WWW The Thinkery
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
(11:50 PM) | Stephen:
What. The. Poop.

Via Fred, we come upon the logical conclusion of pizza evolution:
Yes, you do see hamburger patties, pigs in blankets, corn, carrots (I think), edamame, mushrooms, sausage, tomatoes, cheese-stuffed rolls, cheese, and I assume there's a crust under there and some sauce. It's on sale at Pizza Hut locations in Japan. Fitsugar has an estimated calorie count, which is a little over 5,000 for the whole pizza. They think that might be a bit low, and I think they're right.

All over Japan, people are eating these and thinking, "Americans eat some weird-ass food."

(6:12 PM) | Stephen:
Thank You, Kansas GOP

Kansas is, politically, a red state. Not a purple state, not a red state trending blue, a red state. Kansas was Republican back in the days when being Republican meant being anti-slave, and Kansans were willing to cross the border into Missouri, with guns ablaze, to make their feelings clear.

Even though the modern GOP has turned into the spiritual and political inheritors of the most virulent strains of racist, slavery-justifying nastiness possible, Kansas has kept a firm grip on its Republican heritage.

At least, that's how it's seemed for a while now. But last year Paul Morrison, the longtime Johnson County DA and Mark Parkinson, a former state GOP chairman both switched parties to run for office as Democrats. Nancy Boyda, the Democrat who actually won the District 2 Congressional race, was also a Republican in a former incarnation. The State Board of Education also saw the election of several moderate Republicans - which to the party faithful in this state is virtually electing Democrats - and when the Johnson County GOP appointed Phill Kline as DA in a petty act of political revenge, the Johnson County Election Office was inundated with requests to change party registration.

Now comes word from the mid-year state GOP convention that any Republican official within the party will be stripped of all titles, positions and responsibilities if they help a Democrat get elected. A "Loyalty Committee" has been formed to investigate charges of complicity with Democrats. And the GOP Executive Director said regarding GOP members' responsibilities:
If you can’t stomach a Republican in the election, then you can sit on your hands. You can’t go out there and support the opposition.
Don't like the Republican candidate? Then don't vote, don't contribute, don't do anything.

That's fantastic. While I would perhaps prefer that disillusioned Republicans look toward the Democratic party for a home, I'm perfectly satisfied with this state's growing number of moderates to just stay out of all their primaries and let the most rightwing whackos get nominated. And then when they see their party represented by crazies like Phill Kline, they can just keep their money to themselves and stay home again.

The Kansas GOP convention was an amazing success, if you ask me.

(10:33 AM) | Stephen:
I Am Not The Faith

In comments to this post by Ezra, I said that the only good strategy for debating anything with Libertarians is to not debate them at all, because their political and economic views are fundamentally insane. Another commenter then introduced the standard Libertarian critique of liberalism, which is that liberalism is really the crazy philosophy, because moonbat liberals want to have the government mandate $80,000/yr salaries for everyone, therefore making everyone rich by government fiat.

When called out on it, he of course backtracked - because the only people who make the argument for $80,000/yr salaries are crazy Libertarians setting up a straw man - and started to talk about how not every Libertarian is completely freaking insane. In fact, he asserted, it's because Libertarianism is a fringe movement that it attracts the loopy and nutty.

Which is silly, of course. Libertarianism is a fringe movement because it consists of a bunch of whackjobs desperately trying to make their crazed rantings palatable for the general public. At the very best Libertarians are massively self-centered to the point of delusion; a Libertarian can be educated at public schools, take advantage of grants, scholarships and low-interest loans for college, work in an industry that was started and is still somewhat dependent upon governmental programs - IT is lousy with Libertarians - and go to bed each night smugly assured that they're "self-made," that they got where they are by dint of hard work, so why can't everyone else just do the same?

The point of all this is that when a movement is so fully defined by a certain set of beliefs, it really doesn't matter what a tiny minority of that movement might believe. That there are some Libertarians who aren't fundamentally self-centered nutjobs - who simply believe very strongly in individual liberty* - doesn't change the fact that the Libertarian movement is a crazy, fringe movement.

Last week I wrote a post about William Lobdell, the former religion reporter for the LA Times, who wrote a moving article about his journey toward and away from belief in God. It was through his work as religion reporter that he finally decided that he simply cannot believe in God. It's heartwrenching to read it, truly terrible, because he tried, he really tried. Lobdell's vulnerability and honesty are everywhere apparent in the article, as are his hurt and disappointment.

As I reached the end of the article, I realized that I agreed with his decision. After seeing all that he had seen - both good and bad, he is careful to point out - it's not only a logical decision to reject the idea of God, but one that makes sense to the heart and emotions as well. I defaulted to a theological characterization of the issue that assumes the existence of the Christian God and said that I hardly view Lobdell's decision as sinful. Rather, I saw his atheism as a way to actually honor God - the true God, that is.

Because I'm also an atheist, at least when it comes to the gods** of James Dobson, Benny Hinn and George Bush. I certainly don't believe like they do. I certainly don't believe like the Roman Catholic hierarchy that not only denied and enabled sexual predators to use the Church's children as their own hunting preserve but that still won't admit the extent of the problem and still won't take necessary steps to root out the monsters from their midst.

Sure, there might be millions of Christians who think that women aren't free moral agents and therefore can't be trusted to make their own decisions, but I'm not one of them. There might be millions of Christians who think that two men or two women living together in a monogamous, mutually respectful and loving relationship that they don't even know about is somehow damaging to their own marriages, but I'm not one of them. There might be millions of Christians who think that evolution is of the devil, that HPV and cervical cancer are useful disincentives to 10-year-old girls to become sexually active, who oppose all birth control, who think that God has willed their pet War on Muslamofascisterrorism, and on and on, but I'm not one of them, I'm one of the good ones.

And I want people to define Christianity by what I believe, do and say, instead of that believed, done and said by the clear majority of Christians.

When Israel was defeated by the Babalonians and then Persians, the Jewish people finally settled in to what is called "Radical Monotheism," the belief that there are no gods besides YHWH instead of merely believing that YHWH is one of many gods, just the one most interested in them. The magnificent ethical writings of the Prophets in the Hebrew Bible are mostly a response to the destruction of Israel, especially Jerusalem.

The Protestant Reformation set in motion by Luther resulted in a less well-publicized Counter-Reformation in the Roman Catholic Church, which produced many of the reforms Luther was seeking. It wasn't that the Roman Catholic Church wouldn't change at all, it was more that German princes, the Pope and Italian nobility all had political battles to fight.

John Wesley was the focal point of a movement in England that saw, finally, the needs of the poor being addressed beyond criminalization. Wesley brought religion, again, to the masses and made the Church of England recognize that Christianity should consist of more than people dressing up and being polite to one another.

In the mid-19th century up to approximately the mid-20th century in the United States, there were several movements - American Holiness, Pentecostalism and Revivalism - that were distinct yet intertwined at many points, that centered upon the idea that Christianity had serious ethical for its adherents - a lifestyle free of alcohol addiction, free of racial animosity, committed to helping the poor.

Of course, there have been many more excesses, many more atrocities committed in the name of God or Jesus. And there have been many movements, large and small, local and global, that have sought to correct these, to restore Christianity to its core of love and compassion.

Right now I believe that Christianity is in as bad a shape as it has ever been. Ever. And I wonder when the Reformation will begin, and where. I wonder what my role should be. I wonder if, this time, there really is any hope.

And I refuse to condemn those who do not believe, who might see me as a nice guy, or one of the "good ones," but who aren't inspired by my lack of religious insanity to embrace what they see as a toxic, hateful blight upon the face of humanity.

*Most of the time, they're called "Democrats."

**James Dobson believes in a strict, patriarchal god who will reward strict, patriarchal human beings with an ascetic existence in a "heaven." Benny Hinn believes in an ATM god where your debit card is special prayers, your account balance is determined by your "faith" and your PIN is the money you give to Benny Hinn. George Bush believes - at least publicly - in the god of American Civil Religion some of the time and in a god-amalgamation of the most common assumptions of American Evangelical Christianity the rest of the time.

Monday, July 30, 2007
(11:28 AM) | Stephen:
I'm Back. Did You Know I Was Gone?

Okay, so I went camping. I meant to have a post letting everyone know, but I got really behind trying to get ready.

We went down to a place called Linn Valley Lakes. It's a huge private development, with its own golf course, several lakes and ponds, clubhouses, beautiful lakeside homes, camping spots and cabins for rent, and bunches of lots that people have purchased and on which they've parked trailers, RVs or manufactured homes. We went with 2 other families, both of which have 2 children as well as us. We had tents and an RV, which I graciously offered to sleep in so that my young son could sleep in a comfortable place. I'm just a generous guy like that.

Well, actually, my idea of camping is that when I'm in my suite's hot tub, the view out the window is of a forest.

But we cooked over a campfire and went fishing - we did have one nice lunch of smallmouth bass cooked in a bit of oil, salt and pepper - and spent a bunch of time in the swimming pool and one of the lakes.

Oh, and I made a new best friend:

Trombiculidae larva

Some people think they're environmentally friendly, but how many of them have offered up both ankles and their waist as a feeding ground to countless of nature's smallest, and most evil, denizens? I haven't had chiggers since I was a kid, and I mercifully had forgotten just how awful they are. Some mythbusting: chiggers don't burrow into your skin. Like most arachnids, their saliva dissolves animal tissue, which they then ingest. So they inject their saliva into your skin and slurp up the goodness. After a bit your skin responds by hardening around the area, forming a little tube called a stylostome. Great news for the chigger, because that pretty much functions as a straw for them. Bad news for us, because it's the stylostome that itches, and it takes freaking forever for your body to break them down again. The chiggers themselves are usually dislogded once the itch starts. They actually need a few days to finish feeding, and once they get going on one host they can't do their business on another. So pretty much every chigger that picks a human as a host dies. As they should.

The reason they're dislodged is because of the frenzied scratching associated with the production of stylostomes. A fairly common way of speeding up the destruction of the stylostomes is to scratch so hard and deep that the stylostomes, and the skin surrounding them, are removed from the body. Which produces blood and creates a great environment for infections.

#$@$%#$%@%@^%&&^%*%^%*^&^#!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I hate chiggers.

Anyway, on Saturday night we went into La Cygne, Kansas for dinner. La Cygne is the type of small Midwestern town with which I'm fairly familiar, yet which would cause David Broder to run screaming into the night if he didn't have the calm assurance that he would be back in his regular environment of black-tie cocktail parties and $10 million Georgetown townhouses immediately following his safari into "Real True America."

We ate at Molly Michael's Outpost.

Sorry it's not a better picture. Anyway, their tagline is "We only look expensive." At Molly Michael's you can get regular fries, spicy seasoned fries, waffle cut fries (lightly seasoned), and Suzy Q's - curly fries. And fried okra. And fried shrimp, fried chicken, fried fish, chicken fried steak, fried tenderloin and fried brownies.

At Molly Michael's, Amber Bock is an "import." That's Amber Bock, produced by Michelob in St. Louis, Missouri. Boulevard Brewing products are not offered, because the only imports they offer are the aforementioned Amber Bock and for some reason Blue Moon, a Belgian White that's actually made in Belgium. Boulevard Brewing company is in Kansas City, Missouri, 50 miles away.

Good times, good times. It is nice to be back home with water that comes from taps and a delightful lack of campfire smoke in the air.


Thursday, July 26, 2007
(8:33 AM) | Stephen:
Balanced On The Knife Edge

When was the last time you stopped and thought about George Washington, about his contributions to the USA? Sure, he was a decent general, and as president he was an able administrator. But he also, by dint of being the first, served as the template for every president since. In that role he did two extremely significant things: he refused to run for a third term, and he wanted to be called "Mr. President."

Far from being the invocation of a demigod, "Mr. President" was an intentional rejection of the titles associated with English nobility. It was a term of respect, but one that described a temporary function, not an innate status.

No less significant for the character of the American Presidency was one particular action by John Adams, the second President of the United States. He served as Vice-President under Washington, and was elected to the Presidency in 1796. In 1800 he ran for reelection, and lost to Thomas Jefferson. And on March 4, 1801, John Adams stepped down.

That's what he did. He lost an election and stepped down. That was a radical idea then, and in many places of the world it is a radical idea still. Our first Presidents, through actions as well as rhetoric, established the practice and expectation that they would act according to the Constitution and laws of the United States, and would do so without struggle or strife.

For over 200 years now the United States of America has managed to function with a government in a state of almost constant flux. We have even managed to liberalize our electoral processes, recognizing the inherent right to vote of every person regardless of gender, ethnicity or economic status. We've made it so that Senators are elected by popular vote, so that these rather powerful legislators are more answerable to the people. We have had a succession of Congressional or chamber majorities, a succession of Presidents handing the reins of considerable power to one another peacefully.

It's always been a tenuous system, fragile and always a small step away from either anarchy or authoritarianism. Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee voted to cite Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten for Contempt of Congress. It should have been a unanimous vote instead of the party-line farce the GOP insists upon all the time. In their case, it wasn't about "executive privilege" no matter what Tony Snow says. Miers and Bolten simply didn't show up. They could have shown up, refused to answer any questions by telling the Representatives that they had been instructed to keep their mouths shut due to "executive privilege" and that would pretty much be that. There would still be a conflict. There would still be a problem. But there would be no Contempt of Congress charges - remember that as you hear and listen to GOP lies the next few days.

In every action, the Bush regime has shown disregard for the system of checks and balances that has been the hallmark of American governance for over 200 years. For this regime, everything and everyone is covered by "executive privilege." For this regime, Congress exists only to rubber stamp what they have decided to do. For the Bush regime, "the people" only matter if they support Bush's policies and actions. Otherwise they are ignored.

Make no mistake: we are on the cusp of an absolute dictatorship. The Bush regime is intent upon establishing themselves as the absolute and only governmental authority. Like all authoritarian governments, they pursue policies that massively benefit a minority of economically powerful interests at the expense of common citizens. Like all authoritarian governments, they rely upon citizens' fear of vaguely defined, nebulous "enemies" that not only surround the nation on all sides but have also infiltrated the populace itself in order to keep people in line.

And like most countries being ruled by an authoritarian government - it's already happening, it's been happening for a few years now - there is a substantial portion of the population that has no problem with that. These are the people who benefit economically, whose prejudices and fears are being served by the government's propaganda, whose apathy and ignorance override their responsibilities to themselves and their fellow citizens.

It is this minority of citizens who benefit directly from the Bush regime's disregard for the law that is represented by the GOP - in all levels of our government, but especially in Congress. The Republican Party stands in the way of democracy, of the rule of law, of everything for which the United States has stood these last two centuries. They are the enemies of democracy. They are the ones who "hate us for our freedoms," for what have they done these last 6 years but attempt, again and again, to restrict the rights and freedoms enjoyed by Americans?

We have about 18 months left until the next President is scheduled to be inaugurated and the next Congress installed. These months will be the defining moment of our time, perhaps even for the next two centuries of the USA.

What are we willing to do about it?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007
(9:41 PM) | Stephen:
Sick Freaks

You know, somehow I missed this 19 months ago:
John Yoo publicly argued there is no law that could prevent the President from ordering the torture of a child of a suspect in custody – including by crushing that child’s testicles.
That's sick. Even if you are gullible enough to think that Hollywood "ticking bomb" scenarios exist, that's just the pure essence of evil.

This is who rules us. This is their thinking. Impeach Bush and Cheney. Arrest their various flunkies, cronies and henchmen. Convict them for their many crimes, put them in maximum security prison among the general prison population, and let "nature" take its course.

Even though doing all that would be too good for them.

(1:38 PM) | Stephen:
Keeping Faith Through Unbelief

William Lobdell just wrote an article about his journey toward and away from faith. After a conversion experience, Lobdell sought a position as a religion writer for the LA Times, actively lobbying the editors. He wanted religion coverage to be better, more honest, more accurate.

He wrote about some great stories of faith and the faithful. Then the child abuse scandals of the Roman Catholic Church started to really pick up steam, and he watched as the leaders of the church he was studying to join covered abuse up, how they defended confessed child molesters, how they and regular church members blamed the victims, even cursed the victims to their faces.

Lobdell started to look at Trinity Broadcasting Network and the obscenely lavish lifestyle of Paul and Jan Crouch and Benny Hinn, at the way people were making dangerous medical decisions because Hinn told them to, yet were not healed like he promised.

He went to a conference for ex-Mormons and heard their stories of rejection from their families. He sat in a courtroom and watched a Roman Catholic priest and his church-financed, very expensive, lawyer argue that he shouldn't be required to pay more child support for his illegitimate son, because he had "taken a vow of poverty." And the child's mother, who couldn't afford a lawyer and so represented herself of course lost, consoling herself with only the fact that at least she stood up for herself and her son. The extra child support, by the way, was to pay for doctors and medicine for the child. When the priest's lawyer found out that a journalist was present, she ran, literally ran, back into the courtroom to try and get an order to seal the proceedings.

The upshot of all of these experiences is that Lobdell now finds it impossible to believe in God. And even after he started to have doubts and struggles, he still pursued God. It's a heartwrenching story.

And I can't blame him. The more I see of the Church, the more I wonder if atheism isn't actually a reasonable way to honor God. To refuse to believe in the god of Paul Crouch, Benny Hinn and James Dobson is certainly no sin. Nor would it be a requirement to then believe in some other god, some other vision, because let's face it: the preponderance of evidence points to the idea that the god of Benny Hinn and Archbishop Cardinal Law is a huge asshole, and that it's better to just not believe than to try and redeem him.

Again, that others - me, for example - believe in a God that's nothing like their god really doesn't mean much, at least until the God in which I believe becomes the real object of Christian belief.

Sunday, July 22, 2007
(11:23 PM) | Stephen:
Deathly Hallows

Despite using the "super savers" shipping option, Amazon had the latest Harry Potter book on our doorstep yesterday afternoon. I almost didn't want to start reading it, because in that book would be the answers to all my questions. It had a lot to live up to, and I was worried that it just wouldn't be able to.

Well. Some books I've had to slog through. Some books are easy reads. Some books are fun to read but leave nothing behind. And some books - almost everything J.K. Rowling has written - I don't really read. I live them. I finished Deathly Hallows this afternoon, without even having to stay up all night. Just most of it. But I'm months older today than I was yesterday. This book sucked me in. Sorcerer's Stone and Goblet of Fire were the ones that really managed to do that before this one. The other books were quite good, but sometimes the stories just really hit you the right way.

I don't know what it is about the Brits, but they seem to be able to create worlds that I desperately wish were real: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, J.K. Rowling. Out of all of them Rowling is probably the least writer, but the world she created is delightful, lovely and ultimately full of joy. Pratchett would hate this, but he and Rowling are quite similar in this; no matter how dark their books are able to get, there is an undercurrent, at least, of whimsy and fun on every page.

Part of me hopes that Rowling will let us enter this world again. Most of me hopes that she never writes another word about it.

Friday, July 20, 2007
(10:37 AM) | Stephen:
Schoolyard Bullies And Babies

When I was a kid, we played a game at school called "Booty On The Wall." When the teachers were in earshot, we called it "Fireball." It's a common game. One kid throws a racquetball against the side of the school, and then people have to catch it. The ball can bounce once before it's caught. If the ball comes close to you, you have to try and catch it. If you either don't catch it or don't try, then you have to run and touch the wall. While you're running, the rest of the guys try to get the ball and hit you with it. If you get to the wall first, no problem. You can miss as many times as you want, as long as you get to the wall first.

But if you get hit by the ball before you touch the wall, that's one. If you make it to three, you have to stand against the wall, facing out - with your booty on the wall. Every other player lines up and takes a turn throwing the racquetball at you. You can't move, except your head, and if everyone is in a good mood you can use one hand to cover your delicate bits. Or you get in the habit of wearing a cup to recess - always a good idea at my school. I haven't said anything about Trench yet.

Anyway, there's only one thing that can stop the game once you get your booty on the wall - well, besides a teacher. It's a magic phrase that stops all children's games: Time Out. Nothing can stand up to Time Out. You can be a huge jerk during games and people will still let you play. But if you either ignore that someone called Time Out, or worse, if you actually call Time Out as a trick, you're gone. You're a pariah. No one wants to play with you.

The Bush Administration, a collection of schoolyard bullies and babies if there ever was one, has decided that they have a phrase that means Time Out. Their magic words are "Executive Privilege." If Bush invokes Executive Privilege, it means that you can't tag them, you can't tackle them, you can't hit them with a racquetball, you can't shoot them with a water gun. "Executive Privilege!" they say, and they're supposed to be invulnerable.

So if Congress holds Harriet Miers in contempt, the Bush Administration line is that the Justice Department can't pursue anything against her, because apparently everything she has ever said or done is covered by Executive Privilege. And Bush is obviously willing to extend this to everyone who has ever worked for him, or spoken to him, or looked at him, or seen a picture of him.

But this isn't a real Time Out. It's a trick. They're calling Time Out so that everyone stops what they're doing and starts arguing about whether or not it's OK to call it right now - all the while using the confusion and distraction to position themselves more advantageously.

If Bush is going to use schoolyard rules, then everyone needs to use them. And Bush has repeatedly committed the most grievous sins of the schoolyard. So no matter what our "parents" - the complacent DC press - say, we need to hit back, hard. He needs to be impeached. Dick Cheney needs to be impeached. Congress needs to take back this government, and fast, because while everyone squabbles about the Time Out, they're cooking up new schemes to invade countries, spy on American citizens, suspend rights - you name it, they're trying to make it happen.

If the Democratic members of Congress had attended my elementary school, Bush and Cheney would be toast. At my school, people tended to use a false Time Out once. If only the same rules applied in Washington.

Thursday, July 19, 2007
(9:44 AM) | Stephen:
Floating Fortress Of Fascism

Johann Hari went on a cruise. Not just any cruise, mind you, but the National Review cruise: 500 of that magazine's most dedicated readers traveling in style with the magazine's writers and editors. It was a safe place for conservatives, a place where they could let their feelings show freely.

The article hasn't really made a big splash in the blogosphere, though, what with the Republican filibuster, the NIE showing, again, that Al Qaeda's most effective recruiter is George Bush, and the continuing carnage in Iraq. But this article should be required reading for pretty much everyone. It doesn't show how every conservative acts or thinks, but how movement conservatives do, what is said among members of the core of the GOP when their guard is let down.

Things like this:
"Of course, we need to execute some of these people". . . .Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. "A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country," she says. "Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get." She squints at the sun and smiles. " Then things'll change."
Ah, the sun, the sand, the desire to murder one's fellow citizens for their legal opinions. It' must have been a lovely cruise.

To my left, I find a middle-aged Floridian with a neat beard. To my right are two elderly New Yorkers who look and sound like late-era Dorothy Parkers, minus the alcohol poisoning. They live on Park Avenue, they explain in precise Northern tones. "You must live near the UN building," the Floridian says to one of the New York ladies after the entree is served. Yes, she responds, shaking her head wearily. "They should suicide-bomb that place," he says. They all chuckle gently. How did that happen? How do you go from sweet to suicide-bomb in six seconds?
Notice the embrace of methods - suicide bombs - that are condemned when used by brown people.

At a panel discussion featuring National Review editors:
There is something strange about this discussion, and it takes me a few moments to realise exactly what it is. All the tropes that conservatives usually deny in public - that Iraq is another Vietnam, that Bush is fighting a class war on behalf of the rich - are embraced on this shining ship in the middle of the ocean. Yes, they concede, we are fighting another Vietnam; and this time we won't let the weak-kneed liberals lose it. "It's customary to say we lost the Vietnam war, but who's 'we'?" the writer Dinesh D'Souza asks angrily. "The left won by demanding America's humiliation." On this ship, there are no Viet Cong, no three million dead. There is only liberal treachery. Yes, D'Souza says, in a swift shift to domestic politics, "of course" Republican politics is "about class. Republicans are the party of winners, Democrats are the party of losers."
And at dinner, where seats are assigned so that people get to know one another and have chances to meet different National Review staffers:
They rush through the Rush-list of liberals who hate America, who want her to fail, and I ask them - why are liberals like this? What's their motivation? They stutter to a halt and there is a long, puzzled silence. " It's a good question," one of them, Martha, says finally. I have asked them to peer into the minds of cartoons and they are suddenly, reluctantly confronted with the hollowness of their creation. "There have always been intellectuals who want to tell people how to live," Martha adds, to an almost visible sense of relief. That's it - the intellectuals! They are not like us. Dave changes the subject, to wash away this moment of cognitive dissonance. "The liberals don't believe in the constitution. They don't believe in what the founders wanted - a strong executive," he announces, to nods. A Filipino waiter offers him a top-up of his wine, and he mock-whispers to me, "They all look the same! Can you tell them apart?" I stare out to sea. How long would it take me to drown?
Yes, yes, the Founders wanted a "strong executive." That's why they revolted against the King of England, you see. And notice the quick shift to racism. If prejudice and hate are always bubbling at the top, then it's easy for them to come out. "Dave" not only thinks that Filipinos "all look the same," but that everyone around him believes that as well.

But the important thing to notice in this exchange is that when confronted with their own beliefs, these people cannot deal with it. When these conservatives - the National Review writers included - are put in a situation not anticipated by predigested talking points, they don't have anything to say. Their whole worldview is designed so that they no longer have to think or engage the world around them critically. Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and George Bush's speechwriters have ensured that they don't need to worry their beautiful minds over facts, other people's opinions - or even the idea that Filipino waiters are people at all.

Not every self-identified conservative acts like this, in public or private. I mean that, not only as boilerplate courtesy. My own family has conservatives in it. Yes, my shame runs deep - but I do pray for them! But I wasn't raised to hate or fear. I wasn't taught that laws can and should be set aside for the "right people."

Even though not every conservative is like the sociopaths enjoying the good food, entertainment and casual talk of the need to eradicate brown-skinned Muslims, these people do exist. And what they say needs to be exposed. The casual conservatives need to understand just who it is that drives their movement, that provides their political and "intellectual" leadership.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007
(10:32 AM) | Stephen:
Painfully Obvious

AP/Ipsos just released the numbers for a new poll on the GOP primary field. Giuliani gets 21%, Fred Thompson 19% and John McCain 15%. The interesting news out of the poll is that "Don't Know/Not Sure" gets 15%, "Other" gets 8% and "None" gets 2%. What this means is that 25% of Republican voters are either completely undecided or want someone else.

By contrast, only 13% of Democrats can be characterized the same way. Hillary Clinton has almost 3 times that amount of support. On the GOP side, Giuliani actually comes in second to those numbers.

It might be a bit off-putting to have your friendly neighborhood blogger get all arrogant and uppity, but seriously folks, the bird poo on my car's windshield saw this coming. Now, it could be that Giuliani or Thompson gets the nomination. If no one like Hagel swoops in to steal the show, that's probably what will happen. But the primary will be a lackluster affair, with huge numbers of Republicans just not bothering to show up. The Republican National Convention would be interesting to watch as the party faithful works feverishly to fool the rest of us that they actually care and are excited about a pro-choice, philandering, gay-friendly Giuliani on the top of the ticket, or a career lobbyist turned 1-term Senator and minor actor.

And there is no way, no way in hell that either Giuliani or Thompson could win the general election. Republicans don't like these guys; why should anyone else? The only thing funnier than the sad state of the GOP's Presidential candidates is the moaning and weeping among Democrats - usually in comments to blog posts but also in conversations in the real world - about how formidable either one of those clowns would be, how the Democrats would certainly lose to Giuliani's um, charms, or Thompson's ability to channel Ronald Reagan - certainly he channels Reagan's acting ability, but none of the stuff that voters like.

The way things are going, next year is going to be a hoot.

Monday, July 16, 2007
(12:08 AM) | Stephen:
Disturbing Video Of The Day

This video appears to be the real thing, an actual movie produced and used in the 1950s as an educational tool.

There's not much I can say here, except that you either consider this movie to be the epitome of fear-mongering, hateful, malicious propaganda, or you are a sick freak.

Sunday, July 15, 2007
(8:54 PM) | Stephen:
Terrorists Here Livin'

At Talking Points Memo, Steve Benen does an excellent job rebutting the claim that, thanks to Bush's actions and policies, the USA hasn't been the victim of any terrorist attacks since 9/11:
About a month after 9/11, someone sent weaponized anthrax to two Democratic senators and several news outlets. Five Americans were killed and 17 more suffered serious illnesses. If the administration has made any headway in bringing the terrorists to justice, it's been awfully quiet about it. . . .For that matter, while the U.S. has thankfully not suffered any major terrorist attacks since 2001, Kristol neglects to mention that terrorist attacks around the world have gone up every year since.
For that matter, since 9/11 several women's health clinics have been attacked in various ways. Terrorism is not something that only occurs when brown-colored Muslims are involved. Any act of violence designed to intimidate a group of people is rightfully called "terrorism."

As far as the weaponized anthrax, the last I heard was that it had come from the US's own stockpiles, supposedly under heavy guard. Then it's down the memory hole, never to be referenced again, unless some dirty blogger brings it up.

(5:18 PM) | Stephen:
What We Eat

The state of America's food supply has been the subject of some concern recently with the revelations of melamine and other toxins present in foodstuffs imported from China. Risking the chance of groundless charges of xenophobia, I'd say it's clear that China represents a regulation-free environment that poses a significant risk to the health and safety of American citizens.

The problem, however, is much larger than that and it's closer to home than China. Industrial ranching practices are drowning us in hormones, and most of them are similar to estrogen, which will come up again toward the end of this post.

You're probably familiar with recombinant Bovine Growth Somatotropin/Hormone, made mainly by Monsanto Corporation under the brand name Posilac. This synthetic version of a naturally occurring hormone is injected into dairy cattle because it stimulates mammary tissue in cows, increasing milk production drastically. There's quite a bit that can be said about this practice, especially the way that the FDA rushed approval for it. But for this post we need only recognize its widespread use and the fact that it causes the cow's body to think that it's pregnant/nursing and needs to produce more milk - just like the respective hormones in humans.

Beef cattle are not injected with rBGH. Rather, they are usually given a cocktail of six different hormones. Three of them occur naturally: oestradiol, progesterone and testosterone. Oestradiol is basically what we think of as "estrogen." Progesterone is known as the "pregnancy hormone," even though men do have it as well. It's essential to the development of the fetus and levels increase sharply during pregnancy. Testosterone is pretty much to males what oestradiol is to females.

The three artificial hormones injected into beef cattle are zeranol, trenbolone and melengestrol. Zeranol is "an anabolic-estrogenic agent that has been used for estrogen replacement in humans but is used primarily in veterinary medicine as a growth stimulant." Trenbolone is an anabolic steriod popular for both beef cattle and bodybuilders because of how effective it is for producing muscle. Melengestrol is another growth hormone, as well as a contraceptive.

So what we have is the widespread use of hormones to artificially increase the weight of beef cattle and decrease the amount of time it takes for them to reach the desired weight. These hormones, both natural and artificial, are almost all similar to estrogen and have similar effects in both cattle and humans. A study by the Institute of Physiology and Institute of Animal Hygiene in Germany took solid and liquid manure from cattle treated with both trenbolone and melengestrol and used it as fertilizer on maize fields after several months in storage. Trenbolone was found to have a half-life of around 267 days, while melengestrol was detected all the way to the end of the growing season. Obviously these compounds are able to enter the wider environment, and presumably the other hormones injected into beef and dairy cattle are able to as well.

Indeed, there are studies which have found not only the presence of synthetic estrogens in the environment, but the ways in which they can affect it. For example, studies have been done on white sucker fish in Colorado streams near Denver and Boulder. They found that near wastewater treatment plants, white sucker fish are predominantly female, the males are sometimes underdeveloped and some fish are even intersex.

Even Conservatives have become worried about this. WorldNet Daily has weighed in on the problem, along with the National Catholic Register. As a progressive, I'm happy to see this.

But there's a plot twist. You knew there would be a plot twist, right? The twist is that WorldNet Daily and the National Catholic Register are rather less worried about white sucker fish than they are "consequence-free sex." That's right. The culprit, according to them, is the Pill.

America's per capita consumption of beef is around 90 pounds a year. Our per capita consumption of dairy products is almost 600 pounds a year. The vast majority of this comes from cattle pumped full of estrogen and estrogen-like hormones. Until 2004 cattle bones were ground up and used for chicken feed, whose waste was used to supplement the feed of the cattle whose bones would be ground up and used to feed the chicken - well, you get the idea.

Virtually every man, woman and child in this country eating beef and dairy products full of hormones. Approximately 29% of women aged 15-44, however, use birth control pills. This works out to almost 17 million women across the United States, or 5.5% of the total population. That means that there's something like 156,000 women in Denver who use birth control, as opposed to 2.6 million people who eat and drink estrogen-laced beef, cheese, milk, yogurt, sour cream and ice cream.

Obviously it's a problem if the hormones in birth control pills are not being filtered out by waste water treatment plants. However, there are so many additives, whether high levels of natural substances or synthetics, present in our food supply that what we clearly need is better technology at our waste water treatment plants in addition to a serious reduction in the amount of hormones and other chemicals food producers are allowed to put in our food.

Even if WorldNet Daily and the National Catholic Register are able to realize their wildest wet dream and deny hormonal contraceptives to women - taking away the most common way to enjoy "consequence-free sex" - the white sucker fish in Colorado, other animals throughout the USA and the human population itself will continue to be poisoned by rampant food adulteration done in the name of ease and greater profits. WorldNet Daily and the National Catholic Register both snidely noted that environmentalists just don't seem too concerned about the plight of the white sucker fish, and not-so-subtly implied that the reason is because of the all-powerful feminists and their desire to enjoy "consequence-free sex."* Since I know that progressives are generally concerned about the entire environment and would like to see an infinite number of business practices cleaned up, I'd like to state clearly that it would be nice if these conservative publications and their readers could work up an iota of concern about the environment even when they aren't able to use their faux-concern to condemn women for the problems.

*I know, feminists are supposed to hate sex. It's all very confusing.

Friday, July 13, 2007
(10:09 AM) | Stephen:
American Theocracy

I didn't participate in the most recent Blog Against Theocracy simply because I didn't have the time to get a post in. Ok, I just forgot about it. But I am pretty busy, you know.

Yesterday an event happened in the US Senate that highlights why some of us are so worried about the idea of a theocracy in this country. Rajan Zed, a Hindu -priest? cleric?- was invited by Senator Reid to offer the morning's invocation. He was introduced, went to the microphone, and that's when some "Christian" protestors decided to heckle him. Here's the video:

Here's how the first protester started:
Lord Jesus, forgive us, Father, for allowing a prayer of the wicked, which is an abomination in your sight.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "wait a minute. The doctrine of the Trinity doesn't allow for us to address Jesus as 'Father.'" Yeah, I know. But in addition to their complete lack of understanding regarding foundational Christian beliefs, what they did was reprehensible.

Operation Save American claimed responsibility for the act (where have we heard this type of language?) and issued the following press release:
Theology Moved to the Senate and was Arrested

Theology has moved from the church house onto the floor of the United States Senate, and has been arrested.

Ante Pavkovic, Kathy Pavkovic, and Kristen Sugar were all arrested in the chambers of the United States Senate as that chamber was violated by a false Hindu god. The Senate was opened with a Hindu prayer placing the false god of Hinduism on a level playing field with the One True God, Jesus Christ. This would never have been allowed by our Founding Fathers.

"Not one Senator had the backbone to stand as our Founding Fathers stood. They stood on the Gospel of Jesus Christ! There were three in the audience with the courage to stand and proclaim, 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me.' They were immediately removed from the chambers, arrested, and are in jail now. God bless those who stand for Jesus as we know that He stands for them." Rev. Flip Benham, Director, Operation Save America/Operation Rescue
They've obviously confused the Senate chambers with the Hebrew Scriptures' description of the Temple of Yahweh. The United States Senate is not a temple. It is not a place of worship - indeed, it would be best to discontinue the archaic and inappropriate practice of having an invocation at all. The best way to preserve citizens' right to worship as they please is to not force anyone, anywhere, to worship as they might not please.

Operation Save America doesn't think like that, of course. They think that the US Senate chambers are like Solomon's Temple. They think that those chambers are holy ground, dedicated to Jesus Christ, and to have a prayer offered to any other deity is to profane that temple and dishonor Jesus.

Operation Save America wants America for the Christians, and only for the Christians. They believe that "freedom of religion" means freedom to choose from more than one type of Christian church. What happened in the Senate yesterday morning is a textbook example of why right-thinking people of any religious persuasion - or none - need to be deeply concerned about the issue of theocracy, what it means and the tactics of those who would impose one upon the rest of us.

(9:48 AM) | Stephen:
Phill Kline's Obsessions

Josh Rosenau is the source for today's Phill Kline follies, and there's really no way I can top his wonderful prose on the subject:

At the Johnson County District Attorney's Office Home Page, Phill Kline (the extra "l" is for loser) pimps a WingNutDaily column by local conspiracy theorist Jack Cashill (HT: KSDP Buffalo Blog). Kline's heading for the article is "WorldNetDaily coverage of Morrison / Tiller controversy," an accurate enough description which fails to establish why it belongs on a county-funded webpage. Tiller is an OB/GYN in Wichita who runs a family planning clinic, Morrison (then the Johnson County DA) beat Kline in last year's state Attorney General election.

Neither Morrison nor Tiller currently has anything to do with the JoCo DA's office, or any legal matters pending there. As Attorney General, Kline hounded Tiller constantly, but never managed to get any charges to stick. Tiller's clinic and a Planned Parenthood clinic both fought with Kline over access to medical records, a fishing expedition which ultimately backfired on Kline, helping to cost him the election. As a last act, he filed charges against Tiller for alleged improprieties regarding late-term abortions he performed. Those charges were dismissed.

"The extra 'l' is for 'loser.'" Ha! I understand that Phill Kline is a sad little man, but I wish there was someone in the Johnson County DA's office who would rein him in.

At the end of his post, Rosenau speculates on the possibility of Kline running against Nancy Boyda, the Democrat representing the 2nd District. Jim Ryun still considers that his seat from what I've heard, but even if that's not the case I suspect that Kline would be met at the border of that district with shotgun-wielding Republican committee members. Kline is electoral death, and the only one who doesn't seem to get that is Kline himself.

Thursday, July 12, 2007
(11:34 AM) | Stephen:

Filibuster. Filibuster filibuster filibuster.

Filibuster. Filibuster FILIBUSTER fil-i-buster.

Senate Republicans filibustered the Webb Amendment. The vote that was taken yesterday was a vote on whether to end "debate" or not. The Republicans - including Joe Lieberman whatever party he claims - voted to continue a FILIBUSTER.

But this little, itty-bitty blog and a few others are the only place you will see this called a filibuster. In our media, it's just a debate. Just a discussion. The Senators monopolizing the chamber's time, delaying other important legislation in order to make sure that Bush can continue to ignore the basic human needs of our soldiers - training, equipment, time to rest and see their families - are portrayed as just making "remarks" on the Senate floor.


And that, of course, was just over the nomination of a couple of complete assholes to the Supreme Court. There's a million asshole judges out there; every time we have a Republican President they make sure to stock the judiciary with them as much as possible.

But the question of whether American citizens, soldiers, people who have signed up to serve this country with their skills, their efforts and ultimately their lives - this question can be filibustered by the Republicans for as long as they want, and no one in the media will call them out on it. In fact, they will studiously refrain from even the mention of the word.

Journalists may answer surveys in such a way as to make them seem "liberal." Journalists may make most of their contributions to Democratic candidates and causes. But because of the concentrated Republican effort to falsely accuse them of a "liberal bias" over the last several decades, they will bend over backwards to accommodate the GOP's spin on things.

So not just in editorials, but in supposedly "straight" news as well they will uncritically and without interpretation or editing pass along whatever complete bullshit the GOP tells them. Michael Moore is "factchecked" - meaning his claims are disputed with lies - while conservative after conservative gets on TV, says whatever they want and almost never will their claims be disputed or followed up. In terms of economic/business reporting, the vast majority of columns, articles and TV news segments reflect the fact that a few extremely large corporations control the media in this country. The interests of the middle and lower classes are never represented in business sections, only those of large corporations and the rich.

George Bush is forcing our soldiers to stay in Iraq past not only their required tours, but even past the end of their military obligations. He's forcing our soldiers to go into the field without proper training - and that's according to the Pentagon's own standards, not some civilian. George Bush has been sending our troops to Iraq without rest, without the chance to see their families. He's cut veteran's health benefits and plans on cutting them more right when our VA health system is already under siege from the tens of thousands of wounded soldiers returning from Iraq.

These soldiers are real people. They are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers - and even though I don't really know him, these soldiers can also be a step-brother. I don't need to know him in order for me to be mad as hell that a member of anyone's family is being treated so poorly, let alone my own.

Remember, yesterday 86% of Senate Republicans said that such treatment is just fine with them. The media, in their reporting on this, has also signaled their willingness to carry water for this administration, to frame this issue in such a way that it obscures just what Bush and Congressional Republicans are doing.

(9:48 AM) | Stephen:
Bush Is Their Only Constituent

Senate Republicans succeeded yesterday in killing Senator Jim Webb's amendment regarding the enforcement of troop readiness standards. The vote for cloture was 56-41.

Joe Lieberman, who voted for cloture with the nominations of both Roberts and Alito, voted against cloture on this amendment, even going so far as to actively participate in the filibuster itself. This is yet another example of why it's so important to understand our political processes; Lieberman was able to fool voters last year because he could truthfully, but dishonestly, claim to have voted against Roberts and Alito. As was said many times, he voted for them when it counted and against them when it didn't. Yesterday was the same thing. Lieberman's worthless. The only reason he caucused with the Democrats was to ensure his committee chairmanship. Now that he has it he's dropped any pretense of being a "Democrat."

Voting with the real Democrats were 7 GOP Senators. Pete Domenici, who made headlines for supposedly distancing himself from Bush on the Iraq War, was not one of them. Most of the GOP Senators who have been criticizing Bush, calling for changes in direction and other rhetorical gambits, voted against this amendment. They voted for Bush, actually, since the amendment was a referendum on whether we should show our soldiers some respect or continue to allow Bush and his minions to exploit and abuse them.

In fact, while Bush's support among the populace is only in the high 20s - and some of that is probably just statistical noise - his support among GOP Senators is 86%. And this is the first time that so many GOP Senators have actually voted against his agenda.

A majority of Republicans is finally starting to come around to the realization that Bush is a disaster for this nation and that the supporting him is more about blind partisanship than any adherence to conservative principles. But this clear change in attitude is not reflected among Republican politicians. It's time for the rank-and-file of the GOP to remind their Senators just whose interests they are supposed to represent.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007
(10:51 AM) | Stephen:

Rick Santorum, that delightful young man who represented West Virginia Pennsylvania as a Senator until this last Saturday, had some choice remarks for the American public recently:
Between now and November, a lot of things are going to happen, and I believe that by this time next year, the American public’s going to have a very different view of this war, and it will be because, I think, of some unfortunate events, that like we’re seeing unfold in the UK. But I think the American public’s going to have a very different view
Avedon correctly notes that GOP politicians seem to really look forward to a terrorist attack happening in the USA. They know that their political strategy depends upon thousands of Americans getting injured and dying in explosions and falling buildings. That's why the recent arrests of "terrorists" in Florida, near Fort Dix and in New York were hyped so much, at least at first. Americans have started to decide that they don't trust Republicans to handle national security the way they used to, so the DHS and the FBI trot out these "terror cells" of people so dumb and delusional that blowing up an anthill would have been a major accomplishment for them. But even that's not working. Even these high-profile arrests, the headlines blaring the presence of terrorists - foreign! terrorists - hasn't been enough for Americans to come running back to the embrace of the GOP.

So we have people like Rick Santorum pining for the days when things blew up in the USA, when the populace was good and scared, running from the imaginary ghosts and goblins the GOP blathered on about all the time.

Terrorism is real, of course, and it's a real problem. It's just that Americans are tired of people who talk all the time about the problem and either do nothing about it or pursue actions that blatantly make us less safe.

(9:20 AM) | Stephen:
The Simple Lessons Are The Hardest To Learn

One of the more interesting campaign stunts this time around was Obama's idea to randomly pick 4 people - donors, specifically - to have a dinner with him. The idea was that you didn't need to be a big name, or have donated a large amount of money in order to have fairly intimate access. Even I was tempted to donate for the chance to do something cool like that.

Thing is, they actually had to make a change to the guest list. One of those invited is a firefighter in Florida. In the course of reporters' searches for "gotcha!" tidbits about the invitees, they dug up the fact that Jennifer Lasko used to be a man named John. The local media started to make a big deal out of it, and Jennifer declined the invitation.

When you're a transsexual, attention is often the last thing you want. There's too many people who think you're an abomination, who think that your existence is the source of their problems in their marriages, their jobs and their own self-image. The Obama campaign, to their credit, made it clear that Ms. Lasko was welcome to attend; there was no issue from them.

Live and let live. It's such a simple concept. It's such an American concept: keep your big nose out of my business. What's sick about our culture right now is the belief that a person's mere existence, even if it's across the entire country, is considered an intimate intrusion, an interference in the lives and homes of the rest of us.

Ms. Lasko gave up the chance to eat dinner with Barack Obama because she understands that this country has lost the idea of "live and let live." She's probably in fear of her job, perhaps even her life because of the attention already, and doesn't want to endanger herself any more than has already been done. Ms. Lasko knows that everyone else has a reasonable expectation of being left alone. She knows that everyone else can enter contests, can run for office, can live anything approaching a "public" life.

Of all the challenges we face, our biggest is our oldest: convincing everyone to just live, and let live.

Monday, July 09, 2007
(9:58 AM) | Stephen:
Lesson Time

This is a photo of Shorpy Higginbotham, a "greaser" for a coal mine in Alabama at the turn of the 20th century, and his coworkers. Shorpy claimed to be 14, but in the original caption to one of his photos this claim is said to be "doubtful." His colleagues seem to be around the same age, early teens or so:

These boys were in constant danger of being run over by coal cars, let alone the health problems and other dangers of working in a coal mine 100 years ago. While Shorpy and his fellow coal minors were busy dodging coal cars and turning their lungs black, wealthier children were going to school, being tutored and playing games with one another.

Today, of course, children don't work in coal mines in this country. They don't work at other jobs, except a few accepted ones like paper routes. When teenagers reach a state's age of employability, their are always a host of rules governing how many hours they can work and how early or late in the day they can show up for work. Children and teenagers are expected to spend their time in school, not doing the most dangerous jobs in a coal mine for the least pay.

So what happened? How did we manage to turn childhood from a deadly period of exploitation to one of learning and play? Unions. Unions happened, and other liberal ideas like public schools. Ordinary people banded together and pooled their resources so they would have the means to stand up to the robber barons who cared only for profits, nothing for people.

Ezra notes today how fashionable it is for DC pundits to criticize teachers' unions, blaming them for every problem that faces public schools - especially those faux-liberal pundits like Joe Klein and faux-liberal publications the The New Republic. Liberals are still trying to prove that they're independent thinkers who aren't beholden to the progressive movement's special interests. Of course, all they're doing is taking cheap potshots at whatever target is the most vulnerable at the moment, and unions have been vulnerable for a while now.

Wages stagnate, benefits are cut, companies lay off skilled workers because they're skilled, pension funds are mismanaged and/or raided for the company coffers, basic safety measures are never put in place, and the business pages of our nation's newspapers are full of economic "good" news. The Dow Jones is breaking records, and that's supposed to mean something to the shrinking middle class or the fast growing lower classes.

Americans have a bad habit of complacency and apathy, especially progressives. Once major victories are won, once blacks and women have the right to vote, and there is a federal minimum wage, once companies are required to stop polluting our drinking water and to start providing a safe, harassment-free workplace, progressives tend to think the fight is over.

But the other side doesn't rest. The other side continues its campaigns to demonize workers as lazy, shiftless crooks, to paint unions as corrupt and greedy mobsters who want to destroy the businesses that are the source of their members' livelihoods. Old union problems like Jimmy Freaking Hoffa are continually brought before the public's attention, while the petty tyrants and criminals that continue to run our corporations such as Lay, Skilling, Ebbers, and so many more are treated like isolated incidents, unusual circumstances even as new revelations are unearthed every day.

Unions matter, now as much if not more than they ever have. There will always be people at the top looking for ways to squeeze one more penny out of every process, every person. And while the free-marketeers will claim with their dying breath that increased profits are always due to increased productivity, efficiency and superior profits, everyone with a smidgen of objectivity knows that it's far easier and more reliable to increase profits by cutting quality, making workers in an employer's market do more with less, reducing benefits, and often outsourcing the work to countries that don't have any wage, benefit, safety and product quality regulations.

If the developing progressive movement doesn't have unions as an integral part, we might as well quit now.

Friday, July 06, 2007
(11:55 AM) | Stephen:
Libby Lessons

George Bush commuted the prison portion of Scooter Libby's sentence - though not the probationary period, which I've read is technically impossible since the probationary period was to begin after his prison sentence - because it was excessive punishment for the crimes for which Libby was convicted. Bush also said that the remaining sentence was "harsh" enough, which is apparently already being called the Libby Motion by defense lawyers all over the country.

Not that anyone has ever cared about legal precedent when it comes to George Bush and his cronies.

But then we find out that the Bush Administration filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case of one Victor Rita, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, just like Scooter Libby. In that brief, the Bush Administration argued that the 33-month prison sentence was completely reasonable, something the Supreme Court also noted, since such a sentence falls within federal sentencing guidelines.

Victor Rita is a 24-year veteran of the USMC, with an outstanding service record. In his case it was also argued that his years of exemplary service to the United States should be a mitigating factor in his sentencing. Victor Rita is, of course, in prison right now, serving out his 33-month sentence.

I'm not one of those who argue that the President shouldn't have such power and leeway to pardon and commute sentences. This is an important power, one that can serve as a person's last chance for justice, and I believe that the abuse of a thing does not necessarily indict the thing itself, rather only those who abuse it.

Giving our nation's executives - the President and Governors - such authority simply makes it incumbent upon us as citizens to stop electing power-mad, corrupt psychopaths like George Bush and Dick Cheney. It's more motivation for the online progressive community to work harder, to organize, to act and to never give up.

We have a choice as to the real legacy of the Bush presidency. It could be a legacy of failed policies, total subversion of the rule of law, murder on a massive scale, the destruction of American influence and good will around the globe. We must work to make sure that those are Bush's legacy, and that of the Republican Party, for they are the ones responsible.

But for the nation this needs to be the time to which we can point decades down the road and say, "that's when the American people woke up and took back their politics." The legacy of this sad era needs to be an enduring movement that pushes back against the elitism of Washington, DC, the idea that a small group of insulated and smug pundits and know-nothing consultants understand how the rest of us think and feel better than we do. We need a movement that is going to hold every politician regardless of party accountable to the oaths they take and accountable to us, their bosses.

That's the lesson we need to learn from the Scooter Libby nonsense, the illegal war, the illegal wiretappings, the suspension of habeas corpus, the illegal secret prisons, the illegal extraordinary rendition, the illegal torture, the dismantling of the regulatory state, the installation of political hacks into our agencies which oversee our food, our medicines, our nation's industries, our public medical and other scientific work - and of course the list goes on.

It's a fight we need to undertake for the rest of our lives, and which we need to pass on to our children. It's a fight that needs more than those who are able to volunteer full-time or work in politics vocationally. It's for all of us. And if we let down our guard again, then the robber barons, together with the theocrats and the 30% of this country that would support Bush if he ate a live baby on national TV will once again be able to exert their influence and lie their way into control of our government. We can't afford that to happen.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007
(10:59 AM) | Stephen:
Independence Day

I'm not going to worship at the altar of the mythical American soldier today.

I'm not going to catalog the things that are going wrong.

I'm not going to gloss over the injustices that have been done in the name of American "freedom."

One of the hard things about getting past elementary school lessons about the Founding Fathers - for those of us who do advance past them - is finding out that these men were not saints, they were not really even heroes. They were motivated as much by a desire to be free of taxes as they were to be "free" in the abstract sense.

They owned slaves, they raped their slaves, they didn't allow women to vote, they didn't want men who weren't property owners to vote. They didn't allow the direct election of Senators because they didn't really trust the people that much. They would be horrified to learn that their words have been used by blacks, and women, and homosexuals! - by all sorts of people who don't fit their idea who really was created equal, who really deserves the freedoms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That's what we need to celebrate today. That we are able to have ideas that are bigger and better than we are, ideas and words that can be used by future generations to perhaps do things we cannot comprehend or endorse, but which fulfill our goals and dreams better than we can ourselves.

So today, in addition to anything else you do, think big thoughts. Dream big dreams, for yourself and your fellow citizens. That's how you'll honor this country, it's founders and all who have come since.

(2:58 AM) | Stephen:
My Daughter

Today, the kids and I were listening to some music, like we often do. Good stuff for kids, like the White Stripes, Muse, Scissor Sisters, Etta James, Bright Eyes, Nina Simone. . .anyway, on some song the male singer went into falsetto for a while.

"He's singing like a girl!" said my daughter.

"No, he's just singing like that because they wanted high notes right then. All guys can do that, so it's not singing 'like a girl.'" And I demonstrated for her.

"No, Dad, that's singing like a girl. That's how girls sing."

"Look, boys can sing that way too. There isn't a 'girl's way' or 'boy's way' to sing. You know, you really don't need to accept all of our society's gender stereotypes."

"Well, I do."


Tuesday, July 03, 2007
(11:04 AM) | Stephen:
The Backstory

Josh Marshall has a good post about the issue behind the Libby conviction, namely the intentional outing of a covert CIA agent and purposeful compromise of an unknown number of operations, agents and US sources in order to get back at Joe Wilson.

One thing Josh wrote really stood out to me:
There's a tendency, even among too many people of good faith and good politics, to shy away from asserting and admitting this simple fact because Wilson has either gone on too many TV shows or preened too much in some photo shoot.
This is, of course, part and parcel with the obsession of the Beltway elite's focus upon image, upon civility over honesty and flowery language over ethics. But it triggered another thought, one that I can't necessarily say flows directly from this statement, but was nonetheless inspired by it.

First, take a look at a photo of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame-Wilson:

Two things stand out here: Valerie Plame-Wilson is beautiful, and she is a woman. And in this culture it is far easier to demonize a woman than a man. Far easier to assume that she just couldn't have been working on anything really important. Far easier to dismiss her concerns and those of anyone around her, especially her husband and especially if he looks older than her or not of the same level of physical beauty. Joe Wilson isn't ugly, but he doesn't fit what we are conditioned to assume is a level of looks consummate with Valerie Plame-Wilson.

I'm not suggesting that Bush, Rove and Cheney discussed Plame-Wilson's gender and how that makes it easier to target her and get away with it. People who not only accept a culture's stereotypes but actively work to protect them rarely give any thought to how arbitrary they are or how much they have benefited from them. But if the positions in the Plame-Wilson relationship were reversed, I doubt the strategy would have even come up. Oh, they would have found some way to get back at an "Ambassador Plame-Wilson" who publicly showed the lies surrounding the Iraq War buildup; as I said, it's just too easy to target women in this culture. But they would have chosen another direction.

After all, "CIA Agent Joe Wilson" would have been working on things far too important to mess with.

(10:11 AM) | Stephen:
Here We Go

As Digby pointed out, Clinton was tried by the Senate and acquitted. Once again, the "b-b-b-but Clinton!" defense is completely irrelevant and only used to try and divert attention from what's really going on.

When it comes to pardons and commuted sentences, Bush is the most parsimonious President in history. At least that is consistent with his character, such as it is. Further, Bush's claim that he commuted Libby's sentence because it was "too harsh" is shown to be a lie by the fact that the sentencing was completely within the guidelines for the crimes Libby was convicted of and the way the Bush administration has pushed the use of sentencing guidelines as mandatory and absolute minimums.

Bush commuted Libby's sentence instead of pardoning him so that Libby would continue to enjoy 5th Amendment protection for any testimony he might be called to do before Congress. Libby will be pardoned later, when the investigations are over and they don't see any further need to protect Cheney, Bush and Rove themselves. Failing that, you can bet that Bush won't pardon Libby at all, valuing his own skin far more than some lackey's and knowing that Libby will be well taken care of by the wingnut welfare system.

Monday, July 02, 2007
(6:11 PM) | Stephen:
Oh For Pete's Sake

Aside from providing further evidence that wingnut welfare involves more than just cushy jobs for every disgraced and/or convicted GOP lackey, Bush commuting Scooter Libby's sentence is going to result in a DC media corps orgasm.

That's the worst part of it, that we now are going to be forced to listen to and read literally hundreds of DC media and politicians waxing poetic about Libby's truthfulness, how good he is with children and how their hero (again) George Bush, stalwart Defender of Truth against those meanie grand juries and poopyhead judges, recognized Libby's angelic character and goodness.

Libbey was charged with THE EXACT SAME THING AS BILL CLINTON, you amoral, hypocritical assholes!@! Lying under oath during a federal investigation, even if it's not technically part of the investigation, is supposed to be the worst offense a person could ever commit. All the self-righteous, smug, power-hungry, disconnected, elitist assholes who have been moaning and groaning their eternal love for Scooter Libby and his delightful way with children - not only his! but others too! - were the exact same people who screamed and stomped and yelled and pushed and declared the end of the world if Bill Clinton was not impeached, impeached I tell you! and declared guilty, removed from office in disgrace, never to sully the fine, fine reputation of that town again.

And Libby's actions in this - and Rove's, and Cheney's of course - blew a completely unknown number of operations, agents and US intelligence sources around the world. They purposefully sabotaged work on goddamned nuclear proliferation in order to get back at a guy who told the truth about them.

If I picked up a book in which a group of people was portrayed as being so completely opposite what human morality and basic ethics dictate, I would toss the book in the trash for being so ludicrously written. Yet here we are, looking at this sorry spectacle, and it's real.

When I was in seminary, one of my jobs was to drive, as needed, minivans between the Kansas City airport and either the denomination headquarters or people's homes. There was a big church meeting scheduled in Manila, and for some reason almost every headquarters honcho was scheduled for the same flight. I was taking two old churchmen to the airport, and they were joking about how everyone was on the same airplane. One said, "can you imagine what would happen if that plane crashed?" The other replied, "yeah, the church would probably have a revival."

Draw your own damn conclusions.

(12:10 PM) | Stephen:
Constitutional Crisis, Part Ongoing

Finally, someone talks about what could happen if neither Congress nor Bush back down over the recently issued subpoenas:

RUSSERT: Are you prepared to hold the Bush White House, the vice president, the attorney general and his office under contempt of Congress?

LEAHY: That is something that the whole Congress has to vote on. In our case, in the Senate, we'd have to vote on it; in the House, they would have to vote on it. I can't...

RUSSERT: Would you go that far?

LEAHY: If they don't cooperate, yes, I'd go that far.
Contempt of Congress means
lawmakers would effectively be formally accusing the White House of a crime, which would then be referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia for consideration. Russert asked Leahy this morning, "Are you sure the U.S. Attorney would prosecute?" The chairman responded, "Well, I think it'd be very difficult for him not to."
Video of the interview at Crooks & Liars.

Wikipedia, as usual, has some helpful information about contempt of Congress. First, there is "inherent contempt," in which a person can be held by the authority of only one chamber. This person can legally be arrested, presented to the House that brought the charge and even imprisoned.

What Leahy was talking about, then, is clearly "statutory contempt," which according to him requires both Houses acting in concert. The Wiki page doesn't say whether a simple or super majority is required. Of course, the House can easily come up with a simple majority to hold Bush, Gonzales and the rest in contempt, but the in the Senate I just don't see that happening. Lieberman will never vote against his pal Bushie, and the GOP is still so tied to Bush that any Republican who votes in favor of holding him in contempt might as well switch parties, because he or she won't survive the next primary anyway.

At least there is a process by which Congress can strike at the administration, which is badly needed. Unfortunately, the White House knows that the Democratic majority in the Senate is non-existant when it comes to votes like this. I suspect that Congress will back down, correctly thinking that they won't actually be able to compel Bush to do anything. What the Democratic leadership won't consider, I'm afraid, is that they actually can go ahead and bring contempt charges up to a vote, letting the country see clearly who stands with Bush.

(10:40 AM) | Stephen:
Good News For A Monday Morning

Shakesville is back. Apparently they were under DOS attack for months before the site finally wasn't able to handle them. They're on a dedicated server now, which should help quite a bit. It means orders of magnitude more processor power, bandwidth, memory and storage space that can be allocated to running the site. Plus with a dedicated server you get monitoring for just you instead of how many hundreds of other sites are sharing the server with you.

Welcome back to Liss and her fabulous crew of writers.

Sunday, July 01, 2007
(2:17 PM) | Stephen:
Anti-Drug Advertising Ups The Ante, But Is It Worth It?

The Montana Meth Project has taken anti-drug advertising to an entirely new, and disturbing, level. They feature a teen beating up his mom, another being dumped at the ER by her “friends” and other audiovisual gems. They can be viewed here; be sure to check out the “bathtub” ad.

Certainly the ads are provocative, and in any study measuring their effectiveness they will definitely rank high in their ability to remain in viewers’ memories. But the real issue here is whether such advertising is effective at all.

The effectiveness of anti-drug advertising has been studied extensively, with mixed results. Carson Wagner of the University of Texas at Austin identified several shortcomings with the standard self-report methodology of ant-drug advertisement studies:

A proliferation of drug ad studies have demonstrated that these commercials affect our attitudes. But, the vast majority of this research has assessed self-reported attitudes, and due to their obtrusive nature, such measures have been shown to be highly susceptible to social desirability (see Watkins, 1996), demand characteristics (Orne, 1969; Watt & van de Berg, 1995, p. 256) and situational norm confounds (Dovidio & Fazio, 1991; Fazio & Towles-Schwen, 1999). This is especially true when the measures concern sensitive topics such as illicit drugs (Carifio, 1994; Carifio & Biron, 1978; Tourangeau & Smith, 1996). When directly asking people to express their attitudes about drugs, we run the risk that responses are not indicative of the participants' genuine feelings, and so effectiveness demonstrations may be exaggerated. This is not to imagine simply that drug ad participants are lying. People can produce unfaithful responses both intentionally and unintentionally (Dovidio & Fazio, 1991). Certainly, individuals may knowingly hold a socially undesirable attitude (e.g., pro-drug) and purposefully respond in a way that doesn't match in order to deceive the researcher. However, they may unknowingly hold such an attitude and implicitly refuse to admit this to themselves, thereby answering questionnaires in such a way as to present "ideal" selves that reflect the ways they might like to be seen by others or by themselves. The appearance of an attitude where none exist can likewise be created when answering a questionnaire (Fazio, 1986; Fazio, Lenn, & Effrein, 1984), and such phenomena are decidedly unhelpful when attempting to examine drug ad effectiveness.
So Wagner decided to use a different methodology, called “response latency.” This method doesn’t focus explicitly upon the participants’ attitudes, but the amount of time it takes for them to categorize certain adjectives (good, bad, etc.) after having been exposed to “attitude objects,” such as illegal drugs. This makes the participants unaware when, exactly, their attitudes are being assessed, making it much less likely that they can misreport their feelings either unconsciously or intentionally.

If the assumptions about direct attitude assessment vs. response latency are correct, then the former methodology would make anti-drug ads appear more effective, producing the very negative attitudes the producers of the ads are looking for.

The study is quite interesting, but there’s no need to quote it in full. Here is Wagner’s conclusion:

The results demonstrate that self-report measures can exaggerate theeffectiveness of anti-drug ads as compared to response latency measures. This supports H1, which was based on the notion that the heightened salience of anti-drug norms in drug ad research situations can influence participants' self-reported attitudes.
This suggests that we cannot trust studies that gauge the effectiveness of anti-drug advertising – the very studies that are used to justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year in that type of advertising. In fact, aside from the actual costs incurred in making and airing these commercials, “[Partnership for a Drug Free America] has received more than $3 billion in donated media from a variety of sources, including the major television networks, 11 cable networks, 11 radio networks, more than 1000 newspapers, and more than 100 magazines and medical journals.” This from a study made in 1998, almost 10 years ago. Obviously the amount of donated media has increased since then.

Aside, then, from arguments about the legalization of marijuana or even other drugs we can see that our money is being wasted on over-the-top, ineffective advertising. I can’t imagine any way to measure this, but I believe whatever effectiveness anti-drug advertising and education may have is mitigated by the government’s obsession with marijuana. The claims made about marijuana use are generally undermined by most people’s experience with it. Anti-marijuana advertising is only slightly less hysterical than anti-meth or anti-crack ads. If people disbelieve anti-marijuana ads and education, then, they will be less inclined, I believe, to accept the claims about harder drugs such as meth. This is unfortunate, because meth really is as dangerous as the hype, and an effective strategy to curb its use is desperately needed.

About The Thinkery
Site feed

Recent Entries
Sheesh, The Things I Forget To Do
Oh, For
It's So Hard To Be A Member Of The Majority
At Least It's Interesting
Cherry Chocolate Zonday
Reality Check: Illegal Immigrant Edition
It's About Time
Really Big Moose
Life Tip: Don't Get Born Poor



Ezra Klein
Harp and Sword
Brilliant At Breakfast
In This Moment
Faith and Theology
Theology and Biblical Studies
Internet Monk
Boar's Head Tavern
Jesus Creed
Sacra Doctrina
Maggi Dawn
Shadows of Divine Things
Foolish Sage
Per Caritatem
James K.A. Smith
The Ethical Werewolf
A Pedestrian View
Brilliant At Breakfast

May 2006
June 2006
July 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
May 2007
June 2007
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
October 2007
November 2007
December 2007
March 2008
January 2075

Powered by Blogger

My Ecosystem Details>