Thursday, June 29, 2006

Barack Me Like A Hurricane

I'm not much a fan of the DLC-style conservative Democrat. The DLC ideal being, essentially, that if only Democrats would act more like Republicans, then we'd win more elections. The paragon of this movement was President Clinton, whose abilities at "triangulation" in politics are near legendary. However, there's only one Bill Clinton and, unfortunately for the DLC conservatives, they just cannot make every would-be moderate into the Big Dog.

Sadly, Barack Obama seems to be aligning himself with the conservative Democrats, inching ever closer to Republican-lite politics. Hence this, from a speech given by Obama at a speaking engagement with Call to Renewal (via MyDD):

Sen. Barack Obama chastised fellow Democrats on Wednesday for failing to "acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people," and said the party must compete for the support of evangelicals and other churchgoing Americans.

"Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation. Context matters," the Illinois Democrat said in remarks prepared for delivery to a conference of Call to Renewal, a faith-based movement to overcome poverty...

At the same time, he said, "Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square."

As a result, "I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people and join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy."

I agree with Obama's sentiment that Democrats would be making a mistake if they discounted the power of faith in the lives of the American people. The catch is, though, that I don't see a shred of evidence that Democrats are doing this. In a country where 95% of the population identifies itself as religious (85% Christian) yet only half or less vote Republican, clearly the Democratic party is made up almost entirely of Christians just like the Republicans. Certainly, as a Freethinker, I could find no home with the militant religious folks of the Republican party. But this notion that the Democratic party is a bastion of godlessness is just silly, and rightwing spin to boot.

When Obama says that not every mention of God is a breach of the Establishment clause, my response is "well, duh!" Who's claiming that it is? Obama's building himself quite the Straw man Democrat when he speaks this way. This is the kind of rhetoric that the Dobson's and the Perkins' of our society use to divide people of faith politically and Obama is playing right into that same rightwing stereotype.

Further, exactly which secularists are asking folks to leave their religions out of the public square? Sam Harris, perhaps? Hardly a hand exercising a tight grip on the levers of power in Washington. Plus, if anti-religion secularists are doing this, which candidates are they getting into place? The widely known atheist Senator Not-Appearing-In-This-Government? Claiming to be anything other than a Christian or Jew is nearly a rock-solid guarantee of unelectability in this country, especially at the national level.

Obama is not arguing against any legitimate demographic in the Democratic party. He's arguing against an imaginary enemy that doesn't really exist, and by doing so reinforcing the stereotype of liberals as being anti-religious. Some are, certainly. But they're a small voice and, moreover, I don't see many, if any, of them calling for the expulsion of religion from the public square.

It's bad enough listening to the Republicans trot out such well-worn tropes as the "secular assault on people of faith" without having to experience a prominent "rising star" in the Democratic party like Barack Obama doing the same. As a liberal atheist, I don't want religion taken out of the public square. I fully embrace people of faith expressing that faith in public. It's a free country, after all. What I cannot abide, however, are those telling me that this is a Christian nation that ought to be living by Christian values; values which seem to change depending on the believer's political philosophy. I've read every Christian writing I could find with the word "Gospel" in the title and I can say definitively that if Jesus Christ were designing a nation, it would bear little resemblance to the United States.

In his defense of Obama, RMJ at Adventus concludes with the following:

There are many reasons to tolerate religion in the public squre; not least of which is, it is already there. As I mentioned before, it was religiously motivated people who started, and continued, the movement against slavery. Schools for freed slaves were started by religious people. The civil rights movement was primarily a movement of religious people. We ignore that history at our peril. And the more we decry religion in the public sphere, the more we cede that sphere to the intolerantly religious. And in doing that, we all lose our public space as a space for all persons.

I agree with Jeffers on his assessment of the progressive good done by religious folks. But, just as I don't believe Sam Harris' view that religion causes much of the evil in the world, I don't believe the opposite is true either. Those folks who risked their lives for the good of others practice their religion in such a way as to reflect that compassion for others. Being religious didn't cause them to help end slavery or further the civil rights movement. I'm not religious and I find common cause with the enemies of slavery and champions of civil rights. Religious beliefs reflect the believer not the other way around, in my opinion. Just as an atheist like myself gladly works for civil rights, a Christian wearing the hood of the KKK would likely have little problem with black slavery.

Again, too, Jeffers echoes Obama's claim that secularists are decrying religion in the public sphere, and I don't see that as the case. We're decrying the use of religion as a divisive tool of public policy, as a wedge dividing our nation into warring camps. That's what we'd like removed from the public sphere; this notion that true morality and social justice flows from religion and nowhere else. And, yes, this is what conservative Christians believe. Does a stance against religious indoctrination in government enable the intolerant mooks who make up the Religious Right to seize the public arena, or is it that seizure of public influence that causes secularists to be more suspicious of the motives of religious folks? A chicken and an egg, probably...

There is room in our public discourse for the religious and the non-religious. However, there is no room for the intolerant of either side. Religion is not going to disappear (at least, not anytime soon) and no amount of evangelizing is going to convince all atheists to embrace faith. We can all co-exist under the label of "secularists"; those who recognize the secular character of our laws and government. It's not the religious that secularists decry in the public sphere, or at least it shouldn't be. It should be the theocratic, which progressives of any faith or none at all, should oppose. Obama, by co-opting the language of the theocratic fundamentalists, stakes his claim in opposition to many who would join him in common cause.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Raisin' me some liberal babes...

So, I generally try to avoid silly little anecdotes about my children (isn't that what MySpace is for?), but this is just too good to pass up:

Most of our regular readers know that Sam and I have three small children. Baby Cecelia being the youngest, at 9 months. I currently do and will continue to try to instill good {liberal} values, encourage open minds and foster a wide variety of educational opportunities for my kids.

So, normally around 10pm I start getting Cecelia ready for her long journey towards bed time... just in time for me to catch The Daily Show, as I breastfeed the baby. As as the theme music starts, baby begins to tap her feet. Then John starts talking and she must stop nursing... his voice is drawing her in... she must look... and then a BIG smile! :)

It's official! My 9 month old is in love with John Stewart!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Washing Our Hands Like Pilate

As any of you who hang around here probably know by now, my employer forces their employees to suffer through Fox "News" in all the breakrooms. Changing the channel is verboten, so I cope with this indignity in the only ways I am able. Today, that way is blogging about something on Fox so stupid, so egregious that even cursing at the TV (and startling one of the cafeteria workers) was not enough.

The onus for my outrage today comes from that obsequious toad with the poofy hair and wire rim specks: John Gibson. Now, normally I wouldn't waste my beautiful mind on the rantings of this bargain-basement, Rush Limbaugh wannabe. Today, though, John crossed a line, more in a matter of tone than in substance.

While conducting an interview with a former Under Secretary of Defense for George W. Bush (his name escapes me and Fox doesn't have the transcript) concerning the announcement by the supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, that Iran no longer feels the need to debate its nuclear ambitions with the United States. Probably a largely posturing move designed to test the U.S. leadership (such as it is) but nonetheless concerning. So concerning, in fact, that John Gibson asked no less than three times whether or not this meant a military solution for Iran was the only remaining viable solution. His tone gave away that he was practically begging for a positive answer, a confirmation that war with Iran was inevitable. And it disgusted me far beyond the normal level of nausea I experience when watching Fox.

These pro-war conservatives do not just support war, be it in Iraq or Iran. They love it. They long for it. I don't know any other way to describe this sort of thinking but sociopathic. Of course, these gung-ho supporters of war have no intention of going anywhere near the actual fighting. But the enthusiasm with which chickenhawks like John Gibson pray for more U.S.-instigated violence in the world is appalling. And I think it's much more widespread than just the halls of Wingnut News Central.

I can feel conservatives like Gibson salivating over the prospect of war with Iran and, hopefully, for them, North Korea. These kinds of folks represent the basest in human interaction, the codification of the schoolyard bully into a political philosophy. To them, diplomacy is weak, messy and ultimately unfulfilling in a visceral sort of way. But the glory of war, the noble cause, the charging cavalry coming to the rescue of an endangered America...this has the real emotive appeal that these conservatives crave. It's an immature understanding of the true nature of warfare, propagated by a Hollywood war film understanding of the topic.

Iraq is the reality of war. It's a long, slow, bloody occupation, that slowly grinds down each side. Conservatives idealize World War II without understanding any of the historical context of that conflict. The war that we joined in 1942 was really the second act of the first World War, and folks understood this much better then, than conservatives do today. The U.S. entered the war late and never experienced anything like the casualties that Britain, France or the Soviet Union endured. Of course, that war had the ideological advantage of a clear cut enemy. The Nazis and the Japanese were clear nationalist entities fighting imperial wars of expansion. Not so, the Iraqi insurgency. That's a war grown by us, in a land we had no business invading. The sheer arrogance and moral vacuousness needed to justify the deaths of thousands of Iraqis on the ideological grounds of "spreading democracy" (since that seems to be the only reason remaining for the war's continuation) is truly breathtaking. It's as though these conservatives cannot imagine Iraq as anything more than one dictator, his military and his political machine, instead of the reality of tens of millions of everyday folks who are truly paying the price for American imperialism.

So will it be with Iran. It's all too easy to see a war with Iran as an expedient answer to a difficult foreign policy question. But war is never simple, as every single war ever fought would indicate to conservatives if only they got their knowledge of war from somewhere other than Hollywood or the History Channel. It's never the ruling regime that pays the price for war; they're insulated against those costs. Does anyone truly believe that Saddam Hussein is suffering more in prison than his people are under American occupation? Again, the same will hold true for Iran. Perhaps we could invade, topple the government and begin the same process in Iran as in Iraq. But it's not the Supreme Leader or President Ahmedinejad who will bear the cost of such action by the United States. It's the thousands of everyday Iranians who will be killed in the process.

In a democracy, we are responsible, directly, for the actions of our government. It's another of those costs of freedom conservatives think only applies to dead soldiers and lost rights. The blood of Iraq is on all of our hands, as will be the blood of Iran. It's on mine and it's on yours, even if we didn't support the war and never will. That's why I despise John Gibson and his ilk; they seek to bloody my hands further and I already can't wash them clean...

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Homosexual Agenda

Pam Spaulding has it at last!!

Be sure to burn your computer when done reading. Can't have it falling into the wrong hands...

Comparing Creationist Apples To Astrological Oranges

[Time to shamelessly steal a page from the DAS playbook, and do a (modified) comment whoring of my words at The Politburo Diktat. It's a sincere form of flattery...]

Who would dare compare the academic scourge of Intelligent Design with the whimsical silliness of astrology? Don't turn around (uh oh!), Der Commissar's in town:

Does the Left have a segment of their base that believes a certain pseudo-science, a segment their leaders are reluctant to antagonize? Is astrology quietly acceptable within the “progressive” community? The Left takes great pleasure in bashing Republican Creationists and ID advocates (quite appropriately, and I join them in this, as my readers know).


I think a little distancing would be in order, from the Left’s “Defenders of Science.” (If they have in the past, I’d be delighted to correct this post.) Update: Nor do I suggest that any of these guys “buy into astrology,” rather it has been perhaps unimportant and inconvenient to take a stand on. “Why rock the boat? We’ve got the granolas on board …”

I'm fairly certain that I'm not one of "the Left's 'Defender's of Science'" to which Commissar is referring. We're a small outfit here at A Beginner's Mind. That said, I think this kind of argument via Straw man fallacy has become so common with conservatives that it's almost impossible to escape.

In answer to Commissar's first question, I say "Yes", there probably is a segment of the progressive movement comprised of astrology believers. In fact, I know several folks whom I'd consider Leftist astrology fans. Maybe not "believers" but fans, nonetheless. That may be a very small segment, but it's a segment still. However, I've never seen anything in our political discourse to indicate that public policy decisions were being made in an effort to woo these kinds of voters. A person's belief in astrology has never really been much of an issue at any level of political activism in which I've participated. It's only the Republicans that feel the need to kowtow before the most fringe elements of their religious base and actively seek their approval. You won't see a Constitutional Amendment to ban Aquarian Senators coming from the Left anytime soon (though God knows we need to stop those moody bastards!)

As to Commissar's second question, my answer is certainly "Yes". There are many, many communities of folks being quietly (or not so quietly) accepted within the progressive community. That's why we're the progressive community, after all. We recognize the value and importance of diversity. Of course, with that acceptance comes the tacit agreement that evangelizing anyone's particular beliefs in an unwanted manner is unacceptable. I certainly embrace as many astrologers in the progressive movement as would like to be in it, so long as they don't try and convert me to their mysticism. Personal beliefs run a huge spectrum but don't preclude a community coming together to fight for higher ideals. Unless, of course, that community is conservative, where the members had better not be too brown, too gay, too atheist, too poor...well, you get the idea.

I further reject the idea that we on the Left need to "distance" ourselves from the astrology fans that find common cause with us in the progressive movement. I really don't care if they plan their lives based on their current view of certain stars and planets, so long as they're willing to stand up for civil rights, equality and peace. Those are what matter to me, not some archaic system of prognostication.

The real meat of this false equivalency is the idea that somehow having folks who believe in astrology as part of the progressive movement makes liberals the ideological equivalent of conservative creationists. Perhaps in the most tenuous of ideological comparisons that might almost be true, though again I think it ultimately fails in light of the Right's rigidity of enforced belief among its ranks. However, when examined in terms of political clout and social impact, the comparison between Lefty astrologers and wingnut Creationists becomes completely absurd. Progressive astrologers are not attempting to have astronomy replaced by astrology in public schools as an attempt to "teach the controversy". I've yet to see a progressive politician advocate for astrology in the way that President Bush has advocated for Intelligent Design creationism. I don't see any Leftist astrological organizations with the kind of political influence over the Democratic party that the Discovery Institute or The 700 Club exerts over the Republicans. In short, while one is a cornerstone of conservative political policy, if not always ideology (damned libertarian exception), the other is a bit of entertaining fluff found in the comics section of the local newspaper.

Personally, I think astrology is silly, though I do still read my horrorscope from time to time. I get a chuckle out of predictions about my randy love life or soon-to-blossom financial future. But Creationism, due to its political and financial support, is no laughing matter. It's a damaging policy of anti-intellectualism that attempts to subvert our understanding of the universe and undermine our educational institutions. There is no equivalency between the two pseudo-sciences, in terms of social impact and popular acceptance.

Perhaps, if the astrology believers become too militant, we liberals will concern ourselves with the pseudo-scientific speck in our eye. But only after conservatives deal with the fundamentalist log in their's...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sparkling Sunday!

Sam is the BIG 3-0, today!

Myspace Layouts

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Expand Your Holiday Horizons: Happy Summer Solstice!

Today is June 21 -- Summer Solstice -- Litha
Also known as: Alban Heruin (Druidic)

Litha comes from a Saxon tradition (the opposite of Yule). This is the longest day of the year, where light & life are abundant.
At mid-summer, the Sun God has reached the height of his greatest strength. Seated on his greenwood throne, he is also lord of the forests, and his face is seen in church architecture peering from countless foliate masks. The Christian religion converted this day of Jack-in-the-Green to the Feast of St. John the Baptist, often portraying him in rustic attire, sometimes with horns and cloven feet like Pan (the Greek Demi-God). Midsummer Night's Eve is also special for followers of the Faerie faith.

Traditional Foods: Fresh fruits & vegetables
Herbs and Flowers: Mugwort, Vervain, Chamomile, Rose, Honeysuckle, Lily, Oak, Lavender, Ivy, Yarrow, Fern, Elder, Wild Thyme, Daisy & Carnation
Incense: Lemon, Myrrh, Pine, Rose & Wisteria
Woods Burned: Oak
Sacred Gemstone: Emerald
Special Activities: An Ideal time to reaffirm your vows to the Lord and Lady or your dedication to following the old traditions

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Religious Exploration III: Becoming a Saint

The Catholic Saint: One facet of religion, that I have had virtually NO experience with. So, I wonder... who can become a saint? How? When? Where? Why?

I did a little research and here is what I've discovered...


The historic Christian practice of asking our departed brothers and sisters in Christ—the saints—for their intercession has come under attack in the last few hundred years. Though the practice dates to the earliest days of Christianity and is shared by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, the other Eastern Christians, and even some Anglicans—meaning that all-told it is shared by more than three quarters of the Christians on earth—it still comes under heavy attack from many within the Protestant movement that started in the sixteenth century.

Exactly how many saints are there?
Simple answer: I don't know.

Longer answer: There are over 10,000 named saints and beati from history, the Roman Martyology and Orthodox sources, but I know of no definitive "head count".

Why don't we know exactly? Isn't there a list?
There are several lists. However, the exact number varies from one list to another. Some reasons:

* not all saints are part of the universal calendar, and their cultus was not always known to each of the list makers through the centuries

* due to lack of surviving documentation, we're still discovering martyrs from the early Church who were not previously known, or (more commonly) whose names have been combined, mispelled, etc. resulting in their being counted as several persons

* the 1969 revision of the General Calendar resulted in many of the saints being moved to local calendars, or those of specific orders; some folks were dropped entirely as better scholarship showed they were pious legend instead of flesh and blood

In addition we have the problem of not knowing the names of all the saints. Sometimes we know that a number of Christians were martyred for their faith, but we don't have their names, or we only have the names of the people considered their leaders. There are any number of reasons for this, but usuall the persecutors were illiterate, did not care who their victims were, or (in more modern times) were trying to cover up the incident.

Finally, there are unquestionably incidents of missionary monks, nuns, or lay people who were killed who-knows-where, and whose deaths were known only to themselves, their killers, and God.


So, now that we know (or don't know) that there are many, many Saints out there, recognized by the Catholic Church... I wonder: "how does one qualify?"

Procedure for Causes of Beatification and Canonization

1. Canon norms regarding the procedure to be followed for causes of saints are contained in the Apostolic Constitution 'Divinus Perfectionis Magister,' promulgated by John Paul II on January 25, 1983.

2. To begin a cause it is necessary for at least 5 years to have passed since the death of the candidate. This is to allow greater balance and objectivity in evaluating the case and to let the emotions of the moment dissipate.

3. The bishop of the diocese in which the person whose beatification is being requested died is responsible for beginning the investigation. The promoter group ('Actor Causae'): diocese, parish, religious congregation, association, asks the bishop through the postulator for the opening of the investigation. The bishop, once the 'nulla osta' of the Holy See is obtained, forms a diocesan tribunal for this purpose. Witnesses are called before the tribunal to recount concrete facts on the exercise of Christian virtues considered heroic, that is, the theological virtues: faith, hope and charity, and the cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude, and others specific to his state in life. In addition, all documents regarding the candidate must be gathered. At this point he is entitled to the title of Servant of God.

4. Once the diocesan investigation is finished, the acts and documentation are passed on to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The public copy used for further work is put together here. The postulator, resident in Rome, follows the preparation of the 'Positio', or summary of the documentation that proves the heroic exercise of virtue, under the direction of a relator of the Congregation. The 'Positio' undergoes an examination (theological) by nine theologians who give their vote. If the majority of the theologians are in favour, the cause is passed on for examination by cardinals and bishops who are members of the congregation. They hold meetings twice a month. If their judgment is favourable, the prefect of the congregation presents the results of the entire course of the cause to the Holy Father, who gives his approval and authorizes the congregation to draft the relative decree. The public reading and promulgation of the decree follows.

5. For the beatification of a confessor a miracle attributed to the Servant of God, verified after his death, is necessary. The required miracle must be proven through the appropriate canonical investigation, following a procedure analogous to that for heroic virtues. This one too is concluded with the relative decree. Once the two decrees are promulgated (regarding the heroic virtues and the miracle) the Holy Father decides on beatification, which is the concession of public worship, limited to a particular sphere. With beatification the candidate receives the title of Blessed.

6. For canonization another miracle is needed, attributed to the intercession of the Blessed and having occurred after his beatification. The methods for ascertainment of the affirmed miracle are the same as those followed for beatification. Canonization is understood as the concession of public worship in the Universal Church. Pontifical infallibility is involved. With canonization, the Blessed acquires the title of Saint."

-12 September 1997, Vatican Information Services


And... who is responsible for this?

Congregation for the Causes of Saints

With the Apostolic Constitution Immensa Aeterni Dei of 22 January 1588, Sixtus V created the Sacred Congregation of Rites and entrusted to it the task of regulating the exercise of divine worship and of dealing with the Causes of Saints.
Paul VI, with the Apostolic Constitution Sacra Rituum Congregatio of 8 May 1969, divided the Congregation of Rites, creating the Congregation for Divine Worship and for the Congregation of Causes of Saints.

With the same Apostolic Constitution of 1969, the new Congregation for the Causes of Saints took on its own structure with three distinct offices: the judiciary, that of the Promoter General of the Faith, and the historical-juridical, which was the continuation of the Historical Section created by Pius XI on 6 February 1930.

The Apostolic Constitution "Divinus Perfectionis Magister" of 25 January 1983, and the respective "Normae servandae in inquisitionibus ab episcopis faciendis in causis sanctorum" of 7 February 1983, made possible both a profound reform in procedure for canonization causes and the restructuring of the congregation. It was given a College of Relators, assigned to take care of the preparation of the "Positiones super vita et virtutibus (o super martyrio) of Servants of God.

John Paul II, with the Apostolic Constitution "Pastor Bonus" of 28 June 1988, changed the name to Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

The pro-prefect of the congregation is Archbishop Alberto Bovone, Archbishop Edward Nowak, and Monsignor Michele Di Ruberto. In addition, there is a staff of 22 people. The congregation has 23 members - cardinals, archbishops and bishops - 1 promoter of the faith (prelate theologian), 6 relators and 71 consultors.

Joined to the dicastery is the "Study," instituted 2 June 1984, whose objective is the formation of postulators and those who collaborate with the congregation, as well as those who exercise the various assignments before the diocesan curia for the treatment of the causes of saints. The "Study" also has the task of updating the "Index ac Status Causarum."

The congregation prepares each year everything necessary for the pope to be able to set forth new examples of holiness. After approving results on miracles, martyrdom and heroic virtues of various Servants of God, the Holy Father proceeds to a series of canonizations and beatifications.

One From The Vaults

I was cleaning out some of my work document files and found this little gem from a few years ago. Since it absolves me from composing my own work for one day, I thought I'd share it. Please enjoy responsibly.

Things You Have To Believe To Be A Republican Today

•Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush’s daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney did business with him and a bad guy when Bush needed a “we can’t find Bin Laden” diversion.

• Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is communist, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to a spirit of international harmony.

• The United States should get out of the United Nations, and our highest national priority is enforcing U.N. resolutions against Iraq.

• A woman can’t be trusted with decisions about her own body, but multi-national corporations can make decisions affecting all mankind without regulation.

• Jesus loves you, and shares your hatred of homosexuals and Charles Darwin.

• The best way to improve military morale is to praise the troops in speeches while slashing veterans’ benefits and combat pay.

• If condoms are kept out of schools, adolescents won’t have sex.

• A good way to fight terrorism is to belittle our long-time Allies, then demand their cooperation and money.

• Providing health care to all Iraqis is sound policy. Providing health care to all Americans is socialism.

• HMOs, pharmaceutical, and insurance companies have the best interests of the public at heart.

• Global warming and tobacco’s link to cancer are junk science, but creationism should be taught in schools.

• A president lying about an extramarital affair is an impeachable offense. A president lying to enlist support for a war in which thousands die is solid defense policy.

• Government should limit itself to the powers named in the Constitution, which include banning gay marriages and censoring the Internet.

• The public has a right to know about Hillary’s cattle trades, but George Bush’s driving and military record is none of our business.

• Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you’re a conservative radio host. Then it’s an illness, and you need our prayers for your recovery.

• You support states’ rights, which means Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez can tell states what local voter initiatives they have the right to adopt.

• What Bill Clinton did in the 1960s is of vital national interest, but what Bush did in the ‘80s is irrelevant.

Save Screech's Home Keep our streets safe!
Who would want Screech wandering the rural roads of WI, homeless?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Red America Or Blue America?

Time for a little pure politics, I think. I read quite a few different political blogs and pundits, gathering what I feel is a good cross-section of just what my progressive brothers and sisters believe about politics in general. Normally I write about the issues that interest me and leave the pure political gameplay to others who have a much better sense of these things than I. However, I keep seeing a recurring theme pop up in various places that I think is very dangerous to the progressive movement heading into November.

That danger manifests in what I believe is a serious misunderstanding about the character of a mythical beast known as "the average American" or, collectively, "the American people". As everyone knows, every politician and political party understands exactly what "the average American" needs and each politician has just the cure required for what ails "the American people". Right. With George W. Bush and the Republicans in Congress essentially in a race to the bottom in the regard of the American people, it's no wonder that many progressives are beginning to see a rout in the offing for November. Certainly the polls (check out First Draft, as Holden does a fairly frequent rundown of the national numbers) bear out the perception by some progressives that the rule of the Republican majority is swiftly drawing to a close. I hope they are correct but, sadly, I'm not that optimistic and I'll explain why.

Certain liberal pundits and commentors, online and otherwise, have lately been expressing the belief that the national polls indicate a tipping point has been passed for conservative voters. These voters, the thinking goes, have seen that Bush and the Republican Congress have not delivered as promised, either on social issues or foreign policy, and thus are likely to either vote against the Republican party or, more likely, not show up to the polls at all. While I certainly agree that turnout will be low for the mid-terms, as it normally is, I don't necessarily think the low polling numbers for Bush and Congress will manifest in turnout that is unusually low. The reason why rests in the tenor of the voters.

I have lived in both urban and rural areas, including rural Illinois, Chicago, Indianapolis and now rural Wisconsin. As such, I feel I have a pretty good impression of the political bent in a good portion of "Middle America". As such, I am convinced of two things concerning conservatives in the Midwest.

First, I am convinced that a greater number of people identify themselves as conservatives than as liberals in the Midwest, and the number is growing all the time. Certainly this is not a problem for Illinois, as Chicago is a bastion of liberal politics and likely will remain so for many years to come. However, outside of the cities, such as rural Wisconsin, the pervasiveness of political conservatism is much greater than many pundits realize. Every aspect of life is informed by belief in a kind of old-fashioned conservatism that binds the small rural communities in this area. It's a conservatism that believes in religious freedom, as in everyone should be free to worship Jesus in their own way. It's a conservatism that believes property taxes are too big a burden, yet also believes that schools should be well-funded. Well, schools should be well-funded as long as that funding isn't moving in too great a quantity into the pockets of the teacher's union. For that matter, it's a conservatism that doesn't trust unions much at all, and considers the salary and benefits of union shops to be unfairly inflated. It's a regionalist conservatism; it revels in the righteousness of obscure places like the "Coulee Region" while condemning the moral vacancy of Milwaukee or Madison. Most notably, it's the conservatism of the Second Amendment, as opposed to the liberalism of the First. All this conservatism wrapped up in small communities where liberalism stirs feelings of unease and atheism feelings of outrage. This is Red America inside "Purple" Wisconsin and it's tightly knit community.

The second thing I'm convinced of concerning the conservative folks of the Midwest is their lack of swing voter potential. This is where I think the pundits out there cheering for a big swing in November towards the Democrats may really be missing something important. After having lived in the Midwest my entire life, in rural and urban areas, and having spoken to many people about politics and read local letters to the editors it's clear to me that, for most conservative Midwesterners, the only thing worse at this point than George W. Bush and his Rubber Stamp Republican Congress is the possibility that they could be replaced by liberal "Ted Kennedy" Democrats. And that's a reality that I think is not getting nearly enough attention, either by progressive pundits or the Democratic party.

The conservative folks in the Midwest, many of them, are fed up with George W. Bush. They are outraged by the excesses of Congress and its refusal to act as a brake on presidential power. And yet, when they contemplate their political fortunes, these conservatives are not going to vote for a Democrat (all of whom are liberal as far as Midwestern conservatives are concerned). They believe George W. Bush has mishandled the war, but trust that he will protect their perception of a strong, morally-certain America better than the Democrats. They believe that most social welfare beneficiaries are gaming the system and receiving benefits that are unearned. They believe that Democrats will raise taxes and, even worse, waste their hard-earned tax money on art endowments and pointless scientific studies. They believe that many Republicans are corrupt but that Bill Clinton was the most corrupt politician in history, and they distrust his wife and former associates much more than Tom Delay or Duke Cunningham. They believe that, for all his faults and failures, George W. Bush is still a good Christian like they and that his party will represent Christian values while the Democrats represent godless secularism. They're afraid of Mexicans, afraid of gays, afraid of Muslims but most of all they're afraid of change and progressive politics are the politics of change.

Now, I realize that these are all gross misconceptions of both parties but they are very real among Midwestern conservatives. I suspect these same concerns and mistaken notions are common in the South and Rockies as well. Conservatives realize that the Republicans are bungling significantly, but they also believe that liberalism, encapsulated by the Democratic Party, is the bane of everything they hold dear about America. It's a terribly fractured view of the country and one that movement conservatives worked very hard for many years to foment. From the Nixon years onward, conservatives have worked diligently to construct the most frightening straw man of liberalism possible and have sold it completely to at least half of the American people.

This is the key that I think many progressives are not understanding about conservatives: no amount of Republican corruption and bungling is going to win them to the Democratic side. At best, the low poll numbers indicate a lack of will from conservatives to actually get out and vote. More importantly, though, is those polls indicate a dissatisfaction with the leadership that does not necessarily translate into votes away from that leadership. In fact, I think conservatives are going to stick with the Republicans in November, so long as the Democrats continue to fly on auto-pilot. After all, better the Devil you know than the Liberal you don't...

What's desperately needed for the progressive movement is for the Democratic party to take a leadership position for November. They need to stop watching the Republicans flounder and instead toss them an anchor! Run on leadership instead of issues. The issues are good to a point, but they don't matter if liberal Congresspeople cannot get elected. Leadership, confidence, clearly-articulated values and a non-stop barrage against the Republicans are the techniques needed. These are the tools that Russ Feingold, Al Gore and Jack Murtha have put to devastating use lately, and won the accolades of liberals and the respect of some conservatives for their efforts. The substantive policy debates can wait until Democrats regain some power in Washington. Otherwise, all the well-drafted policy the Democrats can create does nothing but give the Republicans an easy target to beat on (or idea to steal). The American people deserve the government for which they voted, so let them have it. But show them that there is a better alternative than the corruption and incompetence of the Republican party. Red American will not be turned (back to) blue by Republican malfeasance alone.

[Editor's Note: I chose not to link to any bloggers/pundits expressing the idea I'm contesting against here because I didn't want to turn this into an ad hominem attack on other progressives whom I respect, nor invite the same in return. I ask your trust and indulgence. - S. Sam]

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


It's always essential in modern wingnut mythology to earn that most elusive of all prizes: a comparison to St. Ronald Reagan. Today, George W. Bush has achieved wingnut apotheosis by finally replacing Reagan as the most mentally vacuous president in U.S. history (from Attaturk):

Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times begins to ask Bush a question at the press conference:

Bush: You gonna ask your question with shades on?

Wallsten: Yes...

Bush: But there's no sun out here.

Wallsten: It depends on your perspective.

Bush: Touche.

Ken Wallsten is BLIND!

Folks, this is the man that takes the "nuclear football" to Crawford with him. Do you feel safer now?

Certainly this is not the stupidest thing Bush has ever said. Trust me, I've got one of the numerous volumes of "Bushisms" (thanks NPR!) available and he makes moronic comments fairly regularly. Most of them, though, are just Bush trying to stay on message while not being able to think quickly on his feet (and possibly being, ah...shall we say, "impaired", seemingly). His exchange with Wallsten is something else entirely. It's a combination of Bush's disdain for the press and his complete lack of association with reality. His father was undone by charges of being "out of touch"; Dubya takes being out of touch to an entirely new plane of being.

After seeing the resurgence of Al Gore in recent months and now in light of this, I have to say that I'm struck once again with a profound sense of loss about the 2000 election. Just thinking of what we could have had and what we've been stuck with is almost too much to bear. Certainly Gore was not the perfect presidential candidate. But then, none are. We're a diverse country and no one candidate appeals to everyone's interests. However, no one could ever say of Gore that he lacked intelligence, focus or a comprehensive understanding of the issues facing the country. Regardless of how his public persona may have appeared in 2000, Al Gore is a brilliant man and would have made a fine president. George W. Bush is an embarrassment, an elevation of name and privilege over any substantive qualities. An empty suit, a brand name and an unmitigated disaster for the country.

Please, God, I will renounce my atheism, begin attending church again, tithe, whatever you want, so long as you don't give us another moron like Bush in 2008. Haven't we suffered enough?

Homosexuality And Evolution

In a discussion of the writings of Joan Roughgarden on sexuality from an evolutionary perspective, PZ Myers offers the following possible explanation for a biological component to sexual orientation:

Homosexuality is a byproduct.

This is my favorite explanation, because ultimately it's about development. Why do men have nipples? Because women need them. Both men and women have the same set of genes (more or less), and follow very similar developmental pathways, and the nipple represents a developmental constraint or byproduct: mutations that knock out the male nipple might also knock out the female nipple, so the structure is retained in both sexes. Male nipples are a byproduct of a function needed by the other sex.

We might also ask, why do some men love other men? The answer: because women need to love men. (We could also propose the complement, that lesbians exist because men need to love women.) If there are pathways that can predispose an individual to find males sexually attractive, the base structure is present in both men and women, and what we have are additional mechanisms to modulate the expression of the trait in men vs. women. Just as we guys have an echo of a female attribute in our nipples, why not assume that we also bear echoes of female mate preferences in our brains—echoes that can't be expunged without also eliminating women's desire for men (and oh, no, we mustn't have that, I know)?

To those more versed in biology, perhaps this sort of view comes as no surprise but I have to say that I honestly had never heard a biological explanation for homosexuality that centered around the sharing of other traits between men and women before. I've read arguments before, such as Roughgarden's, that propose homosexuality as a trait which has social bonding advantages. I don't necessarily disagree with that, though I'm no biologist and what sounds reasonable to me may not to a trained scientist.

What I like about the convergence of the two ideas, that homosexuality has advantages and that it's a byproduct of shared traits across both genders, is that it neatly begins to eviscerate most arguments against gay civil rights. One of the biggest claims by opponents of gay rights, beyond any dogmatic religious taboos, is that homosexuality is not "natural". The underpinning of this mistaken assumption is that the sole purpose of sex is procreation, which is obviously not true in any biological sense. It's purely an ideological stance generally based on, again, certain religious views. Sexuality has many purposes and is both physically and emotionally gratifying, which facilitates more harmonized relations between individuals and, by extension, societies at large. That this same harmony can beachievedd between members of the same sex seems, to me, to be a perfectly reasonable hypothesis. I will say, and Myers points out, that it is difficult, from an evolutionary perspective, to completely jump on board the notion of homosexuality as a biological advantage without a proven heritability to homosexuality. Still, I think it's a compelling idea.

I have long maintained that a biological versus behavioral distinction of cause for homosexuality is moot in terms of gay civil rights. Whether homosexuality is an inborn tendency or a learned behavior is irrelevant; the government still should not be in the business of regulating the sex lives of Americans. However, since so much of the counter-argument to gay rights revolves around phony pleas to biology, I'm always happy to see science continue to make religious fundamentalism eat its own guts. The reality is that sexuality is much more complex than the gay/straight duality allows for and, unfortunately, that duality completely dominates the political discussion. A good case for the biology of homosexuality can have the added benefit of further marginalizing the anti-gay crowd by demonstrating that the differences between gay & straight really aren't so big as they appear.

Monday, June 12, 2006

America, Redefined

Everyday the so-called "War on Terror" drags the United States further and further away from the ideals of liberty and justice upon which our nation was founded. This past weekend was no exception, sadly. Three men, two Saudi and one Yemeni, took their own lives in a clear indication of just how desperate the situation has become at America's gulag. What's worse, however, is the craven way in which the Bush administration and its supporters try to spin the actions of these men into an attack on the United States.

From The Telegraph, via The Liberal Avenger:

The commander of the controversial Guantanamo Bay interment camp has said that the suicide of three inmates was "an act of warfare" against America.

The deaths of two Saudis and a Yemeni have increased pressure on the US over the future of the camp for terror suspects in Cuba.

Rear Admiral Harry Harris, the camp's commander, said of the inmates: "They are smart, they are creative, they are committed."

"They have no regard to life, neither ours nor their own. And I believe this was not an act of desperation, rather an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us."

Another US official, Colleen Graffy, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, told the BBC the suicides were "a good PR move to draw attention".

What kind of Orwellian nightmare is our country descending into when the suicides of three U.S. prisoners is dismissed as a good PR move? The sustained level of delusion required to see the "War on Terror" in this light is frightening in its mania. These are young men, one barely an adult, who have been imprisoned for years, with no charges, no trial and no access to legal counsel. They've been labeled "enemy combatants" in a "generational conflict"; a war that will never end. I agree with the admiral: these men are smart. No doubt smart enough to realize that they were never likely to leave Gitmo or, if they did, they would likely face rendition to a nation hostile to them. Even if these men were part of the possible many prisoners at Gitmo imprisoned essentially for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and are innocent of the terrorism allegations against them, what would it have mattered? If the U.S. didn't believe them worthy of civil rights, is there any reason the Saudi government would have?

In no possible light does Harris' or Graffy's assessment of these men's motivation make any sense, except in the context of purely political damage control. Rmj at Adventus poses the question thus:

So, these men were so desperate to kill Americans, they committed suicide themselves for the cause, hoping their terrorist brothers would then be released, free to kill again?

Once you dehumanize your enemy, you dehumanize yourself.

With the bolded line, Mr. Jeffers hits the nail right on the head. It's deplorable enough what the Bush administration's treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo is doing to them. But another great loss is what it's doing to the United States. We've allowed the proponents of the "War on Terror" to fundamentally alter our national character, dragging it back into the dark past of interment camps and McCarthy-style political profiling. If being a suspected terrorist is justification enough for imprisonment, torture and a complete stripping of all legal rights, even for an American citizen like Jose Padilla, then at what level does any American have any civil rights remaining? The actions of the Bush administration lay the groundwork for complete authoritarian control; a seizure of all our rights under the guise of protecting us from terrorism and prosecuting the war. At what point is the line drawn between acceptable and unacceptable when due process is ignored, torture and the unlawful detaining of prisoners are permissible and anyone protesting such is labeled "unpatriotic"?

Perhaps these men were terrorists, committed with Al-Qaida or some other shadowy organization, to waging an Islamic jihad against the United States. Or maybe, like other Guantanamo detainees, they were merely food vendors, taxi drivers and other common folk caught up in the "War on Terror" by being in Afghanistan or Iraq at the wrong time. Maybe they have legitimate complaints against U.S. policy; much of the world does lately. Either way, it's clear from the words of Harris and Graffy that the lives of these forgotten people in Guantanamo have ceased to be of any consequence. These prisoners no longer belong to the collective human race and have become something else entirely. They've evolved into a whole other species, an "enemy combatant" or "jihadist" or "terrorist", and have lost those fundamental rights our Declaration of Independence recognizes as being endowed to all mankind. "All mankind" just doesn't apply within those prison walls and it's quickly ceasing to apply back here, either.

For we Americans have changed as well. Many among us, enamored of the war and terrified of the amorphous Islamist threat, have embraced Guantanamo Bay and all for which it stands. We've become a nation that excuses torture, justifies force-feedings, accepts open-ended detainings without criminal charges. We've heard the fear preached by pro-war conservatives and have invited that fear into our homes. We've become so accustomed to living with it that we can turn our back on almost any atrocity so long as we believe it's keeping that fear at bay. Even those of us who opposed the war and believe Guantanamo should be torn down, it's rubble cast to the bottom of the ocean, cannot escape the dehumanization that Bush's foreign policy has bestowed upon us. We are America and every act our country commits is done in our names, whether we approve it or not. That's another of those "costs of freedom" that conservatives like to talk about: the responsibility that comes with the actions of a free society.

In some ways, we're all Harris and we're all that starving man living with no hope of a future in Gitmo. Our differences lie only in whom we identify with most.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Rightwing Jackass-ery

[Hat tip to my friend JB for the title.]

Since I'm forced to watch Fox "News" on my lunch break, I can't help but take note of their jihad against Deputy U.N. Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown, who had the temerity to point out what the whole world already knows. Namely, that the over-abundance of rightwing shills in the media here is corrupting our public discourse, particularly where international institutions are involved.

Here is an excerpt from, I believe, the Washington Post, though I've lost my attribution blerb:

In the speech, delivered Tuesday, Malloch Brown said that the United States relies on the United Nations as a diplomatic tool but does not defend it before critics at home, a policy he called unsustainable.

He lamented that the good works of the U.N. are largely lost because "much of the public discourse that reaches the U.S heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News." The speech was delivered at a daylong conference sponsored by two think tanks, the Center for American Progress and The Century Foundation. ...

Bolton said Malloch Brown's "condescending, patronizing tone about the American people" was the worst part about the speech.

"Fundamentally and very sadly, this was a criticism of the American people, not the American government, by an international civil servant," Bolton said. "It's just illegitimate."

First of all, I must ask: What exactly is Bolton talking about? At no time does Malloch Brown ever insult the American people, unless of course Bolton believes that being called a viewer/listener of either Fox "News" or Rush Limbaugh is an insult. I certainly feel that it is but I doubt most of the "U.S. Heartland" does. As much as it signals the decline of western civilization, it is true that both Fox and Limbaugh have a robust following here in the fly-over states.

Malloch Brown is exactly, totally and in all ways absolutely correct in his statement. Conservatives scorn the United Nations and not for its corruption, which certainly exists. After all, the party of Tom Delay, Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramhof, just to name a few, can't really credibly claim to have a problem with corruption. The problem conservatives have with the U.N., which they've always had, is that the United Nations is not a tool to be used solely for U.S. foreign policy goals. The United Nations has many member states and they all have different interests. Conservatives want the United Nations to essentially be a forum where the United States sets the world's agenda and gets public cover for its actions. Unsurprisingly, many of the other members, Russia and China especially, don't see their role in the U.N. as a rubber stamp for the Bush administration.

The U.N. certainly has corruption issues and needs some reforms. However, those reforms are only possible, or even useful, if the member nations agree. The U.N. has no authority in and of itself that doesn't derive from its membership. Personally, I think the U.S. should withdraw from the U.N. Our Republican leadership certainly isn't interested in being part of the global community, except to dictate foreign policy to other nations. The Bush administration acts unilaterally when it can't get U.N. approval, and then falls back on that same institution for help fixing neo-conservative foreign policy blunders. The only usefulness the United States has to the U.N. anymore is as a source of funds. With our military bogged down in Iraq and deployed across the globe, the United States is really in no shape to be granting much to the U.N. beyond money.

The U.N. does have its uses, particularly in terms of humanitarian aid. Support for that aid, in terms of dollars and elbow grease, is greatly reduced when the American people cease to lend help to the various U.N. causes. A big reason for that is just what Malloch Brown recognizes: a dearth of supportive voices in the United States for the U.N. It's ironic that the conservative media is failing to report the good news from the United Nations, especially since the United Nations, unlike Iraq, actually often has good news to report.

As for Bolton's remarks, well, if he had any shame left he'd be feeling it by now. What a pathetic excuse for an ambassador. If the fragile conservative American ego has become so brittle as to not abide any criticism whatsoever, even as well-deserved as Malloch Brown's, then it certainly doesn't have anything to offer the country as a political philosophy. Nothing but pointless American exceptionalism and comic book aphorisms.

The U.N. may be better off without us.

Plumbing The Black Depths Of Ann Coulter's Soul

Normally, I don't bother commenting on the antics of rightwing shills like Ann Coulter. However, Virgil Libertas (you may know him as hisstory MN) at Left Handed Compliment made several very astute points about Coulter that seem to elude the So-Called Liberal Media:

I have come to believe that Ann Coulter really does not give a tinker's cuss about religion. politics, or anything else for that matter, except Ann Coulter. Her unitelligible ideology, mindless rants, and shock value have created quite a cottage industry for her.

Her only job and concern is to keep the spotlight firmly onAnn; and be damned anything and everything else. Her twisted myopic viewpoints should be taken with no more than a grain of salt because she doesn't even believe it. She can't, because you have to have a conscience to believe in anything. I can not even call her a conservative. Imus, Buchanan, Dobbs, Ingram and even that little twit Carlson are at least debatable. With the afore mentioned group there can at least be some discourse, even points of agreement, but not with Ann. The only goal is continued progress up the NYT bestsellers list and as much face time she can achieve around the cable dial.

Virgil's point applies to many of our most famous wingnut pundits, including Rush Limbaugh, John Gibson and Michael "the" Savage "Wiener". Unlike, say, George Will or that obnoxious whiner Sean Hannity, who seem to actually believe their conservative bullshit, these others are nothing but agitators getting rich from cheapening our political discourse. That's one reason I tune in to the Rush Limbaugh show when I can: I think he's funny. He so clearly doesn't believe most of the garbage he spews out over the airwaves that it's comical to me. He's getting paid to make close-minded conservatives feel like their lifestyle is under attack and Rush gives them a flag to rally around.

Coulter is even a step beyond this. She purposefully writes the most offensive, invective-laden screeds she can come up with; not because she really believes what she's saying. She couldn't possibly. After all, for all her faults, she is an educated woman. For all that she is, however, she's also smart enough to know just how to tap that wingnut welfare. She panders to the very worst of the conservative movement; those "America is for whites only", Christian fundamentalist, anti-social types that see a culture war in every aspect of society with which they don't personally agree. Coulter feeds their mania with all the reactionary red meat they can stomach, and collects some fat royalties in the process.

Hate gays? Ann will tell you all about the "homosexual agenda" and some mythical cities in Genesis. Hate Arabs, Blacks and Mexicans? She's got some great coded words for you about "ragheads", "welfare queens" and "border jumpers", with just enough politics thrown in to make her points sound almost legitimate. Feel like you and the other 255 million Christians in the country are being oppressed by we 5 million or so atheists? Ann's got a new book for you talking about how your faith is being stripped away from you, all framed in some militaristic eliminationist rhetoric to inflame your inner culture warrior. After all, once you agree with Ann that all liberals and progressives are unprincipled, godless, unpatriotic traitors trying to destroy the country and tear down the entire Christian faith, what response is really too much?

But it's all a sham, you see. Ann's not really a culture warrior; she's a self-interested businesswoman. She and Limbaugh and Savage and others have learned that there is a vibrant market out there for barely-coded hate speech and they tap that market to its fullest potential. They're not conservatives. They're rightwing reactionaries milking their mouth-breathing hordes for every dollar they can get. And the poor fools just keep on buying...

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Little Good News From Iraq

That odious blowhard Limbaugh-wannabe Neil Cavuto will be so happy. The news media can finally report both violence AND good news from Iraq at the same time. Wingnuts everywhere can rejoice as we finally got a member of the Al-Qaida leadership that was not part of the #3 Man Continuum.

I think Bill in Portland Maine displays the proper gravitas for this situation:

CHEERS to finding a really evil needle in a really big haystack. U.S. forces rocked terrorist Abu Musab "Dick" al-Zarqawi's world last night when they tossed a thousand pounds of explosive whupass down his gullet. They found his body in the bedroom. And the kitchen. And the den. And the garage. And the neighbor's apartment. And I think I found an eyebrow in my Cocoa Puffs this morning. My only regret: he didn't know what hit him.

P.S. Virgins denied, creep.

P.P.S. For those of you keeping score at home, this is Iraqi Turning Point #697.

Let me start by saying I'm glad the bastard's dead. I totally disagree with the Iraq war in all its grotesqueness, but I recognize that Zarqawi is exactly the kind of terrorist leader that needs to be eradicated. He has led his faction of Al-Qaida in much violence against both the Iraqis and our soldiers. From his own words, we know he was an ideological extremist trying to violently spread his narrow religious fundamentalism and nationalism to a people that clearly didn't want to buy what he was selling.

Having said that, I also must immediately piss on the parade of rightwing self-congratulatory masturbation that will no doubt be ensuing with news of Zarqawi's demise. From all that I've read, Zarqawi was more of a manufactured villain, his infamy primed and pumped by the Bush administration in order to put a face on the nebulous Al-Qaida menace in Iraq. Obviously bin Laden will no longer do, as his ability to elude our military forces is a serious black-eye on Bush's foreign policy. Zarqawi was certainly an evil, violent man and the world at large is better off without him. However, he was much more a Jabba the Hutt level villain than a Darth Vader, to use the rightwing's "movie of the week" framing on the "War on Terror".

Perhaps this will take Al-Qaida In Iraq out of the fight, at least for awhile, though I suspect that's wishful thinking. Even if it did, killing Zarqawi does nothing to address the other myriad facets of the insurgency, nor does it solve the plethora of problems facing the new Iraqi government. It's a moral victory at best, and should be celebrated as such. But, along the lines of Saddam Hussein's capture or his sons' deaths, it really isn't likely to change the situation on the ground. The Al-Qaida hydra always has another head...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Could It Be, Oh, I Don't Know, Maybe...SATAN!!!

Happy Day of the Beast to everyone from Satan's Little Helper!

Like most bits of ancient mythology, I don't put too much stock into the significance of 666. I do, however, get a cynical laugh at the expense of those who really think they know the Bible for truth.

(The following is excerpt from an article that appeared last year in The Independent):

Revelation! 666 is not the number of the beast (it's a devilish 616)

By Tom Anderson
01 May 2005

A newly discovered fragment of the oldest surviving copy of the New Testament indicates that, as far as the Antichrist goes, theologians, scholars, heavy metal groups, and television evangelists have got the wrong number. Instead of 666, it's actually the far less ominous 616.

The new fragment from the Book of Revelation, written in ancient Greek and dating from the late third century, is part of a hoard of previously unintelligible manuscripts discovered in historic dumps outside Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. Now a team of expert classicists, using new photographic techniques, are finally deciphering the original writing.

Professor David Parker, Professor of New Testament Textual Criticism and Paleography at the University of Birmingham, thinks that 616, although less memorable than 666, is the original. He said: "This is an example of gematria, where numbers are based on the numerical values of letters in people's names. Early Christians would use numbers to hide the identity of people who they were attacking: 616 refers to the Emperor Caligula."

Well, so they got that whole number thing wrong. It rather pales in comparison to their mistakes about life, the universe and everything. Personally, I don't think any numbers are evil, though 30 certainly has some bad intentions for me...

Monday, June 05, 2006

The War On Marriage

Our Senate, obviously having run out of things to do after solving all of our national problems, chose to begin debating the so-called "Gay Marriage" Amendment today. Actually, the debate was really at the direction of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who sets the Senate agenda and is firmly ensconced in the Dobson wing of the Republican party. The Republicans are running scared over November and need to bring out the fundamentalist bigots in hopes of saving their Congressional majority. Obviously they believe the lives and well-being of a few million Americans is a small price to pay for more war and tax cuts.

First, here's the text of this most odious bit of legislative repugnance:


Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relating to marriage.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States:

SECTION 1. This article may be cited as the "Marriage Protection Amendment".

SECTION 2. Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.

I take umbrage right from the start with calling this the "Marriage Protection Amendment". I don't see it that way. In fact, I see it as just the opposite; a war on marriage. The Fundamentalist party (Honestly, what's "republican" about them anymore?) is actually damaging marriage as an institution by turning it into a tool of bigotry and intolerance, much the same way the KKK uses the crucifix. They want marriage to stand, for all time, as a shrine to ignorant majority rule and religious fundamentalism. They seek to create their "Christian" nation by excluding those that don't fit their particular Biblical literalism. It's an assault on the entire ideal of marriage, as well as the religion they pretend to follow, by caving in to the short-sighted political demands of the Religious Right. To use a popular Biblical analogy: they certainly are sheep who've lost their shepherd.

I take some small comfort in realizing that this Amendment is going nowhere. That small comfort comes in knowing that the Republicans don't control enough of a majority to push this past the Democrats. It will die in the Senate, cheered by progressives and fled from by centrist Dems, who will be aghast at the notion of taking credit for its defeat. So be it. The Democratic Party has been wishy-washy at best on the issue of gay rights, and while now would be a great time to take a principled stand, I'll likely have to be satisfied with the win.

The downside of this legislation of course is monumental, even assuming it doesn't pass. The worst that it does is legitimize the abhorrent treatment of homosexuals and makes bigotry based on sexual orientation a little more socially acceptable. That's inexcusable from the men and women (well, mainly men) of our Senate that are supposed to be leading this country. I can't imagine what defect of character drives people to support the mistreatment of their fellow Americans, but I know exactly what defect causes men like Bill Frist and George W. Bush to pander to those people: Love of power, influence and wealth. They seek to build their Christian nation on the very vices that Christ spoke most ardently against. It seem their hypocrisy knows no bounds...

To my mind, the Republicans have declared a war on marriage, not an initiative to "save" it. Allowing gays and lesbians the same right to marry as heterosexuals is an unmitigated good for society. It's an open door to equal treatment and access to benefits that help strengthen gay and lesbian families. For advocates of healthy families, as most conservative Christian organizations claim to be, this Amendment should be something they stridently oppose. Sadly, however, they see family in America as being the property of their particular Christian worldview, to be defined and historically distorted into a hazy caricature of marriage that has no basis in reality. In their minds, homosexuality is evil, plain and simple, and any attempt to treat homosexuals with dignity and respect is simply out of the question. It's a scorched-earth morality, with no care given to the human cost of such lemming-like ideological conformity. A moment's critical thought, a moment's compassion, a moment spent listening and trying to understand what life is like in America for gays would perhaps give the Religious Right that insight they need to see why a gay marriage ban is so terribly wrong.

But then, that's something Christ might do, and I suspect that if asked about the Frists, the Dobsons and the Bushes of the world, Jesus would only have one response:

"I know them not."

Friday, June 02, 2006

Further Down The Spiral

As the Haditha incident continues to unfold, the war supporters on the Right are working overtime at making excuses and justifications for what can only be described as revenge killings by some U.S. Marines. It's the same excuses once again that were trotted out for Abu Ghraib: "It's a few bad apples" or "an isolated incident". Conservatives cling to their American exceptionalism like drowning rats in a shipwreck. And the storm is growing worse (from the BBC, via Attaturk):

The BBC has uncovered new video evidence that US forces may have been responsible for the deliberate killing of 11 innocent Iraqi civilians.

The video appears to challenge the US military's account of events that took place in the town of Ishaqi in March.

The US said at the time four people died during a military operation, but Iraqi police claimed that US troops had deliberately shot the 11 people.

A spokesman for US forces in Iraq told the BBC an inquiry was under way.

Poking around on the internets, I've read that the shootings in Ishaqi do not appear to be close-range or "execution style" as those in Haditha do. A small comfort, to say the least.

Potentially even more disastrous than Haditha and Ishaqi is the claim by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Prime Minister the Bush administration fought to get into power, that atrocities being committed by U.S. troops are commonplace.

[Info courtesy of kos, who seems to be having server troubles as I compose this.]

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki lashed out at the American military on Thursday, denouncing what he characterized as habitual attacks by troops against Iraqi civilians.

As outrage over reports that American marines killed 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha last year continued to shake the new government, the country's senior leaders said that they would demand that American officials turn over their investigative files on the killings and that the Iraqi government would conduct its own inquiry.

In his comments, Mr. Maliki said violence against civilians had become a "daily phenomenon" by many troops in the American-led coalition who "do not respect the Iraqi people."

"They crush them with their vehicles and kill them just on suspicion," he said. "This is completely unacceptable." Attacks on civilians will play a role in future decisions on how long to ask American forces to remain in Iraq, the prime minister added.

It bears repeating: this is the Prime Minister the folks thinking for Bush wanted. Maliki is supposed to be the voice of a U.S. aligned Iraqi government and he's making accusations that would constitute war crimes for other nations.

I post these stories heavy with resignation and disappointment, especially since they come as no surprise. This is the reality of war, and we who opposed the invasion of Iraq knew from the start that it would come to this. War always does. Certainly, we have noble "rules of engagement" and such. But the reality is that there is no true civility in war. At least in the minds of conservatives, it seems there is a fervent belief in a controlled war, that we can invade and occupy Iraq while only harming the "evildoers". A childish notion that denies everything history has to tell us about the reality of warfare. Innocents are always caught in the iron jaws of war, their well-being destroyed, their homes leveled, their lives and those of their family snuffed out.

The most tragic part of this is that it's a war that never had to happen. It's tragic the millions of Germans and Japanese that were killed during World War II. But the governments of those nations gave the world little choice but meet violence with violence. Not so, Iraq. There was never any real threat to the United States from Iraq. Bush and his supporters chose this war and each of these incidents lies at their feet.

War is not a game of Risk. It's not Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell. And it's certainly not a useful way to spread anything but misery and destruction. Perhaps the Pro-war Right will think about that a little harder the next time one of their empty suit President's decides to "spread democracy" with a gun.

I won't hold my breath...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammo!

As an avid video game fan, I just couldn't pass this one up. Proof, if any more was needed, that the conservative evangelical Christian community has gone completely up and around the bend. From Talk2Action:

Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission - both a religious mission and a military mission -- to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state - especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is "to conduct physical and spiritual warfare"; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice. You have never felt so powerful, so driven by a purpose: you are 13 years old. You are playing a real-time strategy video game whose creators are linked to the empire of mega-church pastor Rick Warren, best selling author of The Purpose Driven Life.


Is this paramilitary mission simulator for children anything other than prejudice and bigotry using religion as an organizing tool to get people in a violent frame of mind? The dialogue includes people saying, "Praise the Lord," as they blow infidels away.

I have to admit that when I first heard rumors about this game a few months ago, it triggered my bullshit detector. After all, it sounds like something The Daily Show would have dreamed up on "This Week in God". It's all too real, unfortunately. This game, called Left Behind: Eternal Forces, glorifies violence as Christian virtue, and it adds a darker twist of bigotry and religious oppression to the mix as well.

The entire concept of this game is wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. Maybe my memory's faulty, but I seem to recall that it's been the Religious Right up in arms for years about the violence of video games. Some games are awfully violent and I find it a little distressing that violent war games are marketed to young people. Video games do glorify violence without consequences, which is why some are inappropriate for children.

I can't understand how any actual Christian would want to own this game, or even defend its gameplay. The whole premise of the game is frightening on a gut level. Eternal Forces appears to be a recruiting poster for a violent kind of Christian Dominion theology, which is not, as I've been told, a goal of which conservative Christians approve. Given the deluge of legislation in the past six years designed to make conservative Christian morality the law of the land, I'm not sure I buy the distancing from Dominionism claimed by the conservative Christians with whom I've spoken, but that's what they claim none the less. Beyond the Dominionist plotline, there is also a very jihadist flavor to this game; the in-game dialogue of "Praise the Lord!" following a swift kill is chilling. How much of the Christian majority is Eternal Forces representing?

I hope the conservative evangelical community thinks very carefully about how embracing this kind of message reflects upon the Christian faith. There is no way to morally justify a video game that glorifies executing people because of their religious beliefs or sexual orientation. Few forms of media are more "mainstream" than video games and this sort of game presents a very ugly side of human behavior as acceptable entertainment. Would the same groups embracing this game, such as Rick Warren's Purpose Driven evangelist network also embrace a video game replaying the Inquisition? How about a game re-enacting lynchings and cross-burnings? After all, once you've crossed the line that Eternal Forces crosses, you've embraced an evil that changes only by degrees. If killing gays or killing Catholics is good Christian morality, then what kind of killing is not?

As a side note, I have to take this moment to mention my abject hatred of Rapture eschatology. I grew up in a Pentacostal church and was taught from a young age that mankind would end in tribulation. I even watched movies about it as a child; movies about nuclear war, beheadings and my family disappearing as I was "left behind". It's a sick and twisted theology that gave me nightmares into adulthood. Perhaps, because of this, I see more danger in this "Left Behind" garbage than what really exists.

Then again, perhaps not...