Saturday, February 14, 2009

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" - A Meme To Relieve Boredom

I got tagged with this over at Facebook, and I wasn't very happy with the results, so I'm going to change it up a bit. Not owning an iPod or MP3 player, but a 300-disc CD player, I have it broken up into several different categories. The first five questions will be linked to The Grateful Dead. The second five to jazz. The third five will be directed at contemporary progressive rock. The last five to some serious classic rock and roll. Now, I'm not saying the results will be better, just more organized (?). I'm tagging Alan, only because he's the only one I'm sure has an iPod.

Try it and tag me so I can read it. An easy way to get good music titles from your friends unless they own mondo ipods and put all kinds of crazy crap on them.

1. Put your iPod, iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc. on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
4. No editorial comments, no matter how tempted you are to make them!
5. Pick ten or more Random friends who like music as much as you do and tag them.

"Black Peter" by The Grateful Dead

"The Other One" by The Grateful Dead

"Mississippi Halfstep Uptown Toodeloo" by The Grateful Dead

"Dupree's Diamond Blues" by The Grateful Dead

"Just a Little Light" by The Grateful Dead

"Sunlight" by Pat Metheny

"Body and Soul" by Benny Goodman from the Carnegie Hall Concert

"Boogie Stop Shuffle" by Charles Mingus

"Bitches Brew" by Miles Davis

"So May It Secretly Begin" by the Pat Metheny Trio Live

"The Mirror" by Dream Theater

"Disclosure" by Ayreon

"Freedom of Speech" by Liquid Tension Experiment

"Hard as Love" by Marillion

"All of the Above" by Transatlantic Live in Europe

"Walking In The Wind" by Traffic

"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" by Steve Howe, Annie Haslam, vocals

"Bell Boy" by The Who

"Trouble No More" by The Allman Brothers Band

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" by The Band and Bob Dylan from After the Flood

Didn't work much better, I think.

What A Shock!

This headline made me yawn:
US clergy not trained on sexual issues, report says

Read the linked article, if you would, then lend your thoughts. Consider this a discussion post.

Saturday Rock Show

In honor of the Day, only because I couldn't find Vanden Plas' "I Don't Miss You". This is Porcupine Tree's "Hatesong".

On Valentine's Day - What I Said

I wrote this last year, and after reading it, I have to say I kind of like it. So, yeah, it's a repeat, but it's also a nice summary of the way I feel about this whole fake "Love Holiday" thingy.

Like my Halloween post, I want to say up front that I find Valentine's Day to be a false, commercial holiday. I also find others' behavior during the run up to the day amusing, as desperate men search for "just the right gift" to show the special someone in their lives how special they are, just like everyone else. I told Lisa years ago that it was the hundred things we did for one another all throughout the year that meant far more than a card and something silly on February 14th. She agreed, and we haven't exchanged more than a kiss on the day for years.

We live in a society that is confused about "love". A nation of romantics, we believe the purple prose of the "power of love", we listen to songs that encourage us to surrender ourselves to others, often with little knowledge of who that other person is. We equate love and sex. We equate love and marriage ("it goes together like a horse and carriage", a couplet that, if thought through, might give one pause). We snicker at the moony teenage couple, yet celebrate its perpetuation in to adulthood in our popular arts - who are Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca, but superannuated adolescents, reacting to a physical chemistry in the midst of the tides of war, and calling it love, jeopardizing their own lives and the lives of others because they enjoy one another's company?

I want to admit up front that I am not immune to this way of thinking. I am the original moony teenager, to be honest. I bought so much of the hype, I sometimes think I am still in debt. I remember earnest conversations with a young woman when I was in high school on the difference between "loving someone" and "being in love" - and remembered that it had been gleaned from, I think, either Ann Landers or Dear Abby. Yet, I nodded my head in complete agreement with this nonsense. I have written poetry for women, dedicated songs, sat around in a state of confusion and wonder as relationships made their natural course and my emotions seemed a jumble it was almost impossible to sort through. I pledged undying fealty to one woman after only a few weeks together, and was not only sincere, it was so brutally honest it scared me. I don't think I have to tell you that she and I parted.

Having said all that, and sounding like a big jerk, I suppose, I want to say that I think there is nothing more wonderful, mysterious, or powerful than the bond that forms, through some mysterious combination of emotion, physical desire, and the rational desire to keep alive and perpetuate the good feelings one has when one is with another. I will go even further and say that there is nothing more radical, more revolutionary, than the fact of romantic love. It can alter lives, even human history (The Iliad is one long paean to the power of human desire to move entire nations and even the gods). It can overwhelm our ability to act in our own interest. It certainly, for a time, overwhelms our ability to consider our lives rationally.

Our capacity for love makes us better creatures than most. Some other animals - some species of birds, for example, and by evidence elephants, whales, and the bonobo - seem to display behaviors we associate with romantic attachments. Yet, this odd emotion, either a by-product of evolution or a gift from God or some strange combination of both, gives to us both a grandeur and a meanness that is fascinating. Quite contrary to our own best interests, we open ourselves to another, invite them in to the hidden places in our lives, let them know our most desperate fears, give them the keys to our emotional core, trusting they will not abuse the privilege. And others do the same for us. I think we do love a disservice by reducing it to treacly verse composed by greeting card company employees and bad chocolate, flowers that wilt and balloons.

Rather than buy a bunch of unnecessary junk one day a year, consider telling the special other in your life what he or she means to you on August 8th, or May 23rd, or September 9th. Consider just how much you have invested in the other person who shares your house, your bathroom, your washing machine, and the wonderful duty of emptying the cat litter box. Love isn't always about gazing in to each others' eyes; sometimes it's about making the bed together, folding laundry, sitting down and paying the bills together. It should become clear that love is something far more mundane, yet profound - we open ourselves to another, and become more, and better, because we share our lives, the great and powerful, the mundane and base, with this person.

One more thing. There is no rational explanation that could possibly convince others as to why we choose to spend our lives with just one other person (actually, many if not most people do not so choose these days; we are serially monogamous creatures for the most part). To say that we are marrying "for love" is no more an explanation than to say we are marrying "for good cooking". Prizing our rationality above all other traits, we nonetheless betray what we claim is our most prized possession in the most important, most deeply personal parts of our lives, making ourselves emotionally open and vulnerable to the deepest pains and pleasures for no good reason. I will submit that I believe we surrender our rational capacity for one reason and reason alone - love is its own best reason. We are better individuals when we surrender ourselves to another, with all the risk - emotional and otherwise - that entails. It may not be rational, but it is the most deeply human thing we can do, far more than figuring out E=mc squared or the theory of evolution. Nothing can change the world like the real, honest love two people share.


The stimulus package has passed, and will be signed no later than Monday. Among the provisions is one that goes even further than the Obama Administration had asked in limiting bonuses for bank executives receiving TARP funds. The best line yet comes in a comment from a bank lobbyist.
"This is a big deal. This is a problem," said Scott Talbott, chief lobbyist for the nation's largest financial services firms. "It undermines the current incentive structure."

Talbott said banking executives expected certain restrictions would be applied to them but are concerned that some of the most highly paid employees, such as top traders, who bring in hefty sums for the company, would flee to hedge funds or foreign banks that have not accepted U.S. government funds.

What bank, foreign or domestic, would hire someone whose "investment strategy" helped induce the destruction of investment banking as an industry in the US?

These people are dorks. But, funny dorks.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Evil? Yes. Stupid? Definitely. David Vitter Gives The GOP Strategy Away

I ran into this piece from Mother Jones courtesy of Hullabaloo, and all I can say is, "Sure, Dave, we'll take full responsibility for the stimulus package. You disown it all you want."
According to Vitter, the GOP is basically betting the farm that the stimulus package is going to fail, and the party wants Democrats to go down with it. "Our next goal is to make President Obama and liberal Democrats in Congress own it completely," he said. Instead of coming up with serious measures to save the economy, the party intends to devote its time to an "we told you so" agenda that will include GOP-only hearings on the bill's impact in the coming months to highlight the bill's purportedly wasteful elements and shortcomings.

This is why they do not deserve to govern.

I hope this really is the Republican plan. Because, in a few years, they will cease to exist.

No Difference

Not long after Matthew Shepard's murder, playwright Tony Kushner published an article in The Nation magazine. Part of it reads as follows:
A lot of people worry these days about the death of civil discourse. The Pope, in his new encyclical, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), laments the death of civil discourse and cites "ancient philosophers who proposed friendship as one of the most appropriate contexts for sound philosophical inquiry." It's more than faintly ludicrous, this plea for friendship coming from the selfsame Pope who has tried so relentlessly to stamp out dissent in churches and Catholic universities, but let's follow the lead of the crazies who killed Matthew Shepard and take the Pope at his word.

Friendship is the proper context for discussion. Fine and good. Take the gun away from the head, Your Holiness, and we can discuss the merits of homosexual sex, of homosexual marriage, of homosexual love, of monogamy versus promiscuity, of lesbian or gay couples raising kids, of condom distribution in the schools, of confidential counseling for teenagers, of sex education that addresses more than abstinence. We can discuss abortion, we can discuss anything you like. Just promise me two things, friend: First, you won't beat my brains out with a pistol butt and leave me to die by the side of the road. Second, if someone else, someone a little less sane than you, feeling entitled to commit these terrible things against me because they understood you a little too literally, or were more willing than you to take your distaste for me and what I do to its most full-blooded conclusion, if someone else does violence against me, friend, won't you please make it your business to make a big public fuss about how badly I was treated? Won't you please make a point, friend, you who call yourself, and who are called, by millions of people, the Vicar on Earth of the very gentle Jesus, won't you please in the name of friendship announce that no one who deliberately inflicts suffering, whether by violence or by prejudice, on another human being, can be said to be acting in God's name? And announce it so that it is very clear that you include homosexuals when you refer to "human beings," and announce it so that the world hears you, really hears you, so that your announcement makes the news, as you are capable of doing when it suits your purposes? Won't you make this your purpose too? And if you won't, if you won't take responsibility for the consequences of your militant promotion of discrimination, won't you excuse me if I think you are not a friend at all but rather a homicidal liar whose claim to spiritual and moral leadership is fatally compromised, is worth nothing more than...well, worth nothing more than the disgusting, opportunistic leadership of Trent Lott.

A lot of people worry these days about the death of civil discourse, and would say that I ought not call the Pope a homicidal liar, nor (to be ecumenical about it) the orthodox rabbinate homicidal liars, nor Trent Lott a disgusting opportunistic hatemonger. But I worry a lot less about the death of civil discourse than I worry about being killed if, visiting the wrong town with my boyfriend, we forget ourselves so much as to betray, at the wrong moment in front of the wrong people, that we love one another. I worry much more about the recent death of the Maine antidiscrimination bill, and about the death of the New York hate crimes bill, which will not pass because it includes sexual orientation. I worry more about the death of civil rights than civil discourse. I worry much more about the irreversible soul-deaths of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered children growing up deliberately, malevolently isolated by the likes of Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich than I worry about the death of civil discourse. I mourn Matthew Shepard's actual death, caused by the unimpeachably civil "we hate the sin, not the sinner" hypocrisy of the religious right, endorsed by the political right, much more than I mourn the lost chance to be civil with someone who does not consider me fully a citizen, nor fully human. I mourn that cruel death more than the chance to be civil with those who sit idly by while theocrats, bullies, panderers and hatemongers, and their crazed murderous children, destroy democracy and our civic life. Civic, not civil, discourse is what matters, and civic discourse mandates the assigning of blame.

Crooks and Liars reports that James Adkisson, the man who murdered two worshipers at a Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, TN this past July was sentenced to life in prison without a possibility of parole. Adkisson was allowed to release "a manifesto" (the linked C&L post has a link to the .pdf document), which reads in part:
Know this if nothing else: This was a hate crime. I hate the damn left-wing liberals. There is a vast left-wing conspiracy in this country & these liberals are working together to attack every decent & honorable institution in the nation, trying to turn this country into a communist state. Shame on them....

This was a symbolic killing. Who I wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate & House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book. I'd like to kill everyone in the mainstream media. But I know those people were inaccessible to me. I couldn't get to the generals & high ranking officers of the Marxist movement so I went after the foot soldiers, the chickenshit liberals that vote in these traitorous people. Someone had to get the ball rolling. I volunteered. I hope others do the same. It's the only way we can rid America of this cancerous pestilence."

I thought I'd do something good for this Country Kill Democrats til the cops kill me....Liberals are a pest like termites. Millions of them Each little bite contributes to the downfall of this great nation. The only way we can rid ourselves of this evil is to kill them in the streets. Kill them where they gather. I'd like to encourage other like minded people to do what I've done. If life aint worth living anymore don't just kill yourself. do something for your Country before you go. Go Kill Liberals.

Like Tony Kushner, I have long refused to see little moral difference between a psychopath like Adkisson, who sees himself a besieged true American whose entire way of life is threatened by Democrats, and those who enable such behavior (isn't it interesting that Adkisson notes "mainstream" media critic Bernard Goldberg, whose book on the one hundred most dangerous people apparently created a wish-list for his murderous fantasies? Will be still be asked to give his opinion on FOXNews?) I go further, however, and see little difference, morally, between Adkisson, who at least had the balls to act on his beliefs, and the fellow who wrote this:
There are simply too many things going on with Barack Hussein Obama, I can't focus on just one of them. Any one of his decisions have the potential for driving the United States of America over the cliff to our doom. And amazingly, he has accomplished this much in less than two weeks!

At this rate we will have a full blown Marxist dictatorship inside of two years.

I don't know what to comment on first.

I fear we are witnessing the final death throes of the United States of America.

Obama is intent on change, alright. He wants to change this country from the United States of America to the United Soviet States of America.

From his first day, every thing he has done is a disaster in the making. From signing the order to close GITMO, suspending trials for the terrorists, cutting our military budget by 10% (that's just the beginning of the dismantling of the military, mark my words), threatening to abolish free speech, to the capping of Wall Street executive's salaries.

What gives Obama the right to dictate (key word)how much executives can make? What gives him the right to limit how much any one can make? Today it's the Wall street executives. Tomorrow it may be you. That's Marxism at it's worst!

Can't the American people see what he's doing?

He has the power and he has the political backing of the other Marxists in the two houses of Congress, and if he stays in office long enough, and has the opportunity, he will pack the Supreme Court with Marxist judges.

He is taking us further into Socialism with every executive order, with every pronouncement, and with every concession he makes to the enemies of our country. And I include on that list enemies of America who call themselves Americans while actively trying to undermine America's security and freedoms.

What has to happen for Americans to rise up and throw this Marxist bum out on his ear? Does he have to declare himself "Dictator for Life" before the American people wake up and see what he's doing?

So. What can we do? We need to clean house, that much is certain. But, how do we do it?

I don't have anywhere enough of a readership to accomplish anything. I feel as if I'm talking to a wall. I have no power to lead a grassroots movement against this traitorous government.

But we need to act. Now. We need to let our voices be heard. Now. We need to throw these bums out, and the sooner, the better. Perhaps, if we move quickly enough, we can salvage what's left of our liberty.

Make no mistake. Obama is systematically destroying our country. And he's not even being subtle. He is blatantly dismantling the Constitution before our very eyes and we seem to be powerless to stop him.

We can write our Representatives in Congress. We can jam the Congressional switchboards with our calls. We can take to the streets and shout our frustration to the world. But the problem with that is this:

The media are in the tank for Obama, and our protests will not be heard. The Democrats in Congress are backing Obama, and will back him all the way to our death, and most of the Republican Representatives are spineless. They will sit back, watch, and complain.

Which is, by the way, the only thing we ordinary freedom loving Americans can do.

God help us all.

While I usually say that I keep reading and posting there to laugh at their absurd pose of some kind of combination of political realism, erudition, and staunch refusal in the age of "Yes we can!", in fact I keep up with them because, to me, the only difference between Mark, Marshall, al Ozarka, and Eric on the one hand and James Adkisson on the other is Adkisson was intelligent enough - from his little manifesto, he is clearly far more articulate than the entire American Descent crew combined - to figure out how to load a gun, point it at a human being, and pull the trigger. Also, he wasn't a rank coward, hiding behind a screen name, tossing out meaningless insults and fact-free punditry on the death of America at the hands of the commie-Muslim-fascist Barack Hussein Obama. They are no different. Their minds operate on the same level.

While we can rest a little easier because James Adkisson will discover how much folks in prison love a guy like him, I do fear that there are many, many others out there who preach the same hate-filled dreck. One or two of them might just develop the testicular fortitude to act on it. That should keep us all up nights.

Stupid People In High Places

This edition - Max Boot from the Council on Foreign Relations, writing an op-ed in The Washington Post.

Let's start with his bungling of an important piece of history.
Newsweek's editors may have performed a public service by bringing up one of the biggest mistakes the United States made in Vietnam: backing the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, the president of South Vietnam, in 1963. President John F. Kennedy and his aides thought Diem was a divisive, ineffective leader, and they feared that the war could never succeed with him in power.

Now, why would anyone have thought Diem was ineffective, or divisive?
Believing that the central highlands may be of strategic importance to the Vietcong or in a potential invasion by North Vietnam, Diem decided to construct a Maginot Line of settlements. The area, inhabited by Montagnard indigenous people, had been largely allowed local autonomy in previous times, and the locals distrusted ethnic Vietnamese. Diem initiated a program of internal migration where 210,000 Vietnamese, mainly Catholics, were moved to Montagnard land in fortified settlements.[28] When the Montagnards protested, Diem's forces confiscated their spears and bows, which they used to hunt for daily sustenance.[29] Since then, and to the present day, Vietnam has been faced with a Montagnard insurgent separatist movement.


In a country where surveys of the religious composition estimated the Buddhist majority to be between 70 and 90 percent,[31][32][33][34][35][36][37] Diem's policies generated claims of religious bias. As a member of the Catholic Vietnamese minority, he is widely regarded by historians as having pursued pro-Catholic policies that antagonized many Buddhists. Specifically, the government was regarded as being biased towards Catholics in public service and military promotions, as well as the allocation of land, business favors and tax concessions.[38] Diem also once told a high-ranking officer, forgetting that he was a Buddhist, "Put your Catholic officers in sensitive places. They can be trusted." Many officers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam converted to Catholicism in the belief that their military prospects depended on it.[39] Additionally, the distribution of firearms to village self-defense militias intended to repel Vietcong guerrillas saw weapons only given to Catholics, with Buddhists in the army being denied promotion if they refused to convert to Catholicism.[40] Some Catholic priests ran their own private armies,[41] and in some areas forced conversions, looting, shelling and demolition of pagodas occurred.[42] Some Buddhist villages converted en masse in order to receive aid or avoid being forcibly resettled by Diem's regime.[43] The Catholic Church was the largest landowner in the country, and the "private" status that was imposed on Buddhism by the French, which required official permission to conduct public Buddhist activities, was not repealed by Diem.[44] The land owned by the Catholic Church was exempt from land reform.[45] Catholics were also de facto exempt from the corvée labor that the government obliged all citizens to perform; U.S. aid was disproportionately distributed to Catholic majority villages. Under Diem, the Catholic church enjoyed special exemptions in property acquisition, and in 1959, Diem dedicated his country to the Virgin Mary.[46]

The white and gold Vatican flag was regularly flown at all major public events in South Vietnam.[47] U.S. Aid supplies tended to go to Catholics, and the newly constructed Hue and Dalat universities were placed under Catholic authority to foster a Catholic-skewed academic environment.


The regime's relations with the U.S. worsened during 1963, as well as heightening discontent among South Vietnam's Buddhist majority.

In May, in the central city of Huế, where Diem's elder brother was the archbishop, Buddhists were prohibited from displaying Buddhist flags during Vesak celebrations commemorating the birth of Gautama Buddha when the government cited a regulation prohibiting the display of non-government flags.[49]. A few days later, Catholics were allowed to fly religious flags at another celebration where the regulation was not enforced. This led to a protest led by Thich Tri Quang against the government, which was suppressed by Diem's forces, killing nine unarmed civilians. Diem and his supporters blamed the Vietcong for the deaths and claimed that the protesters were responsible for the violence.[50][51] Although the provincial chief expressed sorrow for the killings and offered to compensate the victims' families, they resolutely denied that government forces were responsible for the killings and blamed the Vietcong.[52]

The Buddhists pushed for a five point agreement: freedom to fly religious flags, an end to arbitrary arrests, compensation for the Hue victims, punishment for the officials responsible and religious equality. Diem labeled the Buddhists as "damn fools" for demanding something that, according to him, they already enjoyed.

Diem banned demonstrations, and ordered his forces to arrest those who engaged in civil disobedience. On June 3, 1500 protesters attempted to march towards Tu Dam Pagoda. Six waves of ARVN tear gas and attack dogs failed to disperse the crowds, and finally brownish-red liquid chemicals were doused on praying protesters, resulting in 67 being hospitalised for chemical injuries. A curfew was subsequently enacted.

Now, this is just a sample of Diem's excellent qualifications as a leader. Never mind the US had no business there in the first place; never mind the illegality of the coup, and the US role in the coup. Right now, I am focusing on Boot's notion that it was US policy planners who thought that Diem was a bad guy, hinting that this was either untrue or irrelevant. It was most definitely true, and entirely relevant.

Fast forward to another stupid, illegal war of choice that has left a nation desolated: Iraq. Boot, attempting to show the differences between the American stupidity in Vietnam and our choices in Afghanistan, uses the example of Iraq under Nouri al-Maliki to show that we might have learned a lesson. Except, of course, he gets some stuff wrong.
The [surge] strategy developed by Gen. David Petraeus was to use U.S. reinforcements to target al-Qaeda in Iraq first because he knew that this group of hardened terrorists was the primary "accelerant" of violence. The sense of menace induced by al-Qaeda provided a justification for the thuggish activities of the Mahdi Army, which claimed to be protecting the Shiites. Reduce Sunni terrorism, Petraeus reasoned, and you also reduce Shiite support for the Sadrists. And that's exactly what happened. With al-Qaeda in Iraq all but defeated, Maliki felt free to move against the Mahdi Army.

This may have been what happened, but it was not the strategic plan behind the "surge". The entire premise behind the surge was not to allow Maliki to move militarily against the Mahdi Army, al Qaeda in Iraq, or any other quasi-military force. The introduction of additional American forces was to create breathing room for political reconciliation between the various political factions in Iraq. Constitutional questions were to be settled; agreements on how to disperse Iraq's oil wealth; the status of the semi-autonomous Kurdish regions of the north - this was the strategy behind the tactic known as the surge. Militarily, like Vietnam, it was a success. Politically, it failed miserably. Boot doesn't mention that - nor does anyone else - because to do so would be to make liars out of generals like Petraeus.

Back to the main point for all this sentimentality - what to do about Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan?
Karzai has many shortcomings, particularly his inability or unwillingness to battle corruption and the drug trade in which his brother is implicated. But is there any reason to think someone else would be more effective? U.S. officials eyeing elections scheduled for August are high on possible candidates such as former finance minister Ashraf Ghani and former foreign minister Abdullah. Yes, those men have impressive credentials. But at one time, U.S. officials also saw Ayad Allawi as the savior of Iraq. Next they settled on Ibrahim al-Jafari, only to push him out and wind up with Maliki, whose reputation has yo-yoed. The American record in picking leaders for foreign countries seems spotty at best.

So instead of obsessing about Karzai's faults, perhaps we should focus on the real problem: lack of security. Efforts to improve the security situation cannot be held hostage to efforts to improve governance. As in Iraq, the solution in Afghanistan should come from sending reinforcements to implement a classic counterinsurgency strategy that focuses on protecting the people. Only when the security situation improves will Afghanistan's president, whoever that person is, be able to function with any degree of effectiveness.

There is so much gobbledygook in these two paragraphs, I think the editors probably just threw up their hands and said, "Fine! Whatever!" Why should we obsess over the handpicked leader of a country implicated in massive corruption? Why should we care that Afghanistan's only major export, and largest cash crop, is opium? It seems Boot's one factually correct statement comes at the end of the first paragraph above concerning our "spotty record" on picking those to rule other countries.

While "lack of security" may be a gross understatement (a nascent civil war is much more like it), that is, indeed the major threat to Afghanistan. It has its roots in the Bush Administration's decision to leave a small contingency force in Afghanistan and focus on Iraq. The reason we were in Afghanistan was because the Taliban created a safe haven for terrorists who attacked our country. So, "lack of security" can be directly related to a conscious policy decision, one Boot supported whole-heartedly. Lord knows why he thinks anyone should listen to him now . . .

The money-shot, however, is the following sentence: "Efforts to improve the security situation cannot be held hostage to efforts to improve governance." I don't know if a dumber sentence has been written by someone who is supposed to be an "expert".

(Warning: Expletives to follow)
How else do we improve security unless we help the Afghan government improve their ability to govern? Are you that fucking stupid, Max Boot, that you believe that the internal security of a state is not directly linked to their ability to govern effectively and with a perception of legitimacy?

Sorry. Lost my cool there.

Anyway, I think it's safe to say that if we keep listening to the Max Boot's of the world, we will continue to fail as miserably as we have been doing.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Number 16

No President has ever taken office facing the challenges Abraham Lincoln faced. Sixteen states threatened to leave the Union should the Republican take office. The festering sore of slavery had led to the point where it was no longer possible to survive as a nation. Without mentioning the issue directly, all the candidates (there were four who ran in 1860) made the expansion of slavery in to territories and the survival of the Union central, and Lincoln's victory solidified southern hostility to remaining in a country that refused to bend to its policy preferences. With the first shots in what would become our Civil War already having been fired in Kansas and Nebraska, the prospects for a peaceful resolution of the differences between slave and free state was non-existent.

Lincoln himself faced incredible odds at anything like success. Indeed, other than one term as a House member, his resume was thin indeed. While he impressed many with his run against Illinois' venerable Senator, Stephen Douglas (who had also been his rival for the Presidency in 1860), he lost that contest. In his own party he was perceived as weak, malleable, and many thought he wouldn't make it through his first year in office. Events seemed to outpace his ability to control them as, even before he took office, the first of the southern states officially seceded and formed the nascent Confederate States of America, appointing Mississippi's veretan Senator Jefferson Davis interim President in lieu of an election.

Along with a stirring revolt in the cotton belt, Lincoln had the monumental task of dealing with the personalities in his cabinet. Being far more clever than anyone could have imagined from his limited experience, he understood that the best way to ensure his continuance in office was to keep all his rivals together, where their bickering and massive egos would cancel one another out, leaving him in control.

The only other challenge - and it would be a daunting one for years - was military leadership. The top general of the army was the aged hero of the War of 1812, Winfield Scot. He ran through a succession of miserable failures, lost battles, and the invasion of Pennsylvania by Lee's Army of Northern Virginia until he noticed fellow Illinoisan Ulysses Grant had a knack for victory, most famously in the siege of Vicksburg, MI, achieved at the same time Lee's Army was defeated in Gettysburg. While Grant had many faults, including a struggle with the bottle he would lose in the end, he had onee thing going for him - he could win. Many southern sympathizers have castigated Grant's profligacy with human life in several of his battles, especially in his campaign across Tennessee, but should one consider other generals, his losses were only larger because he continued to press for victory when other Union generals would blanch at the losses faced and retreat. Considering Lee's losses at Gettysburg, Petersburg, and even at the Confederate "victory" at Antietam, it seems hardly fair to think of Grant as holding life cheaply.

Lincoln's final challenge, as it turned out, was making sure he won re-election in 1864. After winning, he delivered an inaugural address that, other than FDR's first and Kennedy's, lives on in the memories for the ringing phrases of hope for a post-war reconciliation that would not be, thanks to the bullet from John Wilkes Booth's pistol that robbed the United States of the promise of strong leadership in the face of the rage of radical Republicans.

As we face the challenges ahead of us, we should remember that another man faced far worse trials, and came through to live forever in the hearts of his fellow citizens as the greatest (yet) to lead us.

Point of Personal Privilege: After being shot, Lincoln was carried through a stage door to a house across from the entrance. It happened to be a doctor's house, named Safford. Lincoln would die there, after lingering unconscious for several hours.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin

After having been twice driven back by heavy south-western gales, Her Majesty's ship Beagle, a ten-gun brig, under the command of Captain Fitz Roy, R.N., sailed from Devonport on the 27th of December, 1831. - Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle

When on board H.M.S. Beagle, as a naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the organic beings inhabiting South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These, facts, as will be seen in the latter chapters of this volume, seemed to throw some light on the origin of species - that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers. - Charles Darwin, On The Origin Of Species

I shall argue that Darwin's theory does undermine traditional values. In particular, it undermines the traditional idea that human life has a special, unique worth. Thus, although I am an Darwinian, I will be defending a thesis that Darwin's friends have usually resisted. But I do not assume, as Darwin's enemies have assumed, that this implication of Darwinism is morally pernicious. I believe it is a positive and useful result that should be welcomed, not resisted. Abandoning the idea that human life has special importance does not leave us morally adrift; it only suggests the need for a different and better anchor. - James Rachels, Created From Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism, p.4

Tomorrow two men share a bicentennial birthday. One, our greatest President, will be remembered on the day. The other was a soft-spoken, somewhat reclusive naturalist who managed, despite all his attempts not to do so, to become one of the seminal figures of 19th century intellectual life.

I sometimes find it odd that, as I read in a local newspaper article yesterday, a large percentage of the American public does not "believe" in evolution. That's funny, because it's kind of like not believing in gravity, or the theory of Special Relativity. Whether one "believes" in either of these things or not, they are operable scientific theories because they usefully, and simply, and clearly, bring together all sorts of disparate data, and make solid predictions concerning the possibilities and fruitfulness of future research.

The trouble is, of course, that many people think that, at the heart of Mr. Darwin's theory lies the thesis so beautifully articulated by philosopher James Rachels, as quoted above. Looking for a "moral" dimension of a scientific theory is a bit like looking for an aesthetic dimension of a scientific theory. One can certainly find one if one tries hard enough. Indeed, if one really, really tries, one can see all sorts of things that aren't there, from canals on Mars to the political ramifications of quantum mechanics. The problem with these assertions - in particular the idea that there is a moral dimension to "Darwinianism" - is ludicrous. Darwin was merely describing the way species change and multiply over time. Is this a good or bad thing? Does the conclusion that human beings, like trilobytes, finches, bears, and whales emerged from a process of random mutation and natural selection threaten our moral sensibilities at all? Only if, I think, we believe that we can hold fast to human uniqueness as some transcendent notion.

As we remember the life of this humble, thoughtful, patient gatherer of a vast array of data; who pondered his initial conclusion for a decade before final publication (writing several monographs, including one on roundworms, in the meantime); and suffered the slings and arrows of the humorlessness of Bishop Samuel "Soapy" Wilberforce, and even the neglect of Britain's greatest 19th century statesman, William Gladstone; we should also remember that science has little to say about what "ought" to be. Charles Darwin was evasive on the implications of his theory for one reason and one reason alone. Beyond describing certain phenomena that occur over vast stretches of time, due to a variety of factors both micro- and macro- (the synthesis of Darwinian evolution by natural selection and Mendelian genetics would not become finally whole until after the Second World War, although some start was made in that direction in the 1930's), Mr. Darwin's theory has nothing to say about what kind of beings we humans should be.

As a Christian, I celebrate the life and discoveries of Charles Darwin, and wish with all my heart that people would please stop saying that there are those who don't "believe" in the theory of evolution. Try it with thermodynamics, and see how that works for you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

1 Timothy 1:8

First, the verse:
8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God,(emphasis added)

As Christians, to what are we called? Here, Paul insists that what we are called to is suffering.

Now, that sounds like fun!

This particular subject is one I have been thinking about for a very long time. Whenever I hear or read some right-wing Christian whine about the oppression of Christians in America (which doesn't really happen), or wonder why, say, Amnesty International doesn't deal with anti-Christian violence around the world (it deals with prisoners of conscience, so there is some publication of instances of this kind of thing), all I have to say is what Paul says in the previous verse: "for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control."

We aren't Christians because we want people to stop having sex outside marriage. We aren't Christians so that we can keep gay people from getting married. The Gospel isn't about keeping dirty pictures away from people, or not saying bad words. The Gospel is the good news that God has been manifest in Divine fullness in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The scandal of the Gospel is the humiliation of Jesus, a humiliation we are to follow in our own lives. We are not to be ashamed of the ways we are reviled, laughed at, mocked, or ignored, but continue on in a Spirit of power and love.

It is right here, at this very point, that I feel the difference between so much of what passes for Christianity in America shows itself to be false. Conservative Christians lament the lack of social and cultural sway the Church has; they shout in a loud voice about the deterioration of our culture (as if this were something new) and the way Christians have been sidelined in so much of our public discourse (again, a false statement, but it makes them feel besieged). I say, if these things are true, then rejoice, brothers and sisters! Instead of rejoicing, however, they demand that those who would silence the voice of the Church not do so. They demand, rather than simply keep preaching the Gospel. They condemn, rather than pray and love.

In a word, what they know is not the power of God manifest in the strength to endure, but fear. I think it's kind of funny, actually, because they refuse to acknowledge what is and has been obvious to me for so long - they are afraid that what they believe is weaker than all the horrid bogeys of this world. Whether it's dirty words, or the horrible, evil gay agenda, or people having sex - all these are so much more powerful than the Gospel of Jesus they have to stop!

Paul's admonition to remember the Spirit of power and fearlessness is a nice antidote to the whining and complaining of so many. We aren't messengers of fear. We bring the Good News of God's love and justice and power, and rather than curl up in to the fetal position when people laugh at us for our foolishness, we shouldn't be ashamed, but remember this is the price we pay.

If it's Mr. Darwin's theory, or the gay couple down the street, or the unmarried pregnant woman who attends your church who you think are the enemy, my suggestion is you aren't paying attention. If any of these things cause you either anger or fear, I suggest you remember that we are called not to condemn but to love; not to be afraid of the world, but to embrace it as God has. Even as it laughs at us, or even (like Paul) far worse, just keep laughing and loving.


Here's a transcript of Treasury Secretary Geithner's remarks today. Reading through them, all I can say is . . . wha'? I mean, seriously. This is not a "plan". It's a series of nice-sounding platitudes that end up meaning, "We're going to keep doing what we've been doing, in the hopes that a new coat of paint hides the stink of the horrid pile of shit the taxpayers own."

I suppose this is what one gets when one hires a banker to oversee banks.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Toppling The Tower Of Opposition

I wanted to use a dirty word in the title, but figured my wife might wag her finger at me, click her tongue, and remind me (again) that church members read my blog. My title was "Toppling The Tower Of Bullshit". And really, when it comes right down to it, the Republicans have constructed a huge tower of poo, nothing more and nothing less. It stinks, takes up a whole lot of room, and needs to be removed.

The pushback began last week, with Pres. Obama's speech to the House Democratic Caucus, which was televised. He also published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post that laid out his argument - and set the Administration's counter-argument - and is now on the road (today he was in Elkhart, IN; tomorrow in Ft. Myers, FL) and will also give a prime-time news conference today.

In the midst of all this we have the Republicans doing all they can to try to fudge and dodge, muddy the waters, and simply flat-out lie.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) criticized Senate "centrists" for cutting $40 billion in state aid from the stimulus package, noting that the aid, which appeared in the House version, was intended to stop states from "laying off cops and firefighters, money to help keep teachers going." Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada rejected Frank's comments, labeling the remarks "fearmongering." Indeed, Ensign seemed encouraged by the fact that state budgets, including his own, would have to be slashed, calling the budgets "bloated." He said, "What we should be doing is cutting back."

Got that? As the recession worsens, and government spending is needed to prevent more Americans from losing their jobs, a leading Republican senator whose own state is about to get pummeled, believes it's a good idea to "cut back."

To Ensign's really stupid comment, Yglesias says:
The idea that it would be good for states to cut back in the midst of the recession is stupid. The idea that the recession won’t, absent federal aid, lead to layoffs of state employees such as teachers and firefighters is also stupid. But the idea that it’s simultaneously true that the reason we should eschew aid is that states need to cut back and also true that it’s fearmongering to warn of layoffs is doubleplus stupid. What does Ensign think cutbacks consist of? States will be reducing vital services. The cutbacks will have the immediate impact of reducing the incomes of laid-off families and beneficiaries of state programs. That will have an additional impact on businesses where the newly laid-off teachers and cops used to work.

And the reduced level of service will have its own bad economic impacts. Cutting back public safety budgets will mean fewer cops on the beat. That means more crime which will further reduce economic activity. State cutbacks to child care subsidies will make it harder for people who lose jobs to find and accept new ones. The cutbacks to mass transit services that are happening across the country will introduce additional rigidity into the labor market and reduce patronage of businesses that people are accustomed to reaching via transit. And in the most severe cases, cutbacks in assistant to the severely impoverished will have a decades-long impact on the well-being of their children.

Of course, it's not just Republicans in Congress, but their enablers in the DC Insider Press Corps who are taking a few hits.
Here’s an interesting dynamic: The yawning gap between what the pundits say about who’s winning the stimulus war and what the polls say the public thinks has created an opening for the Obama team to reclaim Obama’s campaign outsider mantle, which had slipped away during the transition to governing.

Case in point: White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, on the presidential plane today, directly targeted cable news as out of touch with America when asked about polling on the stim package.


According to the pool report, senior Obama adviser David Axelrod ran with this ball on the campaign plane, too, saying that the new Gallup poll proves how out of touch Beltway insiders are.

“If I had listened to the conversation in Washington during the campaign for president, I would have jumped off a building about a year and a half ago,” Axelrod said.

Obviously there’s a bit of shtick going on here. Still, the Obama team is clearly embarking on a new and more aggressive strategic effort to draw attention to the size of his popular mandate and paint Washington as a place designed to obstruct the public’s will.

One gets the sense that Obama is starting to realize that governing includes some campaigning, too. He's good at it, and should keep it up. Revise and extend those original remarks from last week, keep the pressure on the Republicans and the press, push back, and remember it's about people hurting and needing to do something to help. It isn't about winning a game. Whether it's Sen. Ensign thinking it's fearmongering to say that cutting state budgets and state services means people get laid off - including police, fire, and teachers - or Mitch McConnell saying that construction projects don't create jobs (or something like that) or some anonymous blogger insisting a CBO report says something it clearly does not say, we need to keep the pressure on until this thing passes. Also, it should be noted, just as Bush's tax cuts in 2001 were followed by another round in 2003, we should always remember that Obama is going to be in office for at least four years, so he can come back and demand more action if need be in the future. So don't weep if this act isn't perfect. It's a start.

Music For Your Monday

Of today's featured artist, jazz critic Gary Giddins writes in Visions of Jazz: The First Century, on page 458:
The question that continues to haunt his art is: What precisely is he doing and why must he do it with such intensity and at such length? . . . [He] is a threat, a heretic in the cathedral of music, who questions such fundamental issues as harmonic improvisation, swing, and endurance - his and the audience's. At the time of his debut on records, jazz was mired in harmonic labyrinths. [He]was one of the few musicians who saw no reason that chord progressions could not be replaced by spontaneous invention within the confines of the composed music. In questioning the cyclical blues and song structures on which jazz improvisation was based, he inevitably had to wonder why rhythm sections were cast primarily as timekeepers and not as equal participants in an ensemble's inventions. . . . He devised a way that worked for him, not necessarily for anybody else.

Of his work, Branford Marsalis intoned the thought-killing "self-indulgent bullshit". All artists, worth their salt, are self-indulgent. Why else would they be doing what they're doing if they weren't indulging their passions, their sense of fun and play, of love and pain, of loss and hope, pouring it out through their fingers, their tongues upon reed or mouthpiece, through their hands on the drum kit? The problem with this artist, however, is that he challenged every single assumption of western music - tonality and melody, harmonic integrity and rhythmic cohesion - in the very music he played. He wrote no tracts, penned no manifesto; he let hour-long semi-improvisational pieces do the talking. He is not for background music for reading or lovemaking. He is not for dancing or caterwauling. He is, simply put, Cecil Taylor.

The Magic Of The Internet

Since I provided a small public service over the weekend - and got lost in the process - with a link to the House version of the stimulus plan, I expected better commentary than the following:
According to the CBO, the stimulus bill will actually hurt the economy in the long run. However, there is the possibility it will stimulate illegal immigration. In addition to providing up to 300 thousand construction jobs for illegal aliens, the bill will bail out irresponsible states like California. This will allow them to avoid dealing with one of the primary reasons they have a budget deficit. That reason is the extensive and expensive social net they have extended to illegal immigrants. Obama's stimulus will stimulate illegal immigration

What's that you say? The CBO says what? Why, I think I'll check it out:
In a letter sent today to Senators Grassley and Gregg, CBO analyzed the macroeconomic effects of an initial Senate version of the stimulus legislation (the Inouye-Baucus amendment in the nature of a substitute to H.R. 1, which is the House stimulus bill). CBO estimates that the Senate legislation would raise output by between 1.4 percent and 4.1 percent by the fourth quarter of 2009; by between 1.2 percent and 3.6 percent by the fourth quarter of 2010; and by between 0.4 percent and 1.2 percent by the fourth quarter of 2011. CBO estimates that the legislation would raise employment by 0.9 million to 2.5 million at the end of 2009; 1.3 million to 3.9 million at the end of 2010; and 0.6 million to 1.9 million at the end of 2011.

Those estimated effects are slightly greater than those of H.R. 1 (as introduced) in 2009 and 2010 (particularly in 2009), but lower in 2011, because more of the overall rise in spending and fall in revenues occurs in the first two years under the Senate legislation.


In contrast to its positive near-term macroeconomic effects, the Senate legislation would reduce output slightly in the long run, CBO estimates, as would other similar proposals. The principal channel for this effect is that the legislation would result in an increase in government debt. To the extent that people hold their wealth in the form of government bonds rather than in a form that can be used to finance private investment, the increased government debt would tend to “crowd out” private investment—thus reducing the stock of private capital and the long-term potential output of the economy.

The negative effect of crowding out could be offset somewhat by a positive long-term effect on the economy of some provsions—such as funding for infrastructure spending, education programs, and investment incentives, which might increase economic output in the long run. CBO estimated that such provisions account for roughly one-quarter of the legislation’s budgetary cost. Including the effects of both crowding out of private investment (which would reduce output in the long run) and possibly productive government investment (which could increase output), CBO estimates that by 2019 the Senate legislation would reduce GDP by 0.1 percent to 0.3 percent on net.(emphasis added)

So much for what the CBO says. You know, when people put stuff on the internet, one would think they might be willing to take the chance that others might not make sure they weren't full of shit.

To add, just as a note, if the tax cuts were reduced, there would be more room for the kinds of investment the CBO says would not crowd out private investment. So, really, the changes wrought by the Republicans are the reason the stimulus bill might - might - have a long-term negative impact on GDP (although 0.1 to 0.3 percent, while still negative, are hardly worth mentioning considering the contraction we are currently experiencing.

There is also the fact that a decade can make a world of difference, as the recently-departed and unlamented Bush Administration has so amply demonstrated.

Intellectual Redneck, you might want to think about finding a new moniker.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Reading The Stimulus Bill II

647 pages is a lot. And, there's a whole lot here. Sheesh.

Title VIII deals with "Interior and Environment". The first section allocates $325,000,000 to the Bureau of Land Management "for priority road, bridge, and trail repair and decommissioning, critical deferred maintenance projects, facilities construction and renovation, hazardous fuel reduction, and remediation of abandoned mine or well projects."

Just a thought here. I've reached only page 111 of over six hundred, and see thousands of potential jobs, including projects that would all sorts of multiplier effects (repairing and building commuter rail and intercity rail lines would provide jobs for concrete and steel manufacturers, subcontractors, etc.). Every time someone says this bill won't create any jobs, a kitten dies.

The USGS even gets a share - $200,000,000 - for deferred maintenance and replacement and repair of things like seismic detectors and volcano monitors. What a waste of money!

The Bureau of Indian Affairs gets a paltry half a billion dollars for school and other facility building, repair, and maintenance. I say "paltry" because the state of infrastructure on Indian Reservations is sad, almost a travesty, and three or four times that could be allocated and still not meet the needs. I suppose it's a start, though. There is $8.4 billion in state and tribal assistance grants that should help, though. Related to this whole subject, the Indian Health Service receives a little over half a billion dollars for "priority health care facilities construction projects and deferred maintenance, and the purchase of equipment and related services, including but not limited to health information technology."

Under appropriations for "Public Health and Social Services Emergency Funds", $420 million is allocated "to prepare for and respond to an influenza pandemic, including the development and purchase of vaccine, antivirals, necessary medical supplies, diagnostics, and other surveillance tools". There's an additional $50,000,000 for information technology security at HHS.

Subtitle C concerns the Department of Education. The whopping sum of $13 billion is provided under the authority of title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. There are some other funds made available, and then for Special Education, under the authority of the Americans With Disabilities Act (which Pres. George H. W. Bush opposed), another thirteen billion dollars.

Title XIII deals specifically with education spending, uner the heading of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. A whopping seventy nine billion dollars is set aside to make sure that states don't have to close down schools due to lack of funds. I can see why this is a waste of taxpayer money . . .

Now, we have reached the Republican part, Division B - "Other Provisions: Title I - Tax Provisions". After a long table of contents, Sec. 1001 of Subtitle A, "Making Work Pay", is an adjustment to the withholding provisions, including extending this to American possessions. Subtitle B - "Additional Tax Relief for Families With Children" begins with Section 1101, "Increase in Earned Income Tax Credit". Hmm, maybe this is more the Democratic part, because the Republicans have never liked this (unless you count Ronald Reagan, whose Administration came up with the idea, and who promoted it; when Bill Clinton wanted to increase the credit, the Republicans who controlled the Congress back then wanted to kill the entire program).

Subtitle E concerns business tax benefits, mostly by extending certain tax credits and other incentives past their expiration dates. That's the beauty and challenge of so much tax legislation - it does nothing more than amend various provisions of previously existing bills. It is also why reading them, and decoding them, is so aggravating. One needs to refer to the original legislation, many times, in order to figure out what the intent of the change is. Section 1421 of Part 3 provides for credits for hiring veterans and "disconnected youth". Not too shabby, I guess. I also like Section 1541 of Part 5, a repeal of the withholding provisions for government contractors.

Subtitle G is entitled "Energy Incentives", with Part I being for "Renewable Energy Incentives". Section 1601 is an extension of the credit for energy from renewable sources. Again, not too shabby.

To be continued . . .

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