December 31, 2006

The good

I didn't really want to talk about the good while discussing the other. But we went to that store to shop for a practice amplifier. See, Streak has decided to go electric and is now trying his skills on a Telecaster, which of course, requires amplification.

So far, so good. Still a lot to learn about the fretboard, but I do love this guitar.

Yesterday--good and bad

Yesterday, SOF and I went to our favorite little guitar shop.

So we are shopping while these two Oklahoma residents are discussing football. I engage, noting that one of them is wearing an Oklahoma State shirt, and try to keep my vocabulary short and simple. (Just a joke). I mention that OSU pulled out their bowl game. All nice and polite.

Well, our Oklahoma resident decided to talk about Saddam's demise, saying that he had tuned in to see if they had "stretched his neck yet." We just ignored as much as we could and got out of the store as quickly as possible. The simplistic "good v. evil" that Bush and his people have sold us is ultimately hard to sustain. True, Saddam was evil. But it is much harder to find the good in this story. Iraq is a catastrophe, and the future is grim. Saddam's execution will actually lead (and has led) to more violence in the short term. It is hard to imagine that will change anytime soon.

Thinking about it later, there are many things about our music store experience that bothered me. I have no doubt that Saddam was just as bad as people said. I have no doubt that if anyone deserved this ending, he does. But people enjoying this bothers me. It bothers me when trolls and others smugly talk about ending life--about executing "scum" or whatever. There is a bloodthirsty side to the pro-death penalty side that really bothers me--especially when it comes from religious people. I imagine there were many who enjoyed Jesus' crucifixion.

Those two would do the same if the execution was for a convenience store robber as they did for a genocidal tyrant. That doesn't seem right. If we are going to execute people, we shouldn't enjoy it.

One of the problems with this approach is the levels of separation between killing and culpability. Of course, it is very simple to assign guilt to the robber who pulls the trigger--and of course they are guilty. Likewise, deciding that Saddam is a genocidal maniac is quite simple as well. But they aren't the only people who kill. Many, many people make decisions that lead to destruction, but their complicity is less direct. It isn't less destructive, just less simple.

The death penalty, however, is a simplistic response to a complex world. It doesn't deter crime, nor does it provide closure. It simply continues the killing to show that we think killing is wrong. Sigh.

December 30, 2006


I include the Faithful Progressive's thoughts below because they are quite good. When I heard about the execution, I felt sadness. Certainly not for Saddam, though the thought of executions leaves me cold. Certainly, if anyone deserved it, he did. But ultimately, I felt the sadness of the lie that violence can stop violence. The bumper sticker on my truck is the Ghandi quote, "And eye for an eye and soon the whole world is blind."

I am not naive. I understand that wars happen, and as my niece pointed out over the weekend, world peace is a pipe dream. But I prefer to believe that moving toward that ideal is a good goal.

His death will not make the world any safer nor will it make it any better. He was an evil man, I don't doubt, and I feel for the victims of his capricious and vicious tyranny. But his execution will not undo any of the tragedy.

Marty notes this post by Baghdad Burning on the event. Worth a look, if you are interested in a view from someone in Iraq.

Faithful Progressive's take:
Saddam Hussein has apparently been executed. Hard to feel much joy or remorse over this turn of events. If anyone ever deserved to die brutally by hanging, Saddam was the one. His evil spirit towered over Iraq like the enormous statues that testified to his delusional fantasies of his place in his history, his seemingly limitless and cruel meglomania.

While it is easy to remember his many crimes, it is also important to remember US complicity in some of his greatest acts of evil. President Ronald Reagan supported the bloody invasion of Iran with both intelligence and economic aid. Later, the first President Bush and General Schwarzkopf allowed Iraq to fly helicopters that enabled Saddam "to massacre thousands of largely unarmed Kurds and Shi'ites."

Though he goes farther than I would in calling the Bush Administration war criminals, Robert Fisk makes an important point here: Who encouraged Saddam to invade Iran in 1980, which was the greatest war crime he has committed for it led to the deaths of a million and a half souls? And who sold him the components for the chemical weapons with which he drenched Iran and the Kurds? We did. No wonder the Americans, who controlled Saddam's weird trial, forbad any mention of this, his most obscene atrocity, in the charges against him. Could he not have been handed over to the Iranians for sentencing for this massive war crime? Of course not. Because that would also expose our culpability.

There will be no trials other than the judgement of history on the greatest crimes of Saddam Hussein and those who aided and enabled him. And this is no accident.

If anyone deserves to die this brutal death, it is this man who sent so many others to similar deaths. But as one who professes to be a Christian, I would leave such judgements to God.

December 29, 2006

Do Republicans want good government?

Evidently some do. (H/T Melissa Rogers)
As antigovernment conservatives seek to purify the Republican Party, it is reasonable to ask if the purest among them are conservatives at all. The combination of disdain for government, a reflexive preference for markets and an unbalanced emphasis on individual choice is usually called libertarianism. The old conservatives had some concerns about that creed, which Russell Kirk called "an ideology of universal selfishness." Conservatives have generally taught that the health of society is determined by the health of institutions: families, neighborhoods, schools, congregations. Unfettered individualism can loosen those bonds, while government can act to strengthen them. By this standard, good public policies—from incentives to charitable giving, to imposing minimal standards on inner-city schools—are not apostasy; they are a thoroughly orthodox, conservative commitment to the common good.

Campaigning on the size of government in 2008, while opponents talk about health care, education and poverty, will seem, and be, procedural, small-minded, cold and uninspired. The moral stakes are even higher. What does antigovernment conservatism offer to inner-city neighborhoods where violence is common and families are rare? Nothing. What achievement would it contribute to racial healing and the unity of our country? No achievement at all. Anti-government conservatism turns out to be a strange kind of idealism—an idealism that strangles mercy.

The politics of extremism

Many political scientists argue that the American people have not moved to the right since the 1970s. The last 10 years has convinced us that conservatives are winning--that conservative ideas on sex and regulation are the dominant ideas. And there is reason to believe that, given the electoral support for George Bush even after his incompetence. You might think that most Americans oppose contraception, are opposed to environmental regulation, and believe that science is undermining our society.

But the American people disagree.
Over 90% of American women will use contraception at some point in their lives (most of them, ostensibly, with the support of their male partners). A National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association study done last spring found that even 80% of anti-choice Americans support giving women access to contraception. Likewise, 70% of Americans consider themselves environmentalists; and 88% think global warming poses a serious future threat. Two-thirds of us think the government should support stem-cell research. The election showed that most of us had had about enough of the GOP's devotion to charity for the upper classes only. And now, this week, it's being reported that 95% of all Americans engage in premarital sex, and have been doing so rather robustly for several generations now.
I think that most Americans assume that the 50s television actually portrays historical trends, when that decade was actually anomalous. Every major trend reversed in the 50s for a brief time. Age of marriage went down, as did divorce rates, while fertility rose. But the trends were going the other way since the 1890s for most of them. Abortion really started to go up around 1850 and despite efforts to criminalize it (successfully at times) continued to rise. Same with pre-marital sex, which continued to rise in occurrence and acceptance from 1900 on.

And, I guess, given that change, I understand why religious conservatives feel out of control. I can see why they are pushing for a more repressed society. But I don't think it is a good take. There is plenty to dialogue about--plenty where we can agree. No one likes abortion and all of us hate the sexualization of the kids. We all want clean water, clean air, and a sustainable environment. But all of those require pragmatism, cooperation and compromise--three notions that the religious right lacks.

December 28, 2006


Back from a whirlwind trip that was very enjoyable though quite intense. Avoided political discussions for the most part, though the topic of Mitt Romney came up--and the fact that he is Mormon was a sticking point. Saw more anti-abortion signs in Kansas (as we always do) along the interstate than in the other states. They were mixed in among the signs pushing the world's largest "prairie dog town" and the "five legged steer."


We listened to the Ipod during the drive so didn't realize until last night that former President Gerald Ford had died. I always had some respect for Ford and thought his bumbling image was unfair. Especially given his grasp of issues--well, compared with the one we have now.

This morning, speaking of that, I read that Ford criticized Bush's Iraq decision:
"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."
He also says that Cheney is far more pugnacious as VP than he was as Chief of Staff.

Now, of course, the Bush defenders will have to decide if Ford was just a "monday morning quarterback" or perhaps one of those "Saddam appeasers."


Speaking of Saddam, I read in the paper yesterday that he will hang within 30 days. I am sure that will solve everything in Iraq and overnight make the world a better place. Oh wait.


During that political conversation, we heard some of the right's talking points. Obama was a "figment of the media's creation" and Hillary was the front runner. I think that is really their hope--because they believe--perhaps incorrectly--that Hillary is easily defeated. Oddly enough not one mention of McCain or anyone beyond Romney.

I cracked a joke and changed the subject. No dummy, this one. :)

Glad to be back.

December 23, 2006

Light blogging

We will be on the road for a few days to see family. Hope everyone has a great Christmas!

Global Gag Rule

From Melissa Rogers, this reminder that some of our anti-abortion policies have unintended consequences. Like more abortions.
One might assume that the United States, which sends more than $200 million in aid to Ethiopia each year, is in a position to help. Not so. Thanks to restrictions put in place by both the Bush administration and anti-abortion Republicans in Congress, most of that aid has been funneled away from family-planning organizations, forcing health clinics to shut down and birth-control supplies to dwindle. "We haven't counted the number of women who got pregnant as a result," one local advocate said.

Even though these restrictions have exacted a deadly toll on women in developing countries--and, ironically, may well increase the abortion rate--they garner relatively little attention, tracked mainly by advocacy groups and the occasional attentive columnist. But the debate over family-planning funds could become one of the major reproductive-rights battles over the next two years: Although pro-choice Democrats in Congress may lack the votes to improve abortion rights at home, the international arena is a different matter, and the first skirmish may come over one of the most notorious Bush-era policies--the so-called "global gag rule".

We have talked about this before, but this is a perfect example of ideology (as I think UBUB pointed out) creating serious problems when it dominates policy.

December 22, 2006

I don't quite get the flag worship

Christmas shopping today, I saw a golf flag that was the American flag. Evidently, you can wipe your dirty clubs and balls on the flag, as long as you don't accidently burn it with your cigar?
Google has added online word processing and spreadsheets to their online services. One of the options is to publish to blogger (owned, of course, by Google) and this is my first try.


Strange bedfellows?

Sekulow endorses Romney
Jay Sekulow, a constitutional lawyer who's argued numerous cases of import to social conservatives before the Supreme Court, has endorsed Romney and will serve as an adviser. Sekulow is chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, although his endorsement does not mean that the organization is partial to Romney. Sekulow is close to Karl Rove and to virtually every conservative judicial luminary in the country.

This is interesting given the historic animosity between evangelical Christians and Mormons.

December 21, 2006

A good one on the WOC

Eric Zorn on Christmas greetings (H/T to UBUB)
When I'm not sure, or when I'm addressing a group, I say, "Happy Holidays."

I don't say this to slight Christmas, but to be polite and sensible. Wishing "Merry Christmas" to someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas is like wishing someone "Happy birthday" when his birthday is six months off --- it's not so much rude as it is weird.

At the same time, however, wishing someone "Happy Holidays" when you have good reason to believe that he celebrates Christmas is also weird.

It comes off as prissy, and, intentionally or not, it carries with it the suggestion that you, the speaker, feel "Christmas" is a word that polite people avoid.

This suggestion, in turn, feeds a fear that modern secular culture is out to remove Christ from the winter holiday season one greeting at a time, if necessary.

I get that. I happen to think the fear is baseless. Observing the Nativity remains the overwhelming reason most Americans celebrate at this time of year, and their freedom to do so is vast. But I see how "Happy Holidays" can sound like a cold dismissal of that observance.

At the same time, I see how "Merry Christmas" as a blanket greeting carries with it the suggestion to the non-Christian that those who don't celebrate Christmas are misfits; oddballs whose strange beliefs don't command even a tip of the verbal cap.

This suggestion, in turn, feeds the fear that the dominant Christian culture secretly longs for a return to the days when religious indoctrination was implicitly woven into many facets of American public life.

I get that too.

But I also get the irony: Two little expressions that most people use simply to extend goodwill and respect are now encumbered with the baggage of suspicion and dread. An appalling 32 percent of retail shoppers in a recent Zogby International poll said they're offended--offended!--when a store clerk, who presumably does not know their faith, greets them with an all-inclusive "Happy Holidays." The nerve! Suggesting a random American might not be a Christian!

When Bigotry trumps National Security

I disagree with my conservative friends about homosexuality, but understand where most are coming from. It is a difficult and complicated topic. I don't understand, however, how the President and his administration can prioritize this issue over keeping us safe. Shakes is annoyed by it as well and takes a shot at it here:
Back in September, The Daily Show’s Jason Jones sat down with Paul Cameron, one of the nation’s leading anti-gay activists, to ask about a defense for the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Specifically, Jones asked about Bleu Copas, a decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist who joined the Army after the 9/11 attacks, but was thrown out for being gay, despite his role in helping translate intercepted messages from possible terrorists.

Cameron said, “I think the country, on the aggregate, is safer without Bleu in the military.” Asked why, Cameron explained, “Guys don’t want to think about other guys, other fellas, ogling them in the shower or whatever.” Jones responded, “I know I’d rather die in a terrorist attack than suffer through an uncomfortable shower with a gay.” Cameron grudgingly responded, "Yes."
Of course, Jason Jones was mocking him, but the point is still valid. If you are struggling to interpret all those messages we are intercepting, wouldn't you want as many translators as possible?

I guess this is the same question I had after reading The Wash Post story on the reconstruction led, not by the best and the brightest, but by those most loyal to Bush. If I were putting my historical legacy on this event, I think I would have sat down my people and said, "I don't care how we make this work, but this will be successful. If you have to hire Chelsea Clinton or Michael Moore to get it done, do it."

You would think that success would be the most important thing. But it isn't.

In a way, I feel sorry for him

Jeb, that is.
"No tengo futuro (I have no future)," Jeb Bush told Spanish-language reporters in Miami, when asked about any possible political ambitions after he steps down next month.

The popular, two-term governor has often been touted as a savvy politician with a good chance of following both his brother and father, George H.W. Bush, into the White House.

But the unpopularity and dismal job-approval ratings of his brother may have scuttled any plans Jeb Bush may have had for a future in politics after running one of America's most crucial swing states for the past eight years.

President has a plan

On the war and the economy. On the war, he wants more troops. Of course, when everyone called for more troops, he said that he listened to his generals. Now his generals are saying more troops won't help. But now Bush is committed to more troops.

He also has a plan for the economy:
On the domestic front, Bush said the U.S. economy was ending the year with "strong gains."
"The recent report on retail sales shows a strong beginning to the holiday shopping season across the country," Bush said. "And I encourage you all to go shopping more."

Even Joe Scarborough says Bush is delusional. Watch the video.

More on the War on Christmas

Tony writes about noted atheist Richard Dawkins' take on Christmas. Very interesting. But here, Tony sums up the entire controversy, or should we call it a "mockoversy:"
It is my conjecture that the war is a fabrication because essentially evangelical Christianity is wholly missing the point regarding the Christmas season. In order to reclaim some kind of spiritual relevance back to the holiday, the war was invented to perpetuate the claim that somehow evangelicals are being robbed of the holiday's significance. If Christmas has been divested of its meaning, it is not because the secularists and non-believers jerked the rug out from under the evangelical conception of the holiday; it is the greedy materialism, lavish programs, and consumer mentality driving it, which Christians shamelessly promote.

The Trouble with Trolls

Since ours visited, my comment numbers have soared, so I should be grateful for that. But discussion is and has always been the goal here. And that obviously is not his purpose in commenting here.

Over at Les's blog, he has said some equally ridiculous things, but you would also read him making almost cogent arguments. Hard to imagine, I know, but true. Which, of course leads me to believe further that he is not genuine. Here, of course, he simply disagrees with everything we say here, which would be fine except he does so without any real content.

Time to cut him loose.

Sunken Treasure

Last night, tired of reruns and the latest reality show, we watched Jeff Tweedy's Sunken Treasure dvd, which is a selection of shows from his Pacific Northwest solo tour. Well, not completely solo tour; he is occassionally joined by Wilco mates Glen Kotche and Nels Cline; but this is primarily Tweedy with his various accoustic guitars playing a wide variety of his songs from Uncle Tupelo, Wilco and I gather, Loose Fur.

As I noted after Mark Erelli's show, the guy with the guitar is the toughest gig to pull off. And Tweedy was singing songs that usually include several electric guitars, keyboard, drum, bass, etc. These are not simple, yet they all worked and worked well. "I am trying to break your heart" was, I think, my favorite, but there were several amazing songs.

Mixed in, of course, with some patter with the crowd. One time, he forgets the lyrics to one of his songs and restarts. Another time, he asks the talkers why they pay money to talk during the concert--a question all of us have wondered. Related to that, he mused on the experience of concert goers--that experience of sharing with other human beings some common experience. That experience, he wondered, might be similar to church--when it works.

I liked that.

I would have liked to hear him play "Handshake Drugs" and would have loved to hear an accoustic version of "Misunderstood," but I really loved this show. Music is good for the soul.

December 20, 2006

Say What Now?

So what then?
In a Washington Post interview on Tuesday, Bush had said of Iraq, "We're not winning, we're not losing."

That was a reversal from his insistence in the weeks before November's U.S. congressional elections that the United States was "absolutely" winning in Iraq.

Blogger upgrade

It finally happened. Since my blog is on the large side, it took a while before they got around to us and then it took all night and much of today to migrate over to the new blogger. I am still playing with the new setup. One casualty appears to be the recent comments, but I am working on it.

Update. Found a new hack for recent comments and finally got it to work. It has the ability to display the first 100 or so characters of the comment itself, but I decided to make it more like the old one. Feel free to comment on the comments in the comments!

December 19, 2006

Hey, let's blame Iraq

Not just Villsack, but looks like this is becoming a common theme in Washington. Let's blame Iraq for us blowing them up, removing their government and army, and now they struggle to avoid chaos.

Saw Jon Stewart take on Bill Kristol. My favorite part was when Kristol defended the war as taking it to them.


K: Yeah, we haven't been attacked since 9-11, so Bush deserves credit.

S: Well, under that logic, Clinton deserves even more credit since we weren't attacked after 93 under his watch.

K: Oh, but there was the attack in Africa and the Cole.

S: So we can add Madrid and London to the mix with Bush?

K: That's because we are in a global war.

Surprised Kristol didn't hurt himself switching courses that fast. He did admit that Cheney was wrong about Rumsfeld (and will undoubtedly get shot in the face) but says that is the only thing he is wrong about. Right. Oh, and Kristol thinks that the War is a disaster and it is our fault--oh, but Cheney has only been wrong about Rumsfeld


Good summation of Bush policy in Iraq

God's Politics - Jim Wallis blog, faith blog, religion, christian, christianity, politics, values:
Jim Wallis: People Will Die Because Bush Won't Listen

More on politics

Caught Villsack on the Daily Show last night. Missed the first part of the show because of MNF, and its implications in my fantasy league. :)

I want to like Villsack, but he really annoyed me last night. This discussion of telling the Iraqi people that "you have become dependent on us and it is time for you to live and die for your country" is stupid and wrong. A) they are already fighting and dying. B) "Dependency" or "addiction"--as Jon Stewart pointed out--is a bizzare idea. As Jon noted, it sounds suspiciously like us saying to Iraq, "Hey, someone blew up your infrastructure, disbanded your military and completely destroyed your government. Time for you to actually do something."

Of course, the situation is so bad that there is really no answer. Thanks to Bush's incompetence, we have a "broken army" (Powell's words), a disintegrating Iraq (some million and a half have just left), and no real answers. We pull out--chaos. We stay there--slightly less chaos and more American soldiers die. Bush appears to be the only one who thinks we are doing fine and will win, even as his wife and other hacks lay the groundwork to blame the media and the American people.


Speaking of that, watched Chris Matthews the other night. The man bugs me big time--as do all the talking heads. But his panel was interesting, and during a discussion on Obama the question of his lack of foreign policy experience came up. Howard Fineman made a great point that Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had more foreign policy experience than anyone and look at the mess they made?

At this point, my bar is incredibly low. Right now, I am willing to accept a President who speaks above a 7th grade level. I am looking for a President who can speak in complete sentences, people!


Speaking of the most inept President in American history, I still think there is a really interesting story behind the scenes that may take time to uncover. I have speculated for years that W has a conflicted relationship with Daddy Bush (GHWB). I suspect that W has always resented Daddy's legitimacy and actual intelligence (and military service, btw) and has curried favor with Barbara. (Hmm, this sounds familiar. Why do I think someone will end up gouging out eyes?)

W uses HW's contacts to get into Yale, out of Nam, and into Harvard MBA, but resents him the whole time. Again, has to turn to Daddy's contacts to bail out a failed oil business. It is very hard to imagine him electable beyond (or at) the local level without that famous last name and huge Christmas list for fundraising.

Flash forward to his presidency, and he chooses Cheney for Veep--someone his father doesn't really trust or like that much. Cheney brings in more anti-HW people like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz.

Daddy never wanted to go into Iraq--and told several people while he was President why that was a horrible idea. He said that it would create chaos and undermine the stability of the entire middle-east. One of HWB's consiglieri--Brent Scowcroft--wrote a strident op-ed trying to get W to back off the war.

And now, of course, after three years, the war is worse than ever and is exactly what Daddy feared. The ISG, filled with Daddy's people, tells W directly that he screwed up horribly.

Here is the interesting part--at least from my view. Somehow one of Daddy's people is now Sec Def and Rummy is out, but W seems to be distancing himself from the rest of the paternalistic rescue, like the ISG report and some kind of exit strategy. Is Sonny throwing a tantrum here?

I hope someday we find out more about the inner workings of this family.

December 18, 2006

but, the liberal media is liberal....

Crooks and Liars ? Newsweek's got a problem: Omits own poll that has Hillary beating McCain : "The "press loves McCain" narrative is made crystal clear by Newsweek when they failed to mention the polling data from their big cover story about Hillary and Obama:" Is America Ready?" Hillary beat McCain and Giuliani in their own internal poll. Wouldn't that have been a huge story? Matthews constantly tells his audience that Giuliani and McCain destroy Hillary in every poll he sees. Early polls don't really very mean much at all, but you can see how the media narrative is being played out already."
Oops. Or maybe it is sadly incompetent.

For the record, I am not a huge Hillary fan. I respect her ability, but don't particularly like her. Of course, she fits a big part of my 2008 requirement--she is smarter than the average park bench, though that bar might be a little low. She can speak in complete sentences, and is smart enough to know the difference between Shia and Sunni.

But she is cold and comes off as some kind of borg. Obama is a breath of fresh air--and threatens to reach into much of the McCain constituency. Except for those who still think McCain is a "straight talker." Right. Like when he bashed Falwell, but then kissed his ass this year at Liberty "University."

Obama comes off as a real person--who is actually interested in complexity and finding solutions. Compared to McCain he is an easy choice.

Tony on the Christmas war

I visited Walmart today, btw (don't ask) and hated the experience so very much. Standing line behind people who bought nothing but TV dinners (or whatever they are called) and endured conversation that made me hearken for a volfan comment.

My checker told everyone "Merry Christmas" as we bought our stuff. So much for the war on Christmas. A friend of mine, btw, said that if he had to listen to another Christmas carol, he was enlisting in the war on Christmas. :)

Tony has two posts on the subject. Here Jerry Falwell opens his fat maw (and he seems to be getting wider and bigger--or maybe that is just his mouth). And here, via wasp jerky the ridiculous "merry christmas" bracelet-as-in-your-face-activism (just as The Christ Child intended). Saw this, btw, on your blog Wasp Jerky, but didn't get around to blogging about it till I saw it on Tony's.

Want to restore respect to Christmas? Buy enough of these bracelets to gag Falwell. I will contribute.

December 17, 2006

The First Lady is just wrong

And shame on her for this whole "media is the problem." When David Brooks says you are wrong, maybe you need to rethink this kind of "blame the messenger."

But she won't. Because the biggest enemy to this administration is not terrorism--it is reality.

Sunday musings

I am behind on my top albums of the year. I will catch up and am actually listening to a couple of recent albums that might make the list--The Be Good Tanyas album is quite impressive.

I am also neck deep in grading and really regretting some of those written assignments.


Had a recent conversation about this issue of Christmas in the public square. That is essentially how I framed it--that Christians had enjoyed a false sense of ownership of the public square for much of our history. Of course, they belong in the public square, but just as conservatives do not own the flag, Christians do not own our public square, and that is how conservatives are acting now that others want in. Nothing, of course, is stopping any conservative (or liberal) Christian from participating in Christmas as a form of worship. Not one thing. nothing stopping them from having Christmas services, Festivals, Parties, huge, lavish programs, etc.

Just some people suggesting that in the public square, the rest of us--liberal Christians, non-Christians, etc.,--have just as much right. I made this point to my friend, as well as noting that the loudest people at this time, were not some mythical liberal secular Jew offended by the phrase, "Merry Christmas"--but rather actual and numerous conservative Christians offended that someone wished them a nice Holiday, or "Happy Holidays."

This is a nice take on it:
How the Jews and Secularists Did Not Steal Christmas: The assault has been led by Bill O'Reilly, the most popular cable newscaster, who told millions of viewers that there was a systematic assault on Christmas by secularists. When challenged by a Jewish caller who said he felt uncomfortable being subject to frequent attempts to convert him by Christians at his college, O'Reilly responded: "All right. Well, what I'm tellin' you is, I think you're takin' it too seriously. You have a predominantly Christian nation. You have a federal holiday based on the philosopher Jesus. And you don't wanna hear about it? Come on -- if you are really offended, you gotta go to Israel then.''

I told O'Reilly that my grandfather didn't come here from Russia to be in a "Christian country," but rather in a country that welcomes many different faith traditions and officially privileges none.


"Yet, this transformation is not a result of Jewish parents wanting to protect their children from being forced to sing Christmas carols in public school, or secularists sending Season's Greeting cards. It derives, instead, from the power of the capitalist marketplace, operating through television, movies and marketers, to drum into everyone's mind the notion that the only way to be a decent human being at this time of year is to buy and buy more. Thus, the altruistic instinct to give, which could take the form of giving of our time, our skills and our loving energies to people we care about, gets transformed and subverted into a competitive frenzy of consumption.

Not surprisingly, the Christian Right is unwilling to challenge the capitalist marketplace -- because their uncritical support for corporate power is precisely what they had to offer the Right to become part of the conservative coalition. Their loyalty to conservative capitalist economics trumps for them their commitment to serving God. But for those of us who want to prevent a new surge of anti-Semitism and assaults on the First Amendment, our most effective path is to acknowledge what is legitimate in the Christians' concern -- and lead it into a powerful spiritual critique of the ethos of selfishness and materialism fostered by our economic arrangements. It's time for our liberal and progressive Christian leaders and neighbors to stand up again on behalf of Jews and on behalf of their own highest spiritual vision -- and challenge the real Christmas and Hannukah thieves! "

I think he is correct in two ways--that capitalism really doesn't want this to be about sacrifice and love--unless that can be commodified (which, as we saw, Lifeway Stores are more than willing to do). And, he is doubly correct that the conservative evangelicals have been unwilling to challenge capitalism. Not remove capitalism and replace it with something else--that has never been the only option. But to simply criticize and recognize that the market values things that Christians do not.


Second musing for today was I wonder how Bush and Cheney will respond to
Colin Powell saying that our Army is broken and that they broke it.:
"POWELL: Let’s be clear about something else, Bob, that gets a little confusing. There are really no additional troops. All we would be doing is keeping some of the troops who were there there longer and escalating or accelerating the arrival of other troops.

SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you about that because… do we have the troops? You seem to be suggesting that we don’t.

POWELL: I’m suggesting that what general Shoemaker said the other day before a committee looking at the reserve and national guard, That the active army is about broken. General Shoemaker is absolutely right. All of my contacts within the army suggest that the army has a serious problem in the active force.


SCHIEFFER: Let’s… you’ve talked about… I take it you think that the 160,000 troops are not going to be any more successful than 140,000.

POWELL: Nobody has made the case to me that 140,000… I have not seen a case that persuades me that it would be better at 150 and 160. Frankly, that would take a surge that you have to pay for later by not having troops that can come in and replace some of the 140,000 there. "

December 16, 2006

Is this good news?

Melissa Rogers: "Today has been the most significant day in the history of the death penalty in America in many years." (Updated)

Don't get me wrong, any challenge to the death penalty is good in my book, but this appears to be just about the method of execution, and is not questioning the basic fairness or even morality of the system. We are the only Western Democracy to execute people. In my mind, this is just the first question we should be asking about this system.

December 15, 2006

good question, eh?

Kevin points us to this provacative essay: "What the Hell happened to Christianity?"
"So when did the focus of Christianity shift from the unconditional love and acceptance preached by Christ to the hate and condemnation spewed forth by certain groups today? Some say it was during the rise of Conservative Christianity in the early 1980s with political action groups like the Moral Majority. Others say it goes way back to the 300s, when Rome's Christian Emperor Constantine initiated a set of laws limiting the rights of Roman non-Christians. Regardless of the origin, one thing is crystal clear: It's not what Jesus stood for."

December 14, 2006

A level of incompetence I thought was impossible

How is it that we have not heard more about this? Anyone who wants to know why we are failing so miserably in Iraq should look at this. The most incompetent administration in American history. Unbelievable.

I can guarantee you that incompetence at this level would have led to impeachment for Clinton and the American people probably would have agreed. But somehow, this administration can completely politicize the rebuilding of Iraq and the media sits silent.
Ties to GOP Trumped Know-How Among Staff Sent to Rebuild Iraq - "
After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans -- restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.

To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration.

O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade .

Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance -- but had applied for a White House job -- was sent to reopen Baghdad's stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget, even though they didn't have a background in accounting."


Just watching the Daily Show and wondering how many times I have felt the need to blog about our President's inability to speak. Good God! "I have been hearing from some opinions and ideas."

Jeesh. How did this man ever get elected to anything? He can't even speak.


Crooks and Liars Ghouls

I noticed this too. Watching MSNBC this morning I heard a reporter talk about what would have to transpire for the Republican Governor of South Dakota to replace Tim Johnson. Her statement was something along the lines of "either he has to resign or he would have to pass away. Neither seems likely to happen anytime soon, it appears."

That doesn't quite capture the tone of it, because it was rather sad that we wouldn't see the transfer back of power. Unlike my last post, this is not about some conservative bias, but is just more proof of how shockingly bad our media is. This story displays their weakness. There is actual news here, but they can't cover it well because they don't care about actually presenting the news. They are more interested in drama and intrigue. The only thing that would have had the mainstream media more excited was a Democratic Senator falling ill while in his mistress's bed--or something equally sordid.

If only they had approached the WMD or Condi's "mushroom cloud" or just about anything Cheney said with equal enthusiasm. Hell, how about looking at healthcare or poverty or the right's unwillingness to deal with global warming. Or just about anything that really effects the American people.

Don't get me wrong. Sometimes liberals benefit. When the media discovered the Foley scandal, they certainly did the Democrats some good, but for all the wrong reasons. No similar coverage of torture, Jack Abramoff, or the myriad ways that this President has undermined the Constitution.

remember when she seemed like the sane one?

But Laura Bush is quoting the party line: "I'd like to see the media get a little bit more balanced in view of it..."

And as they note at Crooks and Liars, we should get used to this. It will continue to be the Republican mantra. Just as they explained Vietnam as lost by the media and the liberals, this one will take the same course. The fact that Bush had control of everything he needed for the first 3+ years of the war will be minimized. This is their war--they started it.

As much as I dislike Bush, this guy is worse

Way worse Inside Washington: Cheney Burrows as Bush Ponders Iraq: "Cheney, an architect of current policy, is waiting for Bush to decide, perhaps early in the new year, what to do next before he speaks out. At that point, insiders say, he will go public to sell the president's decision around the country, especially in speeches to conservative audiences who still have a high regard for Cheney, even though his popularity with the public is very low. A former associate who worked closely with Cheney for years says there may be another reason.
'I think we'll see less of him than ever,' says the associate. 'Iraq is now Bush's baby, and Cheney doesn't want to be tarred with it in the eyes of historians.'"

And I wonder how he thinks historians will overlook him? Perhaps just forget his critical role in the war?

We aren't idiots.

Interesting given the Bush administration's stance on wealth

Americans see rich-poor gap worsening: "Americans overwhelmingly say the growing gap between rich and poor has become a serious national concern, a sentiment that may bolster Democrats' plans to narrow the income divide when they take control of Congress.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans believe inequality is a major issue, versus 24 percent who don't think so, according to a new Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll. Most of the concern is among Democrats and independent voters, though a majority of Republicans -- 55 percent -- also called the situation serious."

And then there is this:

The Washington Monthly: "By 59% to 21%, Americans say Congress rather than Mr. Bush should take the lead in setting policy for the nation.

....At the same time, items on the Democrats' opening agenda for Congress enjoy strong initial backing. More than seven in 10 Americans support raising the minimum wage — on which Mr. Bush has indicated flexibility — and forcing the federal government to negotiate lower Medicare drug prices with pharmaceuticals companies — which Mr. Bush opposes.

The president faces a steeper challenge resisting Democratic initiatives on other economic issues. On energy, 80% favor forcing auto makers to build more fuel-efficient vehicles even if that raises prices; 59% back eliminating tax cuts for oil companies."

Perhaps the country is not as conservative as the last couple of elections suggest. Several people have said that many, many people have been distracted by the gays aborting stem cells with burnin flags so that they miss the rest of what results with a GOP administration.

More on wimpy Christians--SIGH

Natalie addresses the War on Christmas and the War on Wimpy Churches in her post: panta ta ethne: Something's not quite right...
"In the LA Times, I came across an article, “Manliness is next to Godliness,” about a trend in evangelicalism to de-feminize the church. Men are put off by the touchy-feely, “girly” tone of church services, so groups have begun—along the same lines as John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart—to highlight the rough-and-tumble, testosterone-charged Jesus. One man who attended a manly-Christian conference decided to put his new tough-guy faith into practice. This is a real excerpt from the article, I kid you not:

“[H]e has ditched the nice-guy reflex of always turning the other cheek. When he spots a Wal-Mart clerk writing ‘Happy Holidays’ on a window, he boldly complains: It should say ‘Merry Christmas.’

The clerk erases the offending greeting. Chalk one up for Christian testosterone.

‘I wouldn't have done that before,’ Stephenson says proudly. ‘I am no longer a doormat.’”"
Yeah, that is really what Jesus would do, right?

The entire article is here, and it is really an interesting article. And there are some really unintentionally funny parts (or at least I think they are unintentional). I like the sword part here:
"In fact, men taking charge is a big theme of the GodMen revival. At what he hopes will be the first of many such conferences, in a warehouse-turned-nightclub in downtown Nashville, Stine asks the men: 'Are you ready to grab your sword and say, 'OK, family, I'm going to lead you?' ' He also distributes a list of a real man's rules for his woman. No. 1: 'Learn to work the toilet seat. You're a big girl. If it's up, put it down.'
Heh. Grab your sword. Or in the next graph, this dude's wife says something about that being cool--and that "when the rubber hits the bat, I want to know my husband will protect me."

But in the meantime, petty little female concerns need to be ignored because the men have to be men. Dammit.
But some men at the conference run into trouble when they debut their new attitudes at home. Eric Miller, a construction worker, admits his wife is none too pleased when he takes off, alone, on a weekend camping trip a few weeks after the GodMen conference this fall.

'She was a little bit leery of it, as we have an infant,' he reports. 'She said, 'I need your help around here.' '

Miller, 26, refuses to yield: 'I am supposed to be the leader of the family.'

He's pretty sure his wife will come around once she recognizes he's modeling his life after Jesus', like a good Christian should. It'll just take a little explaining, because the Jesus he has in mind is the guy on the wanted poster: 'confrontational and sarcastic when he needed to be,' Miller says, and determined to use 'whatever means was necessary to achieve his goal.'"
Yeah, kids are women's work. And Jesus did whatever was necessary. Sigh.

I hate this trend. I remember arguing with Les about something related to this, but I hate this trend. I hate stupid masculinity movements. We have had a few hundred over the years from Teddy Roosevelt's concerns that city dwellers were not masculine enough, to the Boy Scouts, to the people playing Indian, to the Militia movements and the guys beating on drums and the Promise Keepers and now this.

Real men don't have fall into some masculine stereotype.

Natalie also included this, and I think she nails it here:
I usually ignore those who make noise about the Christmas vs. Holiday debate. These two snippets really bothered me, though, since I am reading Shane Claiborne’s book, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. You want to know what it really means to be a “tough,” “masculine” Christian, and live out your faith as our “manly” Jesus did? Well, Shane went to Iraq when the U.S. decided to invade in 2003. He went on a peacekeeping mission, hung out with Iraqi families and Christians, and very well could have lost his life. And turning the other cheek? Shane turns to Walter Wink’s description the “turn the other cheek” verses:

“Jesus is not just suggesting that we masochistically let people step all over us. Instead, Jesus is pointing us toward something that imaginatively disarms others. When hit on the cheek, turn and look the person in the eye. Do not cower and do not punch them back.”

Now that seems like it would take a lot more strength to do!


December 13, 2006

This makes me sad

Peter Boyle Dies in NYC. I have always liked him. Not only his performance in "Young Frankestein" but I remember seeing him in a small film, called The Dream Team (1989). Not really that good of a film, but in one amazing scene some asylum inmates are on their way to a ball game. On the radio is "Hit the Road Jack" and the inmates join in. But it is Peter Boyle's character who turns it into comic genius.

He will be missed.

You cannot make this stuff up--War on Christmas revisited

Big wave of the hat to Tony (again) for this almost perfect irony of Christianity/Christmas.
"NASHVILLE, Tenn (BP)--With tight budgets, overwhelming schedules, frustrating traffic and politically correct retailers replacing "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays," LifeWay Christian Stores is aiming to put the focus of Christ back into Christmas shopping.


Mencer encourages shoppers to focus on Christ while shopping this Christmas season, noting that the potential for spiritual impact does not reside within the four walls of a LifeWay Christian Store.

"As in everything, pray before you shop," Mencer suggested. "Ask God for direction on what to buy and for guidance in your shopping."


Christian nation, indeed

I believe I posted this last year, but found it again by accident today. Some excerpts (emphasis mine):
Only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels. Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. This failure to recall the specifics of our Christian heritage may be further evidence of our nation's educational decline, but it probably doesn't matter all that much in spiritual or political terms. Here is a statistic that does matter: Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.” That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture. The thing is, not only is Franklin's wisdom not biblical; it's counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor.


And therein is the paradox. America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior. That paradox—more important, perhaps, than the much touted ability of French women to stay thin on a diet of chocolate and cheese—illuminates the hollow at the core of our boastful, careening culture.


In 2004, as a share of our economy, we ranked second to last, after Italy, among developed countries in government foreign aid. Per capita we each provide fifteen cents a day in official development assistance to poor countries. And it's not because we were giving to private charities for relief work instead. Such funding increases our average daily donation by just six pennies, to twenty-one cents. It's also not because Americans were too busy taking care of their own; nearly 18 percent of American children lived in poverty (compared with, say, 8 percent in Sweden).


This Christian nation also tends to make personal, as opposed to political, choices that the Bible would seem to frown upon. Despite the Sixth Commandment, we are, of course, the most violent rich nation on earth, with a murder rate four or five times that of our European peers. We have prison populations greater by a factor of six or seven than other rich nations (which at least should give us plenty of opportunity for visiting the prisoners). Having been told to turn the other cheek, we're the only Western democracy left that executes its citizens, mostly in those states where Christianity is theoretically strongest. Despite Jesus' strong declarations against divorce, our marriages break up at a rate—just over half—that compares poorly with the European Union's average of about four in ten. That average may be held down by the fact that Europeans marry less frequently, and by countries, like Italy, where divorce is difficult; still, compare our success with, say, that of the godless Dutch, whose divorce rate is just over 37 percent. Teenage pregnancy? We're at the top of the charts. Personal self-discipline—like, say, keeping your weight under control? Buying on credit? Running government deficits? Do you need to ask?

Hey, what do you know?

Henry Bonilla lost! That makes me a little happy, and more than a little surprised. As Ezra reminds me, Bonilla was the recipient of one of Jon Stewart's better dissections.

Oh, and btw, Tom Delay evidently is blaming the Iraq war on the Democrats. You know, the one who said he hoped that people could "see Jesus" in his mugshot.

December 12, 2006

How things have changed under Bush

And not for the better. Lincoln Chafee talked about how the President sets the agenda, and this one has been, as we all know, hyper conservative. Beyond the pale conservative. Always cracks me up. My friends in Texas tell me they are worried about radical liberals--but they don't seem to mind truly radical conservatives. Suspending habeas, torture, and wiretapping at will, are, in my mind, truly radical acts.

Anyway, thinking of the tone that Bush set in Wasthington and this story about an Evangelical group with unprecedented access to the Pentagon. Earlier this year we had Republicans trotting servicemen in uniform to political functions (clear violations of military regs) and now we have this.
"A military watchdog group is asking the Defense Department to investigate whether seven Army and Air Force officers violated regulations by appearing in uniform in a promotional video for an evangelical Christian organization.

In the video, much of which was filmed inside the Pentagon, four generals and three colonels praise the Christian Embassy, a group that evangelizes among military leaders, politicians and diplomats in Washington. Some of the officers describe their efforts to spread their faith within the military.

All of that is disturbing--not because evangelicals are bad, but because we have to be careful about religion and the sanction of our government. As Melissa Rogers noted:
"If a person in a foreign country heard a member of Congress talking about his or her official duties and status and evangelizing, that would seem to suggest that our government is promoting Christianity. That's problematic for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is it could throw a bunch of gasoline of some of the global problems we currently face."

Then there are parts that are simply confusing.
Army Brig. Gen. Bob Casen refers in the video to the Christian Embassy's special efforts to reach admirals and generals through Flag Fellowship groups. Whenever he sees another fellowship member, he says, "I immediately feel like I am being held accountable, because we are the aroma of Jesus Christ."
What the hell does that mean? "Aroma?"

Oh, and let's not forget this gem from the past.
In 2003, Army Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin drew criticism for appearing in uniform before church groups and saying, in remarks captured on video, that President Bush was "appointed by God," that the United States is "a Christian nation" and that Muslims worship "an idol." The inspector general's office determined that Boykin had not violated any rules, and he remained in a top intelligence post.

This year, Navy chaplain Gordon J. Klingenschmitt was court-martialed for appearing in uniform at a political protest in front of the White House, though he maintained that all he did was lead a prayer."
Why the Navy Chaplain was court-martialled while Boykin kept his job confuses me.

Anyway, I think this story reminds us that we have to be vigilant on issues of religious freedom. Again, this is not to attack evangelicals, but to remind them that religious freedom has worked well FOR them, not against them. This kind of entanglement might be helpful for certain subsets of evangelicalism right now, but the precedent could be harmful for them down the road. To say nothing of how this communicates to the Muslim world.

Bush as a pretty good fundamentalist as well

As Kevin notes, Bush decided to meet with a group of retired military and academics who don't like the ISG. On one hand, getting more information is usually good. But with Bush it just looks suspiciously like him not wanting to consider other possible actions. For all of his talk about willingness to listen to advice, he has never shown it. Anyway, this was funny:
"Golly, what a shocker: Bush decided to meet with a bunch of guys who just happen to already agree with him. That should sure provoke some fresh thinking about Iraq, shouldn't it?

This is all part of Bush's weeklong 'search for new ideas,' which bears a striking resemblance to OJ's search for the real killer. I suspect they'll both end up with the same results."

War on the Christmas--updated

Tony had a nice post on the subject this morning. As I noted on his site, this is the most cynical manipulation I have seen. It is a way to stir up the "culture wars" over nothing. Nothing at all.

If you read Stephen Nissenbaum's Battle for Christmas, you discover that the Puritans banned Christmas because they knew it didn't actually reflect the birth of Christ. Not only that, but they feared (and knew) that it was a good excuse for drinking and carousing. In the 1830s after the invented traditions of Santa and the Christmas tree, Americans were deeply concerned about the commercialization of the season and worried that the kids might be too selfish.

This period has always been an interesting mix of the sacred, the profane, the pagan and the crass. Conservatives who try to take ownership of Christmas--just as they claim the flag--are poorly informed. Whipping up cultural divides instead of trying to find something that connects us--that is unconscionable. Of course, we are talking about John Gibson and Billo.


Update: this is pretty funny.
American Prospect Online - No Holy Night: " “Christmas is under attack in such a sustained and strategized manner that there is, no doubt, a war on Christmas,” wrote Gibson, who then detailed the horrors of retailers who forced their employees to wish customers “Happy Holidays.” Gibson pinned the blame for such atrocities on “a cabal of secularists, so-called humanists, trial lawyers, cultural relativists, and liberal, guilt-wracked Christians” whose attacks on Christmas are to be the start of “a revolution against Christianity” itself.

Remember, we liberals have managed this much influence in opposition to the country’s most popular holiday while being completely shut out of power in Washington. Imagine what we can do now that Democrats own the whole legislative branch.

Though an outright ban of Christmas would likely run afoul of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion, there are several laws Democrats could enact to make celebrating Christmas more difficult, if not altogether impossible. Here are some modest proposals: 1.) A 1,000 percent sales tax on wrapping paper and mistletoe, revenues from which will fund a commune of gay Wiccan avant garde cellists. 2.) We ban the sale of all Christmas records except for Terry Bradshaw Sings Christmas Songs for the Whole Family and the non-religious holiday music composed by the gay Wiccan cellists. We also ban television networks from showing such beloved classics as It’s a Wonderful Life and The Christmas Story. The only holiday movies allowed on the air will be The Santa Clause 3 and Jingle All the Way. 3.) To get some bipartisan support from Republicans (in addition to the support of the Governator for suggestion number 2), we pass a bill allowing the timber industry cut down every evergreen tree in the country. We can also placate energy lobbyists by purchasing lumps of coal in bulk to give as presents to underprivileged children."

December 11, 2006

Lincoln Chafee on the Daily Show

Asked to name one thing that the Congress could be proud of from the last 5 years.

Drew a blank.

Me too.

Another gay pastor - Pastor resigns over homosexuality

At the end of the story, the writer raises the issue of hypocrisy in the evangelical church. But this story is not really about hypocrisy, but denial and repression.
Barnes said in the 32- minute video, which church leaders permitted The Denver Post to view. "... I can't tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away."

I feel for this man so much. Living like this is more than anyone should. Instead of considering, CONSIDERING that maybe people don't choose these decisions, they just keep with the anti-gay stuff.

Maybe, just MAYBE these people live in their own version of hell, praying that God would make them "straight" and finding out that it doesn't work that way. Instead of some humility on the issue, we just get more certainty.

Bush and the ISG

Funny. Ariana via Crooks and Liars
Crooks and Liars We've Got a New Iraq Slogan!: "Not surprisingly, the Bush administration is already backing away from most of the proposals put forth by the Iraq Study Group. The New York Times, with unintended comic irony, noted it this way: "Administration officials say their preliminary review of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's recommendations has concluded that many of its key proposals are impractical or unrealistic." Thank God we have George Bush to protect us from doing anything impractical or unrealistic in the Middle East.

So while Bush may not like any of the Group's 79 proposals (so impractical and unrealistic), he's ready to adopt its slogan, "New Way Forward." Newsweek says that next week "Bush is expected to announce what he calls 'The New Way Forward,' his latest plan to salvage the mission in Iraq.""

Page v. Prager

No `American' holy book | Chicago Tribune
: "Dennis Prager, a conservative columnist and radio talk-show host, objects to the holy book on which Rep.-elect Keith Ellison plans to take his oath of office on Jan. 4.

The Minnesota Democrat plans to use a Koran instead of a Bible.

Poor naive me. Here I thought it was an encouraging sign of this country's respect for liberty and diversity that Americans would elect a Muslim to Congress in the midst of an international war against Islamic terrorists. No country is perfect, but we've come a long way on the tolerance scale since World War II when thousands of innocent Japanese-Americans were rounded up into camps far from their homes just for their ancestry.

But not Prager. Ellison's choice should be blocked, Prager wrote, "not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act [of taking the oath on the Koran] undermines American culture.'"

I think a lot of people don't know about our Constitution's ban on religious test. Of course, I think a shocking number confuse the Declaration with the Constitution.

December 10, 2006

Why do brutal dictators live to their nineties?

Former Chilean dictator Pinochet dies at 91.

Unintended consequences

I think this is a good example of cutting of one's nose to spite, well, you know. Opposing abortion has merit, but the way we are doing it is causing more deaths, not fewer. What good is that doing to any of us?

Experts: How US 'gag rule' is killing women : Mail & Guardian Online: "While world attention has focused on the HIV/Aids pandemic, public health experts say that United States political interference and declining financial support for family planning, abortion and prevention of other sexually transmitted infections has contributed to shockingly high death and disability rates in developing countries.

Approximately 500 000 women die each year of causes related to pregnancy, abortion and childbirth, 99% of them in developing countries, according to the World Health Organisation. "

This is what the Christian right has been pushing for, and this is the type of policy they are giving us. There is a better way. Hell, there are a thousand better ways.

Canary in the mineshaft--er Gitmo

The fact that we are even mentioned in this post is troubling. I can imagine our ability to confront evil in the future. We stand up to a country that is jailing journalists without charges and we say "hey you, you can't do that. In America... nevermind." Or we look at a country that tortures to obtain "confessions" and we say "Stop that! Don't you know about the Geneva conventions? Why, in America we.... Nevermind. As you were." Just as the next time Country A invades Country B, claiming that Country B poses a threat to Country A. What are we going to say? "Hey, you can't just invade another country. What? You are invoking the Bush Doctrine? Oh. Well, don't forget that also allows you to torture and detain. It is in the same document."


Unclaimed Territory - by Glenn Greenwald: The company we keep: "Those four countries are followed on the list by seven other countries which have more than one journalist in custody. The U.S. is part of that group, tied with Russia. Both Russia and the U.S. are each holding two journalists without charges (that we know of). Also in that group are Algeria, Azerbajian, Burma, Burundi, and Uzbekistan. Iran did not make it into that group because it is holding only one journalist in custody, and the same is true for Vietnam (Venezuela, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are holding none).

The U.S. has in its custody Associated Press Photojournalist Blial Hussein (held eight months somewhere in Iraq without charges), and Al Jazeera Photographer Sami Muhyideen al-Haj (held for more than five years in Guantanamo). There has also been a string of violent attacks on journalists by the U.S. military over the years -- almost always journalists perceived as unfriendly -- under rather questionable circumstances, to put it mildly.

None of this is to equate the level of press freedoms in China, Cuba or Iran to the United States. They're not comparable. But that isn't the point. That the U.S. violates press freedoms less than Communist China, Iranian mullahs, and Fidel Castro mitigates nothing. For those who believe in the U.S. and the values it has long embraced (even if its adherence to those values, like all countries, has been imperfect), what is so striking and genuinely tragic is lists of this type -- from credible and essentially nonideological sources which document abuses of basic liberties around the world -- now invariably includes the U.S., because no list would be complete without it."
Where is the city upona hill?

Wait until Dobson hears about this: then you will be in some serious trouble

Thanks to Melissa Rogers for linking to this story on N.T. Wright. Wright, sometimes refered to as a "modern-day C.S. Lewis" is a respected conservative Christian, though his viewpoints will get him in trouble with some. He thinks homosexuality is a sin, but argues "forcefully for the role of womena s leaders in the church." But he also is one of those conservative Christians who wants to expand the pale of concern beyond homosexuality and abortion.
Wright says his beliefs may seem odd and contradictory in the United States but not his country. He says plenty of conservative Christians in his homeland, for example, are as passionate about relieving Third World debt as they are about defending traditional Christian doctrine.

"There seems to be no conflict in my country between believing that if Jesus is the Lord of the world, we can't keep on treating our fellow human beings like we have," he says during a phone interview from his home in England, where he is the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England.

The fight against disbelief

The thread that runs through Wright's books and lectures, though, is his defense of traditional Christian doctrines that now seem to be under assault.

He has become the go-to source for traditional Christians shaken by the profusion of books and theories that question the reliability of the Bible. He combines two strengths: a passionate belief in the Bible's authority and the intellectual muscle to defend that belief against all comers.

Wright has conducted a series of public debates with celebrated New Testament scholars such as Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. Both are leaders in the Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars who have questioned everything from the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the existence of "lost gospels" excluded by early church leaders.

In his books and debates, Wright returns to a common theme: a "post modern instinct to disbelieve everything" about religion.

"There are a lot of people who don't want traditional Christianity to be true," he says. "They run toward anything which will give them reason to say that Christianity is not true. It's old hat."

He says this impulse to disbelieve everything about traditional religion is reinforced by some Christians' upbringings. Many grew up in strict religious homes, "bruised" by their experience. As adults, they grasp for alternatives to organized Christianity that vindicate their skepticism.

Wright is also a vigorous critic of two popular Christian trends —- the fascination with the Gnostic Gospels and the "Left Behind" novels.

The Gnostic Gospels present an alternate version of Jesus and the early church. Its leaders, who existed around the time of the early church, denied the resurrection of Jesus. They also taught that only a select group could gain access to a hidden form of wisdom necessary for escape from this world.

The Left Behind novels tell stories of the Rapture, a belief extracted from the Book of Revelation that predicts that all Christians would be whisked from the earth during the Last Days.

Wright says both theologies cultivate a "private spirituality" where Christians are encouraged to forget Jesus' prayer that his followers work toward bringing the "kingdom come on earth." Why address global warming if the world is going to be wasted anyway?

December 9, 2006

"Don't sass me. I am the Commander in Chief, dammit!"

Surprise, surprise. Bush is hesitant to change policy in Iraq even though his own family friend (and Baker would not be doing this without the approval of Daddy Bush) says that Iraq is a mess and getting worse.

What I love about this guy is his constant desire to compare himself to historically great Presidents. Remember earlier this year, he was "reading" a book on Lincoln and discovered (because he reads badly) that the Second Great Awakening occurred during Lincoln's administration. Not really about Lincoln or the Second GA, but merely a way to get GWB and Abe in the same sentence, though I suspect that Abe would not have done that.

Now, he wants to compare himself to Truman. "See, he was unpopular too, but now he is liked." Sigh. Yeah, right. You are EXACTLY like our great presidents except for the "exactly" and the "great." More like a Polk or Harding. Actually a lot like Polk.

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 12/08/2006 | Democrats frustrated by Bush's reaction to Iraq report: "Instead, Bush began his talk by comparing himself to President Harry S Truman, who launched the Truman Doctrine to fight communism, got bogged down in the Korean War and left office unpopular.

Bush said that 'in years to come they realized he was right and then his doctrine became the standard for America,' recalled Senate Majority Whip-elect Richard Durbin, D-Ill. 'He's trying to position himself in history and to justify those who continue to stand by him, saying sometimes if you're right you're unpopular, and be prepared for criticism.'

Durbin said he challenged Bush's analogy, reminding him that Truman had the NATO alliance behind him and negotiated with his enemies at the United Nations. Durbin said that's what the Iraq Study Group is recommending that Bush do now - work more with allies and negotiate with adversaries on Iraq.

Bush, Durbin said, 'reacted very strongly. He got very animated in his response' and emphasized that he is 'the commander in chief.'"

A frustrating truth

And not terribly useful given where we are, but a good reminder since many conservatives want to play the "we all thought Iraq was a threat that deserved invasion" card.

Melissa Rogers: They Told You So: The Religious Version

December 8, 2006

God or Caesar

I think our blog friend Tony is on a bit of a roll lately. The other day he posted on Sam Brownback's major political goals as Presidential candidate. Hint, none of them are about poverty or the environment. During our discussion, Tony and I noted that Brownback was, of course, reaching for his political base in the James Dobson crowd. As the Christian Coalition showed recently, they are not interested in either anti-poverty campaigns or anything addressing the environment. It doesn't seem to matter that the environmental problems effect the poor disproportionately. All that matters is stopping the government from making us marry gays or dissect stem cells.

But I digress. Today, Tony challenged the notion of compassionate conservatism. For one, he also believes what many liberals (at least on this blog) have always thought--that conservative evangelicals focus on sexual sins and ignore those of greed, or environmental destruction. Second, he notes how conservatives (and we have had proof of this on Streak's blog) often identify their approach to the poor purely in opposition to what they perceive as the "liberal approach." As Tony quoted from the BP article on poverty and conservatism:
Over the next several minutes I explained that of all of the conservatives that I know, while they want to help those less fortunate than themselves, they do not believe government was the best vehicle to get the job done.

When it comes to government-run programs, I said, there seems to be a tremendous amount of waste. Not only that, but there is virtually no accountability. At best, most government programs are only placing a Band-Aid on the problem and, at worst, are only perpetuating the plight of the poor.

“An old adage states, ‘Give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you have fed him for life,'" I told the reporter. “The conservatives that I know want to teach people how to fish.”

I understand that some government programs are wasteful. In fact, his comment about lack of oversight reminded me of the entire Bush administration, and specifically how billions of dollars have been wasted in Iraq because of no oversight. Their Jesus President actually undermined such oversight, so if they are arguing against waste, they need to look in the mirror.

Again, I digress. But I am annoyed at how this conservative framed the use of government. Yes, some are programs that just hand out fish, but we have a lot of programs dedicated to helping people learn to fish. Conservatives have been trying to cut those too. College is more expensive and access to loans and grants is more difficult, not easier. Governments have subsidized education, roads, and entire industries that have had ripple effects of jobs and access to opportunity.

Not only that, but there are some unique issues where the government may be the only one to help. Can churches clean up toxic waste? (Actually, that was a trick question, because our conservative evangelical friends tell us there is no problem with toxic waste, so no need to clean it up. sigh.) Can churches address the needs of the disabled poor? What about the mentally ill? Those with chronic and expensive health issues?

None of this is meant to attack the work that conservative Christians and liberal Christians and non-Christians of all perspectives do to help the poor. Every soup kitchen helps. Every volunteer who collects clothes for the poor. Every dollar given is good.

But there is no need to choose. We don't have to say "either the government helps the poor or the church helps the poor." Since the New Deal, both have worked at it. Both have their problems and difficulties. But shouldn't we work to find out how to encourage each to do what they do best?

December 6, 2006

Some days

I wonder if me teaching is such a good idea.

I work at it. I really do. I craft lectures. I try to fix the bad ones. I try to incorporate interesting material. I try to make connections across time and space.

I have a couple of lectures that I truly love giving. I love the one on Abolitionism in the North and the beginnings of the "lost cause" in the South. I like my lecture on the 1950s family mythology and the origins of the modern feminist movement.

I know that my good students care about it. I usually have students tell me after the class is over that they had never approached history in this fashion before.

Then there are days like today. One couple has demonstrated their fondness for each other every damn day. Little touch on the elbow and some googly eyes (technical term). Or, because of the classroom, a touch on the leg and a knowing look.

I feel like I am in a Seinfeld episode. Not only do I have goddamn Shmoopies in my class, but I have given them the half turn as well as the full turn with the eye roll!



A few notes and then off to work. I am sure volfan will hate this, but yeah, I am annoyed at our President. And his supporters. I read over at Andrew Sullivan's blog (page not coming up right now) that Mary Cheney (Dick's gay daughter) is pregnant and living with her partner. Personally, I don't have a problem with that, but as volfan has made it clear, the administration's stance against the "gay agenda" is part of their deal. (I have no idea what the gay agenda is, btw).

It is fascinating to consider just how much evangelical conservatives fawned over Bush for his putative faith, yet said nothing about Cheney. Here is the most powerful Vice President in history (arguably) who says nothing about faith or the Bible or God or, well anything along those lines. Can you imagine James "gays are a bigger threat than poverty and the environment" Dobson's response to a gay Chelsea Clinton? I would imagine some comments about family disfunction and lack of moral guidance, blah blah blah.

Cheney gets a pass from them and it puzzles me. Perhaps while Bush can tap dance the "compassionate conservative" (whatever that means) lingo, Cheney is the real face of conservative belief. He doesn't care about the poor and makes no pretense that he does. He cares not a bit about the environment except as a way to make money. He is as unfeeling as Karl Rove, and has more power. From a basic evangelical perspective, he should not be popular, but he is.


Then this story about our President and Senator-elect Jim Webb.
At a recent White House reception, President Bush asked Sen.-elect Jim Webb (D-VA), “How’s your boy?” referring to Webb’s son Jimmy, who is serving in Iraq. Webb answered, “I’d like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President,” to which Bush responded, “That’s not what I asked you.” Webb then replied, “That’s between me and my boy, Mr. President.”

The right wing has been attacking Webb for his reaction to Bush’s question. Last night, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said Webb was “rude,” “inappropriate,” and “disrespectful,” because Bush was merely trying to extend a “nice gesture.” The National Review’s Corner called him “classless” and conservative columnist George Will labeled him “a boor.”

But according to Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), Bush was told that Webb’s son had a recent brush with death in Iraq and was warned to be “extra sensitive” when talking to the Sen.-elect. ThinkProgress yesterday spoke with Moran’s office and confirmed the congressman’s statement, first reported by hcc in VA:

"Not only did Bush know about it, he was specifically briefed on the incident before meeting with Webb, and was cautioned to be extra sensitive in speaking with Webb about his son."

After such a briefing, Bush perhaps shouldn’t have been so surprised about Webb’s unwillingness to chit-chat about his son."

I wonder if Bush has so internalized his war President identity that he forgets the effort he took to avoid service in the 60s. Personally, I don't blame him for not wanting to go, but that should give him a sense of humility about people who actually served.

December 5, 2006

Sigh, our President

Listened to the opening remarks for this morning's confirmation hearings for Robert Gates. Senator Warner (Republican) reminded Gates of his own writings on the importance of the executive branch cooperating with Congress. Nice reminder, of course, but one that I believe is completely lost on this President. Actually, Robert Gates' nomination is my one ray of hope. Hope that this President has actually learned a little humility and will rely on some pragmatic approach to the world's problems--instead of some Left Behind version.

That reminded me of this article from the Boston Globe detailing just how dangerous the number 2 man is to our democracy. You can read it here. Very interesting scan of Cheney's attempt to restore power to the executive branch. This reporting would have been nice, btw, in 2004 when we were warning the American people of this power grab, but better late than never.

December 3, 2006

The wonders of Live Music--and a thanks to Zalm

Tonight we enjoyed a great live show. Norman has a historic train station that they have turned into an art studio, music forum, and, oh yeah, still a train station.

Tonight was our first concert. We missed several opportunities last year, but decided to catch this one, and I thank Zalm for this one. This last June, during a particularly angry rant Zalm left a hopeful comment and then this:
If you're looking for something to check out on emusic, give Mark Erelli's "Hope & Other Casualties" a listen. The whole album's good, but the one you need to hear right now is "Seeds of Peace."

I downloaded that song and listened to it, but then it slipped out of my playlist. A few months later, I heard it again, and did a little research to find out what I was listening to (the hazzards of a large Itunes library), only to find out it was, again, Mark Erelli. I then went to his website and was shocked to see that one of his tour dates was in Norman, Oklahoma. I filed that away, but as often is the case, my intentions are overwhelmed by work and general fatigue.

But tonight was the night, and we braved the freezing weather to attend a really nice show.

He was unaccompanied, and brought only his 00 Martin, an accoustic mandolin, and a harmonica. But the man can just flat play. SOF and I commented that the singer songwriter playing alone is the hardest gig there is. No cover. If you aren't any good, everyone can tell. If all you have are a few chords, then you will be lonely up there. Erelli moves around the fretboard with ease, and really added a texture with the guitar, strum patterns, finger picking, and an occasional foot stomp.

He mixed in political songs like the aforementioned "Seeds of Peace":
"I will not be shamed into silence by partisan thunder
I won't fall in line and march to the drums on the wind
How many more daughters and sons will we see plowed under
How much longer must we wait 'til the harvest comes in'"
and a few new songs that sounded, well, Dylanesque.

After the break, he played a few songs of a new project album of lulabyes--one of his, and some covers. He performed one by Wilco and another by Townes Van Zandt--both were really breathtaking.

If you get a chance to hear him , it is worth it. You can buy Hope & Other Casualties at Amazon or Itunes.

Anyway, a good night. And a good reminder that live music is good for the soul.

Eric Foner on Bush's rank as President

Hint, it isn't good. Interesting how Nixon's domestic and foreign policy positives have been overshadowed by his complete contempt for the constitution and individual rights. Hmm, sounds familiar.
He's The Worst Ever - "Bush has taken this disdain for law even further. He has sought to strip people accused of crimes of rights that date as far back as the Magna Carta in Anglo-American jurisprudence: trial by impartial jury, access to lawyers and knowledge of evidence against them. In dozens of statements when signing legislation, he has asserted the right to ignore the parts of laws with which he disagrees. His administration has adopted policies regarding the treatment of prisoners of war that have disgraced the nation and alienated virtually the entire world. Usually, during wartime, the Supreme Court has refrained from passing judgment on presidential actions related to national defense. The court's unprecedented rebukes of Bush's policies on detainees indicate how far the administration has strayed from the rule of law.

One other president bears comparison to Bush: James K. Polk. Some historians admire him, in part because he made their job easier by keeping a detailed diary during his administration, which spanned the years of the Mexican-American War. But Polk should be remembered primarily for launching that unprovoked attack on Mexico and seizing one-third of its territory for the United States.

Lincoln, then a member of Congress from Illinois, condemned Polk for misleading Congress and the public about the cause of the war -- an alleged Mexican incursion into the United States. Accepting the president's right to attack another country "whenever he shall deem it necessary," Lincoln observed, would make it impossible to "fix any limit" to his power to make war. Today, one wishes that the country had heeded Lincoln's warning."

December 1, 2006

Conservative Evangelical speaks out

As a nice counterpoint to our conversation with Volfan, check out my blog friend Tony's take on the religious right.
"Conservatives have found themselves being very vocal on highly moral issues. Take for instance the consistent vitriol spewed by James Dobson and Richard Land against the homosexual community. Not to mention abortion, though I am adamantly against it, one must remember the fallen world we live in and that we can work to reduce the number of abortions but it will never be abolished altogether. Though I would desperately love to see that happen, this is not a perfect world and I think it would bode much better for the evangelical church to accept that sober fact.

If that were the case, the church could concentrate more on issues of compassion, things that I am convinced consumed much of Jesus’ time. . . "

Read the rest of it. Parts, I swear, read very similarly to a draft post I was working on yesterday before I bailed. Reading it reminds me of how much we could accomplish in this country if we reached across our supposed divisions. Yes, we disagree on much, but there is much we can agree on that would make substantive improvements to the lives of people.

November 30, 2006

Hanging with Alejandro (Escovedo, that is)

In my dreams, anyway. Curious thing about me, is that I often have dreams about me with famous people. I have been on stage with Emmy Lou, talked to Bill and Hillary, and sat down with the Boss. One, rather memorable dream during the Panama war (when wars were still fun) had me chasing Manuel Noriega on a motorcycle.

Last night, I was in a cafe with Alejandro. We sat in a booth and chatted and then he set up to play and I realized I was too close to hear as well as I wanted.

I am sure it means something, but I am damned if I know what. I think it means that I am cool. Very cool. Yeah, that's it.

Snowy Oklahoma

Looking out the back door.

And the front window.

Damn pretty. But also 21 degrees. Brrr.

Snow Day!

And, of course, the dogs wanted to go for a walk! We tried to sway them, and tell them that the temp hovered around 25 degrees and the "snow" was more sleet, but, in the words of Dale Gribble, they were "unswayable."

School is closed. Businesses are closed, and much of Oklahoma has come to a skidding stop. I remember when I first moved south, I mocked people in Texas and Oklahoma for shutting down school with an inch of snow. But then I realized that in Colorado we rarely had ice storms like this. And people drove in it routinely. Tends to make a big difference.

So I reserve my mocking for other things. :)


Speaking of that, I was rather strident yesterday. Chalk it up to a bad day. I should thank Volfan007 for engaging in the last few threads, even though his style of argumentation tends to make me angry. We have had more comments on my blog in the last couple days than the last month. I am not sure how long we can continue this, since arguing with him is akin to bashing your head against a wall. Obviously, I have had and continue to have good conversations with other conservative evangelicals, but Volfie has a particularly frustrating approach--mingling absolutism with selective reading of my and other arguments.

Oh well.


I am going to enjoy the Snow Day. I am making bread and planning on doing some reading and guitar. And a nap.