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Friday, September 28, 2007
(10:53 AM) | Stephen:
Texan "Integrity"

This is just lovely. KEYE TV in Austin, TX, has a report on voting habits in the Texas Legislature. Seems that state lawmakers, as a favor to one another, I suppose, will generously reach over to their colleagues' seats and cast votes for those who are not present. Some legislators are so altruistic that they will get up and walk around the chamber, making sure that no matter how many people are physically present, the vote total represents the total number of legislators.

KEYE's report has a funny twist to it:

See, TX lawmakers want to force people to show photo ID before voting and to criminalize the act of delivering a ballot to the polls for people who cannot do it themselves. "It's all about integrity."

Yeah, integrity for the common people, not for politicians. It's a sad story that gets played out in every statehouse in the country, probably every city hall and county courthouse as well. Our "representatives" are better than us, because they know more than us, because they have a higher responsibility than us schlubs who take care of our kids, who go to school, who are retired or sit in cubicles all day.

It is possible to change this, if only slightly. But the only way is for people who actually care about integrity in politics first of all refuse to keep casting votes for the same morons over and over. Secondly, we need to stop giving them money. Thirdly, we need to try and band together as much as possible and give our money and time to primary challengers, to advocacy groups that work to shine light on despicable practices like this.

This is why I like the progressive blogosphere, why what we're doing is so much more important than the conservative online presence. While conservative websites devote themselves to repeating GOP talking points and kissing up to a power structure that despises them, progressives raise money, write letters and make phone calls that pressure Democratic politicians to start doing the right thing. Every once in a while, it works. We got Pelosi to include the American Samoa in the minimum wage bill even though it was obvious that Starkist and Chicken of the Sea were pressuring her not to. And there are a lot more primary challengers going after worthless Democrats than there used to be.

This is what needs to happen, more and more. It's the only way to change things.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007
(11:29 AM) | Stephen:
Unfortunately, It Won't Change A Thing

El Pais, Spain's largest newspaper, just released transcripts of a conversation between George Bush and "Spanish [President] Jose Maria Aznar on February 22, 2003, concerning the coming U.S. invasion of Iraq. It took place at the ranch in Crawford, Texas."

I know they'll be translated soon and my Spanish isn't what it once was, but I can get what I believe to be a pretty solid paraphrase from it. Here's some relevant bits:
Durante una larga conversación privada con el entonces presidente español, José María Aznar, celebrada el sábado 22 de febrero de 2003 en el rancho de Crawford, Tejas, Bush dejó claro que había llegado el momento de deshacerse de Sadam. "Quedan dos semanas. En dos semanas estaremos militarmente listos. Estaremos en Bagdad a finales de marzo", le dijo a Aznar.

[During a private conversation with then-president of Spain Jose Maria Aznar on Saturday, February 22, 2003, at his Crawford, TX, ranch, Bush said clearly. . .not sure here. . . "I need two weeks. In two weeks we'll be militarily ready. We'll be in Baghdad by the end of March," he told Aznar."]
This while Bush publicly said that we was waiting for Saddam to disarm. Here's more:
Sólo siete días antes de esa reunión en el rancho de Crawford, tres millones de personas se manifestaban en varias ciudades de España contra la guerra inminente. "Necesitamos que nos ayudéis con nuestra opinión pública", pide Aznar. Bush le explica el alcance de la nueva resolución que piensa presentar: "La resolución estará hecha a la medida de lo que pueda ayudarte. Me da un poco lo mismo el contenido"

[Only 7 days before the meeting in Crawford, 3 million people attended various anti-war protests in Spain. "We need your help with public opinion [in Spain]," asked Aznar. Bush explained the new resolution just presented: "That resolution is a media stunt [and] it will help you. It's all the same to me."]
But like I said in the post title, this won't change anything. People who support Bush will continue to do so, because they're convinced of the superior morality of the "War on Terror," a morality that transcends silly notions like honesty and rule of law. Those that don't support Bush merely have yet another piece of clear evidence for why they don't support him.

Perhaps most importantly of all, Congressional Democrats will do nothing to capitalize on this, do nothing to resist Bush in any significant way because of this, do nothing to actually defund this war, do nothing which would make it seem like they actually pay attention to anyone outside the Beltway.

(10:44 AM) | Stephen:

Looks like Pete Domenici (R-NM) is in trouble. His approval rating in the last SUSA poll is at 41%, the first time that Domenici has ever been below 50%. Obviously the US Attorney mess hasn't helped him, nor has his apparent habit of wandering around the Capitol Building in his pajamas.

An approval rating of 41% is especially worrying to Domenici because there isn't a major candidate yet from the Democratic side to take him on. I really thought that Tom Udall would have jumped in the race by now, though he probably wants to see if Domenici is going to retire or if this poll is more than a fluke.

If Domenici does retire, Heather Wilson is rumored to run for the seat. That would be fun to watch, since there's little chance she's going to keep her House seat next year. You usually don't win Senate seats when everyone knows you're running away from an election loss to the lower house.

My take on it all is that Domenici is old and he's tired. They should let the poor guy retire, and if there was a strong Republican candidate, they would. I hope he's going to be able to get out of the Senate before he suffers some sort of debilitating breakdown.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007
(1:07 PM) | Stephen:

The Devil's Bible has just been put on display in Prague, Czech Republic. It has 624 pages - out of an estimated 640 originally - and weighs 165 pounds. So it's a big book.

A Benedictine monk wrote it around 800 years ago, and included all of the Christian Bible, Josephus' "War of the Jews," a list of saints and the way to determine the correct date to celebrate Easter.

It's called the "Devil's Bible" because legend has it that this monk decided to write it out in only one night as a way to atone for his sins. But then he realized that writing all that out in one night would be impossible, so he asked the Devil to help him.

So let's see. He wanted to atone for his sins, so he asked Satan to help him. I'm sorry if this is rude, but that's a pretty dumb legend. It's like they weren't even trying with that one.

Anyway, it would be cool to see the book. Union Station in KC got the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, maybe they could get this too.

(11:20 AM) | Stephen:
Manufactured Outrage Is Our New Biggest Export

When David Kurtz is on, he's really on. He writes about the faux-outrage over the Moveon.org advertisement:
You don't have to get into the appropriateness of the MoveOn ad or the intricacies of the NYT's ad rate schedule to conclude the obvious: The GOP is engaged in another round of cynical, exploitative caterwauling to change the subject from their party's Iraq debacle. The manufactured indignation over the MoveOn ad has the added benefit of letting the vast right wing fund-raising machine milk a little more money from what's left of its base, not to mention that it turns MoveOn into a proxy candidate for president, which may be the only candidate the weak GOP field can beat.
The GOP has done this for a couple of decades now. It was interesting to see Bob Dole's campaign in which he blatantly asked "where's the outrage?" I guess we should admire the GOP's adherence to their "principles" since right after announcing their entire political strategy in the 1996 Presidential election and losing, they stuck with it to produce the nonsense that was the Clinton impeachment.

Outrage, outrage, outrage. That the GOP relies entirely upon manufactured anger and fear to turn out votes is why they're so quick to label Democrats as "angry" and suffering from "Bush Derangement Syndrome." Sometimes you need to be careful of the ways in which you describe your enemies.

Thankfully the Democrats have gotten better at responding to this - sometimes - and even journalists are willing to call GOP politicians out on this type of thing.

Kurtz shows us a video of just such a thing happening, and his introduction of it is perfect:
Watch this David Shuster interview with the pathetic Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who is prepared to slam the MoveOn ad and mock the NYT's financial difficulties (the point of which is what?), but who is brought up short, first when she is asked to repudiate a similar "betray us" remark made by Rush Limbaugh and then when she is asked to name the last soldier from her district to die in Iraq. She won't and she can't.

Yeah, it's "gotcha" journalism, but it's the right thing here. He's right; Blackburn can say all this stuff about the New York Times but she doesn't know diddly about a young man who made the ultimate sacrifice to his country just last month.

I hope you also noticed the amazing change in her demeanor, from the smug, cocky GOP hack doing what they do best - which is to deflect the conversation away from issues that matter and to create villians where none exist - to the oh-so-serious Member of Congress, very concerned about her constituents, falling back on utter bullshit about "working with families." She basically said the same sentence over and over, and even hid behind the military service of one of her staffers.

The Moveon ad doesn't matter. What matters is Jeremy Bohannon, 18 years old, 9 months into his military career, killed in Iraq while this nation's political leaders piss at each other and call it governance.

(11:00 AM) | Stephen:
It's A Hard To Be A Bigot

It must be frustrating to be a white supremacist. Take Richard Barrett as an example. He's the leader of the Nationalist Movement, a bunch of bigoted freaks operating out of Mississippi, of course. Barrett went down to Jena, Louisiana and interviewed the town's Mayor and Justin Barker, the white teenager that was attacked by black students.

In the interview Jena's Mayor thanked Barnett "for what [he's] trying to do," and for his "moral support." The victim* Justin Barker said that whites needed to "realize what is going on, speak up and speak their mind."

This after multiple assaults and fights which found white teenagers charged with misdemeanors, if at all, and the Jena 6 initially charged with attempted murder. But it's the whites who need to realize what's going on.

The frustrating part for Barrett comes when interviews like this are made public and, like the cockroaches they are, bigots such as Mayor McMillin and Justin Barker scurry away from the attention with lame excuses about not knowing who Barrett is or what he believes before granting an interview with him and inviting him to stay in their home like the Barkers did.

I don't have much to add to the larger Jena situation. In fact, I'm not sure what commentary really is needed. In a backwater, racist town, black students had to ask permission to sit under a tree. This was granted, to the dismay of white students who felt the tree was their own property. So they hung some nooses on the tree, which was dismissed as a "prank" by the school district.

Tensions ran high, fights broke out, the District Attorney threatened all the kids in town by saying that with a "stroke of his pen" he could make their "lives disappear." When a white student was beaten up, he tried to make good on his promise by charging the black students who beat him up with attempted murder.

Typical of the type of bullshit that goes on every day all over the American south.

*I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if I knew Justin Barker, I'd want to beat the hell out of him as well. Violence doesn't solve things and blah blah blah, but you can bet the only thing Barker was a "victim" of was seeing his violence met with violence.

Monday, September 24, 2007
(9:55 PM) | Stephen:
'Twas For This God Created The Internet

In a comment thread discussing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to the USA, Carl Gordon produced the best thing I have read on the internet, ever. It is reproduced in full so that his genius can be sufficiently appreciated:
Things like stock market prices, miniature golf scores, post-drugged semen levels, and chronic back pain and flatulence can fluctuate naturally and may regress towards the mean and uncalled for. The logical flaw is to make predictions that expect exceptional results to continue as if they were the average, a representativeness heuristic if I ever saw one! People are most likely to take action when dissent, like morning wood, is at its peak. Then after results become more normal or less turgid, they believe that their action was the cause of the change when in fact it was not causal, wherein cohesion between objects of similar silly appearance is assumed. While often very useful in everyday life, it can also result in neglect of relevant base rates and volumes, an inability to play funk, and other errors. Another snag you may encounter involves describing some occurrence in vivid detail, even if it is an exceptional occurrence, to convince someone that it is a problem, when, throughout my garbled history, it’s been commonly identified again and again that, if the nuns of the order of Sisters of Saint Joseph are to be believed, I am the one with the “problem”. Though misleading vividness does nothing to support an argument logically, it can have a very strong psychological effect because of a cognitive forceful brainwashing called the availability heuristic. Another area that needs to be dealt with in a timely and thorough manner is several references in my late Elementary/Junior-high phase of mutational development, otherwise known as the "Parade of horribles", originally referred to as a literal parade of people wearing comic and grotesque costumes, rather like the Philadelphia Mummers Parade or my yearly family reunion. It was a traditional feature of Fourth-of-July parades in dismal parts of the U. S. in the nineteenth century without indoor plumbing. A 1926 newspaper article about July Fourth celebrations in the White Mountains of New Hampshire notes “Old-time celebrations are to be held tomorrow at Littleton, Lancaster, Colebrook, and Conway, with all the usual features of street parades of horribles and grotesques, brass balls bands, decorated automobiles and vehicles, dance exhibitions by fire departments, basket picnics in convenient small groves, finger-sniffing contest sponsored by the local Catholic diocese, and the regional dwarf tossing semi-finals...”. And to further enlighten and confuse, in Hesse’s “Steppenwolf”, the protagonist affirms that the men of the Dark Ages (see “Living at Virginia’s house”) did not suffer more than those of the Classical Antiquity (see “Attending Catholic school in the 60’s”), and vice-versa. It is rather those who live between two times, those who do not know what to follow, that suffer the most. In this token, a man from Virginia’s house attending Catholic school, or the opposite, would undergo a gulping sadness and agony.
Indeed, Carl. Indeed.

(1:28 PM) | Stephen:
Kill Everyone, Apparently

So the newest strategy for finding insurgents in Iraq is to plant "evidence" on the street in the form of detonation cords, ammunition and similar items. Anyone who picks that stuff up can then be shot by waiting American snipers and counted as another "insurgent" killed.

Following this strategy, American police could put a gun on a sidewalk and arrest anyone who picks it up, or even shoot them since they would be in possession of a deadly weapon. We could plant drugs in the same way and send whoever picks them up to look at them to prison.

I would call this entrapment, but that word doesn't even begin to describe the hideous nature of this strategy. And, like other utterly stupid and depraved strategies to carve miniscule successes out of the granite mountain of failure in Iraq, this despicable practice will only serve to inflame Iraqi citizens against the US.

The reason for that should be simple to see: the relatives and friends of the people killed through this will know whether the person really was an insurgent or not. And every time US snipers kill an innocent Iraqi citizen simply because they were curious, there will be another group of people with one more reason to hate American soldiers. Once again the idiots in command have stumbled upon a strategy perfectly designed to recruit new insurgents and/or terrorists.

It's almost, you know, as if that was somehow the goal.

While our political and military leaders work on new ways to endanger our soldiers and bring destruction upon Iraqi civilians, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, President of Iran, is in the United States being asked utterly stupid and pointless questions and generally getting made to look like a reasonable, rational statesman. Again, it makes one wonder if the Bush Administration's goal is to ruin everything about America that they can.

Saturday, September 22, 2007
(9:24 AM) | Stephen:
Super Awesome

Click through, it's worth it. Found here.

Friday, September 21, 2007
(10:16 AM) | Stephen:
The Real Thunder Birds

Velociraptor had feathers. The Tyrannosaurus Rex may have even had "protofeathers," at least while a juvenile.

Horseshoe crabs have been in their present form for about 20 million years.

Sharks have been around in their modern form for around 100 million years. And sharks like Cladoselache from around 370 million years ago would still be recognizable as such today.

Cladoselache Sandbar Shark

And these are hardly the only "living fossils" among us. In the last few years, the evidence has mounted that the dinosaurs, long thought to have gone extinct through cataclysm and and competition, did no such thing. They simply changed into birds, and live with us still.

When you think about it, this is a pretty cool world.

(h/t Liss)

ps - Blogger's "preview" function is pathetic. Utterly, utterly pathetic.

Thursday, September 20, 2007
(9:36 AM) | Stephen:

At TalkingPointsMemo, David Kurtz reports that Senate Republicans used filibusters to kill three separate measures:
Kurtz also notes the McClatchey report from July which extrapolates the number of GOP filibusters by the end of this Congress, predicting an almost threefold increase from the previous high. Technically what we're dealing with is a "threat" to filibuster, but the result is the same, since Harry Reid is unwilling to force the "debate" the GOP keeps threatening to have. And as a thought experiment, try to remember the reaction in the media when the Democrats "threatened" a filibuster. Do you remember the hysteria? It's not the media's fault; it's because the GOP not only called the Dems on their threat but also flooded the airwaves with their side of story.

This is yet another example of weak leadership in the Democratic party. Harry Reid is a skilled tactician, but he and almost every other Democratic politician in DC still run scared from the GOP Bogeyman. Americans hate the war in Iraq and they pretty much hate George Bush, but the Democrats still refuse to stand up to Bush and the GOP.

If the Democrats would just go ahead and force the GOP to actually filibuster, they would win in the court of public opinion. The more President Bush's actual policies and ideas get aired, the less Americans like them. Let the Republicans filibuster, and while they're reading from the phone book, go on TV and talk about how all the Democrats want is for soldiers to have a few months with their families before going back to Iraq. All Democrats want is for the law to apply the way it always has.

It's clear through these and other (non)actions that DC Democrats don't pay any attention to polls. They don't really pay attention to their constituents. DC Democrats pay attention to consultants, and Democratic consultants have been selling themselves as saviors to a doomed political movement for decades now. If the Democrats are not a minority of voters, not on the fringes of American opinion, not in danger of complete irrelevancy, if the GOP is not an almost invincible political force, then the Democratic consultant business model breaks down.

The White House report on Iraq, delivered by Gen. Petraeus, didn't do anything to change public opinion on the war. George Bush's latest speech didn't do anything to change public opinion on the war, except to perhaps bring it down further, since every time he gets on TV people like him less. Americans hate this war. They want it to end. Politically speaking, if Congressional Democrats would just force the issue by sending the same timeline-ridden bill to Bush over and over and over again, if they would refuse to grant any more supplemental spending, if they would just force the GOP to actually filibuster instead of "threaten" it, the Democrats would set themselves up for electoral success like no one has ever seen.

But a culture, a worldview, is hard to change. And it seems like there is no more entrenched culture than the dystopian insularity reigning supreme over Washington, DC's pundits and politicians.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007
(9:56 AM) | Stephen:
Frivolous Lawsuits

In an apparent effort to make life in a completely rectangular, flat state - an impulse I can understand - State Senator Ernie Chambers of Nebraska has filed a lawsuit against God. Not against a person calling himself "God," but against the deity named and described in the Christian Bible. More proof, I suppose, that state legislatures simply don't have enough to do.

Unfortunately, the humor in this is shallow and short-lived, because Senator Chambers has an agenda with this. He filed the lawsuit in order to highlight "frivolous" lawsuits and the way they hinder and abuse our justice system. In fact, Senator Chambers told KETV7 that
his main objection is that the constitution requires that the doors to the courthouse be open to all.
That's a chilling statement. Ernie Chambers thinks that the doors to the courthouse should be closed to certain people. He hasn't gone into detail as to just who those people are, but the above-linked article does give us a small clue into his thinking:
Chambers said he decided to file the lawsuit after a suit was filed in early September in federal court against Lancaster County Judge Jeffre Cheuvront.
Now we're getting somewhere. Judge Cheuvront is the subject of a lawsuit because during a rape trial he prohibited anyone from using the words rape, sexual assault, victim, assailant and sexual assault kit. It's a RAPE TRIAL. The crime at issue is RAPE. But the good Judge Cheuvront, so concerned, apparently, for the rights of the accused, doesn't want any of that inflammatory language to be used. He doesn't want the jury to be prejudiced by the use of words that describe the crimes the defendant is accused of committing, nor does he want prosecutors to call things by their actual names, like "sexual assault kit."

Not only can jurors not hear those words, they cannot be told that those words have been banned from the courtroom. So prosecutors are required to use terms even more loaded than rape: sex, intercourse, have sex with. All of these imply consent and innocence.

To bar the prosecution from using the legal term used to describe the criminal charges which form the basis of the trial is a huge miscarriage of justice. No one should be happy about this, no one. I can only assume that Judge Cheuvront has already decided on the innocence of the accused and is willing to rig the trial in order for it to return the verdict he wants. It's disgusting.

But leave it to America to have someone else put in a position of authority that not only agrees with Cheuvront, but is willing to pull a stupid stunt to get it done. See, wanting to use proper names for things like "sexual assault kit" and to tell the jury just what it is the accused is accused of is just like filing a lawsuit against God. That silly woman, wanting to be able to tell the jury even that she thinks she was sexually assaulted. Clearly they just had sex, and now she's all pissy about it. The jury can just draw their own conclusions, which I'm sure they will.

Will Cheuvront ban "murder, burglary, assault" and all other terms contained in the charges prosecutors file? Will the family of a murder victim be required to dance around every word that might imply unhappiness with the fact that their loved one just happened to die one day?

Somehow, I doubt it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007
(10:47 AM) | Stephen:
Always Look On The Bright Side Of Death

From the good people at Sick of Blue Cross, here's some dark humor for this morning:

(10:29 AM) | Stephen:
Good Behavior In DC

The "Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007" was just signed into law on Friday. It was the first piece of legislation passed by the Democratic Congress, just as promised, and it contains all the provisions that we were promised by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

Adam B at DailyKos has the rundown, here's a few highlights:
  • Earmark sponsors must be listed in appropriations committee reports. And Senators will be able to attack earmarks on the floor with a point of order triggering an hour of debate, and it will take a three-fifths majority vote to retain the provision.
  • Say goodbye to infinite, anonymous holds. Senators will still be able to anonymously block a request for unanimous consent, but only for six days. After that, the senator’s name would be disclosed unless the objection was withdrawn.
  • Slow down the revolving door -- after Dec. 31, senators, top aides and top administration officials would have to wait two years after leaving office before lobbying Congress.
There's quite a bit more, of course, but it was a good bill and now it's a good law. Of course, I'm not surprised that Bush didn't make a big deal out of signing a bill that puts the Democrats in such a good light.

It needs to be said, I think, that Reid, Pelosi and many others have been in Congress for a long time, and this law is full of what I as a regular person consider reasonable, common-sense regulations. We should not have had to wait until 2007 for these reforms to take place, and while the GOP is furiously trying to corner the corruption market all to itself, Democrats are hardly innocent in these areas. But they did pass it. Let's hope we can pressure them for more good legislation like this.

(9:47 AM) | Stephen:
Blessed Are The Scientists, For They Will Be Assaulted By The Ignorant

Having grown up in the Church of the Nazarene, I still feel a sort of odd thrill whenever I see that the Nazarenes have made it into a newspaper or magazine article or TV News. Sometimes the Nazarenes even become fodder for slang, as at a restaurant on Kansas City's Plaza shopping center. It's no longer open, but for several years, whenever a server got a bad tip, they would announce their displeasure to their colleagues by saying that they "got Nazarened." To be fair, I'm fairly certain the practice was started by a Nazarene Theological Seminary student - not me, though it's the type of thing I would do.

Last week, two of the Church of the Nazarene's 12 universities (4 are outside the US: England, Canada, Kenya and the largest is in Korea) were the subject of an article in Newsweek (subscription required), titled "Can God Love Darwin Too?" Richard Colling, a biology professor at Olivet Nazarene University, found himself in some trouble for writing a book called Random Designer.

In a letter posted to the website, Dr. Colling states that he wrote this book because he believes that God is far bigger and "more creative" than he is usually portrayed, and that his lifelong work as a microbiologist not only fails to threaten his faith, but actually strengthens it. I haven't read the book but I'm quite interested.

Predictably, Nazarenes on Olivet's educational region went crazy over this. Several of the larger churches threatened to withhold their educational budgets - which, speaking theologically, is a sin since those budgets are assigned and accepted by vote of the congregation at annual meetings; therefore refusing to pay them is to break their word. People wanted Colling sacked, something that unfortunately has precedent in the Church of the Nazarene's schools. I'm friends with one professor who lost his job because the daughter of a friggin' youth pastor* didn't like what he had to say about Exodus, a seminary professor was sacked for saying that using A Thief in the Night as an evangelical tool wasn't really a good idea, another professor was forced out of his position for not being sufficiently condemnatory of the Jesus Seminar, etc.

Dr. Colling still has his job, but he's now forbidden to teach general biology - which he has taught for 16 years - and his book is banned from the classroom, though a quick check shows that it is still in the Olivet library's collection. As for banning it from classrooms, we all know that such an action will probably only increase interest in the book. I wonder if Olivet's president had such a dynamic in mind when he made his decision. My instincts, though, tell me that Bowling simply isn't that complex a thinker; if he were, he probably wouldn't be the college president*.

Next year, Karl Giberson of Eastern Nazarene College, will come out with Saving Darwin, a book that explains evolutionary processes as the means by which God creates. Good for him, but I can only say, "Duh," to something like that. Of course, I wasn't raised by morons, so that helps. Giberson probably won't get in much trouble, Eastern is one of the "liberal" colleges, the other being my alma mater, Point Loma Nazarene University.

That these incidents continue at Nazarene schools is further evidence of the continuing slide of the Church of the Nazarene into undifferentiated American Evangelical Fundamentalism. For decades the Nazarenes prided themselves on the fact that they were not fundamentalists. And this belief was supported by the astonishing number of social programs the church offered. But American Fundamentalism is an easy ethos to accept, with simply-stated beliefs and rock-solid absolutes. Sure, if you think about it very much it starts to fall apart, but human beings are not always willing to expend the effort required to really think about what they've been taught or what they assume they believe.

So as the Church of the Nazarene embraced Christian Fundamentalism, it started to shutter its social programs and focus on people's souls, and its colleges increasingly became battlegrounds. Nazarene Bible College was literally pushed through the General Assembly because the son of a General Superintendent became an Episcopal priest after attending the church's seminary. It was that GS's deep and abiding hatred for the seminary that propelled him into pushing the idea of a bible college which would take ministerial students away from the universities, put them in a "safe" setting and give them a worthless degree so they wouldn't even be able to enter seminary. Two new universities were started at the same time - 1964 - in the Midwest because the church had two schools with enrollment over 2,000, and it was a stated policy of the church that no school would be allowed that level of enrollment, over fears that they would be able to attain financial independence from the church and therefor "go liberal."

So it goes. The fundamentalization of the Church of the Nazarene, like so many others, continues apace. Good professors at good schools live in fear of their jobs and reputations, until there won't be good professors and therefore there won't be good schools.

*Not every youth pastor is an idiot. However, the longer a person lasts as a youth pastor, the more likely it becomes that he or she either has been an idiot all along, or is turning into one. Trust me on this.


Saturday, September 15, 2007
(10:39 AM) | Stephen:
They Shall Fight Us On The Radio, They Shall Fight Us On TV, They Shall Fight Us In Every Newspaper

When I was in college - waaay back in the day, before camera phones and Web 1.0, let alone 2.0 - the right wing assault on America's media industry had already been in full swing for some time, long enough for the concept of "The Liberal Media" to have been accepted by pretty much everyone. All conservatives believed it, of course, because that explained why their philosophies didn't always square with the way the world was working. Liberals tended to believe it back then as well, based partly on the idea that "facts have a liberal bias" and the impression that journalists, being well-read and traveled, would naturally be liberals.

We know better now, of course. While it may be true that most journalists are registered as and give to Democrats, the US media has for a long time been controlled by large corporations that are reliably conservative, at least in fiscal policy, and The Boss's opinions tend to get in print whatever the underlings might think. Conservatives haven't let up with their critique, or with their desire to control the media. Talk radio is of course dominated by conservatives, newspaper editorial pages publish more conservatives than progressives, and in response to Rupert Murdoch's growing wingnut media empire, other cable news outlets have stocked their rosters with what appears to be anyone willing to shill for the right.

But these are all editorial in nature - with the exception of Fox News, of course, which still tries to pass itself off as a "straight news" operation. Even Fox News, though, is being exposed as a mouthpiece for the right, with conservatives taking the attitude that liberals once enjoyed about the media.

What's truly fascinating and frightening about the right's assault on the media is how they targeted not only editorial venues or established their own networks, but also actual journalists from other media outlets. Certainly the Bush Administration has been quite adept at granting/removing "access" in order to convince journalists to run White House spin as either fact or as if it were coming from sources outside the White House itself.

Nothing, however, comes close the the ways in which journalists have been duped by Alexis Debat. From fake interviews of Obama, Bill Clinton, Pelosi, Kofi Annan and others to fabricated reports coming from "sources" in Iraq and Iran, Alexis Debat has steadily and successfully pushed the neo-con agenda of his colleagues of the Nixon Center and The National Interest. Closely connected to the Debat saga is the story of Amir Taheri, an Iranian exile who has worked for Rupert Murdoch publications and, notably, was the editor of Politique Internationale, which published the fake interviews. Taheri was the source of the bogus story about Iran forcing its Jewish citizens and other religious minorities to wear armbands identifying them as non-Muslims, which was immediately debunked, though that didn't get in the way of Taheri going to the White House just days after the fabricated story was published to advise President Bush on Iran.

Clearly Alexis Debat and Amir Teheri are brilliant manipulators of the rules and culture of journalism - that they have been exposed doesn't take away from that at all. But they are only two of what appears to be a fairly large cohort on the right who have discovered at different times and ways that once the rules of the journalistic world are accepted and internalized, they can be turned into powerful methods for undermining the very purpose that journalism is supposed to serve.

The lesson for liberals, of course, is not that we need to adopt these methods, but that we need to be as skeptical of straight news stories as we are of the Journal's editorial page. As important as it is to have progressive politicians in Congress and the White House, the political battlefield has always been in the nation's media, and the other side, as it were, has established fronts in the media's every iteration.

Thursday, September 13, 2007
(10:00 PM) | Stephen:
President Bush Makes A YouTube Video

Hee hee hee.

Some context here, via Kagro X. First link has naughty language.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007
(9:45 AM) | Stephen:
Where Your Healthcare Dollars Go

Atrios - PhD in economics, remember - points out today that over 30% of all healthcare expenditures in the United States go to administrative costs. This bears repeating, I think: almost 1/3 of every dollar spent for healthcare in this country goes toward keeping records, filing claims and other office work. As Atrios says:
Doing a little trick we like to call "multiplication," when you add in the fact that 16% [of] GDP is spent on health care we learn that close to 5% of our GDP is spent on people pushing little bits of paper back and forth between doctors and insurance companies.
Philip Longman wrote a lengthy, well-researched article for the Washington Monthly about the Veterans Health Administration. The VHA has gone from being one of the worst healthcare systems imaginable to a top performer, consistently delivering high quality, cost-efficient care. The VHA now sees fewer mistakes, more care available and does it for far less money than private insurance. For example:
Between 1999 and 2003, the number of patients enrolled in the VHA system increased by 70 percent, yet funding (not adjusted for inflation) increased by only 41 percent.
Better care at less cost. This is no fluke; it happens all the time. The VHA, Medicare and Medicaid, and every single socialized healthcare system in the world are all able to do this. Every. Single. One.

In systems like the VHA or Medicare, the challenge is to determine the most cost-effective way to deliver services to the people who need them. In the private insurance industry, the challenge is to reduce costs while maximizing profit, and the easiest way to do that is to deny services to the insured. Remember that the next time you get worried about a "government bureaucrat" choosing your doctor or telling you what tests you can have - as if it's just fine when it's a corporate bureaucrat making those decisions for you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007
(1:13 PM) | Stephen:
Anthrax Anthrax Anthrax

One of the more bizarre assertions made about the last 6 years is that there have been no more terrorist attacks on American soil. This claim is used to justify everything from the war in Iraq to all of the ways in which Americans' civil rights are violated on a daily basis.

Like any other claim of "success" in George Bush's policies, it's false:
The 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States, also known as Amerithrax from its FBI case name, occurred over the course of several weeks beginning on September 18, 2001. Letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and two Democratic U.S. Senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others.
Atrios makes a good point about the anthrax attacks, namely that they were actually more terrifying than the plane attacks in New York and the Pentagon. As horrifying as those were, no one really had the idea in their head that they would continue to happen on a daily basis. And most people in this country never enter a large and/or significant building at all, let alone every day. But we all get mail. With the anthrax attacks we had unknown person(s) sending this incredibly dangerous substance through our postal system, and we had no idea from whence or from whom it came.

There are several reasons why these attacks have been sent down the memory hole. First, Americans insist upon subscribing to the comforting fiction that terrorists are brown-skinned Muslims, not "regular" folks. Second, since the Bush Administration and conservative commentators started to immediately use 9/11 to attack liberals and Democrats - oh yes they did, within days of the attacks; the so-called political unity after the attacks consisted of Democrats supporting the President while he beat up on them - the presence of biological warfare agents being sent exclusively to Democratic Senators and the liberal media would have been quite inconvenient to acknowledge.

There is a third reason why the anthrax attacks have been largely forgotten, and this reason illustrates the one thing that the Bush Administration has always been able to do well. As I noted above, it was the anthrax attacks that really scared Americans, really hit them hard personally. 9/11 was horrible, but it was in the class of big, horrible things that don't happen too often. Without some hard work, the attacks on New York and the Pentagon were going to fade in people's minds into abstractions, like Hurricane Katrina or the Asian tsunami. What the Bush Administration was able to do - helped as always by their enablers in the media, both conservative commentators and by the so-called liberals who probably thought that by becoming Bush stenographers they would discourage further attacks - was take the climate of personal fear and tie it to the sense of national tragedy surrounding 9/11.

You can see, then, how we have been manipulated from the very beginning. How our emotions and fears have been twisted to serve the purposes of a few power-hungry, twisted old men in Washington, DC.

And on this anniversary of 9/11, Osama bin Ladin releases a tape, which is dutifully disseminated by our government and media, while General Petraeus sits in front of Congress to give a "report" that he didn't write about a "surge" that has not produced political reconciliation and has not reduced the violence in Iraq, which facts will be spun into justification for the continued presence of our overworked and under-equipped soldiers in a living hell.

(8:59 AM) | Stephen:
Happy Birthday, Son

Today is my son's 1st birthday. Last year my wife jinxed herself by saying that she didn't care what day our son came, so long as it wasn't September 11. She really has no one to blame but herself, of course.

So now whenever someone finds out what day our son was born, they always nod their head and say, "Ohhhhhhhhhhh." I try not to be too hard on them, because the events of September 11, 2001 are still an open wound on America's soul. It was a day on which the USA should have grown up and joined the rest of the world - the rest of the world that experiences terrorist violence regularly.

Unfortunately, George Bush and his accomplices saw that the United States was about to do just that, and saw how nations that are usually quite hostile to us were expressing their solidarity with us. Such emotional maturity, such awareness of world events on the part of Americans and such thawing of relations was, we can now see, entirely antithetical to the goals that Bush has had since before he took office. So he used his enormous bully pulpit to tell Americans to shop, to use blind consumerism to soothe their battered psyches, and he set about making sure that he alienated not only those nations traditionally hostile to us, but ever other nation he could.

Six years later, and the man responsible for the attacks is still free, and is still decidedly not a priority to the Bush Administration. All conspiracy theories aside, the most likely explanation for this is that Bush has no desire for Americans to be able to move past that day. He doesn't want there to be any sense of justice, of closure. He wants 9/11 to be an open wound so that he can periodically stick his thumb in it and twist it around, bringing up the pain and heartache again and again.

My son will never be able to escape the connection to 9/11/01. But I do long for the day in which that connection is to something that is finally put to rest in the past. If you want to honor the victims of that horrible day, then don't waste your time with "charity." You can do charity tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. Spend today learning the truth, as much as you can, about anything you can. Commit yourself to truth, to standing firm against the onslaught of lies coming from the "Petraeus" Report, to resisting the idea that Bush's war of conquest has anything to do with bin Ladin, anything to do with terrorism or preserving the safety of Americans.

Monday, September 10, 2007
(1:07 PM) | Stephen:
Impeach Bush NOW

General Petraeus is due to recite the White House-written "report" on the situation in Iraq. You can look elsewhere for all the ways in which statistics from Iraq have been suppressed, misreported, twisted, distorted and basically tortured so that the human filth and garbage in the White House, Pentagon, Capital Hill and our Very Serious People of the Media can all salve their bruised egos.

None of that really matters. That General Petraeus is going to read a report he has had nothing to do with doesn't matter. That jerks like Joe Lieberman, David Broder, every GOP politician and unfortunately most of the Democrats will bloviate endlessly on America's "duty" in Iraq and blah blah blah doesn't matter.

This is what matters. This video shows how no one has less regard for American soldiers and their families than George Bush. This video shows the all-too-real human cost of this war - this war sold to us with lies and threats, this war which creates and trains the very terrorists that George Bush and his enablers use to justify our loss of civil rights and the deaths of thousands of American troops, thousands of American civilians in Iraq and many thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Afghanis and Iraqis.

I happen to believe that this soldier's life, and those of his fellow soldiers and their families, are worth far more than keeping the Vain Old Men of Washington, DC happy. Remember that every soldier sent to Iraq is someone's father, son, mother, sister, daughter. Every single one of them. Every Iraqi civilian killed is someone's son, daughter, mother and father.

What's happening in Iraq isn't about numbers or statistics, it isn't about IEDs or suicide bombs. It's about men and women put into impossible situations, put into living hells because of the mendacity, the greed and vanity of a small group of men in women in Washington, DC, who have never been in danger in all their lives and will never be in any danger.

Each day that George Bush and his accomplices are allowed to walk free is a crime against the world.

Friday, September 07, 2007
(1:46 PM) | Stephen:
A True Haunting

If you told me that I would be doing a post like this even yesterday I would have laughed out loud. But I've seen the evidence, and I've been converted. The video embedded in this post is of a real haunting. It has not been digitally altered, there are no special effects. It's a completely real video from a family that set up a camera in their nursery to catch a babysitter that was apparently stealing from them.

If you're scared easily, don't watch it. Or at least turn all your lights on.

http://view.break.com/312640 - Watch more free videos

Thursday, September 06, 2007
(11:15 AM) | Stephen:

I haven't been honest with people. In fact, I'm a serial liar to friends, to family, to complete strangers. But something has just happened that is so heinous I can no longer keep up the charade. So here, finally, is Truth that I have been unwilling to voice for almost two decades.

To begin, I need to reference a change that's happening in New Mexico. Even my sparsely-populated home state has reached the area code breaking point and must add a new area code. For my entire life New Mexico's area code has been 505. In fact, for my entire freaking life my "home" phone number has been exactly the same. That phone number is ingrained into my mind so firmly that I know I could dial it from within a coma.

But no more. Now my dad, brother and mom will all have different phone numbers. Their cell phones, their home phones will all be different. They will now start with 575.

And here's where the confession comes in. See, for years I've had to deal with the fact that the only places that anyone visits in New Mexico are Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos. That's it. If I meet someone who has been to New Mexico, it's either because they've driven through it on I-40 or they traveled there to visit the the well-known trinity mentioned above.

And like the dutiful son of New Mexico that I am, I always talk about how great those towns are. I talk about Albuquerque's beauty, the cinnamon rolls at the Frontier Restaurant across from UNM, about Santa Fe's grace and history. I've been to all the landmarks and done all the touristy things, and people are usually quite intrigued that a cousin of mine was married at the Loretto Chapel.

The truth is, I hate Albuquerque. I can't stand Santa Fe. And I'd rather not ever talk about Taos. The only place in New Mexico where one can find people that are more insufferable, more arrogant and of generally less worth than those northern New Mexico enclaves of idiocy is Clovis, and everyone knows that Clovis is pretty much Texas anyway.

But we can't say that about big-time Albuquerque, oh-so-hip Taos and we-run-your-lives Santa Freaking Fe. They're right in the middle of the state. We can't blame their nonsense on proximity to Texas.

Everything in New Mexico is twisted to benefit them. Are the poor widdle football teams in Albuquerque getting their butts whipped by Las Cruces, Roswell and Alamogordo? Well, let's just redraw the sports districts! And we certainly can't have a new area code inconveniencing the only freaking part of New Mexico that anyone has ever heard of.

I don't want to hear anything more about northern New Mexico. Taking a trip to northern New Mexico is like staying at a Sandals resort and claiming that you've "been to Jamaica." Ha.

Bunch of no-good jerks. At least I can be honest about it now.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007
(1:28 PM) | Stephen:
Puppet Governments

In the just-released Dead Certain, George Bush had this to say about how things stand in Iraq:
"[Maliki's] learning to be a leader. And one of my jobs as the president and his ally is to help him be that leader without being patronizing. At some point in time, if I come to the conclusion that he can't be the leader—he's unwilling to lead or he's deceptive—then we'll change course. But I haven't come to that conclusion. As a matter of fact, his recent actions have inspired me."
If Bush loses confidence in Maliki, then Maliki goes. That's why I'm so furious about all the whining over the Iraqi Government's supposed incompetence and unwillingness to solve their own problems. While the elections that put Maliki into his office may not have been rigged, the resulting political situation in Iraq is depressingly similar to that of Iran: some political figureheads intended to make people feel like they have a voice in their own affairs while the real power resides in one powerful figure that works behind the scenes. As the Ayatollah rules Iran behind the public facade of Ahmanijedad, so Iraq is subject to the whims and desires of George W. Bush whose decisions are mediated through Maliki.

Disgusting, utterly disgusting.

(9:09 AM) | Stephen:
You Get What You Pay For, An Ongoing Series

Or rather, we get what they refuse to pay for. Certainly, the American consumer is too willing to just buy garbage so long as it's perceived as a "good deal" - our favorite euphemism for "cheap." But in this New Gilded Age, profit margins are up across industries. That's why newsmedia business reports have been so positive the last 7 years, since the targeted demographic of every Business Section of every newspaper, magazine and TV news show is the wealthy capitalist who has significant investments.

The truth, as anyone who has to rely on an actual paycheck knows - and whose interest in the paycheck's amount is more than curiosity or a spirit of competitiveness - is that the economy sucks and has for a long time. It's just that corporations are perfectly capable of making money in a bad economy. All they have to do is reduce their costs, and the best way to do that is of course to outsource the manufacturing of their goods to places that have few worker protections, few product quality or safety standards and a government that will always look the other way so long as its hold on power isn't threatened. Some place exactly like China.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007
(1:22 PM) | Stephen:
Conspiracies And Accountability

The estimable and always-fascinating litbrit put me on to an article recently that was written by Robert Shetterly about the issue of conspiracy.

Shetterly starts off talking about Martin Luther King, Jr., about how his message and agenda are hardly contained in the famous "I have a dream" speech, as uplifting and important as that was. In particular Shetterly says that he likes
to focus on his last year — the period when, defying the advice of many of his advisors in the civil rights movement, he spoke against the Vietnam War, equating racism with imperialism. King felt bound to make the point that the forces of capitalism, materialism, and militarism that were driving segregation were also driving the war, and until we confronted the source of the problem, the abuses would continue. It was April 4, 1967, in Riverside Church in New York, that he made that declaration. A year to the day before his assassination.
Shetterly then makes the case that it was those forces of "capitalism, materialism and militarism" which combined to get rid of the troublemaker once and for all, and that James Earl Ray was innocent of King's murder.

Before reading this article, I did not know that there was a wrongful death suit filed by King's family against Loyd Jowers and "other unknown conspirators," that they retained James Earl Ray's lawyer for that lawsuit, and that William F. Pepper, the lawyer that defended MLK's alleged killer and represented the King family was a friend of Martin Luther King himself.

Crazy conspiracy theories, aren't they? Reasonable people can't be expected to believe that tripe, can they? The American government would do no such thing, obviously. Next you're going to tell me that the American government is operating secret - and blatantly illegal - prisons in Eastern Europe where CIA agents torture suspected "terrorists" who were rounded up in random sweeps on the streets of Baghdad.

Oh, wait.

There is an invisible line in the American psyche which cannot ever be crossed. The problem is that it's hard to know where it is ahead of time. But there are certain events about which a narrative is quickly created that is believed with a religious fervor by almost every American citizen no matter their ideological framework. So to suggest that perhaps the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK didn't happen the way we've been told automatically puts one on the outer fringe of the fringe of American society. To suggest that the events of 9/11 didn't happen quite the way everyone thinks they remember is to invite upon one's self mockery, ridicule, scorn and derision.

Americans tend to distrust government - any powerful institution, really. This is true of left and right. It's peculiar, though, how this ingrained distrust becomes less apparent the more important the issue. No one trusts the county assessor to be fair about their home's value, and certainly no one thinks that Congress is full of saints. But complete trust, to the point of resembling fundamentalist religious belief, is given to official government accounts of things like 9/11. This is wrong, completely backwards from the way it should be.

No institution should be trusted, whether government, corporation, church or anything else. In fact, there is a word and process which describes a lack of trust for these things: accountability. It's that simple, that mundane. Accountability is required not only in those situations where there is evidence of suspicious activity. Accountability is required at all times for all institutions and all people who occupy positions of authority and influence within them.

Whatever you might feel about his theology and methods, Billy Graham is an excellent example of this principle. He founded the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability in 1979 to provide an objective, 3rd-party repository for a given minister's or ministry's financial records. Those records have always been open to whomever wishes to view them. The ECFA exists because Billy Graham and some others like him understand that they have no expectation of the public's absolute trust and never will.

Continuing with ministers as examples, I know several male clergy who have made it a rule to never be in any place where they would be alone with a woman (I know what you're thinking, but Ted Haggard's case doesn't always come into consideration). This position is a bit extreme, but the principle is sound. Even if they know that there is no chance of something inappropriate happening, they also know that trust is something always to be earned, never to be spent.

So do I think that the US government had a hand in the 9/11 attacks, or in the assassinations of 3 very prominent, popular, influential and liberal voices of the 20th century? I don't know. But I know it's possible. And I refuse to reject out of hand the idea that perhaps there really have been some conspiracies, some collusion between private and public interests, even ones that seem to have divergent aims. Because as soon as I grant them that level of trust, that lack of accountability, then I allow them the space to do exactly that which I believe they won't do.

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