Friday, March 31, 2006

In the Colosseum

Stairway to heaven?

As befits the new imperium, this year's christian martyrs convention has proved an irresistible spectacle. Insisting that persecution of christians in modern America is no joke, Rick Scarborough noted that Tom Delay was pushed from power because he was too good a christian.
"I believe the most damaging thing that Tom DeLay has done in his life is take his faith seriously into public office, which made him a target for all those who despise the cause of Christ..."
but there is still hope because
"God always does his best work right after a crucifixion."
One clear achievement of the conference is that it has brought a surprising number of lions back into the arena.

Earlier attempts to convert the lions proved tragically unsuccessful.

Theme music courtesy Tom Waits and Iggy Pop.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Wrapping your mind around the death

Flash Map of unfolding coalition casualties in Iraq
boing boing)

It is so hard to keep in mind the real human costs of the war in Iraq. Efforts to break through the mind numbing routine of it all, to bring us face to face the ongoing horror, to make its impact more palpable, are critical in underlining the urgency of ending the war as soon as possible. This time lapse map of the ongoing fatalities among coalition forces makes a significant contribution.
The animation runs at 10 frames per second--one frame for each day--and a single black dot indicates the geographic location [where] a coalition military fatality occurred. Each dot starts as a white flash and a larger red dot, which fades to black over the course of 30 frames/days and then slowly fades to grey over the span of the entire war.
Keep in mind that only coalition deaths are represented here. The incomparably greater number of deaths among the Iraqi population are not depicted. The authors of the project explain that the lack of adequate documentation and the sheer number of Iraqi fatalities made including them in this kind of presentation impossible.

Earlier attempts at a graphic representation of the death toll can be seen here and here.

Torture today

lenin asks some very pointed questions about the shock belt Zacarias Moussaoui was forced to wear during his surprising testimony on Monday. Meanwhile, Fox News continues its bid to become the torture network (video), with host David Asman repeatedly pressing a more reticent Ollie North to endorse torture (via foh).

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The breeding gap

Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh?

One of the more curious but increasingly popular explanations of how red state values have risen to the top in 21st century America is that progressives just don't breed fast enough.

This thesis has been very actively promoted by Phillip Longman in a book, in USA Today and in a long article in the most recent Foreign Policy. The basic argument is that while liberals and leftists have been spending too much time hanging out in cafes, red staters have been breeding like rabbits.
In Seattle, there are nearly 45% more dogs than children. In Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19% more kids than dogs...It's not that people in a progressive city such as Seattle are so much fonder of dogs than are people in a conservative city such as Salt Lake City. It's that progressives are so much less likely to have children. (USA Today)
So fertility correlates with conservative values? Actually, no. Froma Harrop has some fun picking apart the fishy statistics and suspicious racial assumptions underlying Longman's arguments.

But Longman goes even further. After a lot of anxiety about falling fertility rates, a motley assortment of historical anecdotes and a weird attempt to explore the nurturing side of patriarchy, he argues that patriarchy has an evolutionary advantage.
Without implying any endorsement for the strategy, one must observe that a society that presents women with essentially three options--be a nun, be a prostitute, or marry a man and bear children--has stumbled upon a highly effective way to reduce the risk of demographic decline. (FP)
Because of this supposed evolutionary advantage, he believes that patriarchs will, perhaps tragically but nonetheless inevitably, inherit the earth.

It is hard to believe that this kind of simplistic argumentation is publishable even in a journal like Foreign Policy. One fundamental problem with this whole analysis is that the only mechanism for transmission of values that Longman really takes seriously is inheritance. Although he seems aware of the fact that values are not in fact genetically transmitted, he tends to dismiss the effectiveness of cultural influence and education with loose generalizations and snappy phrases:
To be sure, some members of the rising generation may reject their parents' values, as always happens. But when they look around for fellow secularists and counterculturalists with whom to make common cause, they will find that most of their would-be fellow travelers were quite literally never born. (FP)
The critical role of social and economic pressures in shaping values is never even discussed.

We are not going to breed--or pray--our way out of this crisis. We are going to have to think our way out by facing the all too real problems that are looming over us and trying to come up with realistic solutions. And while we are at it, we might as well start by corrupting the youth.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Persecution complex

The War on Christians and the Values Voter conference opens in Washington DC today. The list of speakers is drawn from the power elite of the christian right: Senators, Congressmen, professional media pundits and millionaires. The list itself is near refutation enough of their claims of persecution. Add to this the fact that their allies now control all three branches of government and that the president is widely viewed as the head of the christian right and their fear of persecution sounds downright delusional.

This posturing is no doubt useful for them. Like the undead myth of the liberal media, this myth of persecuted christians builds righteous enthusiasm for forcing their agenda and values on everyone else.

The mainstream media of course tries to create an illusory balance here. While finding the extreme claims of persecution implausible, USA Today nonetheless sees a supposed kernel of truth in christian complaints.

There are stricter limits on explicitly Christian expression in schools and other public settings. There is growing public acceptance of homosexuality and out-of-wedlock births, while television and movies seem awash with sex, nudity and profanity.

And if the claims of Christian persecution sound shrill, so do those of secular Americans who sometimes equate the political activity of religious conservatives with a crusade to replace our Constitution-based government with a hard-edged theocracy.

It is worth noting that most of the complaints listed are about the behavior of others, whose freedom the christians at this conference would like to see restricted. Actual restrictions on their freedom as christians are relatively minor, not unique to christians, not particularly new, and notably absent from the actual agenda of the conference. What they are really focused on is taking over the public sphere, which sounds pretty close to theocracy to me. Thus the key themes of the conference are homosexuals, Hollywood and the judiciary.

The main goal of this year's War on Christians conference is in fact to stop activist judges or, as Sandra Day O'Connor put it, an assault on the independent judiciary. And, as it turns out, several of the speakers at the conference want to eradicate the separation of church and state and do in fact advocate theocracy rather openly.

Update: More background on the conference from Media Transparency and Campus Progress gives us some undercover

Sunday, March 26, 2006

American involvement in atrocities on the ides of March

Empire Burlesque has put together a flash documentary (very graphic) that explores what happened in the village of Isahaqi, north of Baghdad, on March 15, 2006. The original article on which it is based is here.

Echos of an earlier incident in Haditha?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The body count rises

Two weeks in Baghdad
Click on image to enlarge

Baghdad's homicide rate has tripled in the last month. Most of the victims are Sunni and the killers, widely assumed to be government backed death squads, go free. Patrick Cockburn argues that the battle for Baghdad has already begun.

Although it is not an issue that much concerns George Bush or the New York Times, Shiite death squads have also been systematically targeting gay Iraqis in response to Ayatollah al-Sistani's fatwa calling for homosexuals to be killed in the worst, most severe ways.

War on Easter!

The passion of the piglet--the true meaning of Easter!
(click on picture to enlarge)

The battle for Christmas is over. The war on Easter has just begun. As a shrieking denizen of the far left, I proudly join my comrades on the front lines fighting the insidious spirit of Easter.

Portland's local alt weekly the Mercury has apparently also joined the fray.

This week's cover offers this rather non-traditional coloring contest. Looks like Jesus has been hitting the meth a bit hard lately.

And Hellbound Alleee joins in with an inspiring biblical tale from the book of Peter...Cottontail.

Dispatches from the front

Because the drift toward theocracy is incremental and has not disrupted many of the routines of daily life, there is still a great deal of skepticism about whether it is occurring at all. In an attempt to get a better sense of the big picture, here is some recent evidence of how the theocratic agenda is being advanced. It really can happen here.

From Writ, an analysis of the battle over abortion and contraception. Part one details how it is playing out in various states and in the Supreme Court. The agenda behind these laws is not essentially protecting the fetus, let alone protecting women or children. The root of the struggle is a revival of patriarchy
"an invidious belief that women unlike men are not competent to make their own decisions... [a belief] rooted in fundamentalist Christian doctrine that holds that women--while they may be equal to men in God's eyes--are subordinate to men, just as men are subordinate to God."
Part two covers the Bush Administration's stonewalling of over the counter access to emergency contraception, and its opposition to the development of the cervical cancer vaccine.

From the LA Times, a report on the still increasing influence of christian conservatives in the Republican party. Although evangelicals comprise a little over one third of Republican voters, they do not yet appear strong enough to dictate the candidate for 2008. Nonetheless, they clearly have veto power and "every named candidate is making a play for the right." And the christian right is fielding a couple of candidates of its own, Arkansas governor and baptist minister Mike Huckabee and Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, nicknamed "God's Senator" by Rolling Stone for the depth of his ties to the religious right.

And on the cultural front, the attempt to evangelize Hollywood continues as well. Nerve profiles Philip Anshutz, a conservative Christian and head of Regal Cinemas, one of the largest theater chains in the country with more than 6,000 screens nationwide. In addition to funding an anti-gay rights initiative and the creationist think tank the Discovery Institute, he is now using his position to reshape the content of the American movies and television.

Atheists remain America's most despised minority, more hated even than gays or Muslims. The pretext is the immorality of atheism, but statistics now show that atheists are in fact much more ethical than believers on some key values issues such as the morality of torture, as I had suggested earlier.

In more positive news, a San Antonio school superintendent's ban of The Handmaid's Tale has been overruled by the local school board.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Native American resistance (updated)

Cecilia Fire Thunder, the new president of the Oglala Sioux tribe of South Dakota has responded forcefully to the recent South Dakota ban on almost all abortions:
"I will personally establish a Planned Parenthood clinic on my own land which is within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation where the State of South Dakota has absolutely no jurisdiction."
Fire Thunder, the first woman president of the tribe, is a former nurse and healthcare giver who recently defeated Russell Means for the leadership position in a victory widely attributed to the growing power of women on the Pine Ridge Reservation (via feministing). She said on Tuesday that she favors opening a clinic that would be open for all women, native and non-native: "Nobody has a right to tell a woman what to do with her body.”

Planned Parenthood does not have plans to open another clinic in South Dakota just yet, and is committed to fighting the abortion ban in the courts. but it has expressed gratitude for her offer.

If such a thing does transpire, I suspect that there will be counterattacks from within and without. The anti-choice forces have noticed and begun to respond, mentioning a recently formed California based organization called Indians for Life that is working closely with the Outreach Department of National Right to Life Committee and the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions. And South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long is claiming that the tribal soverignty may not entirely exempt the reservation from the sweeping new anti-abortion law.

There is an extensive ongoing discussion of some of the issues involved here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Paying for good news

The wrong way to cover the news
And like Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld insisted the problem was the imagery from a 24-hour news cycle. "Fortunately, history is not made up of daily headlines, blogs on Web sites or the latest sensational attack," Mr. Rumsfeld wrote. "History is a bigger picture, and it takes some time and perspective to measure accurately." --New York Times 3/20/06
The right way to cover the news
An inquiry has found that an American public relations firm did not violate military policy by paying Iraqi news outlets to print positive articles, military officials said Tuesday....The inquiry, which has not yet been made public, was ordered by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq, after it was disclosed in November that the military had used the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based public relations company, to plant articles written by American troops in Iraqi newspapers while hiding the source of the articles...Commanders in Iraq have said the group's efforts may continue unless a new policy to restrict or halt the practice is issued in Iraq or from the Pentagon. --New York Times 3/22/06

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

More on theocracy

Amy Goodman has a very informative and at times tragi-comic interview with former Republican strategist Kevin Phillips on today's Democracy Now! She opens with a clip from George Bush's press conference yesterday in Cleveland in which he was directly asked about Phillips book.
My question is that author and former Nixon administration official Kevin Phillips, in his latest book, American Theocracy, discusses what has been called radical Christianity and its growing involvement into government and politics. He makes the point that members of your administration have reached out to prophetic Christians who see the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism as signs of the apocalypse. Do you believe this, that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of the apocalypse? And if not, why not?
George's answer is sputtering incoherence, but the very fact that he was asked the question shows that the notion that he is pushing a theocratic agenda is gaining some mainstream legitimacy.

Once the interview gets going, it is clear that Goodman and Phillips have very nearly the same view of just how bad a president George Bush is and just how dangerous the current Republican hierarchy is for America's future. Phillips characterizes Bush as "a national embarrassment," and agrees with Sandra Day O'Connor that there is a radical attempt to take over the judiciary. And to top it all off, the music during the break in the interview was Phil Ochs' Cannons of Christianity.

Nonetheless, Phillips' own positive value commitments remain murky and he clearly has no plausible plan (a coalition government?) for fighting the move toward what he calls "apple pie authoritarianism" beyond trying to rally non-theocratic conservatives to oppose the regime.

He seems to think that a lot of conservatives are fed up with the current regime. However, it is not clear how much the people he is talking about are upset about the theocratic danger and how much they are just appalled at W's manifest incompetence. Perhaps this opposition will have some influence in the 2008 election, but I don't see any breakup of christian right's control of the Republican party in the current election cycle. They are just too keen on holding on to power.

Earlier: American Theocracy

UPDATE 3/22: You can now read a sample chapter of American Theocracy online and Red State Rabble has a discussion of how realistic a threat theocracy is.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Keeping Bush at a distance

At first glance, I thought this was a belated ides of March moment.

Still a perfect symbol of Bush's plummeting popularity. Fellow Republicans are acting like he has bird flu. Even Tony the poodle is looking for some distance.

Incredibly, Dick, and Don and George think everything is just fine. The NY Times headline for the story reads On Anniversary, Bush and Cheney see Iraq Success. The story features the following paragraph, which nicely illustrates just how insane our Vice President is.

Mr. Cheney was challenged on "Face the Nation" about his statement three years ago that "we will be greeted as liberators" and his assertion 10 months ago that the insurgency was in its "last throes."

He insisted that in both cases his facts were right, but that the news media had created a different perception with vivid imagery of killing.

"I think it has less to do with the statements we've made, which I think were basically accurate and reflect reality, than it does with the fact that there's a constant sort of perception, if you will, that's created because what's newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad," he said.

His heroic refusal to concede even an inch to reality is perhaps his most endearing characteristic.

For those who prefer reality, Think Progress has a timeline of our "successes" in Iraq, Juan Cole lists the ten worst catastrophes of the third year of our eternal war, and Andrew Murray sums it up.

Portland anti-war protest

More than 10,000 protest the anniversary of the war in Portland
More pictures

If the NY Times is to be believed (unlikely), Portland had one of the largest anti-war protests in the country, even taking the predictable strategic underestimates of crowd size by the police and the Oregonian. While these official estimates were in the 9-10,000 range, others estimated up to 40,000. Whatever the number, the protest was impressive and literally ringed the center of the city. At one point we could see the other end of the march circling round more than ten blocks away. It was visually impressive enough for the Times to use a picture from Portland to represent the national protests.

Of course protest won't stop the war, but it is good from time to time to make some visible showing of the real depth of opposition to the ongoing horror.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

American Theocracy

Senator Bill Frist, Senate majority leader and presidential hopeful,
addressing an evangelical Christian rally via teleconference, April 24, 2005.

Kevin Phillips, one time key Republican strategist, has a new book out American Theocracy, which argues that the future of America is endangered by the converging threats of oil dependency, theocracy and financial collapse.

Nothing tremendously new to anyone who has been paying much attention. However, coming from one of the architects of the current Republican majority, it may have an impact out of proportion to its originality. In fact the very use of the term theocracy in the title is significant, legitimizing discussion of a very real danger far too many still dismiss as paranoid fantasy.

The New York Times review is fairly positive but crippled by the need to appear to give a balanced view about things that are just plain obvious but might offend the right wing. Salon has a far more thoughtful review, which makes a key point in passing which is really critical to understanding just how serious the current crisis is.
It's not just that America is being ruled by small and venal men, or that its reputation has been demolished, its army overstretched, its finances a mess. All of that, after all, was true toward the end of Vietnam as well. Now, though, there are all kinds of other lurking catastrophes, a whole armory of swords of Damocles dangling over a bloated, dispirited and anxious country...

Obviously, things in America have been bad before...Yet just because America has endured in the past does not mean it will in the future. Thus figuring out exactly how much danger we're in is difficult. Are things really as dire as they seem, or are anxiety and despair just part of the cultural moment...? It's human nature to believe that things will continue as they usually have, and that we'll once again somehow stumble intact through our looming crises. At the same time, it's hard to imagine a plausible scenario in which the country regains its equilibrium without first going through major convulsions.

Exactly. The road to doom is now so causally overdetermined that its arrival is far more likely than not. And Phillips even leaves out a couple of the most urgent crises that are breathing down our necks: catastrophic climate change and nuclear war.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Does Jesus answer the prayer electric?

Crucifix NG is the principal work of the Faith-Based Electronics Group at the Interactive Televangelist Program (ITP). Crucifix NG is a printed electronic circuit board in the shape of a crucifix. This handheld, wall-mountable device houses a battery-operated transmitter that broadcasts an ASCII, non-denominational version of the Lord's Prayer at 916 megahertz...

Many people affix crucifixes and other religious iconography to the walls of their homes for metaphysical security. Crucifix NG goes a step further, bathing a physical space in an anointed electromagnetism...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Temporary Sins, Eternal Punishment

Temporary Sins, Eternal Punishment
by Sherry Matulis* (excerpts)

Where are you when dirty old men
of the cloth hump, hump, hump
defenseless five year olds, admonishing
Eternal Hellfire if they tell, leaving
them bloody and teeth chattering constrained;
and then walk away from the crime,
skin and bones and reputation intact?
Why don't you do something?


Where are you? Are you busy
pimping for preachers?
Designing a fish without stomach acids?
Planning a bigger, better flood?
Stoking the forever fire?

Build a huge one; you deserve it.
My 'sins' are small and temporary.
For yours, I'd recommend
Eternal Punishment.

*From Women Without Superstition "No Gods, No Masters." Matulis is an important feminist writer and activist, known especially for her work in support of abortion rights. She has also written a harrowing account of her experience getting an illegal abortion in pre-Roe America.

More on the big bang

Bad Astronomy has a great post up discussing the new data supporting the big bang model and inflation and giving us a clearer idea of when the very first stars were born.

Moving effortlessly from the sublime to the ridiculous, BA also has a link to the pope tart.

Cruelty and Religion

Christianity has always been haunted by fantasies of torture. After all, that is what hell is all about. This elaborate revenge fantasy--infinite punishment for finite offenses--is the inspiration for what is perhaps the only great work of christian literature, Dante's Inferno. Nearly all of the iconic instruments of torture, the rack, the thumbscrew, the iron maiden, are products of the christian imagination put into all too bloody practice. And the cross, the symbolic center of the religion, is itself an instrument of torture.

In a provocative and untimely essay written nearly 25 years ago and republished* this month, political philosopher Judith Shklar argues that putting cruelty first among evils decisively places one outside the sphere of revealed religion. The Enlightenment philosophes, Montaigne and Montesquieu are the exemplars of this world view, self consciously taking a stand against religion on the one hand and Machiavelli on the other.
To hate cruelty with utmost intensity is perfectly compatible with biblical religiosity, but to put it first does place one unalterably outside the sphere of revealed religion. For it is a purely human verdict upon human conduct, and so puts religion at a certain distance. But while this tension is inherent in the decision to put cruelty first, it is not just religious skepticism that prompts this moral choice. It emerges, rather, from the recognition that the habits of the faithful do not differ from those of the faithless in their brutalities, and that Machiavelli had triumphed long before he had ever written a line. To put cruelty first, therefore, is to be at odds with both religion and politics.
Inspired by a revulsion at the recent history of christian cruelty and torture and in particular the cruelty of the then ongoing christian conquest of the Americas, "the supreme example of the failure of christianity," Montaigne turns Machiavelli on his head and takes up the questions of state he raises from the point of view of the victim. Both Montaigne and Montesquieu champion valor, the defiant refusal to live as a victim or a slave, as the appropriate counterpoint to cruelty.

It is a point of view worth considering as the alliance between neo-Machiavellian advocates of necessary cruelty and their religious fellow travelers once again put the genius of the christian imagination into practice.
* Although the Shklar piece is excellent, the disingenuously named journal in which it is now appears, Democratiya, is for the most part a forum for neoconservative ideologues in support of the war on terror. Their statement of purpose is actually a quite funny attempt to put a veneer of objectivity and liberalism on what is essentially an imperialist agenda. They are sufficiently concerned that readers might notice this that they felt the following disclaimer necessary.
Of course our task is not to sing 'America! America!' As Irving Howe said, 'The banner of critical independence, ragged and torn though it may be, is still the best we have'. But this is 2005 not 1965. It is no longer enough to say 'no' where the US says 'yes'. A more self-confident and constructively critical stance is needed.
A quick scan of their tables of contents shows that they had good reason to be concerned.

To take just a couple of examples, the latest issue also features some reviews by Oliver Kamm, a "philosopher" whose utter lack of intellectual integrity, particularly in his near hysterical attacks on Chomsky, has been nicely dissected by Brian Leiter. And Leiter's post coincidentally also takes to task Marko Attila Hoare, one of the editors of Democratiya, for his intentional misreading of Chomsky.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Code of the warrior

As we edge into the fourth year of our eternal war, the lies have grown so thick and the denial so entrenched that foreign policy debates are conducted nearly entirely in code. Witness this gem from today's New York Times.

Even as it presents an updated national security strategy, the Bush administration is facing fresh doubts from some Republicans who say its emphasis on promoting democracy around the world has come at the expense of protecting other American interests.

The second thoughts signify a striking change in mood over one of President Bush's cherished tenets, pitting Republicans who call themselves realists against the neoconservatives who saw the invasion of Iraq as a catalyst for change and who remain the most vigorous advocates of a muscular American campaign to foster democratic movements.

It is hard not to just laugh. First of all, how are we still expected to take Bush's rhetoric about democracy seriously? Cherished tenets, please. What the king of torture wants is obedient client states, preferably with some veneer of legitimacy, but if not, oh well. How is that project to democratize Saudi Arabia going? Kazakhstan? Pakistan? Iraq? Palestine? Oops, better change the subject.

And avoid the word oil. Yes, never once mention oil. Bad manners.

This phrase must have taken quite a bit of editing to come up with: "vigorous advocates of a muscular American campaign to foster democratic movements." WTF? They must have hired some professional fluffers.

--that's the ticket, avoids all the mass death, torture and devastation stuff, all the messy corpses, without giving up the essential feel of manliness. Campaign--mm yes, sounds almost like an election! Better than war, better than crusade, yes best not to mention crusade. Foster--nice and caring, just like mother! And democratic movements--well if we couldn't find them, we could create them, or manufacture something and staff it with our clients, err genuine popular leaders, like the nice Mr. Chalabi. No need to mention empire or oil or weapons of mass destuction.

The Times article goes on to quote the first sentence of W's equally delusional national security strategy paper, issued yesterday.
"It is the policy of the United States to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." The 49-page document calls this task "the work of generations."
Ending tyranny in our world! And we have just the right tools right here in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram ...

Next on the agenda

Theocracy just isn't coming fast enough for the faithful.

God says he is gonna off some more judges. But some of god's servants just can't wait. A patriotic call to action?

This week, Missouri goes after contraception for poor women. More on current christian anti-contraception campaigns. In the last couple of weeks, Missouri has also edged toward declaring Christianity the official state religion and a bill was introduced that would ban almost all abortions. Planned Parenthood provides a round up of the current wave of attempts to ban abortion.

And in Kansas, sex education now requires written parental consent.

On a lighter note, IdiotBox previews some new products for the enforcement of South Dakota law: the Halo Ankle Bracelet and the Iron Midwife.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Waking up after a bender

As Aeschylus put it,
Zeus...established this as a fixed law: "wisdom comes by suffering." But even as trouble, bringing memory of pain, drips over the mind in sleep, so wisdom comes to men, whether they want it or not.
It's gonna be a nasty hangover.

Faith Based Epidemiology

There is a joke that has been going around for a while that creationists should not be treated with any medications that that have been developed to deal with the evolution of bacterial resistance. This reached classic form as a young earth creationist consults with his doctor about how to treat his tuberculosis in this Doonesbury cartoon.

Click on picture to enlarge.

Reality, as usual lately, has caught up with parody, and creationists are in fact proposing a bible-based epidemiology.
In a pair of articles published in the esteemed journal, Creation Research Society Quarterly, Jeffrey Schragin has put forth his argument that "the Bible's epidemiology is scientifically sound" and that the "Creation Health Model (CHM) offers a more comprehensive understanding of health and disease than standard molecules-to-man evolutionary theory."
Tara Smith of Aetiology provides a detailed critique* of this "theory" which she dubs "Edenomics."
*Link thanks to Fall of Humanity.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

More evangelism among the donkeys

Still more complaints from "the left" that Democrats aren't giving religion the deference it is due. Steve Waldman over at the Washington Monthly writes,
...many liberals carry an elitist attitude toward evangelical Christians. ...I think a distinction should be made between the elites and the rank and file on this. The fact is that most Democrats are religious. But secular liberals, who made up about 16% of the Kerry vote (more stats here) seem to have a disproportionate impact on the party's image and approach.
I wouldn't have been reading partisan hackery like this from the predictably pious Democrats (esp. Amy Sullivan) at the Washington Monthly except for the excellent response from PZ Myers.

I'd like to know how well Mr Waldman's preferred voting bloc would favor an atheist candidate for president. How about an agnostic? How about someone who insisted his religion was not going to be an issue, refused to discuss it, and said he was going to represent all Americans without regard to their faith?

I think I know the answer to that: the Waldmans and Sullivans would rend their garments and weep and condemn the candidate. They'd stay away from the polls or they'd abandon the party and vote Republican. They are currently in the majority and they know their religion has an unshakeable lock on representation by our candidates, and still they whine about those "secular liberals"—it's hard to imagine how frantic they'd be if we "secular liberals" were actually represented by our party. And that is a real problem.

We campaign for and vote for Christian candidates, so I'm not at all sure what more these lunatics want from us. Are we supposed to bow down and convert and tithe, or would it be enough to merely acknowledge the superiority of their Lord Jesus Christ and look sorrowful about having to go to hell?

Waldman also wants to know the roots of our hostility towards "religion and spirituality". That one is easy: it's because guessing games, revealed knowledge, irrational prejudice, inappropriate traditions, and unthinking obedience to dogma are not sensible ways to run a country, especially not one with a plurality of religious beliefs. That is the real stumbling block here, not that a minority of the Democratic party demands a rational foundation for our policies.

Exactly right. The secular left has no representation at all in the US--none at all--and the christians have the temerity to complain that we don't show enough deference to them.

Atrios responds to similar whining and points out that there is another agenda behind at least some of these complaints: tolerating homophobia and compromising away women's rights. And a serious public commitment to a reality-based view of the world would be as much a change for Democrats as it would be for Republicans.

The debate continues. And Myers has another good response.

And on a tragic note, Godless Wonder informs us that the beloved cartoon character Chef is leaving South Park because he apparently just noticed that the show mocks religions.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Head for the bunker

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt on how to prepare for bird flu:
"When you go to the store and buy three cans of tuna fish, buy a fourth and put it under the bed. When you go to the store to buy some milk, pick up a box of powdered milk, put it under the bed. When you do that for a period of four to six months, you are going to have a couple of weeks of food. And that's what we're talking about."
What, no duct tape? Why exactly will bird flu disrupt food supplies?

I think the Onion has a better plan.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The lunatics have taken over the asylum

"You know in a sane world, every country would unite against Iran and blow it off the face of the Earth. That would be the sane thing to do." --Bill O'Reilly 3/8/06

This country was built on madness, from what Thomas Pynchon called "succession of the criminally insane who have enjoyed power since 1945," to our calculated use of the madman theory (originally developed under Nixon but ressurected under Clinton) for strategic advantage, to our policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.), to Operation Iraqi Freedom (née Operation Iraqi Liberation --O.I.L.), to the gleeful abandon with which we are accelerating the twin threats to the continued existence of human beings as a species: catastrophic climate change, and nuclear war.

So, in celebration of our unique national character, I offer a few songs:
  1. The lunatics -- The Specials
  2. We're all mad here -- Tom Waits
  3. Everything you can think of is true --Tom Waits
  4. Private Idaho --B52s
  5. Baby's insane --Diamanda Galás
  6. Psychotherapy --The Ramones
  7. I have always been here before --Roky Erickson
  8. Scream thy last scream --Syd Barrett
  9. Antiworld --Nina Hagen
  10. Psycho killer --The Talking Heads
  11. The ballad of Alferd Packer --Phil Ochs
  12. The ballad of Charles Whitman --Kinky Friedman
  13. The mayor -- Rasputina
  14. In a world gone mad --The Beastie Boys

Friday, March 10, 2006


Papa Ratz spills some seed!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Jean Meslier

"I would like, and this would be the last and most ardent of my wishes, I would like the last of the kings to be strangled with the guts of the last priest." --Jean Meslier (1664-1729)
Doug Ireland has a great post on the important and influential but virtually forgotten Jean Meslier, a 17th century priest turned revolutionary atheist. Meslier was the author of a "monumental diatribe against theism, superstition and corrupt state power." A translation of selections from Meslier's magnum opus, Mon Testament are available on line here and here. Ireland has written the introduction to an article in the most recent New Politics by Michel Onfray, the first attempt at a synthesis of Meslier's work by a major philosopher since Voltaire.

Superstition is on the march everywhere today. Part of the struggle to keep the hard won heritage of secularism will be to recover the nearly forgotten history of how we won it in the first place.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Faith-based national security

The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.
-- Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

While all eyes are on the Republican on Republican jingoistic dogfight over handing over port security to a Dubai-based firm, George Bush is using the Homeland Security Department to funnel more money to right wing religious organizations.

The program was test marketed in the aftermath of Katrina, when Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing was headlining government-funded relief efforts. And we all know how well that worked out.

Here is some amusing video of the controversy over the role of Operation Blessing in Katrina relief (via the Wittenberg Door).

Now, the Bush administration has institutionalized this experiment within the Department of Homeland Security by creating, "a center for faith-based and community initiatives ... to eliminate regulatory, contracting and programmatic barriers to providing federal funds to religious groups to deliver social services."

More proof that George Bush doesn't even care about about his "signature issue" of national security. It's all about funneling money to his cronies. The joke is on his jingoistic supporters, but as usual we all have to live with the consequences.
Update: More on securing the homeland by the grace of god and faith based cargo inspection from the Defeatists.

Blair in the hands of an angry god

Terry Jones, formerly of Monty Python, has a message from god for Tony Blair:
A high-level leak has revealed that God is "furious" at Tony Blair's attempts to implicate him in the bombing of Iraq. Sources close to the archangel Gabriel report him as describing the Almighty as "hopping mad ... with sanctimonious yet unscrupulous politicians claiming He would condone their bestial activities when He has no way of going public Himself, owing to the MMW agreement" (a reference to the long-established Moving in Mysterious Ways concordat).

A source says Gabriel has spent days trying to dissuade the Almighty from loosing a plague of toads upon the Blair family. Gabriel reminded God that Cherie and the children had nothing to do with Tony's decisions. God's response, it is reliably reported, was: "Blair says the Iraqis are lucky to have got bombed, so how can he complain if his family gets a few toads in the bath?"

God, the archangel says, is also disturbed by Mr Blair's remark that while religious beliefs might colour his politics, "it's best not to take it too far".

"How would he like it if I went round claiming that he gave me his full backing when I sent the tsunami last year?"

Some have claimed that Blair's appeal to the judgment of god on his policy in Iraq didn't quite add up to a "god told me to" moment. Jones has just the right reply:
As is customary with Mr Blair's statements, it's rather hard to tease out what he is actually saying; but the gist is clearly that if God didn't actually tell him to bomb Iraq, then the Almighty would certainly agree it was the right thing to do.
Earlier: God told me to.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The banality of lying

Gonzales' America as pictured by Steve Bell in the Guardian

Thus spake Alberto Gonzales and lo it was news:
"The U.S. abhors torture and categorically rejects its use."

"The United States has always been and remains a great defender of human rights and the rule of law."

"We are aware of no other nation in history that has afforded procedural protections like these to enemy combatants."
Well, that last one might be true, if he means a unique lack of procedural protections. Otherwise, who on earth could believe him? And they are not even new lies.

And then there is David Horowitz channeling McCarthy:
"There are 50,000 professors who are anti-American, they're radicals, they identify with the terrorists, they think of them as freedom fighters."
Apparently, he has even more trouble keeping his numbers straight than his mentor.

And in a discussion of the situation in Iraq, Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, channels Pangloss:
"No matter where you look - at their military, their police, their society - things are much better this year than they were last."

"I wouldn't put a great big smiley face on it, but I would say they're going very, very well from everything you look at."
Yes, the best of all possible worlds. But this time not everyone's impressed.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Signs of reason

For once, a church sign with which I completely agree. It is a real sign by the way, from a church not far from my house, not the product of the always amusing church sign generator. What could they have been thinking? Oh, right...

It makes a nice counterpoint to the Doonesbury strips for the last couple of weeks, which in my view have provided more incisive coverage of the evolution "controversy" than the science section of the New York Times. And funny to boot.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Death squads take root

There are an increasing number of reports that deaths squads have become a central tool of US strategy in Iraq.

More and more Iraqi academics and intellectuals who oppose the war are being assassinated. The Salvador option, which was being openly discussed a year ago, has clearly been operationalized for a while now. The director of the Baghdad morgue has fled, fearing for his life after reporting that more than 7,000 people have been killed by death squads in recent months. Photos and forensic evidence of torture and summary execution backing up his claims have been passed on to the UN.

The death squads have been tied to the Iraqi police and to high level officials in the Iraqi government, especially Interior Minister Bayan Jabr.
Jabr, a Shiite with close ties to the Badr Brigade, a paramilitary group, has been at the center of allegations of abuse at the hands of Iraqi security forces. The minister's notoriety rose last year as the bodies of hundreds of men--mostly Sunni Arabs--started appearing in sewage treatment plants, garbage dumps and desert ravines. Most of the bodies showed signs of torture and execution-style killings. Many families of the deceased said their kin had last been seen in the back of a police vehicle.
This is exactly the kind of thing that happened in El Salvador. US officials in Iraq have ironically called 2006 "the year of the police" though I imagine this is not the image they are trying to get across.

On the other hand, it is in fact quite likely that the US is behind the death squads just as it was in El Salvador. It is just not politic to be up front about it just now. The US is even urging the integration of Jabr's "militias" into the US trained security forces.

As a sign of how this is affecting civilians in Iraq, here are some guidelines circulating in Iraq to help people avoid the death squads.
Several links thanks to lenin's tomb and Jessica Wilson at Leiter Reports.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Portland Iditarod

There are some popular local bumper stickers that read Keep Portland Weird. After seeing the 5th annual Portland Urban Iditarod, I don't think there's much danger of that. Decorative shopping carts in place of dogsleds, and a great deal of imagination in place of dogs. And, obviously, lots of beer along the way.

Here a team of Catholic school girls wheels about a smiling nun

And the Viking cart heads out into traffic.

More pix here.

Scalia and theocracy

What Scalia means by original intent

I came across this quote from Scalia while listening to an interview with Susan Jacoby on Mother Jones Radio. I don't know how I missed it the first time around.
"With respect to public acknowledgment of religious belief, it is entirely clear from our Nation's historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists." McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky 6/27/05
Okay the "devout" bit is just an insult, but the bit about people like me having no constitutional protection, yikes. Pretty much an echo of Bush Sr. but with the current power to definitvely "interpret" law. Jacoby clearly shows that Scalia doesn't have a leg to stand on constituionally here, but of course he just doesn't care. She is fairly convinced that this is Alito's view as well. Theocracy, ho!

God told me to

Hundreds of thousands dead because god told me to

A fundamental principle of Christian tradition is that an insane act, even a criminally insane act, done in the name of god is transfigured, ennobled and placed utterly beyond the realm of criticism or reason. The "teleological suspension of the ethical," in the rather pompous lexicon of Kierkegaard, justified Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac. God told him to, and no more reason was necessary. It seems a grotesque vestige of the most primitive antiquity intruding out of distant ages past.

Yet even today George Bush and now Tony Blair justify their invasion of Iraq just so: they did it because god told them to.
Tony Blair has proclaimed that God will judge whether he was right to send British troops to Iraq, echoing statements from his ally George Bush...Explaining how he managed to live with the decision to go to war in Iraq, Mr Blair replied: "If you have faith about these things then you realise that judgement is made by other people. If you believe in God, it's made by God as well."
Not everyone took this "explanation" so well.
Roger Bacon, who has been trying unsuccessfully to meet Tony Blair since his son, Major Matthew Bacon, 34, was killed in Iraq, said last night: "This would explain why he won't see the parents. How can he speak to us when God told him to send the troops out to Iraq so our sons could be killed?"
Why bring in God here? What does it mean for Blair to invoke god as the judge of his invasion of Iraq?

It means that he no longer feels a need to offer rational explanations to mere mortals for what he did. Sure, there were reasons and rationales aplenty, all lies as it turns out, but that doesn't matter because god trumps reason. God has his reasons that reason can not know.

Worse than Abraham, Blair killed other people's sons and daughters, lots and lots of them. The asylums throughout the world are filled with people who killed at the insistence of the voices in their heads. In a rational world, Tony and George would be there too.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The donkeys of god

The future of the democratic party?

Apparently, Eric Alterman, who writes for the Nation, is supposed to be a liberal.

But right after 9/11, he joined his colleague, the loathsome Christopher Hitchens, and established mainstream credibility with opportunistic Chomsky bashing and patriotic chest thumping.

Now he joins the chorus of donkeys urging the left to get religion to get ahead. He criticizes the left for "suicidally" shifting its passion from issues of economic deprivation and concentration of power to issues of gender, sexuality, and personal choice. In other words, he seems quite willing to throw women's rights, abortion rights and gay rights overboard. Causes he apparently considers frivolous. And he obviously has no more concern for atheists or secularists than George Bush Sr.

Case in point: he goes on to praise William Jennings Bryan as the type of progressive Christian with whom the left should make common cause, ignoring Bryan's notorious role in the Scopes trial and its heightened modern relevance.

Whatever difference might remain between Eric Alterman and Joseph Lieberman should hardly be enough to interest anyone who is actually on the left.

Also this week, Z Net has a couple of pieces with similar advice to offer. It was shit like this that caused me to cancel my subscription to their magazine more than a decade ago. I can work with Christians just fine, but not as Christians, only as people. Is that really too much to ask?

One article urges the left to work with Christian groups in terms very similar to Alterman's
If all that stuff about "the power and glory of Christ" and "all praise to the Lord" makes for knots in your stomach, or even a gag in your throat, let it be. Put it in the same class as those aching feet after a long day of leafletting or your aching head from an all-night organizing meeting. It's just a price to be paid to get our political work done.
Sorry, that price is just too high. And it is apparently only a downpayment.
True, there may be some issues dear to your heart that you and some of these Christian organizers don't see eye to eye on.
Oh, oh. And it gets worse.
At the victory party, you may discover that your Christian allies have turned into friends. You may find that now, over a beer, they are ready to listen to your views on subjects once too tense to talk about. But watch out. They'll be praising the Lord for turning the world toward justice. And their enthusiasm is infectious. You might be astonished to hear yourself praising the Lord, too.
The compromise of working together turns into the dream of conversion. Dream on.

Blasphemy and Power

A group of intellectuals, including Salman Rushdie and Bernard-Henri Levy, has published yet another condemnation of the totalitarian threat of "Islamism" in the same Danish newspaper that gained fame for its publication of blasphemous cartoons. They argue
Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man's domination of woman, the Islamists' domination of all the others.
For a response to a particular historical event, it is a peculiarly decontextualized, almost disembodied manifesto. While all of the charges are true about some Moslem communities, what is missing is any real acknowledgement of the larger context: the imperial aggression of the US in the Islamic world.

The phrase "a world of domination" is in fact a far more apt description of American ambition and power than it is of Islam. Islam is not credibly threatening to take over Europe or America, but the US has in fact taken over Iraq and has well advertised designs on Syria and Iran. And the long and bloody history of Western colonialism throughout the Islamic world can not simply be ignored. We have a lot more credibility when it comes to torture than when it comes to freedom.

And into our torture, we have integrated an attack on their culture and religion, mixing sexual humiliation and blasphemy with excruciating pain and death. In the context of a such a brutal war, it is hardly surprising that an attack on their religion is taken as an attack on their culture and identity.

Nor is it surprising that the cartoon controversy has rallied racists and Christian bigots in the US around the incongruous banner of free speech. Quite a spectacle: here and here.

Nonetheless, the truly horrible oppression and anti-intellectualism within many Islamic societies is all too real. And it should not be excused. And certainly, we should make no accommodation to their superstitions and prejudices in our laws. But no progress toward eventual secularization and enlightenment is likely as long as we have our boot on their throat.

In the meantime, we have our own house to clean. The threat of totalitarianism in the US is not coming from Islam but from politicians who mouth the words democracy and freedom while instituting its opposite. The threat to women's rights and human rights here is coming not from Islam but from the Christian right. And the threat is far from abstract.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


What did Jesus do to deserve this? Is this what they mean by cross-training?