Monday, October 31, 2005

Literary pretentions

The New Yorker details the curious and scandalous pre-history of "Scooter." Is this really who the xian right thinks it put in charge of the country? I mean, what is it with these conservative ultras and porn novels. And such awful writing. First Lynne Cheney and now Scooter.

And a little news of the weird from Texas: Waco pastor Kyle Lake killed, electrocuted in baptism accident
WACO, Texas (ABP) -- Kyle Lake, pastor of the innovative University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, was killed by electrocution Oct. 30 while performing a baptism during a worship service. Lake, whose age was not immediately known, had been pastor of the church for more than four years.

The congregation, made up mostly of Baylor University students, is best known as the home church of worship leader and songwriter David Crowder. Lake and a baptismal candidate reportedly were in the baptistry when the accident occurred, reportedly caused by a microphone. Lake was taken to a nearby hospital by paramedics. He was pronounced dead at 11:30 a.m., according to the church's website.

The baptismal candidate reportedly was not seriously injured...The Waco congregation, which attracts about 600 worshipers each week, is known not only for Crowder's music but for its emphasis on the arts and multimedia worship. A special service for prayer and counseling of UBC members was held at nearby First Baptist Church in Waco Sunday night, Oct. 30.

Toward Sharia

For all the right's howling about a clash of civilizations, a high noon showdown between "islamo-fascism" and the West, they are in practice pursuing a policy of ideological convergence on a number of fronts. The appointment of "Scalito" today to the supreme court is just the latest sign. Not only is he vehemently anti-abortion, but he apparently tends toward the view that wives are property of their husbands.
In his dissenting opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Alito concurred with the majority in supporting the restrictive abortion-related measures passed by the Pennsylvania legislature in the late 1980’s. Alito went further, however, saying the majority was wrong to strike down a requirement that women notify their spouses before having an abortion (via Billmon).
It is just a small slide from notification to permission.

The Larger Context

It is not just about Roe. The next step on the agenda is to roll back contraceptive rights.
Bush started his term by removing a budget provision that required some insurance companies serving federal employees to cover contraception. Then federal National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention removed fact sheets about sex education and the effectiveness of condoms from their websites. Bush went on to cut funds for family planning throughout his time in office while pouring money into "abstinence-only" education, which forbids frank discussion of birth control. For the past three years, Bush has withheld $34 million for international family planning from the United Nations Population Fund. Meanwhile, he is promising to increase abstinence funding, already at record levels, and to insist that nearly one-third of domestic funding for HIV/AIDS be spent on abstinence.
And in the recent battle over the previous nominee Miers, one of the right's main objections to her was that she had at one time said that she thought that Griswold v. Connecticut was rightly decided. This is important not only because Grizwold is the foundation of the right to privacy, but also because it guaranteed the right to marital contraception.

The Bush administration's policies concerning women's health issues in the international arena have led to some surprising alliances.
In a string of recent policy statements on international family planning, the Bush administration has sided with the Vatican, as well as "axis of evil" countries Iran and Iraq and others not known for their support of women's rights, including Libya, Sudan and Syria...(full report and related material)
The agenda could hardly be more radical.

Earlier: The End of Roe, Politicizing Pharmacies

UPDATE: Billmon now has a good detailed run down of just how bad Scalito might be. And NARAL has more.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The last snack


In the creationist world, in which dinosaurs co-habited with humans and the world is a mere 6,000 years old, such scences might not be as impossible as they appear.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The view from Europe

As we pass the 2,000th American tombstone, Steve Bell of the Guardian captures the concerns of the moment.

Another view from Europe: some patriotic photographs to celebrate the glorious triumph of American civilization (via the Defeatists). I think Eolo Perfido understands America pretty well.

And while we are on the topic of patriotism:
"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country." E.M. Forster
UPDATE 10/30: There is an interesting discussion of Eolo Perfido, patriotism, the evil French, the virtuous Americans and torture going on over at The Defeatists.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Funding attack novels

The LA Times recounts the curious story of how drug companies paid novelists to whip up a scare story about drug imports from Canada.
According to the proposal, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) would pay...a six-figure sum for the marketing and production of a written-to-order fictional thriller. The plotline was what Hollywood would term high-concept — a group of shadowy terrorists conspires to murder thousands of Americans by poisoning the medicine they're importing from Canada to beat U.S. drug prices. (Think "True Lies" meets the Physicians Desk Reference.)

If this scenario sounds familiar, it's because PhRMA has tried to scare state legislatures and Congress out of giving Americans access to cheap Canadian drugs by warning that terrorists might poison the imports...The authors labored on a tight 45-day deadline to produce the book, titled "The Karasik Conspiracy." Spivak says that a PhRMA marketing executive sedulously monitored the work by phone, e-mail and in person, often ordering changes in plot, characterization and tone.
Looks like Michael Crichton has spawned another new genre.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The new human rights

via Old American Century

Federal judge rules confession admissable despite defense claims that it was obtained though torture.

And while many other governments around the world practice torture, the United States has become “the only government in the world to claim a legal justification for mistreating prisoners during interrogation.” American exceptionalism indeed.

Cheney's Dungeons

"As for Mr. Cheney: He will be remembered as the vice president who campaigned for torture."

There were a couple of important attempts today to trace the policy and practice of torture further up the chain of command.

The Washington Post has a fiery editorial today titled Vice President for Torture, one of the first acknowledgements in the mainstream media that our vice president is in fact a monster. The editorial not only castigates Cheney for yesterday's demand to make the torture of captives the official policy of the US government, but holds him responsible for the disappearances, torture and murder that have already taken place.
VICE PRESIDENT Cheney is aggressively pursuing an initiative that may be unprecedented for an elected official of the executive branch: He is proposing that Congress legally authorize human rights abuses by Americans. "Cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of prisoners is banned by an international treaty negotiated by the Reagan administration and ratified by the United States. The State Department annually issues a report criticizing other governments for violating it. Now Mr. Cheney is asking Congress to approve legal language that would allow the CIA to commit such abuses against foreign prisoners it is holding abroad. In other words, this vice president has become an open advocate of torture.

His position is not just some abstract defense of presidential power. The CIA is holding an unknown number of prisoners in secret detention centers abroad. In violation of the Geneva Conventions, it has refused to register those detainees with the International Red Cross or to allow visits by its inspectors. Its prisoners have "disappeared," like the victims of some dictatorships. The Justice Department and the White House are known to have approved harsh interrogation techniques for some of these people, including "waterboarding," or simulated drowning; mock execution; and the deliberate withholding of pain medication. CIA personnel have been implicated in the deaths during interrogation of at least four Afghan and Iraqi detainees. Official investigations have indicated that some aberrant practices by Army personnel in Iraq originated with the CIA. Yet no CIA personnel have been held accountable for this record, and there has never been a public report on the agency's performance.

It's not surprising that Mr. Cheney would be at the forefront of an attempt to ratify and legalize this shameful record. The vice president has been a prime mover behind the Bush administration's decision to violate the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention Against Torture and to break with decades of past practice by the U.S. military. These decisions at the top have led to hundreds of documented cases of abuse, torture and homicide in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Cheney's counsel, David S. Addington, was reportedly one of the principal authors of a legal memo justifying the torture of suspects. This summer Mr. Cheney told several Republican senators that President Bush would veto the annual defense spending bill if it contained language prohibiting the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by any U.S. personnel.

The senators ignored Mr. Cheney's threats, and the amendment, sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), passed this month by a vote of 90 to 9. So now Mr. Cheney is trying to persuade members of a House-Senate conference committee to adopt language that would not just nullify the McCain amendment but would formally adopt cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as a legal instrument of U.S. policy. The Senate's earlier vote suggests that it will not allow such a betrayal of American values. As for Mr. Cheney: He will be remembered as the vice president who campaigned for torture.
And Democracy Now has an in-depth interview with Col. Janis Karpinski, the former head of Abu Gharib proson. She admits she broke the Geneva Conventions but says "blame goes all the way to the top."
...General Miller said ... they were being too nice to them. They were not being aggressive enough. And he used the example at Guantanamo Bay that the prisoners there, when they're brought in, that they're handled by two military policemen. They're escorted everywhere they go -- belly chains, leg irons, hand irons -- and he said, “You have to treat them like dogs.”

...the original memorandum directing interrogation -- harsher interrogation techniques and the departure from the Geneva Conventions starts at -- Alberto Gonzales was one of the people who made the recommendations to the President. I don't know if he talked about each detail of that departure or what that may imply, but I do know that the Secretary of Defense signed a very lengthy memorandum authorizing harsher techniques to be used in Afghanistan and specifically at Guantanamo Bay....
In response to a question from Amy Goodman about who should be held accountable for the torture, she said,
... those techniques migrated from Guantanamo Bay, with General Miller, to Iraq and were implemented at Abu Ghraib. So clearly, the Secretary of Defense; Secretary Cambone, his assistant who sent General Miller to Iraq with very specific instructions on how to work with the military intelligence people; General Fast, who was directing interrogation operations and giving instructions to Colonel Pappas on how to proceed and how to be more effective; General Sanchez, because this was his command, and he knew what General Fast was doing, and he knew what Colonel Pappas was doing...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Right to Torture

The Bush regime today made its assumption of a right to torture even more explicit. Earlier, disingenuous equivocating over the meaning of the word "torture" and implausible denials of its implementation had been at the center of White House strategy to institute a systematic policy of cruel and inhuman punishment for prisoners. It is merely abuse, not torture. Torture, what torture? Oh, it's just a few bad apples.

Today they go one step further.

In rejecting the McCain amendment to the budget bill, which would ban the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of any detainee held by the United States government, the White House has demanded that the CIA be exempt. The proposed exemption stipulates that the measure,
"shall not apply with respect to clandestine counterterrorism operations conducted abroad, with respect to terrorists who are not citizens of the United States, that are carried out by an element of the United States government other than the Department of Defense and are consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States and treaties to which the United States is a party, if the president determines that such operations are vital to the protection of the United States or its citizens from terrorist attack."
McCain, and presumably the rest of the Senate, which voted for his amendment 90-9, has rejected the CIA presidential torture exemption but it probably will not matter because of greater support for torture in the House and a White House veto threat.

Given the general expert consensus that torture is ineffectual at extracting useful information, and that it could endanger American troops, what is really behind the Bush administration's relentless insistence on its right to torture?

I think they are doing it for their image.

The real goal is to build up a reputation of terror for our own government. Following the advice of Machiavelli, they want people both abroad and at home to be afraid of them, and few things create fear as effectively as torture.

Earlier: Torture and the American Way, Bush's former personal physician comes out against torture and the Ayn Rand Institute's passionate advocacy of torture.

UPDATE: And for ironic contrast, in a speech today preparing the nation for more death to come, George III warned, "The terrorists are as brutal an enemy as we have ever faced, unconstrained by any notion of common humanity and by the rules of warfare..." Hmm. They sound pretty much like you, George.

Save the engdangered NW tree octopus!

Rare Photo of the Elusive Tree Octopus

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Pumpkins against Bush


UPDATE 10/25: a response from PETPU (People for the Ethical Treatment of Pumpkins)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

In the Twilight of the Real 2 (a continuing series)

Monkey god comic superhero
    While Bollywood stars often achieve a mythical status in film-crazy India, the star of India's first animated feature film is a genuine deity drawn from the Hindu pantheon.

    "Hanuman is like a super superhero. We have tried to go beyond Superman," director V.G. Samant told The Associated Press. "Which superhero can leap up and touch the sun or move mountains with one hand?"
New lawsuit fuels debate about Alaska priest 'dumping ground'
    The fourth lawsuit in less than two weeks accusing an Alaska-based Catholic priest of sexual abuse was filed Thursday, fueling a conviction among critics that Alaska was a dumping ground for problem clergy.

    The complaint alleges the Rev. James Laudwein molested a 14-year-old Western Alaska girl in 1980 when she visited the nearby Yupik Eskimo village of St. Marys. According to court documents, Laudwein agreed to hear the girl's confession, then took her to a dark room and said "her sins would be forgiven" if she touched his genitals.

    Laudwein is the latest of a dozen priests who served in Alaska and have been accused publicly of abusing a child or children in the past. Most of the abuse occurred in remote villages and most of the alleged victims were Alaska Natives — a common pattern over the decades, critics contend.

    "I absolutely believe that church officials intentionally sent abusive priests to minor communities, transient communities, where kids may be less apt to tell and have less faith in the justice system," said David Clohessy, national director of Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

    Rural Alaska was a prime go-to place to send abusive priests, given its isolation and cultural reverence for authority figures, such as elders and priests, said Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine priest and consultant for a Costa Mesa, Calif., law firm that has worked on more than 300 church abuse allegations nationwide, including Alaska.
Read General JC Christian's very helpful review of The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought. Pompous video here.

Bizzare delusions of persecution to be sure. But there is a deeper issue of "respect creep" here" such that "the request for minimal toleration turns into a demand for more substantial respect, such as fellow-feeling, or esteem, and finally deference and reverence," as I have discussed earlier.

The Vatican determines that ETs are likely to be christian.

And Brownie is still on FEMA's payroll.
    Brown is still on FEMA's payroll as a consultant, [FEMA spokeswoman Nicol] Andrews confirmed. He works from home, where he is "pulling all the documentation together" for the investigations into Katrina response, she said, and his original 30-day contract was recently extended for another 30 days.
Earlier.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Sycophant

The LA Times has a funny story on The Timeless Art of Flattery.

Move over Eddie Haskell. Harriet E. Miers could teach you a thing or two about sucking up. Papers released last week by the Texas state archives show a woman who admired the boss and wasn't afraid to show it, with puppy dog cards and flowery notes in her own hand, often added to official typed correspondence.

"You are the best Governor ever — deserving of great respect!" Miers wrote to George W. Bush in a belated card for his 51st birthday. (Which is why the puppy on the front of the card has such a hangdog look). At the bottom of the greeting card, she added, "At least for thirty days — you are not younger than me." In a flowery thank you card, she wrote, "Hopefully Jenna and Barbara recognize that their parents are 'cool' — as do the rest of us … All I heard is how great you and Laura are doing … Texas is blessed!"

Her strong words of praise did not end after her boss attained the White House (taking her with him.) This week, lawmakers released some of her recent speeches and other public remarks. As recently as June, she told White House interns what a fantastic editor the president is: "All those editing skills and you should think the president was a lawyer himself. He works so constantly." In July, she told a Washington law firm, "My admiration for the president's leadership and Mrs. Bush's leadership has been reaffirmed on virtually a daily basis."
All those editing skills? Really?

Shh! She's passing a note to the president

UPDATE 10/22: And for those with strong stomachs, the original Harriet and George letters are available for viewing at The Smoking Gun.

And One Good Move has a great video clip of a Rumsfeldian Bush responding to the questions about her response to questions on her questionaire.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Politicizing Pharmacies

City Pages does a nice job of showing how businesses are using the language of diversity and inclusiveness to disguise a right wing agenda. The case in point here is the policy of Target regarding refusal of a pharmacist to fill contraceptive prescriptions.

Here is the Target policy statement:
Like many other retailers, Target's policy ensures that a guest's prescription for emergency contraception is filled, whether at Target or at a different pharmacy [italics added] in a timely and respectful manner. This policy meets the health care needs of our guests while respecting the diversity of our team members.

Target places a very high priority on our role as a community pharmacy and our obligation to meet the needs of the patients we serve. Our guests deserve our best service, and our team members value working in an inclusive environment that respects their individuality.

You may have heard about an alleged incident at a Target store in Missouri. Please know that we have thoroughly researched the situation and determined that the organization has inaccurately portrayed the events that occurred. We are extremely disappointed by yesterday's Planned Parenthood protest at the Missouri store and the misinformation that is being perpetuated.
And the response:
Target's mastery of progressive-sounding rhetoric is impressive. Note the graceful invocation of buzzwords such as "diversity," "individuality," "respect," "inclusive," and--most important--"community." But whatever the "inaccuracies" of the Planned Parenthood account, it is also clear from the Target statement that the retail giant has bowed to the refusal clause movement.

With that in mind, there are more frank ways to express the company policy. Like this: "As a corporation, we have decided to let religious zealots on our payroll send all harlots/guests packing. If you insist on not being fruitful and multiplying, we will give you directions to a more accomodating pharmacist."
Americablog suggests some similar policies:
    So let's ask Target if they also support the following Target employees:

  • Check out clerks who verify how fat you are before selling you that package of potato chips?
  • Pharmacists who don't want to fill prescriptions for Jewish customers who killed Christ.
  • Pharmacists who don't want to help customers who worship a "Satanic counterfeit" (read: "The Pope," in fundie-speak).
  • Pharmacists who only dispense HIV medicine to "innocent victims" of AIDS.
  • Pharmacists who want proof that women seeking emergency contraception were really raped, and that they didn't "deserve it."
  • Pharmacists (or cashiers) who are Christian Scientists - can they refuse to sell any medicine, even aspirin, to anyone?
  • Pharmacists who won't sell birth control pills to unmarried women, condoms to unmarried men, or any birth control at all because God doesn't want people spilling their seed.
  • Can fundamentalist Christian employees refuse to interact with gay people in any way, shape or form since gays are sinners, abominations, biological errors, and very likely pedophiles?
See also Target Pharmacist Refuses to Fill Emergency Contraception Prescription

And Planned Parenthood's analysis of the Refusal Clause Movement.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The end of Roe

Today, we find out that, despite her earlier disingenuous denials, Miers does have a record on abortion rights. And the record leaves no serious room for doubt, despite the Derridian parsing of the evidence that the right has grown so fond of lately. Miers is an antichoice zealot. She may nonetheless remain anathema to some of the most fanatic elements on the right, those to the right of Pat Robertson and James Dobson, because she has not been loudly crowing her opposition to abortion from the rooftops lately. So it is possible that a "left"-right coalition could still sink her nomination. The best case scenario is that such a coalition is able to defeat the nomination on the basis of her obvious lack of qualifications, with or without a filibuster.

Unfortunately, the problem doesn't end there. With the extreme right, Bush's ever shrinking political base, now screaming for red meat, it is likely that his next appointee will be better qualified but even more openly anti-choice. I just don't think that he would risk alienating his base to cater to the will of the majority, whom he has little chance of winning over anyway. Alas, there is almost no way to stop him at this point. Even if the Democrats were able to muster the courage to block Miers, they clearly don't have the will to filibuster nominee after nominee. After all, several key Democrats, including minority leader Harry Reid, are not pro-choice. But at this point, that is what it would take to prevent the court from forming an anti-abortion majority and overturning Roe.

A crime against nature


Mount St. Helens open to bids
Budget officials hope commercial uses, such as helicopter tours, will make up for falling aid at the volcano

Tuesday, October 18, 2005
MICHAEL MILSTEIN

A visit to Mount St. Helens may soon offer more than a steaming volcano. Think commercial helicopter tours, snowmobile and mountain bike rentals, yurt camps, vacation cabins and mobile snack carts at scenic viewpoints.

The U.S. Forest Service is entertaining bids for those and other privately run operations at the national volcanic monument. The goal is twofold: Offer new recreation options and, officials hope, bring in enough money to make up for declining federal support.

Commercial operations at the 110,000-acre monument surrounding the volcano have mostly been limited to cafeterias and gift shops tucked into visitor centers and a few climbing guides.

Now, a prospectus issued by the Forest Service opens the door to the largely undeveloped monument set aside by Congress in 1982. It seeks private bids to run the government visitor centers, plus a range of possible new offerings, such as guided hikes for a fee, construction of tourist cabins and boat rentals on Coldwater Lake.

One of the possibilities would convert more than half the space devoted to explanatory displays and exhibits at Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center to commercial uses such as gift sales.

A goal is for private companies to pick up more of the tab for maintaining deteriorating buildings, said Steve Nelson, an outdoor recreation planner at the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which oversees the monument. The fees they pay the government also would go toward upkeep of the monument.

The situation reflects the dismal budget outlook at Mount St. Helens, a kind of financial orphan within the federal government, and an increasingly controversial push to substitute private enterprise for government agencies on public lands.

Years of budget shortfalls have left the monument with a maintenance backlog of about $13.4 million, according to a 2003 total. Managers can scarcely afford to fix leaky roofs, replace outdated exhibits and keep movies at visitor centers running.

Its annual funding is about half of what officials estimate they need to pay for a full range of services, from clean bathrooms to geological talks. Officials hope their embrace of the private sector will help bring in money in other ways.

"If you have someone else operating the facility, and if they're cleaning the toilet instead of the Forest Service cleaning the toilet, that's a reduced cost to the Forest Service," Nelson said.

But he said officials will not let private proposals push commercial development too far. "We're very conscious of all that, and we share that concern," he said.

The government is seeking bids on a series of permits for private companies to assume existing operations, such as visitor centers and restaurants, in different sections of the monument. The contracts may be worth millions -- gift and food sales at Coldwater Ridge brought in more than $2 million in the past three years.

Companies can propose taking over all or part of the visitor center operations, although Nelson said he expects the Forest Service to maintain some presence. The companies could charge their own fees in addition to fees charged by the government, he said.

As part of the permits to take effect next fall, companies also can propose commercial activities not offered now.

Officials said anything would be considered as long as it matches the goals of the monument. Congress directed the Forest Service to protect the volcanic landscape after Mount St. Helens' deadly 1980 explosion and provide for public recreation.

Among the private activities the Forest Service suggests may be reasonable:

Helicopter tours taking off from a helipad near the Johnston Ridge Observatory, the visitor center closest to the volcano's crater, or parking lots at Coldwater Ridge.

Overnight yurt camps or rustic cabins at places such as Coldwater Ridge, the Marble Mountain SnoPark or Bear Meadow north of the volcano.

Mobile snack and gift stands that could be set up at scenic overlooks, picnic areas, trailheads or other popular sites such as Windy Ridge, a major viewpoint.

Winter snowmobile rentals or snowcoach tours on existing roads. Private snowmobile use is currently allowed in parts of the monument.

Fee parking for recreational vehicles in parking lots at Coldwater Ridge, Johnston Ridge and other sites.

Conversion of the Forest Service's Pine Creek Work Center near Cougar Reservoir south of the volcano, now used to house government employees, to a private RV park, campground or resort.

Visitors often ask for options to spend the night in the monument, Nelson said. "People say, 'There's no place for me to stay when I go up there,' " he said.

Most national monuments are managed by the National Park Service, with their own dedicated budgets provided by Congress. Mount St. Helens is one of only a few monuments overseen by the Forest Service, with a budget that depends on money trickling down through the agency from Washington, D.C.

Scott Silver of Wild Wilderness, a Bend group opposed to privatization of public lands, said Congress guaranteed the monument's financial failure by constructing expensive visitor centers with no mechanism to pay for them over the long term.

"The next solution is to call in the private sector," he said. The new prospectus for commercial activities allows almost "any possibility."

"This is a megatransformation," he said. "I just hope people don't allow the slip to take place without realizing what is changing."
More discussion of this atrocity.

Catalogue of crimes

A lot of people are getting worked up about the possibility of major indictments in the ongoing "Treasongate" scandal. And there are indeed a lot of highly entertaining rumors floating about. I too happily celebrate whenever any of Bush's retainers is charged with any crime. But it is important to keep things in proper perspective. No matter how serious you consider the outing of a covert CIA agent for partisan advantage, the Bush regime's true crimes lie elsewhere. I have constructed a partial catalogue:
  • Carrying out mass murder in their insane imperial war in Iraq
  • Routinizing torture
  • Increasing the danger of future terrorist attacks
  • Moving the US toward theocracy
  • Diverting untold money and resources from the desparately poor to the idle rich
  • Breeding corruption at unprecedented levels both at home and in Iraq
  • Selling out the environment and future generations for a quick buck
  • Undermining science, expertise and the reality based approach to the world
  • Packing the judiciary with religious fanatics and corporate stooges
  • Making international cooperation on pressing issues of global concern vastly more difficult
  • Fanning the flames of homophobia
  • Giving away irreplacable public lands and nature preserves for private profit and destruction
This is what they should be on trial for, not the Plame affair.

The problem here is similar to attempts to assess the crimes of the Nixon administration. Everyone remembers Watergate. But this was a truly minor crime in the pantheon of atrocities Nixon fathered. The carpet bombing of North Vietnam and the secret invasion of Cambodia, with casualties in the millions, are just two examples. Watergate is utterly trivial by comparison. So too with Reagan. Setting aside those who buy into the absurd hagiography that followed his death, most journalists point to the Iran Contra scandal as the low point of the Reagan administration. Again this treachery is a minor crime compared to conducting an illegal war in Nicaragua or supporting death squads and mass murder in El Salvador and genocide in Guatemala.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Old School

Really old school.

First day of school for aspiring Vatican exorcists
By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) - It was the first day of school, so some students were understandably nervous. But then again, they were not taking just any course, but one run by a Vatican university to teach aspiring demonologists and exorcists.

"There is no doubt that the devil is intervening more in the life of man these days," Father Paolo Scarafoni told the students, most of them priests who want to learn how to tackle the demon if they should ever encounter him.

"Not all of you will become exorcists but it is indispensable that every priest knows how to discern between demonic possession and psychological problems," he said.

The four-month course, called "Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation," is being offered for the second year by Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University on Rome's outskirts.

The about 120 students from around the world will hear lectures on topics such as the pastoral, spiritual, theological, liturgical, medical, legal and criminological aspects of Satanism and demonic possession.

One planned lecture is called: "Problems related to exorcism and correlated issues."

One priest, who asked not to be identified, said he decided to take the course after a "very unsettling experience" while hearing the confession of one young member of his parish.

"Her voice changed, her face was transformed and she started speaking in a language that she did not know," he said. "I've met people who are suffering from this problem and it is not as rare as we might imagine."

So, will he be ready to wrestle with demons of the kind who may have possessed his parishioner in the confessional box?

"If, after this course, my superiors decide that it will be useful for me to become an exorcist, I will do it," he said.

...In 1999, the Vatican updated its ritual for exorcism.

It starts with prayers, a blessing and sprinkling of holy water, the laying on of hands on the possessed, and the making of the sign of the cross.

The formula begins: "I order you, Satan..." It goes on to denounce Satan as "prince of this world" and "enemy of human salvation." It ends: "Go back, Satan."
The power of Satan compels you.

And in Protestantworld, the Rev. Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, argues that exorcism is necessary to "release" a person from the homosexual lifestyle.
    I've talked to many psychotherapists who are Christian, and they say once you enter into that lifestyle -- Now, you may have gender identity conflict -- that's the medical-scientific name for homosexuality -- where you're attracted to the same-sex person, but once you enter into the culture, into the music, into the gay bars, into the gay literature, into the gay theater, and all of that kind of -- and gay travel -- once you immerse yourself into that, you have really put yourself into a groove that only a sort of an exorcism can release you from.

Surf's up

On the lighter side.

Anyone can find a job here.

How about a litmus test?

Or smurfapocalypse now?

Here are some wartime ABC's.

And looking on the bright side of Katrina.

What happens when you google "failure."

And the Flat Earth theory reconsidered.

What Bush is up to with the Miers Nomination

William Edmunson makes the most well articulated and comprehensive case against the Miers nomination I have seen so far. One of the key issues he raises is the way in which it attempts to get around the separation of powers.
    A far more serious objection to the Miers nomination is that she is not merely a crony of the President, but a person who has been for so long in the direct, personal service of George Bush that her appointment would tend to undermine the separation of powers. As Randy Barnett (Law, Boston U.) has reminded readers of the Wall Street Journal, Hamilton explained in Federalist No. 76 the purpose of the role the Senate was given in high appointments:

    It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. . . . He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.

    Barnett goes on to say: “Apart from nominating his brother or former business partner, it is hard to see how the president could have selected someone who fit Hamilton’s description any more closely. Imagine the reaction of Republicans if President Clinton had nominated Deputy White House Counsel Cheryl Mills, who had ably represented him during his impeachment proceedings, to the Supreme Court. How about Bernie Nussbaum?”

    The separation-of-powers worry is far from merely valetudinarian. As Anthony Lewis reports in the New York Times, Miers has left no public trace of her views on the extent of presidential prerogatives in the name of “war on terror”–-such as torture and warrantless detention of citizens. Lewis notes, however, that torture-apologist John Yoo (UC-Berkeley, Law) wrote in the Washington Post, soon after her nomination (“Opportunity Squandered”), that Miers was “one of the key supporters in the Bush administration of staying the course on legal issues arising from the war on terrorism.” Yoo ominously added that “it is hard to see how the administration could reveal Miers’s position on these issues, given its tough, five-year struggle to preserve the confidentiality of executive-branch deliberations.”

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Rapture in Dallas

(via Boing Boing)

If only...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Torture and the American Way


On October 5 the Senate voted 90-9 to add John McCain's anti-torture amendment to the defense appropriations bill. The list of senators who voted against it, and for torture can be found here. Bush has threatened to veto the bill and it might not come out of the House-Senate conference committee intact, but still, it is a beginning. It is at least an acknowledgement that torture is wrong and that is a starting point for the discussion that needs to begin. It is a welcome change from the horrifyingly brazen attempts to normalize torture by unprincipled lawyers like Alan Dershowitz and Alberto Gonzales, using ridiculous hypothetical ticking time bomb scenarios drawn from television fantasty.

Ever since 9/11, torture has been a hot topic of discussion in the US. After Abu Ghraib, it could hardly be ignored. But the crucial role of torture as an instrument of US foreign policy has a much longer history that tends to get forgotten in the face of the horrifying images from Abu Ghraib. The reality is the US has consistently backed torture for a very long time, under Democrats as well as Republicans. See for example Alfred W. McCoy's essay The Hidden History of CIA Torture: America's Road to Abu Ghraib.
    Looked at historically, the Abu Ghraib scandal is the product of a deeply contradictory U.S. policy toward torture since the start of the Cold War. At the UN and other international forums, Washington has long officially opposed torture and advocated a universal standard for human rights. Simultaneously, the CIA has propagated ingenious new torture techniques in contravention of these same international conventions, a number of which the U.S has ratified. In battling communism, the United States adopted some of its most objectionable practices -- subversion abroad, repression at home, and most significantly torture itself.
Jennifer Harbury has good reason to know this history, as her husband was tortured to death in Guatemala with the knowedge and complicity of the US government. Now she has a new book out on the history of torture in US foreign policy Truth, Torture, and the American Way: The History and Consequences of U.S. Involvement in Torture. She was interviewed at length on Democracy Now this week. The program also included a report on a mock trial of the US in Washington D.C. which featured all too real testimony from people, like Sister Dianna Otriz, who had been tortured by US trained and supervised clients. The trial was organized by the Stop Torture Permanently (STOP) Campaign.

For another brief account of history of US complicity in torture see Edward Herman's The United States as Torture Central.

The real change with the Bush regime is that we have moved from a policy of implausible denial to a policy of justification, from a preference for outsourcing to a willingness to cut out the middleman.

On a related topic, the London Review of Books has an extended review of Andrew Bacevich's The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War.

And from today's Sunday Herald:
    The argument that this is a necessary evil in a war against Islamic terrorists who want to blow you and your children to bits does not bear scrutiny. When the US arrests these people, it has no proof that they are terrorists. It is working on suspicion. No court will ever hear the accusations or test the evidence. These people are being “disappeared” by Western democracies.

    To make the matter even more Orwellian, many of those taken captive come under suspicion only because some poor soul in a Middle-Eastern torture chamber named them to stop the beating they were enduring.

    What we are engaged in is a 21st-century version of the mediaeval witch-hunt. When a suspected witch was being tortured, she’d be asked who her co-conspirators were. Of course, there were no co-conspirators, but just to stop the torture, the woman would have named someone, anyone ...

Harold Pinter


Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize in Literature earlier this week. Although I am not particularly impressed with the Nobel committee, which has demonstrated some remarkably bad judgment at times, Pinter deserves honor not only as a writer but as a human being. There is a good collection of his poetry and some stuff about his plays up at his website. Here is a sample of his poetry.
    God Bless America

    Here they go again,
    The Yanks in their armoured parade
    Chanting their ballads of joy
    As they gallop across the big world
    Praising America's God.

    The gutters are clogged with the dead
    The ones who couldn't join in
    The others refusing to sing
    The ones who are losing their voice
    The ones who've forgotten the tune.

    The riders have whips which cut.
    Your head rolls onto the sand
    Your head is a pool in the dirt
    Your head is a stain in the dust
    Your eyes have gone out and your nose
    Sniffs only the pong of the dead
    And all the dead air is alive
    With the smell of America's God.

    Harold Pinter January 2003
And for more about him as a person, John Pilger has a good tribute.
    ...I first met Harold when he was supporting the popularly elected government in Nicaragua in the 1980s. I had reported from Nicarugua, and made a film about the remarkable gains of the Sandinistas despite Ronald Reagan's attempts to crush them by illegally sending CIA-trained proxies across the border from Honduras to slit the throats of midwives and other anti-Americans. US foreign policy is, of course, even more rapacious under Bush: the smaller the country, the greater the threat. By that, I mean the threat of a good example to other small countries which might seek to alleviate the abject poverty of their people by rejecting American dominance.

    What struck me about Harold's involvement was his understanding of this truth, which is generally a taboo in the United States and Britain, and the eloquent 'to hell with that' response in everything he said and wrote. Almost single-handedly, it seemed, he restored 'imperialism' to the political lexicon. Remember that no commentator used this word any more; to utter it in a public place was like shouting 'fuck' in a covent'. Now you can shout it everywhere and people will nod their agreement; the invasion in Iraq put paid to doubts, and Harold Pinter was one of the first to alert us. He described, correctly, the crushing of Nicaragua, the blockage against Cuba, the wholesale killing of Iraqi and Yugoslav civilians as imperialist atrocities.

    In illustrating the American crime committed against Nicaragua, when the United States Government dismissed an International Court of Justice ruling that it stop breaking the law in its murderous attacks, Pinter recalled that Washington seldom respected international law; and he was right. He wrote, 'In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson said to the Greek Ambassador to the US, "Fuck your Parliament and your constitution. American is an elephant, Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If these two fellows keep itching the elephant, they may just get whacked by the elephant's trunk, whacked for good..." He meant that. Two years later, the Colonels took over and the Greek people spent seven years in hell. You have to hand it to Johnson. He sometimes told the truth however brutal. Reagan tells lies. His celebrated description of Nicuragua as a "totalitarian dungeon" was a lie from every conceivable angle. It was an assertion unsupported by facts; it had no basis in reality. But it's a good vivid, resonant phrase which persuaded the unthinking...'

    In his play 'Ashes to Ashes', Pinter uses the images of Nazism and the Holocaust, while interpreting them as a warning against similar ' repressive, cynical and indifferent acts of murder' by the clients of arms-dealing imperialist states such as the United States and Britain. 'The word democracy begins to stink', he said. 'So in Ashes to Ashes, I'm not simply talking about the Nazis; I'm talking about us, and our conception of our past and our history, and what it does to us in the present.'
And here is a short speech Pinter gave earlier this year: Torture and Misery in the Name of Freedom.

Steve Bell of the Guardian reinterprets Pinter's winning of the Nobel Prize from the point of view of Mr. Bush and Mr Blair:

Friday, October 14, 2005

Our Radiant Future

More like this (via Boing Boing)


What we might have to look forward to in 2008:

Kansas Senator Sam Brownback is thinking about running for President in 2008.
    Brownback, an evangelical-Protestant-turned-Roman Catholic from Kansas who attends services in the two faiths each Sunday and once washed an aide's feet in a gesture of humble devotion, is contemplating a big bet on a resurgence in traditionalist faith...He [is currently attempting] to assess the potential for a Republican presidential primary campaign centered on opposition to abortion and support for God in public life...The premise of his ambitions is that the country has "re-engaged with its faith" in a historic revival..."The last time you had this many people of faith coming into the public square and the body politic" was 100 years ago, in the era of the populist champion William Jennings Bryan" Mr. Brownback [remarked]...He has championed bans on human cloning and embryonic stem cell research, as well as a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. At the Republican National Convention in 2004 he rallied a closed-door meeting of Christian conservatives with calls for a "cultural war."
Or you could go visit another creationist museum which is being built in Kentucky.

Or you just might be able to put an mp3 player in your new breast implant (via feministing).

Update 9/15: Looking toward a cleaner future. The video demo boarders on the surreal (via Sonya).

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Voices of the secular opposition

Kurt Anderson has a good piece in the New Yorker highlighting the importance of the Dover evolution trial and the resurgent creationist/intelligent design movement. He argues that this has the potential to become the tipping point in the transformation of America into a theocracy.

So far, the trial has gone extremely well for secularists. The discovery phase of preparation for the trial unearthed a smoking gun. Early drafts of the intelligent design textbook Of Pandas and People show the shift in language from creationism to intelligent design. The change of language can be further tied to the date of a court decision that the creationists lost. So the claim that intelligent design is independent of creationism is refuted. Creationism is in fact the rhetorical ancestor of intelligent design.

If the case is decided on the merits, we have already won. Still, John E. Jones III, the judge hearing Kitzmiller v. Dover, is an active Republican whom Bush appointed. And even a victory in this case is not the end.
    Whatever his verdict, the losing side will undoubtedly appeal the case up to the Supreme Court. The last time the court ruled on creationism, overturning a Louisiana education law in 1987, the vote was 7-2, with Justices Scalia and Rehnquist dissenting. That court didn’t include Clarence Thomas—who in last year’s “one nation under God” case made the Talibanic argument that the First Amendment’s “establishment clause” applies only to the federal government and was never meant to prohibit individual states from adopting official religions. But even in the unlikely event that both Chief Justice Roberts (an observant Catholic) and, say, Harriet Miers (a born-again Evangelical) voted with Scalia and Thomas to allow intelligent-design provisos in science classes, the court would presumably still be 5-4 in favor of keeping church and state separated.

    So we are probably safe for now—as a jurisprudential matter. But politically, secularism will lose no matter what. If it’s decided correctly, Kitzmiller v. Dover can become a new Roe v. Wade, a landmark judicial bone in the craw of Christian America, a fresh means for right-wingers to depict their children as victims of godless liberals. At least on Roe v. Wade, a big majority of Americans have consistently supported the decision. As far as teaching straight science goes, however, the big majority is against us. According to a new Pew Research Center poll, 64 percent of Americans are in favor of having creationism and evolution taught in school—and it seems most of those would actually prefer to replace evolution altogether with scriptural teaching.
There is also a quite interesting paper Religion and Respect by Ophelia Benson which trys to think through what ways we should be expected to respect beliefs we do not share (via Pharyngula).
    [W]hy should I “respect” belief systems that I do not share? I would not be expected to respect the beliefs of flat earthers or those of the people who believed that the Hale-Bopp comet was a recycling facility for dead Californians, and killed themselves in order to join it...I lament and regret the holding of such beliefs, and I deplore the features of humanity that make them so common. I wish people were different. And ...,I also wish people were not keen on separating themselves from others, keen on difference and symbols of tribalism. I don’t warm to badges of allegiance, flags, ostentatious signs of apartness, because I do not think they are good for the world.
The problem is that there is a kind of slippery slope, or as Benson puts it "respect creep."
    ‘Respect’, of course is a tricky term. I may respect your gardening by just letting you get on with it. Or, I may respect it by admiring it and regarding it as a superior way to garden. The word seems to span a spectrum from simply not interfering, passing by on the other side, through admiration, right up to reverence and deference. This makes it uniquely well-placed for ideological purposes. People may start out by insisting on respect in the minimal sense, and in a generally liberal world they may not find it too difficult to obtain it. But then what we might call respect creep sets in, where the request for minimal toleration turns into a demand for more substantial respect, such as fellow-feeling, or esteem, and finally deference and reverence. In the limit, unless you let me take over your mind and your life, you are not showing proper respect for my religious or ideological convictions.
The Dobson quote I put up yesterday is an illlustrates this point exactly.
    ''There is no question that the beliefs of conservative Christians are under attack," Dobson told the Globe. ''Any conviction founded on religious faith is vilified; any stand on absolute truth is denigrated as old-fashioned at best, or reminiscent of the Taliban at worst; any view out of lockstep with the left's agenda is met with anything but tolerance and acceptance."
His delusions of persecution are derived from the failure to gain respect in the very strongest form. He is complaining about the lack of reverence and deference for his beliefs, for the disrepect of others who willfully refuse to let his values rule their lives.

Security Training for Tots


Toys begin to reflect the new realities of the surveillance state. A Playmobile security checkpoint (via Atrios).

Papieren, bitte!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Omnipresence

Light or Darkness?
flip the switch

God is just friggin' everywhere in the press lately. Now Miers' benighted religious views are touted as a substitute for actual qualifications. More here.

The Atlantic has an extended profile of theocrat judge and "religious conservative in excelsis" Roy Moore, who is running for governor of Alabama. And in an article about James Dobson's enormous clout in Washington, the head of Focus on the Family complains about the marginalization and persecution of Christians in America.
    ''There is no question that the beliefs of conservative Christians are under attack," Dobson told the Globe. ''Any conviction founded on religious faith is vilified; any stand on absolute truth is denigrated as old-fashioned at best, or reminiscent of the Taliban at worst; any view out of lockstep with the left's agenda is met with anything but tolerance and acceptance."
Given the utter lack of power on the left, this can be taken as still another indication of the maximal nature of the Christian right's ambitions. After all, the Nazis continued to complain about the all powerful Jews right up through the holocaust.

But some people continue to fight against Bush even from beyond the grave.

Check out this obituary of a Wisconsin man:
    Theodore Roosevelt Heller, 88, loving father of Charles (Joann) Heller; dear brother of the late Sonya (the late Jack) Steinberg. Ted was discharged from the U.S. Army during WWII due to service related injuries, and then forced his way back into the Illinois National Guard insisting no one tells him when to serve his country. Graveside services Tuesday 11 a.m. at Waldheim Jewish Cemetery (Ziditshover section), 1700 S. Harlem Ave., Chicago. In lieu of flowers, please send acerbic letters to Republicans.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Chess is just so hot


Wow. There is an interview in the Village Voice with two time US Women's Champion Jennifer Shahade about her new book, Chess Bitch (via feministing). The cover and the interview in the Voice seem to be trying hard to make chess look all punk and sexy. Who knew? My tournament experience was more with guys who wore pith helmets and spoke in faux-Elizabethian English. There was definitely a lot of twitching going on.

It reminds me though of Pat Robertson's ill fated attempt to use chess as an argument for patriarchy.
    The key in terms of mental ability is chess. There's never been a woman Grandmaster chess player. Once you get one, then I'll buy some of the feminism...
There were already two women Grandmasters at that time, both from Georgia. Since Robertson's gaffe, at least three more women became Grandmasters. I'm not holding my breath about his conversion to feminism though. More quotes here

Rumors, Gossip and Lies

Supreme Court nominee Meyers belongs to a creationist church. Will anyone ask her what her view is? The new reports on her unctuous flattery of her employer are making me ill. She sounds like a groupie. And people are protesting the pathetic military PR efforts at Chuck E. Cheese.

Earlier: Toy Soldiers.

The head of the Oregon Christian Coalition is--gasp--a child molester. Meanwhile, LA reveals decades of abuse by priests: 126 clergy, 75 years.

and finally
    God's Phone Logs Prove He Did Not Speak To Bush
    ‘Out of the Loop’ On Iraq, Almighty Says

    ...In what some saw as a particularly sarcastic rebuke of the president, God offered this possible explanation of Mr. Bush’s claim that He had told him to invade Iraq: “Maybe he has me confused with Dick Cheney.”

Pirates of Doom


The New York Times has put a little smiley face on global warming. After a few obligatory remarks about how yes, it is a bit tragic that the ice caps are melting and the polar bears will die, the article goes into a gushing account of all the opportunites for entrepreneurship that are emerging from the disappearing ice.
    It seems harsh to say that bad news for polar bears is good for Pat Broe. Mr. Broe, a Denver entrepreneur, is no more to blame than anyone else for a meltdown at the top of the world that threatens Arctic mammals and ancient traditions and lends credibility to dark visions of global warming.
Dark visions? I mean how bad could things get? Mike Davis paints a pretty grim picture:
    ...we are living on the climate equivalent of a runaway train that is picking up speed as it passes the stations marked "Altithermal" and "Eemian." "Outside the envelope," moreover, means that we are not only leaving behind the serendipitous climatic parameters of the Holocene -- the last 10,000 years of mild, warm weather that have favored the explosive growth of agriculture and urban civilization -- but also those of the late Pleistocene that fostered the evolution of Homo sapiens in eastern Africa...

    All of this, of course, is a perverse tribute to industrial capitalism and extractive imperialism as geological forces so formidable that they have succeeded in scarcely more than two centuries -- indeed, mainly in the last fifty years -- in knocking the earth off its climatic pedestal and propelling it toward the nonlinear unknown.

    The demon in me wants to say: Party and make merry. No need now to worry about Kyoto, recycling your aluminum cans, or using too much toilet paper, when, soon enough, we'll be debating how many hunter-gathers can survive in the scorching deserts of New England or the tropical forests of the Yukon.

    The good parent in me, however, screams: How is it possible that we can now contemplate with scientific seriousness whether our children's children will themselves have children? Let Exxon answer that in one of their sanctimonious ads.
But never mind all that, what was it the Times was saying about opportunites for profit.
    Still, the newest study of the Arctic ice cap - finding that it faded this summer to its smallest size ever recorded - is beginning to make Mr. Broe look like a visionary for buying this derelict Hudson Bay port from the Canadian government in 1997. Especially at the price he paid: about $7.

    By Mr. Broe's calculations, Churchill could bring in as much as $100 million a year as a port on Arctic shipping lanes shorter by thousands of miles than routes to the south, and traffic would only increase as the retreat of ice in the region clears the way for a longer shipping season.

    With major companies and nations large and small adopting similar logic, the Arctic is undergoing nothing less than a great rush for virgin territory and natural resources worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
The article then goes on to talk about the strategic importance of the resources at stake and US strategy for domination in the region.
    In the days of empire, Rudyard Kipling called jockeying among world powers in Central Asia the Great Game. Christopher Weafer, an energy analyst with Alfa Bank in Moscow, says this new Arctic rush is "the Great Game in a cold climate."
The authors warn that the US has not been sufficently vigilant in pursuing its national intersests in the face of this tragedy unprecedented opportunity.
    Treaty or no, territorial disputes ultimately imply questions about a country's ability to defend its interests. Here, too, the United States has shown less urgency while Canada has acted more aggressively to ensure sovereignty over a fast-changing domain it had long neglected.
But the tone and content here are more reminicent of Kubrick than Kipling.
    General Turgidson:

    Yeah. I think it would be extremely naive of us, Mr. President, to imagine that these new developments are going to cause any change in Soviet expansionist policy. I mean, we must be... increasingly on the alert to prevent them from taking over other mineshaft space, in order to breed more prodigiously than we do, thus, knocking us out in superior numbers when we emerge! Mr. President, we must not allow... a mine shaft gap!
---
There is some actual science reporting over at the BBC: Crichton's conspiracy theory.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Philosophy in Action

from the Action Philosopers comic series.

And then there is the Michel Foucault action figure. Or try the lego version.

Pandering

"liberals espouse views diverging not only from those of other Democrats, but from Americans as a whole."--Galston and Kamarck

The wankers attached to the Democratic Leadership Council have come out with yet another strategic study arguing that the Democratic party must continue to move farther to the right. Normally, I wouldn't pay much attention to what they had to say except for the fact that a) one of the authors, William Galston, was a professor I studied under and used to respect and b) they actually admit that they don't consider the left to be real Americans.
    In one of their more potentially controversial findings, the authors argue that the rising numbers and influence of well-educated, socially liberal voters in the Democratic Party are pulling the party further from most Americans.

    On defense and social issues, "liberals espouse views diverging not only from those of other Democrats, but from Americans as a whole. To the extent that liberals now constitute both the largest bloc within the Democratic coalition and the public face of the party, Democratic candidates for national office will be running uphill."
Where to start? Even though they admit that "liberals" now constitute the largest voting bloc in the Democratic party, they argue that their views should be unrepresented. This follows from the fact that they are not part of America as a whole. What are they then, French? Further, there is no argument for what is right or what is ethically defensible here. The goal is simply to pander to the base views of the majority in an effort to gain power. And for what? For the slightest of differences in policy represented by a coterie of politicians who have no real value commitments but move with the winds of political opinion polls, and always to the right.

And they seem to think that the reason Kerry lost was that he was too liberal. Perhaps, but couldn't it also be that he was such a wanker with no clear values or policies who couldn't even get up the courage to oppose the war, campaigning instead on an ever more ridiculous patriotic posturing.

Now far be it from me to argue that the American people are not by and large consumerist drones, raving fundamentalist lunatics, smug jingoistic know nothings, and devotees of the most savage dog eat dog capitalism. But even the slow witted and ethically challenged American majority has gotten a little sick and tired of the Republican party's imperial wars and a bit disgusted with the Republican invasion of their privacy.

The first course I took with Galston was titled Ethics and Politics. We read Plato's Gorgias, which is in large part a criticism of orators who pander to the public, ignoring what is good or just. Here is a little summary from Wikipedia:

    It is in this dialogue that Plato offers one of the most famous critiques of rhetoric, calling it a "ghost or counterfeit of a part of politics" and a form of "cookery." In labeling rhetoric a form of cookery, Plato draws an analogy between care for the human body and the management of politics in a society. Just as a doctor uses medicine to heal and protect the body, philosophers can utilize dialectical reasoning to arrive at just decisions that benefit the entire polis. Like a tasty but unhealthy dish, rhetoric delights the common people (or "demos") into pursuing short-term desires at the expense of long-term justice.
I think professor Galston needs to revisit his own damn class.

Unraveling Intelligent Design

The Barbara Forrest testimony on the history of the intelligent design movement is tanamount to a complete refutation of its scientific pretentions. The National Center for Science Education has been providing superb coverage of the Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District trial and has up complete transcipts as well as podcasts summarizing and analyzing Forrest's testimony. The second podcast reviews the most damning evidence.

Friday, October 07, 2005

What's the matter with Starbucks


Les Amis was a nice little cafe in Austin that I used to hang out at for years. A unique center of counterculture bulldozed for another generic Starbucks. Now a film is coming out about what it used to be and about the cultural costs of the cancerous growth of the McStarbucks empire.
    Viva Les Amis looks at one local café as an example of a national trend: The loss of the mom and pop shop. The film explores the 27 year history of Les Amis Café – a sidewalk café that served almost three decades of eclectic customers and staff. Through the eyes of Newman Stribling, once manager of Les Amis Café, now cab driver, the film delves into the long history of Les Amis, and reveals the present: Les Amis Café replaced by a Starbucks.

    The audience travels with Newman in his yellow cab through the streets of Austin, Texas. He takes us past construction sites, shows us places that used to be, and his cab provides an interview space for passengers picked up on the way. Newman struggles with how to represent what is gone. Testimony of ex- customers and staff, black and white photographs, and VHS footage of the café combine to provide a sense of Les Amis Café. The clientele included students, artists, musicians, and in some cases lost souls.

    The film also looks at Les Amis Café and Austin by decade. During the 1970’s, a counterculture of hippies, musicians, mimes, and protesters flocked to the café. In the 1980’s, punk rock dominated the landscape. Les Amis held an occasional punk rock show, and countless customers watched skateboarders whiz by on the street. In the 1990’s, big business, hi-tech companies, and a rapidly growing population changed the face of Austin. As a city grows, what is lost? The filmmaker goes to the site of what once was Les Amis Café and interviews several employees of Starbucks. The films shows the contrast of then and now, of local versus corporate establishments. Viva Les Amis explores how a local place contributes to the culture and identity of a city, and mourns the loss of locally owned businesses like Les Amis Café.
A review from the Austin Chronicle.

And his blood shall flow like wine

via Jesus of the Week

Desperate ... even in the heart of Texas

A New York Times story on military recruitment in "Military City USA," aka San Antonio, Texas notes,
    "Nationwide, every one of the Army's 41 recruiting battalions failed to meet its recruiting goal in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, falling 7,000 soldiers short of the goal needed to refill the ranks, according to Army figures. Not since 1979 has the Army missed its annual quota by so many recruits. And yet San Antonio's recruiters, covering the city of 1.2 million people as well as the area stretching north to Austin and south to the Mexican border, ranked first among battalions by signing up 2,118 people for active duty, 86 percent of its goal.

    Only Oklahoma City, which followed with 78 percent, and St. Louis, with 72 percent, came close, according to the Army figures."
However, the headline for his amazing failure--they can't even find enough recruits in San Antonio, Texas--is "San Antonio Proudly Lines Up Behind the Military Recruiter," patriotically disguising the real meaning of the facts it reports.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

God told me to


Or as Bad Religion put it "The Voice of God is Government." Both the Guardian and the Independent and many other leading papers around the world have front page stories today, based on an upcoming BBC documentary, about how the voices in his head ordered Bush to invade Iraq. Not much in the American press on this though. From the account in the Independent:
    President George Bush has claimed God told him to invade Iraq and attack Osama bin Laden's stronghold of Afghanistan as part of a divine mission to bring peace to the Middle East, security for Israel, and a state for the Palestinians.

    The President made the assertion during his first meeting with Palestinian leaders in June 2003, according to a BBC series which will be broadcast this month...

    In the programme Elusive Peace: Israel and the Arabs, which starts on Monday, the former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath says Mr Bush told him and Mahmoud Abbas, former prime minister and now Palestinian President: "I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,' and I did."

    ...The same sense of mission permeated his speech at the National Endowment of Democracy yesterday. Its main news was Mr Bush's claim that Western security services had thwarted 10 planned attacks by al-Qa'ida since 11 September 2001, three of them against mainland US.

    More striking though was his unrelenting portrayal of radical Islam as a global menace, which only the forces of freedom [sic] - led by the US - could repel. It was delivered at a moment when Mr Bush's domestic approval ratings are at their lowest ebb, in large part because of the war in Iraq, in which 1,950 US troops have died, with no end in sight.
So whatever will god tell him to do next? Invade Iran perhaps?

UPDATE 10/7: Bush's minions are whining that Bush never said this or that god was misquoted or something like that, so the BBC has started to distance itself from the documentary.

Meanwhile, Dick Cheney redefines "last throes." He meant decades.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Degrees of Absurd


So Bush has appointed yet another consigliere to the high court whose only qualifications are that she won the bootlicking toady competition, that she is a fundamentalist xian and that she is even more of an unknown unknown than Roberts. What little we do know is appalling. Molly Ivans argues, correctly, I'm afraid:
    "What the nomination means in larger terms for both law and society is the fifth vote on the court to overturn Roe v. Wade."
or as Brian Leiter more dryly puts it:
    "More worrisome is that Ms. Miers is, it is reported, an evangelical Christian, a fact which is unlikely to influence her judgment in ways that favor cosmopolitan and Enlightenment values."
[Aside: shrieking, screaming, wailing and gnashing of teeth].

And the fact that she thinks Bush is the most brilliant man she ever met ought to be disqualifcation enough for any job. What's next, appointing a horse a senator? It's a good thing he doesn't get to appoint airline pilots.

Meanwhile, Russia debates what to do with Lenin's body, but we can still find some revealing snapshots of our own downward spiral in Lenin's Tomb:Another Day in the Life of the Empire.

And then there is the real war on terra.

More seriously, Counago and Spaves note that the scripts to every episode of every Monty Python series colour-coded according to speaker are now on-line.

UPDATE: It is really unfair the proponents of the stork theory of reproduction that these loons keep grabing front page headlines in the New York Times. Pharyngula rants.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Darwin on Trial

Update from the Onion:

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Value of Religion

There have been a lot of stories in the last few years about the secular value of religion, ranging from the supposed health benefits of prayer to assertions that religion is a necessary condition of a moral society. Occassionally, even a confused atheist chimes in with nonsense about the hollow negativity of secularism and the importance of "rational mysticism." So it is nice to see some research out which completely undermines these claims. The Times of London summarizes the findings of an article in the Journal of Religion and Society:
    The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.

    “In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

    “The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”

    ...The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional.

    “The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”
The full version of the paper also contains a nice quote from Tom Delay I'd forgotten about:
    The current House majority leader T. DeLay contends that high crime rates and tragedies like the Columbine assault will continue as long as schools teach children “that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized [sic] out of some primordial soup of mud
This guy was actually the Speaker of the House? It is so embarassing to be an American.

The Idea of Progress

Paul Myers of Pharyngula was interviewed about science and evolution on evolveTV this weekend. He has a quite interesting discussion of the problems with creationism and various misconceptions about evolution.

One that particularly interested me was the mistaken notion that evolution is progress. You might call it the Star Trek Fallacy. In innumerable episodes in that series and other sci-fi shows, the future development of the human race is seen as a kind of evolution into some kind of higher energy being. While this is just sci-fi, not to be taken too seriously, still I think it captures a quite common, particularly American type of magical thinking. Americans (outside the disturbingly populous Rapture camp) by and large believe in progress. This is based to some extent on a conflation of technological and scientific progress with social and cultural progress, associations which have been undermined but far from eradicated since the second World War. There also remains I think a fairly widespread background notion of biological progress, evidenced in the misunderstandings of social darwinism and eugenics in the 19th and early 20th centuries and still extant today and not only in crackpot right wing "scholarship" like The Bell Curve or William Bennett's recent thought experiment.

The deeper roots of these misunderstandings lie in the Enlightenment's valorization of the idea of progress, in Hegel's concept of intellectual history as progress and in Marx's materialistic continuation of that concept of history. On the other hand, at a less intellectual level, I think there has been a kind of fusion of the concept of evolution with the medieval idea of the great chain of being, a rank ordering of life forms that was an important element of the Christian world view for centuries.

While technological and scientific progress is real enough, albeit not always with the consequences one might wish for, the analogy to cultural progress depends on assimilating culture with western culture, and ignoring many ways in which the past was better than the present. In fact, cultural progress is largely a matter of perspective, and the idea of universal cultural progress devalues cultural diversity. The idea of universal cultural progress in turn is partly related to the Christian idea that there is only one valid way of life, one model for how to live and what to do, a poisonous missionary idea that has led to the eradication of countless peoples and cultures. There has of course been some genuine social progress of this sort, the elimination of slavery and the emancipation of women for example. But today even these signposts of progress seem less fixed and irreversible than they once were. Not long ago, it might have been reasonable to include the civilized consensus rejecting torture on this list. And while the old form of slavery has been mostly eradicated, the erosion of working conditions worldwide and the shrinking of personal freedom in the emerging surveillance state are hardly encouraging. And what is there left to say any more about the promise of democracy? The future just isn't what it used to be.