March 31, 2004

Yahoo! News - Bush Scores Points By Defining Kerry

I remember when repubs complained about Clinton's fundraising. Now, they watch as their president does more fundraising than anyone in history, has used his office to campaign more than anyone in history, and say nothing.

I am frustrated with the polls, I will admit. We shall see how they go. I tend to think that the polls will be slow in reflecting change in public opinion, but it is hard to tell. I am pretty partisan about this. I have no idea how anyone can take Bush and his people seriously. I don't get how you can watch them flip-flop back and forth and still buy the spin that it is Kerry that flip-flops. I can't see how people can still see Bush as a compassionate conservative who's faith is a big part of his life, all while the administration goes out of his way to savage the reputation and personal life of anyone who disagrees with them. Understandable? Yes. Christian? No. Make no mistake about it, this administration is as ruthless and devoted to maintaining power as anyone. Support him if you like his policies, but please don't look me in the face and tell me that he is more moral, or compassionate in anyway.
Church Inc., cont. Part 4

So, what would I ask from the church? I would ask for the church to stress morality beyond the church setting. I would suggest that looking at public policy through basic moral lense is a requirement of the church. My friend has asked if I am asking for political pronouncements from the pulpit, and the answer to that is no. I find the overt politicization of the church as annoying as the marketing. I find the Pat Robertson approach to be so unbelievably crass as to boggle the mind. But I would contend that the church can and should address public policy questions in a non-partisan manner. They already do that with regards to abortion, but arguing that regardless of party, that the rights of the unborn should be protected. They often do that with regards to gays. I think they are often wrong on both counts, but they are addressing a public policy issue. Why not on poverty or the environment? The church should be asking their members if they are supporting a tax policy that is immoral?

If they support a tax policy that rewards wealth and punishes the working class, then they need to show me how that is justified by their faith. If they support political movements that demonize the poor, they need to reassess. I think there are ways for the church to moderate the strong conservative extremism without becoming overtly political. And what about the environment? I think there are numerous ways that the church can become active without being political here as well. They could change their consumption at the church, make an effort to reduce energy usage, long lasting light bulbs, prefer sound efficient buildings to large edifices, encourage members to pursue conservation when possible. None of these require a political angle. All of them seem important. I have heard of only liberal churches even caring about these issues. The conservative church has endorsed (at least tacitly) republican policies that are harsh on the environment and elevate the rich above the poor. But if the church themselves is mostly about consumption, then this should be no surprise.

President Jesus Returns

The White House's recent attack on Richard Clarke has spurred me to ask about the role that Bush's Christian faith plays in his decision making process. He once famously noted that his favorite philosopher was Jesus, because he "changed" his life. My understanding of that is that that means you can't openly espouse actions or beliefs that are completely counter to Christ. I have asked my friends who support him to explain this, to me, but their silence has spurred a new episode of President Jesus.

So, without further ado:

[Our scene opens with President Jesus taking the podium to lead his 12th press conference (still a record low since the TV era began).]
President Jesus: Welcome. I will now take your questions.

Helen Thomas: Mr. President, we have some quotes that we would like you to identify and comment on.

President Jesus: Helen? How did you get to ask a question? Where are my friends from Fox News? I thought we had banished any press with brains? Oh well, someone screwed up, but it wasn't me. Go ahead. I hope Condi prepped me on these quotes, because you all know I don't like to read.

Helen Thomas: "Blessed are the peacemakers"

President Jesus: "What is that? A Dixie Chick lyric? [shoulders shrug in laughter] Look, peace is fine and good, but I am a War president. Peace is for the French."

Helen Thomas: "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"

President Jesus: "I don't know about that. I like the poor and want them to have jobs [hand shoots out in emphasis as he smirks]. But on the other hand, I have often said that "Blessed are the Rich because they are my very close friends and Cabinet members."

Helen Thomas: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

President Jesus: "What is that? Some Middle Eastern "religion?" We don't have camels. In Texas where I have executed people and laughed at them, we have horses and no horse is going through any needle. Sounds like communism and class warfare to me. I like the rich people. They are my friends. They are me."

Helen Thomas: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you"

President Jesus: That is just weird. I hate the evil doers and want to bring them to justice. And let me say, it isn't just the evil doers that attack me, but my former friends. Former Disciple O'Neill and Former Disciple Advisor Clarke are saying mean things about me right now. I have sworn to make them persona au gratin (that there is some French for you) in this town and never able to work here. I think that is a reasonable thing to do. I don't know who said what you just quoted, but that is not policy in this White House. And what is that "ye" stuff? Where I come from (Texas) we speak proper American and nobody I know would reckon to would use a word like that one there."

Helen Thomas: "Thank you, Mr. President Jesus. Blessed are the Meek."

President Jesus: "Yeah, right Helen. The Meek get run over or executed. Well, at least if they are black or hispanic and poor. That is supposed to say "Blessed are the Strong and Powerful with money and access to oil and energy corporations." And let me say very plainly. I curse Richard Clarke, John Dillulio, Paul O'Neill, Joseph Wilson (and his CIA operative Wife), Rand Beers (gave up beer) for daring to disagree with me in public. This is America, and our system is predicated on following Compassionate Conservative leadership as it bombs the rest of the world. I think that is a quote from the Declaration, actually. I dunno. You guys can look it up. I don't like to read."

That is all. This is more than I wanted to disclose. Remember, we are Compassionate, strong on defense and terror, and unlike that flip-flopper John "Kennedy", I mean Kerry, when I say something, I stick to it.

[President leaves the press conference.] Karen Hughes appears at the front and repeats several times: President Jesus is compassionate and right. Any perceived contradictions are in fact not. President Jesus is compassionate and right.....

March 30, 2004

As if from above: this further suggestion that the Church/marketing is blurring. - Promoting 'The Passion': "Churches are encouraging group ticket sales, and stores are stocked with film-related products, such as licensed cross-nail pendants, crosses, coffee mugs, coffee-table books and artwork.

'When you have star talent like this, you want to maximize opening weekend,' says Mitch Litvak, president of The L.A. Office, an entertainment marketing firm. Studios typically spend $20 million to $30 million on marketing if they want a blockbuster opening, he says.

In this case, the film's backers are turning to the country's 120 million churchgoers. The moviemakers are providing churches with free marketing materials to help fill theater seats -- and pews. Among the items are posters and postcards for direct mailing with the line: 'Best outreach opportunity in 2,000 years.' One promotional tool points preachers to for free sermon ideas that promote the movie while preaching the Gospel.

The licensing and distribution of merchandise also play a key role, especially for retailers serving a growing market for religious goods.

'By having religious-themed articles in the marketplace, it does draw people's attention to (the movie),' says Charles Riotto, president of the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association. 'If it's done tastefully, it could be a good marketing ploy.'

About 2,000 Christian specialty stores are selling Passion articles, and distribution is expected to reach an additional 1,000 by month's end, says Dwight Robinson, director of marketing for Bob Siemon Designs. The company is the lead licensee for Passion and a distributor of jewelry and other goods."

Here is the real weird part: I get all of this from the very site selling the pendants. They are proud to market this way. (emphasis added)
Church, Inc., continued: part 3

I Thought the church was about non-material things?

Is that still true? Let's look at the recent Passion of the Christ controversy. I personally (as I have written elsewhere) that Mel Gibson was very effective at manipulating certain assumptions in the evangelical world: the sense that Hollywood and the media were against them; the concern that liberals didn't want their message to get out, etc. As a result, the church found itself pursuing things that they used to decry. For one, the money made off the film was used as a justification for its rightness, as if more money means more right. Funny, if that is true, then the Passion is to be compared with Michael Jackson, the success of the Da Vinci Code, or any of the lightweight films that Disney turns out with poor writing and Happy Meal toys. Are they sure they want to compare it that way? And speaking of Happy Meals, it turns out that Mel has licensed commemorative items to go with this film. So we have the situation where people might go to see this deeply-felt spiritual experience, and then go pop down another 12-16 dollars for an Official Pewter Nail Pendant to show their allegiance to the film: just as if they had purchased an action figure to accompany the Lord of the Rings. Is that all this is?

If you visit a Bible Bookstore, you will see just more of this stuff. At my local one, I have seen everything from conspiracy theory videos to a wide assortment of knickknacks with a Christian theme. If you want to read a conservative take on the family, you have your choice. If you want to read a scholarly book on the family, Christian history, or theology, you will have to look elsewhere. Oh, and if you want a Bible for every day of the week, you are in the right place. Everything is for sale, remember. You can buy a bible for men, for women, for teens, for..... A lot of money is being made every year selling assorted stuff to Christians. I have often wondered if the answer to the question, "What would Jesus do," is to evidently buy a lot of cheap crap! I thought church was supposed to be something different. I thought that Christianity was supposed to be about other-worldly things. But evidently, it is just a different kind of Wal Mart.

Then we have the Lord's Gym. Apparently, with no sense of irony, a Florida Christian has decided to market directly to people's faith. It is just another marketing schtick. Don't go work out at Golds Gym with the G-string Barbies, but pay your money to work out at a place who's logo is Jesus working out. So what is wrong with this? Isn't it an option for Christians to work out at a family friendly gym? Sure. I am not sure that it requires the Lord's endorsement. You can have a family oriented gym that requires moderate dress, but not necessarily market it this way. What is next? The Lord's Bar and Grill? With Passion of the Christ Chili Fries? Or maybe the Sermon on the Mount Fish Sandwich? Instead of Happy Hour, maybe a Praying hour with 1/2 off well-drinks and beers?

Why not? Why not indeed? Why not if what the Passion and Lord's Gym and Bible Superstores have shown us is that Christian faith is just another commodity to be bought and sold. I have asked friends of mine about the Passion marketing, and they all find it annoying, but not outlandish. I keep wondering what will produce that kind of reaction. Evidently if the site uses Christ in a mocking way, that elicits some frustration, but other than that, they seem quite ok with their Lord and Savior being marketed like Ronald McDonald. What would cause them to rise up? I don't know.

I do know that I will hold the church with suspicion as long as they seem to allow this to go on without criticism.
From Atrios.

The New Republic Online: Strike Out: "On a recent morning in early March, the Senate Judiciary Committee convened to protect the American flag from burning, stomping, shredding, and the notion that, as Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch put it, 'urinating or defecating on the flag is some form of speech.' The Committee's Republican majority had carefully assembled the audience for this hearing. The room was filled with dozens of aging veterans, wearing medals and dark red VFW hats. Also in attendance was a hero of perhaps even greater red-state status: nascar driver John Andretti, who would testify that 'those who desecrate the flag have total disregard for our military.' 

In other words, the hearing had all the trappings of a perfect, election-year GOP stunt. But then things got a little more complicated. Committee Democrats, such as Richard Durbin of Illinois, noted that Republicans had voted down a Senate amendment increasing veterans' health spending the previous night. 'Giving a veteran a flag is not a substitute for giving our vets the quality health care they were promised,' Durbin said, causing brows to furrow under those VFW caps. Committee Republicans were furious. GOP Senator Larry Craig of Idaho nearly sputtered with rage as he defensively rambled about shortened lines at a veterans' clinic in Boise and vowed that veterans' spending would eventually be 'plussed-up' in the budget process. The cultural issue had become an economic one; Democrats had found a soft spot."

good for Durban. Pontificating on protecting the flag is ridiculous when you undermine everything the flag stands for!
MSNBC - Rice to testify in public, under oath: "WASHINGTON - In a reversal, the White House said Tuesday it has agreed to allow national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify in public and under oath before the Sept. 11, 2001 commission. In addition, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have agreed to testify before the entire commission, not just the two co-chairmen, according to a letter obtained by NBC News. Their testimony will, however, remain private."

Reversal. In the previous administration or when talking about John Kerry, this is called flip-flopping.
MSNBC - Rice to testify in public, under oath: "Clarke said he expected the White House’s fierce attempt to discredit him and his book, “Against All Enemies.” “The word is out in the White House to destroy me professionally” he said. “One line that somebody overheard was, ‘He’s not going to make another dime again in Washington in his life.’”"

Christian morals at work again, naturally.

March 29, 2004

Church, Inc., continued

So, why am I mad at this church, my friend asks?

I think this is a good question, and he is probably at least partially correct that my frustrations come out of rather complex psychological issues with my family, other churches, my study of history, and my political liberalism. As a historian, I believe that most evangelical churches have little or no understanding of their past. They have been heavily influenced by their historical and cultural contexts (as have all churches) while they usually believe they are somehow transcending time and culture. I certainly criticize the church from my political liberalism and want them to do more about the environment, poverty, gender and other social justice issues. (We have a strong disagreement about environment--my friend claims that more evangelicals are active environmentally, while I think that most conservative evangelicals are rather dismissive of environmental problems).

But he has a good point. In many ways, moderate churches like his are good public citizens, and usually do more for their community than they do in damage. I won't necessarily deny that, but would suggest some possibilities for my reaction and cynicism regarding churches. First, I think that most of the problems I am concerned about (especially poverty and the environment) are directly connected to our consumption based economy and culture. I certainly won't dismiss market capitalism (though I have issues with it) and will agree that it is the most dynamic and vibrant economic system known to man. But it also has many unintended consequences and problems with it. If, for example, environmental costs are not factored into the market, capitalism has no way of addressing those costs. Likewise, one of the negative sides of capitalism is the reliance on a steady supply of poor labor. Both problems require citizens to make good choices in the public policy level. They have to have active churches, and, in my opinion, the humility to recognize that an active and compassionate government will be necessary to ensure environmental and social justice.

And here is my rub. While I recognize that many churches like my friend's are active feeding the poor, I believe a large part of their financial outlay goes to conversion efforts--and that may be a good thing (may not) but it may not address the social ills. But say that the churches do address poverty (like I said, I see little effort from the church to address environmental concerns: more on this later) with soup kitchens etc? In my mind, that doesn't address the economic policies that often (while not causing) allow people to fall to the level of needing a soup kitchen. What are those churches doing about the working poor who may not be going to charitable organizations?

But the bigger question for me, is what does the church have to say about the underlying issues of consumption and materialism? On the surface, churches say they are not about consumption. They decry the crass wealth (or used to) of the rock stars and professional athletes. I heard growing up that our goals should not be the accumulation of wealth, but to have a close relationship with Jesus. To be fair, I don't really understand that concept either, but will leave that for another discussion. But the point was that Christians were supposed to be far more interested in the Kingdom of God than they were in the material wealth of this existence.

Yahoo! News - Peace Corps Lacks Money to Expand
: "WASHINGTON - The Peace Corps is trying to carry out President Bush (news - web sites)'s goal of doubling the number of volunteers it sends abroad by 2007, but it lacks the money to do it."

I am torn here. On one hand I would like to believe that Bush himself thinks that this kind of program is good. I am well aware of his own giving gifts to children of inmates last Christmas and am sure that he certainly sees himself as a good Christian man (despite his tendency to completely savage his opponents in very unChristian ways). And the Peace Corps can be a way to fulfill that kind of mission overseas.

But when you completely gut the budget with tax cuts and military spending (much of it necessary) then you put yourself in the situation where you can voice support for all sorts of things, but won't be able to fund them. That is what paranoid leftists believe that the neo-cons want to do--starve the beast by driving up huge deficits.

March 28, 2004

Church, Inc.

I grew up in a church-going family. Some would call it a fundamentalist upbringing, and technically, that might be correct. There is no doubt that the bible was very important in my family. In high school, I continued to attend church and youth group, and many of those friends continued into college. I met my future wife there and have some long standing friendships from those relationships. But after that came marriage, grad school and some changes in how I saw the world. Many of those changes, to be fair, were in the mix before I ever left the church. Early on, I had started challenging some of those assumptions--especially regarding gender roles and the literalism of the bible.

All of that is a long story and boring to most. But for many of my friends from that older life, my transformation into someone who is not only politically far more liberal than the young kid who voted for Reagan with his first vote (which puts me one up on Rush Limbaugh who wasn't even registered to vote), but who also turned far more liberal theologically. I became far more concerned with social justice aspects of Christianity. I became far less interested in the conversion efforts and more concerned about how the church dealt with poverty, the environment, gender issues, and yes, homosexuality.

One of my buddies (and we have been friends for a lot of years) has wondered for sometime why I am so angered at the church. He understands that I find the Pat Robertsons and the fundamentalist wing of the faith annoying, and he certainly doesn't identify with them either. He goes to a suburban church that is not intensely political--it has distanced itself from the SBC (most fundamentalist and conservative aspect of the Southern Baptists, and has avoided the heavy political preaching on the 10 commandments and gay marriage. Their church contributes undoubtedly to good charities and soup kitchens, to overseas missions, to local programs. So, he asks, why do I still have a problem with churches like his?

More on this later.

March 26, 2004

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: March 21, 2004 - March 27, 2004 Archives: "(Bear in mind that top White House aides have told the press that the president personally initiated and is directing this campaign against Clarke. Not outside rabble-rousers, not nefarious aides operating on their own account, but the president himself. This is all his doing, according to his own staffers.)"

I wish Josh had some cites here. I would like to know for sure that staffers are saying this. I don't find it that hard to believe, but still.

If true, then it is bad. Sorry, but this doesn't sound like leadership. I have argued elsewhere that the President could have shown great leadership after 9-11 by doing a Truman and stating that whatever the problems were, the buck stopped with him. He ultimately was responsible--not in the way that the conspiracy people would say--he didn't intend it to happen or just twiddle his thumbs, but a real leader would have taken responsibility. Same with the Niger story that ended up in the outing to Valerie Plame. When faced with the fact that his SOTU speech included false information, what did our leader do? He could have taken responsibility for that too. He could have said that regardless of the reasons, he was ultimately responsible for the material. Instead, he blamed Tenet. He said that the CIA had cleared it.

That ain't leadership. And he isn't a leader.

Hah. I have been kind of joking about Jesus being for sale, but little did I know.....

Stephen Prothero has to be thrilled every time something like this comes up. Just proves his point.

"'I'm a Christian, but that's not everything that drew me here. I just like the wholesomeness of the place. Believe me, I enjoy looking at pretty women in tight Lycra as much as the next guy, but that can take away from the focus of a workout. All I know is that I work out just as hard here as I do at other gyms, but when I leave here, I feel much better about myself.'

Huh? You feel better because you haven't looked at a woman in a sexual way, or because you are working out for the lord, something you can't do (obviously) at the Y?

Sorchy says the most popular items seen on the backs of those sweating in his gym are Christian-themed T-shirts.
There's 'a small level of competition behind who can have the best Christian shirt,' he said, adding that the Lord's Gym shirt, which reads: 'His pain, your gain. Bench press this!' is the most popular Christian selling T-shirt of all time.

That's right. The crucifixion was just another form of workout! Cross training for masochists, perhaps. What a moron.

Some might accuse Lord's Gym of using the Lord for commercial reasons; the gym's logo depicts a buff Jesus doing a push-up with a cross on his back inscribed 'The Sins of the World.' But Sorchy stands by his business.
'We are simply offering a vehicle for those who don't want to be in a secular gym where they would have that meat-market mentality,' he said"

He added: the profits are just a side benefit? I only make money to spend, and consume er, I mean worship. Pass.
Urban Outfitters Dumps 'Jesus Dress Up' Magnet Sets -- 03/24/2004

Why? Thought it was all for sale? What is wrong with making money off Christ here?

March 25, 2004

Richard Clarke KOs the Bushies - The ex-terrorism official dazzles at the 9/11 commission hearings. By Fred Kaplan: "And so now here's Clarke, in an official, nationally broadcast forum, announcing: I failed, I'm sorry, please forgive me. Which, as one member of the panel noted, is more than any official in the Bush administration has said to any victims of the far more devastating 9/11 attacks."

Exactly. The Bush administration has, to my mind, never demonstrated anything beyond arrogance. No sense they might have been wrong at any time. Perhaps that is the nature of politics now, but it stinks.

Evidently, Richard Clarke more than stood his ground against attacks on his credibility. The next few days will be very interesting.

March 23, 2004

Dick Clarke Is Telling the Truth - Why he's right about Bush's negligence on terrorism. By Fred Kaplan: "Most pertinent, Rand Beers, the official who succeeded Clarke after he left the White House in February 2003, resigned in protest just one month later—five days before the Iraqi war started—for precisely the same reason that Clarke quit. In June, he told the Washington Post, 'The administration wasn't matching its deeds to its words in the war on terror. They're making us less secure, not more.' And: 'The difficult, long-term issues both at home and abroad have been avoided, neglected or shortchanged, and generally underfunded.' (For more about Beers, including his association with Clarke and whether there's anything pertinent about his current position as a volunteer national security adviser to John Kerry's presidential campaign, click here.)"

The most chilling paragraph in a very good essay on the entire Clarke allegations. The White House has tried to attack him, but in an amazingly contradictory way. Rice says that Bush relied heavily on Clarke, while Cheney says that Clarke was out of the loop. Scott McClellan said that the proof that Bush never met with Clarke in the way that he said, is that Bush wasn't in the Situation Room right after 9-11. Incompetent. Incompetent.

Yahoo! News - The Book on Richard Clarke
: "Most acquaintances do not regard him as a partisan. Clarke was viewed as a hawk and 'true believer' by many within the Clinton administration, and Clarke himself says he is an independent who is registered as a Republican.

'You can't accuse him of being passive or too liberal on foreign policy,' said Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA (news - web sites) official who worked with Clarke in the Reagan years. 'He's very abrasive and aggressive and pushes his point of view very hard.'

But White House spokesman Scott McClellan noted yesterday that Clarke is a close friend of former counterterrorism official Rand Beers, who is an adviser to Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential campaign, and teaches a course with him."

How typical of this admin's approach spin. Not only do they always blame the messenger, but they are now suggesting that because Clarke is a friend of a Democrat, then he must be a liberal sympathizer. By that logic, wouldn't that make the Kerry advisor a potential republican?

then this:

"McClellan dismissed Clarke's criticisms yesterday and said he "conveniently" released his book in the middle of the campaign season. "If Dick Clarke had such grave concerns, why wait so long?" McClellan said. "Why wait until the election?"

This administration has balls, I will admit that. This same group who delayed the GOP convention to coincide with the 9-11 anniversary is accusing Clarke of having suspicious timing!

Yahoo! News - Boondocks

One of my favorite comic strips nails Bush on his re-election bid. Saw a bumper sticker, btw, the other day that said "re-defeat Bush!"
Open Season on Terrorism Author ( "'Thus, what's really disturbing about Clarke's brief . . . is not that Bush could have stopped it. Rather, it is that Bush and his administration dropped the intense focus that the Clinton White House had given Al Qaeda, and that, as soon as the attacks occurred, the Bushies immediately pressed for evidence of a non-existent link with Iraq . . ."

Exactly. It is the height of spin to make this book an allegation that Bush is responsible for 9-11. Clarke is arguing instead that Bush is running for reelection on a false claim--that he has been strong on this war on terror.

March 22, 2004

The Seattle Times: Nation & World: Tennessee county rescinds anti-gay motion: "DAYTON, Tenn. ” In the same tense, humid courtroom where Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan battled over the teaching of evolution 79 years ago, eight county commissioners yesterday quickly rescinded an anti-gay motion that drew more national attention--and some ridicule” to Dayton."

Well, I thought this was better. And it really is. But then...

"After the vote, which lasted less than five minutes, a gavel came down and commissioners hurried away from the courthouse, leaving a crowd of about 60 milling around in the warm spring evening.

Some celebrated. Several shouted, "Coward!"

"This is the reason God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah," said Jean Sinclair, 75, who was chatting with friends in a drugstore. "Every nation that's started this — Babylon, Middle Persia, Rome — they all fell into this sinful way."

Hearing on Immigration Leads to Scuffle in Md. ( "A contentious General Assembly hearing on illegal immigration led to a scuffle and shouting match yesterday between two Republican lawmakers and advocates for immigrant rights."

Yahoo! News - Tenn. County Wants to Charge Homosexuals

Holy Jebus. These people are nuts.

March 21, 2004 - Education - Christians Try To Censor Georgia School's Reading List: "Among the books the Crusaders for Christ want banned are 'Of Mice and Men' by John Steinbeck, 'The Martian Chronicles' by Ray Bradbury and 'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee. "

Just when you think that the religious right can't embarrass themselves anymore, something like this. Are you kidding me? To Kill a Mockingbird? One of those truly amazing books that has touched all of us. People trying to ban this should be ashamed of themselves.
CBS News | Did Bush Press For Iraq-9/11 Link? | March 21, 2004 20:46:16: "'Frankly,' he said, 'I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know.' "

I saw this tonight. As L said tonight--the interview was pretty damning on its own, but when added to the Paul O'Neill, and the John Dilulio stories, it starts to take on more meaning. This administration is running on one thing: that they handled 9-11 with leadership. If that isn't true, then what do they bring to the table? Nothing much, that is what.

The evidence keeps mounting that this administration is arrogant to a shocking level. Spanish people are stupid for rejecting the Bush administration's approach on Terrorism. Those who dissent here at home are guilty of appeasing terrorism. And here we have former insider after former insider--all from closer and closer to the President. These aren't low level staffers, but instead are people close to the center of power.
Orcinus: "A church picnic in Philadelphia, designed to help George W. Bush promote his faith-based policies. I was working at the time for a local nonprofit that had helped set it up, but I had some serious misgivings about the president's performance up to that point, and being a part of the whole operation had left me feeling a bit like a pseudo-person. So when I had the chance to shake Bush's hand, I said, 'Mr. President, I'm very disappointed in your work so far. I hope you only serve four years.'

His smiling response was swift: 'Who cares what you think?'"

This sums up my perception of our president. He indeed does not care what we think. The "aw shucks" Bubba speak is cover--both for his shocking lack of intellectual curiousity, but also for the fact that he does not care about common people. As this blogger points out, this should be on T-Shirts and buttons going into next fall's campaign. George W. Bush--Who Cares what you think?
American Idol: "The Passion of the Christ: the latest American idol.

And just like the ten commandments, it is another front in this cultural war. If you are not for the movie you hate God and you are a threat to America."

This is a good essay on the 10 Commandments and the culture war.

March 20, 2004

Lean Left: Can't the Bush Administration At Least Try?: "From a fire station to a Madrid bar brimming with bullfighting paraphernalia, Spaniards said Friday they were offended by a senior Pentagon official's remark that bullfighting shows they are a brave people and they shouldn't run in the face of terrorism.

They saw the comment by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as narrow-minded and promoting a stereotype.

'This is an ignorant comment,' snapped Madrid firefighter Juan Carlos Yunquera, sitting on a bench outside his firehouse. 'For a top official, it shows he doesn't know what he's talking about.'


In an interview on PBS television Thursday, Wolfowitz said Zapatero's withdrawal plan didn't seem very Spanish.

'The Spaniards are courageous people. I mean, we know it from their whole culture of bullfighting,' Wolfowitz said. 'I don't think they run in the face of an enemy. They haven't run in the face of the Basque terrorists. I hope they don't run in the face of these people.'"

As many in the blog world have noted, the Bush administration has shown a tremendous arrogance about democracy--it is democratic to endorse their actions, but when the people reject Bush, that isn't good democracy. Well, get used to it, because if you actually get democracy in the Middle East, who do you think they will support?

On another note, it is clear that this Spanish vote is, while very understandable, unfortunate. I have no doubt that the terrorists will see this as a victory. We are in there now, and have to stay. If Bush would recognize that instead of posturing like John Wayne on Barry Bonds fun pills, then he might be able to get more people behind him. Arrogance is indeed an ugly thing.

March 10, 2004 | The new Pentagon papers: "I saw a narrow and deeply flawed policy favored by some executive appointees in the Pentagon used to manipulate and pressurize the traditional relationship between policymakers in the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies. "

Very much in the vein of the LA Times report about US intel, except this from someone who worked inside. The Neocons hijacked this process from the very beginning with the assistance and leadership of the VP. Will that come to light? Will Americans start to recognize that an amazingly small cadre of ideologues who really don't believe in the same America that the rest of us do (right and left) are the ones in charge. If they do, it will kill the Republican party, and while they allowed it to happen, they aren't really the problem. There are many good and thoughtful people in the GOP, but they actually believe in conservatism, as opposed to the neocons.
Los Angeles Times: Spy Unit Skirted CIA on Iraq: "Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Tenet said he was unaware until recently that the Pentagon unit had presented its findings to the offices of Vice President Dick Cheney and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice. It is not clear whether Cheney or Rice were present for the briefing, which was mentioned in a Defense Department letter released by the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. "


"It was under questioning from Levin that Tenet acknowledged that he did not know until within the last few weeks that a special Pentagon intelligence analysis unit had briefed the White House on ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

"I did not know that at the time, and I think I first learned about this at [a congressional] hearing last week," Tenet said. A U.S. intelligence official said Tenet first learned of the White House briefing Feb. 24 during a closed hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Pentagon unit was created by Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of Defense for policy, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The unit was a handful of intelligence analysts, Feith has said, and was established to examine state sponsorship of terrorism, but is principally known for its efforts to assemble evidence linking Iraq to Al Qaeda.

It has been reported previously that the so-called Policy Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group presented its findings to the CIA in August 2002. But in a letter to Warner released Tuesday for the first time, Feith said the group's briefing "was also given to National Security Council and Office of Vice President staff members."

This is a timely revelation, that I must add, has been talked about for sometime--that there have been additional intelligence avenues used by this administration. The intelligence community may not be the most effective, but it seems clear that the admin didn't actually use them, but relied on one of their own making. That should be front and center in this investigation.

March 9, 2004

The recent Passion-related merchandising and subsequent deafening
silence from the evangelical community has inspired me of the business
opportunities to be gained in this largely untapped market. Below is
my vision of the new, P.C., LLC.. (a wholly owned subsidiary of Nabisco foods)

[As our visitors enter the sanctuary decorated with the usual crosses
and stained glass depictions of our Lord and Savior saving mankind,
they are directed to their seats by ushers. Those same ushers take
drink and muffin orders as the organ plays.]

[Lights dim, Pastor steps to the podium.] "Welcome to our church,, where your religious dollar goes farther!" [The
pastor grins and waits for the laughter to fade.] "In all seriousness,
we hope that our visitors were able to negotiate the parking system
outside and urge you to sign up for a monthly permit if you join our
church. Great savings over the single visits. Remember that salvation
and standing up to the devil is a costly venture and we must compete.
And before we start the hymns, please make your final drink orders from
your usher. We are having a Passion of the Christ muffin sale today, 2
for 5 dollars. And now our music minister. Praise Jesus.

[Music minister takes the stand.] "Please turn in your hymnal to page
242. If you do not have one, your usher can bring one to you for a $4
rental or you can purchase your own (engraved in fake leather) at the
bookstore after the service or online at Now,
let us sing: "what a friend we have in Jesus..."

[After the choir has sung their song (paid for today
by the $2 cover charge), the Pastor reappears to call for the
offertory. He explains how to use the touch screens and card swipes in
front of every worshipper. Those without credit cards are ushered out to
avoid embarrassment.]

[Organ music.]

[Pastor returns for his sermon.] "Today's sermon is brought to you by
the good folks at Keeler SUV and Gas Guzzler. If you need to buy a new
car, the Lord has directed me to say that these folks are his anointed
dealership in this area. They will not cheat you out of the heaviest
car they can sell you, and you can show your devotion to our Lord and
Savior by following his will. On a side note, there are people who
will tell you there is something wrong with SUVs. They are called
Communists and the Lord is not amused. SUVs are exactly what our Lord
and Savior would have driven except for the fact that the Jews hadn't
figured out the internal combustion engine when he walked the earth.
And don't listen to the "tree-huggers." God made these cars too and if
you buy a, so-called, "efficient" vehicle, you will be cheating our
good Brother Exxon--Hi brother, so glad you are enjoying your front row box
seats--out of his hard earned profit. If his business suffers, the Lord
will not be happy.

Now to our sermon on the Moneychangers. These were evil Jews, much
like you would see in our contemporary Hollywood. And in this story,
Jesus just threw them out of the temple. Wouldn't that be grand?
Wouldn't we love to see the fornicators and abortionists and
pornographers just thrown out of this good country? Remember, Hitler
loved porn, abortions and porn. Let us pray. "Dear Holy God. Help us
to be better children of thine and show us thy pleasure by making our
stocks go up, Lord, yeah, even double. For as I walk through the
uncertainty of downsizing, I will fear no evil as God himself will
ensure that my 401K will increase at a healthy 10% rate. Amen."

Now is the time to call our new converts and consumers to the front to
declare your allegiance to our Lord and Savior. Once you have declared
before God and man, you will have one more step. For while it is good
to declare your love of Jesus and God before this holy, incorporated
partnership and congregation, it is most important that you show the
rest of the ungodly world where your allegiance lies. So following
your conversion, please follow Bridget (head usher) to the Church Gift
Shoppe where you can purchase your proof to the world. We have
t-shirts (pre-shrunk, of course) posters, bracelets, official pendants
of the Passion of the Christ movie, and of course, John The Baptist
ties for the Christian executive. For our youth fighting the sin of premarital sex,
we have "Abstinence Only" thongs and "Just say No" briefs.
The Gift Shoppe accepts all major credit cards, and today only,
if you turn your life over to Christ AND purchase a minimum
of $50 worth of Christian-proving merchandise, we
will sign you up for a low interest credit card.
This new card will allow you to profess your heartfelt faith wherever
you shop, and in fact, you will be witnessing to the world every time
you buy something. So, buy, buy, buy. Show the Lord and the Devil
whose side you are on!

Let us pray.

[End of service.]

March 7, 2004

IHT: Frank Rich: Mel Gibson's 'Passion': publicity juggernaut: "In January, the star had gone on 'The O'Reilly Factor' to counter Jewish criticism of his cinematic account of Jesus's final hours - a provocative opening volley given that no critic of any faith had yet said anything about his movie (and wouldn't for another three months). Clearly he was looking for a brawl, and he hasn't let up since. "

Here is another person who thinks Mel played us. He worked up the entire anti-semitism claim himself. Not that it isn't there, but can you imagine how this all would have worked out had he reached out to liberal Christians and Jews?

But no. He needed that conflict. He had to have some buzz and the best way was to tell conservative Christians that the jews didn't want them to see this film. Kind of the same kind of thing that racists have done in the South for over a hundred years--suggesting some nonesense about southern Blacks to inflame southern Whites. It is shameful and not worthy of the many Christians who have bought this.
I am not sure about democracy anymore

An odd title, I guess. Let me explain. My wife and I spent a couple hours today participating in the political process. Actually she did this for a few more hours yesterday, but together we walked the streets of our neighborhood and handed out leaflets for a city council candidate. We have no problem supporting this candidate, and I want to believe in this system, but the day's work left me a little cold.

I guess I am becoming less and less enamored by the democratic system. Consider my local community. Local politics appears to be dominated by people with money. Land developers and rental property owners seem to get their way most often. In fact, besides the hard core participants on the left--most of the people who participate have a financial stake. They participate because it is in their financial best interest to. That strikes me as problematic. Not to say that that isn't part of it, but it appears to be all of it. and that depresses me. So, here I walk, putting leaflets in the door, wondering if there is anything to be gained.

That feeling was enhanced by a couple of events lately. Yesterday, while talking to a neighbor, we disagreed over a local councilman. She and I have more in common politically than in difference, and there are numerous reasons that she might have problems with this man, yet I found the exchange frustrating and disturbing. Here we had completely divergent views on our political system and I found myself wondering if there was anyway that the political system can work without dividing us.

The other event was the entire hubbub over the Passion film. I have written much about it here and elsewhere and was probably approaching the obsession point. Certainly, there is much range of reasonable disagreement over this film. Those who defend it as a limited view of an important event, and who don't see it as anti-semetic are reasonable people. They find great meaning in the reminder of the Lord's sacrifice. I am ok with that. I am also struck by the few who have noted how compassionate the film made them toward others--toward those killed in the Holocaust, or the African slaves who suffered greatly to build America. If that is the result, then the film will have accomplished something besides make a rich star even richer.

But it is that other story that bothers me. The evangelicals who respond to their critics with "they are just afraid of the truth," or "Jesus said we would be persecuted." That level of arrogance--just dismissing their critics is so devoid of the grace of their faith. If they cannot muster compassion for those who find the film frightening or disturbing, then they are pretty poor christians in my book.

So how did a discussion of politics and democracy become one about the passion and evangelicals? I am not sure, but I know that as I was going through all this, the connection was clear in my mind. Politics, religion, capitalism--they have all merged in a way that makes me very unsettled. Religious people are completely unbothered by the selling of Passion related crap--making money off this doesn't bother them. And why should it, I guess? If they are not bothered by a McDonalds in a church, or a Starbucks in a church, why blink at this? Jesus kicked the moneychangers out of the temple, but our current religious institution would only do that if those selling were selling porn or drugs. The nature of religious language is just that way. We are all taught about the Phillistines, and warned of the modern day versions, but no one actually sees themselves in that role. The moneychangers, therefore, are elsewhere--not in our church or faith.

That is what bothers me the most. If you use the language of religion, you can gloss over just about anything. What might be crass consumerism is now selling a religious artifact. What would just be shopping, becomes an expression of a deeper faith--albeit at $12.95. Faith, it appears, is just as much for sale as anything else. And that faith, therefore is easily bought and manipulated by political agents. And don't tell me that doesn't happen. While writing this, I flipped through some channels and watched a Texas evangelist endorse the movie, endorse GWB--all from the pulpit, and all with an open Bible in one hand.

It all bothers me, and I am also aware that none of it is new. Americans have had a messy democracy for their entire history. And, as my recent readings tell me, our lack of a theological foundation is also not new. It still bothers me.

March 3, 2004

The Passion of Mel?

I realize that I am approaching the obsession level on this film. For whatever reason, as I have noted elsewhere on this blog, this film has touched some serious issues for me. Issues I have with the Christian church I grew up in and how now I find it annoyingly smug and self-righteous. The film's defenders seem to vacilate between saying it is a religious experience and then pointing out that it is a movie in the face of criticism. Ok. And I recognize two things: that I bring a lot of conflict of my own to this film, and 2, that I recognize that despite my objections to this film, it will often be a deeply moving and powerful experience. None of the objections I have negate that.

So where am I now? I think that both sides got played here. I don't know if this is all conscious on Mel Gibson's part, but we all got played. Mel understood that the film would not be welcomed in Hollywood for a wide variety of reasons--some of which might actually be frustration with christianity--and knew that he had to find another way to recoup his investment. His desire to make the film probably came from a earnest belief. I have no problem with that. But deep down, this is still a hollywood process and a hollywood film complete with merchandizing and crass crap to buy. He had to find a way to generate interest and make an ultra-violent film about Christ marketable.

In many ways, this is an odd vehicle for evangelicals to rally behind. Remember, Mel is a traditional Catholic, and historically and even recently, the evangelical protestant community has not looked favorably on the Catholic faith. I know many who consider Catholicism a cult and consider them not even christians. Likewise, Mel holds the same view of the evangelical community. And, on top of that, this is an intensely catholic film(not that there is anything wrong with that). I remember as a child asking my mother for a cross to hang around my neck, and she went into great detail about how the cross was not our focus. That Catholic view (though she did not dismiss catholicism in this discussion) focused on the death of christ, while our church and belief focused on the resurrection and message. A better symbol, she said, would have been a necklace that reflected that, maybe a rolled stone or empty tomb. She rejected the obsession with Mary, the fixation on the bloody Christ on the cross, and the emphasis on his death over those other key theological issues.

Protestant evangelicals rejected (and I would argue still do) the fixation on the suffering of Christ. Implicit in that theology is a very Catholic idea--that works are important. Works involve proving your worth to God and earning your salvation. I think the obsession with suffering in this film connects the works doctrine to Christ's sacrifice. In this, Christ has to suffer for our sins, and if he doesn't suffer enough the sacrifice is rejected and our sins are not forgiven. Mel's God, even though he sends his son to die, is still a vengeful and angry god who must be appeased. Someone must be sacrificed. And, evidently suffer more than anyone else could suffer.

But I was taught was that this story was about Jesus being enough human to feel pain, not that he felt more pain or suffering than anyone ever could. The unique nature of this story was not his suffering, but that he was also God and that he rose again. Remember, crucifixion was a common execution method, so Christ experienced what so many other Jews and enemies of the Romans had. That is the story, not this obsession with suffering. To make the suffering the focus makes the point of Christianity the death of Christ, rather than the life.

So, how do conservative evangelicals who distrust Catholicism come to promote this film that, in my mind, represents a pretty serious theological departure. In fact, I would contend the connection between these two bedfellows is not theological at all. On the story of the crucifixion, conservatives share more in common with their more liberal protestant counterparts. The connection, therefore is cultural and political--not theological at all. Mel was able to play on (some) evangelicals fear of a hostile culture--Hollywood (and the Media) we are told, hates Christianity and doesn't want you to see this film. The Jews also don't want you to see this film, and liberal pundits are opposed to it. Now, is it any surprise that evangelicals raised a fuss about this film? It is right in line with the urban legends of attacking Touched by an Angel, or those about Madeline Murray O'Hare, or the recent ones suggesting that the FCC was allowing the f-word, but not any mention of God. And this one had the benefit of being partially true. Hollywood was resistant to supporting this film, and I think that played very well into Mel's plans.

Mel left anti-semitic portrayals in the film partially because I think deep down he is anti-semitic. He is far too coy about his father's insanity and rabid racism to not share some of it. Or, he just allowed his father's insanity to raise the issue--either way, I think is crass and awful. Here is how he played the liberals. He left enough in that allowed the anti-semitism argument to flourish. Could have taken them out and still had the bloodied Christ tortured for 2 hours. Could have had Pilate equally evil and not concerned about Christ's welfare, or could have made the jewish leader conflicted. He did not. Do those elements make it anti-semitic? Probably not, but given the history of the Passion plays and things like, well, the Holocaust, some respect of that fear would have been in order. But it served its purpose. It cemented the opposition and allowed him to go to the evangelical community (remember, he screened the film primarily for only conservatives--which further alienated liberal and jewish theologians) and point out who didn't want them to see the film. Along the way, he talked about dark forces opposed to this film, and about critics who were unwitting dupes of Satan himself. Message? If you oppose this film, you are in league with Satan. Critisize this film, and you demonstrate your loathing for the Christian message.

Likewise, it allowed conservatives to see this film as a political act. If you support this film, you are sending a message to Hollywood that you want more like this and less of Janet. You also send a message to those "dark forces" arrayed against Roy Moore and the Ten Commandments, and against rogue judges and mayors who are sanctioning gay marriage. The connection was political and it allowed a groundswell of support for a film that would have otherwise been a small art-house film.

So, what set me over the edge, you ask? Why did I jump to this conclusion regarding Mel's agenda (note that I am not sure what is conscious and what isn't)? The Pewter Nail Pendant that sent me into a rage yesterday. If, I asked yesterday, you can market the crucifixion, what can't you? Is there anything that is sacred and off limits from crass consumer efforts? I understand that catholics have worn crosses for years, and someone manufactured those, but this feels much different to me. This is an entire discussion about cultural differences and was supposed to be more than "just another movie" with Burger King cups and action figures in Happy Meals. This was supposed to be a church experience--after all, the film was released on Ash Wednesday, a day that some reminded us was supposed to be about going to church, not going to the theater.

But it ultimately is just another movie. And a con job. And a marketing machine that has divided people against each other. And a company that, almost with a wink, is licensing Pewter Nail Pendants (Official Movie Merchandise) just like the LOTR action figures and Star Wars toys.

March 2, 2004

Passion related merchandise contest

Why not? What is really the problem here? After all, if the end result is more consumers, er, I mean, converts, then the means are justified right? So, I am announcing the first Streak's Blog contest. Email me or post in the comments field your ideas for Passion of the Christ related merchandise (cross marketing, as it were).

I will start off:
"Genuine Communion Wine: Guaranteed to be the Blood of Christ (As seen in copious amounts in the Passion of the Christ) or your money back!"

I await your entries.
MSNBC - "Passion" pendant proves popular: "A particularly popular item is a pendant fashioned from a single nail made of pewter and attached to a leather strap, say officials of Bob Siemon Designs, which is licensed by Gibson's Icon Productions to produce jewelry tied to the film. The pendants represent the nails used in the film to fasten Christ to the cross.

"This thing has turned into this kind of overnight phenomenon that we can't believe," Siemon said. He said his staff is working 10- to 14-hour shifts six days a week to keep Christian bookstores supplied with the pendants, crucifixes and other items."

This has kind of taken my breath away. Sort of like the a$$holes who were selling card decks with the faces of liberal leaders (in the spirit of the decks used to hunt down Saddam and his guys). And he is working extra hours to keep the Christian mega stores packed with more of this shite.

Well, it may not be a happy meal, but it is certainly Hollywood as usual. I think they call it synergy, or some such term, but it sickens me. If Christians were serious about this being a spiritual movie, they would rise up and oppose this crap. Any bets?

Update Here is a story about brisk sales of Passion related material. I feel nauseous. Not terribly surprised, but definately not good. I guess there is a part of me that wants to believe that the Christian community is better than this, somehow above some of the stupid mass-consumption that seems to dominate the rest of American life. Instead we have McDonalds at churches and bookstores and coffeeshops inside "church campuses" doing brisk sales. All of it, undoubtedly to further the kingdom of God, right? Maybe we can hand out "pewter nail pendants" to the homeless or ship them to third world markets? Why not have an ad campaign with Jesus on the cross telling people what to buy?

And why not? Really? Our President's reaction to 9-11 was to tell people to shop more. Why wouldn't a depiction of what everyone refers to as the "Greatest Story ever Told" inspire similar impulses. And here is the kicker: those buying "pewter nail pendants" see that purchase as something different than when they buy the Scooby Doo figure at Hastings. They see it as a religious or spiritual act. Bully.


March 1, 2004

Yahoo! News - Aristide Tells U.S. Contacts He Was Abducted
: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Jean-Bertrand Aristide, ousted as Haitian president on Sunday, told U.S. lawmakers and other contacts by telephone on Monday that he was abducted by U.S. soldiers and left his homeland against his will."

What do we make of this?