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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

 
Welcome To The Evolutionary Elite

In the beginning . . . Adam walked with dinosaurs

The new multi-million-dollar Museum of Creation, which will open this spring in Kentucky, will, however, be aimed not at film buffs, but at the growing ranks of fundamentalist Christians in the United States.

It aims to promote the view that man was created in his present shape by God, as the Bible states, rather than by a Darwinian process of evolution, as scientists insist.

The centrepiece of the museum is a series of huge model dinosaurs, built by the former head of design at Universal Studios, which are portrayed as existing alongside man, contrary to received scientific opinion that they lived millions of years apart.

Other exhibits include images of Adam and Eve, a model of Noah's Ark and a planetarium demonstrating how God made the Earth in six days.

The museum, which has cost a mighty $25 million (£13 million) will be the world's first significant natural history collection devoted to creationist theory. It has been set up by Ken Ham, an Australian evangelist, who runs Answers in Genesis, one of America's most prominent creationist organisations. He said that his aim was to use tourism, and the theme park's striking exhibits, to convert more people to the view that the world and its creatures, including dinosaurs, were created by God 6,000 years ago.

"We want people to be confronted by the dinosaurs," said Mr Ham. "It's going to be a first class experience. Visitors are going to be hit by the professionalism of this place. It is not going to be done in an amateurish way. We are making a statement."


Here's the exhibit Bobo will just have to visit for his next anthropological expedition into the Real America:


More controversial exhibits deal with diseases and famine, which are portrayed not as random disasters, but as the result of mankind's sin. Mr Ham's Answers in Genesis movement blames the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, in which two teenagers killed 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves, on evolutionist teaching, claiming that the perpetrators believed in Darwin's survival of the fittest.

Other exhibits in the museum will blame homosexuals for Aids. In a "Bible Authority Room" visitors are warned: "Everyone who rejects his history – including six-day creation and Noah's flood – is `wilfully' ignorant.''

[...]

"Since President Bush's re-election we have been getting more membership applications than we can handle,'' said Mr Ham, who expects not just the devout, but also the curious, to flock through the turnstiles. "The evolutionary elite will be getting a wake-up call."


I don't think I'll ever sleep again.


Thanks to Doug for the tip.



 
Karenna's Revenge

All I can do is quote The Poorman:

God love you, Al, but not only are you a fifty-something rich white guy in a suit with local-news hair, you are also the world's very biggest nerd. There's nothing wrong with it - it is an admirable quality if you want to be, for example, President of the US, it's important to realize that it's not a great starting point for making "youth" TV. I'm trying as hard as I can to believe this won't be a total disaster, but I'm coming up short.


I don't think we're looking at the alternative to FOX News coming from this quarter.




 
Arrogant and Ashamed

Via Daou, I found this gem at The Rude Pundit:

"But, you know, there's something interesting that happens whenever you engage anyone who believes these things in a conversation: they get really, really defensive about Bush. And not in a coherent way. And not even in the knee-jerk-'I-support-my-President' kind of way. No, it's more of an 'I don't wanna talk about it - shutupshutupshutup' kind of way, with ears covered and eyes clenched shut. In other words, they know. "


I have been trying to write something about my foray into the Heart of Darkness, but the Rude Pundit beat me to it. (In a way, I'm relieved. It's actually kind of painful to think about.) This observation about their reaction to Bush is absolutely spot on. I found the exactly the same reaction -- no comment, eyes glazing over, an immediate change of subject to Clinton (or "Fifi LaBourget" as my father dubbed Kerry.) Endless discussions of Kerry's alleged cowardice in battle, Clinton draft dodging but a total unwillingness to address the similar deficiencies with Bush. You couldn't joke about him or rail about him or even try to corner any of these people about him. They just refused to address him at all. It was as if he wasn't even a part of their equation. In a weird sense the Republican party itself has become somewhat vague to them. Their entire political calculation was built around the continuum from McGovern to Carter to Clinton to Gore to Kerry and a general disgust with liberals. Their political worldview is completely shaped by their hatred of the Democratic party now.

It wasn't always like this. Needless to say, they all watch FOX and listen to Rush.

I doubt that the Rude Pundit has this problem, but I find that Republicans are just much more willing to be complete assholes in public by loudly proclaiming their political beliefs and daring others to disagree. It's a matter of temperament more than anything else. There was a time when I would go at it, but at this point I don't have many Christmases with my father left so I just sit back and let it flow. (There are other members of my family, however, who need to watch their step.)

Read RP's entire post. It is absolutely correct and he nails one very particular point that can't be said often enough:

"...all the many pundits and prognosticators of the "future" of the Democratic party have it absolutely, exactly wrong when they think the Democrats can triangulate themselves back into consequence. That way lies irrelevance and madness.

The simple truth is that Democrats, moderates, liberals, anyone, won't win by saying, "Lookeeme, I'm like you, Farmer Brown or Factory Worker Sally, look at me compromise on abortion rights and put on shit-stained boots to go out into the fields and talk about how much I hate queers." No, winning comes by saying, "Look here, Farmer Brown and Factory Worker Sally, you are like me." And that means on each and every coming battle - Social Security, judges, tax cuts, Iraq. The people don't want leaders who identify with them. They want leaders who they identify with. It's a fine, but important distinction.


That's why they call them leaders.

lead:

1. To show the way to by going in advance.
2. To guide or direct in a course: lead a horse by the halter.
3.
1. To serve as a route for; take: The path led them to a cemetery.
2. To be a channel or conduit for (water or electricity, for example).

4. To guide the behavior or opinion of; induce: led us to believe otherwise.
5.
1. To direct the performance or activities of: lead an orchestra.
2. To inspire the conduct of: led the nation in its crisis.

6. To play a principal or guiding role in: lead a discussion; led the antiwar movement.
7.
1. To go or be at the head of: The queen led the procession. My name led the list.
2. To be ahead of: led the runner-up by three strides.
3. To be foremost in or among: led the field in nuclear research; led her teammates in free throws.

8. To pass or go through; live: lead an independent life.
9. To begin or open with, as in games: led an ace.
10. To guide (a partner) in dancing.




 
Drowning the 9/11 Cheerleaders

On Rush Limbaugh's web site we find a transcript for January 3rd, called From Across The Fruited Plain: No Compassion for Saddam's Victims; Tsunami Victim Sports Bin Laden T-Shirt:

"CALLER: (Giggle) Well, I was pretty upset and even getting madder the more coverage I watched, and I was thinking, 'Why am I not feeling so charitable, and I'm seeing all these bodies,' and then I see this picture on the Internet that was sent to me, and it was them carrying a body along in Sri Lanka, it said Galle, G-a-l-l-e, Sri Lanka and they had a crowd of people watching and this guy in the middle is standing there looking at the body wearing an Osama bin Laden T-shirt.

RUSH: I saw that picture.

CALLER: And I thought, it just validated the way I felt and I thought these are the same people that were the cheerleaders on 9/11, and we're going to go rebuild their world for them.

RUSH: Yeah.

CALLER: Now, I love President Bush. I respect him. I voted for him, but when I saw him come out and I realized they were asking for more money --

RUSH: Yeah.

CALLER: -- I got even madder, and I thought, 'I don't think we should be asked to give any more.' "


Rush goes on to babble some blather about how we give because we are good and how liberals are "screwed up" because we supported Saddam and are taking Christ out of Christmas and that proves that we have no compassion for the people of Darfur. Typical hypnotic wingnut gibberish that doesn't make any sense but sounds soothingly meaningful in that it identifies one thing clearly --- liberals are the root cause of all problems.

Anyway, what interesting about this is what the caller said and I think it's probably pretty common. I certainly heard quite a bit of it in my foray into wingnutland over the holiday:

Well, I was pretty upset and even getting madder the more coverage I watched, and I was thinking, 'Why am I not feeling so charitable, and I'm seeing all these bodies,'


Madder and madder the more coverage she watched. "Why am I not feeling so charitable?" That's the real question, isn't it?

Later, she saw a picture of one guy wearing a bin Laden shirt that the wingnuts have been circulating and she understood why she was so mad. These people are terrorists.

A couple of calls later a Sri Lanken man called in:

CALLER: Yeah, Rush, hi. I wanted to answer the lady called earlier regarding to the guy is wearing a T-shirt. I don't know he was a dead guy or not. I'm from Sri Lanka. I've been listening to you for a long time. Sri Lanka is not a Muslim nation. Sri Lanka is 68% Singhalese people, that influence all the Catholics and the majority is Buddhist.

RUSH: Yes, yes.

CALLER: There are Muslims around that, you know, probably hate America, but we don't hate United States of America. The Singhalese people do not hate America. I just want to tell you that because we have our own problem for years with Tamil, and Muslim people. I just wanted to tell you that.

RUSH: That woman was calling from Pennsylvania, and there's picture going around the Internet, and I've seen it. Some aid is arriving while a body is being carted away, and there's a kid, a young man watching it all with a bin Laden t-shirt. She said the picture is from Sri Lanka. I don't know that it is. I don't know the picture is from Sri Lanka, but you have to understand the power of pictures. You know, there are going to be some Americans who are just going to recoil at the thought that we are bailing out and helping people who swear an oath of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, whether it's in Sri Lanka or not. I don't think her comment was actually aimed at Sri Lanka per se, specifically. It was just in reaction to that picture she saw. What are the Muslim nations that were affected by this tsunami, if not Sri Lanka?


Yes, which countries am I allowed to get "madder and madder" about and recoil at the idea of "bailing out" their innocent children, again? It's so hard to remember which ones to openly hate and which ones I have to pretend to give a shit about. (And besides, those Sri Lankens are... well, they're rather dark, aren't they? )

Let's not kid ourselves about the base of the Republican party, the dittoheads, the alleged Christian Right. A vast number of them are primitive tribalists at best and racists at worst. There have always been many Americans who are racists and many of those have always been and remain very political. It is part of our national psyche. They are now fully sewn into the fabric of the Republican party's big tent (as they once were the Democrats') and they wield considerable clout. They have made strides in accepting those African Americans who agree not to discuss race into the fold. (And the leadership have learned how to effectively neuter this entire debate by hoisting the left with our own petard by accusing us of racism whenever we criticize a Republican racial minority.)

But at the heart of their reaction to 9/11, the invasion of iraq, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror in general is a knee jerk racism that says "those people" are our enemy and they must die. Ann Coulter sells millions of books that say it right out loud. Michelle Malkin and Daniel Pipes are both making quite a respectable stir making the case for "muslim" internment. And people are getting all steamed up about illegal immigration again.

It is intense tribalism that fuels the right wing, not ideology. In fact their ideology mostly flows from their tribalism. It fuels their resistence to redistribution of even the smallest amount of wealth (the "wrong" people will be helped) and it fuels their hyper nationalism (those "other" people are our enemies.) They make no distinctions between the "wrong" and the "other", it is anyone who isn't like them.

The reason that the Senate of the United States is about to confirm a man who designed an illegal system of detention and torture against any Muslim or Arab (and others to come, no doubt) is because a fair number of people in this country believe that "they're all alike." Terrorists today, commies yesterday, japs, gooks, wogs, niggers everyday. It is a measure of progress, I suppose, in the fact that this hispanic man is even given the opportunity to make his bones with executions, torture and lifetime detention for public relations purposes. Still, one wonders how long it would take, were he to stray from the party line, for someone to call Rush and say, " I couldn't understand why I disliked him so much..."

There are many cosmopolitan writers and think tank intellectuals on the right who have come up with some elegant ideological arguments that explain all this to each other in salons and greenrooms. But in barrooms and factories and churches in Republican dominated parts of America, the reason is pretty simple. Us against them. And basic human empathy for anyone who isn't a strict member of their tribe is in short supply. Hence, this.

Too bad about this whole globalism thing. These people are going to be very, very angry for eternity. But then they always have been, haven't they? At one time I thought our history of immigration and assimilation would be what kept us on top during this transition. I was wrong. Our original sin of slavery is probably what's going to lead to our downfall. It's infected us much too deeply for us to be able to handle the responsibility of being the world's only superpower. When you get right down to it, it's why a majority of the country supported the invasion of Iraq -- all Arabs are the same --- and that horrible miscalculation is very likely to be our Waterloo.




 
Armchair Hero

May I just echo Atrios's outrage at Andrew Sullivan's pithy little retort to the soldier who says that he'd much rather be helping people than fighting a war saying "Earth to Whitsett: You're A Soldier."

Earth to Sullivan: He's a fucking human being.

Evidently Sullivan believes that soldiers are supposed to prefer killing over helping people in need. Indeed, they should prefer dying over helping people in need.

Here are some words that express this soldier's humanity a bit more fully, from a man who also knew a little bit about war:

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron." --Dwight Eisenhower 1953 speech



What a wimp.




Monday, January 03, 2005

 
What's The Real Skinny?

So the House Republicans have pulled back the DeLay exception to the no-sex-with-house-pages rule at the last minute and at the behest of The Hammer himself. How odd. Is it even remotely believable that Monsieur Delay had a change of heart and decided that he should face the music like every other public servent?

Well, maybe not so odd, really. He may have taken care of the problem another way:

In Texas, state Republican legislative leaders and party officials are considering some maneuvers of their own in light of the investigation. One proposal would take authority for prosecuting the campaign finance case away from the Democratic district attorney in Austin and give it to the state attorney general, a Republican. Another possible move would legalize corporate campaign contributions like those that figure into the state case.


Or maybe seomebody had a serious heart to heart with David Drier, the chairman of the rules committee, and explained to him that changing the no-sex-with-house-pages rule for Tom Delay won't exempt him from the no-gay-sex-with-house-pages-for-GOP-hypocrites rule. You never know.




 
WTF

Via See The Forest I found this story.

AS MANY as 5000 Americans are still unaccounted for a week after the world's deadliest tsunami pounded a dozen countries across the Indian Ocean, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said today.

Mr Powell told reporters aboard his plane en route to Bangkok that the confirmed toll of Americans still stood at 15 with a defence department worker listed as missing.

"The number of private citizens or citizens unaccounted for still lingers around 4-5000," he said, adding the figure was based on phone calls from relatives or friends inquiring about their whereabouts.

Mr Powell said this did not mean they were necessarily casualties in the catastrophe.

But he added: "We can't ignore the very distinct possibility that there are Americans within this number who have lost their lives. We just don't know that".


Is this for real?

Camille at STF points out:

... the Swedes have declared a day of mourning for the Swedes who died in the tsunami. The Germans are preparing their citizens for the worst.


I certainly have not heard anything about this. Is there a good reason why the US government wouldn't want people to know that American casualties are potentially so high? What gives?




 
It's The Values Stupid

I remember that before the Iraq war vote, millions of Democrats wrote to their Senators begging them not to vote for the resolution. Many of them voted for the resolution anyway, some for regional reasons like Schumer and Clinton and some because of presidential ambitions. (And then there was Joe, true believer.) Ok. It was only a year after 9/11, Bush stood at 75% approval rating, an election was imminent and nobody knew quite how the wind was going to blow. But none of those conditions are currently present. There is absolutely no excuse for Democrats to compromise or preemptively cave on anything of importance. None.

The first thing on the table in this new congress is going to be Alberto Gonzales. He will be confirmed (barring naked pictures of him and Bush in a hammock drinking tequila slammers. And even then... ) But, because of that, the temptation for many Democrats will be to vote with the Republicans on this in hopes of holding a chit or two down the road on something that really matters to them. This is as dumb as it is wrong.

As Matt Yglesias says (regarding social security) today on TAPPED:

It's compelling logic, that is, if you've been living under a rock for the past four years. Democrats have tried this approach several times during the first term, and with only the partial exception of No Child Left Behind, they've gotten screwed each and every time. At some point, you've got to learn the lesson that the White House and the GOP leadership isn't interested in constructive compromise. Ask Charlie Stenholm where his bipartisanship on Social Security got him.


I honestly don't know what it's going to take to teach this to the Democrats in congress. It's as if the Republicans have attached a "kick me" sign to their backs and nobody's told them. We need to tell them in no uncertain terms.

Now, there may be some tactical usefulness in producing some sort of alternative to social security "reform." There are those who think it will be necessary to do so in order to credibly obstruct the Republican plot to dismantle the program. I'm not convinced that this would be the best way to handle it, but I'm open to the argument. The Republicans used their alternative plans to continuously hobble Clinton's health care plan as it wended itself tnrough the legislative process.

On Gonzales, however, there is nothing to be gained by doing anything but grilling him under a hot light with everything we have and voting no. As Michael Froomkin said:



Whether Sen. Schumer was expressing a normative or a positive view, that is whether the quote represented Schumer’s personal view or only Schumer’s impression of the views of his fellow Senators on the committee, it’s pretty horrible when the Senate’s advice and consent role is this stunted. The bar is pretty low when that "lowered threshold" will admit a nominee who, in commissioning and passing on the torture memos participated in a scheme to

1. attempt to put a patina of legality on war crimes and
2. totally twist the Constitution to suggest the President has powers akin to Louis XIVth’s and
3. mis-state the relevant precedents to make it seem like the above have substantial judicial support when in fact the opposite is true.

There is of course an element of political calculation here. Many chickenhearted Senators believe that they expend political capital by opposing cabinet nominations, when in fact opposing the right ones may create it. But even if I’m wrong about that, for some things -- torture, fundamental constitutional principles -- the calculations should be left aside.

As far as I’m concerned, Congress was almost as much to blame for Iraq as Bush --- they wrote him a blank check, with the Gulf on Tonkin precedent sitting there in front of them. If there isn’t some serious attempt in Congress to come to grips with the torture scandal in the next year, then some of the torture dirt will stick to them as well.


I have long defended the Democrats from charges that they are "spineless" and "cowardly." I think that character attacks on our own side mainly helps the Borg convince people that we aren't worth voting for. But, I have no compunction about calling out our representatives when they are making a mistake. Capitulating on Gonzales is not only wrong it is entirely counterproductive to our cause.

If we are going to be fighting about "values" and "morals" over the next couple of election cycles (as the right seems determined to do) we need to throw down the gauntlet right here, right now. Torture is immoral and even the most craven right wing racist knows that he's playing with fire to endorse it publicly. They don't want to have this argument because they know they are wrong.

Torture is not an American value and it's certainly not a religious value. If they are determined to elevate the architect of Bush's illegal and immoral torture and detention schemes to the highest law enforcement office in the land then they are begging for a fight. It's a fight we should be more than willing to wage because there is absolutely no doubt who has the moral high ground.

For once it's our stance that benefits from today's political requirement for simplicity and clarity. Torture is illegal,immoral and ineffectual. Period. Let Jerry Falwell dance around trying to explain why it isn't.

Update: Attaturk points to this nonsense from Federal Judge Richard Posner in which he says:

I just think that almost all Americans would consider that turning back the civil liberties clock to, say, 1960 would be worthwhile if as a result some horrendous terrorist attack was prevented. I am of the same mind. I find it hard to understand the contrary position, but I would not argue against it. I would point out, however, the self-defeating character of civil liberties absolutism. If as a result of such absolutism another major terorrist attacks occurs, civil liberties are pretty sure to go out the window.

I would also argue against those who say that history shows that the threat of terrorism is much less than other threats that we have overcome. That is a misuse of history. History does not contain nuclear bombs the size of oranges, genetically engineered smallpox virus that is vaccine-proof, and an Islamist terrorist (Bin Laden) who visited a cleric in Saudi Arabia to obtain--successfully--the cleric's approval to wage nuclear war against the West.


Yeah, living with thousands of nuclear missiles pointed at every American city and depending on the sanity and competence of a slowly dying super power not to miscalculate or have an accident was nothing compared to what we face now. Evidently, "Dr Strangelove" needs to be put into the curriculum of the University of Chicago.

(And what in the hell is this talk of nuclear bombs the size of oranges? Calling Richard Hofstadter.)







 
Priorities

This is very telling. Throughout the last week, everybody from schoolkids to major newspapers have been collecting money for the victims of the tsunami or at least publicizing where people should send it.

Except for one group. The Christian Right. This article by Bill Berkowitz from December 30th showed that none of the major Christian Right groups such as Focus on the Family or the Christian Coalition had mentioned anything on their web sites. I just checked all the links and as of January 3rd, 8:25 PST there is still nothing.

I know Republicans hate to have their Christmas vacations rudely interrupted by disasters of Biblical proportions, but you would think that at least the Christian Right organizations would have sent somebody in to put up a notice about the tragedy and organized some fund raising. Like President like followers, I guess.

Christian right's compassion deficit

It took President Bush three days to ready himself to go before the television cameras and make a public statement about Sunday's devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck southern Asia. Even though he was late, and much more money will be needed, the president pledged at least $35 million in aid to the victims of the disaster. But, as of December 30, some of the president's major family-values constituents have yet to be heard from: It's business as usual at the web sites of the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, and the Coral Ridge Ministries.

These powerful and well-funded political Christian fundamentalist organizations appear to be suffering from a compassion deficit. Organizations which are amazingly quick to organize to fight against same-sex marriage, a woman's right to choose, and embryonic stem cell research are missing in action when it comes to responding to the disaster in southern Asia. None of their web sites are actively soliciting aid for the victims of the earthquake/tsunami.

In fact, there is no mention of the giant earthquake and tsunami that devastated southern Asia. There are no headlines about the dead, injured or the tremendous damage; there are no urgent appeals for donations; there are no phone numbers to call; there are no links to organizations collecting money and providing aid for the victims.

[...]

At the Reverend Donald Wildmon's Mississippi-based American Family Association (AFA) web site, the preferred cause -- and top story -- concerns the upcoming battle over the president's judicial appointees. The AFA hasn't forgotten about gays and lesbians: Under the headline "P&G Chairman Gives Thousands to Promote Homosexual Agenda" the AFA claims that "A.G. Lafley, CEO of Procter & Gamble, recently gave $5,163 in P&G stock to help the homosexual community repeal a law in Cincinnati that prohibited giving special rights to homosexuals."

[...]


Over at the Family Research Council's web site, the powerful Washington, DC,-based family-values lobbying group is outraged that Christians are getting cheated out of Christmas, with two stories, "Is the Grinch Stealing Christmas?" and "Merry BAH HUMBUG-mas!" focusing on this. There are no alerts about the earthquake/tsunami.

At the Christian Coalition's (CC) web site, the organization's president, Roberta Combs, is busy thanking CC supporters for their "time and effort in getting millions of Christian Coalition voter guides (English & Spanish) distributed to your family, friends, churches, Christian bookstores and neighborhoods all across America."

Family.org, the web site of Dr. James Dobson's Colorado Springs, Colorado-based multi-media mega-ministry, Focus on the Family, is all over the map with its features: From messages to "remember Focus on the Family in your year-end giving," to helpful hints on how to survive Christmas without "The Lord of the Rings," to movie reviews of "Fat Albert" (thumbs up), "The Aviator (thumbs down), "Meet the Fockers" (a disappointed thumbs down), and "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (a reluctant thumbs up). [They have put up a little blurb since then. They have their year end appeal to give to Focus on the Family on top of the page, however. There are priorities.]

First and foremost, Concerned Women for America (CWA) wants you to know "The Truth About Alfred Kinsey." The twenty-five year-old organization, which bills itself as "the nation's largest public policy women's organization," is also offering a "Special Christmas Feature" from Dr. Beverly LaHaye, founder of the organization, and Dr. Janice Crouse. But not a word on the earthquake/tsunami.

Coral Ridge Ministries (CRM), Dr. D. James Kennedy's Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based operation, is also looking in other directions. At its web site there are advertisements for the CRM's upcoming Reclaiming America For Christ Conference, which will be held in mid-February, and for several of Dr. Kennedy's sermons.

[...]

Over at falwell.com, the Rev. Jerry Falwell is explaining "The True Meaning of Christmas," recruiting for his new organization, The Moral Majority Coalition, and soliciting cruisers for a late July sojourn aboard the Queen Mary II.


Lecture us some more about morals, guys.

But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (John 3:17)


Update: Americablog has more


Sunday, January 02, 2005

 
Let's Rumble

The DAOU REPORT says:

Coalition to stop torture organizing advertising and public relations push against Gonzales nomination (includes MoveOn, True Majority, others) – plans to hit CNN, New York Times this week…


I'll bet Al From is just frothing at the mouth over this one. Why, the Republicans are going to say that the Democratic Party is soft on terrorism, oh my gawd! Peter Beinert will caution that we are giving up the moral high ground by failing to show that we are serious about fighting islamic fundamentalism. Oh heck!

But then, others might think that SOMEBODY SHOULD STAND UP FOR THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, goddamnit. Apparently that isn't popular these days, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do the right thing. This is the right thing.

Don't get me wrong, though. Many in the Republican party (some of whom I've just spent a week listening to gloat and strut about their dominance) are going to immediately attack with everything they have. This goes to the racist base in which it is assumed to be a-ok to torture "those who do not look or sound like us." There are more of them than you think. But they are uncomfortable with criticism and their reaction is to lash out viciously. (Quite a few of the wingnut "Year End" lists were quite adamant that Abu Ghraib was overblown by the liberal media.) They will get hysterical about the existential threat we face and talk about the constitution not being a suicide pact. They'll paint us all as a bunch of wimps who can't stand up to terrorism.

Fuck 'em.

We should fight back with righteous anger and authority. We needn't be reasonable and argue like lawyers. Make them go on the record defending torture, over and over again if possible. This is the real values fight for the heart and soul of this country, not Janet Jackson's nipple or "Under God" in the pledge of allegiance. If we let them blatently despoil the Bill of Rights without a furious battle then everything else we care about will go right down the drain with it. It is the source of it all.

Let them call us shrill. At least people will know that torture is a line beyond which we will not cross. Jesus, to think there isn't a consensus on even that...




 
Beat Them With A Neutral Object

It appears that the sadistic megalomaniac James Dobson has decided that he's going to throw his mighty moral weight around in politics and smite politicians who don't toe the line:

James C. Dobson, the nation's most influential evangelical leader, is threatening to put six potentially vulnerable Democratic senators "in the 'bull's-eye' " if they block conservative appointments to the Supreme Court.

In a letter his aides say is being sent to more than one million of his supporters, Dr. Dobson, the child psychologist and founder of the evangelical organization Focus on the Family, promises "a battle of enormous proportions from sea to shining sea" if President Bush fails to appoint "strict constructionist" jurists or if Democrats filibuster to block conservative nominees.

[...]

Dr. Dobson's activities represent a new level of direct partisan engagement on his part. Unlike other conservative Christian leaders, Dr. Dobson owes his grass-roots following primarily to his partly clinical, partly biblical advice on matters like marriage and child-rearing. Before supporting Mr. Bush, he had never endorsed a presidential candidate.


This is a new level of partisan engagement? Geez, somebody buy the NY Times a Lexis subscription (or show them how to use Google at least.) Here's a story from US News and World Report from 1998 written by Bush's speechwriter Michael Gerson when he was a member of the liberal media:

On March 18, in the basement of the Capitol, 25 House Republicans met with psychologist James Dobson for some emotional venting. But this was not personal therapy; it concerned the fate of their party. Dobson, long on loyal radio listeners and short on patience, was threatening, in effect, to bring down the GOP unless it made conservative social issues, including abortion, a higher legislative priority. "If I go," he has said, "I will do everything I can to take as many people with me as possible."

[...]

Many Republicans are taking Dobson's divorce threats very seriously. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has hosted several meetings with other House leaders to discuss Dobson's specific demands, which include defunding Planned Parenthood, requiring parental consent for abortions, and eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts. House Majority Leader Dick Armey has asked subcommittee chairmen to explore how Dobson's agenda could be advanced. But Dobson will not be easily appeased. Of the assurances he has been offered that his issues will be taken seriously, he says: "We've got to see the proof. . . . If they will not change, I will try to beat them this fall."


Dr Dobson has been just a teensy weensy bit involved in partisan politics for a while now. And it seems that he has a habit of issuing threats. Now there's a surprise.

It may be true that he has more clout that he used to because of the media's greedy consumption of Ralph Reed's disinformation campaign that evangelicals won the election for Bush with their concern for moral values. The SCLM might want to do a little bit of research on this freak before they annoint him as a political leader for our time, however. I wrote about Dobson's proud (and profoundly pychotic) abuse of his weiner dog named Sigmund Freud earlier. He is just as twisted about the idea of spanking children:

Q:There is some controversy over whether a parent should spank with his or her hand or with some other object, such as a belt or paddle. What do you recommend?

A:I recommend a neutral object of some type. To those who disagree on this point, I'd encourage them to do what seems right. It is not a critical issue to me. The reason I suggest a switch or paddle is because the hand should be seen as an object of love -- to hold, hug, pat, and caress. However, if you're used to suddenly disciplining with the hand, your child may not know when she's about to be swatted and can develop a pattern of flinching when you make an unexpected move. This is not a problem if you take the time to use a neutral object.

Q:On what part of the body would you administer a spanking?

A:It should be confined to the buttocks area, where permanent damage is very unlikely.


Q:It just seems barbaric to cause pain to a defenseless child. Tell me why you think it is healthy to spank him or her.

A:Corporal punishment, when used lovingly and properly, is beneficial to a child because it is in harmony with nature itself.

Consider the purpose of minor pain in a child's life and how he learns from it. Suppose 2-year-old Peter pulls on a tablecloth and with it comes a vase of roses that cracks him between the eyes. From this pain, he learns that it is dangerous to pull on the tablecloth unless he knows what sits on it. When he touches a hot stove, he quickly learns that heat must be respected. The same lesson is learned when he pulls the doggy's tail and promptly gets a neat row of teeth marks across the back of his hand, or when he climbs out of his high chair when Mom isn't looking and discovers all about gravity.

During the childhood years, he typically accumulates minor bumps, bruises, scratches, and burns, each one teaching him about life's boundaries. Do these experiences make him a violent person? No! The pain associated with these events teaches him to avoid making the same mistakes again. God created this mechanism as a valuable vehicle for instruction.

When a parent administers a reasonable spanking in response to willful disobedience, a similar nonverbal message is being given to the child...I recall my good friends Art and Ginger Shingler, who had four beautiful children whom I loved. One of them went through a testy period where he was just "asking for it." The conflict came to a head in a restaurant, when the boy continued doing everything he could to be bratty. Finally, Art took him to the parking lot for an overdue spanking. A woman passerby observed the event and became irate. She chided the father for "abusing" his son and said she intended to call the police. With that, the child stopped crying and said to his father, "What's wrong with that woman, Dad?" He understood the discipline even if his rescuer did not.

Q:How long do you think a child should be allowed to cry after being spanked? Is there a limit?

A:Yes, I believe there should be a limit. As long as the tears represent a genuine release of emotion, they should be permitted to fall. But crying quickly changes from inner sobbing to an expression of protest aimed at punishing the enemy. Real crying usually lasts two minutes or less but may continue for five. After that point, the child is merely complaining, and the change can be recognized in the tone and intensity of his voice. I would require him to stop the protest crying, usually by offering him a little more of whatever caused the original tears.


I don't believe in hitting kids but I know that there are many decent people who do. However, I think that we can all agree that Dobson's rationales for it are pretty horrifying. Use a "neutral" object so your kids won't flinch when you raise your hand? Spank on the butt so you will be less like to cause permanent damage? Parental discipline is like falling out of your high chair and hitting your head? The kid who wonders what's wrong with the woman who is complaining about his public beating is assumed to be "understanding the discipline?"

There are so many disturbing aspects to Dobson's childrearing advice that I think Tipper ought to be agitating that his books carry a warning label. It's not so much what he recommends that parents do, it's his reasoning and his tone. All this "asking for it" and "offering him a little bit more of it." The Biblical stuff is the least of it --- it's his sadistic phrasing that creeps me out. (See the story about the dog. Jayzuz.)

There are those who claim that Focus on the Family is something of a cult. Sounds right to me. And it's no surprise that an arrogant cult leader is running in the highest circles of this government, is it? After all, half the Republican Party is owned by Sun Myung Moon.

And they call us weird...

Update: speaking of weird

Q:I'm curious about the scary "baby" Satan was carrying in one scene of The Passion of the Christ. What was Mel Gibson trying to say by using that disturbing imagery?



A: Many people are talking about the "ugly baby" in The Passion. As Jesus is being severely scourged, Satan passes through the crowd holding a demonic-looking "child" in his arms. What does it mean? Perhaps the best explanation comes from Mel Gibson himself. In a recent interview, Gibson said of the unsettling scene:

"...it's evil distorting what's good. What is more tender and beautiful than a mother and a child? So the Devil takes that and distorts it just a little bit. Instead of a normal mother and child you have an androgynous figure holding a 40-year-old 'baby' with hair on his back. It is weird, it is shocking, it's almost too much--just like turning Jesus over to continue scourging him on his chest is shocking and almost too much, which is the exact moment when this appearance of the Devil and the baby takes place."


For our part, we feel this scene captures, as do so many moments in this film, the intensity of the cosmic battle between God and Satan. It illustrates even beyond what we may have previously envisioned the eerie, warped and perverted nature of our enemy.


Hoo boy.




 
Letting It Slide


I hardly know what to say about these new revelations about Guantanamo. I wrote many posts about it last summer in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal and it was clear then that we were torturing with impunity. These FBI memos revealed by the ACLU add new details to what was already known and reveal that there was dissent within the government at least at the lower levels that was ignored.

The New York Times has found quite a few people willing to talk, off the record, about what went on down there. If we had a real government the congress would immediately call for hearings and offer immunity to anyone who could speak to these issues. But torture is so 2004, so there will be no further outcry, I'm sure.

The information from the various sources frequently matched, providing corroboration of the use of specific procedures, which included prolonged sleep deprivation and shackling prisoners in uncomfortable positions for many hours. One F.B.I. agent wrote his superiors that he saw such restraining techniques several times. In the most gruesome of the bureau memorandums, he recounted observing a detainee who had been shackled overnight in a hot cell, soiled himself and pulled out tufts of hair in misery.

Military officials who participated in the practices said in October that prisoners had been tormented by being chained to a low chair for hours with bright flashing lights in their eyes and audio tapes played loudly next to their ears, including songs by Lil' Kim and Rage Against the Machine and rap performances by Eminem.

In a recent interview, another former official added new details, saying that many interrogators used a different audio tape on prisoners, a mix of babies crying and the television commercial for Meow Mix in which the jingle consists of repetition of the word "meow."

The people who spoke about what they saw or whose duties made them aware of what was occurring said they had different reasons for granting interviews. Some said they objected to the methods, others said they objected to what they regarded as a chaotic and badly run system, while others offered no reason. They all declined to be identified by name, some saying they feared retaliation.


None of these recent stories get into one of the more important aspects of this story which is that a great many of those who were shipped off to Gitmo from Afghanistan in the early days of the war had no intelligence value whatsoever. This was because they were "bought" from the Northern Alliance for $5,000 based on a warlord's word that they were Taliban or al Qaeda. Nobody knows how many of these people are or were being held down there, but it's clear that there were many.

They did, apparently, capture at least one allegedly "high value" target whom they proceded to torture in various inventive ways, including forced enemas:

None of the approved techniques, however, covered some of what people have now said occurred. Mr. Kahtani was, for example, forcibly given an enema, officials said, which was used because it was uncomfortable and degrading.

Pentagon spokesmen said the procedure was medically necessary because Mr. Kahtani was dehydrated after an especially difficult interrogation session. Another official, told of the use of the enema, said, however, "I bet they said he was dehydrated," adding that that was the justification whenever an enema was used as a coercive technique, as it had been on several detainees.


Then again, the boys might have just been blowing off some steam.

This month a majority of the Senate, including many Democrats, will undoubtedly confirm the architect of our torture policy for the highest law enforcement office in the land. They issued new "guidelines" just last week in which they rescinded the finding that torture must consist of pain akin to organ failure so everything's fine now. It's time to look to the future. And it's very likely that we are going to eventually put a war criminal and a soiler of the Bill of Rights on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Left unaddressed in the new memo was the monarch's limitless power in wartime:

The 17-page memo does not address two of the most controversial assertions in the first memo: that Bush, as commander in chief in wartime, had authority superseding anti-torture laws and that U.S. personnel had legal defenses against criminal liability in such cases.

Levin said those issues need not be considered because they "would be inconsistent with the president’s unequivocal directive that United States personnel not engage in torture."


The president said he doesn't condone torture and he meant it. He says what he is and he is what he says. One might make the leap, however, to infer that he does still believe that he has unnlimited power to shred the constitution into little pieces and flush it down the toilet at will when you read this:

Administration officials are preparing long-range plans for indefinitely imprisoning suspected terrorists whom they do not want to set free or turn over to courts in the United States or other countries, according to intelligence, defense and diplomatic officials.

The Pentagon and the CIA have asked the White House to decide on a more permanent approach for potentially lifetime detentions, including for hundreds of people now in military and CIA custody . The outcome of the review, which also involves the State Department, would also affect those expected to be captured in the course of future counterterrorism operations.


If this is true, you have to wonder why a garden variety murder suspect should be allowed due process either. Really, why should we have to let a gang member have a lawyer and access to the courts? Why should a rape suspect from last week be any different than an Afghan driver whom somebody claimed chauffered Osama bin Laden around in 1999? If the criteria is that we can't take a chance that these people, "whom the government does not have enough evidence to charge in courts" might harm Americans in the future then isn't our entire system of justice completely superfluous? And who exactly is supposed to stop the executive branch from deciding that very thing?

(Of course, my friend The Talking Dog would be the first to remind us that the Supreme Court has already pretty much held that this is legal under Padilla, so there's no real surprise. The worst thing that would happen is that lawyers will run out of "erroneous" jurisdictions in which to file.)

It was always supposed to be that the checks and balances of the branches of government and the press would restrain such impulses and that the mob mentality would be balanced by thoughtful, learned citizens of good will who would raise the roof at such affrontery to democratic values. It's not working. As long as the press believes that the Scott Peterson trial is more important to cover than these grievous assaults on the constitution then most of the country won't care. And as long as the political opposition continues to validate them by voting to elevate war criminals to high office the entire nation will be implicated in the crime.

If fellows like Peter Beinert have their way, those of us not purged from the left will be forced to goosestep along in the name of fighting the most horrible scourge the world has ever known --- since communism, anyway, lo those many (15) years ago. Joshua Zeitz points out in this week-end's TNR that unrepentant hawkishness has rarely resulted in more liberalism at home. Indeed, it usually results in the opposite:

Beinart asserts that cold-war liberals found special strength for their civil rights program in the "linkage between freedom at home and freedom abroad," a link that the Wallacites could never have drawn, given their tolerance of communism. Fighting the Soviets and advancing civil rights weren't mutually exclusive, Beinart maintains; they were mutually reinforcing.

And perhaps they could have been. But in practice, the opposite was usually true: Having purged the Wallacites from their coalition, liberals lost their most strident advocates for racial justice. And more often that not, mainstream liberals urged civil rights activists to subordinate their interests to the more pressing need for national unity in the face of Soviet aggression. Far from neatly and conveniently reinforcing each other, the two great moral struggles of the time frequently seemed locked in a zero-sum game.


It will be even worse this time out because the left isn't actually excusing islamic fundamentalism --- indeed we are the last people to embrace an authoritarian theocratic worldview. The problem isn't that the left is pacifist in the war on terror. It's that it's pacifist in the war on liberalism and that's coming from both within and without.

The old saw about "the terrorists have won" is a cliche to be sure. But that doesn't mean it's not true. Bin Laden doesn't have to invade with an army or even terrorize us further with bombings and terrorist attacks. His job is done. We are now fully engaged in destroying ourselves.







 
Too Many Brownies

Am I mistaken or is David Brooks saying that the best way to understand natural disasters is to believe that the victims deserved to die? Or is he saying that environmentalists deserve to die? Bush critics? It's very hard to tell. But somebody must be paying for something or Bobo's little world just doesn't make any sense.

One thing we know for sure is that these deaths couldn't have been the result of a random act of nature. Uh uh. That would be even more repugnant than the repugnance some feel for the idea that those who died deserved it. Perhaps Brooks would feel better if he read the ravings of Fred Phelps, who blames the Swedes.

It's rarely interesting to read what someone wrote while they were stoned on totally righteous sinsemilla, but the NY Times pays big bucks for it anyway.




 
Nostalgia

This year is going to be the death of me if this ongoing orgy of self-righteous prattle about morals and culture on the left continues. It would seem that many believe that in order to win we need to adopt a new liberal synthesis of priggishness and hawkery. Why, if we work at it, it's possible that the neocons will come back home. Oh Goody. Feel the Joementum for 2008.

In today's LA Times, Jacob Heilbrun argues that the culture war has been ongoing for more than a century and endorses Daniel Bell's thesis in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism

"...capitalism, which emerged in the 16th century with the rise of the great European banking houses, originally rested on the Protestant work ethic. It succeeded because it matched discipline with self-denial. But the acquisitive instinct fostered by capitalism would come to subvert the moral basis that initially allowed the system to flourish.

In the 20th century, Bell argued, it created and fulfilled desires the original capitalists never dreamed of. With artists and bohemians (always at war with the values of bourgeois society) leading the way, society jettisoned traditional boundaries and behaviors. Character was out; self-fulfillment was in.

Bell based his arguments on what he scorned as the hedonism of the 1960s, but the dynamic hasn't changed. Today, you wind up with corporations eager to profit from supplying the worst gangsta rap or the most extreme pornography to consumers for whom nothing is sacred except their own desires.

"The modern hubris," Bell wrote, "is the refusal to accept limits. The modern world proposes a destiny that is always beyond: beyond morality, beyond tragedy, beyond culture."


Here's one of those nasty bohemians who helped jettison those important traditional bounderies writing about his uplifting experiences with the protestant work ethic's discipline and self-denial in the early part of the 20th century:

It was exhausting work, carried on, hour after hour, at top speed. Out on the broad verandas of the hotel, men and women, in coolwhite, sipped iced drinks and kept their circulation down. But in the laundry the air was sizzling. The huge stove roared red hotand white hot, while the irons, moving over the damp cloth, sent up clouds of steam. The heat of these irons was different from that used by housewives. An iron that stood the ordinary test of a wet finger was too cold for Joe and Martin, and such test was useless. They went wholly by holding the irons close to their cheeks, gauging the heat by some secret mental process that Martin admired but could not understand. When the fresh irons proved too hot, they hooked them on iron rods and dipped them into cold water. This again required a precise and subtle judgment. A fraction of a second too long in the water and the fine and silken edge of the proper heat was lost, and Martin found time to marvel at the accuracy he developed - an automatic accuracy, founded upon criteria that were machine-like and unerring.

But there was little time in which to marvel. All Martin's consciousness was concentrated in the work. Ceaselessly active, head and hand, an intelligent machine, all that constituted him a man was devoted to furnishing that intelligence. There was no room in his brain for the universe and its mighty problems. All the broad and spacious corridors of his mind were closed and hermetically sealed. The echoing chamber of his soul was a narrow room, a conning tower, whence were directed his arm and shoulder muscles, his ten nimble fingers, and the swift-moving iron along its steaming path in broad, sweeping strokes, just so many strokes and no more, just so far with each stroke and not a fraction of an inch farther, rushing along interminable sleeves, sides, backs, and tails, and tossing the finished shirts, without rumpling, upon the receiving frame. And even as his hurrying soul tossed, it was reaching for another shirt. This went on, hour after hour, while outside all the world swooned under the overhead California sun. But there was no swooning in that superheated room. The cool guests on the verandas needed clean linen.

The sweat poured from Martin. He drank enormous quantities of water, but so great was the heat of the day and of his exertions, that the water sluiced through the interstices of his flesh and out at all his pores. Always, at sea, except at rare intervals, the work he performed had given him ample opportunity to commune with himself. The master of the ship had been lord of Martin's time; but here the manager of the hotel was lord of Martin's thoughts as well. He had no thoughts save for the nerve-racking, body- destroying toil. Outside of that it was impossible to think. He did not know that he loved Ruth. She did not even exist, for his driven soul had no time to remember her. It was only when he crawled to bed at night, or to breakfast in the morning, that she asserted herself to him in fleeting memories.

"This is hell, ain't it?" Joe remarked once.

Martin nodded, but felt a rasp of irritation. The statement had been obvious and unnecessary. They did not talk while they worked. Conversation threw them out of their stride, as it did this time, compelling Martin to miss a stroke of his iron and to make two extra motions before he caught his stride again.

On Friday morning the washer ran. Twice a week they had to put through hotel linen, - the sheets, pillow-slips, spreads, table- cloths, and napkins. This finished, they buckled down to "fancy starch." It was slow work, astidious and delicate, and Martin did not learn it so readily. Besides, he could not take chances.
Mistakes were disastrous.

"See that," Joe said, holding up a filmy corset-cover that he could have crumpled from view in one hand. "Scorch that an' it's twenty dollars out of your wages."

So Martin did not scorch that, and eased down on his muscular tension, though nervous tension rose higher than ever, and he listened sympathetically to the other's blasphemies as he toiled and suffered over the beautiful things that women wear when they do not have to do their own laundrying. "Fancy starch" was Martin's nightmare, and it was Joe's, too. It was "fancy starch" that robbed them of their hard-won minutes. They toiled at it all day. At seven in the evening they broke off to run the hotel linen through the mangle. At ten o'clock, while the hotel guests slept, the two laundrymen sweated on at "fancy starch" till midnight, till one, till two. At half-past two they knocked off.

Saturday morning it was "fancy starch," and odds and ends, and at three in the afternoon the week's work was done.

"You ain't a-goin' to ride them seventy miles into Oakland on top of this?" Joe demanded, as they sat on the stairs and took a triumphant smoke.

"Got to," was the answer.

"What are you goin' for? - a girl?"

"No; to save two and a half on the railroad ticket. I want to renew some books at the library."

"Why don't you send 'em down an' up by express? That'll cost only a quarter each way."

Martin considered it.

"An' take a rest to-morrow," the other urged. "You need it. I know I do. I'm plumb tuckered out."

He looked it. Indomitable, never resting, fighting for seconds and minutes all week, circumventing delays and crushing down obstacles, a fount of resistless energy, a high-driven human motor, a demon for work, now that he had accomplished the week's task he was in a state of collapse. He was worn and haggard, and his handsome face
drooped in lean exhaustion. He pulled his cigarette spiritlessly, and his voice was peculiarly dead and monotonous. All the snap and fire had gone out of him. His triumph seemed a sorry one.

"An' next week we got to do it all over again," he said sadly. "An' what's the good of it all, hey? Sometimes I wish I was a hobo. They don't work, an' they get their livin'. Gee! I wish I had a glass of beer; but I can't get up the gumption to go down to the village an' get it. You'll stay over, an' send your books dawn by express, or else you're a damn fool."

"But what can I do here all day Sunday?" Martin asked.

"Rest. You don't know how tired you are. Why, I'm that tired Sunday I can't even read the papers. I was sick once - typhoid. In the hospital two months an' a half. Didn't do a tap of work all that time. It was beautiful."

"It was beautiful," he repeated dreamily, a minute later.

Martin took a bath, after which he found that the head laundryman had disappeared. Most likely he had gone for a glass of beer Martin decided, but the half-mile walk down to the village to find out seemed a long journey to him. He lay on his bed with his shoes off, trying to make up his mind. He did not reach out for a book. He was too tired to feel sleepy, and he lay, scarcely thinking, in a semi-stupor of weariness, until it was time for supper. Joe did not appear for that function, and when Martin heard the gardener remark that most likely he was ripping the slats off the bar, Martin understood. He went to bed immediately afterward, and in the morning decided that he was greatly rested. Joe being still absent, Martin procured a Sunday paper and lay down in a shady nook under the trees. The morning passed, he knew not how. He did not sleep, nobody disturbed him, and he did not finish the paper. He came back to it in the afternoon, after dinner, and fell asleep over it.

So passed Sunday, and Monday morning he was hard at work, sorting clothes, while Joe, a towel bound tightly around his head, with groans and blasphemies, was running the washer and mixing soft-soap.

"I simply can't help it," he explained. "I got to drink when Saturday night comes around."

Another week passed, a great battle that continued under the electric lights each night and that culminated on Saturday afternoon at three o'clock, when Joe tasted his moment of wilted triumph and then drifted down to the village to forget. Martin's Sunday was the same as before. He slept in the shade of the trees, toiled aimlessly through the newspaper, and spent long hours lying on his back, doing nothing, thinking nothing. He was too dazed to think, though he was aware that he did not like himself. He was self-repelled, as though he had undergone some degradation or was intrinsically foul. All that was god-like in him was blotted out. The spur of ambition was blunted; he had no vitality with which to feel the prod of it. He was dead. His soul seemed dead. He was a beast, a work-beast. He saw no beauty in the sunshine sifting down through the green leaves, nor did the azure vault of the sky whisper as of old and hint of cosmic vastness and secrets trembling to disclosure. Life was intolerably dull and stupid, and its taste was bad in his mouth. A black screen was drawn across his mirror of inner vision, and fancy lay in a darkened sick-room where entered no ray of light. He envied Joe, down in the village, rampant, tearing the slats off the bar, his brain gnawing with maggots, exulting in maudlin ways over maudlin things,
fantastically and gloriously drunk and forgetful of Monday morning and the week of deadening toil to come.

A third week went by, and Martin loathed himself, and loathed life. He was oppressed by a sense of failure. There was reason for the editors refusing his stuff. He could see that clearly now, and laugh at himself and the dreams he had dreamed. Ruth returned his "Sea Lyrics" by mail. He read her letter apathetically. She did her best to say how much she liked them and that they were beautiful. But she could not lie, and she could not disguise the truth from herself. She knew they were failures, and he read her disapproval in every perfunctory and unenthusiastic line of her letter. And she was right. He was firmly convinced of it as he read the poems over. Beauty and wonder had departed from him, and as he read the poems he caught himself puzzling as to what he had had in mind when he wrote them. His audacities of phrase struck him as grotesque, his felicities of expression were monstrosities,
and everything was absurd, unreal, and impossible. He would have burned the "Sea Lyrics" on the spot, had his will been strong enough to set them aflame. There was the engine-room, but the exertion of carrying them to the furnace was not worth while. All his exertion was used in washing other persons' clothes. He did not have any left for private affairs.

He resolved that when Sunday came he would pull himself together and answer Ruth's letter. But Saturday afternoon, after work was finished and he had taken a bath, the desire to forget overpowered him. "I guess I'll go down and see how Joe's getting on," was the way he put it to himself; and in the same moment he knew that he
lied. But he did not have the energy to consider the lie. If he had had the energy, he would have refused to consider the lie, because he wanted to forget. He started for the village slowly and casually, increasing his pace in spite of himself as he neared the saloon.

"I thought you was on the water-wagon," was Joe's greeting.

Martin did not deign to offer excuses, but called for whiskey, filling his own glass brimming before he passed the bottle.

"Don't take all night about it," he said roughly.

The other was dawdling with the bottle, and Martin refused to wait for him, tossing the glass off in a gulp and refilling it.

"Now, I can wait for you," he said grimly; "but hurry up."

Joe hurried, and they drank together.

"The work did it, eh?" Joe queried.

Martin refused to discuss the matter.

"It's fair hell, I know," the other went on, "but I kind of hate to see you come off the wagon, Mart. Well, here's how!"

Martin drank on silently, biting out his orders and invitations and awing the barkeeper, an effeminate country youngster with watery blue eyes and hair parted in the middle.

"It's something scandalous the way they work us poor devils," Joe was remarking. "If I didn't bowl up, I'd break loose an' burn down the shebang. My bowlin' up is all that saves 'em, I can tell you that."

But Martin made no answer. A few more drinks, and in his brain he felt the maggots of intoxication beginning to crawl. Ah, it was living, the first breath of life he had breathed in three weeks. His dreams came back to him. Fancy came out of the darkened room and lured him on, a thing of flaming brightness. His mirror of vision was silver-clear, a flashing, dazzling palimpsest of imagery. Wonder and beauty walked with him, hand in hand, and all
power was his. He tried to tell it to Joe, but Joe had visions of his own, infallible schemes whereby he would escape the slavery of laundry-work and become himself the owner of a great steam laundry.

"I tell yeh, Mart, they won't be no kids workin' in my laundry -not on yer life. An' they won't be no workin' a livin' soul after six P.M. You hear me talk! They'll be machinery enough an' hands enough to do it all in decent workin' hours, an' Mart, s'help me, I'll make yeh superintendent of the shebang - the whole of it, all of it. Now here's the scheme. I get on the water-wagon an' save my money for two years - save an' then - "

But Martin turned away, leaving him to tell it to the barkeeper, until that worthy was called away to furnish drinks to two farmers who, coming in, accepted Martin's invitation. Martin dispensed royal largess, inviting everybody up, farm-hands, a stableman, and the gardener's assistant from the hotel, the barkeeper, and the furtive hobo who slid in like a shadow and like a shadow hovered at the end of the bar.


Yeah. The good old days of the 19th century when happy workers respected the value of work and believed in character instead of self-fulfillment.

The reason that the protestant work ethic went "out of fashion" had a lot less to do with libertine artists than with the fact that most of the people who lived under it were virtual slaves. It was never a matter of character and self-discipline vs culture or righteousness. It was a matter of survival. Let's not get confused about that.

We can inveigh against popular culture and try to contain it (and further empower those who want nothing more than to restrict all of our freedoms while doing it) but please, oh please, let's not fool ourselves into believing that there was some virtue for the common man in working himself into an early grave. The nineteenth century culture was a depraved cesspool of unhumanity in many, many ways.

It is very dangerous to play with conservative nostaligia for times that never were. All it ever really adds up to is exploitation. Funny that. Inveigh against the culture all you want. But, be very careful who you cozy up to in the process. This kind of conservatism tends to have some very unpleasant consequences.




Saturday, January 01, 2005

 
Waves Of Despair

I suppose that everyone has his or her particular nightmare. You know, the one where you wake up in a pool of icy sweat, breathing heavily, heart pounding like bass line of "I Wanna Be Sedated." Mine is tidal waves. I have dreamed of tidal waves since I was a child.

This doesn't make me fear the water or the beach --- I live just blocks from the beach in a prime earthquake zone. It isn't really about tidal waves. It's a dream of being engulfed, drowned by something huge and unstoppable that is out of my control.

The real thing, of course, is a living nightmare for those who went through it and those who are dealing with the aftermath. It is, as president Clinton so prosaically (yet so perfectly) observed, "like a horror movie." How else would this culture relate to such a huge and terrible thing except to relate it to the entertainment nightmares we have seen so many times, sitting in the dark, clutching our popcorn, scared and yet not really? I suspect that most of us saw 9/11 the same way. Except, of course, those who actually went through it. For the victims it isn't a reality TV show or a shared "event" or even a nightmare. It is horribly, painfully, shockingly real.

As I sit here I have Capitol Gang on in the backround where flatulent hack Robert Novak is making lame excuses for Codpiece's lazy, half hearted response by claiming that the criticism is part of a long standing desire of socialists to transfer wealth from the rich countries to the poor. This is not the first time he's made that charge:

NOVAK: So, you think -- you think it is the obligation -- it's very interesting. I always love -- I always love to get this insight into your thinking.

You're my congresswoman, and I'd really like to know what you're thinking. Do you think that it is the obligation of the United States to take its wealth and transfer it to the Third World? Is that what you're saying?

NORTON: I certainly think it's the obligation of the United States to share its wealth with the Third World in a time of the most horrible disaster in memory. Yes, I do think so.


Of course, he isn't alone in this thinking. On the very same show you had Jim Gilmore, erstwhile chairman of the RNC saying that the American taxpayers were already overburdened:

BEGALA: Now, Governor, let me raise an issue that I raised on this broadcast a week ago, before the disaster of America and our president, rather, our president welshing on America's obligations to help the poor. This is a story that was in "The New York Times" last week. "With the budget deficit growing and President Bush promising to reduce spending, the administration has told representatives of several charities it was unable to honor some earlier promises. The cutbacks, estimated by some charities to add up to $100 million, come at a time when the number of hungry in the world is rising for the first time in years. As a result, Save Our Children, Catholic Relief Services and other charities have suspended or limited programs intended to help the poor feed themselves."

Now, what would Jesus do? Would he welsh on $100 million?

(APPLAUSE)

GILMORE: You know...

BEGALA: What would he do, Governor?

GILMORE: Here's my answer.

BEGALA: Would he lie to Christian groups like this?

GILMORE: A president has to look at entire big picture of the obligations that the United States has both domestically and foreign. We have education commitments. We have infrastructure commitments. We have humanitarian commitments around the world. Frankly, an awful lot is loaded on the taxpayer of the United States.


This was last Tuesday. The day that Bush emerged from the brush and announced that something serious had occurred --- four days late. We've seen them loosen the pursestrings a bit since then. Apparently, it has been decided that the American taxpayer can afford to help out after all. But it's an interesting insight into their black souls isn't it?

I particularly like the contribution from the Ayn Rand institute, repository of wisdom for the rightwing bodice ripping set:

Every dollar the government hands out as foreign aid has to be extorted from an American taxpayer first. Year after year, for decades, the government has forced American taxpayers to provide foreign aid to every type of natural or man-made disaster on the face of the earth: from the Marshall Plan to reconstruct a war-ravaged Europe to the $15 billion recently promised to fight AIDS in Africa to the countless amounts spent to help the victims of earthquakes, fires and floods--from South America to Asia.

[...]

The reason politicians can get away with doling out money that they have no right to and that does not belong to them is that they have the morality of altruism on their side. According to altruism--the morality that most Americans accept and that politicians exploit for all it's worth--those who have more have the moral obligation to help those who have less. This is why Americans--the wealthiest people on earth--are expected to sacrifice (voluntarily or by force) the wealth they have earned to provide for the needs of those who did not earn it. It is Americans' acceptance of altruism that renders them morally impotent to protest against the confiscation and distribution of their wealth. It is past time to question--and to reject--such a vicious morality that demands that we sacrifice our values instead of holding on to them.


The favorite political philosophy of teenagers expressed by someone who writes like one. Still, you can see the threads of the impractical Randian selfishness in Novak and Gilmore's words. These people really don't give a shit. And they can't quite cover their lack of basic human decency. It's just too fundamental to who they are.

CNN (which by the way has seen a huge boost in ratings over Fox during the past week, proving once again that FOX is not a news channel, it's a partisan political channel) has been on the disaster 24/7 letting the story unfold naturally with footage and stories and tales of heroism and horror. That our president was unable to grasp the significance of these pictures and these stories and feel empathy for the victims is bad enough. That he didn't see the opportunity to mend some of the wounds he has created and allowed to fester is a failure of leadership so profound that I wonder if it may not define his presidency.

But then, he's never been very swift off the mark in a crisis, has he? The Mahablog reminds us that he sat paralyzed reading about goats to second graders when informed that the United States was under attack. He then dithered about for hours flying all over the country while Dick Cheney issued orders to shoot down aircraft. There was also this:

The President of the United States made no comment on November 2, 2003, which was the bloodiest day so far for U.S. troops in Iraq. On that day, 16 U.S. soldiers died and 20 were wounded in a single helicopter attack. Three other soldiers died in Iraq that day in separate incidents.

President Bush was resting on his Texas ranch that day, a Sunday, enjoying a "down" day between campaign appearances on Saturday and Monday.

The White House staff was reluctant to involve the President in a “politically perilous fray,” an Associated Press story said. A White House spokesperson read a generic statement to the press about continuing attacks on Americans. The spokesperson declined to comment on the President’s personal reactions to the tragedy of that day.


It's a pattern with him. He is slow to react. (Compare and contrast with the now universally despised John Kerry.) I wonder just when he would have come forward if Bill Clinton hadn't been asked about it on a BBC radio show and answered like a normal human being, thereby forcing the Republicans' right knees to jerk convulsively and hit them right between the eyes.

This disaster has made my tidal wave dreams more turbulent than they've ever been and it's not because of the frightening images of the tsunami surge and the people running for their lives. It's because we are ruled by people with no empathy, no competence and no limits. It's because, more than ever, I feel engulfed by powerful forces over which I have no control.




Thursday, December 23, 2004

 
Oh Holy Night, Batman

I'm going into the heart of the beast and visiting my fiesty, 82 year old, extremely conservative father for Christmas. He's been ill, so we haven't gotten into the election results until now. He's feeling better. Woah, Nellie.

Since the family consists of Jews, Christians, atheists and sundry wierdos, our holidays are pretty much all about food. But, without knowing it, we've been celebrating Festivus for years --- particularly the sacred "airing of grievances." Wish me luck.

I'll be back after Christmas and we'll party like it's 1899. In the meantime, go over to The American Street and vote for the Peranoski Prize. Fun for the whole blog family. (And while you're there, drop a couple of bucks in the tip jar. Kevin Hayden, the hardest working man in Blogovia, could use a little help with the bandwidth.)

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Joyful Kwaanza, Glad Solstice and, most importantly, may everyone have a Jubilant After-Christmas-Sale Day--- the most religious American holiday of them all.




 
Back To The Future

I haven't written much about the UCC ad controversy because, as an atheist, it seems a bit presumptuous to weigh in on issues such as this except to say that I think that freedom of speech demands that all voices should be allowed on the public airwaves.

That article, however, makes me a little bit sad and I can't help but feel that all this is leading to the kind of intra religious fighting we haven't seen for decades in this country. For quite a while everyone had been getting along pretty well, religiously speaking.

My grandfather was what was known as an anti-papist. (He didn't think much of Jews either.) A good portion of his life was defined by his religious identity as an Episcopalian and freemason who hated Catholics. He was born in 1886, so it wasn't all that unusual. During his lifetime, which ended in 1972, it became less and less acceptable to hold the views he held until, at the end, he was an anachronism. I always thought that was a good thing and in a perverse way to hear him rail against the Pope in the 1960's always reinforced in me a strong belief in social progress. His old fashioned ideas had been completely discredited by mainstream society during his own lifetime.

Now we are seeing the re-emergence of intra Christian rivalry (along with hostility to non-Judeo Christian religions in general) and the infighting has begun again. The lines are breaking down now between fundamentalism and liberalism, but really it's the same old shit.

And it illustrates the real reason why the founders insisted on separation of church and state. It wasn't in service of secularism; it was in service of religion. When one sect gains the power of the state, the others have no choice but to fight for their rights. This UCC controversy is, I fear, the beginning of another episode of religious war between the Christians. Two steps forward one step back.

But I have to say that I have no idea why, in the midst of this religious rivalry, nobody gives a shit about this:

Rather than the traditional egg hunt, this group, calling itself the American Clergy Leadership Conference, sponsored a nationwide "Tear Down The Cross" day for Easter, 2003. Last week, leaders in this radical cause presided over a Washington prayer breakfast featuring messages of thanks from the presidents. Former Senator Bob Dole came in person.

[...]

Moon was keynote speaker last week, declaring in remarks reprinted by the Times that "God's heart is under confinement." In some ways it was a repeat performance of the Senate coronation ceremony, which the New York Times editorial page compared to an act of the mad emperor Caligula.

You may remember that Senator John Warner and other Congressmen unloaded on Moon's entourage for "deceiving" them into sponsoring a ceremony where America "surrendered to [Moon] in the king's role," according to an internal church memo. "America is saying to Father, 'please become my king," claimed Moon minister Chung Kwak. The versatile Kwak is currently wearing a second hat as head of the UPI news agency, added to Moon's collection of media properties in 2000.

Strangely enough, last week the hosts of the "surrender" ceremony weren't blasted but blessed by two presidents of the United States. The same faces were there: George Stallings, Jr., the flamboyant ex-archbishop who bellowed at the March dinner for America to open up its heart to Moon; Michael Jenkins and Chang Shik Yang, hosts of past "Tear Down The Cross" rituals; and former Democratic D.C. representative Walter Fauntroy, who shares the Moonies' opposition to gay civil unions (Moon calls gays "dung-eating dogs"; Fauntroy calls same-sex marriage "an abomination"). Congressman Davis did not attend.

Like the Senate party, this conference climaxed with a new Crown of Peace awarded to Moon by his own organization, though in this case they held off on the royal treatment until the following evening. The award was reported by UPI.

According to a report in the Washington Times as well as video found on the Moon-affiliated Web site FamilyFed.org, the elder Bush made a taped appearance before the ACLC's 3,000-strong crowd, which he thanked for their work. "I thought about parachuting into the building," he joked about wishing he could make it. And he paid lip service to Moon's unwieldy religious jargon, using phrases like "peace centered on God," a goal that he called "right on target."

His son, George W. Bush, wrote a warm letter of support presented at the event by a state senator, in which the president and his wife Laura sent his best wishes to the sponsors -- and thanked them for rallying his "armies of compassion.


Picture if you will, Bill and Hill and Al and Tipper doing this.

Why doesn't anybody confront the wingnut political and religious gasbags with this crap? How could Bush or Falwell or O'Reilly or any of the other self-appointed guardians of Christianity defend this wierd nonsense?

Gosh, it almost make you think that the Republican and Christian Right leadership are actually simple whores for money.




 
Who Us?

As I was navel gazing about how to win elections, I came across this article (via the Left Coaster) that reminded me of the pitfalls of losing sight of our commitment to civil liberties in the quest for votes and crossover appeal.

In the past week, new revelations of vast abuses of U.S. prisoners being held in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay have appeared in the news. Yet, many of the same people who condemn these atrocities are quite willing to see government officials engage in the same behavior toward Americans. While abuse, torture, and outright lying and criminal behavior by participants in the "justice system" are common, the public gives a collective yawn and juries continue to swallow the lies that prosecutors feed to them. Although the accessible examples of such behavior are legion and have been well-documented elsewhere, I will give some of my own.

Judge Andrew P. Napolitano in a recent article gave a couple of terrifying but all-too-typical stories of torture and abuse of people in this country. The first involved the accusation (almost surely false) of massive child molestation against two owners of a Florida daycare center in 1984. The chief accuser was then-Dade County State’s Attorney Janet Reno (yes, that Janet Reno) who was in the middle of a tough re-election campaign and was determined to get a guilty verdict.

Reno was able to have then-18-year-old Ileana Furster, Frank Furster’s wife, held without bond. Furthermore, the young woman was placed nude in a solitary confinement cell, being in full view of male and female guards. In 1998, Ileana described some of her treatment:

They would give me cold showers. Two people would hold me, run me under cold water, then throw me back in the cell naked with nothing, just a bare floor. And I used to be cold, real cold. I would have my periods and they would wash me and throw me back into the cell.


(Note: This action came at a time when prosecutors around the country were engaging in child molestation witch hunts against day care owners, the original accusations stemming from the encouragement in the 1974 Child Abuse Prevention Act, better known as the Mondale Act. It provided federal money to states that prosecuted alleged child abuse, and prosecutors were all-too-happy to jump into the mix. Many of the accusations were outlandishly false, but prosecutors and their media stooges managed to keep the enterprise going until the accusations collapsed under the scrutiny of a particularly egregious set of charges mounted in Wenatchee, Washington, a decade ago. However, even today, some people are serving life terms for "child molestation" crimes they almost certainly did not commit. Frank Furster is one of them.)

Finally, Reno began to visit Ms. Furster on a regular basis and browbeat her with accusations and promises of a life sentence unless she cooperated (that is, told the jury what Reno wanted her to say). Further visits from psychiatrists who allegedly specialized in "recovering memories" – which has turned out to be another form of government quackery – finally got their intended results. Ileana haltingly accused her husband in court (she has since recanted) and Frank Furster was found guilty.


This isn't hyperbole. Here's the transcript from the Frontline documentary about the child abuse witch hunts of the 1980's.

It wasn't right wingers who perpetuated these miscarriages of justice --- it was misguided liberals who thought they were protecting kids and ambitious liberal politicians who needed to appear to be tough on crime, acting out of a belief that the accused child molesters were so evil that it excused any kind of conduct. Neither party can claim a perfect record in this regard.

The only thing that can protect our country from losing its soul (if it isn't already lost) is a sincere and unbending commitment to civil liberties and the letter and spirit of the Bill of Rights. Once you start tweaking at the edges the whole house of cards falls in. As we look at how far we are willing to compromise, appease, reframe and redirect, it's awfully important that we keep that in mind. Otherwise, we're just as phony as the other side.


Update: In a related article, William Pfaff posits that the torture in Iraq and Gitmo was really more "Shock and Awe":

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Bush administration is not torturing prisoners because it is useful but because of its symbolism. It originally was intended to be a form of what later, in the attack on Iraq, came to be called "shock and awe." It was meant as intimidation. We will do these terrible things to demonstrate that nothing will stop us from conquering our enemies. We are indifferent to world opinion. We will stop at nothing.


I seem to recall quite a few liberal voices thinking this was quite a good idea. Take our good friend, the thoughtful and measured Tom Friedman:


No, the axis-of-evil idea isn't thought through - but that's what I like about it. It says to these countries and their terrorist pals: "We know what you're cooking in your bathtubs. We don't know exactly what we're going to do about it, but if you think we are going to just sit back and take another dose from you, you're wrong. Meet Don Rumsfeld - he's even crazier than you are."

There is a lot about the Bush team's foreign policy I don't like, but their willingness to restore our deterrence, and to be as crazy as some of our enemies, is one thing they have right. It is the only way we're going to get our turkey back.


Even intellectuals have lizard brains and know how to use them.




 
Mmmmm. Wine

Dr. Vino will be raffling off a case of very nice wine to someone who has completed his 2004 wine quiz correctly.

(Hint: Google)





Search Digby!