April 29, 2004

Don't Put Slavery in the Flag: "More broadly, the spinners say that the Civil War was about states’ rights, or taxes, or tariffs or the meaning of the Constitution. Indeed, it was about all those things. But at bottom the South seceded, not over some abstract notion of states’ rights, but over the right of the Southern states to practice human slavery. As Gov. James S. Gilmore III of Virginia put it in his proclamation commemorating the Civil War, “Had there been no slavery, there would have been no war.” Mississippi didn’t go to war for lower tariffs or for constitutional theory; it went to war to protect white Mississippians’ right to buy and sell black Mississippians."

Right. Take slavery out of the mix, and we have strident speeches, but few southern young men are cleaning their guns to fight over constitutional theory.

This essay cuts right through the ridiculous racism of the confederate flag controversy.

April 27, 2004

Yahoo! News - For a Conservative, Life Is Sweet in Sugar Land, Tex.
: "'You find communities like this all over the place,' DeLay says of Sugar Land. 'This is what the future is about.'"

This frightens me. It is a good look at a pretty sheltered part of Texas, the part that produces the Tom "Hammer" Delay, who by the way, makes a big deal about his Christian faith while seeming to actually live none of it. If this is the future, then I am really worried.

April 23, 2004

Yahoo! News - Louisiana May Ban Low-Slung Pants
: "BATON ROUGE, La. - People who wear low-slung pants that expose skin or 'intimate clothing' would face a fine of up to $500 and possible jail time under a bill filed by a Jefferson Parish lawmaker."

Yet another example of Janet's impact. The backlash is continuing. Is this the way conservatives really want to govern? Interestingly enough (and I will have to find the cite later) but some bloggers have speculated that the FCC backlash will result in more clarified freedom rather than less. Why? Because the previous approach was essentially the equivalent of hand-slapping broadcasters, and while it may have not served that effective to stop "obscenity," the companies preferred to go along rather than object. Now that the fines are much larger, and the threat of license forfeiture exists, many corporations will choose to challenge these laws in court. And many of them may not hold up to First Ammendment scrutiny.

Of course, that just means more Constitutional ammendments: flag burning, right to legislate against the "f" word, right to jail liberal bloggers, etc.......

April 21, 2004

Clash Point: "Put an end to preaching by cheesy, whiny, quiche eating, preening Nancy Boys . . . right now!  It freaks us meat eaters out.  Get it?  Hire a pastor who throws off a good John Wayne vibe instead of that Boy George feeling.  Know what I mean?  And cheer on “Pastor Wayne” to serve up the solid meat of the scripture . . . the stuff that prods the congregation to biblical maturity rather than prolonging their infancy."

I love this! "Nancy Boys?" Oh, you remember those images of Jesus being compassionate and playing with the kids? That is all got to go! We need a Jesus who kicks ass and takes names. Nevermind how simplistic this is about men, nor about how historically myopic this moron is, but what kind of a jerk wants a Preacher swaggering about church like some John Wayne caricature. Oh wait, John Wayne WAS a caracature. A man who avoided service while acting as America's prototypical soldier. A man who went through two divorces, cheated on at least one, helped his third wife have an abortion. There is your model for preacher, right there!

April 20, 2004

You really have to be kidding. No, seriously!
"A judicial watchdog panel will hold a hearing May 24 into allegations a South Gate judge asked a rape victim to dinner after sentencing her attacker to life in prison, the panel said Tuesday"

Holy Jebus. Can you believe this guy?
What I am listening to nowSix O' Clock News from the album Failer by Kathleen Edwards

As a public service, let me call your attention to an album I have been listening to a lot lately. This one has been out for a year or so, but is just fabulous. I am glad to hear that she is working on a new album. Great voice, great lyrics, what more do you want?
[Posted with ecto]

April 18, 2004

EctoI am testing this blogging tool. If I like it after 2 weeks, I will have to pay for it, but it looks kind of cool. They also provide a windows version.

April 13, 2004

The Washington Monthly

Watched the President tonight. See comments in this blog entry to the effect of Bush being "resolute and tough." The guy refuses to acknowledge an error, and then talks about how he can't even think of his worst mistake after 9-11. This is a charcter issue for me. I don't trust someone who can't or won't take responsibility for his mistakes.

Here is the thing. He could have done exactly what Richard Clarke did. He could have said that it was his responsibility ultimately that these people died. He wasn't to blame, mind you. The terrorists were, and he is right about that. But he was charged with protecting the American people and he failed. If he got bad intelligence, it is still his fault for not making them better or replacing them. He is ultimately responsible. The buck used to stop at the President's desk. I understand those who sneered at Clinton for his dissembling, but if those same people can't see this President for what he is, they aren't paying attention. He has no character. He has no leadership. He can't even acknowledge a mistake.

On Sunday I watched Phil Mickelson finally win his first major. I have been a fan for years. Though I am usually not interested in the hundreds of PGA events, I watch the majors (especially the first three) with great interest. Along with other golf fans, I have watched Phil choke or just be in the wrong place at the wrong time more times than I can remember. So, when Ernie Els got his first eagle to take the lead, I thought it was over. Ernie is a winner, I told my wife, and knows how to close out a tournament like this. Phil can't get past his own demons.

But then a strange thing happened. I watched as Phil started smiling more and more as the round went on. The pressure was mounting--the tournament win edging away, and this guy was
smiling! He was enjoying this!

So, later, when Phil put on his green jacket and smiled the smile of a winner, I realized how much I respected him for this. I know, I know. Golf is a trivial pursuit compared to others that people spend lives on. And with or without this win, Phil is living well. He isn't hurting for money and wouldn't have been with a second-place finish. Compared to people all over the world, this was a very trivial non-event. But it had meaning for me. I liked that damn smile. This was a guy who had jokes told about him, who others referred to as a choker, who didn't get respect even though he won year in and year out.

I am sure that had to hurt at some times. It had to suck when an unknown like Justin Leonard won the British, or Ben Curtis (who?) won a major so early in their career. It seemed to happen so easily for others, yet here was a guy who won other tournaments every year and couldn't get the major.

I guess I relate to that. I earned my doctorate after numerous years of battling in grad school--battling with overly-critical advisors, or inner demons who told me my stuff didn't matter. I battled hard, and finally finished, only to struggle again on the job market. All around me I saw other people finish their dissertation with less effort (it seemed) and often receive acclaim--acclaim that eluded me. Some of them were the Tiger Woods--just damn good. Those never bothered me, and most of them were more help to me than any kind of hindrance. But some of them were the Ben Curtis's of the world. They weren't smarter than me(nor dumber), just better positioned, or with better advisors, or just lucky. Hard not to feel good for them for succeeding--but hard not to feel bad about my own situation. The analogy doesn't quite work, because Phil is on Tiger's level, while I am nowhere near the top of my profession. But I somehow feel a connection there.

That connection, I think is that Phil seemed to have found a way to stop allowing those critics, or other people's success define him.
Somehow, while not just denying the monkey, he found a way to fight his way on, undeterred by major failure and keep enjoying what he was doing. After a while, I think it would have been easy to get testy with reporters who kept asking how it felt not to win, or how it felt to be the best player never to win...... At a certain point, I would have wanted to use a 7-iron in a manner not prescribed by the manufacturer! But he kept coming back and kept competing. And smiling. I really felt as he walked up to the ball in the fairway on the 18th fairway, that he would be sad if he lost, but not devastated.

I can learn from this. Adversity doesn't have to be such a negative thing--and I often forget that. We often want success or happiness or whatever, but usually want it to be easy. But that isn't always the best way to get something. I will keep pushing for my major--regardless of the shanks in the trees, the swing that comes and goes and the rejection letters in the mailbox. And if I decide to stop playing that particular game, it will be my choice and will not be because I have given up.

Maybe I can even learn to smile.

April 10, 2004

Actors Whip Easter Bunny at Church Show
: "A church trying to teach about the crucifixion of Jesus performed an Easter show with actors whipping the Easter bunny and breaking eggs, upsetting several parents and young children.

People who attended Saturday's performance at Glassport's memorial stadium quoted performers as saying, 'There is no Easter bunny,' and described the show as being a demonstration of how Jesus was crucified.

Melissa Salzmann, who brought her 4-year-old son J.T., said the program was inappropriate for young children. 'He was crying and asking me why the bunny was being whipped,' Salzmann said."

Why are you whipping the bunny? Though someone undoubtedly thought this was a good idea, cooler heads should have prevailed. I remember attending a Christmas Eve service once where the focus was on the brutal savagery of the crucifixion. While Mel would have loved it, it bugged me. It was out of context and really robbed some in the congregation of that Christmas feeling.

Taking on the Easter bunny in this manner seems to completely deny the grace and acceptance of Christianity. While I know that Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple, I don't recall him being humorless or trying to frighten children. This comes out of some misunderstandings, I believe, about how people conceptualize their faith. I think these people think that if you belive in the bunny that you can't believe in Jesus. I think that is wrong. I am reminded of a great scene in
Lone Star when Otis is explaining to his son about where African Americans hang out in town--"either at His Holiness Church, or Big O's. Most people choose both. It isn't like there is a line between the good poeple and the bad people." Life and faith are more complex than a simplistic black and white fundamentalism.

So, for Easter, on behalf of the rest of us, please leave the bunny alone.

April 9, 2004

Witnessing Tools: "These designs are all focused on helping people share their faith. Pay special attention to the 25 card witnessing packs we prayerful designed for all Passion outreach programs. Each card is only 24 cents retail and provides a great way to share the Gospel.

The lapel pins and pocket reminders are 100% lead free pewter and feature either a beautiful rendition of the Cross from the movie or the ancient Aramaic word for Passion meaning the burden Christ suffered. Each comes with a witnessing card that features three scriptures and a Salvation prayer."

Oh man, I missed these earlier, or they have just been added to the site. But they are lead-free, so that is good. Consume, and witness. Witness and consume. All the same thing. Pretty soon, people can just do their christian duty by going to the mall.
Church, Inc., naked version

Then other issues that the church feels strongly about come in to play. The increasing commodification of sexuality (always a problem) has just increased and now well beyond just the issue of prostitution. The church seems puzzled when market forces drive pornography into the mainstream. "That is wrong," the church says, angrily, but never wonders about the basic underlying economic forces--those same forces that the church has endorsed as being all-seeing and wise when it came to environmental destruction or the suburban lifestyle. In fact, the only criticism I hear coming from the church on the issue of capitalism relates to sex. Either there are too many sexual images on TV or in the movies. But I have yet to hear the church be angry about a growing disparity between the rich and poor.

That is what makes this particular ad campaign rather brilliant. It combines two conflicting issues for the church: sex and piety. Here, on the very symbol of sacrifice is the symbol of sexuality, and it will freak people out. It is certainly inappropriate and not a good idea for an ad campaign. At least in my book. But neither is selling Official Pewter Pendant Nails (which includes Witnessing tools: "Our mission is to reach the world with the message of hope by creating jewelry and gifts of exceptional quality, which will inspire people to express and share their faith." See? Consuming is a spiritual act.) which "come in two sizes and feature Isaiah 53:5 inscribed on the side." Isn't it? I guess it could be worse, it could be people sporting t-shirts that say "I watched my personal Lord and Savior's crucifixion and all I got was this t-shirt." That would be clearly wrong, correct? Wouldn't it?

Hell, I just don't know anymore.

April 8, 2004

DVD player to edit movies / Technology allows viewer to bypass offensive content

I have watched this kind of trend with some amusement--religious conservatives trying to remove objectionable material from dvds or editing out such material. Seems like a continuation of the "breast heard around the world," even though some of this has been in the in the works for some time.

On one hand, I am unbelievably sympathetic. I don't have children, but I can't imagine raising kids in a world with 24 hour porn and the bombardment of images on tv and elsewhere. I can respect the desire to protect children from some of this, though sometimes wonder about what people choose to protect their children from--breasts and sexuality v. environmental or documented health hazards. I sometimes think that parents have decided that any sexuality is bad and they must keep their children unaware of that, while not sweating the fast food or other ingested horrors.

Anyway, I do acknowledge that many parents would be glad to have some ability to watch a film with their kids in the room without fear. And that this world feels a little over-sexualized. I remember watching some advertisement (pre-Janet) and marveling in the sexual imagery, all the while feeling a little sick about it. The sexual imagery was fine, and I have no problem with that, but the marketing and commercialization added with the ubiquitous nature of the material started to bother me. I also wondered (as I am sure many did) where these trends would go? Was total nudity or sexual representation on tv just around the corner? Probably not, but I understand the concern. And then we have Bob Dylan on a Victoria's Secret ad. That ain't right.

So now we have the backlash of the breasts. Since Janet we have Clear Channel developing a conscience and Howard Stern gaining friends in weird places (and enemies). ER takes out a breast (of an older woman in a decidedly non-sexual setting) out of fear of offending, and Janet herself is on a permanent (it seems) 5 second delay. It must be weird walking around like that! :) John Ashcroft's AG office has pushed for cuts in some anti-terrorism funding, but has an office devoted to stopping porn.

Like I said above, I have sympathy for the parents. I also hate the increased sexualization of the kids--the image of Jon Benet Ramsey flirting around at age 4 or 5 is sickening. Britney's continued slutification of young singers is also bothersome.

But the reaction bugs me all the same. First, it seems backward and decidedly pre-modern to obsess about nudity like this. Second, and most important to me, it is all about the priority. We can file an investigation on Janet's breast within 24 hours, but it takes six months to investigate the outing of a CIA operative. We can clean up Clear Channel's radio waves (and by clean up, we mean getting rid of the potty mouths, we certainly don't mean getting rid of the hate-spewing pundits) but we can't address the issue of a shrinking number of corporations who control our access to information. We can obsess about porn, but not address poverty, environmental issues, decreasing civil liberties, growing hatred of Americans overseas, etc.

It just all seems so damn out of wack.
Church Inc., cont.

How does this apply to a semi-naked woman on a cross? Good question. My argument is that the church has for so long endorsed profit and market capitalism, that it no longer has any standing to criticize its excesses. I have argued this for sometime, but this is a good example. This is not an anti-market screed by any counts. I respect that the market is amazingly innovative and excels at certain things. I want market forces driving innovations in medicine, automobiles, technology, etc. But the market is not some magic force that just does things right. It also does amazingly cruel things, rolls over people, eats workers and the environment up. It requires well-intentioned and moral people to make decisions, because of course, the market is an economic system, not moral and sentient beings.

But the church has sat back while a good many other things have been commodified and packaged and marketed, seemingly with either apathy or approval. Since the ultimate goal of profit has ceased to be a question, or accumulation of wealth, or materialism, then the means only have to be legal. So, when cities privatize their water systems, no one steps forward and wonders whether something so important for the public good is now a for-profit enterprise. We already do that with life and death in our medical insurance system.

I remember noting that recent ad campaigns that took historical events and turned them into ad campaigns. MLK speaking at the mall--a historic and noteworthy event--became an add for telecommunications. I remember asking what would come next? Jesus on the cross being used in an ad campaign for pain relief? I remember telling a friend, that if it is all for sale, then there is nothing stopping a corporation from appropriating those images and symbols that people find as most sacred. Why not? How do you justify opposing the commodification of children, sexuality, whatever? If profit is ultimately all justifying, then the only question is legality, not morality, or taste, or respect. If you have stood by while MLK's speech on the mall is turned into a commercial, then you have no standing to object when the crucifixion becomes one too.

April 7, 2004

The Dogs That Didn't Bark - Why Colin Powell and George Tenet aren't bashing Richard Clarke. By Fred Kaplan: "Tenet is not the only quiet dog. One of the hounds that the White House did unleash--”Secretary of State Powell”--not only declined to growl, but practically purred like a kitten. Interviewed on Jim Lehrer's NewsHour, Powell said: 'I know Mr. Clarke. I have known him for many, many years. He's a very smart guy. He served his nation very, very well. He's an expert in these matters.' His book 'is not the complete story,' but, Powell added, 'I'm not attributing any bad motives to it.'"

Very interesting little subplot. Two of the people who could have bashed Clarke haven't. Powell and Tenet. Powell's statement is very convincing, and I suspect, right on. I am sure that Clarke has a very one-sided view on this entire affair, and there are other ones. But it does go against the administration's spin and attack machine.
Church, Inc., continued

Thinking more about the connection between the church and commerce. A friend of mine wrote me the other day and suggested that most Christians "generally galled/nauseated at the commercial marketing which has accompanied" the Passion. I don't know about that. What I read suggested that Christian Bookstores were doing a brisk business on this kind of item and I am skeptical that non-Christians are flocking to the store to buy this kind of stuff. So, I am not sure that "most" Christians are anything but apathetic about it.

The most recent item to cross my blog was this controversy over an ad campaign in Liverpool where a company used a topless girl hanging on a cross as a part of their ad campaign. The campaign was clearly inspired by the Passion mania. My comments initially were something like, "I told you so," and I think that still stands. I can hear my friend asking, "how is this the Church's fault? After all, as the article shows, many church leaders are mad about this and refer to it as blasphemous." Yeah. I know.

The problem is that the church has no standing here. Kind of reminds me of the story of the famous German pastor, Martin Niemöller, who supposedly commented that when the Nazis first rounded up the communists, he did nothing because he wasn't a communist, then they came for the Jews, trade unionists, Catholics, etc., but he didn't speak up because he wasn't any of those things. Then the Nazis came for him and there was no one left to speak up. Of course, what we are speaking about here is not as grim as Nazi Germany, nor should anyone think I am correlating the horror of that with the triviality of this ad. But the principle remains that you should speak up for principle whether it is about you or not. And that is what the church has not been terribly good at. It has not been as active to speak out on religious freedom issues when those under attack are from other faiths, and has not stood up for respect for other images and icons.

More later.
President Bush Discusses Iraq, 911 Commission with Reporters: "THE PRESIDENT: No, the intention is to make sure the deadline remains the same. I believe we can transfer authority by June 30th. We're working toward that day. We're, obviously, constantly in touch with Jerry Bremer on the transfer of sovereignty. The United Nations is over there now. The United Nations representative is there now to work on the -- on a -- on to whom we transfer sovereignty. I mean, in other words, it's one thing to decide to transfer. We're now in the process of deciding what the entity will look like to whom we will transfer sovereignty. But, no, the date remains firm."

Does this mean what I think it means? That we are going to transfer power to someone. We have no idea who that person or entity will be, but we are going to do it.

April 5, 2004

DallasNews.com | News for Dallas, Texas | Opinion: Letters: "I think it is about time we stopped playing nice with Iraqi 'insurgents' and showed them we have fangs. Turning a heavy artillery battalion on Fallujah followed by running an armored regiment over the rubble and napalming anything left would be a good start."

I have read more letters with this sentiment than I care to. I completely understand the reaction to Fallujah. It is completely human to want to destroy those who would do something like this. But I have two questions: is that response a moral and Christian response? and second, will that response have the desired effect?
War In Iraq

This is good. Disturbing. Heartbreaking.
AP Wire | 04/03/2004 | Postal Service unveils John Wayne stamp: "He was a cowboy, a Green Beret, a jet pilot and a detective during his long acting career."

What about "guy who avoided service in WWII while pretending to be America's favorite soldier?"
ic Liverpool - 'Blasphemy' outrage as Cathedral used in ad: "AN ADVERTISING campaign featuring a 'crucified' semi-naked model with Liverpool RC Metropolitan Cathedral in the background has sparked anger amongst the city's religious leaders."

I hate to say I told you so, but....I told you so. Once you turn the crucifixion into just another idea and image and then profit from it, how can you then decide what other people can do with it? It is all for sale.
the american street: Republican Jesus weighs in on the blogtopia's* most recent controversy

funny, and in line with my Pres Jebus sketch.

April 1, 2004

Yahoo! News - Top Focus Before 9/11 Wasn't on Terrorism: "On Sept. 11, 2001, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites) was scheduled to outline a Bush administration policy that would address 'the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday' -- but the focus was largely on missile defense, not terrorism from Islamic radicals."

Doesn't this kind of support Clarke's claims?