Browsing the blog archives for September, 2007.


Un-atoned

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Religion

I’ve been reading Chris Hedges’s excellent book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America. Hedges emphasizes the authoritarian nature of the Christian Right. For example:

The hypermasculinity of radical Christian conservatism, which crushes the independence and self-expression of women, is a way for men in the movement to compensate for the curtailing of their own independence, their object obedience to church authorities and the calls for sexual restraint. It is also a way to cope with fear. Those who lead these churches fear, perhaps most deeply, their own internal contradictions. They make war on the internal contradictions of others. Those who are not subdued, who do not bow before the church authorities, are seen as contaminants. Believers are driven into a primitive state, a prenatal existence, a return to the womb and a life of submission. [Chris Hedges, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America (Free Press, 2006), pp. 78-79]

What’s messed up about this beside the obvious is that these people call themselves evangelicals. And evangelicalism started out as a non-authoritarian religious movement. Believe it or not, the original evangelicalism that formed in the 18th century emphasized freedom of conscience and individual conviction over church authority, and most early evanglicals fiercely supported separation of church and state.

The latter was true because evangelicals often were victims of church-state oppression. Bill Moyers said,

On another trip to New England I drove through Lynn, Massachusetts. There, in 1751, Obadiah Holmes was given thirty stripes with a three-corded whip after he violated the colonial law against taking communion with another Baptist. Baptists were only a “pitiful negligible minority” in Massachusetts but they were denounced as “the incendiaries of the Commonwealth and the infectors of persons in matter of religion.” For refusing to pay tribute to the official state religion they were fined, flogged, and exiled. Holmes refused the offer of friends to pay his fine so that he could be released. He refused the strong drink they said would anesthetize the pain. Sober, he endured the ordeal; sober still, he would one day write: “It is the love of liberty that must free the soul.”

But we have come full circle, and now much of American evangelicalism has been taken over by authoritarians who want to fine, flog, and exile everyone who disagrees with them. Indeed, the word evangelical has come to mean “intolerant and authoritarian right-wing religious whackjob” to many people.

Hedges is a Christian himself, which informs his observances. He writes (pp. 80-81),

The petrified, binary world of fixed, immutable roles is a world where people, many of them damaged by bouts with failure, despair and their own ambiguities, can bury their chaotic and fragmented personalities and live with the illusion that they are now strong, whole and protected. … By submitting to the Christian leader, and to a powerful male God who will destroy those who misbehave, followers avoid dealing with life. The movement seeks, above all, to banish mystery, the very essence of faith. Not only is the binary world knowable and predictable, but finally God is knowable and predictable.

Many people look at religious whackjobs and conclude that religion has made them fearful and corrupted their ability to think rationally. I think it’s close to the truth to say that whackjobs create God in their own image — Whackjob God.

Slate has been running a conversation between evangelical David Kuo and Hanna Rosin, author of God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission To Save America. The book focuses on students of Patrick Henry College, who are mostly home-schooled Christians. Rosin wrote,

Who really is an evangelical, and is it fair to have a tiny—and some would say fringe—school stand in for an entire movement? Well, you and I both know that evangelical is a fairly meaningless term these days. Catholics use it. Democrats use it. In social science statistics on divorce, teenage sexuality, even abortion, people who call themselves “evangelical” look just like the rest of America.

When I say “evangelical,” I am thinking of that elite subgroup that goes to church at least once a week.

To which Kuo replied,

Virtually all surveys show that 30 percent to 40 percent of Americans go to church once a week. There are a lot of evangelicals out there even if, as you point out, they lead lives that are virtually indistinguishable from other Americans when it comes to divorce, abortion, and the like. I’ve argued that part of the reason for that is the political obsession of many evangelical leaders, which has in turn seduced so many evangelicals. It is that obsession and seduction that is so beautifully and horribly laid out in God’s Harvard. As you recounted over and over, there was no differentiation between Jesus and politics. There was the absolute understanding that to serve Jesus meant to grasp power and manipulate the political system for God’s gain. Sadly, this isn’t anything new. It is precisely the sort of thing that Jesus came to defeat.

About halfway through the book, something struck me. Not a single student quoted Jesus’ sayings to you in justifying their politics. Their justification came from Old Testament admonitions about power. They didn’t quote Jesus—at least as related in the book.

Why? It is because it would be impossible to quote Jesus urging young Christian men and women to tackle the political battlefield as if going unto war. It is because Jesus’ commands have everything to do with sacrificially loving others and nothing to do with influencing the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court.

I am not saying that Christians shouldn’t have a political voice. They should. But they should do it as citizens with opinions in public policy and not as “Christians” presuming they have Jesus’ answer to problems—because on virtually every position, they do not. It is perfectly possible to be a Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, born-again Christian and have different perspectives on everything from abortion to Iraq. And that perspective is what is missing from Patrick Henry.

My understanding is that the word evangelical comes from the same root Greek word as gospel, which loosely translates as “good news.” An evangelicalism that de-emphasizes the Gospels has been pulled pretty far from its roots.

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The Boogeyman

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blogging

The Right is still trying to whip up hysteria over Moveon.org. Now they’re dredging up association with The Boogeyman — George Soros. Investors Business Daily is running an article called “George Soros: The Man, The Mind And The Money Behind MoveOn.” Folks, this is a textbook example of first-rate propaganda.

One paragraph popped out at me:

Best known among these groups is MoveOn.org, a previously small fringe-left group to which Soros has given $5 million since 2004. Bulked up by cash, the group now uses professional public relations tactics to undercut the Iraq War effort, with its latest a full-page New York Times ad that branded Gen. Petraeus “General Betray Us.”

First: The truth is that Soros gave Moveon.org $5 million IN 2004, and as near as I can tell from googling he’s not given them a penny since. Soros threw a lot of money around in 2003 and 2004 to try to defeat George Bush, but he was MIA in 2006 and I haven’t heard that he has any plans regarding next year’s elections. Yet the Right continues to evoke the name of the evil Soros as if he were the mastermind behind all their opposition.

The consensus among lefties of my acquaintance, btw, is that Soros spent his money in stupid ways, and if he really wanted to help us he would bankroll leftie media infrastructure. But as far as U.S. politics is concerned he seems to have taken his wallet and gone home.

Also, before Soros gave them money Moveon had already moved on from “small fringe-left group” status. “By early 2003, MoveOn boasted more than 750,000 members in the United States and hundreds of thousands more overseas,” it says here.

But I have to hand it to the IBD editorialists — this is how propaganda is written. They juxtapose the names of Soros and Moveon in paragraph after paragraph to make it appear there’s actually a connection. They patch together some semi-true statements — Soros did give Moveon $5 million — in a way that conveys an impression of wrongdoing without making explicit accusations. And Captain Ed fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.

And, frankly, it wouldn’t bother me if there were an ongoing relationship between Soros and Moveon, but I am reasonably certain the only real connection was the $5 million Soros gave Moveon in 2004.

Toward the bottom of the IBD editorial:

Soros usually doesn’t offer up or endorse specific candidates for office. His chief aim seems to be tearing down Bush, driving the Democrats to the far left and enforcing party discipline through fear. In fact, he seems to like keeping Democrats guessing whether or not he’s offended.

The strategy seems to be working. No Democrat had the courage to cross MoveOn.org after its libelous Petraeus ad. On Thursday, a symbolic vote in Congress censuring MoveOn.org for the Petraeus ad passed, but with the notable absence of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Election looming, neither wants to cross Soros’ MoveOn.org.

I know for a fact that Soros had absolutely nothing to do with the “betrayus” ad. And it’s us liberal bloggers the Dems are afraid of, not Soros. Not yet afraid enough, but we’ve made some progress since 2004.

Update: I see that several of Captain Ed’s commenters are repeating the old lie (perpetrated by Bill O’Reilly) that Media Matters is also funded by Soros. Media Matters says it “has never received funding from Soros, either directly or indirectly.”

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Still Speaking of Racism

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News Media

This is unreal

During the September 19 edition of his nationally syndicated radio program, discussing his recent trip to have dinner with Rev. Al Sharpton at Sylvia’s, a famous restaurant in Harlem, Bill O’Reilly reported that he “had a great time, and all the people up there are tremendously respectful,” adding: “I couldn’t get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia’s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it’s run by blacks, primarily black patronship.” Later, during a discussion with National Public Radio senior correspondent and Fox News contributor Juan Williams about the effect of rap on culture, O’Reilly asserted: “There wasn’t one person in Sylvia’s who was screaming, ‘M-Fer, I want more iced tea.’ You know, I mean, everybody was — it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn’t any kind of craziness at all.” O’Reilly also stated: “I think black Americans are starting to think more and more for themselves. They’re getting away from the Sharptons and the [Rev. Jesse] Jacksons and the people trying to lead them into a race-based culture. They’re just trying to figure it out. ‘Look, I can make it. If I work hard and get educated, I can make it.”

This would have been bad enough if O’Reilly were some teenage yahoo fresh from all-white Snipe Hunt, Kentucky. But O’Reilly is even older than I am, and grew up on Long Island, for pity’s sake. Did his parents keep him in a box?

Come to think of it, that would explain a lot.

Hilzoy says,

If it was wrong for Don Imus to refer to the Rutgers basketball team as ‘nappy-headed hos’, and it was, and if MSNBC rightly decided that they had to drop him, then why on earth does Bill O’Reilly still have a job?

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Still Speaking of MSNBC …

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Bush Administration

If you missed last night’s special comment by Keith Olbermann, here it is …

The special comment was followed immediately by Dan Abrams’s show. I want to call attention to what Abrams said, because it was a nice follow-up to Olbermann.

DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Today the thin-skinned U.S. Senate managed to muster the political courage to finally speak for our troops. Timeline for withdrawal? Not quite. No, they are defending our troops by taking the time to vote to condemn a newspaper ad. Yes, the same Senate that could not pass legislation to provide our troops with the proper rest in between tours of duty managed to rally behind a toothless resolution condemning an advertisement from the liberal group Moveon.org. The ad referred to the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General Petraeus, as “General Betray Us” and accused him of cooking the books for the White House.

Twenty-two Democrats, apparently fearing being tagged as anti-military, voted with all the Republicans. And today, the president, wisely seeing an opportunity to change the subject away from the substantive discussion about the war, hit this softball out of the park.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought the ad was disgusting. And I felt like the ad was an attack not only on General Petraeus but on the U.S. military. And I was disappointed that not more leaders in the Democrat party spoke out strongly against that kind of ad. And that leads me to come to this conclusion, that most Democrats are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like Moveon.org—or more afraid of irritating them than they are of irritating the United States military. That was a sorry deal. And one thing to attack me, another thing to attack somebody like General Petraeus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS: My take. Please. What a sideshow. This is the same president who told a group of conservative columnists, People listen to Petraeus, not to me. And yet now the only one of the duo who people can criticize is the one who the president says people don’t listen to? By saying that Petraeus would essentially determine our Iraq policy, he made Petraeus more than just a military man.

But politicizing minutia is nothing new. It’s the Senate that’s even more disappointing here. Look, I, too, found the headline outrageous, certainly don’t agree with much of the ad. So what? It’s a political ad from a group with an agenda. Does this mean the Senate Republicans will now be called on to criticize every one of Anne Coulter’s books? Why shouldn’t a group, any group, be able to speak their minds about the most important issue facing our nation, even if it involves mocking someone who many revere? How perverse. While we’re fighting for democracy and freedom in the Middle East, back at home, our Senate is condemning political speech.

The first part of this clip shows the Abrams commentary, followed by Olbermann.

Abrams tends to focus on celebrity trials and missing white girls, but when he gets into real issues he can be surprisingly level headed. During the Terri Schiavo flap he was one of the few talking heads who actually challenged the wingnuts on their legal and medical “facts.” He may have a little of his father in him, after all.

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Speaking of MSNBC …

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News Media

I just captured this off the MSNBC TV web page.

Not that it’s going to do any good.

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Speaking of Racism …

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News Media

Warning: The video below has a Yuck Factor equivalent to three-day-old road kill. In July. I could only stand to watch a small part of it myself.

Beside being an exercise in classic projection, this video also belongs in the racism/sexism hall of fame. The speaker thinks “that girl” from Countdown (Alison Stewart; I don’t believe the creep who made the video even bothered to learn her name) was only chosen to be on Countdown because she “resembles” (as in being a young woman of color?) Michelle Malkin. He must think the guest host job should go by default to a white guy, and anyone else must be an Affirmative Action hire. That Stewart has smarts and poise to spare and got the job on merit isn’t a factor.

Nobody can replace Keith on Countdown, but IMO Stewart is his only recurring guest host of ANY race or gender who seems comfortable and natural in the role.

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Jena 6 Roundup

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Civil Rights

Eugene Robinson, “Drive Time for the ‘Jena 6‘”

Amina Luqman, “Jim Crow Comes for Our Kids

Los Angeles Times, “Soul Searching in Jena

Ed Pilkington, “Enough is enough: racial protest brings thousands to Southern town

Marian Wright Edelman, “Free the Jena 6

Jeff Douglas, “Rally Brings Change

Trey Ellis, “The Jena 6 Case Is History Written in Lightning

Matt Martinez, “Raise Your Voice

Update:

Gary Younge, “Jena: the next step

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Burnt Rice

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Bush Administration

The BBC reports that the Pope refused an audience request from Condi Rice.

There are at least two reasons why Pope Benedict may have decided peremptorily against a private meeting with Ms Rice.

First, it was Ms Rice who just before the outbreak of the Iraq war in March 2003 made it clear to a special papal envoy sent from Rome, Cardinal Pio Laghi, that the Bush administration was not interested in the views of the late Pope on the immorality of launching its planned military offensive.

Secondly, the US has responded in a manner considered unacceptable at the Vatican to the protection of the rights of Iraqi Christians under the new Iraqi constitution. …

… Instead of meeting the Pope, Ms Rice had to make do with a telephone conversation with the Vatican’s number two, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was visiting the US during August on other business.

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Derilict

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blogging, Civil Rights

Pam Spalding is right — we haven’t paid enough attention to the Jena 6, and I’m as guilty as anyone. My only excuse is that there are a number of other issues in the news lately I haven’t written about as well, like Blackwater, although I keep meaning to.

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Asking for Trouble

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blogging, Middle East, September 11, Terrorism

This week Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was denied a visit to Ground Zero. Ahmadinejad asked that he be allowed to lay a wreath at the site while he visits New York next week. Today ABC News reports that Ahmadinejad may go anyway, permission or no permission, and has even announced when. I can see all kinds of ways this would turn out badly, and I hope someone talks some sense into Ahmadinejad before then.

But Ahmadinejad is not the only one who needs to chill. The ever irresponsible Michelle Malkin is fanning the flames and trying to organize a “welcoming party.” And if she incites enough rage and recklessness to get someone killed, she will be equally outraged if anyone says it is her fault.

When the Good Lord was handing out common sense, Malkin was out hunting down exclamation marks.

No sooner had word gotten out last week that New York City was considering the request than politicians of both parties went into spasms of outrage. There was such a piling on of outrage you’d have thought Ahmadinejad had proposed offering a human sacrifice or, worse, memorializing Muhammad Atta. As BooMan says, the piling on turned into a game of one-upmanship, with pols bragging that they were not only outraged, they were more outraged than their political opponents. (See also the Anonymous Liberal.)

At this point in the post I have to stop and declare how much I don’t like Ahmadinejad. And I really don’t, but I resent having to say it. I am, however, obliged to make it clear that I don’t like Ahmadinejad so that righties don’t show up and accuse me of being a Mahmoud lover. What I will not do is enter into a competition to prove how much I dislike Ahmadinejad or if my dislike is sufficient dislike, because insufficient dislike is tantamount to siding with the terrorists.

Please note: I dislike groupthink a lot more than I dislike Ahmadinejad.

Here’s where we go from dumb to dumber — Scott Johnson of Power Tools says that Ahmadinejad is in New York he will participate in a question and answer session with university faculty and students at Columbia University’s World Leaders Forum. Johnson thinks this is a disgrace.

Columbia and President Bollinger are a disgrace. They welcome to their campus a man who is a ringleader in the seizure of American hostages, a terrorist, the president of a terrorist regime, and the representative of a regime responsible at present for the deaths of American soldiers on the field of battle. Columbia’s prattle about free speech may be a tale told by an idiot, but it signifies something. And President Bollinger is a fool who is not excused from the dishonor he brings to his institution and his fellow citizens by the fact that he doesn’t know what he is doing.

It’s true America is plagued by people who don’t know what they’re doing. Most of the Bush Administration comes to mind. But Columbia U. President Bollinger makes it clear he’s not inviting the Iranian leader over for tea and cookies. Bollinger intends to challenge Ahmadinejad on matters of terrorism, nuclear weapons, Holocaust denial, women’s rights, and other thorny issues, which I would think would be educational.

See, Scott, this is a World Leaders Forum, which I assume includes world-leaders-in-training. What World Leaders normally do is deal with other World Leaders of all stripes, and it’s good to have some laboratory experience with such things before you go out and practice World Leadership for real. Among other things, real World Leaders are not cartoons and do not go about with “Good” or “Evil” stamped on their foreheads. Real World Leaders are complicated people who probably got to be World Leaders because they are very good at handling other people. Even evil World Leaders can be charming. Back in the 1930s lots of people — right wingers, mostly — thought Hitler was a reasonable fellow. I remember reading that the first time Harry Truman met Joseph Stalin, Truman thought Stalin was an OK guy. This World Leadership thing isn’t as easy as it looks.

But righties have always been advocates for premeditated ignorance. I recall back in the 1950s and 1960s American conservatives would, from time to time, erupt into outrage mode upon learning that American colleges required students to learn something about Communism. Since Communism was the major threat to the planet at the time, one would think knowing something about it would be useful. But no; teaching students about Communism is teaching Communism. And Communism was, apparently, so inherently evil that merely learning about it was corrupting. Better to stay ignorant.

And it’s better not to get too close to whackjob World Leaders, even in a classroom, so that when the time comes that you actually have to deal with whackjob World Leaders you won’t know what you are doing and will have no recourse but to bomb them.

See how that works?

But back to the Ground Zero visit — I’m reminded of a story. Back in 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev toured America and expressed a desire to visit Disneyland. He was denied entrance to the Magic Kingdom, probably for security reasons, or maybe the Seven Dwarfs threatened a protest strike. In any event, Khrushchev’s disappointment became an international, big-bleeping-deal Issue with the bulk of global sympathy siding with Khrushchev. And some American editorialists suggested the experience might have taught the Communist dictator something about the superiority of capitalism and the American way of life.

Here I have to enter another disclaimer, that I am not comparing Ground Zero to a theme park. I was in lower Manhattan on 9/11 and am, therefore, better acquainted with what happened there than Michelle Malkin or anyone else who merely watched on television. I’ve seen Ground Zero many times since. It doesn’t look quite as sad as it used to, since they’ve finally started building stuff. Still, seeing the place might have given Ahmadinejad a sense of the scale of the disaster that photographs cannot provide. Maybe someone could fly him over the site in an unmarked helicopter. It might give him a glimmer of an idea why Americans are hostile about terrorism. Just don’t put out a press release this is happening, or some whackjob rightie will show up in Manhattan to shoot down helicopters.

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