Saturday, May 12, 2007

Black Is Beautiful

In ESPN magazine this week, sportscaster Stuart Scott was asked how he felt about the infamous Don Imus controversy:

"On a scale of 1 to 10, it's a 27. There are already too many signals in our society that blond hair and blue eyes are all-American beauty. It's hard enough for me to make sure that my two beautiful girls with black hair that doesn't lie straight understand their beauty is also all-American. When Don Imus calls black hair 'nappy', he's including them. And to call the Rutgers players 'hos'--these are classy, intelligent women whom any parent would be proud of--is deplorable. Imus didn't just say something stupid; it wasn't poor word choice. He also reflected what and who he is."

Happy Caturday

From Wikipedia:

Lolcats, a compound of lol and cat, are photos of cats with humorous captions. They are a type of image macro, and are thus also referred to as cat macros. Lolcats are created for the purpose of sharing them with others on imageboards and other internet forums, especially on Saturdays ("Caturdays").

(By the way, that mousepad is in a separate basic store--our main Cafe Press store is here.)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Oh boy, more benchmarks!

click to enlarge

Four years this war has dragged on and NOW Bush might think benchmarks could be considered:

Republican congressional support for President Bush's Iraq war policy is starting to slip away, events of this week show, making it possible that by September bipartisan majorities in both houses could vote to force a U.S. military withdrawal.

In the Senate, several Republican members are working with Democrats on bills that would pay for the war in Iraq through September but would require the Iraqi government to make enormous, perhaps unattainable, progress this summer to keep U.S. combat troops in their country. And in the House, members from both parties were buzzing Thursday over word that 11 GOP members went earlier this week to the White House to warn Bush their party faces an electoral debacle in 2008 if the war continues.

Bush fueled speculation that he could soften his hard line against compromise with the Democratic Congress by saying he would consider performance benchmarks for the Iraqi government as part of the emergency war-spending bill under consideration.

"One message I have heard from people of both parties is that benchmarks make sense, and I agree," Bush said Thursday at the Pentagon. His chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, will continue negotiating with congressional leaders "to find common ground" on benchmarks.

But the kicker is, we have already had benchmarks and we have missed most of those with the exceptions of the death of Saddam and the election. I think this is more of the same frankly.

And I am not a supporter of benchmarks in the first place. To me, benchmarks is just more wait-and-see when what we should be doing is pulling the troops out. If you want to benchmark that, I can compromise - withdraw 50,000 troops by the end of next back to the US and everybody else by the 23rd of May.

Ok, I can live with those benchmarks.

Monsters, Inc.

After meeting a few real-life mobsters, Mario Puzo said he deeply regretted how his novel The Godfather romanticized the Mafia. (Of course, Puzo said this long after he cashed the checks.) The movie adaptation certainly added a bright polish to the myth.

To his credit, David Chase never made this mistake with The Sopranos.

Yeah, the show has been on too damned long, and there are times during this season where it feels as though Chase is a lost tourist at a fork in the road with an unreliable map. Still, in spite of a few bad episodes, Chase has never made the error of forgetting who Tony Soprano and his crew are, and what they do for a living. O.K., I know some longtime viewers who love HBO’s critically-acclaimed drama and like to think that those wacky guys with guns up in New Jersey are just like them. Hey, Tony gets panic attacks, AJ is a spoiled brat who won’t listen to Carmella, and Uncle Junior is going senile. Don’t they sound normal?

They’re not.

In a horrifying scene on The Sopranos, we saw a pissed-off and boozed-up Christopher shoot his Hollywood pal J.T. Dolan in the face. For nothing. At that moment, Chase brutally reminded us what America’s Favorite Mobsters really are: Monsters.

They’re monsters who lie, steal, and kill people. Sure, the majority of the people they whack are other gangsters. But don’t think they would hesitate to smash a brick up against your head if you happened to scuff their shoes. It’d be no different to these thugs than stepping on a cockroach, and they wouldn’t give a fuck. They’re sadists, psychos, murderers. Monsters.

Too bad J.T. forgot that.

Be scared for Dr. Melfi. Very scared.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Great Guys And The Women They Batter

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

Crying Girl, 1963

Well now I've seen everything. Prominently placed on The Huffington Post is one of the most sickening bits of apologia I've ever read. Ari Emanuel pleads the case of the freshly fired CEO of HBO, Chris Albrecht. Sure he beat up his girlfriend, but he's a really good at spotting talent!

Writes Emanuel:

Chris Albrecht, like the rest of us, is not a perfect person. But he is a brilliant executive who helped turn HBO from a place to watch movies, stand-up comedy, and boxing into the home for some of the most creative and challenging original programming in the history of television. He has an amazing eye for talent, the ability to nurture that talent, and the patience to let outside-the-box shows find their audience. Without him, we wouldn't have had The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, or Everyone Loves Raymond (which HBO produced).

The Sopranos?! I love that show. Well, ok then! What's a little assault and battery?

Officers at the site of the Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather Jr. boxing match came running when they spotted a man later identified as Albrecht grabbing a woman by the throat with both hands and dragging her toward the valet parking station at the MGM Grand.

Police said Albrecht was unsteady on his feet, reeked of alcohol and said of the woman, "She pissed me off."

So who is this sad apologist for thoroughly indefensible behavior? Rahm Emanuel's brother. That's who.

Ari Emanuel, founder of the Endeavor Agency and agent for Larry David, Michael Moore, Sacha Baron Cohen, etc., etc. (and brother of Dem big-shot Rahm Emanuel) is ticked off about how the press has treated his friend and now-former head of HBO, Chris Albrecht. He's especially bothered by what turned out to be the smoking gun: HBO's 1991 settlement involving a subordinate and love interest of Albrecht's who alleged that he had shoved and choked her in her office. Emanuel says the press "dug up a 16 year old incident, dusted off the cobwebs covering it, and suddenly created 'a pattern' of behavior that required the delivery of Chris' head on a platter."

Yes. Not surprisingly, Albrecht has a history of grabbing his girlfriends around the neck and throwing them on the ground. It must be because he's "a creative genius given to emotional tirades." As reported in the Los Angeles Times a previous incident had been effectively buried by a hefty settlement.

In 1991, Time Warner Inc.'s HBO paid a settlement of at least $400,000 to a female subordinate with whom Albrecht was romantically involved after she alleged that he shoved and choked her, according to four people with knowledge of the matter who declined to be named because the payment was confidential....

[Sasha] Emerson, who had joined HBO in 1986, was senior vice president at HBO Independent Productions and reported directly to Albrecht.

By 1990, the two had become romantically involved. Both were married at the time. The affair broke up Emerson's first marriage, according to one person close to her.

By the time the incident occurred, Emerson and Albrecht had ended their trysts. Albrecht allegedly assaulted Emerson in her office in Century City when she told him she had been dating someone else, said one person close to Emerson. Albrecht allegedly threw her from her chair to the ground, the person said.

But, says Emanuel, Albrecht has expressed "deep regret" about knocking his new girlfriend around. From the Washington Post:

Albrecht said he was "deeply sorry for what occurred in Las Vegas this weekend and for any embarrassment it caused my family, the company I love, and myself."

Who's missing from this public apology... Oh, I know! The girlfriend he beat the crap out of!

This is just so bloody typical. Domestic violence affects approximately 1.5 million women and 845,000 men per year, with far more abused women than men suffering severe injuries. (This isn't hard to figure out. Men tend to be substantially stronger than women.) And the excuses for this brutality seem endless. One of the biggest comes into play in the case of Mr. Albrecht. 'Twas the drink that made him do it. So saith Ari Emanuel:

He is an alcoholic who fell off the wagon and made a terrible mistake.

Like so many high profile celebrities who fuck up royally, Albrecht is will seek treatment for his alcoholism.

In a statement sent to HBO staff members and released publicly Tuesday, Albrecht said he had been a "sober member" of Alcoholics Anonymous for 13 years.

"Two years ago, I decided that I could handle drinking again. Clearly, I was wrong. Given that truth, I have committed myself to sobriety. I intend to take a temporary leave of absence from HBO effective today, in order to go back to working with AA."

Yes, alcholism is a cunning, baffling, powerful disease. It is not, however, a cause or an excuse for domestic violence.

The belief that alcoholism causes domestic violence evolves both from a lack of information about the nature of this abuse and from adherence to the "disinhibition theory." This theory suggests that the physiological effects of alcohol include a state of lowered inhibitions in which an individual can no longer control his behavior. Research conducted within the alcoholism field, however, suggests that the most significant determinant of behavior after drinking is not the physiological effect of the alcohol itself, but the expectation that individuals place on the drinking experience (Marlatt & Rohsenow, 1980). When cultural norms and expectations about male behavior after drinking include boisterous or aggressive behaviors, for example, research shows that individual men are more likely to engage in such behaviors when under the influence than when sober.

Despite the research findings, the belief that alcohol lowers inhibitions persists and along with it, a historical tradition of holding people who commit crimes while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs less accountable than those who commit crimes in a sober state (MacAndrew & Edgerton, 1969). Batterers, who have not been held accountable for their abusive behavior in general, find themselves even less accountable for battering perpetrated when they are under the influence of alcohol. The alcohol provides a ready and socially acceptable excuse for their violence.

Evolving from the belief that alcohol or substance abuse causes domestic violence is the belief that treatment for the chemical dependency will stop the violence. Battered women with drug-dependent partners, however, consistently report that during recovery the abuse not only continues, but often escalates, creating greater levels of danger than existed prior to their partners’ abstinence. In the cases in which battered women report that the level of physical abuse decreases, they often report a corresponding increase in other forms of coercive control and abuse—the threats, manipulation and isolation intensify (Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, 1992).

But don't count on little things like facts to stop good old boys like Ari Emanuel from spouting canards in defense of those really great guys who just happen to beat women.

Just Say No

One object I had in placing Bartleby so handy to me behind the screen, was to avail myself of his services on such trivial occasions. It was on the third day, I think, of his being with me, and before any necessity had arisen for having his own writing examined, that, being much hurried to complete a small affair I had in hand, I abruptly called to Bartleby. In my haste and natural expectancy of instant compliance, I sat with my head bent over the original on my desk, and my right hand sideways, and somewhat nervously extended with the copy, so that immediately upon emerging from his retreat, Bartleby might snatch it and proceed to business without the least delay.

In this very attitude did I sit when I called to him, rapidly stating what it was I wanted him to do—namely, to examine a small paper with me. Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation, when without moving from his privacy, Bartleby in a singularly mild, firm voice, replied, “I would prefer not to.”

I sat awhile in perfect silence, rallying my stunned faculties. Immediately it occurred to me that my ears had deceived me, or Bartleby had entirely misunderstood my meaning. I repeated my request in the clearest tone I could assume. But in quite as clear a one came the previous reply, “I would prefer not to.”

“Prefer not to,” echoed I, rising in high excitement, and crossing the room with a stride. “What do you mean? Are you moon-struck? I want you to help me compare this sheet here—take it,” and I thrust it towards him.

“I would prefer not to,” said he.

"Bartleby, the Scrivener"
, by Herman Melville

Remembering Douglas Adams

Six years ago, I was greeted with the shocking and entirely unwelcome headline that Douglas Adams had died. Don't know why I always remember that date, but I do, automatically, every year. So I'm going to go ahead and post a sort of mini-tribute to my favorite author.

Picture of Douglas Adams via this post at synaptic disunion, where you can listen to an audio clip of Douglas Adams reading a bit of Last Chance to See.

Save the Rhino International has an annual Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture. (Douglas was a Founder Patron of the organization.)

Towel Day is coming up on May 25.

Finally, if you're able to view a YouTube video, you can see Douglas Adams reading a section of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe at a lecture by Richard Dawkins here:

Scott's sues eco-friendly startup

Demetrius told me about this story a few weeks ago, but I never got around to reading the whole thing for myself. On break today, I saw a story in the Business section of the Columbus Dispatch:

Scotts' turf war
Miracle-Gro brand sues tiny startup over packaging, eco assertions

...and resolved that I would actually post something about this tonight.

The makers of garden products Miracle-Gro and TerraCycle are as different as mature plants and seedlings.

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. is a $7 billion global business with broad brand recognition, a 59 percent market share and Roman columns framing the entry to its corporate headquarters. TerraCycle Inc. is a fledging startup with $1.5 million in annual sales, an infinitesimal share of the market and a graffiti-covered warehouse with used tires on the lawn where the rose bushes were before someone stole them out of the ground.

But Scotts sees similarities between the two plant-food makers. So, the Goliath of plant products sued late last month, accusing TerraCycle of copying its look and falsely asserting that its organic products are better than synthetic ones such as Miracle-Gro's.

"I don't think their claims are valid," said TerraCycle Chief Executive Tom Szaky, a 25-year-old Hungarian-born entrepreneur who dropped out of Princeton in 2003 to create an eco-friendly company. TerraCycle's products are made from worm waste and packaged in used plastic bottles and jugs.

"They're claiming that (the colors) yellow and green are theirs," he said, referring to Scotts.

He added, "Miracle-Gro has sued us over advertising. I've never bought an ad."
TerraCycle, which has yet to turn a profit, has created the TerraCycle Defense Fund through its Web site to help defray legal costs.

Click here to read the rest of the article, and here to check out TerraCycle's web site. Visit Sued By Scotts to donate to the TerraCycle Defense Fund, to find a store near you, or to purchase TerraCycle products online. (There are also links to PDFs showing other lawn and garden products with yellow and green labels.)

Interview with (fired U.S. Attorney) David Iglesias

From My Left Wing:

Jeff Huber: We have the privilege today of speaking with Mr. David Iglesias, who is famously known for a number of things, one of which is [that] during his time as a Navy JAG lawyer, he was the real life model for the Tom Cruise character in the movie A Few Good Men.

More recently, and perhaps more famously, he has been caught up in what some folks are calling "AttorneyGate". He is one of the eight U.S. Attorneys fired by the Bush Administration in 2006, for supposedly performance related issues, that it turns out, appears to most of us to have actually been a politically motivated issues.

Click here for the rest.

How Bush is like a weather vane.

click to enlarge

Bush loves to blame other people. He has a life long history of not taking the fall. Yesterday eleven Republican members of Congress went to the White House and bluntly told Bush and members of his senior staff, just how bad it is.

House Republican moderates, in a remarkably blunt White House meeting, warned President Bush this week that his pursuit of the war in Iraq is risking the future of the Republican Party and that he cannot count on GOP support for many more months.

The meeting, which ran for an hour and a half Tuesday afternoon, was disclosed by participants yesterday as the House prepared to vote this evening on a spending bill that could cut funding for the Iraq war as early as July. GOP moderates told Bush they would stay united against the latest effort by House Democrats to end U.S. involvement in the war. Even Senate Democrats called the House measure unrealistic.

But the meeting between 11 House Republicans, Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, White House political adviser Karl Rove and presidential press secretary Tony Snow was perhaps the clearest sign yet that patience in the party is running out. The meeting, organized by Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.), one of the co-chairs of the moderate "Tuesday Group," included Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.), Michael N. Castle (Del.), Todd R. Platts (Pa.), Jim Ramstad (Minn.) and Jo Ann Emerson (Mo.).

These guys must be in deep trouble in their district. If memory serves, most barely won their last election. Sadly, I don't think this is an attempt by the GOP to steer the nation on a better course, this appears to be 11 people are just in fear of loosing their jobs.

Bush just detects which way the wind blows and then points his finger to place blame. Lord knows nothing could be his fault.

Note: Hat tip to Blake Stewart for today's strip idea.

Desmond Tutu on global warming

This is worth reading and sharing:

The melting of the snows on the peak of Kilimanjaro is a warning of the changes taking place in Africa. Across this beautiful but vulnerable continent, people are already feeling the change in the weather. But rain or drought, the result is the same: more hunger and more misery for millions of people living on the margins of global society. Even in places such as Darfur, climate change has played a role. In the semi-arid zones of the world, there is fierce competition for access to grazing lands and watering holes. Where water is scarce and populations are growing, conflict will never be far behind.

Click here for the rest.

Poem: "What Are Big Girls Made Of?" by Marge Piercy

The construction of a woman:
a woman is not made of flesh
of bone and sinew
belly and breasts, elbows and liver and toe.
She is manufactured like a sports sedan.
She is retooled, refitted and redesigned
every decade.
Cecile had been seduction itself in college.
She wriggled through bars like a satin eel,
her hips and ass promising, her mouth pursed
in the dark red lipstick of desire.

She visited in '68 still wearing skirts
tight to the knees, dark red lipstick,
while I danced through Manhattan in mini skirt,
lipstick pale as apricot milk,
hair loose as a horse's mane. Oh dear,
I thought in my superiority of the moment,
whatever has happened to poor Cecile?
She was out of fashion, out of the game,
disqualified, disdained, dis-
membered from the club of desire.

Look at pictures in French fashion
magazines of the 18th century:
century of the ultimate lady
fantasy wrought of silk and corseting.
Paniers bring her hips out three feet
each way, while the waist is pinched
and the belly flattened under wood.
The breasts are stuffed up and out
offered like apples in a bowl.
The tiny foot is encased in a slipper
never meant for walking.
On top is a grandiose headache:
hair like a museum piece, daily
ornamented with ribbons, vases,
grottoes, mountains, frigates in full
sail, balloons, baboons, the fancy
of a hairdresser turned loose.
The hats were rococo wedding cakes
that would dim the Las Vegas strip.
Here is a woman forced into shape
rigid exoskeleton torturing flesh:
a woman made of pain.

How superior we are now: see the modern woman
thin as a blade of scissors.
She runs on a treadmill every morning,
fits herself into machines of weights
and pulleys to heave and grunt,
an image in her mind she can never
approximate, a body of rosy
glass that never wrinkles,
never grows, never fades. She
sits at the table closing her eyes to food
hungry, always hungry:
a woman made of pain.

A cat or dog approaches another,
they sniff noses. They sniff asses.
They bristle or lick. They fall
in love as often as we do,
as passionately. But they fall
in love or lust with furry flesh,
not hoop skirts or push up bras
rib removal or liposuction.
It is not for male or female dogs
that poodles are clipped
to topiary hedges.

If only we could like each other raw.
If only we could love ourselves
like healthy babies burbling in our arms.
If only we were not programmed and reprogrammed
to need what is sold us.
Why should we want to live inside ads?
Why should we want to scourge our softness
to straight lines like a Mondrian painting?
Why should we punish each other with scorn
as if to have a large ass
were worse than being greedy or mean?

When will women not be compelled
to view their bodies as science projects,
gardens to be weeded,
dogs to be trained?
When will a woman cease
to be made of pain?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Prophets and Kingmakers

From time to time I've mentioned the EfM seminar meetings I attend on Sunday nights. It is a four year program where, in addition to theological reflection as a group, students cover different materials in each year of the program. This is my second year, so the focus is the New Testament. Last year we studied the Old Testament in depth, and learned lots of fascinating things that I didn't know before. But, as those readings recede further into the past for me, I can mostly recall general themes and motifs rather than specific details. For example, I know that there was quite a bit about prophets and kings. And in the past few days I've been thinking about the prophet/king dynamic in terms of the role of bloggers in relation to elected officials.

Prophets often were cast in the position of having to "speak truth to power" when the king was not doing right by the "little people". As I was pointing out to Maryscott last night, the problem with being a prophet in that sense is that the job usually doesn't pay very well, and prophets often make a lot of people angry. But prophetic voices are very much needed to remind people of the issues that really matter. At B.R.E.A.D. meetings we often hear words from the prophets, reminding us that we are called to do justice. Martin Luther King, who can himself be seen as a prophetic voice, was known to call upon the words of the Hebrew prophets:

"Let Justice roll down like waters in a mighty stream," said the Prophet Amos. He was seeking not consensus but the cleansing action of revolutionary change. America has made progress toward freedom, but measured against the goal the road ahead is still long and hard.
Bloggers can play the role of prophet sometimes, in that we are often decrying some injustice and (hopefully) mobilizing people to address that injustice. What about kings? Well, bloggers, it seems, occasionally aspire to be kingmakers.

In a February 16 article in Salon entitled Fighting Words, Joan Walsh asked
Maybe I'm the one who's naive, but the whole episode made me wonder: What does it mean if liberal bloggers aren't warriors for the truth, but rather for candidates? What does it mean for media, and what does it mean for politics?
If you read the article, you'll see that Ms. Walsh is (or was, as of February 16) yet another columnist who hasn't received the memo that the proprietor of Daily Kos is not a liberal. But the question she raises is worth considering. I think at the most basic level it is important to have full disclosure about any financial ties between bloggers and campaigns--when such ties exist. But I also hope that we can start to make the media more aware of the diversity among bloggers on the "left". And that many of us have no desire to play the role of kingmaker, precisely because we place a higher value on our ability to continue "speaking truth to power".

The Capricious Womb

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


As for Ephraim, their glory will fly away like a bird--
No birth, no pregnancy, and no conception!
Though they bring up their children,
Yet I will bereave them until not a man is left.
Yes, woe to them indeed when I depart from them!
Ephraim, as I have seen,
Is planted in a pleasant meadow like Tyre;
But Ephraim will bring out his children for slaughter.
Give them, O Lord-- what wilt Thou give?
Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.

All their evil is at Gilgal;
Indeed, I came to hate them there!
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
I will drive them out of My house!
All their princes are rebels.
Ephraim is stricken, their root is dried up,
They will bear no fruit.
Even though they bear children,
I will slay the precious ones of their womb.

-- Hosea 9: 11-16

I've never understood people who say they find comfort in reading the Bible. Every time I open its pages, I stumble on something like the above. I am baffled by those who find this book -- replete as it is with genocide and infanticide -- a source for "pro-life" ideals. But I guess it all depends on what page you flip to and whose wombs we're talking about; God's chosen or everybody else's.

One can hardly blame the Israelites for envisioning a capricious god, for surely there is no better description for the architect of the natural world we live in. Evidence of such a god's unfairness is everywhere abundant and nowhere more so than in pregnancy and childbirth. So the Israelites sought to please a god who would reward them with fertility amongst their wives and other livestock. They prayed that he would punish only the wicked with miscarriages and poverty.

"But if you do not hearken to the voice of the LORD, your God, and are not careful to observe all his commandments which I enjoin on you today, all these curses shall come upon you and overwhelm you:
"May you be cursed in the city, and cursed in the country!
"Cursed be your grain bin and your kneading bowl!
"Cursed be the fruit of your womb, the produce of your soil and the offspring of your livestock, the issue of your herds and the young of your flocks!

-- Deuteronomy 28: 15-18

We all have ways of rationalizing the irrational nature of human existence. It provides an illusion of safety in a chaotic world. And the more out of control life feels, the more we seek the simplicity of a black and white truth; an ordered universe where goodness is rewarded and evil is punished. Our deeply religious President talks about bringing evil-doers to justice. Others wait endlessly for karmic retribution to end his bloody reign. Cosmologies may differ, but the desire for divine justice, it seems, is an inherent human longing.

The world does not cleave neatly, along straight lines. It twists madly. It careens wildly. Life itself seeks towards chaos. Birth. Death. We cannot control them. We can only make choices to make our own fleeting moments on this mortal coil a little more manageable; a little more bearable.

Where many of us see difficult choices and troubling circumstances, the Army of God sees resolute, divine order, administered by an inerrant god. One of the most uncompromising of "pro-life" organizations, it seeks not only an end to abortion, but considers any birth control but abstinence as "evil." Their heroes are pharmacists who withhold Plan B and the murderers of their god's enemies, abortion providers.

They seek to fashion a world where good and evil are clearly defined and upheld by the nation’s judicial system. The battle against abortion is a battle to build a society where pleasure and freedom, where the capacity of the individual and especially women to make choices, and indeed even love itself, are banished. And this is why pro-life groups oppose contraception—even for those who are married. The fight against abortion is the facade for a wider fight against the right of an individual in a democracy.

Army of God, a pro-life organization that holds up as Christian “heroes” those who murder abortion providers, defines birth control as another form of abortion, as do many other pro-life groups. In the “Birth Control Is Evil” section of their website it reads: “Birth control is evil and a sin. Birth control is anti-baby and anti-child. …Why would you stop your own child from being conceived or born? What kind of human being are you?”

Chris Hedges identifies Army of God as "the greatest threat to choice." Their ideological fervor seems largely honed in the forge of their own suffering; the unmanageable nature of their circumstances.

[Jeniece] Learned’s life, before she was saved, was typically chaotic and painful. Her childhood was stolen from her. She was sexually abused by a close family member. Her mother periodically woke Learned and her younger sister and two younger brothers in the middle of the night to flee landlords who wanted back rent. The children were bundled into the car and driven in darkness to a strange apartment in another town. Her mother worked nights and weekends as a bartender. Learned, the oldest, often had to run the home. She got pregnant in high school and had an abortion.

"There was a lot of fighting,” she said. “I remember my dad hitting my mom one time and him going to jail. I don’t have a lot of memories, mind you, before eighth grade because of the sexual abuse. When he divorced my mom, he divorced us, too."

"My grandfather committed suicide, my mom and my dad both tried suicide, my brothers tried suicide,” she said. “In my family, there was no hope. The only way to solve problems when they got bad was to end your life.”

Says Hedges:

For many, their own experiences with sex—coupled with their descent into addictions and often sexual and domestic abuse before they found Christ—have led them to build a movement that creates an external rigidity to cope with the chaos of human existence, a chaos that overwhelmed them. They do not trust their own urges, their capacity for self-restraint or judgment. The Christian right permits its followers to project evil outward, a convenient escape for people unable to face the darkness and the psychological torments within them.

Like the young woman profiled in Hedges's article, I grew up in the Rust Belt. And like so many who sought succor from the decaying breast of a culture in decline, I turned instead for comfort to born-again Christianity. As I said above, I did not ultimately find it very comforting. The implicit contradictions of its holy book created too much cognitive dissonance. The hypocrisy of true believers jangled my nerves. I could not force my brain to see logic where there was none. I could not convince myself, against all evidence, of any divine justice.

No just god does this, or this, or this. Nor does a perfect god fashion new life in a fallopian tube, dooming mother and fetus to almost certain death.

A while ago I scanned pro-life bulletin boards for discussions of ectopic pregnancies. I found, to my relief, that terminating them is acceptable to even rabidly anti-abortion folks. Although there was an odd duck or two who thought it was better to wait and see if the embryo would move into the uterus, most did not consider it a "viable" pregnancy. The mother had no choice, therefore, it was not really an abortion. None, though, seemed able to follow this logic to its inevitable conclusion. None could admit that in a world where such cockeyed pregnancies occur, not every conception is a gift from a loving god, perfect according to some divine plan.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, one of my husband's colleagues -- a young Lt. from my home state in the heart of the Rust Belt -- assured him that our pro-choice conceits would melt away. The wonder of life in creation would overtake our liberal arrogance. So, my husband asked me, is being pregnant turning you against abortion? Tell your friend, I said, that if anything I am more pro-choice than ever. The moral of that story: Don't ask a woman who's been throwing up several times a day for nearly four solid months about the boundless joy of pregnancy.

Any vestigial notions I had about the perfection of nature and the universe were purged by pregnancy and childbirth. I was idealistic enough, back then, that I sought to have my child at home with a midwife. It was to be a magnificent ritual, in a pool in our living room, just like Donna on "Judging Amy." Candles, incense, a little pushing, et voila. One emergency c-section later, I am thoroughly disabused of such romanticism. Not that there is anything wrong with home birth. It's good for who it's good for. But my best laid plans were upended by real world circumstances, as so many plans are. It turns out my child-bearing hips are just for show. I am cursed, it seems, with an inner pelvis too narrow to pass an actual baby through. If there is a god, fashioning each life in the womb, he has a very dark sense of humor. But for the wonders of modern medicine, I would have died as so many women still do in childbirth. Pregnancy is one of those places where idealized notions collide most brutally with pragmatic reality.

Nature will never conform to our wishes. The desire to make it do so is a vain pursuit, fraught with painful disappointment. The wildness pleases but it also vexes. Outside my window spring gives rise to verdant growth. Grass that must be mowed. Weeds that must be pulled. Such is the endless pursuit of an orderly landscape. Underneath our neatly trimmed shrubbery, I recently discovered a holly bush. Holly is a funny plant; requiring a mother and a father to germinate new life. But this nascent plant found purchase in the worst of possible locations, in the shade, destined to collide with another plant. Just big enough that will be very difficult to uproot and replant, it has already begun to die. Elsewhere in our yard, a couple of pine trees find themselves in a similar predicament. Nature has its own ideas. They are not always good ones.

What the "pro-life" movement does not grasp, in it's battle against the "culture of death," is that death is implicit in all acts of creation. The earth creates and destroys with apparent indifference. It kills and it births capriciously, according to whims no mortal mind can comprehend.

So now we fight the terrorists here?

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Bush vetoed the military funding bill because he wants free reign to continue the war in Iraq. you know, the one where we fight them there and not here?

Guess what? Bush's war has come to New Jersey. From Burlington County Times:

Six Islamic radicals, four of them from Cherry Hill, were arrested and charged Monday night with planning a heavily armed attack against soldiers at Fort Dix.

The men planned to “kill as many soldiers as possible” in the attack, which was described as part of a religious jihad, or “holy war,” but has not been connected to any international terror organizations such as al-Qaida.

The group scouted Fort Dix and other potential targets, watched terrorist training videos and discussed attacking soldiers at Fort Dix with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles, prosecutors said.

Yeah, it probably was that smart to go up against Fort Dix, but how long will it take for Jihadies to turn towards softer targets in America?

Bush promised to keep us safe. Just another broken promise. Is the 28% really surprised?


Years ago, the rock ‘n’ roll guitarist/ radio DJ/ NRA pimp Ted Nugent announced that he was planning on buying the company that owns Muzak. Why? So he could destroy it. “After being tortured in my dentist’s office, waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles or having that damned noise oozing out of a telephone while the bitch puts me on hold, I’ve had enough,” he explained. But he was unsuccessful.

When I first heard this, even though I initially dismissed it as a stupid publicity stunt, I was sorry he didn’t succeed. “Better luck next time, Ted,” I thought to myself. But now, I’m not so sure.

Surprisingly, considering Mr. Nugent’s right-wing opinions of everything from abortion rights, affirmative action and gun control, this was one of the few times where I found myself in complete agreement with something he said. Muzak has always hugely annoyed me throughout the years because I thought it was a dishonest perversion of a musician’s original vision; a simple-minded shortcut for lazy idiots who preferred skimming through a Cliff’s Notes pamphlet than reading the real thing to avoid struggling with all those sinister words. It’s like choosing to eat baby food instead of steak, or doing the nasty with a blow-up doll.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that I actually missed listening to Musak. Don’t get me wrong: listening to a gooey, coma-inducing version of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” feels like somebody is pouring a gallon of maple syrup into my ears. But it’s preferable to the equivalent of an used car salesman trying to sell me something. Even at its worst, Muzak gave you a few minutes of pleasure, reminding you of a favorite song you forgotten. In spite of yourself, you (almost) enjoyed it. Now, unfortunately, instead of a pleasant memory, you get a sales pitch. And that’s what you’re hearing in place of Muzak these days. Instead of phony music, you’re hearing and seeing omnipresent liars trying to sell you cell phones, magazine subscriptions, car insurance, free samples of Viagra or whatever and it’s not just annoying, it’s incredibly intrusive. What’s made it worse is you’re trapped because while you’re waiting to wash your clothes, buy your groceries or get your car fixed, there’s a television yelling at you.

And it isn’t just television anymore. How many times have you’ve been tortured by pop-ups and Spam while sitting at the PC? Going to the movies, instead of trailers you’re seeing commercials that you can’t shut off with your TV remote. If Nugent picked up his cell phone today, he wouldn’t hear that “damned noise”. He’d hear a robotic voice telling him about a great new long distance plan. This is a big media genie that doesn’t want to go back into the bottle and I don’t know what we can do about it.

Lately, I keeping thinking about a scene in the science-fiction movie Minority Report where corporate intrusion into our lives had gotten so bad, even Tom Cruise’s box of breakfast cereal tried to sell him something. Doesn’t seem like a fantasy anymore, does it? Before, just to get some peace and quiet, you needed a portable CD player. Now, you need a sensory deprivation tank. Maybe we’ll be safe for a little while before we inevitably become a vast herd of obedient Neos with sockets in the back of our necks plugged into the global version of Wal-Mart.

Ted, I think you and me owe Muzak an apology.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Paris Hilton Ruins Everything

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I think it is becoming harder and harder for Bush to find folks to do his dirty work. I can't keep track of the scandals nor the tangled web of indictments, subpoenas, convictions, appeals, hearings, charges, investigations and trials. With an approval rate of 28%, the Republicans in Congress are starting to see the anchor around their neck from the USS BushCo. Bullies tend not to maintain long-term friendships.

I fail to understand why the privileged still believe the law doesn't apply to them. I see Paris Hilton as how Bush probably was in his 20's - a whiny, white, rich brat expecting the rules and the law not to apply to them.

Artist Note: Every time I write a series, it tends to morph along the way because I always try to tie today's events into the storyline. I can be difficult at times since I usually will have written the story months before it is published. Today is such a morph. I can't believe Paris Hilton is begging her fans to ask the Governator for a reprieve. Good grief.

The Last Samurai

Although Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service) is often called the “Walt Disney of anime”, I think it’s a lazy, inaccurate and backhanded compliment.

The late Uncle Walt, an artistic and financial genius, chose the wrong side in the Art vs. Commerce debate and shamelessly turned his beloved cartoon icons into corporate used car salesmen. Whenever I see Mickey Mouse, I can feel his gloved, four-fingered hand smoothly reaching into my back pocket.

Not Miyazaki. A rigorous 67 years old, the visionary founder of the prestigious Studio Ghibli is a fiery, tough-minded curmudgeon raging against the dying of the light. Interviewed by The New Yorker, Miyazaki said he wanted to live long enough “to see the sea rise over Tokyo” as punishment for mankind’s desecration of the planet. Whoa. Don’t be fooled by his gray hair and the thick-lensed glasses, the old samurai’s sword is still sharp.

Or was. Tales of Earthsea, adapted from the classic science-fiction series by Ursula K. LeGuin, is Studio Ghibli's next film. But it's being directed by Goro Miyazaki, Hayao's son. I haven't heard the dreaded word "retirement" yet. Still, that's what it sounds like.

Howl’s Moving Castle
, a smart and elegant adaptation of the children’s book by British fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones, is most likely the last animated feature Miyazaki will direct. Watch it again so you'll realize what a huge loss his departure is going to be.

The English-dubbed DVD (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) features the voices of Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Jean Simmons and Billy Crystal. All of these actors, by the way, sound like they’re at a party they don’t want to leave. (Hey, you wanna make actors happy? Give ‘em a good script and they’ll roll over and let you rub their stomachs.)

In Howl’s Moving Castle, the castle itself is this huge, noisy, ugly Thingamajig that lumbers slowly across the countryside on a pair of metallic chicken legs(!). Try to imagine what would happen if the ghost of Rube Goldberg possessed a hallucinating Frank Lloyd Wright. Oh yeah, when needed, it’s able to travel hundreds of miles in seconds just by turning a multi-colored knob by the door. The cunning sorcery animating the castle is courtesy of Calcifer (a witty Billy Crystal, the long-lost Marx Brother), a wisecracking fire demon. Howl himself (Christian Bale, catching up on the fun he didn’t get to have in Batman Begins) is an outlaw wizard overflowing with an arrogant flamboyance and sensuality. He’s a mystical Ziggy Stardust.

My favorite character, however, is Sophie (voiced exquisitely by both Emily Mortimer and the great Jean Simmons). She’s the quiet, strong-willed emotional bedrock in Howl’s Moving Castle that keeps it solidly grounded in reality. Whether it’s Wendy taking Peter’s hand and flying out her window, Alice falling down the rabbit hole or Dorothy taking the 5:15 Twister to Oz, these exercises in fantasy only work when we have a human but not-so-ordinary tour guide.

Sophie, a timid 18-year-old girl is transformed into an old woman by the jealous Witch of the Waste (a wonderful Lauren Bacall, richly savoring her words like spoonfuls of caviar.) On her perilous journey to break the curse in a strange world of wizards, jelly-bodied malignant spirits and war, Sophie discovers that she’s braver than she realized. Sophie is a nuanced, full-bodied heroine who feels more genuine than a flesh and blood cartoon like Paris Hilton.

When too many animated features are poorly-disguised toy catalogues, Howl’s Moving Castle doesn’t want to sell you T-shirts, bedsheets or video games. It just wants you to sit down for two hours, and believe that magic is real.

Boy, that was great, Uncle Miyazaki!

Tell us another story—please?


of mice and manuscripts: skippy's friend finds unpublished steinbeck works (true story!)

we are tickled pink to blog about this important literary find, because the lucky writer involved is actually a personal friend of the skippy's. la daily news:

writer joel eisenberg was poring over some crumbling manuscripts at 3 a.m. when the bombshell hit.

he realized that the handwritten scrawl swimming before his eyes was none other than the missing draft of sweet thursday by nobel prize-winning author john steinbeck...

the cardboard box, found in the effects of the late “guys and dolls” producer ernest h. martin, contained the 188-page draft of sweet thursday, the lighthearted sequel to cannery row.

on crumbling sepia-toned pages, it also contained the unfinished draft of “the bear flag cafe,” an unperformed musical comedy collaboration with martin and partner cy feuer from which the novel emerged.

as if that weren’t enough, there were carbon copies of 13 steinbeck letters dated from 1953, the manuscript of the log from the sea of cortez, and a never-published short story, “if this be treason,” which described the mccarthy-era firing of a tv star investigated by the notorious house un-american activities committee.

the steinbeck trove, sorted and preserved by eisenberg, will be auctioned may 24 in san francisco. sellers expect the sale, auctioned in two lots, to fetch more than $500,000.

“i would say it might well be the steinbeck sale of the century,” said bruce macmakin, senior vice president of pacific book auction gallery, which is handling the sale on behalf of the producer’s widow, twila martin.

it couldn't happen to a nicer, or more deserving, guy. the skippy's have had many a double date with the eisenbergs, as well as having attended their wedding, and have watched joel struggle (as all show biz hopefuls do) to make a name for himself. he actually has written and produced several low budget features as well as published not one but two how-to show biz books (and is working on a third, for which skippy was interviewed).

we are big fans of literature, and of history, but we are especially big fans of skippy's good buddy joel. we offer him, and all steinbeck scholars and fans, a hearty congratulations!

remember, where ever they's a large metropolitan paper dissing bloggers, we'll be there! where ever they's a gop meme oppressing the truth, we'll be there! we'll be in the way watertiger writes her snark and we'll be in the way dave niewert eviscerates bigotry...and when our folks have freedom for everyone and not just the select rich elite and we all can share in america...why, we'll be there!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Dick Cheney: A series of pulleys, levers and springs.

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God help us:

The White House says Vice-President Dick Cheney will visit the Middle East next week to meet with Arab leaders and speak with US troops in the Persian Gulf.

Scheduled stops include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

President Bush has asked the Vice President to travel to the region for discussions with the leaders of these nations on key issues of mutual interest.

Sending Cheney on a diplomatic mission is like sending FEMA to New Orleans, it won't go well. When I first read this, my first thoughts were of Ariel Sharon's day trip to the Temple Mount and how it triggered the Al Aqsa Intifada. Seems like I am not the only one.

From HuffPo:

Similar to Ariel Sharon's disastrous and oft-discussed visit to Jerusalem's Temple Mount (Sep 28, 2000) -- a symbolic slap in the face that led to an escalation in Middle East tension -- Dick Cheney's upcoming "diplomatic" visit to the Middle East will be nothing more than a provocation resulting in yet another explosion of violence. More Americans and more Iraqis will die as a result of his trip.

If the Bush administration was serious about saving lives, building U.S. credibility in the world, involving regional allies, and ending the Iraq occupation -- then they would put Dick Cheney back in his hidden location, lock the door from the outside and throw away the key.

Cheney should not be allowed anywhere near Middle East diplomacy. Any diplomatic effort that involves Dick Cheney will result in one thing and one thing only: more violence, more failure, more death.

I can't see how this will help in the short or long term, unless you are Al Qaeda. Before 9-11, their military experience was against one another in the mountains of Afghanistan. Now they have years worth of experience against the 82nd Airborne. The more we stay, the more of a problem they become.

From Lubbock Online:

Al Qaida owes George Bush a debt of gratitude. Mr. Bush provides the terrorist thugs with a fully equipped training camp, complete with realistic situations, live ammunition, a steady supply of authentic Great Satan targets (our daughters, sons, fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers in uniform), expendable civilians, and true-to-life markets, police stations and roadways where terrorist recruits can practice.

Continued operation of Training Camp Iraq gives Al Qaida valuable, open-ended opportunities to learn from mistakes and sharpen skills at blowing things and people up, all at American expense in money and blood.

The wounded U.S. warriors who come home struggling with amputations, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and shattered lives are abandoned to the neglect of the military / VA bureaucracy. Meanwhile, the Army rewrites the stories of their sufferings to respond to the presumed expectations of the public for just the right kind of heroes.

I am unsure what machinations Cheney is plotting - drilling rights, Blackwater access deals or opening new markets for slave-labor corporations, I will guarantee you it will not make America's standing in the world any better, it will not improve the credibility of the United States in the world, nor will it help Americans in any way, shape or form.

Poem: "Sonnet 73", by William Shakesphere

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Going Backwards

Forget about Stephen King and his fake boogeymen. If you want to have the shit scared out of you, then read this nightmare scenario by David Michael Green, a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York:

"One day you’re gonna wake up in a hostile world where your country no longer has any friends. There will be governments of other countries – former long-standing allies – that cannot afford to have anything to do with you, lest their publics angrily remove them from office for collaborating with a country as hated as yours. Nor will those governments trust yours anyway. They will perhaps possess intelligence that could save your life, but they will not share it. They will possess forces that could help you survive real security threats, but they will not provide them. Your country will have become an international pariah, the South Africa of the twenty-first century."

You can read the rest of Professor Green's terrifying essay here.

This canary-in-a-coal-mine memo was from Alternative Brain. And thanks for the sleepless nights, guys. But, then again, you can't see the oncoming train with your eyes closed.


In the garden of Eden, honey...

In one of her comments yesterday, anniethena introduced me to the marvel that is The Brick Testament. Clearly, the creator of the site has shown real dedication to his craft, and I have only just scratched the surface of what the site has to offer. But already, in the first part of Genesis, the site has revealed to me something new. I'm not quite sure what it means yet, but I have a feeling it must have great theological significance.

Here is the depiction of Adam and Eve "before the fall"--naked, but unashamed.

Here they are immediately after partaking of the forbidden fruit and realizing they were naked--the caption says that they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Eve seems to have gotten a little something "extra" in the bargain, hasn't she? What an astounding discovery--why didn't I know about this before? And what does it *mean*?

Off the top of my head, I think it's symbolic of the fact that, once in a state of sin, Adam and Eve were no longer in harmony. Eve's cleavage is a symbol of the "otherness" they now experience when they look at each other.

Or maybe Eve just sewed herself the world's first Wonderbra.


Patti Smith.

The High Priestess of Punk.

What else is there to say?

Patti Smith is a honest-to-God legend who, by her presence, ennobles Rock and Roll. Whenever I'm arguing with skeptical unbelievers that this music isn't just a noisy playground of one-hit wonders, Patti is one of the first musicians I point to. Proudly.

So, when my beloved wife informed me that Patti Smith was playing at a local club, what did I do? I said "no" because I didn't want to pay $100 for a ticket. Afterwards, when it was too late, do you know what I said to myself?


Damn. You'd think I would have learned my lesson from the time I refused to see Muddy Waters at a concert a year before he died because I said, "I'll see him next time."


Building A New Paradigm: A Podcast Interview With Riane Eisler

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

Adam Smith published the Inquiry Into the Nature and Cases of the Wealth of Nations in 1776 and Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels released The Communist Manifesto in 1848. Both publications advocated for economic models, capitalism and socialism respectively, that promised to advance the human condition. Although both paradigms made important contributions during the industrialization era, neither capitalism nor socialism appears equipped to guide humanity in a post-industrial information age economy.

Several weeks ago, Berrett-Kohler published renowned social scientist Riane Eisler’s new book, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating A Caring Economics. Eisler postulates that both capitalism and socialism represent systems and cultures of “domination.” People who provide caring and nurturing are devalued while exploiters and hierarchies are rewarded. Eisler’s book attempts to take the best from both systems to replace “domination” with “partnerships.” It is her contention that the real wealth of nations is in fact “human capital” and traditional measurements such as the Gross National Product, are insufficient.

Eisler believes the next phase of human development needs to be a transition from domination/hierarchical systems to partnership-oriented models. According to Eisler, partnership oriented societies structured by “hierarchies of actualization” prioritize the well being of people over short-term considerations such as a corporation’s quarterly balance sheet or a nation’s raw economic output.

In Chapter Ten, which is entitled, “The Caring Revolution” Eisler writes,

“Many of our economic habits were shaped by a warped story of human nature and an economic double standard that gives little or no value to the essential work of caring and care giving. The measures of productivity we habitually use include market activities that harm our health and natural environment while assigning no value to the life-supporting activities of households and nature. The money that central banks and circulate bears little relation to any tangible assets. Quarterly corporate reports fail to factor in the health and environmental damage a company’s products or activities cause. Government policies, too, are often based on fantasies rather than realities, as dramatically shown by the George W. Bush administration’s denial of the urgent need to take action against global warming.

We have a choice. We can keep complaining about greed, fraud, and cutthroat business practices. We can put up with the daily stress of unsuccessfully juggling jobs and family. We can tell ourselves, there’s nothing we can do about policies that damage our natural environment, create huge gaps between haves and have-nots, and lead to untold suffering. Or we can join together to help construct a saner, sounder, more caring economics and culture.”
Eisler is the author of five books, including her international bestseller, The Chalice and the Blade: Our History and Our Future. She was born in Vienna, fled from the Nazis with her parents to Cuba and later emigrated to the United States. An attorney and longtime social activist, among Eisler’s honors are inclusion as the only woman among twenty illustrious thinkers including Hegel, Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Arnold Toynbee in Macrohistory and Macrohistorians. She received this honor in recognition of her work as a cultural historian.

Eisler obtained degrees in sociology and law from the University of California, taught pioneering classes on women and the law at UCLA. She is a founding member of the General Evolution Research Group (GERG) and the Alliance for a Caring Economy (ACE). She serves as a commissioner of the World Commission on Global Consciousness and Spirituality with the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other spiritual leaders. Eisler is also the co-founder of the Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence (SAIV) and president of the Center for Partnership Studies that promotes initiatives to advance a way of life based on harmony with nature, nonviolence, and gender, racial, and economic equity.

Eisler agreed to a podcast interview with me about her life, book, and worldview.

Standing up (and sitting down) for justice

I got a letter from my church this week, in advance of B.R.E.A.D.'s upcoming annual assembly, reminding me of what an appropriate choice it was to call this the Nehemiah Action Assembly. At last year's assembly, in his opening reflections, Rabbi Howard Apothaker provided an excellent (and, at times, humorous) retelling of the story of Nehemiah calling an assembly, including what, for me, was the most memorable line:

G-d does not just want us to do justice. G-d is *waiting* for us to do justice. G-d is *expecting* us to do justice. G-d is saying, "Get off your tuckus and do justice!"
Since one of the main issues being addressed at this Monday's assembly is predatory payday lending, the Nehemiah reference is quite fitting. From the letter my rector sent:

The fifth chapter of Nehemiah tells the story of how the governor of Jerusalem, Nehemiah, calls a great assembly to deal with a situation that is jeopardizing the rebuilding of the community. The situation has to do with the charging of interest to those resettling Jerusalem at such rates that people are sliding into poverty and slavery. Nehemiah, though governor, does not have enough power to make the nobles and officials of Jerusalem stop this blatant practice of usury. This is why he calls the great assembly. Confronted by the people, the moneylenders and the governing leaders, who allowed this debilitating practice, change their minds.

The parallels to predatory payday lending are so many that I can only list a few here. Interest rates that can exceed 390%. Fees tacked onto fees tacked onto fees until a $500 loan can only be retired by a payment of $3000. There are few regulatory statutes over payday lending in the State of Ohio. What B.R.E.A.D. is asking is not the end of payday lending but a just interest rate that cannot exceed 36% and the passage of regulations that would bring payday lending institutions into line with accepted banking and lending rules. The Nelson-Talent Amendment, passed by the United States Congress, that exempts military families from the worst excesses of payday lending is what we are seeking.

This is a statewide issue and B.R.E.A.D. has already begun meeting with state representatives and others who may be helpful in passing some new statutes. Payday lenders, though, are well financed and well represented by lobbyists in the legislature. We will need a great assembly on May 7 if we are going to use our people-power to combat the injustice of predatory payday lending. That is where you come in.

And the letter goes on to say that the only offering that is being asked of us is our time. With the kind of hours I've been working for the past few weeks, my time is a rather precious commodity. Yet I am mindful of the fact that powerful people are only able to get away with this sort of usury because ordinary people don't stand up. Heck, often we don't even *know* these things are going on, because we're so busy trying to keep our *own* heads above water.

But things like this are important, so I'm gearing up for a drive to the other side of town after work on Monday, to once again be "packed like sardines for justice". Because, well, I gotta. In a recent essay, BrimStone was explaining why the God of Fred Phelps and Randall Terry sucks. And I was thinking, mine doesn't suck, but s/he sure can be a bit of a nag sometimes. Always calling us, again and again to, "Get off your tuckus and do justice!"

Please click here for the information about tomorrow's meeting, and pass it along to anyone you know in central Ohio who might be interested.

Serve Your Country -- Lose Your Kids

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

Wake Up, America

Now there's a trade off, huh? Add this to the list of sacrifices that the small minority of Americans known as "our troops" is making for Bush and his cronies. Men and women in the armed services are losing their kids in custody battles for no reason other than being deployed.

Such was the reality of Lt. Eva Crouch, who returned from her National Guard duty to find that she had stumbled into a legal gray area.

A federal law called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is meant to protect them by staying civil court actions and administrative proceedings during military activation. They can't be evicted. Creditors can't seize their property. Civilian health benefits, if suspended during deployment, must be reinstated.

And yet service members' children can be _ and are being _ taken from them after they are deployed.

Some family court judges say that determining what's best for a child in a custody case is simply not comparable to deciding civil property disputes and the like; they have ruled that family law trumps the federal law protecting servicemembers. And so, in many cases when a soldier deploys, the ex-spouse seeks custody, and temporary changes become lasting.

Family court judges have a fair bit of latitude because their mandate is best interest of the child; not necessarily what seems fair to parents. And in a sense, judges such as the one who handed Eva's daughter over to her ex-husband have a point. Endless war is terrible for the children and family members of the troops who have to fight it; especially given that many of them are serving in back to back deployments of ever-increasing duration.

Two years and $25, ooo dollars later, Crouch has regained custody of her daughter Sara. But an unknown number of other service people have returned from battle to fight on another front; the courts.

Military and family law experts don't know how big the problem is, but 5.4 percent of active duty members _ more than 74,000 _ are single parents, the Department of Defense reports. More than 68,000 Guard and reserve members are also single parents.

Divorce among military men and women also has risen some in recent years, with more than 23,000 enlisted members and officers divorcing in 2005.

Isn't it wonderful having a President who is so devoted to family values?

The Rise and Fall and Rise of Drew Barrymore

In Hollywood, child abuse isn't a vulgar anomaly, it's a logical and acceptable business decision. There's a long, infamous, and tragic history in showbiz of greed-crazed parents pimping out their kids for a paycheck. And most of the time, these former child stars wind up dead, in jail, struggling through years of threapy, or doing a reality tv show.

("Oh sorry, Mr. Bonaduce, I didn't see you lying on the floor there.")

But there are a few who not only survived the minefields of Hollywood, but kept their money, became bigger stars and turned out happy in spite of it all.

For example, Drew Barrymore.

Regrets? She's had a few.

In her autobiography "Little Girl Lost", it describes the problems Drew had as a famous child actress (ET, Altered States, Firestarter) wrestling with the seductive demons of pot, booze, cocaine, an irresponsible mother and too many bad choices. Before Poison Ivy, she couldn't get a job.

Now? Drew is a well-respected and successful movie star whose films in the last decade (Never Been Kissed, Charlie's Angels, The Wedding Singer, 50 First Dates, and Fever Pitch) have had a worldwide box-office gross of 2.3 billion. Sure, (Music and Lyrics, co-starring Hugh Grant) wasn't a big hit, but it broke even, and made a tidy profit in DVD sales and rentals.

Drew Barrymore chose not to be another childhood statistic.

When asked about Lindsay Lohan, a promising young actress who picked up the sex 'n drugs 'n' Rock & Roll lifestyle that Drew left behind, she answered, "I know Lindsay, and I like her very much. You just have to be as graceful as you can. You know, you flub, you flub. And that's life. Do what you want, but just be professional."

Lucky You, the new film by Curtis Hanson (Wonder Boys, L.A. Confidential, 8 Mile) hasn't gotten very good reviews. So what? After everything Drew has been through, a flop won't kill her.

Left Toon Lane- a cartoon round-up

Cartoon of the Week

Monkey Law

Don't Say It

Every day liberal cartoonists are hard at work, doodling while avoiding their real jobs and responsibilities. Sometimes you see the results, and sometimes you don't. At Left 'Toon Lane we think a cartoon is worth a thousand words, and that sometimes the Bush Administration is so perfectly ironic that only a cartoon can capture the reality. This week seven different artists produced twelve different cartoons about today's politics. I hope you enjoy them, and that you'll come to Left 'Toon Lane, not just for the jokes, but for art and artists to punch up your own blogs and publications.

Rock Garden Comics

Sanctuary! Sanctuary!

Send in the Clones

The Cultural Revolution

System Error

Happiechappie and Surliegirlie

What If?


Beds are Burning

A Town Called Dobson

How Wal*Mart Went Bad

Mr. Bush, your party is jumping ship without you

Who will stand with Bush now?

No impeachment? Why not?

Dick Cheney: Servant or Master?


Me, I trust in seatbelts

Left 'Toon Lane is an informal group of unaffiliated lefty cartoonists looking for exposure and opportunity. If you see cartoons you want to add to your blog or your publication, please contact me. My contact info is at the Lane. If you want to request art to match a story, go to Left 'Toon Lane, find an artist whose style matches your needs, and contact them for special pieces. And if you are a cartoonist and want to join us, tell me here or contact me from the Lane. We are always looking for new talent to add to the group.

Look here every week for a weekly round up of Left 'Toon Lane, and go there to see what's new.