December 31, 2005

Do dogs learn from cats?

This may sound like a stupid question, but do dogs mimic cats? Take a look at this movie and tell me that our dog is not cleaning her face. Anyone else have any experience with this?

New dvd purchase

With some Christmas money I went shopping for something I had long awaited. This December saw the release of the Simpsons' season 7. I bought it for one episode, but discovered that the season had numerous classic bits. The espisode I wanted is called "Lisa the Iconoclast" which I have used in class for years. This homage to Liberty Valance has Lisa Simpson researching the town's origin myth. It is a great way to get some discussion going in class about historical memory.

But what else is on this collection, you ask? Well, part two of the "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" which only really means that I have to now buy season 6. But what about "Radioactive Man" where Millhouse becomes a child star and Wolfcastle utters my favorite line: "The Goggles! They do nothing." Or the next episode where the Simpsons kids end up in foster care with the Flanders. Or the one where Bart sells his soul (an episode that SOF originally thought was quite sweet and interesting). Next we have Lisa's decision to become vegetarian, which may include the best fake school films (Bovine University, anyone?).

Season seven also has Homer's decision to beome morbidly obese so he can claim work disability; the return of Homer's mother; Sideshow Bob's attempt to force Springfield to give up television; Homer's bowling team; and even the episode where George H.W. Bush moves in across the street from the Simpsons.

But those are not all. Bart accidently exposes Krusty's tax fraud; Bart and Abe Simpson go after WWII loot in the Raging Hellfish episode; and in one particularly great episode, Homer replaces Mr. Smithers for a short vacation:
Homer: Here are your messages:
"You have 30 minutes to move your car",
"You have 10 minutes",
"Your car has been impounded",
"Your car has been crushed into a cube",
"You have 30 minutes to move your cube".
[phone ringing]
Homer: [answers] Yello, Mr. Burns' office.
Burns: Is it about my cube?

And finally, one of the best episodes on politics and society when Springfield votes on Proposition 24 to rid the town of immigrants:
Apu: Seven years, but I don't--
Lisa: There's an amnesty that was declared for people who've lived here
as long as you. You can take the citizenship test!
Marge: But the vote on Proposition 24 is on Tuesday. You'll have to
pass the exam before then.
Apu: Oh, that is not nearly enough time to learn over 200 years of
American history.
Homer: Oh, it can't be that many. Come on, Apu. I'll be your tutor.
[everyone looks worried]

Homer teaches Apu facts about American history, like that the 13
stripes on the American flag are for good luck, and the electrical
college, while Chief Wiggum and boys prepare to deport the
immigrants. The day before the exam, Homer asks Apu to study his
9th-grade history notes. Apu tries to study, but falls asleep after
reading two words: Cotton Mather.

And let's not forget Homer's further wisdom regarding democracy:

"When are people going to learn? ... Democracy doesn't work!"

Oh man, what a season!

More on Delay

SOF alerted me to this story. Short version: Jack Abramoff and Tom Delay created a nice little slush fund for funneling money from some pretty questionable sources into their political plans. Foreign money. Domestic corporations. The name of the shell? The U.S. Family Network.

After the group was formed in 1996, its director told the Internal Revenue Service that its goal was to advocate policies favorable for "economic growth and prosperity, social improvement, moral fitness, and the general well-being of the United States." DeLay, in a 1999 fundraising letter, called the group "a powerful nationwide organization dedicated to restoring our government to citizen control" by mobilizing grass-roots citizen support.

But the organization didn't actually spend money on public advocacy or education, and it clearly wasn't grass-roots. It was a tool to funnel money to bashing Democrats and redistricting. I like especially that it tried to use the moral tone of being pro-family, when in fact it was nothing of the sort. This Delay fellow is a piece of work. If I was a conservative Christian, I would be embarrassed.

December 26, 2005

Ok, a little levity

We didn't spend all of Christmas wondering why GWB was eroding our civil liberties. Nope. We also watched some films and listened to some music. Last evening we watched Best in Show, one of my very favorite films. We noticed funny parts that had eluded us, including the high strung owner (husband part of the uptight yuppy team with the Weimaraner) yelling at his dog, "Look at me. Don't look at the fat ass losers or freaks, look at me!"

Tonight we watched a Steve Earle dvd (Just an American Boy) and enjoyed ourselves. Great shots of Earle behind the scenes, and a great little mini-interview with Nora Guthrie talking about bursting into tears the first time she heard "Christmas in Washington" where Steve sings, "Bring back Woody Guthrie." Hell, we burst into tears too.

We enjoyed some classic scenes of him playing our favorite songs: "Copperhead Road" and "Amerika 6.0," and "Guitar Town" but really enjoyed seeing the video for "Jerusalem." I have sung his praises before, but Steve Earle really is a great singer/songwriter/patriot/activist. He is on the list of people I would love to sit down and have coffee with.

That I believe that one fine day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem

Well maybe I'm only dreamin' and maybe I'm just a fool
But I don't remember learnin' how to hate in Sunday school
But somewhere along the way I strayed and I never looked back again
But I still find some comfort now and then

While we were waiting for Santa

Late Saturday the NY Times broke this story that the NSA evesdropping was much bigger than Bush admitted. In fact, it includes the cooperation of our private telcom companies so that the NSA could practice data mining on telephone calls and emails. Now the Bush admin won't talk about it. Can't help the terrorists, now, can we?

This isn't good. This is more suggestion that Bush and the NSA believe that in the battle with terrorists, any measures are on the table--including violating our very constitutional safeguards--the very same ones the terrorists allegedly hate.

Some good news may be starting to break here. Former Sec State Colin Powell has some guarded criticism of the President's tactics. He admits that the administration didn't need to do this without warrants, but then, in typically Powell fashion, says that he doesn't have a problem with the President doing this without approval.

No need to not have oversight--except that Bush acts as if he doesn't need oversight. Again, imagine Clinton doing this and imagine the outrage coming from the Falwells and Robertsons.


As SOF pointed out this morning, there might be some good news in the Right's insistence on packing the courts with what they call "strict constructionists." Michael Luttig, the jurist who was the apple of the right's eye and even discussed as a possible Supreme court nominee--criticized the government's tactics in the Padilla case. Luttig had ruled that Bush was proper in holding Padilla as an "enemy combattant" (even though Padilla is an American citizen). Even Luttig was furious that the government completely flipped its justification. As SOF noted, the strict constructionists might actually believe that. They might actually not be amenable to an administration that simply switches justifications to fit the current problem.


Either way, we at Streak's Blog are left with the impression that the President and VP have decided that the Presidency need more power. As Steve Chapman put it:
"President Bush is a bundle of paradoxes. He thinks the scope of the federal government should be limited but the powers of the president should not. He wants judges to interpret the Constitution as the framers did, but doesn't think he should be constrained by their intentions.

He attacked Al Gore for trusting government instead of the people, but he insists anyone who wants to defeat terrorism must put absolute faith in the man at the helm of government."

Even worse he seems to say that during wartime the President should have virtually unfettered power. And the kicker is that the war on terror is hardly likely to end.

December 22, 2005

I have to think that the Bush people aren't going to like this

Judges on Surveillance Court To Be Briefed on Spy Program: "Several members of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said in interviews that they want to know why the administration believed secretly listening in on telephone calls and reading e-mails of U.S. citizens without court authorization was legal. Some of the judges said they are particularly concerned that information gleaned from the president's eavesdropping program may have been improperly used to gain authorized wiretaps from their court."

Not only do they question the legality of Bush's program, they are suggesting that warrants actually received from the FISA court might have relied on improperly gained evidence and be the "fruit of the poisonous tree." One judge actually suggested that the secret court might just disband since the President was going around it anyway. Why pretend you have court oversight or need warrants?

December 21, 2005

A few notes on the news

I was tortured by Americans says Saddam. See, this is where our world credibility would come in handy. I don't believe Saddam for a second. I think he has heard about this and is playing us for the fool. Saddam is a liar and a murderer. Wouldn't it be nice if we could stand proud and say, "We are Americans--we don't torture" and know that we don't?


As I noted this morning, Bush excuse for wiretapping makes no sense. FISA allows for retroactive warrants, so the speed issue is moot. Several are suspecting that the reason he went around FISA is that they are spying on people that they shouldn't be. People like environmentalists, peace activists, animal rights people, etc.--people that even FISA (who I am reading has turned down less than 10 requests out of some 19,000) would not allow warrants for.


The judge in the PA Intelligent Design case ruled strongly against ID. The judge--now marked as an activist judge by right wing fundies--said that since ID was clearly not science, it was religion and the school had no place mandating it in class. The bigger issue for me is that it isn't science. We can (and should) debate the role that religious faith should play in education, but we do a disservice to the kids when we confuse belief with science.


We are at war, evidently, to save Christmas from the heathens. People, can we just relax a little? This is supposed to be a time of peace and good will. Enough with the battles over the creches and "winter" parties. I don't care. Both sides should chill a little. Christians should recognize that their celebration of Christ's birth coincides and has always had elements of pagan and cultural rituals. Despite the myths of the Christmas tree being a hidden cross, or the 12 Days of Christmas song representing Catholic catechism (we received a card with that little gem on it), Christmas has always been contested. Puritans tried to ban it, and other Christians have objected to everything from the commercialism, to the use of trees, to the fact that Jesus was not born on December 25th!

Merry Christmas, everybody. This year, I hope that everyone turns Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson off or on mute for a while.

On government

Bush's acknowledgement and strident defense of warrantless wiretaps (isn't that on its face a violation of the 4th amendment?) has revealed more about our political dialogue--and it isn't good. As I think I have mentioned here, it strikes me as odd that conservatives can often use their own misdeeds to just reinforce their anti-government rant. And that is what I am hearing from conservative friends. This is "just politics" and "everyone does it." Isn't that amazing? Bush violates the constitution and his Jesus quoting supporters say "everyone does it."

Bush's own defense, btw, is incredibly weak. The FISA courts are too slow, he says. Terrorism demands quicker response. Huh? My reading says that FISA warrants can be granted after the fact. So, Al Gonzales can start listening on his headphones to the nefarious plots, realize they are on to something big, and go get a warrant. How is that too slow?

But back to our dialogue. The most insidious part of this is the conservative--or perhaps more accurately--Bush supporter defense. Those who buy his defense are just not thinking. The others are furthering what the worst in conservatives want to do--completely undermine government. They used Watergate as justification that government was bad. Now, oddly enough, they are using their own President to do it. And the response is not to make it better, it is to attack the other side.

Government is clearly not the answer to everything. Never has been. It has only been utopic in novels. In reality, government is gritty and human and flawed and worth watching. Conservatives who fear government are not completely wrong. After all, it has been governments who loaded people into cattle cars. But they forget that governments have also freed people--have also put together infrastructures to improve sanitation and reduce disease.

But if government is not the answer to everything--and clearly it isn't--then we need only look at the aftermath of Katrina to see what the absence of good government produces. Chaos and hunger and death. Government is about people cooperating and working together to build a society that they can all live in. It won't please everyone--it won't cure everything--and it won't be anyone's salvation. But it can make our water cleaner--our streets safer--and lessen our poverty and deprivation.

This conservative strand that hates government is not the mainstream conservative. In my opinion, very few of my friends and relatives who call themselves conservative really want to undermine government. They want better government, and they want lower taxes. But they believe in a social contract--or at least they used to. But many of those conservatives have been coopted by the culture wars and unwittingly are helping people who really, genuinely don't care about Christian values.

As a result, conservative Christians find themselves defending torture and the invasion of privacy. Part of me fears that they are so easily manipulated because their Bible has been severely edited. Gone are the passages critical of wealth and demanding justice. Elevated are the few passages demonizing gays. Gone are the passages demanding love for their enemy. These same Christians would be up in arms if those being tortured were clutching King James bibles. They would storm the gates of Washington if those being spied upon were anti-abortion activists.

I hope that isn't the case. I hope they are just distracted. I hope they don't believe that torturing their enemy is based on some bible verse.

But it is time to reclaim a healthy approach to government. One where, like our friends to the north, we don't love government, but don't hate it either. One where we see it as a human creation with an important task of producing a civil society where people of all faiths and creeds and sexual orientations and races can find a way to coexist. One where our young people would see public service as a good and noble thing.

Sigh.... /rant

December 20, 2005

Year's best music?

Coming home from the store I listened to a story on the year's best music. I love top ten lists. Or top 5. Whatever. (heh. I still remember an island top 5 contest where Bucky misheard the topics. Our friend L, with an obsession on the pinups, had asked for top album and top poster--meaning Farrah in her bathing suit or something. Bucky had a different album, but had Bob Dylan winning the poster contest. Damn that was funny.)

So here are my top albums from this year. Some might be from last year (technically) but I discovered them this year. Hey, it is my list. But I would love all my music loving readers to post their lists.

1) Ryan Adams, Cold Roses. One of the very best double album sets in my collection. Simply has some of the best alt-country tracks I have heard since early Uncle Tupelo. Check out "Let it Ride" or "When will you come back home."

2) Wilco, Kicking Television. No new stuff here, but some kick ass versions of songs like "Via Chicago" and "Spiders and Kidsmoke." One of the best live albums I have heard.

3) Eliza Gilkyson, Paradise Hotel. I blogged about "Requiem" which may be the most haunting song in my collection. "Man of God" is very good as are several other tracks on the cd.

4) Spoon, Gimme Fiction. With a huge hat tip to Bucky the Badger, this cd was actually in the NPR story as well. Some wonderful tracks including "Sister Jack" and "I summon you." Saw them in Austin and was impressed.

5) The Arcade Fire, Funeral. As I understand it, Six Feet Under fans have heard them before. Another nod to the Badger for turning me on to them. One of the more interesting cds I have heard (this one came out in 2004, btw). Listen to "Wake Up" and "Rebellion (lies)" for a taste of this unique group.

6) Sufjan Stevens, Come on feel the Illinoise. Hmm. How to describe this guy. Well, just listen to "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." and tell me you don't feel the hair rise on your arms. Another nod to Bucky, though I heard of this one elsewhere.

7) Gemma Hayes, The Roads Don't Love You. Just got this one, but loved her first album. This one is not yet available in the US, but I ordered it as a used import. I love her voice and she has some really good tracks on it.

8) Kathleen Edwards, Back to Me. Man do I like her voice. Listen to "Copied Keys" and tell me that voice isn't great. Two albums, and two great efforts. One of my big disappointments from ACL was her canceled show.

9)Coldplay, X & Y. To be fair, I bought all of these about the same time (with great assistance from the ubiquitous Badger) and have difficulty telling the albums apart as a consequence. But this is a great album. "A Message" is one of my favorites.

10) Jayhawks, Live from the Women's Club, Vol 2. One of my favorite bands and sadly the end of their run. Oddly enough, didn't like volume 1, but love the second album (and both came from the same show, so go figure). "Tampa to Tulsa" is great live and much more compelling than the studio.

10a) Kasey Chambers, Wayward Angel. I know. From 2004 and I have blogged on her before. But what a great voice and one of my favorite albums. "Mother," "Lost and Found" and "Like a River" are all great. One of the best mandolin solos EVER on "Follow you home."

Ok, now you.

Do we have a king?

Zalm has a good post on George W. Bush's claim that he has the legal right and even the responsibility to spy on American citizens without a warrant. Newsweek's Jonathan Alter also takes on the President's claim that existing measures aren't strong enough, and talks about how the President pulled in the managing editors from the New York Times to try and stop them from running this story. Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum suspect that the President is justifying some invasive new technologies like data mining that would make it difficult to get individual warrants.

But as Zalm suggests, if so, then we need to talk about it. It always amazes me when conservatives (the same ones who thought that Clinton was eroding their civil liberties, btw) seem to suggest that we have to do whatever it takes to defeat terrorism. That list seems to include undermining our very moral and civic values. Torture; invasion of privacy; a dictatorial leadership that relies on fear and divisiveness. All things that we grew up expecting from dictatorships and communist states.

No doubt we live in difficult times. Not sure they are any more difficult than any other time, but that is for another discussion. But do we really want to give up our freedom and moral high ground here? Why are the flag wavers the ones most willing to do that? And does anyone really think that had this happened under Clinton's watch that conservatives would not have been outraged? The difference appears to be that liberals would have been outraged under Clinton too. We shall see how much we get from the right.

December 19, 2005

I actually watched the President speak

And still am able to hear. No twitching. Well, a little. That first minute or two was vintage Bush--oddly inappropriate smirk mixed in with tortured English and vapid patriotism. But he did get better, and I saw at least one way that his defenders can believe he isn't a complete moron.

He still scared the hell out of me--both with his wooden delivery and some responses like this:

This loss has caused sorrow for our whole Nation – and it has led some to ask if we are creating more problems than we are solving.

That is an important question, and the answer depends on your view of the war on terror. If you think the terrorists would become peaceful if only America would stop provoking them, then it might make sense to leave them alone.

How nice and Rovian. Turn the opposition into people who just want to leave the terrorists alone. See, we are a simple people who believe that everyone should be treated well except evangelical Christians and anyone who says "Merry Christmas." Right. That isn't fair to the opposition. Bush goes on to say:

This is not the threat I see. I see a global terrorist movement that exploits Islam in the service of radical political aims – a vision in which books are burned, and women are oppressed, and all dissent is crushed.

Anyone else wince at that? Where all dissent is crushed? Where a political movement exploits a great religion? Where a tyrannical state spies on its own citizens and uses torture and the threat of torture to control its enemies?

Ok, ok. We aren't living in a tyranny. And I was saying something good about this President. Here it is:

I also want to speak to those of you who did not support my decision to send troops to Iraq: I have heard your disagreement, and I know how deeply it is felt. Yet now there are only two options before our country – victory or defeat. And the need for victory is larger than any president or political party, because the security of our people is in the balance. I do not expect you to support everything I do, but tonight I have a request: Do not give in to despair, and do not give up on this fight for freedom.

See how easy that was? See how easy it was to acknowledge that many of us didn't support the war or your policies? See how much you could have done from day one to speak to that without great political cost to you? See how hollow it sounds when it clearly comes from plummetting polls and a weakened Presidency rather than from a supposed Christian leader at the top of his popularity? Bush has created so many of these problems with his own personal arrogance and his own need to not even acknowledge criticism. That has cost him tremendously. And it still will.

And even mixed in with this little bone is the attack. Only two choices. Victory or defeat. Well, Mr. President, had you talked to us from the beginning there might have been other options--including doing the war right. Instead you listened to Darth Cheney and the others. And they told you to ignore us.

I can hear his defenders say to me, "See Streak, even when he acknowledges the failures that led up to the war, and acknowledges a legitimate opposition, you don't like him." And that is right. This reminds me of my frustration with the SBC on race. In the 1990s, they decided to apologize for their role in segregation and slavery. Since then, Richard Land has just about broken his arm patting himself on the back for that. And there might actually be many conservatives who didn't want to--who still think that segregation and slavery was a good idea. But for most of America, that true battle was in the 50s and 60s when fat heads like Falwell were calling the desegregation movement "of the devil," and other countless conservative Christians were claiming that God approved of segregation. The SBC stepping forward then--when it really mattered--when it was really on the line--might have mattered. As it was, it was uttered in the 90s when the consensus even among Baptists is that racism is wrong.

Had Bush acknowledged error when he had the power and when he was at 70% in the polls, it would have mattered. Had he reached out to his opposition instead of "who cares what you think" it would have mattered. Now he does it because he is weakened and his entire presidency in danger. And even then, he takes shots at us.

Pardon me if I am still not on board.

December 18, 2005

Christmas letter clarification

Just so you know, I am not bashing ALL Christmas letters and the parody included her was not anyone who actually reads this blog. In fact, we have received some very nice Christmas letters from my parents and in-laws. But we all have received those bragging letters, haven't we?

December 17, 2005

Christmas letter translation

We are sure you receive these too, so we offer this tranlation tool for the ubiquitious Christmas letter. As with all translation tools, this should be used only for good.

"Dear Friends and Family," usually just means that. Though often the term "friends" is loosely defined and may refer to aquaintances that need to reminded of how inferior they are.

"We hope this blessed time finds you healthy and happy." We are more blessed and happy than you.

"This year found our family busy and active. The kids, A and B (shown in accompanying picture) have excelled this year in school and other activities." Our family is clearly much better than yours. We often wonder why others even try to have family when they clearly fall short of our idea. Our children, as shown in the picture, are more attractive than yours, as well as clearly smarter and more athletic. Child B has been declared the smartest person on the planet, while Child A is the most attractive. Child A recently wrote her dissertation in 5 minutes, while Child B has developed the world's first perpetual motion machine and is very close to curing cancer as we speak.

"As a family, we have been fortunate enough to travel widely this year (see accompanying photos)." We have more money than you, and lead more interesting lives. We hope that you are jealous of our success.

"We pray that this Christmas season will bring you closer to God." As if we weren't better than you to begin with, we are also better Christians than you. Jesus likes us better and our children are reading the Bible in the original King James.

"We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year." Seriously, why do you even try? If this letter doesn't depress you, then it is clear that you can't read. Which is what we thought anyway.

Merry Christmas indeed. :)

December 15, 2005

This does seem easy

Micah and Kristen have a great post on Christians doing good--actually fighting for the poor. I think they say it better than I can, but let me say that when I read of Republicans cutting things like foster care or enforcement for child care support, I can't help but think how ridiculous the whole "family values" rant sounds next to this. How is this helping families? Or children?

Micah and Kristen are right--we should be able to agree on this. We can argue about welfare and those who are dependent. We can argue about tax cuts for the wealthy and government regulation. But we all agree that kids who find themselves in the foster care program don't need less services, right? This isn't hard.

December 12, 2005

The Bootlegger points out a grownup Christian

Hat tip to Bootleg Blogger for this:

"Writer and renegade preacher Will D. Campbell is probably the only ordained Baptist minister dead or alive ever to call one of the Southern Baptist Convention's highest ranking officials a "hypocrite and a jackass." To his face, no less.


"Soul molesters, that's what I call these television evangelists," Campbell says during an interview at his log cabin writing retreat just across the Davidson County line in Wilson County. "Soul molesters. That bunch that call themselves Christian. They are not Christian, but a very powerful political group". Groups like those with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, those people that run the [Southern Baptist Convention] Lifeway show. They don't show me much about the Christian faith. They hate, hate everybody except themselves and their power. Falwell stood down there at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meeting in Nashville recently and said, 'We won this election.' And he spoke the truth. They did elect George W. Bush."

Oh, how nice to hear that. Only if the rest of the Christian world would stand up to these idiots. Instead of sending them money. And buying their books.

How bad is this bunch?

I just remember how much conservatives complained about Clinton and his morality and partisanship.

Hmm. Let's not forget that this administration is still lobbying the Senate to exclude certain agents from the anti-torture legislation. That's right, the Christian right supported administration wants the right to yank fingernails out of suspects. Just like Jesus would do.

As for politics, let's remember this one. Tom Delay, who the religious right still loves, hammered through a Texas redistricting plan that every professional lawyer in the Justice department said was bad. They were overruled by the political appointees.

Just as in everything this administration has done, imagine Clinton's White House doing this and the outcry from Dobson and his American Taliban. Instead, we get the loudest religious conservatives in this country strangely silent about torture and openly endorsing Tom Delay.

A good question--one many of us have been asking

By Their Fruits: A Message for Our Traditionalist, Religious Countrymen:

"To those of my traditionalist, religious countrymen who have given this presidency their support I say, quoting Jesus in the Gospel According to Matthew: 'By their fruits ye shall know them.'

So, even if many of this leadership’s words have been good, let’s look at the fruits. And I don’t mean the unintended fruits, like the failures of this administration that have become visible. Let’s look at the fruits that have been consistent, the one’s harvested even more bountifully when this administration was at the height of its powers, and thus had its freest hand, than more recently when events have weakened it.

In particular, I would ask: Is it a sign of goodness to sow division?"

Blind spots

I have always been fascinated with blind spots. We all have them, and don't notice. How amazing that our brains can figure out ways to work around them. The real and metaphorical challenge to our perception of the truth has always stuck with me.

What other blind spots do we have? Some of them are personal. People who seem to have a huge blind spot covering their interaction with others. You know the type--the person who seems incapable of picking up the signals that he/she is talking too much.

I wonder if our professions or associations sometimes come with attached blind spots. Academics are almost taught to assume that they are smarter than those without the advanced degrees. I wonder if Americans are so taught to assume their own superiority and the superiority of their institutions that the very idea that their elections might need monitoring never even dawns on them. It is in the blind spot and, though right in front of them, is invisible.

And I have been musing the issue with the church. I remember when Jimmy Swaggart was caught with the "escort," it seemed clear that he was so convinced that he was above such sins. Does the church encourage such belief? Surely the teachings of Christ caution against such arrogance. But many church people strike me as a bit smug--kind of assuming that while they are far from perfect, they are a little above non-Christians or non-church goers in the moral department.

A few conversations recently have almost confirmed this. A friend and I had a conversation last year about the connection between morality and faith. This friend argued that Christians who maintained a personal relationship with God could not help but make better decisions. Another person restated that argument just the other day. The first said that the personal relationship with God meant that a Christian would be "led" to better decisions. The second said it was the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

One danger of this is that it tells Christians that they are more moral simply because they are believers. Or it tells them that if they are better Christians (better at practicing the quiet times and bible reading and prayer regimes) then they are more moral. I am afraid that for many, that simply means that they start with that assumption in mind and do not ask themselves the hard questions. Is that voice inside me the Holy Spirit or is it my own desires and beliefs?

In practice, I have seen people of faith who truly believe that the environment is not a moral question--and in fact, they are not interested in issues of poverty or social justice. People who find their own racism in the Bible, or find justification for their wealth and privilege there as well.

Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting that Christians are more prone to bad thinking than others. In fact, they might be more moral on some things. Nor am I saying that they are more prone to self-delusion. That seems to be a very common error for all humans. But I wonder sometimes if the language of the church has failed to encourage critial thought of our own motivations, and asked followers to engage in the broader moral questions of the day--with a critical and humble mind.

Off to contemplate my own blind spots....

December 10, 2005


I recently met a young woman who is battling depression. That word is really limited. We use it all the time. "I watched the game the other night and am so depressed." Yet, what most of us mean is that we are melancholy or down, or sad. When we are down or sad, we can often think our way out of it. We can choose to focus on what we have and elevate our mood.

But clinical depression is a different animal. Discussions with my friend have reminded me of the difference. I am reminded just how trite we can be. "Cheer up." "Be Happy." I want to be more sensitive in the future.

December 9, 2005

CS Lewis

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe opens today and I am really kind of torn. I read those books when I was a kid and really liked this particular one. The rest of the series kind of bugged me, but I liked the first book a lot. And later I read more of his science fiction. I read Tolkien during that time too, and loved the Hobbit. I find, however, that I am alone among most people in that while I enjoyed the first two books of the trilogy, I really never enjoyed the last one. My experience with the movie was the same way. I felt like Seinfeld's Elaine watching that desert movie and started to imagine Rick Moranis as Frodo wearing a hockey helmet. Perhaps it is my historical background and interest in film and culture, but I couldn't watch that trilogy without seeing it as a nostalgic agrarian protest against industrialization. And the battle scenes just wore me down.

Yesterday, I broke my vow and listened to Christian radio during some errands around town. I never feel good when I do, but it is sometimes a strange urge. Chuck Colson (who I used to have a small amount of respect for but now can't stand) pontificated on the new CS Lewis movie. In fact, everywhere on Christian radio was the discussion about the film. And that is fine, but like so much of our cultural landscape (patriotism, Christmas, morality, family), Christian conservatives don't own CS Lewis. Or Tolkien. But that is how it feels when they talk about it. Christmas is practiced wrongly by everyone except those who return the "reason for the season," (whatever that means). Only Christian conservatives care about morality and family. And CS Lewis becomes a Chuck Colson clone.

So, I don't know what I will do about this film. I still haven't seen Mel's Passion and probably won't. I certainly won't go see this film on opening weekend.


Taxes, programs for the poor, and who benefits from Bush's government

I could deal with this if it weren't for this.

December 8, 2005

10 degrees and colder

Damn cold in Oklahoma this morning. Convincing myself to go to yoga was quite a trick.


Something reminded me of Lewis Black the other day. I remember his standup routine after the Lewinsky scandal. He was rightly mad at Clinton for dragging us through all that juvenile crap--though in retrospect, it just seems petty and trivial. Anyway, Black suggested that as a punishment, Arkansas could not have another President for a hundred years.

I initially thought that should apply to Texas as well, but have reconsidered. After all, a lot more people are responsible for the worst President in American history than just Texans. And so more people have to do penance.

I first toyed with a scarlet letter (red states and all that) idea, but with all the college teams and humorous t-shirts out there, that won't work. My solution? Those people who voted for Bush should not vote for a certain number of years. But both as a Democrat and democrat, I cannot sanction disenfranchisement, so I suggest it be self-inflicted. Secret ballot, secret penance. You all know who you are.

You alone can look inside your heart and recognize that you made a huge mistake. If you voted for Bush in 2000, but not in 2004, then you might be able to justify continuing to cast ballots. After all, you learned. But if, after the wmd-nots and the torture scandal and the outing of the CIA agent--and you still voted for Bush in 2004? You should self-punish yourself severely. No voting for 10 years. That means school board, church deacon, nothing. Not until you show you can use your vote for good.

December 6, 2005

musing about Christmas

What an interesting time of the year. In many ways it is my favorite. Cooler weather. Lights and smells and music. I like the trees and the Christmas lights.

I worked retail for a bit. Christmas time was the worst, and in fact, for several years after that experience, SOF had to do all our shopping. I coulnd't bring myself to go to a mall. I still avoid them, and do much of my shopping online. I remember watching people turn into crazed idiots during Christmas.

And the constant lament about consumerism gets a little old. Not that it isn't a valid complaint, but consumerism is a problem well beyond Christmas. But many don't mind the consumerism and greed the other parts of the year. And as Americans, we are kind of forced to consume this time of year. Our economic outlook is often tied to how brisk Christmas sales are.

Historians tell us that Christmas (in this country) has always been a contested time--and has been very tied to consumerism. For all the complaints about missing "the reason for the season," Americans have never really celebrated it the way they tell themselves they should.

Well, all that aside, I am going to enjoy the season as much as I can. I remember a church from my childhood only singing Christmas carols right before Christmas day or Eve. No Advent, no real embracing of the season. And then the much anticipated Christmas morning (we opened presents then) and the much hated let down. SOF and I try to make it a longer experience.

So here is hoping that you all enjoy the Christmas season. If you are feeling down, drop by Heifer or Pura Vida and help them out.

December 5, 2005

Yoga update

My decision to start practicing Yoga inspired a couple of interesting responses. One old friend asked if I was turning into a "metrosexual."

I must admit that my knowledge of Yoga was pretty limited to a King of the Hill episode. If pressed, I fully expected some amount of silliness.

And that may be out there. But my Yoga teacher is cool, and the Yoga has been very good for me. I can already feel my flexibility and range of motion improving. I took SOF last week and she really enjoyed herself. But we were both sore all weekend.

real life implications of flawed theology

Nicole relates her own experience.

December 3, 2005

Why do I care?

Anglican asked me why I cared what Al Mohler said. Decent question. SOF and I talked about Mohler and Russell Moore's comments and asked each other the same question. Why do we care?

I think Natalie's post hit it. I am aware enough to make sense of their statements. Natalie is equipped to put her relative's comments in context. But what about those young girls who believe that those words come from God? So many Christians are very quick to cite God, as in, "God believes this," or "God says that." I shudder to think of those young girls hearing that if they end up unmarried or childless that they are going against the will of God. Or young men. Marriage and sex are complicated enough without the idiocy of Russell Moore and Al Mohler.

More on SBC insanity

You all read the Russell Moore nonsense the other day where he castigated evangelicals for flirting with feminism and abandoning strict hierarchy. Kristen M wrote a wonderful sendup of this idiocy, and Natalie has a very personal reflection on such thinking.

I read the original so fast that I missed this little nugget:
“Evangelicals maintain headship in the sphere of ideas, but practical decisions are made in most evangelical homes through a process of negotiation, mutual submission, and consensus,” Moore said. “That’s what our forefathers would have called feminism -- and our foremothers, too.”

Right. Negotiation and mutual submission (which sounds faintly like some Bible verse) are bad.

I have friends from the old days. Some find me very puzzling because they remember a Streak who embraced patriarchy, toyed with Biblical innerrency, and quoted the conservative party line. Now they see me and wonder what the hell happened. I understand that, but they need to look closer at the idiocy that is the SBC if they want to understand some of my reasons. I spent way too much time around smart and effective women to buy any simple patriarchy. I still do. I married one. Don't expect me to take anyone seriously who expects me to impose my will on a woman simply because of my gender. It is ridiculous. And, as Kristen points out so well, criticizing skills like negotiation and mutual submission are the height of idiocy.

November 30, 2005

To counteract my previous post on the SBC

Though, I will add, that I read in a recent post by Al Mohler, where he argues that couples who choose to not have children are sinning. He said, "I would argue that it [not having children] ought to be falling short of the glory of God. Deliberate childlessness defies God's will..."

Wow do I feel bad. After all, people like Mohler achieve the glory of god by procreating. I didn't realize it was so simple. Seems like there is even a Bible verse about all of us falling short. Hmm. Evidently, Mohler has found a way around it.

But back to my other post: Robert Reich has a great post on the odd bedfellows of anti-evolution and pro-Social Darwinism. Hat tip to Carlos at Jesus Politics.

"The only consistency between the right’s attack on Darwinism and embrace of social Darwinism is the utter fatuousness of both. Darwinism is correct. Scientists who are legitimized by peer review and published research are unanimous in their view that evolution is a fact, not a theory. Social Darwinism, meanwhile, is hogwash. Social scientists have long understood that one’s economic status in society is not a function of one’s moral worth. It depends largely on the economic status of one’s parents, the models of success available while growing up, and educational opportunities along the way.

A democracy is imperiled when large numbers of citizens turn their backs on scientific fact. Half of Americans recently polled say they don’t believe in evolution. Almost as many say they believe income and wealth depend on moral worthiness. At a time when American children are slipping behind on international measures of educational attainment, especially in the sciences; when global competition is intensifying; and when the median incomes of Americans are stagnating and the ranks of the poor are increasing, these ideas, propagated by the so-called Conservative Movement, are moving us rapidly backwards."

Another link from Carlos led me to a special issue on the religious right in Mother Jones. This blog asked the question why conservative christians were so closely linked to big business and found a pretty convincing answer in MJ.

American churches are to a large degree defined by what they choose to rebel against. The Christian right has set itself in opposition to liberal, secular government and, as a political consequence, declared itself a buddy of big business. The alliance of those two makes historic sense: sects since the Puritans have positioned themselves in relation to capitalism, and couched virtue and sin in commercial terms. And it makes psychological sense: churches that see themselves as bulwarks against the evils of the flesh find colder, sexless endeavors like business and sports more congenial than the suspect domains of sensuality and art.

The conundrum is: the alliance between religion and business makes no religious sense. What will happen on the day American Christians wake up to realize that capitalism is economic Darwinism, that free enterprise is code for individualistic amorality, that the marketplace is the temple of secular humanism? Will they then shift their allegiance to support a more liberal ideal of communal responsibility, and perhaps even become fans of government? The prospect of that shift in religious awareness is one of the great reservoirs of latent energy in the nation’s political landscape.

Both articles, it seems to me, speak to what has always seemed perplexing. Why do so many conservative Christians who see evolution as harmful and wrong, ignore the economic darwinism of capitalism?

Greg is right

Baptists on patriarchy.

November 28, 2005

Interesting bit on Rick Warren and the "cellular" church

Hat tip to Anglican for this extended take on Rick Warren and his style of church. There is a lot here. Some I hate, like Warren getting his entire church together in a baseball stadium (complete with hot dog vendors) and then hamming it up in front of tens of thousands of people. All of that bugs me--the mixing of commercial and the sacred; the sense that it is just more entertainment; and the huge sense of the "cult of the personality" that people like Warren cultivate and embrace. I don't trust that particular "cult" especially when it comes to religious issues.

But there are aspects here that are intriguing. The sense that (like the Communist party) these huge mega-churches split into smaller cells--small groups of community. Warren facilitates and encourages that. These small groups meet together, pray together, and become very close friends for emotional and spiritual support. I like that idea, but don't like the idea of being directed by a giant ego like Warren to accomplish that.

For all the positives, I am just not sure this is church. They give a lot of money. They raised money to feed the homeless in Orange County for 40 days. That is a good thing. But, like the rest of evangelical Christianity, their theology seems pretty thin and their willingness to address the roots of poverty (beyond some vapid statement that poverty is caused by people's spiritual sickness) is non-existent.

But this caught my eye the most--for obvious reasons. Let me quote extensively:

Not long ago, the sociologist Christian Smith decided to find out what American evangelicals mean when they say that they believe in a "Christian America." The phrase seems to suggest that evangelicals intend to erode the separation of church and state. But when Smith asked a representative sample of evangelicals to explain the meaning of the phrase, the most frequent explanation was that America was founded by people who sought religious liberty and worked to establish religious freedom. The second most frequent explanation offered was that a majority of Americans of earlier generations were sincere Christians, which, as Smith points out, is empirically true. [not sure I buy that. The "majority" of Americans in Colonial America ignored indigenous peoples and overlooks how those "sincere" Christians were enslaving Africans] Others said what they meant by a Christian nation was that the basic laws of American government reflected Christian principles-which sounds potentially theocratic, except that when Smith asked his respondents to specify what they meant by basic laws they came up with representative government and the balance of powers.

"In other words," Smith writes, "the belief that America was once a Christian nation does not necessarily mean a commitment to making it a 'Christian' nation today, whatever that might mean. Some evangelicals do make this connection explicitly. But many discuss America's Christian heritage as a simple fact of history that they are not particularly interested in or optimistic about reclaiming. Further, some evangelicals think America never was a Christian nation; some think it still is; and others think it should not be a Christian nation, whether or not it was so in the past or is now."

As Smith explored one issue after another with the evangelicals-gender equality, education, pluralism, and politics-he found the same scattershot pattern. The Republican Party may have been adept at winning the support of evangelical voters, but that affinity appears to be as much cultural as anything; the Party has learned to speak the evangelical language. Scratch the surface, and the appearance of homogeneity and ideological consistency disappears. Evangelicals want children to have the right to pray in school, for example, and they vote for conservative Republicans who support that right. But what do they mean by prayer? The New Testament's most left-liberal text, the Lord's Prayer-which, it should be pointed out, begins with a call for utopian social restructuring ("Thy will be done, On earth as it is in Heaven"), then welfare relief ("Give us this day our daily bread"), and then income redistribution ("Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors"). The evangelical movement isn't a movement, if you take movements to be characterized by a coherent philosophy, and that's hardly surprising when you think of the role that small groups have come to play in the evangelical religious experience. The answers that Smith got to his questions are the kind of answers you would expect from people who think most deeply about their faith and its implications on Tuesday night, or Wednesday, with five or six of their closest friends, and not Sunday morning, in the controlling hands of a pastor.

Interesting. This does suggest that many people follow Bush because he speaks the code, but does not explain why they continue to follow him. And, I must say, I am not sure I buy that these answers reflect deep thinking. If studying the socially radical NT as much as these people do doesn't call you to at least question capitalism, then I don't see much depth. That it calls them to have concern for their fellow humans? I like that. And I respect that these people are dedicated to their church--hell, they are willing to pay a lot to have a giant church that looks like a college campus. But I am just not sure that is church.

November 24, 2005


Today we give thanks for all that we have. We all know how fortunate we are in a world of hunger and pain. "Thanks" does not seem to cut it. We are lucky and fortunate to be where we are.

November 21, 2005

Well, what do you know?

I am not sure about his motivation here, especially since his VP has continued to pillory opponents, but I am glad to see this:

"People should feel comfortable about expressing their opinions about Iraq," the president said. "I heard somebody say, well, maybe so-and-so is not patriotic because they disagree with my position. I totally reject that thought. This is not an issue of who's [a] patriot and who's not patriotic. It's an issue of an honest, open debate about the way forward in Iraq."

November 19, 2005

Nice moment

This tickled me. Sitting around with SOF listening to music. looked over and she was singing along to Wilco's "Shot in the Arm." Singing with great relish, I might add.

If you knew her when her music tastes were not nearly this good....

Anyway, it makes for a nice evening.


Watching the news lately is hard stuff. Cutting taxes and cutting programs for the poor. Then John Murtha calls for our withdrawal from Iraq. I am not sure he is right. In fact, I fear that Bob Kerrey has it right when he says that if we do that we communicate to our enemies that we are a paper tiger. But Murtha is no coward, and is articulating what a lot of people think.

But nothing bothers me more than the Republican response. People who used to support military veterans now just simply denounce a man who fought in the Korean and Vietnam conflict, was awarded a Bronze star and earned Purple Hearts. This man is hardly a coward and Republicans who say that should be ashamed. Especially since not one of them actually served. This has all the earmarks of a Rovian move. People disagree with you? Call them cowards or unpatriotic. Say that they don't support the troops. Shame. Shame.

I was taught to respect people who served. I still do. I have had some very difficult conversations with veterans about policy, but I have never doubted their patriotism or dedication to country. And I have always tried to communicate that to them. I don't really know if I have it in me to serve in the military.

But when I see a Republican like Dick Cheney belittle liberals like Murtha, I wince. When I see a congresswoman like Jean Smith call Murtha coward, I feel a little sick. I think of all those conservatives I respect--who know better. I wonder if they listen to Smith and Cheney and agree or if it bothers them. I hope it bothers them. It sure as hell bothers me.

November 18, 2005

Someone else doesn't care for Cheney

Representative John Murtha, unlike Dick Cheney served in two wars and is a decorated retired Marine, had this to say about our Vice President:

"I like guys who've never been there that criticize us who've been there. I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."

Moral values indeed

During a coffee run this morning, SOF and I heard this story on the budget bill. We have cut taxes on the rich and cut programs for the poor. Evidently, just as Jesus would have done. NPR reports that conservatives are still pushing for more tax cuts. Meanwhile Republicans,feigning fiscal responsibility, have made it harder for people to afford college, participate in foster care, or get access to food stamps and school lunches.

"Name just one religion in the world that preaches the value of asking the most of those who have the least and asking nothing of those who have the most," said Chet Edwards, D-Texas. "Sadly, that is what this budget does."

Exactly. This bill shows where American priorities are right now. Nevermind the man behind the curtain. Nevermind the VP's charges that liberals are unamerican. Nevermind that this Republican House, Senate and White House have created this massive deficit. Now it is time for the least of these to carry the burden, and for the Martha Stewart's and Halliburton executives to get more and more.

WWJD? Evidently, this Jesus would have never fed the 5,000--he would have excoriated them for not working hard enough. His Sermon on the Mount would have exemplified the rich and how much they do for our society.

To say the least, this is not a Jesus I recognize.

November 17, 2005

The death of outrage

I don't like Bill Bennett and find him smug and annoying. But his title works--just not in the way he meant. As I recall, his anger was that Americans were not outraged by the Lewinsky scandal. Mine is that the American people can listen to George Bush or Dick Cheney and not wretch. Consider from Cheney:

American soldiers and marines are out there every day in dangerous conditions and desert temperatures - conducting raids, training Iraqi forces, countering attacks, seizing weapons, and capturing killers - and back home a few opportunists are suggesting they were sent into battle for a lie.

This from the guy who had "better things to do" than serve in VN. At one time, Republicans and conservatives would have found that reprehensible--for someone who had never served to use our service people as a political weapon. No more.

November 16, 2005

Something positive

Yeah, I am tired of being angry too. Colson and Bush do that to me.

I decided to treat myself yesterday. After doing yoga again Monday morning and waiting in line to get my flu shot yesterday, I decided to make a Border's new music run. I have been waiting for this cd for a few months now. I am a huge Wilco fan and this live disk is great.

SOF and I were discussing live cds the other day. Some have too much talking. Patty Griffin's live cd has some great music, but way too much talking, and talking that is connected to the tracks so you can't skip them or delete them off the Ipod. Steve Earle's live cd at least separates them out. Others have bad sound or really miss the magic of a live performance.

Wilco's live cd is good. Another great version of "Handshake Drugs," and I really like "Hummingbird." How great is that opening line? "His goal in life was to be an echo."

Great cd and a nice pick-me-up for a tough week.

A few more angry notes

Thanks to those who commented on my Chuck Colson post. They brought up several aspects of our moral crisis. Speaking of that, I read this morning a litany of how Dick Cheney has consistently lied about, well, everything from oil companies lobbying his "energy policy" to the role Saddam played in 9-11. Interesting that while the conservative Christian community brands Bush one of their own, they all seem to just look the other way when talking about Cheney. No one claims he is a man of faith.


Reading blogs this morning, I found this little gem on Shaun's blog:

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) strongly criticized yesterday the White House's new line of attack against critics of its Iraq policy, saying that "the Bush administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them."

Says a lot about where our political dialogue is that I am really, really starting to like Hagel. I am sure that we disagree on a great many policy issues, but at least he recognizes the Rovian tactics of this administration are harmful. As Bob Kerrey said the other night on Stephen Colbert's show, the President could have come out and said (on Veterans day) that he made some mistakes, but they were honest mistakes. He could have said that the intelligence was wrong, and he knows that now--that he still believes that taking Saddam out was the right move. He could have urged all Americans to rally behind his effort and acknowledge how angry so many people were. Instead, he applied the Rove bible and attacked his critics as unamerican. Shame.

November 15, 2005

Oops, I did it again

Driving around town today, I found myself listening to Christian radio. I was bored. It was on. The subject for Talk of the Nation was interest rates. So, I flip over to hear Chuck Colson casually lay the blame for the French riots on the fact that the European union has excluded Christianity from its constitution. Well, to be fair, he says that Europe is post-Christian and therefore lacks any moral fiber. In fact, he said that Europe was experiencing a "moral and spiritual crisis."

Don't get me wrong, I see much wrong with Europe. As a French national admitted recently, their social welfare system may well discourage people from pursuing meaningful work. As international partners, they neglected ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, and have been slow to respond to some of the threats in the Middle East.

But that doesn't mean that some nitwit like Colson is correct to belittle Europe for their moral values. They have lower rates of many of the social ills that we lament. Remember this little study? "“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies."

But more important, at least for me, their government leadership has not been accused (credibly) of distorting evidence and intelligence to justify war. Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan and others noted that we have discovered electronic evidence of Iran's nuclear (sorry, "nukular") program only to find that our European allies are not convinced that it hasn't been faked.

And of course, remember that our supposed Christian President has defended torture. Given the religious right's nod for power and own problem with moral relativism, I think it is ridiculous to claim the moral high ground. We lost that the moment we reelected George W. Bush.

Ok, no more Christian radio for me. Promise.

November 11, 2005


Thinking more about music today, I am reminded of how much I love good writing. Reading this blog you may not know that. Much of what I write is quick and angry. That is fine with a blog, but it doesn't mean I don't appreciate a well turned phrase.

The other day, Anglican and I had lunch and we mentioned a poet. I don't remember the context, but it reminded me of our approach to language. I doubt that many of us listen to poets. As the Wilco song puts it: "I wonder why we listen to poets, when nobody gives a fuck" (Ashes of American Flags, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot). Or in Poor Places: "He takes all his words from the books, that you don't read anyway."

Or we do and just don't call them poets. I have tried my hand at songwriting lately. It is hard, much harder than it looks. Not to write a song--that isn't that hard. But to do it well? That is a different story. My one completed song (SOF has heard it) is just fair. I am not happy with it.

But I really enjoy listening to good songs. Some work because the melody is so good and you overlook the lyrics. Or the vocal is so strong that other weaknesses just don't matter. Kasey Chambers and Kathleen Edwards both have that kind of voice--can make a mediocre song really good.

But then you hear a song that combines both--strong and interesting lyrics with compelling music. Those are the songs that remain in your playlist. Musical phrases that seem to always grab me. A little rhythm riff, or mandolin filler. A turn of phrase that always keeps me coming back.


While putting together my playlist yesterday, I missed one song that has really caught me lately. Sufjan Stevens has a very interesting style, and his "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." is one of the more haunting and compelling songs I have ever heard.
"Twenty-seven people, even more
They were boys with their cars, summer jobs
Oh my God

When he hits "Oh my God." Wow. How can a song about a serial killer be so good?

But many great songs have been written about bad people and tragic events. Bruce Springsteen's "Johnny 99" comes to mind.
He came home too drunk from mixin' tanqueray and wine
He got a gun shot a night clerk now they call him johnny 99

Or his "Nebraska."
From the town of lincoln nebraska with a sawed-off .410 on my lap
Through to the badlands of wyoming I killed everything in my path

Or Robbie Fulks' equally haunting "Cold Statesville Ground"
Heed well the tale of William Hayes
Born 35 years ago, and he'll hang today.

I don't know what it is. Perhaps evil is hard for us to understand and these poets can help us. Our artists explain a lot for us.

Friday music

A few of my Ipod's most played songs:

  • Wake up, Arcade Fire
  • The One I Love, David Gray
  • Haiti, Arcade Fire
  • Rebellion (lies), Arcade Fire
  • The Hardest Part, Ryan Adams
  • Handshake Drugs (live), Wilco,
  • The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine, Spoon
  • Be True, Carrie Newcomer
  • Back in Love, Jerry Douglas
  • Hard Way to Fall, Ryan Adams
  • Lost and Found, Kasey Chambers
  • Democrats and faith

    Listening to NPR this morning, we heard this story on Tim Kaine's successful campaign in Virginia. Even though he is a Catholic democrat, he took out ads on Christian radio, and according to all observers, was able to convince Virginia voters that his faith was an important and valued part of his life. The rest of the story told how Democrats everywhere are trying to figure out how to address this, because most of them believe that they can't just cede the religious vote to the right.

    On one hand, I agree with that. I agree with Howard Dean and Jim Wallis that democratic issues are moral issues. Budgets and the environment and how we take care of the poor are all moral issues.

    But I wonder about Democrats trying to learn how to speak the language of faith. I am still angry that conservative christians have made religious faith a requirement for their political support. I oppose this for many reasons, including the fact that the constitution bans such religious litmus tests, but also because I think the recent past shows just how bad conservative christians are at discerning the faith of their religious leaders.

    After all, if you still defend Tom Delay as a good christian man (as Dobson and most members of the religious right have) then you show just how little you really care about the faith of Christianity, and instead how much you value the faith of the Republican party. SOF made that point this morning, and I think it is a good one. If your faith is in conservatism, then you really don't expect Delay to treat people with compassion or love--especially if his enemies are liberals and democrats.

    Religious faith isn't just another marketing demographic to sell t-shirts and bad Mel Gibson movies. It isn't just another wedge issue to divide people. It is an important part of many American's lives. And politicians, with the help of religious conservatives, are cheapening and using that.

    I understand why the Democrats are doing this, but I would prefer something else. I would prefer politicians who are honest with the people and say, "you want good governance more than you want a televangelist in office. You want people who will make good policy and will act with integrity and compassion and justice. You want people who will treat their friends well and their political enemies with dignity and respect. It shouldn't matter to you if I read the Bible or not--go to church or not." That is what I would like.

    Instead we have Tom Delay and George Bush and their supposed faith. As liberals, we must do better than that.

    November 10, 2005

    Streak does the Yoga

    That's right. Today I attended a Yoga class. I met the instructor at a discussion last week (her husband teaches on campus). I have been experiencing some back pain--inconvenient and annoying, but not really that painful or dehibilitating. But nevertheless, I would like to be in better shape. She recommended Yoga and I thought I would try.

    I am not sure what I expected, but it wasn't that. It was a hard workout that pressed me to the limit. I don't understand how hard it is to remember to breathe, but I needed the constant reminding.

    I enjoyed it, but am typing this blog tonight assuming that my sore muscles will be angry with me tomorrow. I stretched things I didn't know existed. I was the only man in the room, but the 5 other women were very patient and kind to me. I have never been very flexible (even in my gynmastic years) and so this should be interesting.

    If I keep it up, I might actually get some flexibility and a healthier back. Now, if I can only figure out how to tie my shoes......

    Pat Robertson--He isn't just an advocate of murder, he is an idiot

    Remember when all the religious right people patted themselves on the back for rebuking Pat's little fatwah on Hugo Chavez? Well, we shall see if they are as willing now. Pat is now angry that the good people of Dover, PA rejected Intelligent Design in the most recent election.

    Pat not only is mad at them, but he displays his wonderful sense of "theology" in deciding that their vote was not just about education or about science, but was a rejection of God himself! Wow, evidently, if you vote like Pat, you vote for God, ergo God agrees with Pat, ergo do what Pat says and you do what God says. Whatever.

    Anyway, he warned Dover that if they ever need help from God in the future, he won't be there because they just voted him out. Why is it that cities never attrack God's wrath or the removal of his "covering" if they neglect the poor or have racial injustice or environmental disaster?

    In his own, stupid, stupid words:

    I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover. If there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city. And don’t wonder why He hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I’m not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that’s the case, don’t ask for His help because he might not be there.

    This Intelligent Design passing as science is one of the signs our education system is in trouble. The fact that an idiot like this has the following he does is more proof and more troubling.

    November 8, 2005

    RLP on depression

    Those of you who don't read the Real Live Preacher (and you know who you are) miss out. Here he talks about his own depression and how it feels.

    November 7, 2005


    Today our President said firmly that "We do not torture," even as his VP lobbied against the McCain anti-torture bill.

    America has long been a beacon. Sometimes not a good one, but we have certainly seen ourselves as a "City upon a Hill," and prided ourselves on our human rights record. Now....

    Let's list the things that America can no longer lecture the world:

  • Poverty (post Katrina)

  • Disaster response (post Katrina)

  • Preemptive invasion

  • Gulags

  • Torture (oops, that one used to be a given)

    Torture. Think about that last one. Our government can no longer, with a straight face, lecture states that have used torture as an interrogation device. We used to chide them. But now... Thanks Dick. Thanks W.
  • November 4, 2005

    Auto shop and physics

    Had a funny and frustrating experience at the auto parts store. The frustrating part was that the headlight in my 13 year old pickup went out. I bought the replacement and then found out (in my 13 year old, and shredded manual) that to replace my headlight, I had to remove the entire front grill. That did not make me happy. Those things are a) held on by little clips that require 6 or 7 arms and the same number of long screwdrivers, and b) little clips that break easily (perhaps especially after 13 years). Suffice to say there was some swearing and throwing of some things.

    After all that, the headlight didn't work anyway, so I had to go to my mando lesson on my bike. Got a few looks, I can tell you.

    But back to the auto shop. The young man who helped me find the headlamp that ended up NOT solving my problem was very nice and helpful. While I was checking out, the person behind me asked about those battery-free flashlights--you know, the ones you shake.

    As it turned out, the auto parts store didn't carry those, which the store employee pointed out. The older gentlemen asked what they were, and the guy behind the desk said, "they utilize Faraday's law of induction. And Led lights."

    He is right, I know. But it seemed above the people behind me. And me. I knew what he meant only because I have one of those lights. And the shaking motion cleared it up.

    November 2, 2005

    this particular Baptist makes me proud

    After the Florida Baptists showed their stupidity, how nice to turn on the television this morning and see former President Jimmy Carter talking about values. It is in vogue among Republicans to mock Carter, and unfortunately also among religious conservatives. The man who did his best to govern with a strong and deep sense of moral and religious values is now not respected by religious conservatives. You tell me, would you rather received the counsel of the likes of James Dobson and Jerry Falwell or Jimmy Carter?

    Often called the best "ex-President" in American history (perhaps JQ Adams might challenge) Carter has lived his faith. He has tried to bring peace to war, and solutions to gridlock. He has been concerned with the environment, the poor, the needy--in other words, all the issues that religious conservatives have ignored in their grasp for power.

    Call me what you will, but I will stand with the likes of Jimmy Carter and be proud.

    Grownup Republican?

    W/ a nod to Sean at Upper Left, this quote: "'I was part of that wild and crazy Class of '94 that shook the political landscape by taking over the House after more than 50 years of unfettered Democrat control. We came to Washington full of ideals and conviction. But sadly, what they say about absolute power is coming to reality in the 2005 GOP Washington. Republicans in just 10 years have developed the arrogance it took the Democrats 30 years to develop.'

    -- Former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK), writing in the Las Vegas Review-Journal."

    November 1, 2005

    Where do you suggest I go?

  • If I am looking for my democracy, where do you suggest I go? To the leadership of the Republican party who uses intimidation and divisiveness to govern?
  • If I am looking for my belief in the goodness of my country, where do you suggest I go? Should I look to the President who hires thugs and traitors?
  • If I am looking for my faith, where do you suggest I go? Should I look to the religious leaders who prioritize gay bashing over feeding the poor? Or who are more concerned about swear words than global warming?
  • And if I am looking to pray, where would you suggest I go? Should I pray to the War God of George Bush? Or can I pray to the Prince of Peace even if he is, like the Geneva Convention, quaint?
  • Just when you think Southern Baptists can not be sillier

    With a hat tip to Mainstream Baptists and Wasp Jerky comes this ridiculous story about Floridian Southern Baptists who refused to distribute drinking water to hurricane victims because it was in cans from Anheuser-Busch! Right, let's let people go without water because you have "religious" objections to alcohol. Those objections (legitimate about alcohol, btw) would make more sense of Anheuser-Busch was distributing beer to hurricane victims.

    October 29, 2005

    The religious right's reputation? Shot

    Or shorter Religious Right: Remember, WWJD.
  • We don't care about lying and cheating as long as we do it.
  • Support Tom Delay and Karl Rove against godless liberals
  • Torture is fine when we do it.
  • Give us a judge who hates gays and aborters as much as we do or we will pray for your vacancy.
  • Poverty? Cut taxes and shut up!

    As Massachusetts Liberal writes:

    And the questionable morality of the Religious Right has never been more thoroughly exposed. This is a nation fighting a war predicated on a lie (and whose leaders lied to perpetuate that lie). We are a nation where the rift between rich and poor was washed into the open by floodwaters in New Orleans. We are a nation where health care costs are soaring and its elected officials seek to balance the budget by cutting food stamps and health care benefits for the very people washed out of their homes.


    The moral leadership exemplified by James Dobson and Pat Robertson and their ilk has said not one word about the carnage in Iraq (a war Islam certainly sees as a religious one). They have been silent about the lies upon which our leaders based this crusade and the are silent still about the lies used to hide the fact that the amoral Bush administration would risk the life of a CIA agent to win its political fight.
  • Right wing spin

    Watched Bill Maher last night--or part of it anyway. Tony Snow was on to defend the right, and his spin on the Libby indictments was kind of what we expected. He kept saying things like he was "indicted for talking to reporters." Luckily, the other guests went after him for that.

    But his other repeated spin was that Joe Wilson had been proven to be a liar, and that Valerie Plame had, in fact, urged that her husband be sent to Niger. Huh?

    Ok, I may not know the details on all of Wilson's veracity, but it strikes me that this is a right wing feint. Say that Wilson is an idiot and a liar. The White House still orchestrated an effort to intimidate and discredit Wilson by outing his wife. Snow said she wasn't really an agent and hadn't been for years. Yet, the memo that circulated on Air Force One clearly identified her as a covert agent. Maybe she shouldn't have been, I don't know, but she was.

    Ultimately none of it matters. The right seems to have forgotten that our behavior is not determined by others. The fact that terrorists like to torture doesn't mean we do. The fact that others might lie and cheat does not make it ok for us. Just more proof that this white house is Christian in name only, and so are their most visible supporters.

    October 28, 2005


    As the news of Scooter's indictment hits, I feel a mix of "I told you so," happiness, and sadness. I did predict that this administration was corrupt. I did warn you that Bush had surrounded himself with immoral and corrupt leaders even as he shrouded himself in Christian speak. And, after the arrogance of this administration, I am glad to see some justice. The same people who talked piously about "the rule of law" when Clinton was impeached for sex now are scrambling to make sense of a man who lied over a war. As the t-shirt says, "When Clinton lied, no one died."

    But I am also saddened. Make no mistake about it. This is a bad day for our democracy. The Chief of Staff for the Vice President lied to numerous people. And he lied to cover up a concerted campaign to use his power to ruin the career of people who dared speak out against this White House. It smacks of arrogance and ruthless leadership. But I am sad. I am sad that we have this kind of leadership. As a neighbor of mine just said, it would be funny if it weren't so deadly serious. A poorly executed invasion, the gutting of our democracy, and many, many dead people.

    Of camels and rich Americanos

    Natalie has not blogged much lately. She has been busy studying abroad and keeping up with her school work. But this essay on global poverty and American responsibility is really good. She calls us "bruised camels." What a great line. Anyway, in her words:

    We Christians in the US have a special challenge when it comes to living a Christlike life. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Let’s face it, we’re rich—although sometimes we may not feel like it. When I was at home the other day, I got to go to Snowhill, where we were reminded again and again of our wealth. If we condensed the world down to 100 people, one would have a college education, and one out of the 100 would have a computer! So we’re bruised camels, trying to figure out what to do with ourselves. At least that’s what I’m going through right now.

    October 26, 2005

    Well, what do you know?

    Remember Bush's decision to remove wage protection from workers rebuilding the Gulf Coast? Well, the Bush administration--that's right, the Bush administration has decided to reverse itself. Representative George Miller writes:

    It was announced today that the President will overturn his Gulf Coast wage cut on November 8. This was a direct result of intense pressure from Democrats and labor and religious leaders.

    Every single House Democrat has been on record since September in opposition to the President's wage cut. I recently wrote on this site about an unprecedented Joint Resolution I introduced last week that would have forced a vote in Congress to overturn the President's wage cut. That vote would have had to happen - you guessed it - not later than the week of November 7. With the support of every House Democrat and 37 House Republicans, we would have won that vote. Boxed in by that embarrassing scenario, the White House chose to reverse itself.

    GOP acts on budget--Just like Jesus would do, right?

    Planned GOP Budget Cuts Target Programs Such as Foster Care "Republicans began targeting key programs for budget cuts yesterday, from student loans and health care to food stamps and foster care. But the tough measures immediately drew staunch opposition from anti-poverty groups, businesses and moderate Republicans."

    I keep noting that there are Grownup Republicans and Grownup Christian conservatives. They need to stand up.

    October 24, 2005

    One more comment for tonight

    I am tired of the political blogging. If you can watch this president at this time--torture defending, war hawking, crony hiring, etc.--and still see him as a good Christian or even good President, then I don't know what to say.

    But on the way home, I listened to NPR, and heard this story on the National parks and their effort to attract private donations. Some congressman said that it needed to happen. After all, the government couldn't afford it, so the private sector would have to be recruited.

    Reminds me of what we have been saying all along. Cut taxes, expand the debt and then shrug about some government expenditure. "Environmental cleanup? Love to, but we don't have any money." "National parks as national legacy? Love to, but see we spent all this money on Halliburton and invading Iraq--to say nothing of the tax breaks for the hard working people at Enron. Can't afford it, sorry. Have to sell Old Faithful to Shell Oil."

    The Republicans really, really suck.

    RIP: An American Hero

    ABC News: Civil Rights Pioneer Rosa Parks Dead at Age 92

    October 21, 2005

    Thinking about evolution

    I was reading about the original monkey trial the other day. What a ride that trial must have been. A couple of points, however, on the difference between the opposition to evolution then, and the opposition now.

    William Jennings Bryan was one of the most vocal anti-evolutionists of his time, and one of the most articulate men of that period. But we forget, sometimes, that he opposed evolution for multiple reasons. Yes, one was that it contradicted a literal Bible. (We should note, here, that Bryan and most mainstream Protestants of his time did not believe in a Young Earth or even in a literal 7 day creation. In fact, that view was predominately held by Seventh Day Adventists.) But Bryan also opposed evolution because he feared that it was a justification for war (survival of the fittest) and Bryan was a strong peace advocate. Third, he knew that Social Darwinism had been used to oppose serious economic reforms, and he feared that trend would continue.

    Look how far we have come. The opposition to evolution is still, in many ways, as uninformed as it was in Bryan's day (evolution is just a theory). But the conservative church has lost the opposition to war and the push for social and economic justice. The contemporary opposition to evolution just sounds stubborn and self-centered.

    October 18, 2005

    So last night, we venture out to eat

    It was SOF's birthday, so we went to the Outback Steak House for the blooming onion and assorted other features. While we were there, a few minor events happened that were blogworthy (at least in my mind). One annoying, and one cute.

    For the annoying, let me set the scene. Anyone who has eaten at Outback (or any other big chain restaurant, for that matter) knows that they are loud and approaching louder. No baffling on the ceilings or walls--I guess they want the place to always sound full. Anyway, we are in our booth, enjoying the deep fried onion (or whatever the hell it is) and the woman behind SOF receives a call on her cell. No big deal, it is a common occurrence now days. Hell, later that meal, SOF got a birthday call on hers. But back to the woman in the booth. Again, remembering that it is loud, this woman cranks up her own (quite impressive) volume and starts to share her phone conversation with everyone around her. Especially us. Imagine how loud she had to be to disrupt us and the people around us.

    So, SOF stands up on her seat, faces the woman and says very firmly, "if you don't quiet down, that cell phone will be your desert!"

    No she didn't. She threw our blooming onion at her. No, she didn't. Actually, she turned around and asked her nicely to tone it down. I do believe the woman was shocked. How dare we interrupt her private phone conversation like that?


    Now for the better story. Or at least the one I like better. Our waitress was quite nice and she was breaking in a trainee named Chris. Nice guy. She had him trained well to crouch down at our table to take our orders. I understand given how loud it is, but it must take a toll on their quads by the end of the night. I ordered the ribs or something, and they came with "Aussie chips." Evidently those are fries, but they have to call them "Aussie chips," even though people like me ask what the hell are "Aussie chips?"

    Given the blooming onion and salads, I couldn't finish my ribs, so we asked for a box. While Chris was fixing our "togo plate" for us, she asked if I wanted any of my "ff, er Aussie Chips?"

    I grinned and said, "You are required to call them that, aren't you?" She smiled and nodded. I asked if she called them that when she ate at other restaurants. She said no, but that she did have a habit of calling out "corner" (as they are trained at Outback so they don't run into each other) when she shops at Walmart. She said she gets a lot of funny looks.

    Ok, let's review

    Bush cuts taxes originally because we had a surplus. Then 9-11 happened, and he cuts taxes because the country was sinking into a deficit and the economy is threatened. Now we have a 200 billion dollar war (Bush's war, btw) and another 100-200 billion rebuilding in the Gulf Coast. What is the response?

    Well, glad you asked. Republicans are evidently split about how to cut spending, but all agree we have to cut spending. Fine. But those cuts seem to be aimed at the poor.

    The tension between moderate and conservative Republicans has been on display in the Finance Committee, where Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who heads the panel, is trying to negotiate an approach to satisfy the two factions by balancing $10 billion in cuts between Medicare and Medicaid.

    At the White House, the spokesman, Scott McClellan, encouraged Congress to act on extending tax cuts enacted for President Bush and paring spending.

    "It's important to keep the tax cuts in place, because that keeps our economy growing," Mr. McClellan said.

    Nice. Nice to know where Republican priorities are.

    October 17, 2005

    Light blogging

    Obviously. I have been a little distracted with work, and am working on a home improvement project as well. That's right, I am building a deck my very own self--for good or for ill. And those "friends" of mine who knew my intentions and did nothing to stop me will hear from me very soon. Friends Don't Let Friends Build Decks--especially when they have the carpentry experience that I do.

    Oh well. I hope to have it finished soon and will post some pictures. Until then, the tools and expletives will fly!

    October 13, 2005

    This is not good. And it is very related to this creation stuff. Wouldn't that be ironic? American Christians who think that God has blessed our country because of our wealth and technology undermining the very science that creates much of that?

    October 12, 2005

    Oh this is just too much!

    Thanks to CIL, we have a story about a creation "science" person debating a philosophy professor at the University of Wyoming. Read the entire story for the full "debate," but a couple of things caught my eye--mostly for their total lack of logic or sense. My favorite was Hovind's (the Creationist) call for us to exercise our common sense, as we only see "dogs give birth to dogs." This, I believe, is supposed to rebut cross-species evolution, but assumes that such cross-species evolution might just happen.... overnight. One day your dog is giving birth and after a few puppies come out---whoa, that looks like a duck.

    But my other favorite was the faulty reasoning for why teaching evolution is bad:

    "Hovind believes that if you teach schoolchildren that they evolved from apes, they will start acting like them. He thinks drug use, sexually transmitted diseases and an increased crime rate among teens is partly based on the exclusive teaching of evolution. When Griesmaier countered that European countries have a lower violent crime rate and a lower rate of church attendance than the United States, Hovind took issue with the countries (which included England, France, and the Netherlands) in his opponent's example.

    "Those decreased murder rates were all from countries with socialistic governments and total gun control," said Hovind. "I'll take my gun, thank you."

    Hmm. Evidently when prudent gun control actually leads to reduced crime, that is a bad thing. And, of course, Hovind ignores that these supposedly socialist countries teach evolution. Wouldn't, under his logic, the bad crime and kids "acting like apes" happen regardless of the gun control laws?

    The other part that I wish Griesmaer would have brought out is that countries that are more attuned to science and teach science to their students have less of the other kinds of social ills that Hovind could not blame on socialism or gun control. Fewer abortions, stds, etc.

    Oh well.

    Harriet Miers as church/state test

    This Miers' nomination is a puzzler. Democrats and liberals like myself find themselves wondering what to do. Do we oppose this nomination? Certainly on the merits she seems way out of her league, and having had a President who is out of his league seems enough. Say what we will about John Roberts, the man seems to have been genetically made in a laboratory to fit exactly a Supreme Court justice. Miers seems like a nice person and decent lawyer, but hardly equipped to address the huge constitutional issues of our day. Neither am I, of course, but then again, I wasn't nominated.

    But do liberals oppose this nomination and risk what is behind door number 2? A Patricia Owens would be someone certainly qualified, but in my estimation, a horrible jurist. I actually think that Al Gonzales would be a decent judge--but then again, there is his entire support of Bush's torture policy.

    Evidently the Bush is annoyed that his base is weakening. Part of that is understandable. Part of that--well, I don't care. About time that the base learned what the rest of us have known from day one. This is a very arrogant and insular man. He doesn't like his choices being challenged--perhaps a product of being a spoiled rich kid. Perhaps it is constantly telling him that he was God's choice for President. People don't usually question God's choice.

    In any case, the Prez is pissed off and trying to assure the wingbat section of his party (though it is odd, the battiest people--Dobson and Robertson are on board) that Harriet is a good choice. Today, he assured people that Harriet Miers is a good Christian.

    Fine. Whatever. But is this really a good step for our public policy? The same Prez who assured us there is no litmus test, now says that her faith is the reason to support her? So she has faith. I have no problem with that. It relates to her qualifications about as much as the silly comments people make about her appearance. Bush is supposedly a man of faith (though that is still in doubt in my mind) but is still one of, if not THE, worst presidents in our history. She could be a very nice person. She could be a great person of faith--a virtual "prayer warrior" (whatever that means), but that doesn't mean she will make a good SC justice. And if her base supports her for that reason, then I think they really don't understand this country's history very well.