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saturday, november 29, 2003

Views from Left Blogistan
Environment at Risk: See Damage for a whole lot of really alarming news about the state of the planet.
America at Risk: All Facts and Opinions shows us the difference that seventy years and a change of parties can make. Love this quote:  "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." -- John Kenneth Galbraith. Calpundit provides a scorecard for the Bush Administration. WTF Is It Now??? responds to fan mail from Bushies.

The Rest of the World at Risk: To the Philosophical Scrivener -- yes, you are right. It was the United States occupation authority that disbanded the Iraqi Army. Looks like some people aren't getting their stories straight. Digby at Hullabaloo responds to a particularly stupid article in The Nation.

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saturday, november 29, 2003

The Daddy Mystique and Electability
If you peel away American susceptibility to phony "heroes" like Bush, you find lurking at a subconscious level some regressive, oppressive, even fearful memes about masculinity. And to win the 2004 election, the Democrats will have to deal with masculinity memes, like it or not.
Just consider most of the past several presidential elections in terms of a John Wayne factor. War hero Dwight Eisenhower beat out egghead Adlai Stevenson, twice. In the Kennedy-Nixon debates, the televised image of the handsome, confident, robust JFK won over sweaty, shifty-eyed Tricky Dick, although those listening to the debates on television thought Nixon did the better job. Later, Commie-fighter, tough-on-crime Nixon beat the progressive Hubert Humphrey and the pacifist George McGovern. In spite of his age, tall-in-the-saddle Ronald Reagan was the personification of testosterone itself next to opponents Jimmy Carter and Fritz Mondale. Poppy Bush beat out Michael Dukakis on manliness, particularly after the unfortunate tank video, but the rakish Bill Clinton clearly out-manned Poppy.  
And in the 50-50 election of 2000, Al Gore got points for kissing his wife but lost points by being prissy in the debates. Bush's only asset was his faux cowboy act, but that kept the election close enough to steal.
Please note that I'm not saying this is a good thing. I'm just saying this is how it is. The John Wayne mythos is alive and well and must be appeased if the Dems are to win back the White House in 2004.
Pubescent politics? A few years ago, following the publication of Robert Bly's visionary book Iron John (Addison-Wesley, 1990), there was a men's movement. The men's movement started out with progressive intentions but was soon taken over by various troglodytes and misogynists and flamed out. I want to go back to men's movement lit for a minute, though, because what it originally tried to do was a very worthwhile thing that still needs doing. It is also essential to seeing what lies beneath our current political landscape.
In Iron John, Robert Bly tried to reconnect manhood with nature and civilization -- with building and creation and husbandry instead of destruction, war, and waste. Bly used fairy-tale metaphors to describe a way for males to grow into a mature manhood rather than remain stuck in the perpetual adolescence that passes for "manhood" in our culture, currently represented by "The Man Show" on cable television.
Bly's premise (picked up from Joseph Campbell) is that in our culture boys grow up lacking contact with men. Therefore, they are uninitiated into true manhood, and beneath their bravado -- often subconsciously -- they are fearful and insecure. This in turn causes men to be prone to violence and fearful of intimacy. (Iron John was a revelation because a man was saying this; however, nearly any woman over the age of 40 can tell you the same thing.)
The faux masculinity celebrated by our culture equates violence with strength and power with potency. It is a rogue thing that does not honor the principles of civilization or the processes of governance. Like most John Wayne characters, or Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry, following the rules is for girls and sissies. Why bother with a justice system when you've got a gun?
But this is looking at manhood from a child's perspective. Adults realize why there are rules, and honor them. A child just understands power -- you have to be fair only because adults say so. And if you're strong enough and it's your ball, you can make up the rules -- pretty much the GOP attitude these days. From the Texas redistricting to the California recall to the recent shenanigans that got the Medicare bill passed in the House, it's clear that the adults are not in charge. The adults, in fact, are cowering in fear of what the children might do next.
The adolescents are so much in charge they've taken over media. Compare the mature media voices of yesteryear -- e.g., Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite -- with the pubescent trash-talkers who hog national conversation today -- Limbaugh, the MSNBC weeknight lineup, Fox News all the time.
George W. Bush is an adolescent's fantasy of what a president should be, just as John Wayne was an adolescent's fantasy cowboy/lawman, and Dirty Harry an adolescent's fantasy detective -- easily bored with rules and talk, but quick on the trigger. Who needs diplomacy when you've got the biggest, baddest military in the world? And need I mention -- the flight suit? And the Bulge? (Never mind that George W. Bush's entire presidency is little more than an acting-out of his own unresolved oedipal conflicts.)
Another way the GOP reveals its adolescent mentality is with its absolutist, black-and-white thinking -- there is no gray, just good and evil. There are good guys and bad guys; others are either with us or against us; an act is either right or wrong. Conservatives speak of the "moral clarity" in this type of thinking.
Well, yes, it's very clear, because it's very childish. It's the world presented in a coloring book, with black, unchanging lines that mustn't be crossed. In the real world, even the best people have flaws, and even the worst people have some redeeming qualities. Acts have both good and bad consequences. Most other nations agree with us sometimes and disagree with us at other times. Lines shift place, disappear, reappear. Sometimes, but not always, lines should be crossed. It may not be clear, but it's real. Adults can see this; children cannot.
Make Room for Daddy. What does this mean for Democrats choosing a presidential candidate? It means that a big chunk of the electorate has the emotional development of children, and the Dems have to win at least some of the child votes if they're going to take the White House. Like it or not, the Dems have to nominate a man (sorry, Ambassador Mosely-Braun) who can be imagined in a ten-gallon hat and spurs; whose testosterone credentials are unquestioned; and who can fulfill a child's yearning for a big, strong, manly Daddy.
(For anyone who wonders why Wesley Clark is considered more "electable" than Dennis Kucinich -- this is why.)
Naturally we shouldn't turn our backs on the grown-up vote, but the grown-up vote is already pledged to anyone but Bush.
Daddy Dearest. A few years ago, Chris Matthews (I think) dubbed the Democrats the "mommy party" and the Republicans the "daddy party." Matthews, well known for his GOP infomercials disguised as news programs, explained that the Republicans are the "protectors" and the Democrats are the "nurturers."
But who are the GOP protecting? Themselves, their friends, their interests -- not the nation. Not ordinary people. Certainly not the environment. Like children, they do not care about the long-term consequences of their acts, or the kids from another neighborhood, or about cleaning up after their own messes. Those who worry about paying the bills or protecting the forests are mommies, and weak, and girls.
This is the mentality we are dealing with. This is our true enemy. If we as a people don't grow up, fast, there's not much hope for us.

It may be that the Iraq War eventually will have a sobering effect and cause some people to grow up. (Vietnam had that effect on many. Notice that John Wayne's Green Berets film, released in 1968, was a flop. At the height of Vietnam, Wayne's adolescent fantasy soldier had lost appeal.) But there's not enough time for much maturing between now and November 2004.

My hope is not only that Democrats take back the White House in 2004. My hope is that the next President of the United States will be someone who can personify real, grown-up, mature manhood. I want an Iron John kinda guy who is a true protector of both civilization and the natural world. And maybe with a real, mature male role model in the White House, people will catch on to the difference between real men and males stuck in adolescence posing as men.

And then, will a woman president be far behind?

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friday, november 28, 2003

The False Hero, Part II
I was thrilled to hear about President Bush's surprise Thanksgiving visit to Iraq, because it dovetails nicely with what I was planning to write about anyway -- false heroism.
From the beginning, and particularly after September 11,  the Bush Administration has made masterful use of symbols and images to portray George W. Bush as a strong leader, even as a hero. Those not susceptible to the GOP Mind Meld can only watch in horror while such a pitiful excuse for a leader is worshipped as a Great Man by so many.
I've been thinking about a great little book by the British military historian John Keegan -- The Mask of Command. Keegan explores the way leadership roles change with the times by looking at four distinctively different "heroes." Alexander the Great is the prototypical "heroic" leader. The Duke of Wellington is the "anti-hero," a man prepared to fight but without Alexander's theatrics. Ulysses S. Grant is the "un-hero" and the great general of a democratic army because he considered himself no better than his men. And Adolf Hitler is the "false hero," relying on simulated heroism and remaining at a safe distance while his soldiers fought in his name.
He [Hitler] — for all the half-educated rhetoric of his writings and speeches, his psychological tophamper of rancours, insecurities and imagined injustices, and the muddled hatreds of what he called his philosophy — was a man in touch with a mainstream of life. He knew the power of the appeal to manhood, comradeship and warriordom, knew how to articulate it and knew how to bend it to his political purpose.  [John Keegan, The Mask of Command (Viking Penguin, 1987), p. 258]
The "appeal to manhood" thing looks at bit different in America today than it did in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. Hitler built his Reich from the still smoldering resentments left over from World War I. The psychosocial foundations of the Bush Regime are not so obvious, but he does appeal strongly to white working-class men who feel entitled to a bigger (or should I say, higher?) piece of the pie than they are getting these days. This is true in spite of the fact it's GOP policies, not terrorists or liberals, making sure only rich people get the pie.
But back to Bush's quickie visit to Iraq and his false heroism. It appears that if wrapping oneself in the flag isn't working, try wearing a spiffy jacket that spells "A-R-M-Y" and get yourself cheered by combat troops..
"While the troops cheered the moment, it is too soon to know whether the image of Bush in his Army jacket yesterday will become a symbol of strong leadership or a symbol of unwarranted bravado," Dana Milbank wrote in today's Washington Post.
Bush faces a public relations problem similar to Hitler's -- he is an unheroic man trying to pass himself off as a hero. Here Keegan discusses the fact that while Hitler was allegedly "leading" armies, he was doing so from a number of remote hideaways, far from danger.

His acute understanding of the popular mind let him to perceive, however, that the reality of isolation from danger conferred by the remoteness of all Führer headquarters, must be offset by the illusion of shared risk. Hitler’s was certainly not unalert to the ancient and central dilemma of the general: where to stand, how often to be seen? In front always, sometimes or never? Were questions on which he had pondered privately and publicly since the first days of his ascent to power. “By virtue of a natural order,” he had written in Mein Kampf, the strongest man is destined to fulfill the great mission …”


Propaganda — though no such crude encapsulation was ever applied to the means of his public representation — was the solution. Hitler had had an acute grasp of the importance of propaganda from an early age; had applauded the superiority of Allied over German propaganda in the First World War in Mein Kampf and had there singled out its didactic essentials: The selection of a few simple messages for endless repetition. “The receptivity of the masses is very limited,” he wrote, “their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous; in consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogans.” Goebbels, the propaganda minister — “enlightenment” minister was its exact title, a brilliant pilfering from the age when to the world Germany meant Herder and Goethe — had already burdened the German public consciousness with a kaleidoscopic image of Hitler as his people’s mentor and protector, the unsleeping guardian of their interests, the lonely helmsman of their destiny, the orphan of their collective sufferings, and the guarantor of their future return to greatness. To that image he added, from the outset of war, the picture of a Hitler unwillingly re-outfitted in the battle gear of a frontfighter, marching to victory as if — not wholly present in body but totally in spirit — at the head of troops. … [pp. 305-306]

As I remember (although I couldn't find a news story link), after the alleged end of "combat" last May, Bush visited troops in the Middle East but did not land anywhere in Iraq -- it was too dangerous. It doesn't appear to be much less dangerous now, so why the visit to Iraq?


Obviously, Bush's plunging approval numbers have persuaded the White House that the Commander-in-Chief needs to be seen as a war leader, accepting the cheers of hardened combat troops while sporting an Army jacket. What a guy! What a hero! Not. 

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thursday, november 27, 2003

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wednesday, november 26, 2003

The False Hero, Part IA
Adding to the last blog about Bush as the new Andy Jackson -- Jackson is associated with what's called Jacksonian Democracy. The myth of Jacksonian Democracy is that it wrested power away from the elite, aristocratic, monied classes and made democracy more democratic, at least for white men.
In the 1820s, America was still struggling with entrenched, 18th-century notions that aristocratic, monied landowners were the natural and proper leaders of society and government. At the same time, developments in commerce and the beginnings of capitalism seemed advantageous to a few at the expense of the many. In the presidential election of 1828, Andy Jackson emerged as the champion of the common (white) man.

The Jacksonians' basic policy thrust, both in Washington and in the states, was to rid government of class biases and dismantle the top-down, credit-driven engines of the market revolution. The war on the Second Bank of the United States and subsequent hard-money initiatives set the tone—an unyielding effort to remove the hands of a few wealthy, unelected private bankers from the levers of the nation's economy.... According to the Jacksonians, all of human history had involved a struggle between the few and the many, instigated by a greedy minority of wealth and privilege that hoped to exploit the vast majority. And this struggle, they declared, lay behind the major problems of the day, as the "associated wealth" of America sought to augment its domination.

The people's best weapons were equal rights and limited government—ensuring that the already wealthy and favored classes would not enrich themselves further by commandeering, enlarging, and then plundering public institutions. ... Beyond position-taking, the Jacksonians propounded a social vision in which any white man would have the chance to secure his economic independence, would be free to live as he saw fit, under a system of laws and representative government utterly cleansed of privilege. [Sean Wilentz, "Jacksonian Democracy," The Reader's Companion to American History, J. Garraty and E. Foner, eds. (Houghton Mifflin, 1991), pp. 582-583]

Do not doubt that the ideals of Jacksonian Democracy are alive and well. And the Powers that Be in the Right Wing have masterfully twisted those ideals around to their advantage.

The new Jacksonian myth is that some shadowy but powerful "liberal elite" threatens to sell America out to "socialism." This myth says that George Bush and other Republicans are the champions who will keep America safe from both socialist/liberals and terrorists. Add the wedge issues such as school prayer and abortion that Republicans have exploited so well, and you have an electorate of lemmings.

The cruel fact is, of course, that Bush and his cronies are selling out working Americans in favor of big corporations, while at the same time badly mismanaging national security.

One of the reasons liberals can't make a dent in the Jacksonian mythos is that they don't understand it. Liberals get all wound up about the good things government might do for people, and neo-Jacksonians don't want to hear about this, believing that "Big Gubmint" programs will somehow enslave them. They don't see the thousands of ways government policies permeate their lives, no matter if the policies are Democratic or Republican.

The challenge for liberals is to frame political debate in ways that honor the Jacksonian myth (making it inclusive of women and people of color, of course). And to win the White House next year, we've got to nominate the guy who's a better Andy Jackson than Bush.

7:12 pm | link

The False Hero, Part I
A week after the President of the United States brought five personal chefs along on a state visit to Buckingham Palace, an assistant professor of history at Texas State University at San Marcos writes:

Call the man dim, call him corrupt, but call him president until 2008. George W. Bush certainly has vulnerabilities, but he's been smart enough to model himself on a man who pioneered the fine art of political image-making: Andrew Jackson. Democrats, as a result, are doomed. [James McWilliams, President Has a Plain Old Cowboy's Winning Ways, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 24, 2003]

Andrew JacksonWho is he kidding?  But, on reflection, Professor McWilliams may have a point. The point is not that Shrub is anything at all like Andrew Jackson. The point is that Shrub's political support -- a phenomenon that passeth all understanding -- must be attributed to his careful cultivation of an Andrew-Jackson-like persona.

Hacking away at mesquite grub on his Crawford, Texas, ranchette, he convincingly puts forth the image of a rugged individualist, a doer, a true frontiersman, a man who's never quoted a law in his life but has made laws to suit his base urges, a plowman rather than a professor.

Who knows why we lap it up, but lap it up we do. Those of us so bold as to call ourselves intellectuals read the journals, write the books, construct the carefully detailed and, yes, objective arguments against the war in Iraq. We know, deep in our principled hearts, that we are right in a rational and moral sense. But so what?

The nation has no patience for long-winded justifications. In fact, it is suspicious of them. Until someone figures out that the house of cards the administration has built must be crumbled by a yeoman with a sledgehammer and not a smarty-pants with a book, King George's manifest destiny will be to reign as the favored son of King Andrew. [Ibid.]

It may be that what separates Bush lovers from Bush haters has less to do with ideology than with susceptibility to Shrub's phony Andy Jackson act. Where some people see a "rugged individualist, a doer, a true frontiersman," other see a spoiled brat who never worked a day in his life, who had privilege and power handed to him on a plate, and who drags five personal chefs to Buckingham Palace. (And is it true that Bush is afraid of horses?)

Many, if not most, of those ordinary people who slavishly support Bush would turn against him in a minute if they could see him for what he is. Unfortunately, that's not likely to happen. True love may or may not be blind, but hero-worship sure is.

This gets us to the "electability" factor in the upcoming presidential elections. It is unfortunately the case that while the GOP has become the party of knee-jerk, right-wing extremist ideologues, the Democratic Party is the home of long-winded justifications. We may have truth on our side, but it won't do us a damn bit of good as long as we can't boil down truth to fit on a bumper sticker.

So, if we can't out-argue 'em, we've got to out-Andy Jackson 'em. My guts tell me the only Dem candidate with a chance in the Andy Jackson game is Wesley Clark. Many of the other candidates have taken admirable stands on issues -- Howard Dean most notably -- but I fear that Dean is unsalable outside the Northeast. We'll see.

Next: The False Hero, Part II: Bush and The Mask of Command

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tuesday, november 25, 2003

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monday, november 24, 2003

Required Reading
I keep checking the news to see if the Medicare Bill has passed the Senate, meaning Medicare as we know it is doomed. Any minute now. While we're waiting, please read this article by Mike Viqueira of NBC News about what went on in the House to get the bill passed. Way surreal.
Another must-read article is in the current New Republic. "The Radical: What Dick Cheney Really Believes," by Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman, demonstrates that Cheney is not only a crackpot now; he has been a crackpot for years, including his tenure as Secretary of Defense under Bush I. Very frightening stuff. Cheney went into the Vice President's job with a long-nurtured obsession with taking out Saddam Hussein; he is the fountainhead of all neocon schemes and designs on the Middle East.

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sunday, november 23, 2003

Over the River and Through the Woods
Maru at WTF Is It Now!!! has more to say about the Bush Grand State Visit to Britain.
The most expensive pub lunch in history
Two jumbo jets, two liveried presidential helicopters, four more US Navy helicopters, a motorcade of limousines, 200 US secret service agents and 1300 English police were required to unite Mr Bush safely with his fish and mushy peas. Total cost?
2.3 million. Dollars.

This means my estimate for the cost of the 2004 Republican National Convention (yesterday's blog) is way low. Roughly, if Bubble Boy expects the same level of safety in New York City he got in London, it's going to cost a zillion kajillion dollars. A ball-park estimate, you understand, but a reasonable one.

Also, Queen Liz is way pissed off at Bush, and not just because he showed up at her house with five personal chefs. Apparently the beloved and historic Royal Gardens are in ruins. Even the Queen's pet flamingos are traumatized.

That'll be the last time a President gets invited to stay in Buckingham Palace, I bet.

Historical note. This was not the first time a British Queen was hostess to an American president, and not the first time the visit did not go smoothly.

Shortly after he ended his second term as President in 1877, Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia, traveled to Britain to visit with their married daughter, Nellie. The visit morphed into the Grand Tour of all Grand Tours; they left Philadelphia in May 1877 and sailed into San Francisco from Japan in 1879.

The Grants had expected to travel as private citizens. Much to their surprise, an enormous cheering crowd greeted them on the dock in Liverpool. They became the celebrated guests of several British royals, including Queen Victoria, who invited them to supper at Windsor.

The party took the five o’clock train from Paddington Station on June 16, and arrived early. What was worse, like any good American family, which would surely bring the kids along, the Grants brought Jesse [their youngest son] — “our pet,” as Julia described him to the queen — though he had not been invited. (There was a minor diplomatic crise, as duchesses mediated, and an ex post facto invitation was begrudgingly achieved.) …


Someone did answer the door, arrange a hasty tour of the paintings in the vast halls, and show the Grants to their rooms there they huddled, not yet knowing how they were to be introduced to Victoria. Adam Badeau [American consul general in London], fuming because he and Jesse were to eat with the household, not at the queen’s table, fluttered officiously about, keeping Julia in a state of agitation. Jesse, nearly twenty, but acting ten, took up Badeau’s cry and said he would not eat with “the servants” and wanted to go back to town. No doubt that was what everyone wanted. Victoria’s first response to Jesse’s threat was, “Well, let him go,” but two ladies and two lords in waiting negotiated this second crisis, and Jesse was duly invited to Her Majesty’s table, at which three of the queen’s children were also to sit. [William S. McFeely, Grant (W.W. Norton, 1981), p. 458]

According to McFeely, supper (in the Queen's private dining hall) was "not jolly," and after dining Victoria complained of fatigue and withdrew. The Grants spent the night at Windsor and were driven to the train station in the morning without seeing the Queen again. One wonders how fatigued Victoria would have been if Grant had shown up with five personal chefs and an entourage of Secret Service persons trashing her gardens.

The Grand Tour continued, and the Grants continued to struggle with the royalty thing. In Germany Grant received an invitation to call on Prince Otto von Bizmarck Instead of traveling with an entourage in a carriage, Grant walked from his hotel to Radizwell Castle, alone, and was about to knock on the door when the uniformed guards informed the servants, who opened the door.

I've been told a story about Grant in Japan that may be true -- it sounds just like Grant. Ulysses and Julia were touring the countryside in a carriage when they came to a river, and crossing the river were two bridges, one ornate and one plain. The driver explained that the ornage bridge was for the emperor's exclusive use, but Grant had permission to use it also. Grant, however, chose to cross over on the plain bridge, which struck the Japanese as such a perfect example of excellent manners they tell the story to this day. 

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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918


The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

[Mark Twain, 1905]

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My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Sister Numchuku of Reasoned Discussion.

Get yours.

Copyright 2003, 2004 by Barbara O'Brien

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