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Thursday, May 31, 2007
(7:08 AM) | Stephen:
Placing Blame Where It Belongs

I want to expand a bit on my last post with a simple thought experiment.

Let's say that someone breaks into my house and steals all my stuff. He's caught and put on trial, during which it is revealed that I left my house for several hours one day with the front door and my garage open. The burglar - who is my neighbor, by the way - knows that I have a computer (true) and a 62-inch plasma TV (yeah, right) in my family room because he's been over for barbeques and stuff. So he walks in, goes straight to the family room and steals, among other things, my computer and my plasma screen TV. The question is, will I be put on trial, or my neighbor? Will my neighbor be able to admit that he took my TV and all my other stuff and still walk away from the trial a free man, all because I forgot to lock the door?

The responsibility for a crime lies with the criminal, not with the victim. Perhaps I should close and lock my doors when I leave my house. But in all areas of life, we expect people to act within the bounds of the law no matter how tempted they may be or how little common sense the rest of us show.

Except rape. At a rape trial, the victim is always prosecuted. The victim is held to an arbitrary standard of "common sense" or, more accurately, complete moral purity in order for the crime of rape to actually be considered a crime. In rape trials defense lawyers are allowed to act in ways that would get them disbarred in other settings.

And the basis for all this is simply the idea that women are not full moral agents. The paternalistic nonsense coming out of the Supreme Court is proof that the highest levels of our government are populated by men who think women can't be trusted to make their own decisions and are not entitled to protection under the law equal to that accorded men.

So if you think that women are equal, if you think that feminists are trying to get special rights, if you think that our nation's laws and practices actually favor women, even in some cases, you are wrong. There is no nuance here, no complexity, no room for differing opinion. This is a black and white issue, no grey. It's time for women to be recognized and accepted simply as human beings.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007
(11:45 PM) | Stephen:
Stop Blaming The Victims

Last March, there was a party in San Jose where several members of the De Anza College baseball team allegedly gang-raped a 17-year-old girl. Two women have come forward as eyewitnesses: Lauren Chief Elk and April Grolle, who are also students at De Anza College. They have granted an interview to a San Jose television station, in which they describe looking through a cracked-open door off the kitchen where the alleged victim was laying down, pants around her ankles, men standing all around her, one of them in the act of raping her.

Chief Elk, Grolle and another woman broke down the door in order to break up what was happening. The victim's mouth was full of vomit. Her jeans and panties were at her ankles. Used condoms littered the floor.

The Santa Clara County DA has declined to press charges, citing a lack of sufficient evidence. To their credit, the Sheriff's office still considers this an open case; we can only hope this means they are still working on providing enough evidence to the DA so that he will try to find some justice here.

What's especially disturbing is that the girl, when she was being rescued, said "I'm sorry." One of the guys in the room reportedly said, "this is her fault. She got drunk and she did this to herself." There are no words in any language capable of expressing the pure evil contained in that sentence.

The problem in this country is that female victims of crime are generally blamed for the crimes. They are blamed for being drunk, or walking alone, or showing cleavage, or dancing, or looking at a guy. No matter what crime occurs, there is always an undercurrent of blame directed at the woman, letting her know that really, if she had just had some common sense or other such thing, then nothing would have happened.

A woman's body needs to be her own. All the time. No matter what she might do to it, that doesn't give anyone else permission to do something else to it. It's just that simple. And the problems that we're having in this country with abortion, with getting that HPV vaccine into widespread use, educating girls about birth control, the skyrocketing growth in cosmetic surgery - even to the point of designer vaginas - the eating disorders that plague women, and the way in which women are routinely assaulted and raped, not by monstrous strangers sneaking into their homes at night, but by their friends, their coworkers, their dads and brothers, all these problems stem from the basic assumption that women's bodies are not their own.

That's why the task of feminism is not done. That's why anyone who actually believes that women deserve equal protection under the law must never relax their guard, never give in to a sense of accomplishment or complacency just because it's now legal for women to vote.

That's why it's so important for our young men to be taught that they are actually responsible for their own actions, that they are not savage beasts beholden to the base urges of their penises. Our young men must be taught from birth that it is never ok to belittle women or take advantage of greater physical prowess. Men need to stop viewing sexual encounters as conquests. We need to excise from our culture the idea that women are fickle creatures who will "say no when they mean yes."

We need to understand that rape is a male* problem. And all of us men are responsible for it, because of the jokes, the insinuations, the attitudes that for some of us may never result in actually physically assaulting a woman, but for many men provide an atmosphere of acceptance in which they will act out their desires.

*Yes, women rape men. And yes, there is a problem with underreporting. But just because I'm not addressing that issue in this post doesn't mean I don't care, nor does it invalidate my argument.

(11:51 AM) | Stephen:
Pentecost Sunday 2007

Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday, which celebrates the birth of the Church. The following is taken from Acts 2:
On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. . . . . and everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. . . . .when they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers. They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs.
At the birth of the Church, gifts were given to the believers to enable them to speak to people from all over the world. The passage actually doesn't say that every person around was either ethnically Jewish or a convert, only the visitors from Rome are described thusly. Jerusalem was evidently a cosmopolitan place, with people from all over the known world there, and all of them heard these fishermen from Galilee speaking in their own language. Even people who would normally be avoided by "good Jews" were included in this. All of the prophets' words about the whole world coming to Jerusalem and hearing the message of God there came true that day, and before Christians were called that, before they left the synagogue, the message about Jesus was being told to people from all over the world regardless of origin or ethnicity.

So as I said, last Sunday was Pentecost, and at St. Stephen's Parish in Colorado Springs, they held a celebration for their "rebirth," a rebirth that consists of making sure that no homosexuals are present in the congregation or in any congregation associated with them. A rebirth marked by rejection, by division, by accusation and strife. This anti-Pentecost in Colorado Springs is about outward "righteousness," about focusing upon a so-called "sin" that is easy to avoid, if one is born heterosexual. They obsess over this "sin" because it allows them to feel righteous without having to actually be righteous. I could go on and on about how I'm not a murderer, and how that makes me a paragon of purity, but the plain fact is that I'm not ever tempted to commit murder. But there are many areas in my life where I do fall short of where I need to be, and my job is to work on those areas, not others. St. Stephen's Parish is choosing a cheap veneer of righteousness, a place of "worship" where the object of that worship is their own goodness and purity and how much better they are than those gays.

Pentecost is the birth of the Church. But in Colorado Springs last Sunday, one congregation celebrated its death.

(11:19 AM) | Stephen:
Richardson Isn't Campaigning Well

Ezra has a post about Bill Richardson's poor performance on Meet the Press last Sunday, concluding that Richardson's problem is that he is "less than the sum of his parts." What's missing from his assessment - indeed, what's missing from Richardson's campaign - is an understanding that as impressive as Richardson's resume is, it doesn't contain very much campaign experience.

It's been a very long time since Richardson has needed to expend a lot of effort campaigning. He has run for office as a challenger exactly two times, and neither of those races featured an incumbent. In fact, he's never really had a hard campaign slog to get through.

He moved to New Mexico from purely political calculations, knowing that his ethnicity would help him and that the state requires less money to run campaigns than other places. That isn't a criticism; it's no crime to be ambitious or to plan ahead. He ran to represent a brand-new Congressional district, so he didn't have an incumbent he needed to displace. Then he held a couple of high-profile appointments during Clinton's tenure, and when he ran for Governor the first time the state was pretty sick of Gary Johnson, one of the biggest assholes the state has ever produced. Richardson's national stature plus the idiocy of the sitting Governor made that race fairly easy, and his reelection campaign was more about Richardson having fun with it and NM's residents showering him with affection.

The more I look at him, the more I see him as a technocrat - an able one, to be sure - but someone whose political skills, such as they are, coupled with his other talents would make him a good Secretary of State, but not President or even VP.

He won't fare well during the early primaries, no matter how good his commercials are. I hope he has the good sense to drop out with dignity and to make it clear to the eventual nominee that he would be happy to serve on the President's cabinet as Secretary of State. Or he can run for Senator after a while, or just drop out. But the man will never be President, unless he can pull off the biggest skills turnaround since Charles and Monique had to help Lane learn to ski the K-12.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007
(9:40 AM) | Stephen:
Memorializing The Dead

My wife and her mother took the kids to the swimming pool for Memorial Day. I mowed the lawn, trimmed all the bushes and worked on a changing table that we got at a garage sale. It's a dresser, really, with a couple of drawers and a small pantry-shaped space. It actually doesn't look like a changing table, now that the baby-style knobs for the drawers have been switched out for more traditional ones. I had to reinforce the bottoms of both drawers and clean it up, and we're going to put it in the kitchen for the added counter and cabinet space. At least until we're actually ready to build real cabinets in that part of the kitchen.

So we didn't do much to celebrate and/or reflect upon the dead, which puts us in the mainstream of Americans, though there is always some sort of surface attention payed to this aspect of the holiday, along with all the paeans to the summer movie, vacation and shopping season.

Growing up, I was taught that Memorial Day was a time to remember anyone who died, but it's actually a holiday commemorating this nation's war dead. When you add Veteran's and Independence Days, that makes three national holidays specifically given over to honoring and remembering American soldiers. Of course, for the last several years we are also exhorted to show our gratitude to American soldiers at Thanksgiving, and every news program at Christmas will tape messages to and from American soldiers stationed outside the USA. Never mind our diplomatic corps or other Americans who are not home at Christmas.

We are becoming consumed with this reverence for soldiers and militarism, and not only for the last few years. Even police officers and firefighters have been taken down from the lofty perches they occupied immediately after 9/11, replaced by - not by actual soldiers, but by the noble warriors that populate our political speeches, sermons and holiday celebrations.

When Memorial Day comes around, I do spend some time at least mentally thinking on the American soldier, something that my family has produced for quite some time. I have ancestors that fought in the Revolution, both sides of the Civil War, WWII and who served, though he didn't see combat, in the Korean War. As far as close family members, the generations skipped Vietnam. My father is the one who served during the Korean War. He was eighteen and noticing that some friends of his had been drafted, gone over to Korea and returned in coffins. Not wanting to be drafted into that situation he joined the Air Force (actually there's a funny story in all that about the Navy Reserves and a girl), which recognized his mechanical ability and quickly set him not only maintaining B-47s but training others - enlisted, officers - to do the same.

And it was this same man who made it pretty clear that he joined up because he had to, because it was either join, and quick, or end up with a gun in his hands, a pack on his back and a whole bunch of pissed-off Koreans pointing guns at him. There was no question that he would fulfill his duty, but it wasn't some noble calling, or romantic adventure. As his son I never got the idea put in my head that I needed to follow his footsteps or try seeking glory through the military.

While there have always been those with a romantic view of war, I suspect that the majority of soldiers, in all times and places, have been pretty much like my dad: people who fought because they had to, because some political authority, be it king, dictator or president, decided that the people of his nation had to take up arms against the people of another nation, either to expand territory and gain resources or defend allies, or perhaps a bit of both. This is the central truth of what it means to be a soldier, a reality that all governments seek to hide, but that our government and popular culture is especially zealous to obscure. Our soldiers are portrayed not as fellow citizens, but as this special class of selfless, ultra-patriotic near-saints who have all willingly joined the military in order to protect the rest of us from "evildoers" who "hate us for our freedoms."

Of course, if our soldiers all selflessly joined the military out of patriotism and a desire to make sacrifices for the rest of us, it makes it so much easier on us when they die, doesn't it? When we see a soldier hobbling along on a prosthetic leg, or a wedding picture of a horribly burned and disfigured young Marine and his wife, when we see the casualty figures in the newspaper, or the reports of the mess that was made of Walter Reed by the private company contracted by the Pentagon to take care of our wounded and sick, we are able to soothe our consciences with the comforting fiction peddled by our politicians and pundits.

When Halliburton serves our soldiers rotten food, when vets lose their jobs because of repeated and extended deployments, when the number of widows, of fatherless or motherless children, parents who outlive their children, siblings who bury little brothers and big sisters continues to grow and grow, when the little white crosses in our nation's cemeteries continue to proliferate, then the rest of us hide behind our comforting fictions, our pretty little myths that it's okay to abuse our soldiers, it's fine to refuse them a decent pay raise, it's perfectly acceptable to send them to die again, and again, and again for the same damn patch of ground, the same damn city, the same damn road to the airport outside Baghdad, because that's what our soldiers wanted.

The reality is that our soldiers are American citizens, men and women, old and young, noble, virtuous, disciplined and proud. And they are devious, child-abusers, criminals, drunks, rapists, just like the rest of us. The American soldier is no worse than any other American, and no better. Those of us who do not serve in the military should indeed be grateful, for such is service to and for the rest of us. But let's be grateful for what they actually do, and who they actually are. Let's show our gratitude by being far less willing to send our soldiers into harm's way - and let's face it, though the contempt shown for our soldiers by George Bush will probably never be exceeded or even approached by another President, others in that office have also shown that they don't understand the men and women of our armed forces to be men and women, citizens as deserving of the protection of the Executive Branch as any other. This has been a failing of both the Democrats and Republicans, even though the GOP is clearly the party that wishes to foster and reap the benefits of a jingoistic nationalism that makes abstractions of our fellow citizens in order to make the rest of us more amenable to their policies.

Today, in Iraq, American soldiers will die. We will see the headlines, read the stories. Perhaps one or more will die in a particularly interesting or heroic way - or in a way that can be manipulated by the Army into a heroic story, as with Pat Tillman - and will be celebrated and honored by name in our newspapers, on TV and by our politicians. But each one of these soldiers already fated to die, if given the choice between fame and idolization in death or obscurity in life, would gladly choose to remain unknown in order to live even one more day.

It is that choice which should be remembered and honored, not just on the last Monday in May, but each day, in all our nation's policies and by each one of us.

Saturday, May 26, 2007
(10:31 PM) | Stephen:
Crotchless Pantaloons Are The Least Disturbing Item

At the Christian Domestic Discipline Website, where you can get daywear, eveningwear, publications and even "Herbal Expressions Aftercare Cooling Gel with Arnica," which is said to "aid in the healing of bruises."

You can peruse their collections of Christian Domestic Discipline novels and books written to help couples along the path of spanking a grown woman as a means of discipline. To see what this looks like, here's an excerpt from Christmas Shopping:
Luke paid for their meal and ushered his wife out to their vehicle. As usual, he unlocked the door and opened it for her, but before letting her climb inside; he took her arm and planted half a dozen firm swats to the seat of her jean-clad bottom. "That was for your behavior inside," he said, releasing his grip on her arm.

As Luke walked to his side of the van, he hoped the swats had been enough to grab his wife's attention and head off any further trouble for the remainder of the day, but somehow he doubted that would be the case. He sincerely wanted to give his wife the benefit of the doubt, but the signs were all there.
Is this a kink? I don't think the website is a joke; I put the above book in my shopping cart and went to checkout, and it all seemed legit. As far as I can tell this website is about a particular reading of the Bible that calls for a husband to have complete authority and control over his wife, in itself not an unusual interpretation.

But the emphasis here is on discipline - specifically spanking, though of course there is mention of how this "Christian discipline" is not limited to spanking.

The following is an excerpt from Consensual Christian Domestic Discipline:
In today’s society where any physical discipline is severely frowned upon, it is important that even a Christian Domestic Discipline relationship be consensual; however, it is interesting to note that Biblically, a man’s right to chastise and discipline his wife is strongly implied. Just as a parent would never stop to ask permission to chastise his child, a husband should not have to obtain consent to discipline his wife; however, our legal system has put him in the position of having to do so. Just as our culture is turned upside down in so many other things, the traditional Christian marriage is no exception.

It is worth mentioning that even Biblically, it is best if the wife submits willingly rather than being forced to obey her husband, and in giving honor to his wife as the weaker vessel, it is good that the husband listen to her thoughts and opinions and try to incorporate them into their lives so that she will be content. In that sense, this discussion of CDD and all it entails is Biblically sound. That is the spirit in which we will approach the remainder of this book.

This workbook is designed for a husband and wife beginning a Christian Domestic Discipline relationship and is meant to give them a starting point as to the things they need to discuss so that each know what they might expect from their CDD marriage. Much of the talk will be the husband, the leader of the family, instructing his wife as to his wishes and expectations for her in their new arrangement, all of which she should pay close attention. However, the husband should place a high importance on his wife’s opinions during this time as well if they both are to be content within the relationship.

Most importantly, the couple should approach each subject with prayer, asking God’s blessing on their marriage and the decisions they make regarding their CDD relationship.
You know, when Paul told husbands to love their wives in Ephesians, it was a revolutionary statement. He upended the cultural norm for both Jews and Greeks/Romans, where women served as necessary equipment for the production of heirs and workers, and as means of pleasure for as long as that lasted. Jewish custom allowed for concubines, Greek/Roman culture allowed for both that and the intellectually superior sexual relationship a man could have with one of his young male servants.

Though I do not like this passage in Ephesians, thinking that Paul showed his own biases rather too clearly, he did at least seek to rein in the prevailing way of thinking about women, transforming them from property to persons. Especially when he says that husbands should love their wives as "Christ loved the Church," Paul is getting into something that men would be well advised to avoid. Because you know, Jesus died for the Church.

By trying to fossilize Church teaching according to the standards that Paul set forth 2,000 years ago - something that he didn't do regarding his own theological tradition - especially as a way to preserve male privilege, people are destroying the message that the Bible is desperately trying to convey.

The idea that men are to have absolute control over women, listening to a woman's opinion only as a courtesy, and that they should engage in a systematic application of "discipline" in which a woman is treated as a child, even to the point of what is widely considered to be physical abuse, is not only repugnant to our modern society. This idea is also repugnant from a Biblical point of view. It's bad theology, bad belief. It's just plain wrong.

(3:31 PM) | Stephen:
Tired Of The Fight

Living with someone who has a psychological disorder is not merely difficult or challenging. Diseases of the mind are fundamentally different than those of the body, even though they are still physiological in nature, still affecting a part of the body. But whatever the science of it all may be, we human beings have decided that our minds are not the same as our bodies. Whether we are body, mind, soul, or body, soul, mind and spirit, or body and mind, everyone has at least a functional compartmentalization with which they order themselves.

Psychological disorders wreak havoc with all of this. The normal way of looking at things is upended, subverted, turned around. The existential barriers that most people have are sometimes broken down, sometimes made stronger, sometimes moved around. That's really the worst part of living with a person who suffers from a mental illness: the unpredictability of it all. There is a perverse sense of comfort that comes from knowing what to expect, even if what we expect is something bad all the time. We can at least set up defenses, procedures, ways of coping with the chaos, with the pain and all the trouble that is caused. When a mentally ill individual starts upon medicines and talk therapy, things do not get better. They actually tend to get worse. Marriages actually suffer more once the road to recovery is begun, because all of the ways in which the husband and wife have learned to deal with the mental illness no longer apply - indeed, one of the first things that people learn is how decidedly unhealthy these ways of coping can be.

Then, of course, there are the inevitable setbacks, the regressions, the new ways that the disease expresses itself and tries to reassert control. So you leave in the morning with everything fine, and return home to see that all is out of control, the house is ransacked, all the painfully bought progress of the last few years seemingly lost in the space of a few hours. The good news, of course, is that the progress is not lost, not completely.

The bad news is that the setbacks never end. No medicine can cure a psychological disorder. The best that we can hope for is maintenance, a near-normal approximation, a faux-healing purchased with stomach cramps, sweats, weight gain, loss of taste, and physiological addiction to drugs that no one fully understands. And after a while you develop a tolerance, so your dose is upped, and upped, and upped until it's too dangerous to take any more of that drug. Each time the dose goes up, the side effects come back, or get worse, or new ones come around. And when the maximum dose is reached, some new drug must be tried, with new side effects. Maybe it will work. Maybe it won't. Maybe two drugs need to be taken at the same time, with each one waging its personal war on your body, each one perhaps finding an ally in the other so that the upset of your body's systems is worse than either one could possibly do alone.

These diseases are often progressive, so even if your body isn't developing a tolerance, it may be that the changing face of the disease requires a different method of attack. And each method of pharmaceutical warfare has its own list of collateral damage. This is not science. It's fumbling in the dark, hobbled, with plugs in our ears. No one really knows what causes Depression, or Bipolar Disorder, or Dissociative Disorder, Schizophrenia or any of the other ways that our minds can betray us and declare war upon our souls. No one really knows what makes the medicines work. Doctors wrap their uncertainty in words like "clinical diagnosis," which means that the doctor doesn't know what's going on, but the best guess is such-and-such, and so let's try X medicine and see if it works.

All this is about me from my perspective. The difficulty of living with a mentally ill person that I mentioned is the difficulty that I face. I can't imagine what it's like for my wife or my kids, because I don't know what it's like to be healthy, let alone healthy yet so close to one with a chronic illness. I'm tired, tired of fighting this foe that wears ever-changing masks, that learns a new strategy every day. Oh, I'll keep fighting, don't worry about that. I'm just sick of it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007
(11:50 AM) | Stephen:

My dad and his wife have been in town for a few days. It was the first time for them to see our present house. It was fun; I don't get to see my family enough since we live so far from all of them.

So I've not been on the computer as much lately, or even reading the newspapers as much. And now I see that the Dems have completely caved to Bush, apparently because they felt like they would be open to too much criticism from the WH over the Memorial Day weekend.

Yeah, can't have that. I mean, gee, having President Cowboy blast the Democrats for being unserious while he clears even more brush on his "ranch" would just be terrible. For that matter, God forbid they just skip the damned vacation. There's millions of Americans who don't get paid holidays anyway, so it would be a chance to see what life is like for regular Americans.

And I just read that Commander CooCoo Bananas has signed an Executive Order that in the event of a catastrophic emergency will put him personally in charge of the entire apparatus of the Federal Government, specifically mentioning the Legislative and Judicial branches. Even WorldNet Daily is upset at this.

I'm behind on a project I'm working on, and I'm tired. And above it all, I'm just sick of seeing all this bullshit coming out of Washington all the fucking time. I'm tired of having Pelosi, Reid and Co. string me along with good actions only to disappoint me again. I'm tired of reading something like "we don't want to give the GOP an opening to attack us," because what that's really saying is, "we're continuing to waste money listening to shitheads like James Carville and Bob Shrum, and they told us to be afraid of the big bad GOP." If the Republicans are going to accuse you of being soft on terrorism, or weak on defense, or wishy-washy and without a clear direction, there's not actually any obligation to make it true.

So, see you tomorrow. I'll find some funny stuff, I hope, to post for Friday. And maybe later I'll be more in the mood for insightful commentary.

Till then, go do something nice for someone, and then say to yourself, "There. Not everyone is an asshole."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007
(9:30 AM) | Stephen:
Surrender Monkeys

I take back pretty much everything I said in my previous post. Apparently the Democratic leadership is still just as spineless, out of touch, and in the thrall of criminally incompetent political consultants.

Not only does the WH get the money it wants, the GOP leadership gets to boast, again, about how the Democrats tried to surrender, tried to "cut and run" but the brave, noble and true men of the Republican party refused to give up and ultimately emerged victorious.

And adding $20 billion onto a bill that the White House doesn't want, no matter what it's for, just plays into the GOP talking point about tax-and-spend Democrats.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007
(8:38 AM) | Stephen:
Congressional Drama

The ongoing drama surrounding the Iraq War appropriations bill is fascinating. The Democrats played a dangerous game by sending a bill that they knew Bush would veto. Not only that, but they knew that the Republican Noise Machine would immediately crank into high gear about how Democrats don't support the troops, hate America, don't like freedom, blah blah blah.

This has of course happened, but two things have happened along with it that really surprise me. One is that all the GOP blather in the media hasn't really seemed to make much of a difference with the American people. The other is that there has been a near-constant stream of stories coming out about how the Dems are going to cave and give Bush a bill that he likes.

The AP just reported that the Democrats are going to give in. They're going to give Bush a bill without timelines, without accountability. And us regular folk all over the country have just sighed, shaken our heads and swallowed the whole story. Some have gotten mad, outraged, but for me, whenever I see that type of thing, it doesn't really affect me all that much, because I expect it. I think that the liberal blogosphere as an organizing tool for the real grassroots is in the midst of remaking the Democratic party into something that actually cares about what happens outside of DC - unlike the GOP and its relationship to the conservative blogosphere - but I don't expect this to happen immediately or even quickly.

But here's the thing, as the link above shows, the Democratic leadership denies the story. Again. No such decision has been made. There's a couple of possible reasons for this. One is that people are deliberately misinforming the AP and other news organizations in an attempt to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. I've long wondered if that's been the source of leaks in the past, with news articles creating a sense in the Democratic Caucus that members feel a certain way even though there really isn't anyone with those opinions.

Another possible reason for stories like this is that the Congressional Democratic caucus is holding together on this, is going to hold together on this, but it's a difficult thing to pull off. The disparate interests and backgrounds of Congressional Dems have not disappeared by any means, and while things look good for us in 2008, it doesn't mean that we don't have to worry about close races. I'm quite certain there are Democrats who want to just give Bush what he wants. They see the columns, they hear the pundits and even the supposed straight-up news anchors and their first reaction is to run and hide, to give in so they don't look like they're weak on security or that they don't support the troops.

If anyone could show me a Democratic political consultant in DC that isn't lobbying for a bill that gives Bush exactly what he wants for exactly the above reasons, I'd probably have a heart attack.

But Pelosi and Reid are damn good strategists, and somebody is listening to the actual American people. It helps that Democrats care what the blogs are saying, because in spite of what the GOP would like everyone to believe, the liberal blogosphere is about as good a cross-section of the American people as you're going to get.

Things are going to be tense for a while, not least because the stream of leaks, and therefore articles, about Democrats caving won't stop. Our press has shown that they will believe anything a Republican or blue dog Democrat will tell them, while showing extreme skepticism of what comes out of the mouths of Reid or Pelosi. Here's hoping they stand firm.

Monday, May 21, 2007
(10:09 AM) | Stephen:
Dear God, What Are We Become?

I normally don't care what people in the entertainment industry think. Being famous because you're good-looking and/or you can sing, play a sport or act doesn't mean that you can string together two coherent sentences about the sandwich you ate for lunch, let alone why you think the new detente with North Korea will fail. It's always possible for people to show they have substance and valid opinions, such as Bono with his work on AIDS and poverty. But in general, I wish entertainers would stick to entertaining and everyone else would just quit swooning over every pronouncement that an entertainer makes.

Of course, with that intro you know there's a "but" coming, and here it is: Amanda just linked to a very well-written and thoughtful little essay from Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Buffy, in particular, is considered to be a show that was more about strong women characters than it was about vampires or witches. Buffy did what all good science fiction and fantasy does, which is make a statement about the present world.

The essay is about Du'a Khalil, a seventeen-year-old girl who was murdered in early April, most likely by her own relatives. The full story is not known, with some saying she was killed because she was absent from home for a night, some saying it was because she converted to Islam to marry a Sunni boy, some saying it was just because she had a relationship with the Sunni Muslim. All versions, however, contain the same thread, the same reason for her death, which is that it was an "honor killing." Du'a Khalil did something that offended her male relatives' sense of honor, and they beat her, kicked her, threw stones at her, dropped cinder blocks on her, and they recorded it all on their camera phones the same way that I will record my daughter doing the Chicken Dance for her Grandma and Grandpa.

Before we give in to the temptation to assume that the main part of the problem is that these people are in the Middle East, let's look at what Whedon has to say:
How did more than half the people in the world come out incorrectly? I have spent a good part of my life trying to do that math, and I’m no closer to a viable equation. And I have yet to find a culture that doesn’t buy into it. Women’s inferiority – in fact, their malevolence -- is as ingrained in American popular culture as it is anywhere they’re sporting burkhas. I find it in movies, I hear it in the jokes of colleagues, I see it plastered on billboards, and not just the ones for horror movies. Women are weak. Women are manipulative. Women are somehow morally unfinished. (Objectification: another tangential rant avoided.) And the logical extension of this line of thinking is that women are, at the very least, expendable.
Whedon also talks about an upcoming movie, Captivity, which is yet another in the line of torture-porn flicks that are being passed off as "horror" nowadays. This movie takes the "sexy girl getting what she deserves" motif to its furthest extent yet, since the movie is about nothing other than an attractive young woman being kidnapped and graphically, creatively tortured for a couple of hours of summertime fun. As Whedon points out, her first word in the movie is "sorry." Sorry for what? Maybe she had a boyfriend of another faith. Maybe she had the gall to go to a bar and order a drink. Or wear a short skirt, or a cleavage-revealing blouse. Maybe she was walking down the street alone at night.

Or maybe she was sitting at home in a billowy long-sleeved nightgown with a high neck, at home with 4 locks on her doors, electronic alarms all over her house, reading the Bible and getting ready for a day of doing the laundry, cleaning and cooking. Because no one ever rapes and/or kills a woman because she was wearing revealing clothing, or because she got drunk or was in the wrong part of town. People rape and kill women because, as Whedon points out, women are morally inferior, they are manipulative, they are intellectually incomplete, they seduce righteous men into sin, they are expendable pieces of property that must be shown examples every once in a while that make it clear to them just what their real status is.

And this isn't a problem in Islamic culture, or this culture or that culture. It's a problem everywhere.
How else to explain the fact that cultures who would die to eradicate each other have always agreed on one issue? That every popular religion puts restrictions on women’s behavior that are practically untenable? That the act of being a free, attractive, self-assertive woman is punishable by torture and death?
There was a time, when belief in a deity was more or less the default setting for everyone, that Christianity was able to produce wonderful advances in science, art and human rights. The abolitionists, the suffragettes, the American Civil Rights movement, services to the poor and sick, these were all things that happened because of people's Christian faith. And while there were horrible abominations that were done in the name of the Christian God at the same time, it seems like it was possible to recognize that the issue was a competing understanding of what God wanted us to do.

The problem now is that the human race has developed, while the Christian Church - and let's face it, other religions as well - largely has not, and in several settings has actually worded to turn the clock back. Many people have decided that they don't need to believe in a god in order to function quite well in this world, and so they either just don't care or outright reject the very idea that a god could exist.

I was taught in church that people believe this way because of the power of sin and the seductive wiles of Satan. I no longer believe that. People are atheists because religious faith in this world is increasingly irrational, superstitious, bigoted, fearful, and instead of being used as a tool to justify brutality and injustice, serves as the basis for brutality and injustice.

The existence of a few Christians or even some groups of them that reject this type of thinking is no longer enough, in my opinion, to hold nonbelievers accountable for not believing. The truth of the matter is that religion in this world is so messed up, so far from what it could and should be, that I wonder if Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus is not himself an atheist.

Because I don't think he believes in the bullshit god of the religious fanatics either.

I will still believe, and will still try to do my small part in keeping Christianity from completely falling into the abyss of hate and fear. But my theology says that those who attempt, at least, to live dedicated to love, acceptance, peace and justice, will be accepted by God, even if they intentionally reject belief in Jesus Christ - because the Christ they know is not Christ as he really is, and so they reject not him but a false belief in him, a lie. And though they reject the name, they embrace the person.

If I am going to oppose, with all that I can, things like the brutal, senseless murder of Du'a Khalil, then it is clear that while my faith in God can inspire me and strengthen me, I will find no ally in Christianity the religion. There is no institution in this world that will be such, really, not the US government, not democracy, not corporations or the UN or even humanitarian organizations as such. At this time in this world, those of us who seek justice, who seek equality, who wish to see the sick healed and the poor fed, the prisoner visited and the naked clothed must band together with anyone and everyone who shares these goals, no matter what name they give their faith or even if they have no "faith" at all.

Saturday, May 19, 2007
(1:28 PM) | Stephen:
Oh Man Oh Man Oh Man Oh Man Oh Man Oh Man

Starcraft 2

(11:09 AM) | Stephen:
If It Makes Everyone Mad, It's Not Really A Compromise

It's just a bad bill.

The more I think about the latest compromise immigration bill, the more I don't like it. The bill is that type of horrible "compromise" that consists of everything each side wanted in the first place, with no consideration for which provisions have the exact opposite intent of each other. A general amnesty would be declared - though it wouldn't be called that - but those seeking to be legally recognized under this "amnesty" would be required to pay a $1,000 fine and a "processing fee" of $1,500, which means they will be paying $2,500 in fines for a misdemeanor.

For context, driving your car at one mph over the speed limit is a misdemeanor. The plain fact about illegal immigration is that it is an entirely separate area of law, and probably should be so. But before anyone gets worked up about THESE PEOPLE who are FLOUTING the LAWS of the UNITED STATES, think about just what type of offense they are being charged with. Further, crossing the border illegally is a criminal misdemeanor, while overstaying a visa is a civil misdemeanor. I'm quite sure that the difference has nothing to do with the race and class of the people who cross our southern border vis a vis that of the people who overstay visas.

The idea that people should pay fines when taking advantage of an amnesty shows that this bill is really about one party that desperately wants to hold onto and expand its slim Congressional majority and another party that desperately wants to prevent that from happening. The members of each party are now free to campaign about the victories they achieved in the immigration bill, Democrats trumpeting the amnesty which will add millions of workers ripe for unionization and an expanded tax base for popular programs like Social Security and Medicare. The Republicans will simultaneously show off the thousands of new border patrol agents that will be added, the fences, vehicle obstacles, new technology, and the fines that these miscreants will all pay as penalty for breaking the law of the land.

Of course, the fines will stand as a strong disincentive for people to participate, which will deprive politicians of both parties their victory speeches. A $2,500 initial fee for participating is pretty steep for a group of people who came to the US in order to make enough money so their families back in their countries of origin can eat.

The best part of the bill, though calling it such is damning with faint praise, is the provision for 6,000 new border patrol agents. Our southern border in particular is hopelessly porous, though my concern isn't so much of people crossing it seeking jobs, but criminals who use our vast unpopulated deserts to smuggle drugs and stolen goods across the border. Also, while I tend to not see terrorists under every rock or in the guise of each dark-skinned person I encounter, it would be far easier for terrorists to cross the USA's southern border than even coming through our woefully underinspected ports. Fences are a waste of money and time, but more people, more equipment and better technology are sorely needed.

Of course, this is not the first time that legislation has called for an increase in the number of border patrol agents. Much like calls for an increase in the number of police officers on our streets, it will take a Democratic presidential administration to actually make good on such promises, proving once again that there is a political party that is interested in power and the rhetoric required to gain and wield it, and another political party that is interested in governing.

From a pragmatic perspective, the real problem with the bill is that it addresses the immigration problem the same way our government addresses the so-called War on Drugs. Rather than fully go after the demand, the focus is upon the supply. As libertarians are fond of saying, Econ 101 will teach you that so long as there is a demand, there will be a supply. That employers, under this bill, would be required to electronically verify the legal status of applicants is a good thing, and it's heartening to see that it includes some sort of penalties for employers that fail to do that or otherwise knowingly hire illegal aliens. My question, though, is just what are those penalties, and what provisions does the bill have for supplying the needed technology and enforcement for such penalties? The increase in border patrol agents, the new technology, the mechanics of the "amnesty" and every other part of the bill will be just so much wasted money and time unless we start to really go after unscrupulous employers just as hard, if not harder, than we go after the illegal immigrants themselves.

Finally, the guest worker idea is ridiculous on its face. We already have a guest worker program, as I mentioned in comments to one of Ezra's posts on this issue. It's called the H Visa, and it provides for skilled workers, agricultural workers, and several other categories. We simply don't need to create an entirely new program, especially when the program we have now is understaffed, underfunded and ineffective.

Ezra is on record saying that this year is the year for action, with another chance for comprehensive immigration reform not occurring for a long time to come if we miss this one. He also has made it clear that his support for this bill comes from the benefits he sees from adding 12 million workers - who are already working, by the way, only without things like the minimum wage, unemployment insurance and often without contributing to Social Security and Medicare - to our tax base and to our economy in full. I believe that illegal immigrants depress wages most because they are illegal, not because they are immigrants. So I would agree with Ezra about the benefits of this bill slightly edging out the costs, if I also had his confidence that passage of this bill would result in our nation's illegal immigrants actually participating in the expensive "amnesty" program. The incentives for illegal immigrants to enter the system - higher wages, benefits, retirement - are intangible, while $2,500 is real money that they usually don't have. And those employers who already value saving money over following our immigration and employment laws, if history is to be a guide, have very little reason to change their practices with or without the passage of this bill.

It's junk and should be killed. Better no bill at all and another 10 years of the status quo than a campaign-consultant-written piece of garbage that solves no problems and adds a host more.

cross-posted at Ezra's place

Friday, May 18, 2007
(5:23 PM) | Stephen:
Impeach Bush

I normally don't pay much attention to the knuckle-draggers who populate the message board at the Free Republic website. But they have erupted in fury at George Bush over the compromise immigration bill, and it is hilarious:
We still have Tancredo, Hunter and Fred Thompson on our side. This bill wont go anywhere when our representatives start receiving our faxes.
Psst! Don't tell them that Fred Thompson isn't in Congress anymore, and only pretends that he's a District Attorney.
My husband just recently retired and we where planning on going back to Texas but we are now seriously considering Australia. It looks better and better each minute. Our kids want to leave also !!! And you are right, we have been betrayed.
Is that irony? I think it's irony. Some people have really strict guidelines for what qualifies and what doesn't, but I think this one does. Maybe sam k will let us know in comments.

I pray he gets IMPEACHED. This is a dark day in America. . . .The rule of law has just been thrown out the window. I agree that impeachment is in order

I wonder if these guys will get lectured by members of their own party about how intemperate these calls for impeachment are, and whether David Broder will decry the vituperative nature of the rightwing blogosphere?
An thus the united States of America is being sold out by those that claim to love her. May they rot before they die. I see the end of my great nation, the shining star in a morass of mediocre to outright scum countries.
Well, this one isn't funny. But it is indicative of what Freepers are like.

(2:30 PM) | Stephen:
A Question For Americans

I have noticed that I get some readers from places outside the United States. Thank you! It's wonderful how these internets can connect us.

Thing is, though, this post isn't for you. You can read it still, I suppose, but I want to talk to Americans right now. I have an important question to ask my fellow citizens:

What is your friggin' problem with roundabouts?

This is an aerial photo of a roundabout not too far from my home. There's another one near the school where my daughter will attend starting this fall, and several roundabouts near the home just purchased by some good friends of ours. A neighborhood near here has a roundabout in every interesection for about a square mile. Roundabouts are here to stay.

And that's a good thing. I like roundabouts. It makes it easier to get on a street or make a turn, or, when each direction of traffic has only one lane, much easier to get around people turning left. At least, that's the theory behind them, because in practice around here it only works well if my car is the only one entering or leaving the roundabout. If there is a car in front of me and another car anywhere - anywhere - in eyesight of the driver of that car, they will stop and sit there until they can't see any more cars. If I am in the roundabout and see a car coming up to the same entry point that I'm approaching - from the inside of the roundabout, mind you - then I know I have to slow down, because that idiot is going to think that the big honkin' yield sign staring him in the face is somehow meant for me.

In two-lane roundabouts, people don't understand what a right-turn only sign means, or what it means if the signs make it abundantly clear that the person in the right lane can turn or not and doesn't in fact have to shatter their passenger-side window, grab them by their hair and scream in their ear, "HEY JACKASS! I'M GOING STRAIGHT JUST LIKE YOU, SO STAY IN YOUR LANE!"

Seriously, Americans. It's embarassing that you can't seem to get what could be an elegant replacement for our herky-jerky 4-way stops. Learn. To. Drive.

Thursday, May 17, 2007
(12:29 PM) | Stephen:
Richardson News

Matt Yglesias attended a speech by Bill Richardson and got a chance to talk with him beforehand. He came away impressed by Richardson's charisma, which is not something I hear very much. It's a good sign for Gov. Richardson, since up to now any ability he has in that area have been, it seems, deliberately set aside in favor of highlighting his resume. Since Matt came away from the speech and his conversation with Richardson impressed not only by his ambitious energy policy but also by his personality, I'd say that Richardson is starting to break out of his cocoon, so to speak.

The commercials he's running in Iowa to near universal acclaim are also going to do a lot to make him seem like an extremely likable guy. Now all he needs to do is control the sweating on stage problem which hurt his appearance at the Democratic debate.

Richardson clearly hasn't broken out of the second tier. However, he is still solidly at the top of that tier, and is gaining ground. It's an interesting race to watch.

(10:16 AM) | Stephen:
Kopi Luwak

Kopi is the Indonesian word for "coffee." Luwak is the name of a civet cat. The reason these two words are put together is because the civet cat in question has a taste for the cherries of the coffee tree.

Here's a photo of coffee cherries. What we call coffee "beans" are just the pits. When the cherries are pitted, they make good mulch or even livestock feed. I honestly don't know much about human consumption, though I imagine that when the goatherder in Ethiopia saw how energetic his goats became after eating these he didn't immediately set about pitting the cherries and roasting the beans so he could brew the perfect cup of espresso.

By the way, coffee did originate in Ethiopia, and it probably was a goatherder that first saw the effects of the plant and tried the cherries. Ethiopia is the only coffee-producing nation that consumes more than they export. There are wild-growing coffee trees in nearby Yemen that produce the beans that go into Starbucks' Arabian Mocha Sanani, the only standard coffee that Starbucks has which has a changing flavor profile from year to year. It's excellent coffee, proof against all the oh-so-hip Starbucks haters who claim that the coffee is swill or burnt or whatever. Though it is telling that Sanani is a fairly low seller; I agree that most Starbucks customers don't really know what they're doing in the store.

Back to the civet cat. Here's a photo of one. The palm civet eats coffee cherries and does the natural thing regarding something an animal eats. Thing is, civet cats can't digest - at least not fully - the beans, and they um, pass through relatively untouched. These. . . .clumps. . . .of coffee beans are collected, cleaned rather thoroughly and then roasted the same way that other, less processed, beans are roasted.

The result is the most expensive coffee in the world. I've read descriptions of it from mediocre to a life-changing experience. I know only one person who has actually tried it, and she says that it's worth the money, which is saying a lot.

The price of it, though, is becoming hard to pin down. I just came across an article which claims the price is US$1,000 for one kilogram, with US$50 cups of it being sold. This is in Australia. I have a bookmark for the website of a company that will sell 4oz for US$60, rather less than the going rate in Kangaroo Country. My concern is that the growing popularity of the coffee will lead to all sorts of problems. The first such problems will be related to Indonesians - the only people who can actually produce the coffee - packaging up whatever beans they want and selling it as Kopi Luwak. The next strategy will probably be to feed the cherries to a whole bunch of other animals to see if any recognizable bits of beans can be found after digestion, which will then be roasted. I would imagine that farmed Luwaks being force-fed tons of coffee cherries and laxatives is not too far off.

I think we're probably already at the point of people passing regular beans off as Kopi Luwak. It's the fraud strategy I would pursue, being the easiest and fastest. So I worry that the Aussies paying US$1,000 per cup are the ones getting the real thing, and when I finally get around to ordering my little bit for US$60 - which will happen when my wife won't kill me for it - it will be just some beans pinched from the Starbucks or Peet's shipment. It's possible, of course, that the Aussies are just being taken to the cleaners over this, something that Indonesians are perfectly willing to do if my read on the relationship between the countries is at all accurate. Plus, Australia's Prime Minister is being an asshole quite a bit of the time, so they deserve it.

It's frustrating. Having a cup of authentic Kopi Luwak is a major goal for me. That's why I'm not giving you jokers the link to the Kopi Luwak seller I've got bookmarked; I don't want y'all to find it, buy some and drive up the price.

Though if any of you have a connection to a totally 100% reliable seller, I'd appreciate the info.

(10:08 AM) | Stephen:
News From The DMZ

North and South Korea are linked by rail again. There's very little in the way of commentary I can offer, except that it's a momentous occasion. I've seen the rail tracks in question, how both sets were kept up all the way to the actual border where a portion was removed. It's wonderful to hear and see that they've reconnected them.

Of course every step forward with North Korea seems to be followed by two steps back. Perhaps, though, the Koreas, Japan and China have managed to successfully push George Bush to the side, so that whatever he does to sabotage the current deal will be ignored and progress will continue.

Today would be a good day to be in Korea.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007
(4:56 PM) | Stephen:
States' Rights

Melissa has a post about the real-world consequences of "letting the states decide" on issues like homosexual marriage. She references an article about a Massachusetts judge ruling that 170 marriages between citizens of New York are in fact valid. The ruling was necessary because Massachusetts law states that same-sex unions cannot be recognized if the couple's state of residence disallows them. New York doesn't prohibit same-sex marriage, so those marriages are valid.

Of course, no same-sex couple married in Massachusetts is going to get federal recognition of their marriage. In all areas where federal law trumps state law, their relationship has no legal standing.

Apart from how things are turning into a mess nationally, with laws in some directly opposing laws in others, there is a real problem with the idea that the states should address this issue. This argument is also the one being made about abortion, usually in the context of people advocating for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

It's also the argument made about slavery and the supposed rightness of the Confederate cause during the Civil War. States' Rights they cry, no matter the issue, so long as kicking it to the states will allow them to form fortresses of oppression within this land of freedom and liberty.

I've no problem with pushing issues at the state level. But marriage is obviously not an issue that can be adequately addressed only at that level. Aside from the federal benefits/costs of legal recognition or lack of same for same-sex relationships, there is the fact that heterosexual couples married in one state have no problem with their marriage being recognized in another, while same-sex couples find themselves faced with the choice of either staying where they are or living in a place that refuses to treat them, legally and socially, as what they are.

Before the Civil War, things were largely the same for freed slaves. In one state they were free, but cross the border to another and they would be rounded up and put to work on a plantation or killed, no matter what standing they had in the state next door. When the pro-slavery elements of American society saw that they were no longer going to be able to bully Congress and the White House, they declared it an issue of states' rights, and when that failed to get them what they wanted, they initiated a bloody war.

It's interesting to note that abortion is treated much the same way. Despite the current makeup of the Supreme Court, anti-abortionists know they're losing the battle on this, so they want to throw it back to the states. Of course, when they have a chance to ban a particular abortion procedure using Congress, they do it as quickly as possible, because when they say "states' rights" they don't mean that states should have the right to oppose their point of view.

Again, just like with the fights over slavery, when the southern states demanded that as territories were added to the USA they would alternate between free states and slave states so that representation in Congress, etc., would remain constant. This they demanded no matter the wishes of the people in the newly formed territories.

No matter how much time has passed, it seems we will never be free of the pernicious legacy of the Civil War.

(11:07 AM) | Stephen:

My weblog is banned in China, along with litbrit and Shakesville, and of course very many others. They're probably just banning anything that contains the words "melamine" and "China." Still, it feels good.

Also, here's a news release from Westboro Baptist Church, the home of the hatemongering Phelps clan, via Pam.

It warms my heart to know that quite apart from my stance on homosexuality, my Arminianism would be enough for the Phelps freaks to declare me a heretic. If a person's quality can be determined not only by his friends but by his enemies, then I'm doing alright.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007
(9:36 PM) | Stephen:
Susan Stanton Is Moving Forward

I think I'm actually scooping litbrit with this! It's 8:37pm Central right now.

Susan Stanton is one of six finalists for the position of city manager for Sarasota, Florida. Normally, this wouldn't be interesting to me, but Susan Stanton used to be Steve Stanton, who was fired from his position as city manager for Largo, Florida, when he announced his intention to transition from a man into a woman.

I think it's a good sign that she is moving forward with her career; Steve Stanton was universally hailed as an excellent city manager; Susan Stanton will not only have all the same qualities but will also, I would think, be free of quite a bit of tension and for that reason might do an even better job.

Largo had the chance to do the right thing and stand by an employee, and they failed. Sarasota has a chance to hire a person who is probably the best city manager candidate they can find. Let's hope they don't let idiotic prejudice get in the way of a good personnel decision.

As an aside, why did the article persist in referring to Susan Stanton as "he?" Susan is a woman, and even if she wasn't one physiologically - I'm pretty sure she is - it's just common courtesy to refer to her with the pronoun that she has chosen. Sheesh.

(2:47 PM) | Stephen:
Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell died today. He leaves behind Thomas Road Baptist Church, the Moral Majority, Regent University and a legacy of fear, hatred, bigotry, intolerance, moral blindness, injustice, partisanship, corruption and false teaching.

Jerry Falwell told parents to reject their children and called it the word of God. Falwell blamed lesbians and liberals for the attacks on 9/11 and called it gospel. He preyed upon the fearful and took money from the poor so that he could build a material and political empire with it.

May God have mercy upon him. He's going to need it.

I find this interesting: "Falwell had made careful preparations for a transition of his leadership to his two sons, Godwin said. "He has left instructions for those of us who had to carry on, and we will be faithful to that charge."

So many times will a pastor or other spiritual leader pass the leadership of the group to a family member. It happens in all sorts of religious settings, and has been happening for as long as people have claimed a special gift from the gods. When people ask why Jesus did not marry and have children, this is probably the answer. He didn't want to have one or two people exerting authority over his followers because of nothing more than a genetic connection to him, claiming to be the continued incarnation of Jesus in the world. That role is for the whole Church, not just one person. It will be interesting to see what Falwell's sons do with their father's empire.

Falwell also had a daughter. No mention is made of any position of authority or influence in his conservative Christian empire.

(10:16 AM) | Stephen:
Threat To Our Nation

Here's a fairly typical rightwing political cartoon which appeared recently in the Investor's Business Daily:

As I said, quite typical. I've long become accustomed to being called a traitor, an America-hater, accused of giving aid and comfort to the enemy and dishonoring our troops. All this for the high crimes of disagreeing with Dear Leader - and yes, there are many similarities between the cults of personality surrounding George Bush and Kim Jong Il of North Korea - and seeking to end the huge mess in Iraq.

But this cartoon, and the others like it, are quite disturbing on a completely different level. Here is another cartoon, this one from the mid-20th century:

Yes, I know, Godwin's Law and all that. Can't bring up the Nazis, makes you lose the argument. Only I didn't bring up the Nazis. I didn't start using their iconography, I didn't start bringing their attitudes into the debate.

I'm quite sure that the American cartoonist isn't a Nazi and rightly considers the Third Reich to have been a monstrous horror. But we need to remember that murderous anti-Semitism was not the engine that really fueled their rise and grip on power in Germany. Despite the presence of many True Believers in Hitler's machine, most Germans were swayed to the Nazi cause by nothing more complex or rare than nationalistic fascism. Nothing more innocuous than a belief in German exceptionalism and a commitment to patriotism and support of the German government.

The German government, by the way, that was symbolized by the German soldier. To disagree with the policies of the Nazi regime was to dishonor the German soldier. To give aid and comfort to the enemies of Germany.

Again, don't get caught up in the Holocaust. I'm not accusing the conservative movement of wanting to slaughter Jews or any other ethnicity. I don't believe that the modern American conservative movement is full of people who think that Aryans are a master race, who will force people to breed together to make a super race, or any of that. Or at least almost all of the conservative movement is free of that idea.

But fascism? Fascism is extremely easy to fall into, both for leftists and rightists. Nationalistic fascism has fueled revolutions and oppressive governments all over the world, in Cambodia, China, even Russia, because all that is required is a belief that national interests - and therefore the national government - supersede individual rights and interests.

Terrorism is far from the greatest danger that faces our nation, except insofar as it is used by power hungry interests as a tool to keep American citizens in line as their rights and freedoms are taken away, one by one. And when the American soldier so idolized in the political cartoon above is being used against American citizens, the cartoonist will be among the first against the wall.

Frankly, that's one expression of poetic justice I am perfectly happy to do without.

h/t Atrios, Matt, Mark, and Oliver

Monday, May 14, 2007
(9:27 AM) | Stephen:
Excellence In Journalistic Writing

In an article about an incident in which a delivery truck ran over a bicyclist's head:
Madison Police Department Sgt. Chris Boyd said the officer at the scene urged Lipscomb to keep the helmet. He did. It is all flattened and mangled and broken, unlike his head.
The article also contains this choice quote from the bicyclist himself:
I didn't see it coming, but I sure felt it roll over my head. It feels really strange to have a truck run over your head.
Indeed, Mr. Libscomb. Indeed.

(8:41 AM) | Stephen:
Barack Obama

I attended Barack Obama's Kansas City rally on Saturday afternoon - the cheap rally, not the VIP reception, of course.

It was quite the spectacle. Certainly we had one of the most diverse crowds I've been a part of in Kansas City, which still has quite a few problems with racial separation. The line to get in stretched around the corner and at least halfway down the block. I had the good fortune of running into an old friend of mine and was able to cut in. We still were toward the back, though.

Obama is charismatic, no doubt about it. But it's hard to pin down just why he's so compelling. I think the best way to put it is that he sounds and looks like a regular guy for whom the times became so dire, so momentous that he had to do something. The cadence of his speaking shows that he's learned more than theology from the black preachers he's been listening to over the years, but there's much more of a rising-and-falling rhythm than in the standard sermon.

One of Obama's great talents is his ability to speak above a clapping, screaming crowd. He just puts more force into his voice without sounding like, well, like Howard Dean when he would get riled up. It's hard to dispassionately listen to Barack Obama at all, let alone when he gets wound up.

He's clearly building a movement based upon an attraction to him and his general message of optimism and reconciliation, rather than specific policies. However, he did make clear commitments to end the Iraq War, to close Gitmo immediately and to end the practices of torture and extraordinary rendition.

I'm still astonished each time I say or type something like that. We have presidential candidates that have to make statements clarifying their positions regarding US officials torturing prisoners and the continued existence of a prison camp where individuals are held without charges, without access to lawyers, and who can be tried and convicted entirely without their participation or knowledge.

The Democratic bench is pretty deep this time around, I'd say. I favor Edwards, then Obama, then even Hillary Clinton, who I feel has gotten a bum rap for the last, oh, 15 years or so at least. Bill Richardson I still believe would make a pretty good VP or Secretary of State. My friend at the rally is an Obama supporter, and he told me that the President of our alma mater is very supportive of Obama. Both endorsements speak volumes to me; these are two very serious, informed men who have shown with their lives their commitment to social justice and providing assistance to the poor. I've been a part of several discussions over the desirability of an Edwards presidency versus Obama regarding those issues, with most people I've talked with so far favoring Edwards for that reason. But Barack Obama obviously inspires those concerned with social justice.

Hopefully I'll be able to see the other candidates as well. I'd even be willing to sit through the GOP candidates' nonsense, as long as I don't have to contribute to their campaigns.

Sunday, May 13, 2007
(10:15 AM) | Stephen:
One Day Left For Internet Naughtiness

Monday, May 14th, is the deadline for

cable modem companies, DSL providers, broadband over powerline, satellite internet companies and some universities to finish wiring up their networks with FBI-friendly surveillance gear, to comply with the FCC's expanded interpretation of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act.

CALEA originally only applied to telephone communications, but last year the Federal Appeals Court in Washington, DC upheld an expanded interpretation of that law and applied it to internet service providers as well. It needs to be said that CALEA doesn't address the standard of evidence required to obtain warrants. Certainly, though, law enforcement agencies will be more likely to seek warrants on networks that have been made accessible to their preferred methods of eavesdropping.

What truly disturbs this partisan Democrat is that CALEA was passed and signed into law in 1994, by a Democratic Congress and Democratic President. I don't remember it's passing specifically, but the Democratic Party was fighting the perennial charges from the GOP that we are "soft on crime" or other such nonsense. This type of legislation is exactly the type of thing that Democrats of that time would pass in order to stave off - unsuccessfully, of course - the coming "Republican Revolution."

Right now the country is focused upon the myriad of ways the Bush Administration has attacked our fundamental rights as Americans: suspending habeas corpus, warrantless wiretapping, imprisoning individuals without charges, deporting prisoners to countries that will gladly torture them for us (when torturing them ourselves seems too inconvenient), maintaining secret prisons in Eastern Europe. And beyond all of that is the shadow cast by the war in Iraq, the wanton waste of American lives and treasure, the fact that we have made Iraq a much worse place than it was when ruled by one of the 20th century's most ruthless dictators.

These are GOP problems, though far too many Democrats have been complicit in making them happen. Other GOP problems, of course, are the US Attorney purge and the ever-widening corruption investigations into GOP Congresspersons. Places like TPMmuckraker.com and the rest of the liberal blogosphere are keeping busy just picking the low-hanging fruit.

But as the Bush presidency finally comes to a close and this nation begins it's difficult but happy task of assigning him to well-deserved oblivion (serving only as an example of exactly who we do not want in political office), the apparatus of the liberal blogosphere will not be able to rest or scale back. We are in the process of building incredible resources for ordinary citizens to keep an eye on what the government is doing, and these resources need to keep working no matter who holds a Congressional majority or is in the White House.

CALEA and the expanded interpretation of it are great examples of this need. The Democrats made the law, the Bush Administration sought the current expanded interpretation in 2002. It's my belief that private industries are not obligated to do law enforcement's job for them. It is my further belief that the American public's willingness to trade liberty for perceived increase in safety did not spring into being on September 11, 2001, though the events of that day and their subsequent manipulation by the GOP government have accelerated the process and put this attitude into sharp relief.

Our work has only just begun.

cross-posted at Ezra's place

Friday, May 11, 2007
(1:21 PM) | Stephen:

I'm going to be seeing Barack Obama tomorrow at the Marriott hotel in Kansas City. It's ridiculously early, and I'm not trying to make an endorsement, but I would like to see for myself what it is that makes him so attractive to so many people.

I'll let you know my thoughts afterwards.

(11:44 AM) | Stephen:
Dirty Bloggers And Clean Journalists

Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer-turned-dirty-blogger recently mocked David Broder, the "Dean of the DC press corps" for acting as if he were in touch with so-called "real" Americans. Joe Klein, displaying yet again the cluelessness for which we love him so, responded by asking if Glenn is suggesting that DC pundits never leave DC to go and talk to "regular people."

Yes, Joe, that's exactly what Glenn was talking about. We dirty bloggers want all our DC pundits to just stay put in Washington so they become even more insulated from what real Americans are like. Give me a break.

Digby, as is her* wont, puts this all into perspective beautifully. The once-sacred profession of journalism has become stained by laziness, incompetence, a worship of the bottom line, and faux "balance" that is nothing more than "he said, she said" reporting even when the actual facts of the matter are obvious. These pundits exercise real power, partly from forming the opinions of those who read them in newspapers across the country and watch them on TV, but mainly because they form the echo chamber of Washington, DC that consumes our politicians' attention and drowns out the voices of the American citizenry - especially the citizens in the USA who are not middle-aged white males living in small towns in the Midwest.

It's best if you read the whole thing, as they say, but the last paragraph is exquisite and deserves to be highlighted:
Of course political reporters should go out and interview Americans and write stories about what those Americans have to say about the issues of the day. But those interviews are not any more representative of what "the people" as a whole think than are the liberal blogs or Sally Quinn's fictitious "small town" or the fans at a NASCAR race. This is especially true when it's filtered through the phony bourgeois posturings of a bunch of highly paid reporters and insiders who have contrived a self-serving little passion play in which they are regular blue collar guys from Buffalo and corn fed farmers from the Midwest (Real Americans!) who just happen to summer on Nantucket and get invitations to white tie state dinners with the Queen of England. Pardon us fringe dwellers for being just a tad skeptical that these forays out into "America" are informing us about anything more the embarrassing neuroses of some very spoiled elites.
The DC press wants to have it all: power to shape our nation's discourse with no responsibility, no accountability whatsoever for their actions, for the way their relationships shape their stories, for the standards they employ when granting anonymity, for example, or fact-checking their sources. They're used to the conservative critique, at least somewhat, and have put in place several practices they use to diffuse it. The "he said, she said" method of reporting is of course the most popular, but they also have responded by stocking the cable news shows with conservatives and allowing conservatives-in-Democratic-clothing to pass themselves off with nary a challenge, not ever any questions about how the views of so-called "liberals" like Richard Cohen and Joe Klein are so out of step with actual Democrats around the country. Most of the time these faux liberals are to the right of much of the actual Republican party in matters of foreign policy and even the role of the government.

Simply put, I have no reason to trust them. And it's not because some drug-addicted gasbag like Rush Limbaugh told me to not trust them or to only trust a few of them. It's because of the facts on the ground.

And until they stop going to State Dinners as guests, until they stop currying favor for their precious access - which only means that they will be the first to be told lies - until these pundits and "journalists" start to put up some boundaries between them and the political system they claim to cover as disinterested observers, I will not ever have a reason to trust them.

It's a pain to watch people with power and prestige get treated so well. It's hard to place one's self on the outside of such grand pageantry. But that's the calling. That's what they got in this business to do. I wouldn't mind if my obituary ran in all the papers, if the cable news networks ran specials about my life and my contributions. But in the end, what I would really like to know is that my legacy will be one of integrity, that the epitaph on my tombstone could read "here lies a trustworthy man."

It's past time for Broder, Klein, Cohen and all the others to consider just what they want their legacy to be.

If you're interested in actual facts about the so-called liberal media, go to Media Matters and poke around. Yes, it's a liberal advocacy group. But try to catch them in a falsehood or inaccuracy.

*the consensus seems to be that Digby is a woman, though I haven't seen anything definitive. English pronouns just don't cut it sometimes.

(10:20 AM) | Stephen:
On This Day In 1974

Today is Melissa McEwan's birthday. She's also known as Shakespeare's Sister, an online nickname that speaks to the stunning prose she is able to produce.

Melissa runs just about the best blog around, with good writers, lots of points of view, and the opportunity for their readers to learn something important every single day, with chances to take action as well.

And she is a friend, not through any special effort on my part, but because that is Melissa's character.

Happy Birthday, Lissie!

Thursday, May 10, 2007
(9:46 AM) | Stephen:
Hate Crimes

The recent passing of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1592) is a bit step toward recognizing that women, the disabled and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered community are regularly targeted not as individuals, but as members of a group. Federal law already covers ethnicity, national origin and religion, so this bill is not a new thing at all.

Predictably, conservative religious groups are leading the charge against this legislation, crying foul over the "thought police" expanding their reach. Such concern over pastors' ability to continue preaching the type of sermons they want to preach makes me wonder just what these guys are saying on Sunday morning.

Of course their fears are unfounded; this legislation criminalizes nothing. What it does is make it possible for the federal government to pursue charges if certain standards for evidence are met. My understanding is that the original hate crimes legislation was drafted because of the reluctance from local police and prosecutors, in certain parts of the country, to pursue cases involving victims who were ethnic minorities. In countless cases since the original hate crimes legislation was signed into law, the pressure and action of the federal government has been the only hope of justice for minorities being victimized by Caucasians.

The basis for this legislation is the same. Women still find it very hard to find justice in our courts, the idiot DA in North Carolina notwithstanding. Homosexuals and especially the transgendered have an especially difficult time in our justice system. Imagine a Rush Limbaugh aficionado or fan of the execrable Michael Savage sitting on a jury charged with weighing the fate of a man using the Gay Panic Defense against charges that he murdered a homosexual man.

But really, all this talk about "hate crimes" is disingenuous, though not purposefully so. And the term itself is way too loaded for us. It's easy for people to manipulate the discussion into one about the private thoughts of the perpetrator, which they then claim that as terrible as they may be, they are protected. We can have any opinion we want, critics say, and that's true.

What we need to do is change the frame of reference from a vague notion of a "hate crime" to a term that is far more accurate and better at conveying just what it is the federal legislation is supposed to deal with.

The issue we're dealing with is terrorism. When a bomb is left outside a women's clinic in Austin, that's not a hate crime. It's terrorism. When a homosexual man is murdered because he is a homosexual man, the entire homosexual community is affected by this crime. It's murder as message, violence in the name of making a political as well as a personal point. That is terrorism.

There is no need for us to see terrorists under every rock and every crime as terrorism. But we as a nation also need to grow up a little bit and get rid of the adolescent fantasy of American exceptionalism, that a group of Arabic men with a cache of guns in their homes are "terrorists" while a group of white men with a cache of guns in their homes make up a "militia." When the intent of a crime is to terrorize a community, the perpetrator should be prosecuted accordingly. It's that simple, and changing the terminology to reflect this would certainly make it more difficult for the arguments against this type of legislation to gain a foothold.

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