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Wednesday, October 31, 2007
(1:52 PM) | Stephen:
Dumb Political Email

Just got this email from the Kansas GOP:

Happy Halloween everyone

To mark the occasion we, at the Kansas Republican Party, would like to talk about some things that scare us this Halloween.

Scary Taxes

Boyda voted to sustain the death tax. This equates to a $1,350,000,000,000 tax hike on the American people. Nearly 90 percent of small business owners favor the repeal of this tax. In spite of Ms. Boyda’s vote, Republicans in Congress are working hard to make sure that both small business owners and farmers, the people who this tax affects the most, get to keep more of their money. (Roll Call vote 959)

Not much has happened under the new “leadership” in Congress. But what has happened has been horrific…In just 10 months of control of Congress, Democrats have passed legislation to raise taxes on the American people to the tune of over $100 billion. This equals to an average of $10 billion in new taxes on the American people per month. (Link)

Daunting Earmarks

Ms. Boyda’s campaign promises are haunting her as a member of Congress…In her campaign Ms. Boyda promised, “The earmark process has been abused in the past. Members of Congress have set aside funds for programs that turned out to personally benefit them.”

However, when given the opportunity to support real earmark reform, she didn’t. In fact she said that she was “skeptical” about the earmark reform and thought it would “bog down the House.” We at the Kansas Republican Party are “skeptical” that Ms. Boyda will pass any meaningful legislation this year and are increasingly “afraid” that her liberal leanings will damage the 2nd District permanently.

Menacing Leadership

After promising an “independent leadership” Ms. Boyda has once again broken a campaign promise by asking Majority Leader Stony Hoyer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to come to Kansas and raise money for her. This is the same House Leadership that has led Congress to the lowest approval ratings in American history…now that is scary. ( Link)

As a reminder, Ms. Boyda stated that she wanted to run an “independent

campaign.” (CQ Politics, 2/19/07) Not surprisingly, similar to her ever-changing position on any number of issues, Ms. Boyda’s definition of “independence” seems to change too. So far, Ms. Boyda’s “independence” has resulted in:

All this adds up to a very scary Congresswoman and a frighteningly liberal voting record.

Scariest of all...

If Nancy Boyda wasn’t scary enough for you then a Hillary Clinton Presidency should make you quake in your shoes. Last night during the Democrat Presidential debate, Hilary Clinton showed us, once again, exactly why we don’t want a Democrat president.

During the debate when asked about her position on the trillion dollar tax hike, she said, “Rangel has suggested repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax, which has proved a burden to some middle-class Americans...Clinton said she agreed with Rangel’s goal but did not like ‘all the details’ and declined to commit to a specific approach.” (Mark Z. Barabak and Peter Nicholas, “In Debate, Rivals Say Clinton Is Too Divisive,” Los Angeles Times, 10/31/07)

Not only that, but today, commentators across the board agree, Hillary is just another politician who doesn’t like to answer questions on the pressing issues facing the American people.

The Kansas Republican Party isn’t used to quoting the following “balanced” commentators, but their take on Hillary last night is striking…

MSNBC's Chris Matthews: "Hillary Clinton would not answer the Newsweek's Howard Fineman: "At the very end of the debate, she just came off like a politician who didn't want to answer the question." (MSNBC's "Hardball," 10/30/07)

Please forward this email to everyone you know – friends, family, co-workers, ghosts and goblins.

Have a happy Halloween, and remember that in a little over one year we will be deciding what kind of leaders we want in Washington and Topeka.

The Kansas Republican Party

I have yet to receive an email from them that isn't terminally lame, even stupid. They're clunky, ham-handed and of course full of intentional errors of fact. I'd be embarrassed if I was a Republican.

Unfortunately, that same moment the Edwards campaign decided to send this my way:
Guess I don't need to be a Republican to be embarrassed by stupid emails. Tying campaign literature to holidays is really, really dumb. "This Christmas, Candidate X just gave a big gift to [insert hated special interest group]!" All of them should have signs put up in their offices that say, "Don't be clever." FEMA holding a fake news conference with staffers posing as reporters was clever. Clever is always a bad thing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007
(11:46 PM) | Stephen:
Endless And Astounding Variety

Scientific American reports that the residents of Tibet are able to handle the low levels of oxygen found when living at an average altitude of almost 15,000 because their bodies are, quite simply, different than anywhere else in the world.

Tibetans have bigger arteries and higher blood flow than the rest of us. The cells lining their blood vessels produce nitric oxide, which turns into nitrite and nitrate in their blood, making them expand and the amount of blood flowing through them to increase quite a bit.

And get this: Tibetans have higher levels of nitrite and nitrate than people with septic shock, which is a dangerous blood infection. They breathe more than anyone else, and have more antioxidants in their blood than the rest of us as well. Oh, and the article notes as merely an aside that residents of the Andes in South America don't have these characteristics; they just have larger lungs than the rest of the human race.

The human ability to adapt and thrive in any setting is truly remarkable. It's all the more so because this adaptability comes not only through our intelligence and tool-making abilities, but also because we have such incredibly mutable genes, producing extremes in skin color, height, bone structure and even the chemical processes our bodies use to get needed oxygen from the air.

(2:17 PM) | Stephen:
Of Course Rudy Is Nuts. They All Are

Everyone seems so worried about Rudy Giuliani and how nutso insane he is. What I don't get is why this is so upsetting. Giuliani is just running the exact same campaign, with exactly the same rhetoric, that the GOP has been running from the 2002 elections onward. Fearmongering, portraying the candidate as some fearless warrior despite all evidence to the contrary and accusing Democrats of being in league with terrorists, of wanting America to "lose," etc. and so on.

If we consider that GOP consultants are probably fairly similar to Democratic consultants - though obviously not as thoroughly stupid, worthless and incompetent - then the reasons for Rudy's strategy become quite clear. In 2000 George Bush ran as a "compassionate conservative," a man devoted to fiscal accountability and restraint, a man who wanted to rein in America's unfortunate penchant for nation-building. He was a relaxed, genial guy who just wanted to have America work for the reg'lar folk or some such nonsense.

And he lost the popular vote. Yes, he got the White House, but that required an unprecedented intrusion of the United States Supreme Court into the affairs of a state's Supreme Court, something that had never happened before. And don't show up in comments with crap about how Bush would have won the recount. The issue is so muddled by now that the very best we can say is that we don't know who would have won the recount, had it actually happened.

While Bush got the Presidency, the GOP political consultants did not ignore the fact that they lost the popular vote. That's a big strike against the whole "compassionate conservative" facade they worked so hard to create, which probably explains why they didn't waste much time trying to continue the act.

And act it was, as was Bush's supposed distaste for nation-building. An Iraq invasion was being planned as soon as he took office, and telecom companies were being bullied into giving the Feds access to their data the summer before the 9/11 attacks. In regards to the Bush Administration's desires for conquest and the ability to operate outside American law, 9/11 didn't change a thing.

Rather, it was a gift, and they exploited it to the fullest. The GOP took the outpouring of support and goodwill toward our leaders and used it as a club to beat Democrats over the head. The 2002 elections were brutal, centering entirely around the idea that Democrats are all traitors, even those who had given the Bush Administration everything that it wanted.

In 2004, however, they remembered that the compassionate conservative shtick didn't work so well and how effective jingoistic nationalism and fearmongering was in 2002. However, Roveco didn't want to completely undo all their work making Bush seem like anything other than a sociopathic dry drunk bent on dictatorial control. That's where Dick Cheney was able to play his most valuable role as the shuffling, squint-eyed gargoyle leering at your children while describing what a tasty snack they would be for Osama bin Laden. And when Cheney says that there are people who want to kill you, you believe it, if for nothing else then for the fact that he always looks ready to do the job himself.

By having Bush and Cheney play Good Cop/Evil Demon From the 8th Circle of Hell, the GOP was able to do all the fearmongering and slanderous accusations against Democrats that they did in 2002 while protecting Bush's image. And they won.

So for 2008, Rudy's advisors have obviously decided that they need to employ that winning strategy. The reason it seems so shocking is simply because Rudy doesn't have a Dick Cheney to take the heat off him. In fact, Rudy is better suited to be someone else's Dick Cheney in terms of the campaign trail.

Whether this strategy can work for him even in the primaries remains to be seen. But let's not get caught off guard by a 5 year old campaign strategy.

Monday, October 29, 2007
(6:52 PM) | Stephen:
Um, Hey There

Ok, so I don't know about this blogging stuff, really. At least not anymore. If you're still around to read this, thanks. Anyway, we will see what we will see, since I can't help but comment on something I found at Eschaton a while ago.
Part of the reason that we have had a faith outreach in our campaigns is precisely because I don't think the LGBT community or the Democratic Party is served by being hermetically sealed from the faith community and not in dialogue with a substantial portion of the electorate, even though we may disagree with them.
This is Obama speaking about his ridiculous decision to include "ex-gay" Donnie McClurken at his campaign appearances (for a rundown of the whole story, go here).

The reason this is still a problem for Obama is that someone is telling him how he can never, ever apologize for anything that makes liberals mad. Of course, if you upset conservatives - or more accurately, if you give conservatives a chance to manufacture some fake outrage in order to distract everyone from how evil and stupid they are - then of course you need to apologize. That's why Pete Stark apologized, why the Senate wasted its time condemning Moveon.org for Constitututionally protected free speech, why Democrats are always apologizing for something or other that Michelle Malkin or Rush Limbaugh can twist into a problem.

Sorry, that's a real pet peeve.

Even if Obama wasn't making a huge mistake by taking on Social Security, the whole mess with "ex-gay" Donnie McClurkin should be proof enough that he's listening to the same clowns Democratic Presidential candidates have been listening to for far too long now. "Triangulate triangulate triangulate." "Show your independence by taking on 'sacred cows.'" "Try to appeal to 'swing voters'" - interesting how to Democratic consultants and the DC pundits "swing voter" always means "extreme right-wing lunatics who hate gays, who belong to militias and have argued in federal court that they don't owe taxes."

Anyway, the big issue here is that Obama is making the mistake of conflating bigoted, hate-filled homophobes with Christianity. While I will allow for the existence of many sincere and authentic Christians who think that homosexuality is a sin, this does not mean that every Christian believes this. In fact, evidence for the presence of millions of Christians who do not believe such things is in plentiful supply. There are several Christian denominations that do not believe it to be a sin, and several more with large portions of their membership who believe that way.

There is already a political party for people, Christian or not, who think that homosexuality is wrong, is a sin, is an abomination, is gross and icky and worthy of death or something. It's called the GOP, and if Obama wants to appeal to people who believe that way, he can switch parties. But if he's going to run as a Democrat, at the very least he needs to acknowledge that the rights and protections guaranteed under the Constitution extend to every single person within the borders of the United States of America regardless of creed, color, gender or what they may or may not do in a bedroom with another consenting adult.

Why is this so hard?

Sunday, October 21, 2007
(12:16 AM) | Stephen:
So Weary

I've been working 6 days a week for a couple weeks now, on top of taking care of the kids, so I'm a bit tired.

But what really wears me out is the news that spews out from Washington DC every day. I'm tired of politicians being more in league with each other than they are with their constituents. I'm tired of knowing that the minuscule number of super-rich white men who control this nation's large corporations have plans and goals diametrically opposed to mine, goals that include an increase in their wealth intentionally at the expense of everyone else in the country. I'm tired of knowing that their concerns and whims will always be more important than mine.

I'm tired of the millions of people who sell their Constitutional rights, livelihood and their children's futures for the sake of meaningless rhetoric about abortion and homosexuals. I'm tired of people so closed-off and callous that they can't muster the barest amount of empathy for someone who might not share their exact experiences. I'm tired of so-called "Christians" who stand for nothing but hate, who fight for a fetus yet throw children in the garbage, who worship a God whose grace apparently runs out after covering their multitude of sins so that no one outside the four walls of their shrinking sanctuaries can taste of it.

I'm tired of a national press that trades in silly insults and gossip, that creates false equivalence in order to satisfy braying critics, that consists far too often of people who peddle racism, fear, lies, eliminationist rhetoric and simple bullying. I'm tired of every magazine, every commercial, every toy being designed to intentionally tell my daughter to hate herself and the way she looks.

For that matter, I'm tired of every toy being so loaded with toxic materials that they should all be shot into space. I'm tired of the degradation of all our products, each generation of manufactured goods lowering in quality to generate more profit for the privileged few, each year seeing "food" producers chip away at FDA regulations so they can pump diseased cattle with more hormones and antibiotics, feed chicken even more of their own solid waste, spray ever-increasing amounts of chemicals on our produce and even meddle with their genes - as if anyone really understands the consequences of genetic manipulation yet - in order to increase crop yields even as they sacrifice taste and nutrition.

And it's all - all of it, everything I've mentioned - for the Almighty Dollar. People oppose abortion and any help for mothers and children because the former is free and the latter would cost. People never want to pay more, so when a retailer like Wal-Mart throws poorly made and dangerous shit on the shelves, as long as it's cheap people will buy and be grateful they can fill their homes with it. We're driving around in cars powered by technology that's well over 100 years old, getting fuel mileage that would have embarrassed us 20 years ago because it's cheap. Not inexpensive, not a good deal, just cheap.

We're sailing into oblivion, you and I, on a ship made from the bones of children who work and die in sweatshops, in a sea full of the blood of the world's sex slaves, malnourished and abused. And as long as our politicians wear flag lapel pins and tell us who to hate and fear, as long as the high-fructose corn syrup keeps getting pumped into our food and as long as the damn television keeps us drowning in dreck, we'll just grin and row faster.

Stroke! Stroke! Stroke!

Thursday, October 18, 2007
(3:57 PM) | Stephen:
President Dodd Has A Nice Ring To It.

Chris Dodd put a hold on the execrable FISA bill, the one that grants retroactive immunity to telecoms for breaking the law.

Interesting how that's what Bush wants after years of claiming that he hasn't ever broken the law. This demand from the White House is a blatant admission of crimes against the Constitution of the United States of America. And the spineless, near-useless Democrats in Congress just keep handing Bush whatever he wants, without even a real fight.

Most of the American people want their Constitutional rights protected against any and all attempts to curtail them, no matter the justification. Those willing to trade the rule of law for chimeric "security" honestly just need to have their rights protected for them, even if it's against their will. The Constitution is the supreme law, over the President, over the Congress, over the Supreme Court. We need to remember this and restore it to the way our government operates.

You can give Senator Dodd encouragement, thanks and contributions at this link. I suggest you do so, no matter what your political persuasion, because there is simply no more pressing issue before the USA today than the assault on its Constitution.

(3:39 PM) | Stephen:
Governor Blunt Tries To Redeem Himself

Matt Blunt, Governor of Missouri, has recommended $4.1 million to fund a law that requires the state to now pay for rape examinations. Good for him. I strongly suspect that having a strong opponent in the governor's race and the country's increasingly poor view of the GOP might have a bit to do with the decision, especially after all the flack he's gotten for cutting healthcare benefits for the poor in Missouri.

But the important thing is that victims of rape will no longer be charged for undergoing what has to be an incredibly difficult medical procedure. I would say that it's hard to believe that rape victims would be sent a bill for allowing a hospital to perform an invasive examination right after being violated in the worst way possible in order to help the police with their investigation, but I'm not. It seems par for the course for a crime which affects way more women than men to be handled in such an uncaring way.

I don't know if anyone will be more likely to report a rape because of this, but for those who do the experience will now be slightly better, and that's a good thing.

(12:28 PM) | Stephen:
The Dimwit DA

It would be criminal for others to talk about Crazy Phill Kline while I remain silent about it. You can follow the links, but the story is simple. Kline has charged Planned Parenthood in Overland Park with 107 different criminal counts. That's 23 felonies, 29 misdemeanor counts of providing illegal late-term abortions, and various misdemeanor counts of maintaining false records, etc.

Of course, with Phill Kline the story goes beyond such mundane issues. This Planned Parenthood is one of the clinics he targeted while Attorney General, and about which Bill O'Reilly had some way-inside inside information, coincidentally just days before the 2006 elections and right at the time that Kline appeared on the O'Reilly Factor.

In addition, when Paul Morrison restored sanity and ethics to the office of Attorney General, he had to ask Kline what happened to all the clinic records he'd subpoenaed, since for some reason they weren't where they were supposed to be. Kline claimed that he returned those records, but Morrison had to join with Planned Parenthood of Overland Park in a lawsuit against his own subordinate to get the records out of Kline's grubby paws. Kline had actually transferred those documents to the Johnson County DA's office just a few days before taking office.

My read is that Kline has in fact kept those records - illegally - and is using the detailed information in them to try and find charges to file against Planned Parenthood of Overland Park. I doubt he thinks that all of them will stick, but is hoping that a jury will be so overwhelmed by them, so convinced that there must be a "there" there that they convict them of something. It's fairly obvious that Planned Parenthood hasn't done anything wrong, because Paul Morrison has looked over (his copies of) the same records and decided that there is nothing to pursue.

It's important to note that this type of legal analysis was just fine with Johnson County's wacko wingnut coalition for 25 years while Morrison was the Johnson County District Attorney as a Republican. But Phill Kline is a true believer. I can tell you with absolute authority that, like George Bush, he has long believed that God wants him in positions of political power and that he's justified in using any means he considers necessary to accomplish his goals. I've personally seen Phill Kline betray someone who was a close friend and associate of his, I've listened to him lie about people who had befriended and helped him over the years. No law or morality will stop him from doing what he wants to do.

He has "promised" not to run for office next year, which means that the GOP told him to not run or they'd cut him loose. Two of Paul Morrison's old ADA's are running for Johnson County DA, and if Kline stays in we can expect at least one of them to take a page from their old boss's strategy book and switch parties. No way the GOP is willing to hand the Democrats another significant victory because of Phill Kline.

But I also know that he'll never go away.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007
(3:44 PM) | Stephen:
News Out Of New Mexico

Steve Pearce is running for the Senate seat just vacated by Pete Domenici. Pearce is nominally the Representative for my hometown, but no one ever cares about Alamogordo. Anyway, that means a GOP primary battle between Pearce and Heather Wilson, who represents Albuquerque. Pearce is quite a bit more conservative than Wilson, so the primary will be between north and south, conservative and (somewhat) moderate. Not exactly what the GOP needs right now, but don't expect me to cry any tears over it.

I don't see how either Pearce or Wilson (or for that matter Spiro G. Vassilopoulos, whoever that is) will be able to win a general election against either Marty Chavez or Diane Denish - who isn't running, but the rumors are swirling.

As much as I can't stand how Albuquerque and Santa Fe dominate New Mexico, they'll go heavily for Chavez, or Denish if she runs, and that will pretty much be the end of it.

As far as Pearce's seat, I know the GOP doesn't have a very deep bench in New Mexico, but neither, it seems, do the Democrats in every case. From my gut I'd say that NM-2 is a tossup or lean GOP. But the Dems have a chance to compose NM's entire Congressional delegation. That'd be nice to see, whatever it might do to certain of my family members.

Monday, October 15, 2007
(2:08 PM) | Stephen:
Roots Of Hypocrisy

A county GOP chairman in Wisconsin has resigned his position after being indicted on two counts of child enticement, one count of exposing himself to a child and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He is free on a $20,000 bond and has pleaded not guilty.

It just goes on and on, doesn't it? There is a real problem with GOP politicians and conservative pastors engaging in immoral, criminal and sick behavior. Just head over to this handy post from Melissa and click on one or two of the links. You'll be shocked at what you see. And yes, I do happen to believe that it's more of a problem on the Right than it is on the Left, for reasons I will now explain.

To attempt to explain this I'm going to use my own experiences, because I see the same dynamic at work with these stories of adultery, drug abuse, pedophilia, etc. and my own history - though let it be clear that I have never even used narcotics, let alone abused them, I have never been unfaithful to my wife, and I have never considered an inappropriate relationship with a minor in any way whatsoever.

But what I did do was pursue a career as a pastor. Pretty terrible stuff, right? The problem was not with the career choice, but with my motivations, which came not from a real sense of a "call," - though I was sincere in my beliefs, but from my self-loathing and despair because of depression. I hated myself and could not believe that I would ever amount to anything worthwhile. I felt completely cut off from God even as I tried ever harder to establish a connection with him. And even though I knew that pastors weren't perfect, I still had a vision of them as being close to God, as being recipients of divine grace if for nothing else then because of their responsibilities. I thought that becoming a pastor would turn me into a good Christian, would put me back in touch with God and would change my attitudes about myself.

If I had been a gay teenager that still believed homosexuality was wrong and sinful, I might have become a pastor because I thought that doing so would drive my sexual desires from me. I might have gotten married and become a crusader against LGBT acceptance, believing that if I would only work a little harder at it I would rid the world and therefore myself of those "sinful urges."

Or I might have become a politician, one of those who make careers out of convincing the electorate of how horrible our nation is becoming and how I would stem the tide. Perhaps I would have been one of those for whom laws against the LGBT community could never be harsh enough, punishing them as a proxy for what I felt I deserved.

There is a hysteria about homosexuality in this nation, and I see it as profoundly dangerous to our society and profoundly damaging to individuals' psychological health. Some people who grow up in hysterically anti-homosexual surroundings and who find themselves attracted to members of the same sex manage to leave it behind. They're able to understand that they must accept who they are, because denial of one's own core identity will always lead to self-destructive behavior.

But I believe that many people are not able to do that. They want to hold on to the identity painted for them by their families and churches no matter the personal cost. It is their dogged determination to exorcise their false demons that will lead some of them to become the conservative movement's loudest and most hysterical voices. And that, I believe, is part of the dynamic behind this seemingly unprecedented amount of religious and political conservatives getting caught in the exact behaviors* they so loudly condemn. The other part of the dynamic is that the 24-hour news cycle and the ability for the Internet to act as a megaphone makes it significantly harder for people and communities to sweep this kind of thing under the rug. The media have learned that stories like this will sell, and so they search them out.

The answer the problem, of course, is for people to just be who they are, to accept their own identities and those of their families and friends without condemnation. But that, I'm afraid, is a long time coming.

*About those caught in pedophilia, while I agree that there is no connection whatsoever between homosexuality and pedophilia, I do wonder if some of the cases that are prosecuted as pedophilia are the result of deeply closeted and emotionally unhealthy people learning that teenagers can be easier to manipulate and seduce than adults and so find themselves in trouble with an underaged kid without having ever wanted to abuse a child per se. That is to say, perhaps there are pedophiles and then there are people who abuse a child; the punishment needs to be exactly the same, but the underlying motivation might be different and might require different treatment. Or I might be full of crap.

(1:14 PM) | Stephen:
Dumb Political Staffers

You'd think that the Chief of Staff for a US Representative would be able to contain his temper and deal with critics. You'd think that they would all develop a thick skin, and would just let questions go. That they would deal with protestors and other critics with courtesy, if firmly.

You'd especially think that if they were being recorded. But you'd be wrong:

Considering how differently the Congressman handled himself compared to his Chief of Staff, I'd say that Wisecup got his ass chewed over this. Don't these guys realize that if not for a guy catching ex-Senator George Allen on tape using a racial slur, Allen would not only still be a Senator but would also be the GOP front-runner for President? You never know what's going to catch on, what's going to grab people's attention.

Saturday, October 13, 2007
(6:12 PM) | Stephen:

Take a look here first.

So, cats. It's perhaps not the subtlest story you've ever seen, but I think it does a good job of showing just how ludicrous we can be with our traditions and habits.

A few posts back Lewis left a really good comment:
It used to be that the fundamentalist churches would have a week-long revival scheduled twice a year. I hated them.

After working all day, I had a hour commute. Only time to have a snack and then - to church. The evangelist felt that his job was to get someone down to the altar to pray through.

Think about it. Small town - small church - the only ones at the meeting were church members.

Give me a break.

What we should have done was to have a designated sinner go down and pray through at the first sign of an altar call. Then they would get up and testify how evil they had been and that Jesus had come into their heart and cleaned them up. Evangelist is happy, we get to go home early - great preaching!
I too remember those twice-yearly revivals, the parade of itinerant preachers and singing families that came through. And there was of course church camp, both age level and Family Camp. And Vacation Bible School. Sunday morning and evening church services and Wednesday nights. And this was all just during the summer.

Let's see: 1 revival + VBS + 2 camps + regular services = 62 sermons over the course of summer vacation (approximately). And around 20 of them would be explicitly "evangelistic," with "altar calls" and everything. A friend of mine who, as a child, traveled with his singing evangelist father, told me that one summer alone he was born again 18 times, which sounds about right.

And all of this can be understood as the Teacher's cat.

By the mid-19th century, Christianity wasn't doing too well. For the civilized upper classes it was an opportunity to gather in a socially acceptable place and be polite to socially acceptable people. For the lower classes it was largely irrelevant. In the midst of this preachers started to come up who could really speak to people's condition, to the state of society whatever place in society a given person might occupy.

This was the beginning of camp meetings and revivalism, though it must be understood that no one held any revivals. No church scheduled a revival meeting. Those traveling preachers with tents were not holding revivals. They simply called these things "protracted meetings" or something like that. It was only after the fact that people might begin to talk of a particular meeting being a revival.

I've read several journals and letters from the late 1800s to the early 1900s as part of a job that I had in the Church of the Nazarene's Archives. I believe that there were actual "revivals," that people did actually change as a result of them. At least, it would be hard to sustain such a large conspiracy for so many years across such great distances, which is what would have needed to happen if none of it were true.

The faith tradition in which I grew up was a full-fledged member of the camp meeting and Revivalist movement. Early Nazarenes were viewed as a riotous lot, prone to shouts and people running around a sanctuary or tent. The beginnings of the Church of the Nazarene (ca. 1890 - 1908, which is the official date of the church's establishment) saw a group that not only ordained women but had no problem putting them in leadership even over other pastors. The older members were committed abolitionists and expected younger members to adhere to the same philosophy. They established charitable organizations everywhere they went, even and especially on the "mission field." There are hospitals and nursing colleges that exist to this day in South Africa, India and Papua New Guinea, and I know I'm forgetting some.

I must admit that even though I no longer attend a Nazarene church - and probably never will - I still view people like Phineas Bresee, H.F. Reynolds and H. Orton Wiley as great men, even heroes.

The men and women of the early Church of the Nazarene were, in my opinion, worthy of emulation by later generations, and that is exactly what happened. The Nazarenes were active in the Temperance movement, a good-intentioned if too extreme movement. They didn't drink alcohol, and neither did those who came later. They didn't go to dances because they felt that it led to sexual immorality, so neither did later generations. Gambling was a scourge, especially in the Western US, and most early Nazarenes felt that moving pictures had storylines that didn't inspire people to be more Christlike. So later Nazarenes never went to the movie theater (officially) and never gambled - for that matter, they never used normal decks of playing cards or played regular card games. So Spades was right out, but Rook was ok, etc.

In the 1950s and 60s "compassionate ministry" fell out of favor with theologically conservative denominations. The classically Liberal churches were increasing their social commitments, and conservative churches were looking for any way in which they could distinguish themselves from the mainline denominations. So various orphanages, soup kitchens, clinics and other places where the down-and-out could find a hand up were closed, one by one, until almost none were left.

Which was a tragedy on many levels. Phineas Bresee, regarded as the principle founder of the denomination, was a Methodist Episcopal pastor, a presiding elder. He was in line to become a bishop in that denomination, and he pastored the largest Methodist church in the American West, with the largest auditorium of any type on the west coast as his sanctuary. He left it all so that he could be a chaplain at a soup kitchen.

Bresee was able to not go to movies, not drink and not gamble as a prominent and successful pastor. But he believed that he couldn't adequately pastor the poor, and so he left it all behind.

When Bresee and others died, we kept their teachings and their cats. We made sure to have revivals just like they did. We had camp meetings, and more and more people started to see "evangelist" as a career calling just like "pastor" or "blacksmith." The degradation of the role of the evangelist came about simply because of competition. Churches evaluated you on the basis of how many people got saved or sanctified during your meetings, and if you didn't consistently get the numbers that the churches wanted, you were out of work. So you did all that you could, all that you needed to in order to get the people off the pews and down at the altar, crying and shaking as they either were born again by being saved or born again again by being sanctified. Thank God, literally, that the Church of the Nazarene allowed everyone to be counted at the altar at least twice, the doctrine of backsliding helping out even more. Especially with teenagers.

When the great women and men of the Church of the Nazarene died, we did make a good faith effort to keep their teachings alive. Thing is, though, teachings don't make constant demands on us. Cats, however, do. Cats require daily maintenance, and even when they don't need anything they're much more noticeable than something as prosaic as teachings. As time went on and the teachings got blurred, the cats were still there. We remembered to not dance or drink, but we forgot how to resist the temptation to devalue women. We remembered that movie theaters were bad, but we forgot the ability to make wise entertainment choices in any medium.

We lost the teachings, but we damn sure kept the cats around. This is the story for all of us, all the time. We see it in our politics, in our religions, in our families. It is for this reason that God sent Israel the Prophets and why what the prophets said was written down so we would remember. It's for this reason that we have had people like both Martin Luthers, like Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez, and yes, like Dennis Kucinich and even Michael Moore.

If you can catch them in lies, then heap on condemnation and allow me to join in. But if you can't, then understand that those who hate them do so only because they're so busy taking care of a bunch of cats they've forgotten who they are and what they are on this earth to do.

(11:10 AM) | Stephen:
Internet Tough Guy Quarterly

(image by EMPulse_of_KC)

I can be pretty harsh on the ol' internet. In fact, as direct as I can be in person, I can be more, um, forthright about my opinions and even blunter when it comes to blog posts or comment threads. But I've never been banned. I've never threatened anyone. I've never had to change my IP address and screen name in order to keep commenting at a place that clearly doesn't want me around.

So here's to you Bob/Fred/El, you massive douchebag, you.

Friday, October 12, 2007
(9:27 PM) | Stephen:
The Teacher's Cat

High in the Pyrenees, tucked into one of the innumerable valleys and away from the normal passes through those mountains, there was a monastery. It had little to distinguish it from others, really. It was just a middling-sized place full of industrious, serene men, helping lost travelers and providing nearby hamlets with really good beer.

Monasteries, of course, are usually the last place to find extremely spiritual people, at least insofar as we define the word "spiritual." Being self-reliant, the monks often find themselves spending far more time shoveling manure and tilling fields than kneeling in contemplation of the Divine Mysteries.

In this monastery, however, there once was an abbot who combined the very best of an earthy spirituality with the best of heavenly insight and inspiration. He was dearly loved by everyone who met him, and was known for quite some distance for his wisdom, leading everyone, including his own brothers in the monastery, to drop the title "Abbot" and call him "Teacher."

Every morning before their work began and every evening before retiring, the Teacher would speak to the assembled brothers. He was wise and compassionate, and the years of his stewardship were the apex of that monastery's history. The Teacher was also a man freed from the burdens of earthly desire and never abused his power, never used the monastery's resources for his own gain. His only indulgence was a cat.

Like all felines, the Teacher's cat had a soul of pure evil that was obvious to everyone but the Teacher himself. No amount of destruction, no number of scratches could convince the Teacher that the hissing, spitting demon/cat he kept was anything different than the little ball of fluff he'd first brought into his life.

The Teacher's cat, then, had the run of the place. He disrupted as much as he could, especially during the morning and evening sessions with the Teacher. It was only because of the Teacher's surpassing wisdom and charisma that the brothers were able to put up with the cat.

Unfortunately, the Teacher died like anyone else. The monastery went into deep mourning for their loss, and as often happens, the next abbot spent most of his time trying to keep things as they were under the guidance of the Teacher. Even the awful cat was redeemed in the eyes of the community, because of the living - some might say "undead" - connection to the Teacher the cat represented. So as they kept up the morning and evening teaching sessions rehashing the Teacher's lessons, they also allowed the cat to attend and disrupt them.

The Teacher's cat one day decided to see what havoc he could wreak in the afterlife and was found dead by the suddenly-relieved brother tasked with changing his litterbox and giving him food. It is a sign of the deep love for the Teacher and the deep loss they all felt that when the evening session came, one of the brothers suggested getting another cat to remind them of how much the Teacher loved his. And so they did.

The seasons passed this monastery in the mountains, and the brothers grew old and went on to their rewards. The memory of the Teacher was kept alive and amended as necessary, with the best qualities and practices of his successors inevitably being attributed to him. The cat which replaced the Teacher died and was replaced, who was replaced as well. After many years much of what the Teacher did and said was lost to the community. Most of the brothers didn't learn of this revered figure from the past, and the monastery entered a low point of its history, ruled over by petty little abbots who abused their authority and lived sumptuously at the expense of not only the hard work of their fellow monks, but the gifts they were able to extort from the surrounding communities. Everything good which had been passed on from the Teacher was lost.

But the morning and evening teaching sessions still happened. And for each session, before they could begin, the cat was carried in on soft pillows and placed in a seat of honor before the assembled brothers. The cat's collar was pure gold, and he ate better than anyone beside the abbot himself. He had his own chambers (those of the Teacher, kept empty for his memory), richly decorated with silks and jewels. Nothing could happen at that monastery without the presence - and with it the ceremonial blessing - of the Teacher's cat.

As humans, we tend to hold onto the damnedest things.

(12:23 PM) | Stephen:
The Glorious People's Republic Of Bananas

CIA Director Michael Hayden is going after the agency's independent watchdog, Inspector General John Helgerson. Hayden wonders if Helgerson -- who is not appointed by the CIA director -- hasn't gone too far in investigating how the agency conducts detentions and interrogations.
Of course being the CIA's inspector general doesn't make someone infallible. But I'm curious about how anyone could be excessively zealous when investigating allegations of torture. If Helgerson hasn't been employing torture in the course of his investigations, I don't see how there could be a problem.

Unless, of course, the CIA is still being directed by Bush to violate American law - not to mention basic human values - by torturing people in its custody. In that situation there's very little that Helgerson could do that wouldn't be considered excessive.

And so it goes in the land of George Bush.

(11:43 AM) | Stephen:
Al Gore: Nobel Laureate

Well, good on Al Gore. Not surprisingly, I agree with Josh Marshall's thoughts on this:
And let's not discount another benefit: watching the rump of the American right detail the liberal bias of the Nobel Committee and at this point I guess the entire world. Fox News vs. the world.
That's been true for a while, but it'll be fun to see this dynamic put in sharp relief for a while.

Thursday, October 11, 2007
(9:52 PM) | Stephen:
Republic Of Bananastan

Kagro X has a post up at DailyKos that should make your blood run cold. It's worth a read, believe me, but I'm going to summarize it quickly here so that I can make one point that Kagro X alludes to but doesn't make clear.

Joe Nacchio is the former CEO of Qwest, the only telecommunications company to stand up to the Bush Administration's demands for unlimited access to their records and phone lines. He was convicted of insider trading and faces 6 years in prison for it. The case against Nacchio was that he knew Qwest's earnings were going to fall short of projections and that its stock would fall, so he sold it early to get his personal stash taken care of.

What's interesting is Nacchio's defense, which is that shortly before he sold the stock he was in meetings with the Federal Government for a $100 million contract and was told Qwest had the inside track on a $2 billion deal to build a network between the US and South America. The problem is that he can't say what the $100 million contract was for because of "national security" concerns, and any mention of it in documents is redacted.

So Qwest's earnings aren't looking good and Nacchio sells a bunch of stock that turns out to have been overvalued. Nacchio's defense is that he believed that Qwest was going to be in great shape and, if anything, the stock was undervalued at the time of the sale.

But those contracts went to other companies and Qwest's stock took a hit. The NSA tells the telecoms to hand everything over and Nacchio says no. All of the sudden the SEC gets real interested in the stock sale, and the DOJ pulls the US Attorney off the prosecution, replacing him with some guys from DC. Sound familiar? Have there been any other situations in which a US Attorney has been pulled from a case, or perhaps fired, with the replacement initiating charges against some "enemy" of the Bush Administration?

What I think Kagro didn't quite say is that it looks like the Bushies had some reason to be unhappy with Nacchio back in early 2001. They knew he sold the stock based upon getting those contracts, so they awarded them to other companies, knowing that if their fears proved true they would have a clear-cut case against him with the SEC.

When you get down to it, inertia is the only reason that the USA still functions as a free country in any form at all. Inertia is the only way to explain why any of our laws are still upheld - that and perhaps an inability for the Bush Administration to put all their plans in place before Congress changed hands.

These are dangerous people, especially because there are still millions of Americans who think that George Bush is a committed Christian, and honest man who only wants what's best for America and who is right about just what that means.

(9:40 PM) | Stephen:
Quantum Explains Quite A Bit

I recently went back to work part-time for a buddy of mine who owns a web hosting business. I'm an "operator," which means "peon." I just have to be here, let clients in and respond to the various alerts and such that we might get. Some evenings it seems like every server in the place is going to blow up, some nights nothing happens.

We use a lot of biometrics, even more than when I worked here before (last summer and fall). I no longer have a key because the front door is opened with my fingerprint. My palm opens the doors for both the Network Operations Center (the cool room with the windows and 8 computer monitors showing all sorts of impressive graphs and security camera images) and the Data Center (the room that has all the servers). Then I have to give my fingerprint again for either the communications room or the electrical room.

The palm scanners have a little digital readout where I enter my code before putting my palm down, forgot that part, and when it scans my palm it says "Approved" and gives me a number on a 100 scale that measures just how closely my palm resembles the original scan when I was entered into the database.

A year ago I regularly got scores of 20-35. Since coming back - I was never removed from the system, so it's the same palm scan of 18 months ago - I get scores of 2-9.

Apparently my palm in October 2007 looks more like my palm of June 2006 than my palm looked in June 2006.

I'm going to go with Terry Pratchett and say that it's because of all the quantum around here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007
(1:44 PM) | Stephen:
It Just Gets Worse

ThinkProgress has some very convincing evidence that the smear campaign against 12-year-old accident victim Graeme Frost has been orchestrated from the beginning by the office of Senator Mitch McConnell.

Think about that a moment. The Senate Minority Leader cooking up a plan to lie about a hardworking, decent family, to make it look like they were frauds and con artists. A United States Senator targeting a 12 year old boy with lies.

The rot in the Republican party runs from top to bottom. A conservative movement in this country could be valuable, even necessary. But the one we have consists of deranged, jingoistic psychopaths being manipulated by sociopathic powermongers. George Bush is wrong on this issue - wrong about the facts of it, wrong about the morality of it - and his followers in Congress are just as wrong. They're so far in the wrong that they can't even make an attempt of debating the actual issue, so they'll cheerfully invade the privacy and endanger the lives of an innocent family living and working in Baltimore.

How much of a monster can someone be that they would endanger children instead of just taking their political lumps? How antithetical to American values does the GOP need to become before people rise up and say, "enough!"

(12:36 AM) | Stephen:
The Problem With The Democrats

Lots of confusion about the way the Democratic leadership in DC acts. They're handling the SCHIP thing pretty well, they passed ethic legislation that contains everything they promised, they passed a minimum wage increase, they backed down with the last FISA bill and stand ready to give into the White House's demands again, they talk tough then always give up when it comes to Iraq War supplementals, and on it goes. Progressives all over the country are frustrated. People are using this political schizophrenia to bolster their arguments that there is no real difference between Democrats and Republicans. Theories are floated - so many and so often it's impossible to begin to link to them, just look around - about this Senator belonging to Such-n-Such, Inc. and that Representative is in bed with XYZ Group.

But that's not the problem. All of this misses the real issue, and that is how DC Democrats simply don't believe the polls which say the majority of Americans agree with them about healthcare, about Iraq, about foreign policy and defense. They certainly don't believe the polls which say that a majority of Americans trust Democrats more than Republicans to competently handle a War on Terror.

Under the leadership of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi the DC Democrats have pushed and fought for the types of things in which Democrats have held traditional advantages: wages, ethics, protecting massively popular entitlement programs (especially when the Boomers are all starting to get their SS checks; really, what was the GOP thinking on that one?) - pretty much all the domestic policy stuff that has proven to be a winner for the Democrats over and over and over again.

But when it comes to the things that the conventional wisdom - that is to say, the accepted views of pundits like David Broder, Maureen Dowd and other parasites on the body politic - believes favor the Republicans, the Democrats have caved again and again. The War in Iraq, limits of government law enforcement and war-making authority, the introduction of new entitlement programs such as universal healthcare.

The High Elders of the Pundit Class have been saying since Reagan's election that the USA is a basically conservative nation, conservative in religion, in social policy, in fiscal policy. This has been repeated ad infinitum, ad nauseum until it is etched on every politician's brain all over the country. That has put the Democratic party in the unnecessary position of believing that it needs to sell its policies to the public by means of subterfuge and stealth. Democratic policies need to be enacted despite Americans, for their own good.

This, of course, is not true. American can't really be described as "liberal" or "conservative." What we can say is that there's an awful lot of Democrats out there, and there always has been. And for the last few years, the number of Democrats has been increasing greatly, far outpacing the growth of the GOP. These last few years Americans' opinions have shifted in a massive way to favor the Democratic party and its policies, not because we're all now liberals, but because of the massive corruption, incompetence and disdain for the Constitution evidenced by the GOP along with an economy that, while giving us record CEO compensation and DOW numbers, has pretty much sucked for most Americans.

Reality is that this is a golden opportunity for Democrats, not only politically, but in terms of enacting good, solid policies that will help this country. Protecting Social Security as it is and ensuring Medicare's continued solvency are not unpopular ideas that a reluctant public needs done with or without its approval. Universal health coverage of some sort is an absolute winner politically. And of course the American people, in spite of incessant war cheerleading, wants out of Iraq right now.

That's reality. The question is, will the DC Democrats ever wake up to reality, to 2007? Or will they remain stuck in the alternate universe of the Beltway where the GOP is the permanent majority, even when it isn't?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007
(2:11 PM) | Stephen:
Dangerous, Hateful, Amoral Scumbags: Right Wing Bloggers and Radio Hosts

So a couple of weeks ago 12 year old Graeme Frost delivered the weekly Democratic radio address, talking about Bush's reprehensible veto of the SCHIP bill - a bill with the overwhelming support of states' Governors and Congressional members of both parties.

The Right Wing Hate Machine, sensing a vulnerability, has kicked into gear, harassing people at the Frost's home and business, digging up their tax returns, investigating where their kids go to school, etc. They've come to the predictable conclusion that the Frosts are scam artists, that their children are pampered little rich kids living large off the government.

The Frosts, of course, have never made more than $50,000/year. They bought their house in Baltimore for $55,000. I don't know much about Baltimore, but in Kansas City a $55,000 house means either no indoor plumbing or that it's in between two crack houses - or both. The family was in a horrible car accident a few years ago, which left their daughter with severe brain damage and their son, Graeme, has had to fight for a couple of years now to get back to health. They do attend private school, but as recipients of scholarships. The family pays about $500/yr for each kid.

George Bush has used "snowflake babies" - extraneous fertilized eggs from fertility treatments that were adopted ahead of already-living kids that need a home, but hey, these kids are all white - to make his stem cell policies unassailable, during the Social Security debacle a while back there was a 9 year old who traveled the country speaking at events to try and convince people to destroy the program, etc. Not one blogger - NOT ONE! - "visited" that kid's family at home, or looked into their finances. Not one blogger has searched out these "snowflake babies" to see what lives they're living.

In fact, I've been surprised at the restraint the media has had regarding George Bush's kids. Chelsea Clinton was never spared any insult the Right Wing Hate Machine could spew out. If the Bush twins could have just behaved themselves a bit a few years ago, we would have never heard anything about them.

Why? Because there is simply no organization, no group, no ethos on the American Left which considers its political philosophy so important and inherently moral that this nation's laws and normal ethics don't apply. There is no such thing as a Left-wing radio host with a program based upon insults and hatred. There are no Left-wing TV show hosts who get on every night and lie lie lie like Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Scarborough, Matthews, Russert and all the other hacks and flacks on TV.

I'm not trying to say that all liberals are super-good and moral people, nor can every conservative be characterized as the opposite. But the movements are entirely different.

Moveon.org puts an ad in the New York Times using a nickname from General Petraeus' own career - General Betrayus - and the Right goes nuts. Rush Limbaugh had used that smear against Chuck Schumer months ago, calling him Senator Betrayus in counterpoint to Gen. Petraeus' then-upcoming testimony. Nothing was done.

The above example is just par for the course. The Left in this country is routinely portrayed as being angry, bitter, unhinged. But what proof is there of that? Just like with the fabricated spitting on Vietnam vets incidents, proof of a rabid, angry and deranged Left in this country simply isn't around. But there is an entire media industry that garners a majority of its profits from the perpetuation of that very myth while ignoring the quite real examples of extreme Right-wing fanatics who do commit violence. Violence such as bombing women's health clinics (they usually aren't the clinics that offer abortions) and shooting doctors who perform abortions, like posting journalists' personal information and calling on people to teach their children - there's the children as targets again - a lesson for publishing photos of Dick Cheney's and Donald Rumsfeld's vacation homes, never mind that they had permission. Invasions of privacy, smears, lies, all piped into the homes of millions of Americans simply because someone got on their bad side, or happened to be around when the GOP desperately needed a distraction from the corruption and incompetence that has so taken hold of the party structure and leadership.

I can tell you this: If Michelle Malkin - or anyone else - trespassed on my property in order to harass my family about stuff that's none of her business, I'd smack the hell out of her and be fully within my rights. This is one liberal who, when it comes to his kids, makes the proverbial she-bear protecting her cubs look like an arthritic toy poodle.

Saturday, October 06, 2007
(10:09 PM) | Stephen:

Apples are wonderful things. They represent one of the very few items that can be represented in a dizzying variety without causing me to lament the way American culture piles choice upon choice without regard to logic or value.

Because with apples, how can you lose? Except for eating Granny Smiths raw, but other than that.

Just a moment ago I was eating a Gala apple, and found that one side of the apple was noticeably sweeter and softer than the other. It reminded me of a Red Delicious, though it's been so long since I've eaten one of those I could be a bit wrong.

This unusual specimen got me wondering about it's lineage, so off to Wikipedia I went, and Behold! The Gala apple is a cross between Golden Delicious and a Kidd's Orange Red. That, of course, is hardly an acceptable stopping place, so on I went. The Golden Delicious is not related to the Red Delicious, but I've always thought they had a similar taste profile. But onward we shall go, to the heretofore unknown Kidd's Orange Red, which comes to us from the fertile mind of one J.H. Kidd of New Zealand. He took the Cox's Orange Pippin and crossed it with - drumroll, if you will - the Red Delicious. Feel free to follow the links for those apples, the whole thing is fascinating.

Red Delicious, while quite bland by itself, seems to be a good base upon which an apple breeder can build. It certainly shows up a lot, and seems to be the source of necessary sweetness that allows us to enjoy the stronger, sharper flavors of other apples. Lately I've grown quite fond of the Cameo and get it when I can, following a few years of Fuji devotion.

(8:48 PM) | Stephen:
God On The Campaign Trail

With so many candidates for President from both parties - including Lee L. Mercer, who the damn Em-Ess-Em refuses to cover - it might be hard for even dedicated political junkies to know, moment by moment, just how much each candidate is saying about God.

Well, thank somebody for Beliefnet and Time, because they've created the God-o-Meter (pronounced "gah-DOM-meter*).

With the God-o-Meter, we have a scientific tool that scientifically measures the just how much each candidate is Godding up his or her campaign. For example, Obama, Richardson, Huckabee, Romney and McCain all top the rating at 8 apiece, with Dodd and Giuliani occupying the bottom rung at 3 apiece.

There is also a handy visual which gives Beliefnet's opinion as to whether a particular candidate is a "theocrat" or a "secularist." It may look random, but it's scientific. It says so at the top of the browser!

Neil and other Edwards fans will be pleased to see that their Johnny ranks a 5 from the God-o-Meter, right in the middle between secularist and theocrat. Apparently he really is the Baby Bear of this presidential election, with everything about him neither too hot, nor too cold, but just right.

As silly as the God-o-Meter seems, it does appear to be a fairly accurate reading of just how much God extract is being used by each candidate. Further, this tool strikes me as representative of a shift in the way Goddyness is being reported this time around. In previous elections the Godicity question has always seemed to be treated as a relevant question for all Americans, and that certainly is still there. But there seems to be more coverage of how each candidate's particular application of Godissitude represents just another campaign strategy, a way to please one of the myriad special interest groups.

In that sense, I really do think that the Religious Right is changing from the arbiter of American morality and identity to a special interest group that a candidate can seek to enlist or not, with all the usual benefits and costs associated with reaching out to any particular group.

I'd be very interested in anyone's thoughts on this in the comments.

*The first syllable of which probably sounding quite like what you said upon hearing about it.

Friday, October 05, 2007
(8:24 AM) | Stephen:
All Domenici, All The Time

I just want to say that I called it. Heather Wilson is running for Domenici's seat. She won't win, and we'll pick up her seat as well. New Mexico is about to go Democratic in a fairly big way, with Steve Pearce looking forward to not only being in the Congressional minority, but the only Republican coming out of New Mexico for a good long time.

Update: Well, I'm batting .500, which isn't bad. Udall, who I was sure would run for the Senate, has decided not to run. That does make the Senate race a bit more of a challenge. I wonder if Bill Richardson sees the writing on the wall of his presidential campaign and has been talking to Udall.

Thursday, October 04, 2007
(9:14 AM) | Stephen:
More Domenici News

Heath Haussamen has a post today that the reason Senator Domenici is resigning is because he has frontotemporal lobar degeneration, a degenerative brain disease. It may incapacitate him, it may not. It may take years, it may not.

I think it's clear that something has been affecting him in recent years. I hope he is able to complete his term without further ill effects, and that he is able to enjoy at least some years of his retirement.

It's horrible the way our bodies can sometimes outlast our minds.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007
(5:51 PM) | Stephen:
See You Later, Senator Domenici

Well, Pete's riding off into the sunset. Good for him. He's not been well for a while, and certainly doesn't need to hang around to reap what George Bush is sowing for this country and his party.

According to Heath Haussamen, Domenici will announce his retirement at St. Mary's Catholic School tomorrow at 4pm. That's where he attended as a child.

Let's see what Tom Udall does with this. We just might have two Udalls in the Senate after next year, which would suit me just fine.

Mustang Bobby has more at Shakesville.

(9:52 AM) | Stephen:
How To Keep Kids In Church

Time has an article about the decline in Christianity's good image in the USA. Seems that in 1996, the Barna Group found that 83% of Americans self-identified as Christian, with less than 20% of the remainder expressing negative opinions about Christianity.

Another group of polls taken over the last 3 years showed that, among non-Christians, 38% "had a 'bad impression' of present-day Christianity," and that 73% of the country now self-identifies as Christian. Significantly, 40% of people aged 16-29 self-identifies as non-Christian.

It's encouraging that of those outside the faith, 90% said that Christianity is too "anti-homosexual," and 75% said that Christianity is "too involved in politics." Good, because it wasn't too long ago that homosexuality was enough of a taboo that even atheists were "against" it, and anything that makes people understand and oppose Christians' distressing involvement in politics and the levers of power is a good thing.

This bit of information is fascinating:
Churchgoers of the same age share several of the non-Christians' complaints about Christianity. For instance, 80% of the Christians polled picked "anti-homosexual" as a negative adjective describing Christianity today. And the view of 85% of non-Christians aged 16-29 that present day Christianity is "hypocritical — saying one thing doing another," was, in fact, shared by 52% of Christians of the same age. Fifty percent found their own faith "too involved in politics." Forty-four percent found it "confusing."
For quite some time now the Church has faced a real challenge in trying to pass the faith to the younger generation. Much of the growth found in Evangelical churches comes from like-minded people leaving mainline denominations; that is to say, the more conservative members of mainline denominations like the Presbyterian Church, USA are leaving to attend churches in the Southern Baptist Convention or the multitude of unaffiliated congregations springing up everywhere.

But even that growth is not as explosive as the conservative denominations would have you believe. The dirty little secret of many conservative groups is that their non-USA growth accounts for most, if not all of the growth the group has. I know for a fact - because I helped compile the statistics - that the Church of the Nazarene in the USA, Canada and Europe is growing very little, if at all, while the church sees phenomenal growth in places like India and all over Africa. Keeping the younger generation in the church is a huge focus, a big problem. It's part of why the average youth pastor tenure hovers around 9 months to a year; people want tangible results, they want to see new kids coming in the doors and the kids already there making big, public commitments.

This is why youth conventions are getting so showy and so big, not because this new media-saturated generation demands it. Churches want teenagers to feel like they're a part of something cool, but also something extremely significant. They want the teens to have a huge emotional experience in the hopes that it ties them to the church forever - not unlike the way many people approach marriage, both inside and out of the Church, which can explain the divorce rate and the Church's retention problem.

The last youth conference I attended - hopefully the last I'll ever attend - was Nazarene Youth Conference 2003 (link goes to NYC 07 page). It wasn't all bad. Out of conversations I had there I was able to help some of my youth group members get some badly needed professional help, we had fun at Six Flags, and I was able to see some old friends. One of the kids from the first youth group I led was there as a sponsor - with her husband! - and she'd turned into an impressive woman. It was nice to see.

But the conference as a whole is practically an evil. The schedule is brutal: 13-15 solid hours of worship services, seminars, service projects, games and concerts, and then the kids go back to the excitement of being in a hotel without their parents, in rooms with just other teenagers, and with boys, or girls in the very next room probably not wearing any clothes at all! And this goes on for about 4 days, until Thursday night.

Thursday night. That's the big one, the service that everyone - except the kids, of course - knows is going to last and last and last. Everything that happens is designed to create an overpowering emotional environment. At NYC 03 they had a guy speak whose daughter was killed in the Columbine massacre. Apparently she had spoken of an early death for years and would regularly engage in erratic behavior: once she was driving on the interstate with a friend. She slammed on the brakes and swerved from the left lane all the way to the right shoulder, all without warning. She jumped out of the still running car and started dancing along the freeway, illuminated by the car's headlights. Her friend was stunned, and when she got back in the car, she looked over and said, "sometimes you just have to dance before the Lord, you know?"

After her death her family looked through her journal and found extensive writing about her expectation of an early death along with her apparent belief that she would become hugely famous and impact people all over the world. Her dad has spent the years since trying to make that come true. So that Thursday night, utterly exhausted, we spent a couple of hours listening to a man talk about and looking at pictures of a murdered teenage girl. We heard example after example of erratic behavior bordering on the destructive, held up to us as an example of extreme piety.

Of course, at the end of the service, there was the "altar call," which was an invitation for the kids to walk to base of the stage and publicly commit to be a Christian patterned after the mold of that dead girl. I felt ill.

I found out the next day that the leader of another district's group - a group of 400 kids - directed the students into a meeting room at their hotel that night, and started in on them again. He told them that they weren't going to go back to their rooms until there was a "breakthrough." It was horrible abuse, but par for the course. That guy is a successful youth pastor, always able to build a youth group into a large group, always able to get his quota of commitments, of kids going off to Christian colleges declaring their intentions to become missionaries or pastors.

All this is done to try and stem the tide of those who leave the Church. So many courses, books, seminars, conferences, degrees, camps, workshops, retreats, so much money and time and effort, when the answer to the problem is so simple, so obvious.

You see, the Barna Group dug down in their polls. They found that "non-Christians' biggest complaints about the faith are not immediately theological: Jesus and the Bible get relatively good marks (emphasis mine)."

The answer is simple and should be easy to implement: stop acting like assholes, and start acting like Jesus. Oh, and try to actually read the New Testament to find out how Jesus acted instead of relying on James Dobson or whoever to tell you. Show some concern for justice, show some compassion, and try to enjoy life. 'Cause the "damn them all to hell" and "grimace for Jesus" methods just aren't working out.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007
(11:52 PM) | Stephen:

-Bruce Springsteen's latest album, Magic, came out today. It is, of course, a great album. Everything Springsteen does is incredible, even the stuff you don't like. Here's what I really appreciate about Bruce: his songs have strong messages, but he doesn't beat you over the head with them. It's a rare talent, one I don't share of course, which may be why I admire it so much. For example, take a look at Your Own Worst Enemy:
You can't sleep at night
You can't dream your dream
Your fingerprints on file
Left clumsily at the scene

Your own worst enemy has come to town
Your own worst enemy has come to town

Yesterday the people were at ease
Baby slept in peace
You closed your eyes and saw her
You knew who you were

Now your own worst enemy has come to town
Your own worst enemy has come
Your world keeps turnin' 'round and 'round
But everything is upside down
Your own worst enemy has come to town

There's a face you know
Staring back from the shop window
The condition you're in
Now you just can't get out of this skin

The times they got too clear
So you removed all the mirrors
Once the family felt secure
Now no one's very sure

Your own worst enemy has come to town
Your own worst enemy has come
Everything is falling down
Your own worst enemy has come to town
Your own worst enemy has come
Everything is falling down
Your own worst enemy has come to town

Your flag it flew so high
It drifted into the sky
My song dealing with the same subject would go thusly:


That's why Bruce Springsteen is Bruce Springsteen, and I'm not.

-In other music news, Radiohead has a new album coming out on the 10th. The only way to get it is to go to their website and either order a CD - which won't come until December - or download it. Here's the thing, though: you decide how much to pay. It's a badly needed shot of whimsy in an industry that is, well, very industrial right now.

-In still more music news, I adore Kelly Clarkson. I don't generally go in for her type of music, but my daughter does, and Clarkson's songs are certainly better than pretty much anything else you can listen to in that genre. Plus, she refuses to lose weight to silence all the critics who continually call her fat. She's not fat, of course, she's beautiful. But that doesn't matter, because she wears clothes that actually come in a size. Also, she stood up to her label to release the album she wanted, not the one they wanted. Good stuff all around.

-Moving on to other things, let me be the latest person to say that when I ask a clerk, "How are you," I don't really care. Normally I'm the most empathetic person in the world. Anyone tears up in front of me, I start to cry. Normally, I really do care. But while I understand how work can be a pain, you are at least getting paid to deal with me. I'm asking how you are because our culture doesn't have very many greetings. So when you're scanning my groceries and we exchange pleasantries, you need to recognize that I'm not telling you how I didn't sleep last night because my son woke up a bunch, or that I accidentally missed a dose of my antidepressants, which means I just lost about 3 years of progress in that area, or that I have a raging sinus infection. No, I just say that I'm doing fine, and I expect the same from you. I don't care if you're tired. We're all tired. When I worked in retail, I didn't let on to my customers what was going on in my life.

-Yesterday at the end of dinner I wet my finger and started tracing it around the edge of my wine glass. It took me a while to get it right - I always forget to press hard enough - but after a few minutes I was able to produce a very clear, very loud tone. My son thought it was great and kept trying to find out where the sound was coming from. My daughter looked at me as if I were a wizard. It was cool.

(1:45 PM) | Stephen:
Recommended Reading

This from Glenn Greenwald is especially worth reading. Not every conservative, obviously, is like the ones he mentions. However, the people running this country, from the White House itself through the Pentagon, Republicans in Congress and throughout the Executive Branch, do think like this and are motivated by the psychological dysfunction Glenn describes.

Seriously, read it.

(1:10 PM) | Stephen:
Grasping At Straws

Just got this in from the Kansas Republican Party:

I haven't got the slightest idea what they're talking about. Oh, I know how the GOP loves to paint Democrats as out of control spenders - quick! Which party introduced us to deficit spending? Which party has overseen the largest increases in government size and spending over and over again? - but it's a sign of how bad things are for the GOP that all they have is tired, vague accusations.

It is interesting how this email doesn't just bring up the terror of taxing and spending, but how it focuses upon three particular Democrats: Kathleen Sebelius, Nancy Boyda and Nancy Pelosi.

Perhaps you can think of some characteristic they all share which other Democrats - like Dennis Moore from the 3rd district in Kansas - might not, and which would play into common prejudices.

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