Saturday, April 7, 2007

In defense of a secular state

When I learned about this weekend's Blog Against Theocracy, I started brainstorming some ideas for posts. This is an issue that has been important to me for some time for a number of reasons. On the most basic level, it goes against *my* understanding of what my faith (actually all major faith traditions) requires of me, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." *I* wouldn't want to be treated like a second class citizen because of my beliefs or lack thereof, so how can I, as someone who tries to follow the teachings of Jesus, condone or accept it when others are treated that way? Also, as a parent, I have learned a little bit about persuasion--or, more specifically, the types of persuasion that are most likely to backfire. I know that if you try to force something on someone, it could end up being the *last* thing they will choose.

My son is almost 14, and there was never a time in his life that he believed in God in any traditional sense. But he has fluctuated to some degree between agnostic and staunchly, almost evangelically atheistic. What makes the difference? When he has been around people who seem to have an agenda and want to push religion, he pushes back, digging in his heels and becoming more anti-religion. But when he's been in an environment, such as the local Unitarian Universalist church where his "I don't believe in God" was met with, "A lot of us don't either", then he has been more open to the "maybe" of God. So if my ultimate goal is for him to embrace Christianity, I've learned that the approach with the best chance of success would be a *really* soft sell. As in, acting like I don't really care that much. And I wonder how many people out there in the world might be more open to religion if there weren't people trying to force it on them.

Last September, Rob Boston from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State came to speak here in Columbus. You can read his whole talk here, but I've excerpted the section that addresses theocracy, and why a secular state is good for both the church and the state.

As I mentioned a moment ago, I see secularism as a sort of a platform upon which our religious liberty and our freedoms rest. Secularism as a legal principle means simply this, that the government is neutral toward religion. Neutral, not hostile. As applied in our First Amendment, the principle of secularism means that the state neither advances religion, nor inhibits religion. Now there are alternatives to secularism as a legal principle. And I would challenge those who are attacking the secular state to tell me which alternative they would like to see us adopt in the United States.

One alternative would be the legal establishment of a single church. We've had that in our history. If you go back, and you look at the colonial experience, you'll find examples of that. The Masssachusetts Bay Colony, for example, was a Puritan theocracy--a single established church. Some of the southern colonies had Anglicanism as their established faith, an example of this would be Virginia. And obviously, we know of examples today where you have a single established church. The Church of England, for example.

The question becomes, how satisfying is this arrangement for both the church and the state, and I would answer, not very. Think for a minute about the modern examples of an established church, in the western world. What you find there is really kind of a house-kept, neutered state church. It doesn't really do much. You know, they drag out the bishops in their nice robes and their fancy accoutrements whenever there's a royal wedding or a state funeral, but by and large, their subservience to the state is obvious, and their political voice is nonexistent. Their imact on the larger society is nil. And certainly their churches are not growing. In fact, they often sit empty on weekends--or maybe they'll be 1/4 full.

Now, the state may find this arrangement satisfying, after all, it manages to sort of quiet a voice that has historically challeneged government officials--religious leaders. But when they pay them off with subsidies or symbolic support, they don't have to worry about that any more. Now this single established model is something that grows out of the Middle Ages, before that, the Byzantine Empire, before that, the late Roman Empire. But you find that--my opinion is--it's outlived its usefulness. And smarter church leaders know this.

On January 1, 2000, at the stroke of midnight, the state established church in the country of Sweden, which was the Lutheran church, was disestablished, after hundreds of years of being the official church of Sweden. And it was the clergy of the Lutheran church who led the drive for disestablishment. Why did they do it? Probably because church attendance rates had dropped into the single digits. A free church, they argued, might be just the shot in the arm that religious groups need to get them back into the game.

Now that's one model. There's another way to go. You can have a multiple establishment. We could have a couple of different religions, or maybe ten or twenty or fifteen, Christian denominations or what have you, get some kind of preferential treatment from the government. There are countries that do this in the west right now--Germany is a good example. In that country, workers pay a tax that goes to a Protestant denomination or the Catholic church as they allocate. Now, this makes the churches quite well off--imagine that, if you're getting a cut of every worker's paycheck, even if it's a small amount, it's a pretty good deal.

But again, we must ask ourselves, how does this help the vitality and the life of the church? Well, again, if we look at the statistics in Germany and other nations that have this multiple establishment model, the church attendance is very low, and the churches don't have much of a public voice.

The other option would be, the theocracy--the theocratic state. This is more common today in the hard line Muslim nations. It's not so much a western phenomenon. A complete merger of religion and government. Now under this model, the established faith doesn't play a symbolic role. It instead takes an active role in influencing, or actually running, the government. Now, its faults are numerous, and they're very prominent. Probably most prominent among its faults is the idea that holy books are notoriously difficult to interpret, and they are open to many different interpretations. Therefore, in a theocratic state, it becomes the job of some supreme religious leader to decide which interpretation of the holy book will hold sway over the entire population. In hard line Muslim nations, narrow interpretations of sacred writings have led to the subjugation of women, absolute control of the media and the arts, public beheadings and state-sponsored mutilations in sports stadiums, crackdown on all forms of political dissent, and the absence of free elections. Pardon me for not being enthusiastic about this model.

Now, our founding fathers were familiar with all these models. So that brings us back to the secular state--why do we have a secular state? Because the founding fathers were familiar with all these models. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was a theocracy. Mutiple establishment was in some colonies, single establishment was in other colonies. They didn't even have to look beyond the shores of the new nation to see these models in action. The only real kind of secular state model at that time would have been Rhode Island, founded by the iconoclastic preacher Roger Williams, who allowed all religious groups to worship in his colony, even those that he disagreed with. But that was not the most common experience. That was an unusual thing to do. It was taken as a given throughout much of the founding period that of course religion and government needed to be related, of course there needed to be some kind of relationship. I'm not really aware of any country that dared to separate religion and government before we did, and establish a truly secular state.

You can read the rest here, including Boston's musings about why our third president might be considered "unelectable" given the slide toward theocracy that has taken place in this country over the years.

Why "Support the Troops" No Longer Works

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Appearing at The Blogging Curmudgeon, My Left Wing, and the Independent Bloggers' Alliance.

The American Prospect sounds the death knell for the slogan that two Bush Administrations have used to whip an ambivalent public into line behind their oil wars. "Support the Troops." I hated the phrase during Gulf War I and I hate it now. I know when I'm being manipulated. As Bush the Elder set out to lick the "Vietnam syndrome," he tweaked a public made guilty by urban legends about returning veterans spat upon by anti-war protesters. My neighborhood, then, was a sea of flags and yellow ribbons. How can you protest the war? You have to support the troops. I support them so much I want to bring them home, I'd say, but there is no reasoning with the mindlessly jingoistic.

In our fifth year of Operation Endless Bloody Occupation, the phrase has been stripped of its utility. As our troops sustain back to back deployments. As they return with broken bodies and broken minds, to rat infested hospitals and a failing VA, any assertion from the Administration that those who want the bloodletting to stop are the one's who fail them seems like crude burlesque.

So the American Prospect informs us, as it reports that deep in red America, Democratic Senator John Tester is facing no serious resistance to his oppositional stance on the war and his vote for the supplemental bill that included a timetable for withdrawal.

Indeed, the only direct mention of the vote came from a young Army wife, who thanked Tester for "supporting the troops by voting for deadlines to bring them home." Heather Scharre is 28. She's married to 27-year-old Sergeant Paul Scharre, who served three tours in Afghanistan while on active duty, then left the Army only to find himself involuntarily recalled last September. He is now on his way to Iraq. "We've been told to expect 14 to 16 months," Heather said of her husband's deployment.

Scharre asked Tester, who sits on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, to make sure that returning Iraq veterans have access to counseling, including couples and marriage counseling. "We were used to four-month deployments," Scharre said. The adjustments after those tours were difficult enough; she could only imagine what re-entry into everyday life will be like after a tour of 14 or 16 months.

"I think we been hearing from some people, like the president and the vice-president, that if you don't support the war, you don't support the troops," said Scharre, "and I feel very strongly that that is not the case."

But the damage done as this idiotic meme crashes to earth is more than the loss of it's use as a rhetorical bludgeon. There is substantial damage to the troops themselves. For having been used as political cover for a corrupt agenda, they are now convenient targets for a public disgusted by this war. Why not? They're not so much human as they are human hyperbole. They ceased to be human beings when they were turned into symbols of mindless nationalism. When they became set dressing for speeches and props for photo ops. Made mute in all matters of political debate by their uniform code, they were, none the less, used as instruments of propaganda for dark political motives. Unable to pick and choose their wars by virtue of signature and oath, they went where they were sent.

As any of my regular readers knows, my husband is one who signed, who swore, who went. So, yes, it pains me when he is called a murderer, an uneducated dupe, a fool. While outrage at the troops themselves for their role in advancing American imperialism is, in my experience, still confined to a small, vocal, minority, it, none the less opens a window into the American psyche. It is only the most extreme example of the shadow projection of a cloistered public, cut off for so long from the direct experience of war.

That we have had no war fought on our soil in our memories, has enabled most Americans to view the horror only through a media aperture. But, unlike the first Gulf War, which looked like nothing so much as a fireworks display, this one "comes into our living rooms" with blood and sinew still attached. Not so easy to ooh and ahh at pictures of the dead children on whom the fireworks fall. But graphic as these images are, they still do not, cannot, capture the experience of the troops on the ground or of the Iraqis who live it daily. We still sit at safe distance, discomfited but naive.

And so we reject it, project it, displace it. Those invested in keeping war "glorious" decry that we see it at all, calling on our media to hide the "graphic" photos in the name of decency; diverting our gaze from coffins and amputees. But at the opposite extreme are those who see the horrors and disown the war itself like a bastard child. At both ends of this sharp polarity is the same disease; the utter failure to take responsibility for what our country has become and for what it has wrought.

We must support our troops. They are keeping America safe.

Fuck the troops. Look what they have done.

Our poor troops do these awful things but they were duped because they are young and poor and had no options.

And all of it, all of it, is denial. Mental tricks to keep unimaginable violence "over there." Ways of keeping a safe distance from the hard reality that war is a fact of life. That every sovereign nation prays for peace but prepares for war. That soldiers the world over are trained to kill, because sometimes killing is necessary. Wars are ugly. People die in them. Many of them horribly. That's true in "just" wars just as it is wars of aggression waged on lies.

But the greatest shame of all; the one that forces us to glorify, to distance, to displace, to rescript, to shun, is that, like it or not, this war is intrinsically linked to our way of life. If we live here, work here, shop here, pay taxes here, we are responsible. If we use petroleum, including plastics, we are most definitely responsible. This war is the dark underbelly of our civilization. It is an imperialist adventure. We are an imperialist nation. Embrace it or protest it, but for pity's sake, own it.

This war is not necessary but it was inevitable. Inevitable in a nation where roughly half the people vote, where politics is a football game, where public schools teach ignorance, and social institutions reinforce learned helplessness. In a nation where slapping magnets on our SUVs is participation in a war effort, but a fraction of the populace fights wars mostly hidden from public view. We have a military to protect our borders. And without them our borders would inevitably be breached. As our empire has grown to encompass corporate agendas that know no boundaries, they protect our "interests." But more than anything, more than anything, they protect our illusions.

"We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." ---George Orwell on a BBC broadcast, April 4, 1942

Jesse Jackson supports FOX News - the septic tank scum of news networks.

The Congressional Black Caucus "Club" have forgotten about black folks again.

This time it's Jesse Jackson who is joining the Congressional Black Caucus in showing his Rainbow to black folk.

Jack and Jill Politics reports that Jesse Jackson is Flip-Floping on CBC/Fox Debates.

AAPPundit says: Black Agenda Report is on point. Fox News has rented the Congressional Black Caucus and now Jesse Jackson.

Surprise - Surprise!

Cross posted at African American Political Pundit and Independent Bloggers Alliance

Blog Against Theocracy

In August, 2005, George W. Bush endorsed "teaching the controversy," teaching "Intelligent Design" alongside evolution in our nation's schools. "Intelligent Design," for those who do not know, is little more than reverse-engineered creationish disguised as science, or, as one wag put it, "creationism in a cheap tuxedo."

This is disturbing in its own right. But it gets far more disturbing when you consider the willingness of this Administration to pervert science to its needs.

James E. Hanson, once NASA's director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has accused the Administration of muzzling him and censoring his findings on global warming. He was warned there would be "dire consequences" if he spoke publicly about his findings. They even had an oil lobbyist and a college dropout editing his work at the direct instruction of the White House. And then, at the end of last year, the Admnistration issued new rules requiring all scientists to submit papers and speeches for "review" before they could be presented. And it just keeps getting worse, as now scientists are forbidden from speaking at all if they disagree with Administration dogma.

Of course, there is an easier solution than gagging the scientists. The government could just sign a new no-bid contract for the computers the scientists use:

Enough about science. What about theocracy? Well, that's where it gets interesting. As I noted up front, Bush is pandering to his "base" by insisting that our children get "taught the controversy," as if any time a moron disagreed with Galilleo we should start teaching the earth is the center of the universe. But will "teaching the controversy" be enough? Or will the White House start tilting the controversy, too? It certainly has no trouble doing so when it comes to global warming, so why should it not do so in a fight even more of its "base" holds dear, the inerrancy of the Bible? Gag the scientists, don't let them talk about Ardipithecus ramidus, or Australopithecus afarensis, or Paranthropus robustus, or Homo habilis, or even good old Homo neanderthalensis. After all, if human beings shared the Garden of Eden with dinosaurs, what room was there for ancestors?

Of course, presuming everything started on Day 1 (or is that Day 6?) fully made, what happens to the creatures that stay "created," particularly if they have to compete with the ones that didn't read the Book, so they go ahead and evolve all on their own? I think we know the answer to that:

The truth of the matter is (and now I'm just pumping in cartoons as part of Blogging Against Theocracy Weekend), the whole concept of religion is just one of explaining what you don't understand (and then using it to control people, but that's another story entirely):

While people insist we "respect" religion in a way we would never even consider respecting other fairy tales, does it really have that many good lessons for us? Sure, people pick and choose the parts they like, or the parts that support their own particular hatreds or prejudices, but is that any way to construct morality?

Ultimately, though, it's really pretty simple. The Bush way, the theocrats way, is one that insists we accept faithful ignorance over reason, and that is most certainly NOT the way to assure our nation's future:

Friday, April 6, 2007


Off the top of my head, here’s a short list:


These women were real singers, not one-hit wonders who cashed in their fifteen minutes of fame and disappeared. They were giants who left behind big landmarks that cast long shadows: The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Private Dancer, Hounds of Love, Not a Pretty Girl, Horses, and I Got Dem Ole Kosmic Blues Again, Mama!

It’s not a list that anybody can join. Hustle might get lucky once in a while and pick the lock, but talent will kick the door wide open. No, to be on the list, you have to be a visionary. Unique, stubborn, brave, opinionated, and willing to challenge your audience.

I’m sorry, Britney. Uh-uh, BeyoncĂ©. Go away, Gwen.

Amy? Amy Winehouse?

Hmmm. Maybe.

Amy is a British singer/songwriter who has already released two critically-acclaimed CDs, Stronger Than Me and Back to Black. And you know Amy spent her childhood listening to treasured LPs of Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, and Dinah Washington. However, she's not another generic singer-for-hire dutifully mimicking from the Cole Porter songbook. Unlike Diana Krall, who is a tall cool pitcher of iced tea with too much sugar, Amy is a shot glass of Jack Daniels, no chaser.

Does Amy belong on the list?

No, not yet.

Let's see what Amy is doing five years from now.

Ultimate Anderson Cooper Cage Match

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I was really impressed with the Anderson Cooper's "What Is A Christian?" series. And I am thinking you just can't make this shit up.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the beginning, an explosion rocked the cosmos, and the universe was born. Primitive life crawled from an ooze, mutating, changing. Dinosaurs lived, died, left nothing but bones. And evolution rolled on, until millions of years later.

Science tells us that's what happened. But what if it's wrong? What if another story, a very old one, is right?

(on camera): So, this is the Garden of Eden, and you have dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden?

KEN HAM, FOUNDER, CREATION MUSEUM: That's true, because God made the land animals on day six. He made...

FOREMAN (voice over): Ken Ham is the founder of a $27 million Creation Museum set to open on Memorial Day in rural Kentucky. The message: God made the Earth, the heavens, and everything in them in just six days, just 6,000 years ago.

Can you believe $27 million for this? How many people will that feed I wonder?

Then there is the hot topic of homosexuality and how they think "therapy and prayer" can solve that.

TUCHMAN: At Love Won Out, self-proclaimed ex-gays like Haley (ph) and Fryrear enthusiastically regale the crowd with their personal stories.

Dr. Joseph Nicolosi is at the center of this. He's an unorthodox Catholic psychologist. He runs the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.

NICOLOSI: Homosexuality, as we said, is a gender-identity problem.

TUCHMAN: Nicolosi concludes boys can become gay if they don't get enough attention from their fathers or if they were abused as children.

NICOLOSI: The guy with a homosexual problem does not trust men. When he begins to trust men, his homosexuality disappears.


"Making blogging pay"

Offered without comment, a piece from The Nation entitled "Making Blogging Pay".

Peer-produced media like blogs and Wikipedia have become the cornerstones of new creative projects that largely depend on the coordinated work of volunteers. But can they thrive without financial backing? Moulitsas says no. "There has to be a financial incentive to stick with blogging," he says. "There will be a subset of blogs that will be OK on their own, but there is a larger group of bloggers who need to be taken care of. There are bloggers like Digby who should not have to work a day job given what they bring to the progressive movement."

It's the same old story: progressives tend not to put their money where their mouth is. "On the left, there's a tendency to think that political operations should work for free," says Chris Bowers, a blogger for MyDD. Susan Gardner, a fellow at Daily Kos who once observed that money is to liberals what sex is to conservatives, says that not paying bloggers devalues their effort. "The left looks at money as so suspect that it expects a lot of volunteer labor. That's dishonoring the work." The left's attitude towards money is, of course, in direct contrast with the right, which has systematically poured money into conservative media and think tanks for decades.

Click here for the rest.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Whatsoever you do to the least of these bloggers

This comment by wu ming got me thinking about something. It's not that I begrudge top bloggers their success, it's just that a bit of humility and graciousness can go a long way. The truth is, some people, in addition to whatever talent and effort they employ, really do get some lucky breaks. And I think the *right* thing to do when you get one of those lucky breaks is to use that opportunity to do some good, especially for the people who often have no voice. And I don't mean "little bloggers", but the people we often try to stand up for, even if it's not profitable, popular, or convenient.

So, with apologies to the author(s) of the Gospel of Matthew...

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; receive your reward, the kingdom prepared for you with big comfy chairs, high speed internet. And free maid service, delivery of groceries, and state-of-the-art spam blockers.

For I was a "z-list" blogger and you linked to my essay, I was an unknown in blogtopia, and you blogrolled me anyway. When I wrote stories about Darfur, election integrity, and racial and gender inequality, you said these were important issues, and helped them get the exposure they needed and deserved.

Then the righteous will answer him, 'OMG! When did we link to your essay or blogroll you? We're *sure* we would remember doing that! And for that matter, when did we help you draw attention to those sorts of stories?

The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these bloggers, you did for me.'

Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into an eternity with Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, and Bill O'Reilly. And using a computer that crashes a dozen times a day. On a dialup connection.

For I was an unknown blogger and you ignored me. I was a "C-list blogger" and you said you wanted to shoot me in the face. I posted about the issues I considered most important, you refused to give them airtime. And *then* you called me "fraudster" and "dirty hippy".

They also will answer, "WTF? When did we call you names or bury those stories, or say we wanted to go all Cheney on you?"

He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these bloggers, you did not do for me.'

Hillary Clinton and Black Voters

AAPPundit: I always knew Hillary Clinton lost a lot of black support when she supported the war in Iraq. She is going to have a problem in black communities selling her support for the war on faulty CIA info.

All she had to do is walk into any African American community in America, and black folks, black women in particular would have told her, "Don't vote for that war." But that is "not" what she does, she's no Bill Clinton, and black folks know it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against Hillary I leave that up to other bloogers and haters. There are many black bloggers who openly Identify and support Hillary Clinton, I'm not one of those bloggers. I just don't like the fact that she refuses to say she made a mistake supporting the War from the beginning. At this point, Obama, Edwards nor Hillary have my vote. But if I'm going to vote the lesser of the three evils. It probably would be...

Well, only time and the specific program they lay out, will get my vote. At this point Bill Clinton may have to stand in for Hillary at more than dinners to get black folks (in mass) to vote for her.

News Max has an interesting article on that point.

Hillary Clinton Struggling to Win Black Voters

Even in a Harlem church where former U.S. President Bill Clinton is revered, his wife and presidential aspirant Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has some work to do with black women once expected to be firmly in her camp.

"Right now, she's my front-runner, but that may change the more I learn about Obama," said Angela Lago, a retired hospital recruiter among the ranks of black women voters looking at Sen. Barack Obama as an alternative among Democratic contenders.

Danese Smalls, who sells jewelry in the historic black neighborhood of New York, said she changed her mind after Clinton voted to support the U.S.- led war in Iraq.

"She lost me on that. Now I'm not convinced she's any different from any other politician," Smalls said. More>

Cross posted at African American Political Pundit and Independent Bloggers Alliance

What Happens When Government Shrinks

You have scandals like this one:

Citibank, one of the largest providers of student loans, as well as five universities have agreed to pay $5.2 million to students and the New York State attorney general to resolve an investigation into student loan practices, Andrew M. Cuomo, the attorney general, announced yesterday.

Citibank, which at year's end had $33.7 billion in student loans outstanding, agreed to pay $2 million into a fund to educate students and parents about student loans. [...]

Mr. Cuomo has singled out in particular a practice he called "egregious," in which loan companies give universities back payments that rise along with the volume of private student loans from the schools. Private loans are not secured by the federal government.

and this one:

The directors of financial aid at Columbia University, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Southern California held shares in a student loan company that each of the universities recommends to student borrowers, and in at least two cases profited handsomely. [...]

Government filings show that the three officials sold shares in a stock offering by the parent company of Student Loan Xpress in 2003 and held additional stock options in the company, known as Education Lending Group. One of the officials made more than $100,000, according to documents and lawyers in Mr. Cuomo's office. In one case, that of Texas, the official says he was invited to invest in the company.

The joys of privatization, and lack of federal regulation, this time in the student loan field. Need I say more?

Peaceful Solutions Seen In Middle East, BushCo Outraged.

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Yes, Mr. Bush, there are tools other than guns... we call them words and they always seem to fail you.

"The solution to Iraq -- an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself -- is more than a military mission. Precisely the reason why I sent more troops into Baghdad."

George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., April 3, 2007

There is nothing dishonorable in diplomacy, it is a very old form of statecraft where every word and meaning is carefully spliced together so the other party will understand exactly what you are saying.

"I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully."

George W. Bush, Saginaw, Mich., Sept. 29, 2000

Is there any wonder why you would suck at it? So please stay out of it and let the adults in the State Department (or maybe the Speaker of the House - because the Speaker SPEAKS) try to clean up the messes you've made. And if you really want to make an positive impact on the Middle East, just resign. Just quit. Chuck it all and go back to your brush in Crawford, Texas. Oh wait, you are there already... on vacation, again.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


Thank you to Maryscott O'Connor at My Left Wing for giving some front page love to this blog and my post "Tell us about your childhood, Duncan." If you're visiting this blog for the first time, I just wanted to point out that there is an "About" section if you scroll down a bit in the left sidebar. It has information about how to become a contributor--the more the merrier! But even if you don't want to post here, we always welcome the opportunity to exchange links with other bloggers. So if you're interested in reciprocal linking action, you can use the comments here to post your link.

Mark Pett's "Lucky Cow".

If Lucky Cow walked into a therapist's office, it'd be diagnosed as having “Dissociative Identity Disorder”. This frustrating comic strip by artist Mark Pett plays Hyde ‘n’ Seek with itself daily because it doesn’t know what it wants to be.

Usually, it’s mind-numbingly awful. Set in a generic fast food restaurant, it’s just another mediocre comic strip taking up space in the newspaper. When the characters aren’t being irritating, they’re dull. The jokes are predictable. As a cartoonist, Pett couldn’t get a job sharpening Gary Trudeau’s pencils. Lucky Cow is so bad, I’m surprised it hasn’t been made into a sitcom.

But I swear to God, just when I’m ready to give up on Pett, he turns into a genius. On those rare days when he dumps his idiotic characters and does editorial cartoons, Lucky Cow is smart, nasty, funny, and disturbing. It’s an savage condemnation on fast food culture and how it dehumanizes us and ravages the earth.

That’s the Good Pett. The next day, the Bad Pett will be back.

Science-fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon once theorized, “94% of everything is crap.” And as crappy as Lucky Cow usually is, it’s that 6% that keeps me coming back.

Pimping Uncle Ben

AAPPundit says: Yeah, they are making him the fake Chairman, but show me the money!

This appears to be nothing more than a PR Scam, yes Mars, marketing 101.

America has a history of PR scams with food products and African Americans.

What's up? Are black folks not buying "Uncle Ben's products like they use too?

Are the family members of the original “Uncle Ben" receiving his (long past due) Chairman's salary and royalties? Yeah I said it, money - $$$. If they (descendents) are not available, are nonprofit HBCU's, or inner city boys and girls clubs getting any $$$.

This is pure bogus to us. A fake Chairman of the Board. Soon they will be placing Kentucky Fried Chicken, Col. Sanders in Black Face"

Read more about the new Uncle Ben in the New York Times article titled:

Uncle Ben, Board Chairman

A racially charged advertising character, who for decades has been relegated to a minor role in the marketing of the products that still carry his name, is taking center stage in a campaign that gives him a makeover — Madison Avenue style — by promoting him to chairman of the company.

Newspaper ad and image of Uncle Ben in his office, Masterfoods USA

A Web site for Uncle Ben’s,, offers a look at his executive office.

The character is Uncle Ben, the symbol for more than 60 years of the Uncle Ben’s line of rices and side dishes now sold by the food giant Mars. The challenges confronting Mars in reviving a character as racially fraught as Uncle Ben were evidenced in the reactions of experts to a redesigned Web site (, which went live this week. Read More>

Diplomacy: A San Francisco Value

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If BushCo refuses to participate in diplomacy, somebody should and that somebody is Speaker Pelosi. Of course, Bush is very upset that someone upstaged him in the Middle East (not hard to do) and made him look bad (he does that all by himself) by getting things done.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

President Bush is nettled that Pelosi is playing at Mideast negotiator, if, indeed, her visit to Damascus goes that far. Yet, her scheduled meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad, an established troublemaker in Lebanon, Iraq and Israel, is a useful counterweight to the White House's record of diplomatic neglect and malpractice in the region.

She has paid the customary visit to Israel to pledge U.S. support and gone to a memorial in Lebanon to a leader believed assassinated with Syrian help. These are the usual stops for an American politician.

But because she is third in line to the president in the U.S. government, a visit to outcast Syria carries risks. Pelosi is unimpressed with the White House posture of ignoring Assad until he comes begging. Far better, she indicates, to talk face-to-face about his support for Iraqi car-bombers or missiles for Hezbollah fighters on Israel's northern border.

And guess who is providing diplomatic help with Britian in an attempt to gain freedom for the captured sailors and marines? Syria.

More indications emerged today of the role Syria is playing in the diplomacy. The Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, told the newspaper Al-Anba that the situation needed "quiet diplomacy", which Syria was involved in. Syria has long been the Arab country closest to Iran, a non-Arab state.



My mirror just reminded me how old I am. Again.

Sure, intellectually I know I’m 52. But most of the time it’s an useless number to me that doesn’t carry any emotional weight. That’s when I try not to pay attention. However, when I forget, I become uncomfortably aware that I’ve already spent half a century here, and I’m one more day closer to the last day before I vanish into the Big Black Empty. I don’t want to think about that too much, so I look for something to do.

Thankfully, even for a lazy bastard like me, it’s easy to stay busy. If you turn off the TV and leave the cave, things will happen to you.

“Life,” John Lennon’s ghost whispered to me, “is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”. I’m 52, and I’ve been married, divorced, got married again at a science-fiction convention , lost a father and sister, gone bankrupt, totaled a car, betrayed a friend, and seen Ghana. And that’s not even trying hard. Do I want to do more? Of course I do. To get through the day, I pretend I’ve got another fifty years to play with. It’s just a number.

So most of the time I forget how old I am. The persistent aching in my knee I shut up with Tylenol.

But then I looked in my mirror the other day. Usually, I’m clean shaven, but I experimented with the doomed idea of trying to grow a beard. I knew, just like the last futile attempt, that it was time to give up. Grabbing a razor to repair the damage, I studied myself in the glass. And, for some unknown reason, I saw somebody different staring back at me. Where did this clarity and inner illumination come from? I dunno. Maybe it was the lightbulb floating over my head.

My face was an unfolded road map, creased with a few new wrinkles. There were more treacherous grey hairs than I remembered. The scar near the corner my left eye, a childhood tattoo from falling off the monkey bars at the playground decades ago, was a dull smudge. And then, just for a brief moment, I saw my dead father in my reflection. “Damn,” I whispered to myself, “I’m 52. How did this happen?”

I think that’s why some people don’t like mirrors. Whatever lies you tell yourself, it will show you exactly who you are with a cold objectivity. And if you don’t like who you’re seeing, it’s a cruel epiphany. Abraham Lincoln said, “At forty, you have the face you deserve.” Well, at 52, all I want from my life is to be able to smile at that guy in my mirror and have no regrets.

And mean it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Blog Against Theocracy, April 6-8

Read more about the upcoming blogswarm here.

Are Women Always Wrong?

Adam and Eve

Author of "The Feminine Mistake" Leslie Bennetts writes in The Huffington Post:

Everyone knows that authors have to be prepared for negative reviews. What I didn't anticipate was an avalanche of blistering attacks by women who hadn't read my book but couldn't wait to condemn it. Their fury says a great deal about the current debate over women's choices -- all of it alarming.

In the comment thread that follows, hcgorman asks:

Maybe it is the title?

You know hc, I had the exact same thought. And yes, I get that it's a play on "The Feminine Mystique." But maybe a lot of us are just tired of being told that no matter what we do, no matter what we choose, we're always wrong.

There is a lot to recommend this book on the substance. Women who give up gainful employment to raise a family risk a lot. I personally have known a number of women who derailed the career track to focus on childrearing, only to find that in a divorce their lack of earning power left them at a disadvantage in custody battles. Imagine devoting your life to your kids only to find that having done so means you could lose primary custody of them.

Bennetts goes on:

My goal in writing The Feminine Mistake was to provide women with what I saw as one-stop-shopping that would help close this information gap. My goal was to gather into a single neat package all the financial, legal, sociological, psychological, medical, labor-force, child-rearing and other information necessary for them to protect themselves. My reporting revealed that the bad news is just as ominous as I'd feared; so many women are unaware of practical realities that range from crucial changes in the divorce laws to the difficulties of reentering the work force and the penalties they pay for taking a time-out. I devoted two chapters to financial information alone.

What I find unfortunate in Bennetts's approach is not the pragmatism, but the hectoring tone and the conflation of financial remuneration with empowerment. Like many who have reacted to her book, I should disclose that I have not read it as yet. Perhaps having done so, I might feel differently, but nothing I've read so far, including her own words on Huffington Post, makes me optimistic. Nor does it make me want to read it. I can be insulted anywhere and I don't need to shell out $24.95 for the privilege.

Bennetts seems highly focused on women who left their careers because of rescue fantasies.

And yet millions of women continue to be misled by the fairy-tale version of life, in which Prince Charming comes along and takes care of you forever. Our culture programs women to believe that they can depend on a man to support them -- the classic feminine mistake -- and fails to explain how often that alluring promise is betrayed, whether by a change of heart or a heartless fate.

I'm sure those modern-day Cindarellas are out there. I haven't met them.

There are many reasons that women choose to return to homemaking and childrearing. One is the continuing perception that it is better for their children. And in case it slips our minds, there seems no end to the reminders; like this one from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The government-funded, ongoing study of more than 1,000 children found that very young children who spent long hours in day care were more likely to become aggressive and defiant in school, beginning in kindergarten and continuing through sixth grade.

I heard that sound-bite today. It made me feel like I had deja vu. As did reading the more complete coverage, which points out that kids who have quality daycare have better verbal skills and no increase in behavioral problems. (So if you're going to put your kids in daycare, be sure and be wealthy). But here's the kicker:

While that fact is continually highlighted, it is important to note that 83 percent of the children in the study did not display these behaviors. In addition, this is not a scientific study, and there was no evaluation of how many stay-at-home children displayed the same tendencies. [emphasis added]

So why was this even released to the press? This ongoing study has been marred by controversy from the beginning. From a Los Angeles Times story of 2001:

A week after a high-profile study cast a negative light on child care, researchers--including the study's lead statistician--are sharply questioning whether their controversial work has been misrepresented.

As reported last week, the study showed that the more time preschoolers spend in child care, the more likely their teachers were to report behavior problems such as aggression and defiance in kindergarten.

But several academics involved in the study said that its conclusion was overstated and that other important findings never reached the public. In the aftermath, a rift has been exposed among the research team, and questions from other experts have caused the researchers to perform additional analysis before formally publishing their findings.

"I feel we have been extremely irresponsible, and I'm very sorry the results have been presented in this way," said Margaret Burchinal, the lead statistician on the study, funded by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. "I'm afraid we have scared parents, especially since most parents in this country [have to work]."

Several of those involved in the project accuse Jay Belsky, a professor at the University of London and one of the lead researchers on the study, of downplaying other important information when he presented the findings at a news conference last week. They accuse him of having an anti-child-care agenda.

Belsky charged that his colleagues are "running from this data like a nuclear bomb went off" because they are committed to putting an approving stamp on child care.

The pattern at that time was the same as we are seeing play out now. An alarm about daycare increasing aggression and the caveats ignored by most news venues. Because, lets face it, the idea that working mothers are bad for kids is part of an established narrative. And when facts and narrative conflict, narrative wins. So many working mothers feel like the trade-offs may be a necessary evil, but an evil none-the-less.

A number of women have embraced the return to "traditional roles." Along comes Bennetts to tell those women, that -- guess what -- wrong again.

Stay-at-home mom Nello had the same reaction that the aforementioned hcgorman and I did. Bad title.

Interesting title, no?
That’s what I thought too. And that is why I read the article that has heretofore been given the award for “Article That Has Upset Nello The Most Since She Doesn’t Know When.”

And I quote:

“I think it’s time to tell women, especially young ones, the truth: The feminine mistake- building a grown-up life around the notion that someone will take care of you- is an outdated idea that could jeopardize your future.”. . .

Why am I upset?
Reason number one: Because I don’t like my life being referred to as a “mistake”.
Hell. Who does?

Reason number two: I wasn’t aware that I was “being taken care of”. I thought that my family was taking care of each.other.
But hey. I’m just a stupid Home Mom. What the hell do I know?

Reason number three: Because this Leslie Bennetts obviously hit one of my fragile nerves. Yeah. That’s right Leslie. I’m not afraid to admit that a part of me is afraid that you could be right. Maybe I did make a mistake...

So, yes, women tend to be a little sensitive to the whole, "you're wrong" thing. But, more importantly, Nello raises what I think is a crucial point. The idea that stay-at-home mothers just want to be taken care of is a canard. Families, whether single or double-income are interdependent units. The "traditional" family structure is at bottom a division of labor. The men worked outside the home. The women worked in it. But, particularly in a highly developed society like ours, work is not considered, well, work, unless it earns a wage and contributes to the GDP. One of the casualties of early feminism -- with its focus on freeing women from codified gender roles -- is an idea that NOW has embraced in more recent years: "Every Mother is a Working Mother."

This is not to say that the idea that money equals value is a trap only for women. I would love to take at face value Bennetts's assertion that working for a living imbues us with a sense of personal empowerment, but that's not been my experience. Too many women and men are living lives of quiet desperation as "wage slaves." I've personally known a number of women who ran back to home and hearth, because the promise of work as freeing and esteem building didn't pan out. What they found, when they snatched that brass ring, was that it turned their fingers green. They had babies and went home because it turned out to be the more fulfilling choice, after all. And wasn't personal fulfillment one of the major goals of the feminist movement?

To hear Bennetts tell it, stay-at-home mothers are not making proactive choices at all. They are passive and indolent.

Thus buffered from harsh realities, stay-at-home mothers can often preserve their illusions for quite a while. But over the long run, neither willful obliviousness nor a double standard that treats them like second-class citizens will save these women from the all-too-real problems I have documented in my book. The facts don't change just because you refuse to look at them.

I hope I'm wrong about this. Maybe the stay-at-home moms will devour the information in The Feminine Mistake and debate my findings in their book clubs. Maybe some of them will even reconsider their choices and start making more sensible plans for the future than relying on the blithe assumption that there will always be an obliging husband around to support them.

Gosh, Leslie, I can't imagine why you're getting such a negative reaction. You'd expect to be embraced when you tell a bunch who've women who thought their lives were very full and rewarding, that they're really being feckless.

There's quite an industry in criticizing women. Many of its voices are female and sound like the mothers and grandmothers who always seemed to be harder on female children than male ones. We're not accomplishing enough. We try to do too much. We're too sexual. We're not attractive enough. We should make our own choices. Our choices are wrong. On and on it goes.

From what I've read so far of Bennetts's work the warnings themselves are sound, like telling women not to walk the streets at night. The world is a far less safe place for women than for men on every level; physically, sexually, economically, emotionally. I guess I've just gotten a little tired of being treated like I'm a fool because no matter what I do I can't adequately protect myself from it.

Crossposted from The Blogging Curmudgeon.

Gulf Of Tonkin Moment Could Be Over

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The hand-wringing at the White House must be fierce this morning because the Brits appear to be on the brink of freeing the hostages, peacefully... you know, WITHOUT WAR.

From the Times Online:

For the first time since Britain’s crisis with Iran began 11 days ago, there now seems a determination by both sides to seek a peaceful and rapid end to the plight of the 15 British Marines and sailors held by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Tony Blair’s remarks today in Scotland were very candid. In essence he said that we have a window of 48 hour to conclude a deal. He appeared to be very encouraged by the remarks on Monday made by Ali Larijani, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, who said that Tehran was no longer considering putting the British captives on trial and was seeking an early diplomatic solution to the stalemate.

It is understood that the details of a possible deal are being worked out in Tehran between British diplomats and Iranians officials. The key to ending the crisis will be to find wording for a statement that both sides can consider a victory.

If the Brits can pull this off, it may chill BushCo's upcoming war with Iran for two reasons. First, Bush can't claim they are going in to rescue hostages and secondly, it shows the International community Iran isn't the big boogie man Bush makes them out to be. They are seen as willing to talk and negotiate. Remember, these are the same folks that made tremendous progress towards representative democracy before Bush called them members of the Axis Of Evil. Then it all went to Hell.

Obama responds to claims that he "caved" to Bush

From the Union Leader:

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama says he has not softened his position on Iraq, despite suggestions to the contrary from other presidential camps and liberal blogs.

The Democratic presidential candidate took issue with a weekend report suggesting that he believes that if President George Bush vetoes a withdrawal bill, Congress should quickly provide full funding with no strings attached. Other campaigns privately pointed out the Associated Press report and questioned if Obama has changed his stance. The liberal blog Daily Kos carried a headline on Sunday stating, “Obama Caves to Bush.”
He said it would be unacceptable for Congress “to fold up tent because the President vetoed the bill.”
You can read the rest of the article here.

Bryan at Buckeye State Blog has weighed in here and here about the way some of the big names in the Democratic blogosphere were piling on Barack Obama yesterday.

P.S. How could I forget this? Sorry, Maryscott--I plead sleepy. I saw the article just as I was getting ready to go to bed, and wanted to get it posted. It was only after I'd posted the thing, as I was brushing my teeth, that I thought to myself, "Wait a minute--did that say "the liberal blog Daily Kos?"

It's NOT A LIBERAL BLOG! Everybody who's paying attention knows that by now.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Tell us about your childhood, Duncan

I'm confused. Atrios, aka Duncan, is *far* too important to even acknowledge the existence of the mere mortals of the blogging world. Yet he does. He saw fit to write about my "I can't believe it's not a meritocracy" post, although I didn't know it until Maryscott posted about what he'd said. And today I find out from skippy that he popped off a one liner about Terrance's thoughtful post which delved into the psychology/sociology of the linking issue, blogger caste system, etc.

Interesting. Veeeery interesting. Why should it matter to Duncan if some nobodies are saying stuff about him in their puny, insignificant, non-blogroll-worthy corners of cyberspace?

I decided to consult some professionals. I tried asking this guy, but he wasn't much help.

Duncan Black? Sorry--name doesn't ring a bell for me....

Alfred Adler thought the behavior was evidence of an inferiority complex.

John Watson said that was a load of poppycock. But he wasn't surprised that one of Freud's followers would come up with such nonsense. He said that Duncan's anger was clearly a conditioned emotional reaction. And while we were on that subject, Watson wanted me to remind everyone really *did* have every intention of curing the experimentally induced phobia of that little Albert kid. And he would have, too, if Albert's mom hadn't freaked out and disappeared with the boy.

Albert Bandura thought it had something to do with observational learning. Typical Bandura. But you never know--could be some backstory to the classic study that I'd never heard of before. Maybe Bobo made the June Cleaver-looking lady angry when he dissed her ideas about "blogroll amnesty". So naturally she felt compelled to beat the crap out of him. And when the little kids saw her do that, well, "monkey see, monkey do".

Albert Maslow didn't know for sure, but he was pretty clear on the fact that people who are truly self actualized don't engage in such dickish behavior on a regular basis.

And speaking of dicks, I thought I should round out this imaginary discussion by checking in with someone who always seemed to be thinking about them.

Hey! Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!

Sorry, Sig. I probably have some aggressive feelings towards you because of all that misogynistic crap you subjected us to over the years and I'm sublimating, or something.

Oh, you don't mind if I call you Sig, do you? 'Course not. You're dead. And I'm making all of this up.

But if we were able to ask Sigmund Freud about why Duncan gets so upset when he learns that the peasants are speaking his name in tones other than awe and reverence, what might he say? Maybe he'd explain it as an overactive id. Or maybe he'd say Duncan is identifying with his father--a healthy outcome of the phallic stage. Or that the behavior is some form of defense mechanism.

Maybe some people are just schmucks and you shouldn't spend too much time worrying about them.

Huh? Who said that? Was that you, Sig?

No wait--that was me!

But that makes a lot of sense. I really should listen to me more often...

A Not So Sweet Jesus

The phone is ringing and it's 1:00 AM in the f*****g morning. I swear some people just don't sleep......rrrrring,rrrrring,rrring, off the f*****g hook! Ahhh what the f**k. "Hello""Yo field did you hear about the latest controversy in New York." "Mother f****r do you know what time it is?"" I know dog but I just can't sleep right now, too much sh** going on". "Yeah I heard about it, Rudy in drag right? I spoofed it on my blog". "Naw dog not Rudy, didn't you hear about the chocolate Jesus?" "Who is chocolate Jesus some hot shot point guard out of Brooklyn or something?" "Naw field, seems there is this artist, I think his name is Caravallor or some sh**. Anyway, turns out he makes art out of food, and he had an exhibit to celebrate Holy Week up in New York." "So what's wrong with that?" "Nothing, unless you are a catholic, and the sculpture is of Jesus made from chocolate." "He made Jesus from chocolate?' "Yep, and Jesus is naked and his genitalia is out.""Well did he use caramel at least?" "Nope, dude used dark chocolate. " "Well then yep, I would say he f****d up. If it's one thing good Christian white folks (and some black folks) can't stand is a very dark son of God. "

Yes, and a bunch of Catholics are really pissed off, because they think this guy has really insulted their religion." "Yeah like who." "Well, Bill Donahoe,the leader of the Catholic League said it was the 'worse assault on Catholics sensibilities ever'. "No shit!" Yep; and even Cardinal Edward Egan said the sculpture has got to come down."So did they take it down?""They sure did, the guy that runs the gallery, Matt Sempier, quit in protest, but the people who run the hotel the gallery was in said they feared for their lives." "Yeah, the last thing you want to do is piss off a bunch of Christians by having one of their icons look like dark chocolate. That guy Donahoe actually said that it was the worse assault on Christian sensibilities ever?" "Yep he sure did." "Well what about all those Madonna videos, and touch down Jesus at Notre Dame, and that Jim and Tammy Faye theme park, that was some pretty disgusting sh**"

"The guy had to have known that this would piss off good Christians everywhere, having the son of God in dark chocolate. Couldn't he have thrown in a little strawberry or something?" "Yeah and the sh** with the genitalia really pissed them off too." Holy sh**, did they show the dark chocolate genitalia or the white chocolate genitalia?""I think they showed the dark one""Damn! That's allot of chocolate. Can you imagine the poor imagery that many of these poor Christians will now have to try and repress. That of a dark chocolate covered son of God with a large genitalia. It's enough to push out those child hood memories of all those priests with the white genitalia." Anyway, I don't feel comfortable having a genitalia discussion with another man at 1:00 AM in the morning so I am going to call it a night." "Yeah you are right field, but I just wanted to holla at you about that." "Well good looking out, I will probably blog about it tomorrow."

"Before I go; did you catch the final four games last night?" "Yeah they were alright. Sure was allot of chocolate running up and down the court. I wonder why Jesus let the Christian school, Georgetown, lose?""I guess he didn't like his people talking down that sculpture of him." " You might be right, maybe the big guy actually likes chocolate."

duncan black wants to shoot liberal blogger in the face

that's sad. especially because, apparently, the blogger that atrios wants to shoot in the face wasn't really whining about blogrolls, but was simply commenting on the whole blogroll amnesty day phenomenon, albeit in a wide-ranging and thoughtful manner; that is to say, inspecting the issue from all sides.

(we find it amusing that terrance's post on amnesty day quotes skippy’s site quite a bit to illustrate the one side of the argument that favors big blogrolls; we would think that if duncan wanted to shoot anyone in the face, it would be skippy, and not terrance, who goes on to present the other side of the argument quite thoroghly, too. well, shoot the messenger, and all that.)

apparently, in keeping with jon swift's original assessment of blogroll amnesty day, duncan reverts to a decidedly conservative response when confronted with an opposing opinion. that's too bad.

we would posit that if the original blogroll purge, and blogrolls in themselves, were of such unimportance (as stated by those who supported the purge), then duncan is guilty of supreme over-reacting.

(caveat: we know that duncan didn't really shoot terrance in the face, nor does he actually want to. but if it's so unimiportant, why does the discussion of amnesty day by other blogs who are not in the atrios sphere of influence elicit such an extreme reaction by duncan? doth the lady protest too much?)

thanks and a tip of the kangaroo tail to jon swift who alerted us to the cheney-like desires of duncan.

Bloggers and press credentials for state legislatures can mix, with caveats

The Thicket at State Legislatures is an excellent blog if you want to keep a canvas on what's happening around the country, both on an individual state level but also at a more holistic level: what new issues are being raised, where, which issues are dying out, and which ones won't go away.

Today, The Thicket reports on its poll about whether bloggers should be given press credentials for state legislatures:

Our poll on whether bloggers should be given press credentials was up for nearly three weeks and drew lots more votes than any of the previous ones. Thirty-two respondents (18%) said that legislatures should give press credentials to bloggers, only six (3%) said that they should not, and 133 (77%) said that bloggers should be given credentials only if they meet certain specified criteria. (Was somebody stuffing the ballot box? We didn't set up the poll to block repeat voters. In future polls, we will do so.)

What does your state do? Is anyone lobbying for blogger access?

Ohio has a few charitable listeners on this front in the statehouse, but mostly, I don't think anything is going to happen unless the legislators feel they can control the situation. And when bloggers are involved, well - I'm thinking, nuh uh.

Nancy Pelosi Hates The Economy

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What is Nancy thinking? How dare she go against the Constitution and travel to Syria and Lebanon and try to disrupt the long-planned upcoming wars with those countries. She has even set us back in our attack on Iran. Thankfully, the Brits have helped us a bit with that Gulf of Tonkin maneuver.

What is next on Nancy’s agenda? A peace plan with the Middle East? Can Congress even do such a thing?

Will the democrats out-Rove Rove? If the Congress arranges for a peace treaty and more than 2/3rds of the Congress votes for it, does the President need to sign it for it to be ratified?

Has that every been done in US history? What freak gave Congress that much power?

This has the commie’s fingerprints all over it.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

So Who Has That Vision Thing?

The topic below was originally posted in my blog, the Intrepid Liberal Journal.

So how do you select the candidate you support for President? Is it issues? Hair? Charisma? Perhaps you’re persuaded by an impressive resume? Ideology? Is it their religion or ethnicity? A single issue that for you dwarfs any other consideration? And if you’re a Democrat or Republican, how do you know when candidate X is the one you support to be your party’s nominee? Perhaps you reject both parties completely and prefer nominees of third parties such as the Greens or Libertarians?

As a liberal Democratic Party activist, I’ll know the candidate I support when I’m compelled to knock on doors and phone bank in get out the vote (GOTV) efforts. Activism is disruptive to one’s life. It has to be coordinated around one’s work schedule and personal life. Often done after hours, on weekends and at the expense of more pleasurable activities.

Hence, I need to be inspired by a candidate before I sign up and help in their effort to become president. Inspiration is not something easily quantified. We know inspiration when we feel it. So, what are the ingredients that inspire activists to stuff envelopes and get doors slammed in their faces? What are we looking for in our next president?

Henry Adams, an American historian and the grandson and great grandson of two presidents once said that a president "resembles the commander of a ship at sea. He must have a helm to grasp, a course to steer, a port to seek." The first President Bush contemptuously described this as “the vision thing.”

Inspiring vision may come from unpredictable sources. Not many regarded FDR as a transformational figure prior to 1932. He was an ambitious politician often talking out of both sides of his mouth. Ironically, one month after becoming the Democratic Party’s nominee in 1932, FDR criticized incumbent President Herbert Hoover about government spending:

"Let us have the courage to stop borrowing to meet continuing deficits. Revenues must cover expenditures by one means or another. Any government, like any family, can, for a year, spend a little more than it earns. But you know and I know that a continuation of that habit means the poorhouse."
Ultimately, FDR governed with a very different vision and responded to the Great Depression with heavy deficit spending. The New Deal combined with FDR’s leadership in World War Two elevated this deal-making pragmatist into a transformational agent of change. Through an activist government, FDR presided over a vision of economic fairness and helped liberate millions from Hitler’s tyranny.

In 2004, activists such as myself were inspired by a single vision: deposing Bush. Bush/Cheney had set the American house aflame and I wanted him out of power before it burned down completely. I didn’t sense much of a vision from Kerry and I didn’t care. He wasn’t Bush and that was enough.

Now I’m looking for a candidate who can “force the spring” as Bill Clinton put it in his 1993 inaugural speech. I want to support a candidate that is an agent of transformational change and renewal. Admittedly, I am setting the bar high. There is no perfect formula for determining which if any candidate meets such a criteria. In most campaigns for public office I ask myself three questions about prospective candidates:

1) What do they know?
2) What have they done?
3) What are they going to do?

At this point, there is only one candidate among the announced field in the Democratic Party that intrigues me: John Edwards. His record on Iraq troubles me but I’m starting to believe Edwards is sincere about learning from his mistake. Edwards has also demonstrated life perseverance following the loss of a teenage son. His wife is an inspiring model of perseverance as she supports the campaign in spite of cancer.

Several years ago my Dad and I were talking about a particular individual who seemed to lack empathy. My Dad observed this was someone who would benefit from life, “knocking him on his ass.” Edwards has the knowledge of someone who has been “knocked on his ass” through emotional trauma. I’m impressed with how both he and his wife responded to tragedy.

This is also a self-made man. His critics or as Katie Couric would put it, “some people” might say you can’t trust a man who made his fortune as a trial lawyer. I see a man who rose from humble beginnings and became a champion advocate for aggrieved individuals against concentrated corporate power. That is what Edwards has done with his life. Indeed, Edwards life is far more impressive to me than a garden-variety insider’s resume. When conservatives speak of tort reform they’re talking about stopping effective advocates such as John Edwards from helping the common person stand up to entrenched power.

To this point Edwards has been admirably specific about what he intends to do. His healthcare plan is serious and substantial. On issues ranging from global warming to taxes, John Edwards has not shied away from articulating an activist progressive agenda. Listening to John Edwards makes me think of FDR when he spoke of the “forgotten man” in 1932:

"He works, he votes, generally he prays - but he always pays - yes, above all, he pays. He does not want a political office. He is the one who keeps production going. He is strongly patriotic. He is wanted whenever, in his little circle, there is work to be done or counsel to be given. He gives no trouble. He is not in any way a problem (unlike tramps and outcasts); or notorious (unlike criminals); or an object of sentiment (unlike the poor and the weak); or a burden (unlike paupers and loafers). Therefore, he is forgotten. All the burdens fall on him - or on her, for it is time to remember that the Forgotten Man is not seldom a woman."
I’ll wait a bit longer. I want to observe how the candidates conduct themselves through the fishbowl of presidential politics for a few more months. Perhaps Al Gore will surprise me and join the fray. Maybe Barack Obama can demonstrate he’s more than a platitude machine. Ironically, Obama today reminds me of John Edwards in 2004. Perhaps Bill Richardson can convince me he’s not simply an agent of the establishment. For damn I won’t support Hillary Clinton. At this time, John Edwards appears to be the one with the “vision thing.” And that means, I’ll likely be phone banking, canvassing and stuffing envelopes on his behalf in a few months.

The great spaghetti harvest of '57

I'm not a big fan of the whole "April Fool" tradition, but this classic still makes me giggle.

The Panorama programme was shown on 1 April 1957, when television was still in its relative infancy, and has gone down in broadcasting folklore.

It exploited the fact that pasta was also still in its relative infancy in the UK - with most people only having eaten tinned spaghetti and not necessarily knowing how it was produced.

The spoof documentary showed spaghetti growers harvesting their supposed crop from trees in Switzerland and was watched by an audience of eight million.

Mr Wheeler said it was made after a suggestion by a Austrian cameraman who worked on the programme.

Mr Wheeler said: "He went off to a hotel in Switzerland, a very pretty hotel with trees sloping down to the lake and he got various girls there to dress up in local costume.

"They cooked some spaghetti and draped it over the trees and then showed them gathering the harvest and putting it in wicker baskets."

The report was voiced by Richard Dimbleby, the famous presenter of the programme.

Mr Wheeler said: "He had enough gravitas to float an aircraft carrier.

"He spoke the script in his mellifluous tones - it looked convincing in the pictures and I tried to make it equally convincing in the script.
From the Museum of Hoaxes site:
Huge numbers of viewers were taken in, and many called up wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. To this question, the BBC diplomatically replied that they should "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

Al Gore on Swedish television

Last night I saw an interview Al Gore did on tv in Sweden--apparently the show is called Stina, but nothing on this page is in English. The woman hosting the program did the introduction in Swedish, but then interviewed Al in English. She wished him a happy birthday, and Al smiled, responding, "You've done your research!"

They discussed the serious injury of Al Gore's 6 year old son that occurred almost 20 years ago (which he also discusses in An Inconvenient Truth) which led him to reevaluate his life. Al said that in the 30 days by his son's bedside he learned something about the "possibility of losing something very precious". He was talking about both to his family (which he decided needed to be put first on his calender before everything else) and our planet.

As they began to discuss the environmental crisis, Stina pointed out that a report was recently presented at the U.N. conference, which had Sweden at the top and the United States and Kazakhstan at the bottom, in efforts concerning climate change. Al laughed and offered his congratulations.

She asked him about running for president, and if he might be able to accomplish more with regard to the global warming issue if he were president. (She also asked her audience if he should run again, and they applauded and shouted "Yes!")

Al Gore: “I don’t have any plans to be a candidate for president again. I haven’t completely ruled out going back into politics at some point in my life. But the reason I don’t ever expect to be a candidate again is partrly because I’ve fallen out of love with politics, and I have less patience for some of the aspects of the politicsl system. But also because the way the political dialog is conducted over these 30 second TV commercials now, there is less of a chance to deal in depth with the biggest crisis that we have to face–this climate crisis.”

I can't say that I blame him for feeling that way, but, dang, he'd be a great president. And he already won, so how about we just let him take that turn now, and not go through another messy election?