and subjecting them ourselves to all sorts of treatment which both our own laws and the treaties to which we are a party plainly prohibit. None of this is new.

And we have decided, collectively as a country, to do nothing about that. Quite the contrary, with regard to most of the revelations of lawbreaking and abuse, our political elite almost in unison has declared that such behavior is understandable, if not justifiable. And our elected representatives have chosen to remain largely in the dark about what was done and, when forced by court rulings or media revelations to act at all, they have endorsed and legalized this behavior -- not investigated, outlawed or punished it.

When I first heard about the whole thing, my reaction was, "Yeah, so?" After all, the only guarantee we had that such was no longer practiced was the word of the Bush Administration. That's worth less than the paper I am writing this on right now (for those who might be wondering - there is no paper). The entire thing has a bit of the Casablanca feel to it. All those harrumphing Senators and Congress members, all the wide-eyed, slack-jawed journalists, and the idiotic lying Dana Perinno - it's all theater because, except perhaps for the journalists who might just be that stupid, no one should be "Shocked! Shocked!" that torture was re-authorized by the Bush Administration (once again, please do not insult my intelligence by questioning my use of the word "torture" - it is what it is).

And yet, no one does anything. As Glenn notes in the linked article, when confronted by the facts, the Democrats in Congress, who are in charge of the agenda, and who have promised to reign in the lawlessness, pass laws legalizing what was previously illegal, and shielding perpetrators from legal sanction. Leahy huffs and puffs and puts out statements and posts video of him acting all indignant as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee - but he's as spineless as a sea-slug, constantly pushing back due-dates for information and paperwork from the Bush Administration, postponing ever and anon the threatened subpoenas. The Bush Administration, like any three-year-old, has learned that Leahy's threats are empty, his posturing theater, and his spine non-existent (I wonder what kind of parent Patrick Leahy was, considering his lack of follow-through).

This entire problem could be solved with some judicious subpoenas and the right question to the right person at the right time. First, however, every single Democrat in Congress has to have it pounded in to their skulls that every word that flows from the Bush Administration is false, every guarantee worthless, every promise empty, and every outrage and accusation of law-breaking and double-dealing even more true than imagined at first blush. Thus it has been since Jan 20, 2001, thus it will be until Jan 19, 2009.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

French/Scottish Catholics, Muslims, Methodists, Liberals - History Repeats Itself, Complete With Wingnuts

I am currently reading Politics in the Order of Salvation: Transforming Wesleyan Political Ethics by Theodore R. Weber. Before an analytical discussion of Wesleyan theological language and its possible uses for a uniquely Wesleyan political theology, Weber discusses Wesley's politics, with reference to some specific incidents and prevailing views in 18th-century Britain. The most significant event was what was referred to as "the '45" - the invasion (with the help of the French) of the so-called Pretender, the descendant of the last Stuart king, James II, known as "Bonny Prince Charlie" by his Scottish Catholic boosters. You can read details of the events here. For those who do not click, the short-hand version is this: with the help of the French, Charles James Stuart landed in Scotland, defeated the British in a couple inconsequential battles while George II was in Hanover and Parliament was in recess. The government roused itself, legislated some monies for a counter-force, and defeated the rebels at the Battle of Culloden. This was the last serious threat to the Hanoverian throne (which, with some minor jigging and jogging due to William IV not having a direct heir, allowing his niece Victoria to take the throne in 1839, continues to this day).

In the midst of this controversy, Wesley and the no-longer-nascent Methodist movement was caught up, suspected of various anti-monarchical positions, not the least of them being Wesley's presence at and service to the "court" of the Pretender. As rumors spread across England of the impending French-financed and inspired invasion by Stuart and his Scots rebels, numbering around 2500, the Methodists were increasingly under threat. Despite Wesley's continued protests that his was a wholly Anglican movement within both the traditions and under the authority of the established Church, many saw the movement as a whole, and Wesley himself, as a dangerous threat to the established order. The Methodists were enthusiasts, did not feel themselves beholden to the Establishment. Several times both John and Charles Wesley were forced in to court to re-swear their allegiance, retaking the oaths they had to take to become Anglican priests. This was never enough, and Wesley himself and various Methodist preachers, already harassed by various locals, became targets for suspicion under the conditions of unrest and social and political threat posed by the Pretender and his rebellion.

What is most striking about the entire incident are the parallels between England under the threat of the Stuart uprising and the current fear-mongering of the right-wingers who see themselves under the threat of "Islamo-fascism". Of course, it wasn't just the political life of the Hanoverian monarchy that was under threat (and do not discount the hatred of the French; the Stuarts would have owed too much to the French had they succeeded, leaving Britain a servant of Paris). The religious life of the moderate, Erastian Anglican Church was threatened by the Roman Catholicism of the Stuarts. Wesley himself recognized this (and why, oh why, did the 18th century wingnuts not understand that Wesley was no less anti-Catholic than the rest of the bulk of the British people?) and wrote the following in reply to those who questioned his loyalty to the Hanovers:
Think what is likely to follow, if an army of French also should blow the trumpet in our land? What desolation may we not then expect? what a wide-spread field of blood? And what can the end of these things be? If they prevail what but Popery and slavery? Do you know what the spirit of Popery is? Did you never hear of that in Queen Mary's reign; and of the holy men who were then burned alive by the Papists, because they did not dare do as they did; to worship angels and saints, to pray to the Virgin Mary, to bow down to images, and the like? If we had a King of this spirit, whose life would be safe? at least, what honest man's? . . .
[E]very conqueror may do what he will; the laws of the land are not laws to him. And who can doubt, but one who should conquer England by the assistance of France, would copy after the French rules of government? (Weber, p. 75, quoting from Wesley's "A Word in Season: or, Advice to an Englishman" of 15 October, 1745)

There have been many comparisons of our current fear-mongering to various red-scares in our own history, going all the way back to the first, in the early-1920's. Yet, it seems that fear-mongering in an anxious social climate is not unique to our own time; scapegoating of the new, the different, the odd is not limited to the "DFH" crowd and their alleged threat to all things American; the right-wingers are wrong when they claim that the existential threat of Muslims is unique in world history. Apparently they hadn't reckoned with 18th century Roman Catholicism!

We're Trying To Have A Conversation Here

Over at pomomusings, Adam Walker-Cleavland is asking people to give their definition/understanding of "salvation". The discussion, as with all other theological discussions (it seems) devolves in to proof-texting, and declarations of the superiority of Biblical claims to the evidence of our senses and experiences in life.

I am, to be blunt, goddamn tired of this.

All I want is to have a serious, thoughtful discussion on a serious issue (at least, serious for me and other Christians). I want to figure out what it is I think and believe. I want to understand what, if anything, "salvation" means for me. Incidentally, I ventured a tentative beginning by saying that we cannot answer this question beforehand, but should instead listen to the experiences of those who claim "salvation'; only then can we understand what it might mean. When I get replies that say, in effect, "But the Bible says . . .", I feel like I am talking in to an dead telephone. I would say, "I don't give a rat's left testicle what the Bible says," but I do. I just prefer not to elevate it above the real lived experiences of real people. The Bible is a wonderful starting point - but it is only that and nothing more as far as interpreting the Christian life goes. A better, and less provocative, way of saying what I want to say would be, "I know what the Bible says. How would you interpret the experience in your life? What concrete examples from your life have made the words "salvation" meaningful for you?"

Every time I or others try to discuss issues such as these, we end up not getting very far because someone enters the conversation who insists that such discussions are pointless because the Bible has all the answers, the Church has a prescribed teaching, and anything else is nothing other than false teaching inspired by Satan to lead soft-headed non-believers to hell. I wish I wish I wish such people would simply allow us to go to hell on our own, uninterrupted.

After all, we're trying to have a conversation here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Serving The Kneady: Bread, Prayer, and One Life Saved

I heard a story on NPR this morning by reporter Mandalit Del Barco, one line of which was so beautiful, I wanted to talk about it. This is a summary of the story:
In Los Angeles, a bakery run by former gang members has reopened nearly a decade after the original one was destroyed by fire. It's part of Homeboy Industries, a rehabilitation program headed by Father Gregory Boyle, who's worked with young people from more than 600 street gangs in Los Angeles.

One of the ex-gang members interviewed, a recently-released, tattooed man, spoke about what he was receiving from his work in the bakery. He spoke of "patience", the patience that comes from kneading bread dough. He said that standing there, working the dough with his hands was "like meditation". What this young man said is an insight that has been lost, but was once part and parcel of the monastic life - chanting a Psalm in the rhythm of the hands working the dough. Kosher food is often prepared the same way.

Working with one's hands - whether it's kneading bread dough, gardening, carpentry - is a wonderful opportunity to think, to pray, to open oneself to oneself, and to God. At its best the monastic movement embodied this, with monks working as smiths, wrights, farriers, cooks, farmers - always praying, sometimes in silence, sometimes chanting a Psalm as they went on with their work. I do this when I mow our lawn (shoveling the walks in winter is another matter; I'm usually going through a constant litany about how cold I am), run the vacuum cleaner, sort laundry, and do other tasks about the house (which, my wife will tell you and I readily confess, I do not do as often as I should or as is needed). It is indeed a way to learn patience, and to let the body do whatever it is doing, and allow the mind a chance to roam free, or to open oneself in prayer.

I do not know what lies ahead for this young man. I do know that the ministry of this priest has already graced one life - mine. By showing me that the best lessons are still applicable, and the best insights are still available to those who open themselves to them, I know that God has worked through this ministry.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Ghost Stories (UPDATE With Video)

Since I just mentioned that I have had encounters with ghostly phenomenon (if you want details of one such, which was quite frightening, you can go here) I just thought I should set the record straight, in some general way, on what I think about these events. It's not a whole lot different from other people's interpretations, but I just thought I would share them, and open up to any of your stories, or theories, or comments.

First, even skeptical investigators note that, at the sites of what some purport to be spectral or ghostly phenomena, there are areas where ionic activity tends to be quite high, specifically a certain negative EM charge in a relatively tight physical space that cannot be accounted for. This would suggest that, at the physical level, we are dealing with the presence of highly ionized air, generating electrical energy that manifests itself on a physical level with what is commonly known as "cold spots". These are also well-documented; areas of highly localized drops in ambient air temperature (anywhere from five to fifteen degrees lower than the surrounding air).

None of this physically interesting yet inconclusive evidence explains spectral phenomenon. It is only evidence of interesting EM activity. In other words, we are dealing with "effects" rather than "causes" here, and it is the cause that is the source of interest.

Human beings are, essentially, bio-electrical batteries. The human brain works through an interchange of chemical receptors that are dependent upon changes in electrical charge for the exchange of chemicals. Two chemicals, acetylcholine, and cholinesterase, are responsible for the changes in electrical charge.

Human life, beyond the bare facts of biology, is often fraught with highly charged emotions, and events of such trauma that the effects linger for the lifetime of those who live through them. Attachment to a place, violent or early death, betrayal of trust, are all sources of deep emotional response. It seems to me that physical spaces, perhaps through the interchange of EM energy within them, might just become repositories of bio-electrical energy, creating and effect that is similar to watching a movie - we see, again and again, the images of those who have passed before, going about specific tasks, perhaps, or undergoing the trauma that has left the residue in the first place.

A quick example. In the summer of 1992, I drove the short distance from Washington, DC to Gettysburg to visit the battlefield. I chose to visit the site of the last day of the battle, Pickett's Charge, which, despite the slaughter that ensued, was almost successful. As I stood on the ridgeline where the Union batteries pointed toward the woods, then walked down through the field, across the road that is now there, and then faced that ridgeline as I walked in a steady gate as the Confederate forces did, I had the terrible feeling of being surrounded. I could feel a horrid fear all around me, I could almost, but not quite, hear screams, the sounds of cannon and muzzle-loader. The feelings of fear and of anger became oppressive, and I ended up practically running to my car and driving as quickly as possible back to the safe confines of our nation's capital. The truth is - I felt surrounded by the angry dead, and it was quite frightening. All this on a sunny August afternoon.

My oldest sister's house is also a source of less scary, more interesting phenomenon. Footsteps in the middle of the night. Doors opening and closing. Once, when much of our family was there, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a woman enter the dining room from the living room (I was standing in the kitchen). I thought it was my mother, and I went in to the dining room, only to see my older sister sitting in the front living room nursing her baby. I said, "Did you see Mom come in here?"


"Did you see anyone come in here?"


Not scary. Just disconcerting. And interesting.

Any thoughts? Stories?

UPDATE: Just for the heck of it, I checked out the ever-redoubtable YouTube. While most of the "video" of "ghosts" are compilations of photos, most of which I have been exposed to in other venues, this one compilation of video is quite interesting. Except for the last portion, which I believe to be staged, a couple of the images (especially the poltergeist phenomenon) gave me chills just watching.

Death, The Afterlife, & Other Light Topics

I will admit that my thoughts on the whole thing tend to go all over the place, changing pretty much from one day to the next. I seem to be coming down somewhere close to this position:
Modern science tells us that bodies decay and don’t live on and that no “soul” exists in our bodies, so ancient philosophers were incorrect in their assumptions. Actually, I doubt that Jesus had a belief in a disembodied soul since the ancient Jewish view of resurrection was a bodily resurrection (this was Paul’s view also) which would happen in the last days and began with Jesus as the first fruits of this resurrection. However, I do acknowledge that Jesus did likely have a belief in after-life. Not all 1st century Jews did (in particular the saducees). I accept Jesus’ teaching on life, community, purpose, and hope, but I wouldn’t accept a 1st century citizens views on after-life any more than I would accept their views on cosmology or automotive repair.

Along with taking over the trappings from various pre-Christian world-views, the idea of heaven/hell/purgatory also seem to alleviate a certain anxiety and fear we all naturally feel in the face of finitude. We human beings have the ability to project our minds both far back in to the past, and in to the future - yet, we will die (as a professor of mine in seminary once said, the death rate is the same it's always been, 100%). I have had to deal with death in a variety of situations over the years, from the death of my paternal grandfather when I was not yet seven years old, to the suicide of my best childhood friend 20 years ago, to the recent death of another childhood friend. I have, on at least two occasions that I can recall, actually stared it in the face quite closely myself, and will tell you the threat of non-existence is overwhelming - knowing that I will no longer be while all the world goes on much as it has and will continue to, without me.

On the other hand, non-existence is something that is difficult to imagine, really. One really cannot wrap one's mind around not-being. It is far easier to imagine the whole pearly-gates-wings-harps-St.-Peter-at-the-gate thing as a substitute for the impossibility of imagining non-existence in its most basic sense. Yet, I for one cannot escape the thought that non-existence is no worse than some alternative imaginings (not the least of them being reincarnation; conscious reincarnation would be a nightmare, truly hell on earth), and is really no different from the fact that, prior to my birth, I was not. The world seemed to operate just fine without me, and will do fine without me later. Death is a tragedy for those around the deceased, but hardly a tragedy for the deceased.

All of this is to say that I do not, for now, accept the idea that in some manner, fashion, or form, human beings somehow exist in some way past physical death. How do I square this with my own ghostly experiences, I refuse right now to go into, and anyway, my mind will most likely change on this whole issue next week or next month. For now, though, I am no less comforted by annihilation than by the promise/threat of eternal reward/punishment.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Music Monday

Growing up in the 1970's, I was fortunate that I was exposed not just to the explosion of "AOR" radio that brought the good, bad, and ugly of rock. Living with WPIX, the large independent television station out of New York, I also got, on Saturday afternoons, a good dose of Soul Train. Because of this, I was in High School before I realized that there was a conscious effort on the part of record companies to market funk/soul to a primarily African-American audience, segregating the music that had tried so hard to destroy the racial divide in America.

As a result of my own naivete, I was exposed to some of the best music ever. I have highlighted some it already - P-Funk, James Brown, Isaac Hayes - and will do others at another date. Right now, though, I just want to bring up . . . Curtis Mayfield.

I was physically pained when Rod Stewart, with Jeff Beck, covered this song back in the 1980's, "People Get Ready" (yes, that's Taylor Dayne on backing vocals):

Here he is in 1972, with "Keep On Keeping On":

I always hated the term "blacksploitation" as a way to reference African-American genre films from the 1970's. Like all types of films, some were good, some were just blah, and some were awful. One of the one's that was more than a little good, not quite very good, but still better than many films one can name, is Superfly. Curtis Mayfield did the title song:

Name-Calling For Jesus

I really don't know much about the people involved here. I am not a person involved in the whole Emerging/Emergent Church thingy, and many of those involved in it are not known to me. Yet, it seems that some people just can't stand the idea of Christians actually trying to make sense of the faith in terms that are actually relevant and meaningful. At a recent conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, someone named Mark Driscoll called out several "prominent" members of the Emerging/Emergent Church movement, most clearly a pastor and author named Brian McLaren (whose book, A Generous Orthodoxy my wife owns, and which I haven't read), as heretics. A good summary of the contretemps can be found here at Pomomusings. Adam highlights some of Driscoll's comments from an eighty-minute presentation, but there's one in particular that jumps out at me as particularly stupid:
Brian McLaren was asked this question: ‘What is your position on gay marriage?’ His answer was this: ‘You know what? The thing that breaks my heart is that there is no way I can answer it without hurting someone on either side.’ To which I would respond: ‘Now you have hurt God.’

With this kind of profound insight, it is no wonder that the church is held in contempt by so many people of intelligence. McLaren's response was pastoral; Driscoll's response was horrendous. "Hurt God" . . . Once again, saints preserve us.

Our Gate Keepers Are Idiots, Part II

Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler can be tiresome, repetitive, and occasionally wrong. What he also can be is incisive, cutting, and a necessary resource for tracking the on-going construction of press "narratives" about our Presidential candidates, said construction done by some of the most inane, shallow, non-self-reflective people imaginable. Two of his favorite targets, one of whom he skewers quite effectively today, is New York Times columnist Frank Rich. Another is the ridiculously vapid Maureen Dowd. Should one be interested in the dissection of a Rich's column by Somerby, click the above link. For now, we are going to concentrate on Dowd, who is taken to task by the folks at "Tapped", the blog of The American Prospect.

In today's piece, written by Scott Limieux, Maureen Dowd is taken to task for doing the heavy lifting for the right-wing:
And, of course, when it comes to crocodile tears about Bush after working assiduously for a year to put him in the White House, even Rich can't hold a candle to his embarrassing colleague Maureen Dowd. To let you know about the sexism that's inevitably coming, Dowd passes along some charming misogyny from Leon Wieseltier: "Others do not underestimate her relentlessness. As Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, once told me: “She’s never going to get out of our faces. ... She’s like some hellish housewife who has seen something that she really, really wants and won’t stop nagging you about it until finally you say, fine, take it, be the damn president, just leave me alone." Question: can someone identify a male Republican presidential candidate being criticized for the crime -- highly unusual among people who want to be president! -- of being ambitious? Again, it's pretty clear that her too-little-too-late discovery that Bush is a bad president won't stop her from mounting an airhead assault on the most likely Democratic nominee.

The point here is not whether Sen. Clinton's ambition renders her unfit for office; the point is not how much one prefers, or doesn't prefer, Sen. Clinton as a potential candidate for President. The point here is, as Limieux makes clear, Dowd lifts a right-wing talking point and elevates it in to a major character flaw - her ambition. That Dowd, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and columnist, whose incessantly catty and demeaning pieces are a vital part of the increasing stupidity of our national political discourse, would attack Clinton in such a transparently sexist manner - imagine! a Presidential candidate who is ambitious! why, that's so unladylike! - is abominable. Of course, as my wife constantly reminds me, the cliqueishness of high school girls is far worse than anything among boys; this kind of thing is just an extension of that same kind of thinking - one makes oneself look better by excluding others who might be a threat to their social status. It is vapidity that is a marvel to behold.

One wonders why people as egregiously small-minded as this continue to publish for the "paper of record", and the only conclusion that I for one can reach is that the entire bunch of political reporters and pundits are also this superficial, this cheerleader-versus-geek minded, and really this dumb.

Meanwhile, people continue to die in Iraq, the Bush Administration continues to keep people in prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba without recourse to the most basic principles of Anglo-American law, and Bush and his neo-con publicists try to convince America we need to bomb Iran. All this, and all Maureen Dowd can complain about is a Presidential candidate who is ambitious. Saints preserve us.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

If Jesus Is His Favorite Political Philosopher, Why Does He Continue To Lie and Wage War?

The short answer is - those words of his about Jesus were a crock. Period.

Shame on anyone who believed him then. More than shame on any who continue to defend him, based upon those words.

How Liberal/Conservative Are You? Here's My Score, Now It's Your Turn (UPDATED)

I found this somewhere along the way today, took the test, and here are my scores with a link. Let me know, eh? By the way, the only thing that surprised me was the "25%" score on defense and crime issues - that should be around "0%" with the rest of them!
Your Political Profile:

Overall: 10% Conservative, 90% Liberal

Social Issues: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal

Personal Responsibility: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal

Fiscal Issues: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal

Ethics: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal

Defense and Crime: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal

UPDATE: I found another, slightly different test here, and it graphs rather than giving percentages. My graph has been added at the top. Try it and see where you come out.

Conspiracies (UPDATED With More Info And Links And Quotes)

I love conspiracy theories. Seriously. I love to read them in detail, to follow the leads, first down this avenue, then down that avenue, to see how all the ends are tied up, all the "i"'s dotted and "t"'s crossed. It's a bit like watching a magnificent jigsaw puzzle being put together, one where all the pieces are the same size, same shape, and same color.

My interest was first piqued in conspiracies when I heard a news bulletin on the radio in 1991 about the death by suicide of Danny Casolaro. If you aren't familiar with the case, here's a blurb about it the case from a sympathetic website:
Danny Casolaro died in August 1991 in Martinsberg, West Virginia, of
what appeared to be a suicide. He was investigating the theft of a
super-surveillance software called PROMIS involving Justice Department
officials and a shadowy international group he called the Octopus. Two
congressional investigations of the PROMIS case (also known as the
Inslaw case, after the name of the company that created PROMIS)
recommened that Casolaro's death be investigated as a homicide. Keith
and Thomas obtained the notes that Casolaro let behind and made them the
basis of their book, The Octopus, published by Feral House in 1997.

"This rumor may be nonsense," Thomas said. "Casolaro may have committed
suicide. It is the way of the Octopus. It exists but it doesn't exist.
These are suicides or non-suspicious homicides or real accidents. They
just happen to cluster coincidentally around a certain set of facts or a
certain perception of an organized conspiracy. Keith himself would
certainly have been suspicious of the circumstances of his own death,

I became engrossed in them even more after reading The Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. Wilson, who died relatively recently was a protege of Timothy Leary, to give you an idea of the mindset involved in the book.

I then read Umberto Eco's novel Foucault's Pendulum, which also involved itself with conspiracies.

Then, I went back and read what I could find on the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the ties between Nixon and the mob, between Reagan and the mob, and, of course, the ever-present literature on UFOs.

The X-Files was a dream come true for a fan of conspiracy theories. Here we had it - a visual, dramatic representation of the world-view of conspiracy theorists. I was a fan from early on in the third season, although once David Duchovny left, I have to admit my interest waned a bit. Robert Patrick is a good actor, and did his level best, but for the purposes of this series, Duchovny was irreplaceable.

When I say I am a fan of conspiracy theories, I want to be clear - they are all nonsense. Bunk. Hogwash. I enjoy them the way I enjoy a good novel, or a beautiful symphony, or a painting. They are a wonder to behold, but are quite obviously false. They are marvels of human ingenuity, straining after links and ties and causes, attempting to deal rationally with a world that is most certainly irrational. It may not have begun with the Kennedy assassination (one can read all sorts of things on Cecil Rhodes, the Freemasons, the Council on Foreign Relations in early Bircher literature), but I believe that, for a generation believing in the goodness of America and Americans, the sanity of the world under American hegemony, and the power and might of the Kennedy Administration, his death at the hands of a disturbed Marine vet with communist sympathies was a blow that was, to say the least, difficult to take. It was irrational to assume that Oswald acted alone. It was irrational to assume that, being a communist sympathizer, Oswald did not act on direct orders from someone. It was irrational to believe the report of the Warren Commission.

Actually, it was quite rational to accept the fact that one deranged man could take the life of the President of the United States. It had been done before (in 1865, 1881, and 1901) and would be attempted again in 1981. As one of the few who not only has read the Warren Commission Report, but actually owns a copy, I can vouch for two facts - it is incomplete in parts (hardly a shocker); its conclusion, based upon evidence (rather than suspicion) is pretty solid.

All of this is a long way round to my main point. There are real conspiracies out there. Obviously. Organized crime is a conspiracy - a collusion of business men on various levels. The Nixon Administration was a gigantic criminal conspiracy; indeed, one could argue that it began during the Nixon campaign as Henry Kissinger pulled double duty as a negotiator for the Johnson Administration and fed information to the Nixon campaign (he also, according the Seymour Hirsch's book, The Price of Power, undermined the American negotiating position at the Paris Peace talks by arguing in private with the North Vietnamese that they would get a better deal under Nixon than a Democratic President).

Real conspiracies are not shadowy. They are, in fact, pretty bright. They are easily penetrated, if not always easy to bring down (the feds have been working against the mob for years, most recently in Chicago in a trial that involved murders going back to the late-1970's). They are porous, with information easily accessible as more and more people become involved (Watergate unraveled the Nixon Administration precisely because the number of people involved, and their level of knowledge, was all quite high).

Finally, we come to the Bush Administration. They have taken steps to insulate themselves from scrutiny - revising the Presidential Records Act by illegal fiat; increasing the number of restricted documents and reducing access to them (even the Vice-President's staff, what should be a routine matter of public information, is classified); rarely telling the truth even when doing so does them little harm and might actually do them good. The release a few years back of the so-called Downing Street memo, a summary of a meeting between President Bush and then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in which Bush made it quite clear that the hand-wringing he did in public was for PR purposes only, and that the decision for war had been made months before regardless of the decisions of others, hardly made a splash in the US press. A recently released report in the Spanish paper El Pais in which similar comments were made by Bush to the then-governing Spanish PM, reveal what is quite clearly a conspiracy to lie to the American people about the oncoming war with Iraq.

Like all real conspiracies, this is thinly veiled, suspected by those who may not be in the know but have access to people who are, and pretty clearly illegal from beginning to end. The problem, of course, is that when the word "conspiracy" comes up, people do not think of real criminal conspiracies but rather the ravings of mentally unbalanced people about implants in their skin and alien invaders. Alas for us, the conspiracy mongers have given conspiracies a bad name, and prevented us from seeing what is quite clearly before all our eyes:
George W. Bush and his Administration engaged in a calculated conspiracy to lie to the American people, to engage in aggressive war which is illegal under the United Nations Charter and therefore, as a ratified signatory of the treaty, under US law under the Constitution of the United States. Having committed this original war crime, they continue with the illegal occupation of Iraq, against the express will of the American people. Under the UN Charter, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, and others should be indicted on war crimes and tried by an international tribunal at the World Court in The Hague, under the legal auspices of the United Nations. It should be the duty of the United States government and its citizens to assist in the investigation of these allegations, including the drawing up of the indictments against them.

I blocked that off so no one would miss it. My fondest wish is to see the whole lot of them in orange jump suits, at The Hague. The outcome of such a trial I leave to the judge and jurors.

Should I be found dead somewhere under mysterious circumstances, you might want to change your mind about conspiracies.

UPDATE: I had heard about this story a day or two ago, but now have a full-fledged story at the British paper The Independent with much more detail. It seems that PM Aznar was trying to talk Bush down from war, pointing out that he had information Hussein was looking to go in to exile.
"Yes, it's possible," Mr Bush told the Spanish leader. "The Egyptians are talking to Saddam Hussein ... He seems to have indicated he would be open to exile if they would let him take one billion dollars and all the information he wants on weapons of mass destruction."

But Mr Bush seems to shrug off the idea, saying "it's also possible he could be assassinated", and he makes made clear that the US would in any case give "no guarantee" for Hussein. "He's a thief, a terrorist and a war criminal. Compared to Saddam, Milosevic would be a Mother Teresa."

The conversation, recorded by Spain's ambassador to the US, Javier Ruperez, and published this week in El Pais, offers a unique insight into Mr Bush's brusque interaction with one of the few foreign leaders he trusted. Here was a leader already on the march towards war, expressing impatience and anger at those that disagreed with him.

Mr Bush does admit that averting war would be "the best solution for us" and "would also save us $50bn," greatly underestimating the cost to the US treasury of nearly five years of warfare. But he also talks of how he planned to exact revenge on countries, that did not back the US in its drive to war.

"We have to get rid of Saddam. There are two weeks left. In two weeks we'll be ready militarily," Mr Bush told Mr Aznar.

Along with lying to the American people, it seems an almost gross negligence of the nation's fiscal health - $1,000,000,000 is nothing; even the $50 billion Bush claims as a rough cost of the up-coming conflict is about six-months worth at the current and on-going supplementals the Administration keeps asking Congress for - as well as somewhat criminally negligent in regards to the lives of thousands lost or otherwise destroyed in the war itself and its aftermath.

There is good precedent for allowing exile. At the end of WWI, the Allies did not pursue the deposed Kaiser to his "hideout" in The Netherlands (although Bitish PM David Lloyd George wanted him hung; then-Minister of State for War and Air Winston Churchill talked him out of it; as a curious aside, during WWII, it would be Churchill who would ask the deposed Kaiser if he wished for asylum in Britain in the face of the Nazi invasion of Holland; thankfully for Churchill, Wilhelm declined). The Emperor of Japan was to be tried as a war criminal along with the various members of successive Japanese governments; it was through the suasion of Douglas MacArthur, among others, that he was spared, he and his descendants left as figurehead constitutional monarchs, much as the British throne is now pretty much irrelevant to the lives of the British people.

Be all that as it may, Bush "shrugged off" an attempt to avoid war and its horrors. Another piece falls into place? Or another bit of evidence for prosecutors?

Virtual Tin Cup

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