Sunday, April 30, 2006

Silly Sunday... Speak Your Mind... Satan

There have been so many movies out there with characters of the Devil, Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, Prince of Darkness or whatever you choose to call "him"... do you have a favorite?
Viggo Mortensen ~ The Prophecy {{{my heart fluttering}}}
Al Pacino ~ Devil's Advocate
Harvey Keitel ~ Little Nicky
Coolio ~ Judgment Day
Billy Crystal ~ Deconstructing Harry

Friday, April 28, 2006

Wow… We've found more 'dildos' in government!

Surprise, surprise...

This whole "ban on sex" is getting out of control! Now South Carolina is getting in on the action (or lack there of): South Carolina ready to ban sex toys. Pam Spaulding reported that Rep. Ralph Davenport of Boiling Springs, SC, is the man with a plan to deep-six dildos. Under his bill (H. 4830), if youÂ’re convicted of selling a vibe you can receive up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine! The proposed law is completely based upon the premise that selling a sexual device is a violation of obscenity laws.

Warning: — it could give some of you the vapors, but the man is serious about protecting South Carolina’s citizens from the purveyors of products for pee-pees, hoo-hahs, and any other body parts that might be subject to stimulation.

This country is in a sad, sad state of affairs, when this is what our elected officials are being paid concernern themselves with. It's not like they could be worried about poverty, education, the environmenracismsim, sexism, and so on...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Email From Outer Wingnuttia: Foreigner Welfare Edition

If there's anything the wingnuts hate, it's people not like them. Especially when those people are getting money from our government. Given that one of the core tenets of "compassionate conservatism" is to be very, very conservative with one's compassion, it's really no surprise that the entire notion of foreign aid is despised and distrusted.

Anyhow...get your workgloves on and fill that wheelbarrow to the top with some fat ideological bricks (Buchanan-Dobbs Industries needs a big wall to keep those brown folks out) and punch that clock for a full shift of "Email From Outer Wingnuttia"!


This oughta upset everybody:

How they vote in the United Nations:

Below are the actual voting records of various Arabic/Islamic States which are recorded in both the US State Department and United Nations records:

Kuwait votes against the United States 67% of the time

Qatar votes against the United States 67% of the time

Morocco votes against the United States 70% of the time

United Arab Emirates votes against the U. S. 70% of the time.

Jordan votes against the United States 71% of the time.

Tunisia votes against the United States 71% of the time.

Saudi Arabia votes against the United States 73% of the time.

Yemen votes against the United States 74% of the time.

Algeria votes against the United States 74% of the time.

Oman votes against the United States 74% of the time.

Sudan votes against the United States 75% of the time.

Pakistan votes against the United States 75% of the time

Libya votes against the United States 76% of the time.

Egypt votes against the United States 79% of the time.

Lebanon votes against the United States 80% of the time.

India votes against the United States 81% of the time.

Syria votes against the United States 84% of the time.

Mauritania votes against the United States 87% of the time.

U S Foreign Aid to those that hate us:

Egypt, for example, after voting 79% of the time against the United States, still receives $2 billion annually in US Foreign Aid.

Jordan votes 71% against the United States

And receives $192,814,000 annually in US Foreign Aid.

Pakistan votes 75% against the United States

Receives $6,721,000 annually in US Foreign Aid

India votes 81% against the United States

Receives $143,699,000 annually.

Perhaps it is time to get out of the UN and give the tax savings back to the American workers who are having to skimp and sacrifice to pay the taxes (and gasoline).

First of all, it's worth noting that, for once, the wingnut author of this email actually has his/her statistics largely correct. These countries do vote against the United States often in General Assembly votes. That has as much to do with the mechanics of the United Nations and the interests of the United States as it does with the these countries' opinions of the U.S., however.

Most votes on the U.N. General Assembly are one-sided votes. The reason for this lies in the individual interests of each nation in the assembly. The United States, particularly under the Bush administration, has a very aggressive, interventionist foreign policy, which certainly ruffles some feathers overseas. For all of Bush's wide-eyed sermonizing about "freedom" and "democracy", the reality remains that most of the world sees the United States as an imperial power flexing its military might. Many of the Arab countries on the list are certainly not going to support U.N. resolutions which attempt to justify aggression from the United States. Such aggression may be in the best interests of the United States (Afghanistan, perhaps, but certainly not Iraq) but is not in the interests of the Arab nations in the region. The invasion of Iraq seriously destabilized the Middle East and gave Al-Qaida a fertile training ground to train future Islamic extremists. Perhaps in the comic book world of neo-conservative policy, removing a "bad guy" is worth destabilizing an entire geographic region. Unsurprisingly, however, the folks actually living with our wars in their backyard don't agree.

Beyond military policy, the question of economic policy arises as well. U.S. interests in Middle Eastern oil have led to some serious lapses in moral judgment, as far as our policy is concerned. Supporting repressive regimes, like the House of Saud or Saddam Hussein, in the interests (originally) of maintaining a stable oil supply has led to some ill feelings in the region. In fact, this is one area where democratization of the Middle East is likely to hurt, not help, U.S. interests. As those U.S.-backed authoritarian regimes pass away, even if the U.S. is the agent of that passing, the leaders being elected are likely to represent the resentment among the people of the Middle East towards U.S. policy there in the past 30 years. This is likely another reason the Arab regimes listed above refuse to support the U.S. in its U.N. resolutions.

One of the interesting bits of information that is not listed above is which country actually does support the U.S. in most of its issues at the U.N. One might suspect that our European allies might fall on that list; not the case, however. At best, nations such as France, Germany and even the United Kingdom generally only vote with the U.S. about half the time. The one country that does vote with the U.S. most of the time is Israel, which may go a long way to explain why the Arab countries in the region do not. Whatever one's views on the United States' relationship with Israel, it's undoubtedly true that U.S. support for Israel at the U.N. has certainly not one us many friends among Arab regimes.

The other aspect of this is the complaint about foreign aid to other nations, particularly those who, as demonstrated, do not vote in our interests in the U.N. General Assembly. This betrays both a profound lack of understanding by the author of why we divvy out foreign aid as well as an almost sociopathic view towards the welfare of other people. Of course, fear and loathing of that great "other" out there is a cornerstone of conservative ideology and Republican policy. The core need of the politics of fear and greed is an "other" to contest against. In terms of foreign policy, Arab nations in particular have become that shadowy "other", both in response to the attacks of 9/11 and due simply to a conservative American tendency towards xenophobia. That's why conservatives rant so against foreign aid: it's the deliberate support of the "other" (fear) with the tax money conservatives believe is always taken from them unfairly (greed).

As I said, this betrays a profound lack of understanding about foreign aid as a tool of statecraft. For as much as I would love to live in a world where the wealthiest nation ever conceived by man gives freely of its wealth for purely humanitarian reasons, I'm sadly forced to accept the reality that charity is just not a strong capitalist value. Americans tend to use the calculus of the market even in their giving. Most choose charities for "deserving" causes, as though any cause of hardship among our fellow humans is not deserving of relief. Thus, the primary use of foreign aid as a statecraft tool is not a humanitarian one, though it may appear that way at first blush. It's purpose is to purchase influence and good will. Lest there be any doubt that this is the case, observe what happens in nations, such as pre-invasion Iraq, where the United States had done the opposite of give foreign aid: imposing economic sanctions. In the interests of taking a political stance against certain ruling regimes, the United States (and its accomplices) often impose such sanctions, which generally have little effect on the ruling regime (Castro, anyone?) but are devastating to the citizenry. Certainly, if the United States were acting in an altruistic manner, a humanitarian manner, then discussions of sanctions, or even moreso, pre-emptive invasions, would be dismissed as morally offensive. Sadly, they are not.

The other main purpose of foreign aid is protection for the United States. Again, while many NGO's may offer humanitarian medical aid for no other purpose than being compassionate towards others, most government actors do not play in that same sandbox. Medical aid to other countries is both a purchase of good will and an attempt to protect American interests from foreign threats. Moreso than with medical aid, military aid as well. We don't give weaponry to certain nations because we like them or want them to be as trigger-happy as the United States. We do so that they may be our proxy in deterring our enemies. At the end of the day, the United States gives foreign aid to Arab countries that may not be politically allied with us because it helps foster relationships with those nations and ease the causes of terrorism. The author of the email doesn't seem to understand, as most conservatives don't, that taxes actually buy important things for Americans, like security and welfare. Conservatives can rest assured that we're not actually trying to help Arab people; we're just trying to buy them off in hopes that they don't help Al-Qaida or some other militant group bloody us again.

The moral of this story is that any attempt to classify a lack of Arab support for U.S. interests as "hatred" towards the U.S. is ridiculous. Certainly some of the regimes listed above are not friendly to the U.S., just as the U.S. is not friendly to many other regimes around the world. But this sort of wingnut emotionalizing of the issue is reminiscent of Bush's infamous "they hate us for our freedom" canard. It reflects an ignorant and emotionally immature view of the world, as well as a profoundly racist and selfish attitude towards other human beings.

I guess Bush's admonishment against being "isolationist" didn't resonate much with his wingnut followers, if this email is any indication...

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Invisible Enemy Of Faith

This story has made its way around the blogosphere and I just have to weigh in, even though PZ Myers has really taken this screed just about as far apart as it can be taken. Apparently this is one of the new themes popping up among some on the left; that somehow, if we progressives just make ourselves more like the theocrats trying to ruin America, then we'll get more votes in elections. Effectively, this leaves those of us who choose not to join a religion without a party to support.

Most of what is written by Melissa Barton in her ill-conceived essay is pure rhetorical garbage. It's the same sort of muddled mess perpetuated on many rightwing religious sites. She takes several extreme claims about atheism, fails to give even one credible example to back any of said claims and then advocates essentially silencing anyone that doesn't believe in a "supreme being" as she does. Fortunately, I doubt she's the arbiter of such decisions for the progressive movement.

Personally, I don't begrudge Ms. Barton her opinions; if she really has a major bone of contention with atheism, so be it. She's certainly not alone in this country. As I've written before, being an atheist makes one a member of a demographic that political correctness has passed right on by. We're routinely considered immoral or unethical, we're often either compared to or forced to answer for the actions of Stalin or Hitler, among other indignities. Again, I say, so be it. Anyone ignorant enough to confuse atheism or worse, secularism, as Barton does, with the disregard for human decency displayed by fascism has nothing of value to add to the discussion.

Atheism is not secularism, which Barton no doubt knows. Atheism can be defined in many ways, though I tend to use a couple of questions posed by noted evangelical Ravi Zacharias to aid my definition. The questions are:

Does God exist? And, if so, what is the nature of God?

I answer the second question first, which leads me to my atheistic beliefs. It's not possible, in mankind's current state of advancement at least, to know anything about the nature of God. We cannot see, taste, touch, smell, hear or mathematically calculate anything about God (or anything supernatural). Given an absolute dearth of evidence for God, either He doesn't exist or his existence is a separate notion to every single human that has ever lived. Either way, the first question becomes moot. Does God exist? We cannot know, because we cannot know anything about the nature of God.

Now, I have many friends and family who are evangelical Christians who will say "But of course we know God; the Bible tells us all about Him". No, it doesn't. It tells us all about the faith of those writing the Bible. There is no objective truth to be gleaned about the nature of God from the Bible. Only the hopes, dreams, faith and, sometimes, fevered rantings of those who authored the few Christian writings contained in the Bible. It is only proof that a collection of ancient men and women had various views on the supernatural and with some extremely tortured contextual acrobatics their beliefs can be loosely formed into a semi-coherent dogma. This is not to insult those faiths, though I recognize that many Christians, particularly the conservative variety, take offense to any questioning of their scripture. I have no problem with those who feel that the Bible is the absolute Word of God, so long as they respect my right to consider them to be engaging in a whole lot of wishful thinking. To my mind, slavish devotion to any written word as absolute truth is an abdication of the free will inherent in all human beings, be it merely human perception or a gift from the divine. I see no reason why faith needs a book to give it voice, except as an attempt to make faith an institution.

To conclude, atheism is, in my life, the realization that any perception of the supernatural is confined exclusively to the mind of the perceiver. In my perception, the universe is complete, my existence is complete, without the need for any divine source or purpose. It's tremendously liberating to me that I can believe as I choose, unconstrained by the teachings of some ancient writers in the Middle East. Maybe they're right, and certainly many of their teachings on morality are sound. But whether they are right or wrong is their burden to bear, not mine. My life changes not one whit either way.

And a final word to Ms. Barton: I don't think I'm going to let you drum me out of the progressive movement today. You're welcome to your faith, so long as you recognize that I, and others who believe as I do, neither want nor require the same spirituality that you do. We are all fighting the same battle, and we lose much ground when we turn on each other.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Philosophy Friday: Christian Fundamentalism

As a progressive liberal, one of the key ideologies that I often run into conflict with is that of religious fundamentalism, as any reader here for any length of time no doubt knows. Of course, in the United States, that religious fundamentalism is a certain set of beliefs couched in Christianity. The pervasiveness is clear, as a recent article in The New Humanist points out (link via 3Quarks Daily):

Consider these statistics: 95 per cent of Americans believe in God; 86 per cent believe in Heaven; 78 per cent believe in life after death; 72 per cent believe in angels; 71 per cent believe in Hell; 65 per cent believe in the Devil; 34 per cent believe that the Bible is inerrant. But then again only 40 per cent believe they have actually had contact with the dead (source Kosmin and Lachman and The Economist).

Now, while I oppose fundamentalist religion in terms of its social and political impact, I do try and be as open-minded as possible about folks' personal beliefs. I really have no stake in whether or not people want to believe in a particular religion, so long as they don't try and burden me or my family with it against our wills. I love discussions on religion and morality and encourage them. Because religious beliefs are held as sacred, I believe they should be vigorously debated, rather than treated as incontestable laws of nature. Certainly that's my humanist beliefs poking through, but I believe that such is better for our society.

And yet, I find myself being further and further intolerant of the presiding religious authority in our country, mainly because it is so pervasive. I find the weirdly overblown persecution complex of conservative Christians puzzling and, frankly, rather tedious. Trust me, O you of the Christian faith, you have no idea what persecution is living as a Christian in the United States. Try being an atheist some time, if you don't believe me. Being openly atheist in one's spiritual beliefs and openly humanist in one's moral beliefs is one of the few remaining aspects of our culture where tolerance for individual diversity has made precious little headway. At best, we of the non-faith-based persuasion are considered morally groundless, at worst, immoral and hedonistic. Neither is true, of course, but the acceptance of such views is so widely accepted that even I, liberal blogging bloviator that I am, keep my moral and spiritual beliefs very closely held among my professional peers. In an office where the Bible and social conservative talking points are fair game both in meetings and at the water cooler, sometimes the path of least resistance is best. Not very intellectually honest, I realize...

The article goes on to point out just want Christian fundamentalism is, in the strictest sense:

Fundamentalism is a term more often used than understood, applied in a rather casual way to literalist followers of many religious texts. In relation to American Christianity, however, the term does have a clear historical origin. The word "Fundamentalism" originally referred to a series of a dozen pamphlets entitled The Fundamentals which were distributed free of charge by the American Bible League between 1909 and 1915. The project was funded by two brothers, Lyman and Milton Stewart, who had made their fortunes in the California oil industry, and 250,000 were printed.

The Fundamentals emphasized two key points. The first was the truth of the infallible Bible, the conviction that the Old and New Testaments represent the complete and exact word of God and are the comprehensive and final authority over faith and practice. The second point stressed the concept of the "born again" Christian, the insistence that salvation and eternal life come only as the free gift of God's grace through a radical and sudden commitment to Christ.

I have to confess that I am as guilty as anyone of defining fundamentalism the way the above paragraph describes. I also tend to lump conservative social policy, particularly the invasive, anti-privacy type so common today, with Christian fundamentalism by definition, which is not strictly accurate obviously. It's an easy trap to fall into, especially when it quickly illustrates a point about conservative political excess.

I also have to admit that, by the definition presented above by The New Humanist, I am a former Christian fundamentalist. I attended a Pentacostal church for most of my formative years and even flirted briefly with the notion of divinity school. I can certainly testify that while being a fundamentalist Christian is hard work, being an atheist is many magnitudes more difficult, both for philosophical and practical reasons. My decision to leave the faith behind was not all mine, per se. One cannot pretend to faith, other than to convince others, and I certainly wasn't going to live Pascal's wager.

As for the true definition of Christian fundamentalism, I agree with Amanda at Pandagon. The "born again" aspect of the belief doesn't bother me. In fact, I think the idea of a symbolic washing away of those parts of ourselves which are destructive and unliveable is a good thing, though I question whether such a thing is possible in a moment of transformative prayer. Generally, such deep, life-affirming changes take time. Given that I am, technically, a born-again Christian, I can testify that the moment of "salvation" really didn't change my life in any meaningful way. The kind of transformative experience that can evoke long-lasting change that lasts doesn't seem to me to be something so immediate.

The Biblical literalism and inerrancy, on the other hand, I find to be a very dangerous theological belief and the source of a great deal of strife in our society. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the use of the Bible as an absolute law in our day tends to strip the scripture of its historical and cultural context. Morality should be determined by much more than a steadfast belief in a perfect source of absolute law. The practicable ethics born out of any moral code need to have a degree of flexibility, else human society never progresses. The moral laws written into the Bible reflect the days in which they were written and many of them simply don't apply well anymore. Absent a benefit to society, moral strictures of these kind must be held at least at arm's length, if not discarded altogether.

Many of the social restrictions that conservatives push today fall into this category. Opposition to homosexual rights, for example, have no benefit to society, regardless of how the authors of the Bible may have felt about the subject. Perhaps in primitive societies, infant mortality and fertility rates were such that homosexual relationships were prohibited because they didn't produce children. I don't know if that's true nor do I think that justifies such a prohibition; the point I'm trying to make is that there could well have been a practical justification behind such restrictions. No such practicality exists any longer, except in the fevered minds of men like Paul Cameron. Even further, certain of these literalist Biblical beliefs are actually detrimental to society, such as abortion bans. Even beyond all the practical costs for such ideology, the more abstract cost to our cultural identity is very steep as well.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Father/Daughter Purity Ball

[Picture courtesy of the creepy site.]

As I've been dog-paddling around the liberal end of the blogging pool lately(you know it's the deep end, of course), I've come across numerous postings about the so-called Father/Daughter Purity Ball held in South Dakota. Apparently this originally aired on a NOW special on PBS. Essentially what these are is a formal father/daughter dance, where the father dresses up in a tuxedo and the daughter, aged 7-11 years, wears a beautiful ball gown and together they party the night away in style. At this point, I have no problem with the exercise. I would be charmed to attend a father/daughter formal with one of my girls. I think it would be a nice way to spend some future quality time with the young chicas, who already are growing up too quickly.

However, the dance is really only a facade for something much more sinister, sneaky and downright creepy. See these dances have a purpose (from Digby):

You have to see it to believe it. They are all dressed up like prom goers, the dads in tuxes and the daughters in evening gowns looking all grown up. They dance, they laugh, they giggle. And then father and daughter stand up, holding each others hands, staring into each others' eyes and the girls make these vows as if in a wedding ceremony.

So exactly what are they pledging, you ask?

I pledge to remain sexually pure...until the day I give myself as a wedding gift to my husband. ... I know that God requires this of me.. that he loves me. and that he will reward me for my faithfulness.

And this is what Daddy says in turn:

I, (daughter's name)'s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over my daughter and as the high priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.

This is not a joke; check out the link to Digby and you can see some actual pictures of the event!

This whole sick charade is nothing more than a further attempt by these conservative Christian fathers to gather the reigns of their daughter's lives and exercise a level of control that they have no business possessing. I have so many problems with this entire affair that I almost don't know where to begin. Oh...wait...yes I do. One look at the pictures of my beloved Livi and Cece and I know EXACTLY how I feel about this debacle.

First of all, this complete fetishizing of female virginity by conservatives is absurd. One thing I've noticed from my years following politics is that conservatives, especially religious conservatives, have a grossly unhealthy negative obsession with sexuality. Much of it comes from the Bible, I realize; the apostle Paul wrote some very kooky things about sexuality in several of his epistles. Of course, the overriding theme is that women must avoid sex at all costs unless married, and even then should never sin so much as to actually enjoy it for non-reproductive reasons. Typical claptrap one would expect from an ancient text written by prominent men in a patriarchal society.

However, a good chunk of the obsessive conservative condemnation of female sexuality also seems to come from a very peculiar brand of historical revisionism. There is this persistent conservative myth of the "virtuous young lady", chastely saving herself for her handsome prince of a husband. This seems to be accompanied by an equally persistent myth that somehow female sexuality is a liberal feminist invention of the 1960's. If only, the conservatives think, we could return to that idyllic time, when girls were chaste and demure, a huge chunk of our family social problems could be solved. That this female stereotype never really existed (or, if she did, in very limited quantity) has no bearing on the conservative longing for it. The ancient role of women as property, a woman belonging to her husband and a daughter belonging to her father, has manifested itself in modern America as a moral belief that female sexuality is sinful and taboo. Marriage restrictions on sex were always about property rights in the past; now they're about moral imperatives. It's another ill born of taking ancient teachings, much of it from the Bible again, and stripping away all context in search of moral laws. It's an attempt to make patriarchy morally justifiable.

Amanda at Pandagon puts in wonderfully stark terms exactly what this sort of patriarchal purity pledge is intended to convey:

It used to be enough for patriarchs to demonstrate their symbolic ownership of their daughters by the whole giving away thing at weddings. I suppose that so many women like me are out there not being given, taken, purchased or laid claim to in any way that in order to restore the karmic balance, these poor girls have go through a series [of] "Daddy owns this virginal vulva" rituals before they get passed off to their new owner.


And make no mistake, this is about daughters - these are father/daughter purity balls where the father, unable to lay claim to his actual flesh and blood through the way he laid claim to his other female property, his wife, instead has an elaborate ritual where he extracts a promise from her that her vagina is his until he sells it [as] she marries someone he presumably approves of.

These Father/Daughter Purity Balls ride off into the far sunset of ridiculousness already begun by the abstinence-only crowd. They've gone beyond demonizing sex (though they certainly continue to do that) into a sort of extra-marital religious sacrament, which these young girls, likely having a poor understanding already of that to which they are agreeing, are completely hoodwinked. I suggest a poor understanding on the part of the young girls because I find it very hard to believe that any parents willing to engage in such theatrics as these balls are giving their daughters an A+ education in human sexuality. And I say they're being hoodwinked because, in spite of the flowery language and deceptive feints at father/daughter bonding, these pledges really have little to do with what's best for the daughter and everything to do with insecure fathers attempting to control the future personal lives of their pre-pubescent daughters.

Now, I'm not advocating that teenage girls or boys engage in frivolous sex. There are very real consequences to sex, both emotionally and physically, and its not something that should just be dismissed casually. I fully intend, as embarrassing as my traditional Midwestern side will find it, to teach my girls about responsible sexual behavior. There has to be a firm grounding for any adolescents in the practical and realistic aspects of sexuality, which this abstinence-only cultism fails to address in any way. Some people, myself included, do remain virgins until they are adults. However, I can adamantly state on my own behalf that it certainly wasn't out of any moral fortitude as much as lack of opportunity and fear of facing my parents with a pregnant girlfriend.

I, like any parent, would love to see my daughters only share their intimate selves one day with the man (or, possibly, the woman) who becomes their life-long love, mainly because I don't want them to ever experience the emotional pain of a relationship gone wrong. Unfortunately, I can't live their bad days for them, and they'll probably have some heartbreak on a few of those days. So be it. My daughters' sexuality is their's, not mine, and while I will teach and encourage responsible behavior, I certainly will never take ownership of something that belongs only to them.

That's the real essence of these Purity Balls: that a girl's sexuality belongs not to her, but to her father, until such time as a suitable substitute for that father can be found (at his discretion, of course). It's about controlling the lives of their daughters down to the most minute detail, ensconced in their antiquated beliefs about female sexuality. I pity these young girls, who've been led to believe that their sexuality is both evil and their most identifying characteristic. I shudder to imagine what that does to the psyche of these young ladies, especially when they reach an age where they more clearly understand what it is to be a sexual being. What feelings of discomfort or even revulsion they'll harbor for the fathers who pledged ownership of these girls' sexuality I can only imagine.

One last aspect of this that makes it even more crass and creepy is the cottage industry popping up around it. More from Digby:

The Heart to
Heart program, created by jeweler Joe Costello, differs from other abstinence
programs in some important, unique ways.


First, the "key to
her heart." This beautiful heart has a smaller heart in the front. Behind that
heart is a keyhole. When making the covenant with your daughter, you explain
that the covenant is between her, you and God. Since God has placed her in your
care as a parent, you and only you can hold the "key to her heart."

Again, this is taking something that could be beautiful, a gift from a father to his daughter, and turning into a perverse obsessing over a young girl's future sexual behavior, all wrapped up in a nifty felt box. Furthermore:

You then explain to the child that you will hold the key to her precious heart until the day of her wedding. On that day, you will give her away like at all weddings, BUT in doing so you will also "give away" the key to her heart to her now husband. The key and lock are actually functional and your son-in-law will place the key in the heart to open it.

Even more repulsive! It's not enough for these insecure, sex-obsessed conservative fathers to control their own daughter's sexuality. They must also be certain that their daughters NEVER have any control over it themselves. Only the introduction of a future son-in-law, one father-approved to take over ownership of his chattel, can "unlock the key to her heart". It's very telling that the jewelry piece representing this pledge is a lock and key. The girl's status in the arrangement is very clear. And it's obviously not her "heart" the father is concerned with...

As a final spiteful poke at these patriarchal religious nutters, I have to remark that this entire ceremony and ideology is just infused with an incestuous creepiness. Any father so concerned about his daughter's future sex life that he's requiring oaths and wearing of symbols of bondage needs to seek some professional help. Probably one that uses medical texts instead of religious ones...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Stress Fractures And Megalomania

There is no doubt in my mind that being President of the United States is a job which takes its toll on its occupant. One only has to contrast the young and vibrant former Governor Bill Clinton, wailing sax on the Arsenio Hall Show, with the graying elder statesman that pals around with Bush the Smarter today. Bill paid a high price for being the most powerful man in the world.

So it goes that the ideological monolith which is the Bush administration is finally beginning to crack under the strain. Of course, what appeared to be the king's tower of Republican dominance in Washington, built of crony capitalism mortared with conservative moral muck, is really just a glass house (stained, of course). The leak scandal, the Plame investigation, the illegal wiretapping scandal, Big Time Veep shooting Republican donors in the face, retired generals joining the chorus against Rummy, Iraqis throwing things other than flowers and candy; the list is long and the stress is piling up.

So much so, that the Decider in Chief got a little steamed with the press yesterday over questions about whether Secretary MacNama...oops, I mean, Rumsfeld, should resign (via Taylor Marsh at firedoglake):

"I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation. But IÂ’m the decider, and I decide what is best. And whatÂ’s best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense." - President George W. Bush

Apparently Bush is finally beginning to realize he's just an empty suit for the Republican party; a brand name, a fund raiser. More importantly, at least to true men of power like Rumsfeld and Cheney, Bush is the ultimate scapegoat. All of their mistakes will rest in the Oval Office, right on the desk of the "decider", while they continue to push the conservative movement to its most absurd ends.

What's most striking to me in the temper tantrum by Bush is the disdain he has for the American people. He must truly believe in his divinely-inspired appointment to the Presidency in order to utter such nonsense. Rumsfeld as well, with his casual dismissal of any voice critical of the Iraq debacle. One can hear an almost authoritarian bent in the rantings of Bush and Rumsfeld at their respective press conferences. Their obvious belief that their decisions should be beyond question or critique is contrary to the most basic notions of democracy. Further, the hypocrisy of both men is astounding, given their repetitive claims that military leaders would determine our best strategy in Iraq. If that's so, then why the hostility towards these retired generals, not one of which has actually spoken out against the war? These are men that largely support the mission in Iraq, but have taken issue with the way that mission is being conducted by the top civilian leadership. Perhaps a president less in love with the levers of executive power, and expanding the pull of those levers, would recognize valuable criticism when it's given. Not "the decider", however. In his megalomaniacal little mind, authority, his authority, even when vested in others, is sacrosanct. Apparently Bush wants democracy in Iraq so badly he's willing to give them ours.

[As I write this, I note that Li'l Scottie McClellan has finally tired of being Bush's Propaganda Minister. A lucrative consultancy no doubt awaits the now former General Manager of Mendacity for the Bush administration. I'm certain the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation can always use another rightwing stalwart, especially one who has spent time in charge of deceiving the media about the true nature of Republican governance. There are only so many ways to sell war for the poor and tax cuts for the rich to the American people; new blood is needed all the time and Scottie should fit right in. ]

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter & Passover!

Enjoy! I am an equal opportunity 'holiday celebrator', so here are a few others this weekend:
Baisakhi (India)
Sinhala and Tamil New Year (Sri Lanka)
Children With Alopecia Day
Anniversary of President LincolnÂ’s Assassination
Vaisakhi (India)
National Auctioneers Day
Anniversary - Titanic Sinking
Charley ChaplinÂ’s Birthday

Friday, April 14, 2006

What time is it?

The clock says: Time to make a difference!

What are your past, present or future 'pet projects' or 'noble causes'?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Pot And The Kettle

It seems our President had some harsh criticism today of Iranian President Mahmoud Achmadinejad.

From Dr. Atta J. Turk:

Reaching a diplomatic solution over Iran's nuclear ambitions will be difficult because Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is "not a rational human being," a senior White House adviser said on Wednesday.


"It's going to be difficult. It's going to be tough because they are led by ideologues who have a weird sense of history," he said.


"This guy (Ahmadinejad) had the sense that he was mystically empowered and as a result transfixed the audience -- that is not a rational human being to deal with," he said.

"Idealogues with a weird sense of history" eh? Unlike our President who has said:

I think we agree, the past is over.
-George W. Bush, On his meeting with John McCain, Dallas Morning News, May 10, 2000

We've seen freedom conquer evil and secure the peace before. In World War II, free nations came together to fight the ideology of fascism, and freedom prevailed. And today, Germany and Japan are democracies -- and they are allies in securing the peace.

Considering Stalinist Russia was a key ally, as well as considering that most of today's dictatorships had their beginning in the post-WWII era, Bush's sense of history is just a little bit too rose-tinted. Bush has also remarked numerous times that he cares little for how history views him, as he will be dead by then. These seem to be some odd ways to view history, given an American President's ability to make such.

The real howler, though, is his criticism that Ahmadenijad believes he's mystically empowered to be President of Iran, and may be a little irrational because of that belief. Oh, really?

"I feel like God wants me to run for President. I can't explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me. Something is going to happen... I know it won't be easy on me or my family, but God wants me to do it."
--George W. Bush commenting to Texas evangelist James Robinson in the run-up to his presidential campaign

And there's this lovely bit of surrealism:

"God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam [Hussein], which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."
--Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Abu Mazen quoting Bush when they met in Aqaba; reported in The Haaretz Reporter by Arnon Regular

If only there was some sort of verse or something in the holy book of Bush's professed religion that warned against accusing others of your own failings. Something about a beam and a mote perhaps...

(For the record, I don't necessarily think ALL religious people are nuts. However, believing God wants you to invade nations or be President is a little quirky, to say the least. And if he said "The great feathered serpent-god Quetzelcoatl wants me to be President," we'd lock his deranged ass up!)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Gettin' Educated

I am a big believer in the transformative power of a good education in someone's life. I'm also a big believer that our public schools are a good idea in theory, but could definitely use some tweaking in practice. Thus, I found the following idea from Florida interesting, even if it did come from the Worst President Ever's brother.

From CNN via the commie liberals at Democratic Underground:

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (AP) -- Lila and Andrew Zoghbi are bored five days a week in classes at Chiles High School.

It's not that they are slackers. In fact, they are honor students with high ambitions. Lila, 15, plans to be an engineer, and her brother, 17, wants to design video games. The problem, they say, is that school is not giving them the career preparation they want...


Students like the Zoghbis would get an education more tailored to their career plans under a proposal from Gov. Jeb Bush that education experts say would make Florida the first state to require incoming high school freshmen to declare a major, just like college students.

Bush said the plan would help prepare students better for the real world and reduce the dropout rate by making school more interesting. Last year, nearly 3 percent of Florida's 800,000 high school students dropped out...


Some educators support the plan, while others fear it will deprive students of a broad liberal arts education and put even more pressure on young people...

While I'm as skeptical as anyone ought to be about any education policy from the Republican party (No Child Left Behind, anyone?) but this largely seems like a good idea to me. I certainly don't agree with some of Bush's justifications, which revolve largely around the building of a more educated workforce. While I think having educated workers in our society is a good thing, I also think making work training the primary focus of education sucks some of the life out of what can be a life-affirming experience.

I am one of those for whom the professor behind the lectern classroom model is not ideal. I spent a good deal of my youth being bored out of my gourd at school, which was reflected in my, shall we say "less than stellar" grades at times. I was actually fortunate in that my school annexed with another neighboring school prior to my high school years, and I was able to get a fresh start at a new school. I'm betting it doesn't work out so well for many others, but it was a gift to me.

However, for all that high school turned out reasonably well for me, I think it would have been much improved by a program like the one in Florida. A love of learning is often a difficult thing to cultivate in kids and I think a more focused education could really help capture the attention of many young people who would otherwise tune out in their teen-aged years. A student whose interests and talents lie more towards the fine arts is probably wasting their time learning the quadratic equation and the Laws of Thermodynamics. Conversely, a person like myself, who went on to work in the financial industry, would have benefited greatly from a focus on business and finance in high school. Finally, not every high school student is going on to college, nor should they need to, and our education system should be better able to accommodate student interest outside of mainstream academia. I firmly believe in the nobility of academics, but I also believe that most people are not going to have a career as professors or philosophers. To a certain extent, I suppose this sentiment does cleave too close to the Republican belief that schools should be worker production factories and little, if anything, more. That criticism may be valid, though I say in my defense that, as a solidly middle class working American, I recognize the need to balance a certain degree of pragmatism with my idealism. You may not agree, of course...

The biggest criticism I've seen of this plan so far, and there was plenty of it in the DU comments, is that high school freshman just aren't ready to make such important decisions. Hell, the thinking goes, even college freshman have a difficult time picking a major. While this is sometimes true, I think it's a problem reflective of our current educational system, not the students within it. Many young students do, in fact, know what they'd like to do professionally, or at least have some idea of the sorts of things they'd like to study. It's insulting to our young people to make a blanket judgment of their inadequacy. I firmly believe that we get from our young people the kind of behavior we largely expect from them. If we expect that our children will be mature enough to make such decisions, then perhaps our expectations will help give them the confidence they need to make the choice that works for them. Even if they choose a major that turns out to be a mistake, that's good as well. Part of knowing what interests you is knowing what doesn't. At the end of the day, they've still learned a little something about themselves and may have perhaps avoided heading into a career path the doesn't suit them. Any knowledge is a good thing, even if it takes a disastrous semester of Computer Science to realize one was meant to star on Broadway.

I really think this sort of program has the potential for some great rewards. If nothing else, it could help make kids more interested in school and learning, which pays dividends for the rest of their lives. Yes, it will have its difficulties and, certainly, it will not suit every student. No blanket institution ever works for everyone, including the education system we have now. But I have to believe that a high school curriculum that allows students to choose areas of study closer to their own interests is a good idea.

So, how wrong am I?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Shaking Another Hornet's Nest

The drums of war beat endlessly in Republican-controlled Washington these days, and the beat grows louder with every mention of Iran. There is a frightening symmetry to the foreign policy goals of the Bush administration with regard to Iran and those with regard to another nation in which 130,000 U.S. troops are still fighting and dying.

From the Ministry of Truth:

We do not want the Iranians to have a nuclear weapon, the capacity to make a nuclear weapon, or the knowledge as to how to make a nuclear weapon. That's our stated goal.

A laudable goal, to be sure, but also one not terribly rooted in reality and also uncomfortably similar to the bogus rationale that took the United States into Iraq. Once again, we hear the "axis of evil" type of comic book rhetoric; it's the U.S. White Hats against the evil Iranian Black Hats in a battle of good versus evil. It's the same detached ideological garbage for which our soldiers are still footing the bill.

Now, I'm no expert on foreign policy, but I have to say that, frankly, I don't buy the threat from Iran. As I've pointed out in past posts, both the president of Iran and the ruling mullahs have disavowed the use of nuclear weapons, going so far, in the case of the theocrats, of issuing a fatwa against their use. Further, the fact of the matter is that enriched uranium is required BOTH for domestic energy production and nuclear weaponry. It's all in the degree of enrichment. While Iran did announce today that it has successfully enriched uranium, that does not, by default, mean they have a nuclear weapons program or are seeking one. It's just not as clear a case as either the White House or the conservative bedwetters would like the country to believe. The notion that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapons program has become gospel in the MSM without any actual proof that a weapons program is indeed in the offing.

The statements out of the Iranian government do have to be taken with a grain of salt, of course. I, for one, never trust theocratic governments, be they Iranian or Republican. Certainly the belligerence of President Ahmadinejad, especially towards Israel, is a huge cause for concern and mistrust. And yet, the President of Iran has little real power, outside of his use as a mouthpiece for government PR. Beyond that, the Iranian theocratic government is one that does not enjoy much popular support, either at home or abroad. Thus, a certain amount of tough talk is expected, especially in light of U.S. actions in the region. After all, Saddam Hussein hadn't had a credible WMD program in at least a decade and it didn't save his regime from an ideologically-blinded Bush foreign policy.

The cruelest irony in the entire Iran situation may be the revelation earlier this week by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker that the Pentagon is laying the groundwork for a possible nuclear strike against Iran. Just to be clear: this is the Bush administration advocating for going to war against Iran, using the very same weapons for which the war would be started in the first place. It's the ultimate expression of American exceptionalism; the "Do as we say but not as we do" mentality that has characterized much of our foreign policy since WWII. If that's not enough hypocrisy, merely understand that the United States carries the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons on the planet AND has allowed two of its allies, Israel and soon India, carte blanche to maintain their own nuclear stockpiles. The Bush White House has an unbridgeable credibility gap on this issue.

I know it's a sentiment that's been expressed across the blogosphere this week, but I will add to the chorus: this news from Hersh is disastrous. The use of our nuclear weaponry on another nation, especially as a preventive strike, will fundamentally alter the world in which we live. The global war that the neo-conservatives and Bush supporters believe we're engaged in will become all too real. We'll essentially be telling the world that we are an outlaw state; that notions of morality and decency and community within the world are not respected in the United States. Outside of the Iraqi insurgency our invasion created, our enemies in the Muslim world are a radical fringe. No more, the day after we initiate nuclear war. The United States will become the most isolated nation in the world. Frighteningly, I suspect many in America would be just fine with that, especially the "build walls, not bridges" bigots that have come out on Fox News and other conservative media outfits lately. A U.S. nuclear strike could be the shooting of Franz Ferdinand all over again, igniting a worldwide catastrophe of unthinkable proportions.

Sounds crazy, doesn't it? Don't be too sure. Read Mahablog's reasons why Bush's policy towards Iran is such a potential disaster. It could leave us longing for the days when Iraq and Afghanistan were our biggest problems.

What's On Your Beginner's Mind?

Are there any topics out there that you are dying to have "blogged" about?

Let me know and I'll give ya my two cents (for what it's worth). I know everyone is dying to know what I think about life...


Friday, April 07, 2006

The War Against Brown People Takes A Stutter Step

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, God it's good to be back! Two weeks off from blogging is too much! If I don't get some things off of my chest, I may explode...

The immigration debate continues to rage out of control, while the Republicans once again get caught bumbling around the capitol. The old stereotype of conservatives as the pragmatists in Washington is certainly dead as fried chicken by now. Once again, they fail to get any of the people's business done.

From JS Online:

Landmark legislation offering eventual citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants suffered a potentially fatal blow Friday in the Senate, the latest in a series of election-year setbacks for President Bush and the Republicans who control Congress.


Hailed as a bipartisan breakthrough less than 24 hours earlier, the bill fell victim to internal disputes in both parties as well as to bewildering political maneuvering. On the key vote, only 38 senators, all Democrats, lined up in support. That was 22 short of the 60 needed, and left the legislation in limbo as lawmakers left the Capitol for a two-week break.

The reality is that a good chunk of Republicans, including noted blight on Wisconsin, James Sensenbrenner, cannot abide the thought that a poor minority people get to partake of the riches of America. It's the firm belief in the moral superiority of fortunate birth. Born within the U.S.'s borders? Congratulations! You get a free membership to the world's wealthiest nation, no questions asked. Born in Mexico, with little hope of a job or a better life? Too bad. God's got a plan for everyone and your's happens to involve a life of hardship and suffering. Better luck next time...

I find this entire immigration debate to be a particularly visceral reminder of what an ugly country this remains on many levels. I'm not an expert on economics, but I do know enough to realize that the tiny percentage of undocumented immigrants in the country are not derailing our entire economy. Shame on those of both parties that chastise Mexican immigrants (and don't fool yourself into thinking this debate is about any other nationality) for suppressing wages for the working man. That's like blaming battered women for pushing up insurance premiums with their medical costs from getting beaten by their husbands. Corporations suppress wages, not immigrants. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, stopping each and every company in the United States from paying a fair wage to Mexican immigrants, documented or not. Certainly that would be the moral thing to do, and I argue that it would be good all around for the economy. American companies grossly exploit immigrant workers and then have the gall to blame those same workers for "stealing" American jobs. It's a disgusting stew of racism and classism, and the Republicans support it whole-heartedly.

Furthermore, I find the assertion that Mexican immigrants are "taking the jobs Americans don't want" to be an equally racist and vile notion. Trust me: these are jobs that Mexican immigrants don't want either. They take menial labor jobs because that's all the wealthiest nation the world has ever known chooses to offer them. Many of the same Americans decrying the poor wages and benefits they get from their jobs seem to have no problem consigning an entire community of people, millions strong, to a living even lower than that inadequate minimum. It's cruel and un-American treatment towards a people that happened to be born on the wrong side of some invisible line. A line, by the way, which was drawn after the United States forcibly took a chunk of their country from them originally. Our war against Native Americans never ends, does it?

Finally, not one conservative Republican that supports the House immigration bill has any right to talk about "family values" again. They spit the word "amnesty" through their teeth, as though it were a vile taste in their mouths. The reality of deportation is that families will be destroyed, returned to a nation that is no more their home than it is mine. Many, many families, whose only crime was being desperate to work for a better life. That used to be a moral belief that Americans held in high regard. No more, sadly. Now the "American Dream" is to be born rich or achieve empty fame or win the lottery. Those, like the Mexican immigrants who come here, that want to dig in and build that better life with their blood and sweat, are derided as "criminals" or relegated to a permanent under-class status. Not only should we thank these folks who do the menial labor that Americans choose not to do, but we should give them a little something in return. We should give them back that promise of a better life; that promise that brought our ancestors here. It's the least we can do and still call ourselves a compassionate nation.

The value of being an "American" is granted by character, not birth. These immigrants that the Republicans wish to banish from our land are consumate Americans, carrying the torch of the American Dream forward. They've bet their lives on a better day here for their children and broken their backs every day for the privalege of being dirt poor and demonized in America. They will be a strong part of our nation long after racist demagogues like Tancredo and Rohrabacher are long forgotten.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Lock your doors!

Our homes and more importantly, our children are not safe!

Homeland Security Official Arrested and Facing Child Sex Charges

Here a a few of the details taken from CNN's website:
* Doyle, 55, was arrested Tuesday night at his Maryland home, suspected of striking up sexually explicit conversations with a detective posing as a 14-year-old girl, authorities said
* "initiated a sexually explicit conversation with her. ... Doyle knew that the "girl" was 14 years old, and he told her who he was and that he worked for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security."
* He explained in graphic detail the sexual acts he wanted to perform with this 14-year-old
* He sent "hard-core pornographic movie clips" over the Internet and also used America Online's instant-messaging service to have explicit online conversations
* "Many of the conversations he initiated ... are too extraordinary and graphic for public release," a statement from the sheriff's office said.
* Doyle is divorced and has children, Judd said. Authorities believe he could have held similar conversations online with others, the sheriff said, because at some points during online chats he would address the detective by the wrong name

How can we be protected from "terror threats" when our Homeland Security officials are too busy terrorizing young children? What kind of screenings are done on government employees, prior to hiring them? Apparently we need to step them up or something! Grrrrrr...

I seriously hope that he gets the hammer dropped on his balls!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Don't Let The Door Hit Ya...

Where the Good Lord split ya!

So long, Tom. I'll be eagerly awaiting your prison memoirs one day.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Big Love...

So has anyone out there been watching HBO's Big Love? If you're not familiar with it...
Think having three wives is a dream come true? Meet Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton), a modern-day Utah polygamist who lives in suburban Salt Lake City with his three wives, seven children, and a mounting avalanche of debt and demands. The owner of a growing chain of home improvement stores, Bill struggles to balance the financial and emotional needs of Barb, Nicki and Margene (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin), who live in separate, adjacent houses and take turns sharing their husband each night. While managing the household finances together and routinely sharing "family home nights," they try to keep simmering jealousies in check and their arrangement a secret — polygamy is illegal in Utah and banned by the mainstream Mormon Church. Adding to Bill's woes are a series of crises affecting his parents (Bruce Dern and Grace Zabriskie), who live on a fundamentalist compound in rural Utah, and his ruthless father-in-law, Roman (Harry Dean Stanton), the powerful head of the polygamist commune where his parents live. Bold, funny and wholly original, Big Love explores the evolving institution of marriage through a typical atypical family.

What are your thoughts on the show?

Much love to my peeps...

Sam sends his apologies! He is extremely busy with work and hasn’t had a lot of bloggin’ time. His second employee started today, so maybe he can delegate some work and goof off in the next day or two. ;)

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Our Sweet Little Flower ~ Cecelia Rose

Our beautiful baby at 6 months old. She is always smiling, laughing and really enjoys observing life.