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saturday, november 27, 2004

Those Were the Days
In all the tension of the election campaign, I missed the 50th anniversary of the Army-McCarthy Hearings. The hearings, which were Senator Joe McCarthy's Waterloo, so to speak, ended June 17, 1954.
The Bush Purge reminded me of what McCarthy did to the State Department. Very briefly-- McCarthy, a junior Senator from Wisconsin, gained instant national notoriety in 1950 when he told the Women's Republic Club in Wheeling WV that "I have here in my hand" a list of 205 (or thereabouts) Communists in the State Department, and these Communists were known to the Secretary of State, yet they were still in the State Department guiding policy.
There are two common misconceptions about this incident that remain entrenched among Righties. One, that McCarthy stood alone and bravely revealed this hitherto unknown information to the world, to the jeers of disbelieving liberals; and, second, that subsequent revelations (especially the Venona documents, released in the late 1990s) proved that McCarthy was right.
Wrong on both counts, of course. Soviet espionage in Washington was a white-hot topic in February 1950, when McCarthy made his speech. Among other items in the news, Alger Hiss had just been convicted and sentenced in January. And the British physicist Klaus Fuchs was arrested by the FBI on February 2 for passing atomic bomb research to the Soviets. When the Senator took the Wheeling podium on February 9, he was just trying to grab a piece of a sure-fire, crowd-pleasing action.
Second, there had been Soviet spies in Washington. But the Venona Code was broken by American intelligence in 1946, and by 1950 Soviet espionage had been pretty well flushed out. By the time McCarthy made his Wheeling speech, the Soviet spy rings had been broken. This includes the infamous Rosenbergs, who were under investigation in February 1950 and would be arrested that summer.
It's been thoroughly documented that McCarthy's "list" was a bluff. He waved papers around and pulled numbers out of his ass and got attention. But eventually he had to put up or shut up. So he flailed around and found names to name. He ruined many careers and caused a lot of pain, but not one person targeted by McCarthy was ever found to be a real Soviet spy.
Among McCarthy's first targets were Asian experts in the State Department who were being blamed for the Communist takeover of China in 1949. In actuality these guys for years had warned that the corrupt Chiang Kai-shek would fall if he didn't clean up his act, and it turns out they were right. But the wingnuts of the time decided that these guys must have been Communist sympathizers who sold out Chiang Kai-shek. In the spring of 1950, when McCarthy was under pressure to put up or shut up, the Asian experts were easy targets. And so they were purged. (See this obituary for one of the Asian experts, Edmund Clubb, for more background.)
Thus it was that in the 1950s the State Department developed a serious void in knowledge of Asia, and there are many who think this void had a lot to do with the policy blunders that got us into Vietnam. One shudders to think of what Condi Rice is going to do to the State Department and how many future blunders this will cause, even after the Bushies have gone.
If you want a thorough, detailed, readable, and well-researched history of Tail-Gunner Joe, I recommend A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy by David Oshinsky. If you'd like something a lot shorter and less, well, academic, you might like Senator Joe McCarthy by Richard Rovere. This was published in 1959 and is still in print.
I was skimming through the Rovere book and was struck by the very last three paragraphs and how they seem to relate to our time. So here they are, as written and published in 1959:

On his seventieth birthday, November 20, 1954, Norman Thomas, a devoted champion of liberty and decency, observed the approaching end of McCarthy’s great period and expressed a generally sanguine view. “In spite of all this [McCarthy, McCarthyism, and other noxious growth of other days], there has been,” he said, “a saving common sense about our democracy. . . . [The] end has always been victory for comparative reason and decency. The struggle against demagoguery scarcely fits the St. George-against-the-dragon myth. . . . Our democratic St. George goes out rather reluctantly with armor awry. The struggle is confused; our knight wins by no clean thrust of lance or sword, but the dragon somehow poops out, and decent democracy is victor.”


It was that way in 1954, certainly, and there could be a principle embodied in Norman Thomas’s pooped dragon. McCarthy may have suffered an interior collapse because he sensed futility. He may have been himself an unknowing victim of the truth or the myth of our saving common sense. It is possible that McCarthy actually believed John McClellan when John McClellan said he wasn’t afraid of McCarthy. The reluctance of the American St. George may have been contagious, and McCarthy may in the end have been a reluctant, as well as a fatigued, dragon. I do not think this conflicts with the view that he was flawed by his inability to believe what he was saying. The cynic may know sooner than other men when he is licked, and McCarthy may well have felt – without having reasoned, for I do not believe he often reasoned – that though great prodigies may still have been possible for him, the effort to gain them would require that life’s blood that no cynic likes to yield.


However that may be, we are faced with the fact that he gave the tree one hell of a shaking. It did not fall, and he did, but we cannot put aside our memories of the day when 50 per cent of the people had a “favorable opinion” of this bully and fraud and another 21 per cent had “no opinion” of him. There must be grave risks in any open society, Learned Hand has said, and William James might have added that the grave risks make life worth living. McCarthy offered a powerful challenge to freedom, and he showed us to be more vulnerable than many of us had guessed to a seditious demagoguery – as well as less vulnerable than some of us feared. [Richard Rovere, Senator Joe McCarthy (1959), pp. 270-271]   

More vulnerable? Less vulnerable? I wonder.
9:59 pm | link

friday, november 26, 2004

The Gathering Darkness

US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia used an appearance at an Orthodox synagogue in New York to assail the notion that the US government should maintain a neutral stance toward religion, saying it has always supported religion and the courts should not try to change that.

Speaking at a conference on religious freedom in America on Monday hosted by Manhattan's Congregation Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in North America, Scalia said that the founding fathers never advocated the separation of church and state and that America has prospered because of its religiousness. ...

"The founding fathers never used the phrase 'separation of church and state,'" he said, arguing that rigid separation of religion and state – as in Europe, for example – would be bad for America and bad for the Jews.

"Do you think it's going to make Jews safer? It didn't prove that way in Europe," he said. [Link]

Is he suggesting that secularism brought on the Holocaust? Does he not grasp that centuries of religious establishment in Europe -- oh, never mind.

I'm going to quote from a post written a year ago: 

Why the Danbury Baptists wrote to Jefferson. When the Danbury Baptists wrote to President Jefferson they were upset about church-state relations in Connecticut. The state of Connecticut had established the Congregationist Church as the state religion (the establishment clause of the First Amendment applied only to the federal government until the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868). Baptists and other non-Congregationlists paid taxes to maintain Congregationalist churches, a practice that caused the Baptists of 1803 to be downright liberal about religion. So they wrote to Jefferson:

Our Sentiments are uniformly on the side of Religious Liberty -- That Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals -- That no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious Opinions - That the legitimate Power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor: But Sir our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter together with the Laws made coincident therewith, were adopted on the Basis of our government, at the time of our revolution; and such had been our Laws & usages, and such still are; that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation; and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights: and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore; if those, who seek after power & gain under the pretense of government & Religion should reproach their fellow men -- should reproach their chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion Law & good order because he will not, dare not assume the prerogatives of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ. [Danbury Baptist Association, letter to President Jefferson, October 7, 1801]
... This passage refers to the Connecticut constitution (a charter adopted on the basis of of Connecticut government at the time of the Revolution) and its religious mandates:
Our ancient charter together with the Laws made coincident therewith, were adopted on the Basis of our government, at the time of our revolution; and such had been our Laws & usages, and such still are; that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation; and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights: and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen.
... The Danbury Baptists understood that Jefferson could not change what was going on in Connecticut. They wrote seeking his assurance he would not attempt on a federal level what was being done to them on a state level. And so Jefferson replied:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should `make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore man to all of his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. [Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association, January 1, 1802]
Related Links
Next we'll hear that Jefferson doesn't count because he wasn't one of the authors of the Constitution. But he was author of the much beloved Declaration of Independence. And chief constitution author James Madison based the First Amendment on Jefferson's Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.
Jefferson wrote this in his autobiography about the passage of the Virginia Statute:
The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it's protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion." The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it's protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.
Jefferson believed that government should not be hostile to religion, but at the same time he understood that government must be absolutely neutral toward religion in order to protect freedom of religion.
I am assuming Justice Scalia is Catholic, although I don't know for certain. There used to be (probably still is, in spots) strong anti-Papist sentiment throughout the Bible Belt. I grew up hearing that Catholics were not "real Christians." When my elementary school class visited historic Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, several children were given strict orders by their parents not to enter the old Catholic church because it was a temple of devil worship.
The only reason there was less anti-semitism than anti-Papism was that Jews were totally off the radar for us. I didn't meet a Jewish person until I was in college.
I don't know how the Justice's Jewish audience received his speech, but since moving to the New York City region I've noticed a number of rabbis critical of the establishment clause. This always astonishes me, but then I realize these guys probably rarely travel outside the boroughs. The Bible Belt is a foreign and unfamiliar place for them, as I suspect it is for Justice Scalia. A shame. They do not grasp that they are free to practice their own religions because of separation of church and state. Truly, sometimes you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.
7:44 am | link

thursday, november 25, 2004

I hope you are all well and properly stuffed.
Here's an update on the Target-Salvation Army flap. It's also a descent into the dark mind of wingnuttery, so beware.
In yesterday's post I quoted one Hugh Hewitt, apparently a wingnut of some note, although I had never before noted him. It seems Mr. Hewitt is leading the charge to boycott Target for not exempting the Salvation Army from its ban on solicitors in front of stores.
New wrinkle: Target is taking part in a fundraising program for St. Jude's Children's Hospital.

Stores such as Target, 7-Eleven, CVS/pharmacy, Kay Jewelers, The Athlete's Foot, T.J. Maxx, Hecht's, Nine West, Toys "R" Us, The Bombay Company, and Sears Portrait Studio, as well as corporations like The Walt Disney Company, American Express, American Airlines, Amazon, Yahoo!, AOL, Ticketmaster, Harrah's Entertainment, Domino's Pizza and FedEx will give customers a host of opportunities to support St. Jude. Whether through the purchase of gift cards, teddy bears, St. Jude patient-designed merchandise, a donation at checkout or an outright contribution, shoppers will be lending help to the ongoing research of pediatric cancer and other deadly diseases.

Someone must've called this fundraiser to the attention of Mr. Hewitt, which left him on the horns of a dilemma. He had determined that Target is an evil anti-Christian organization being influenced by the evil liberal satanic Communist lefty elitist etc. cabal. But now he's been told that Target is doing something good for sick children. As I see it, he has two choices:

1. Admit that maybe Target isn't entirely evil, and commend it for helping raise money for St. Jude's Children's Hospital.

2. Smear St. Jude's Children's Hospital.

So what does Mr. Hewitt do? Well, duh.

Did St. Jude insist on the exiling of Salvation Army as a condition of Target's participation in the big roll out of this glitzy new campaign? Is St. Jude considered a "safe charity," secular with a sectarian name, and fun to be associated with given the glamour of the Hollywood affiliates?

Research into pediatric cancer is indeed a noble cause, but did St. Jude muscle out – intentionally or unintentionally – the dowdy old, very Christian Salvation Army with its unglamorous business of feeding drunks and clothing homeless?

You can't make this stuff up. But I wonder, if St. Jude's Children's Hospital is part of an evil plot to destroy the Salvation Army, are 7-Eleven, CVS/pharmacy, Kay Jewelers, The Athlete's Foot, T.J. Maxx, Hecht's, Nine West, Toys "R" Us, The Bombay Company, and Sears Portrait Studio, as well as corporations like The Walt Disney Company, American Express, American Airlines, Amazon, Yahoo!, AOL, Ticketmaster, Harrah's Entertainment, Domino's Pizza and FedEx in on it also? 

5:58 pm | link

Happy Thanksgiving, Plus Update
This is an update to the last two posts. As you may have heard by now, the righties are pushing a news story about a school in California banning the Declaration of Independence because it refers to God. Naturally, this story is a lie.
What really happened: The teacher passed out "supplementary reading" handouts to his class that included quotes from the Declaration of Independence, but what else was in the handouts isn't clear. Julia at American Street has some more details that suggest the handouts were fundie propaganda. A parent had complained.
The teacher is suing the school with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization dedicated to spreading lies and hysteria about how the evil liberals want to run God out of America. Among other things, ADF defends the right of Christians to 'share the gospel' in workplaces and public schools. To them, any efforts to curb proselytizing at work and school are anti-Christian.
Drudge has published the phone number of the school's principal. I'm sure the principal will receive lots of friendly phone calls wishing him a happy Thanksgiving.
Sooner or later, all liberals in America will be forced to either publicly recant liberalism -- possibly by swearing an oath to love George W. "big brother" Bush -- or we'll be required to wear an arm band with a big "L" on it to single us out. That'll be right before we're rounded up and shipped off to the camps.
Seeing the Forest has an updated post with all the details. Digby adds some historical background on the Founding Fathers and religion. See also this post I wrote a year ago about the establishment clause.
9:09 am | link

wednesday, november 24, 2004

Turkey Trot

Along with the new gripes about oppressing Christianity (see last post), the usual suspects have trotted out their annual gripe about how the evil Communist lefty atheist liberal cabal that runs everything won't allow little children to learn about Thanksgiving. Or, more specifically, that atheist educators won't tell children the Puritans celebrated Thanksgiving to thank God for surviving a whole year in Massachusetts.

Fact is, there is little historians know for certain about the famous Plymouth Colony first Thanksgiving, beyond the fact that it took place in 1621 and that the neighborhood native Americans dropped by. What most of us learned about Thanksgiving in elementary school is a mix of myth and assumption. It's a fair assumption that the Puritans said grace before they pitched in to whatever it was they ate. However, the scant contemporary documentation of the three-day feast didn't say much about religious observation.

It's difficult even to know what role the Thanksgiving Story played in our evolving national mythos in the early days of the American republic. For a long time Thanksgiving was not a regularly observed holiday, and the story itself may not have been well known outside New England. In other words, the First Thanksgiving wasn't that big a deal until it became a national holiday.

And, of course, it became a national holiday in 1863 because Abraham Lincoln was trying to prop up national morale during the Civil War. Most of the "traditional" Thanksgiving feast -- turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce -- is right out of Victorian-era cookbooks. And I bet the Puritans would have considered candied sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top to be works of the devil.

puritanpinup.jpg(Yummm ... candied sweet potatoes ....) 

Just as Thanksgiving Dinner was the creation of 19th-century cooks, the standard Thanksgiving Story is in large part a creation of 19th-century educators. It's a sweet story. But if you're going to insist on historical truth, the story probably shouldn't be taught at all, as history. Better if it were taught as a kind of legend, which is pretty much what it is.

IMO the historical first Thanksgiving that schoolchildren should learn about is the one in 1863. And they should about the context. A terrible war within our own borders had gone on for three years, and in the fall of 1863 there were no signs it would be over soon. Although the Union had scored a couple of significant victories in July, at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the death and deprivation were wearing down support for continuing the conflict.

The kids should learn about the discouragement, and about the trip Lincoln took to Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, to dedicate the cemetary and deliver the famous address. I've read that some bodies of soldiers killed in July were still waiting to be buried on November 19. Lincoln hadn't been that far from Washington since his inauguration, but he traveled to Gettysburg because he wanted to say something to steady the nation's nerves.

On the day itself, the last Thursday of November, Union troops enjoyed their usual meal of hard tack and coffee, with maybe some fatty bacon or salt pork. (The next year, citizens sent "CARE packages" of Thanksgiving food to troops encamped at Petersburg, however.)

That's history. There's documentation up the wazoo for all this. I wouldn't mind if the kids read Lincoln's Thanksgiving proclamation, which is fairly drizzled with religiosity, because it's real history.  But it should be told honestly, with all the context, which means it won't be a sweet story, or a pleasant one. But it deserves to be remembered.

However you choose to observe Thanksgiving -- enjoy.

8:56 pm | link

Target and the Lefty-Secular-Communist Axis!
Mark Noonan at Blogs for Bush tells us that the Target (pronounced tar-zhay in our household) department store chain has fallen in with the Satanic liberal lefty Communist secular anti-American elitist cabal that secretly runs everything in the world (see this discussion of The Protocols of the Elders of Liberalism for an explanation of the cabal).
And how do we know this? Because Target has banned the Salvation Army from soliciting in front of its stores!
Mr. Noonan writes,
Target, as we've all heard, has for some bizarre reason decided to not allow the Salvation Army to put it's bell-ringing Santa's outside it's stores this Christmas season - likely, this is due to some sick and cowardly desire to appease the anti-religious left. The Salvation Army, as it's name implies, is a Christian organization and has this annoying (for leftists) habit of strictly adhering to Christian moral principles. Maybe you don't agree with them - and then you're perfectly free to pass the collection tin without dropping a penny...but I think even the most atheist among us considers the Salvation Army a holiday fixture in the United States...and Target has banned it.
As you know, I wake up every morning thinking about which Christian moral principles I can undermine that day. It's what I live for. Apparently the corporate overlords of Target feel the same way, although they've worked up a lame excuse for their oppression of Christians:
In previous years, Target had always made the Salvation Army its one exception to the no-solicitation rule, but an increasing number of requests by other charities led the company to not allow the Salvation Army kettle collectors to return this season.

"The Salvation Army was always our one exception each year, but it was becoming very apparent that if we say yes to one we had to say yes to all," said Paula Thorton-Greer, spokeswoman for Target. "In the end, we needed to be fair and consistent to everyone. 
Mr. Noonan isn't fooled for one minute:
Some people have pointed out that Target and other retailers are also banning anyone else from soliciting donations - the story goes that if they allow one, they must allow all...and, I guess, their worry is that they'll have an application from the Association of Nude Satanists to solicit. To me, this is nonsense - among the many things I'm heartily sick of is how everyone is supposed to run scared from tiny groups which seek to exploit the rules to their own advantage. Target, like any other private enterprise, has a right to control it's storefronts and if Target feels that a particular type of activity is ok for one group but not ok for another, then they should act accordingly - but don't punish the good because the bad might make trouble.

And, of course, customers just love to walk through a gauntlet of beggers and fund-raiders as they do their shopping. I know I do. But then I still miss climbing over Hare Krishna devotees to board an airplane.
Right-thinking righties are organizing a boycott of Target, rightfully. But according to this article, they should also be boycotting Home Depot, Circuit City, Barnes & Noble, and other national retailers who banned the Salvation Army (and all other solicitors) before Target did. It appears Target, which has had a no-solicitor rule for a while, is bad because in previous years it had made an exception for the Salvation Army. But this year, possibly on advice of lawyers, Target decided to rescind the exception.
And of course, the only reason Target might have had to not give the Salvation Army special treatment is to diss Christians. Anyone who doesn't give Christian organizations special treatment over all other kinds of organizations is, clearly, anti-Christian. Just because Target is treating all other organizations the same way is no excuse. Mr. Noonan writes:
We've had for years now a relentless attempt to re-Christianize Christmas; from bans on singing Christmas carols in schools, to legal fights to remove religious imagery from holiday decorations, to attempts to call our Christmas a "Winter Festival", the militant secularists have been very busy...and now they've gotten to Target.
I suspect he meant de-Christianize instead of re-Christianize, but let's go on ... I mean, what's the country coming to when Christians can't take over government agencies like public schools and use them to indoctrinate all little children with the correct religious beliefs? Why shouldn't Christians expect Jews and Buddhists and Hindus and atheists -- especially atheists -- to cheerfully allow their tax money to be spent on nativity scenes for the county courthouse lawn? I'm sure if Mr. Noonan lived in a community with a Muslim majority, he'd want his tax money spent on the end-of-Ramadan festivities.
If the majority religion can't bully everyone else, America is just no fun any more.
The boycott web site quotes National Radio Talk Show Host Hugh Hewitt (of whom I have never before heard): "Memo to Target: You are losing customers. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands? Why?" I dunno, but they must've figured out that shedding customers is good for profits.
8:42 am | link

tuesday, november 23, 2004

This'll piss 'em off ... 8:56 pm | link

Brilliant Moves

Yesterday, Lawn Ornament in Chief Bush stopped in Colombia on his way home from the APEC meeting in Chile. He met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and pledged that the United States would help Colombia fight narco-terrorism. Ron Hutcheson writes for Knight-Ridder:

The United States has invested more than $3 billion in Colombia’s anti-drug campaign since 2002, but the funding package, known as Plan Colombia, expires next year. Bush did not say how much more he would seek from Congress next year.

His four-hour visit to Cartagena, a sweltering colonial city on the Caribbean coast, was a show of support for Uribe, who won office in 2002 by promising to crack down on drug traffickers and their rebel allies. Some Colombians have given their Harvard-educated leader the nickname “Bushito” - little Bush - for his hard-line stance.

More than 15,000 police and military personnel were pressed into service for Bush’s stopover on his way home from a weekend summit with leaders from Pacific nations in Santiago, Chile. Heavily armed guards lined his motorcade route from the airport. Helicopters hovered close, and armed patrol boats scoured the coastline for any sign of trouble.

It’s so heartwarming to read about those heavily armed guards who always turn out for the Lawn Ornament’s visits. And isn’t that nickname “Bushito” cute?

Meanwhile, Robert Scheer explains how successfully Bush is battling the evils of narco-terrorism in another part of the world – Afghanistan:

Well, truth is, freedom in Afghanistan continues to be on more of a stoned-out stumble than a brisk march. The Taliban has been driven from Kabul, but it still exists in the countryside, and the bulk of the country is still run, de facto, by competing warlords dependent on the opium trade — which now accounts for 60% of the Afghan economy.

“The fear that Afghanistan might degenerate into a narco-state is slowly becoming a reality,” said the executive director of the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa. “Opium cultivation, which has spread like wildfire … could ultimately incinerate everything: democracy, reconstruction and stability.”

Costa’s office has just released a slew of discouraging numbers that lay out in numbing detail how Afghanistan’s opium production has soared in the last year to an all-time high. The raw form of heroin is now the staple crop in every province, while in just one year the area under poppy cultivation has increased 64%. The country produces 87% of the world’s opium, and one out of 10 Afghans is employed by the illicit industry, according to the alarming U.N. report.

Of course, brandishing quotes from the U.N. doesn’t sit well with isolationist yahoos. So, for them, here are highlights from the White House’s own Office of National Drug Control Policy report, which Friday painted an even darker picture: “Current [Afghan opium] cultivation levels equate to a … 239% increase in the poppy crop and a 73% increase in potential opium production over 2003 estimates” — a sixfold increase in the three years since the Taliban was driven from Kabul.

No matter whom you listen to, then, the drug war in Afghanistan is a bust. Unfortunately, both the U.N. and the White House have repeatedly said the drug war and the war on terror are nearly synonymous, especially in Afghanistan, where drug money has long directly and indirectly aided and abetted extremists such as Al Qaeda.

I think we should call our leader “Bushito,” too. Although we can drop the final “o.”

8:20 am | link

monday, november 22, 2004

Mike Kinsley makes the point that a war this counterproductive really ought to inspire an anti-war movement.  We don’t have one because everyone likely to be concerned with the reality of just what the war is doing to this country, to Iraq, and to the rest of the world, was busy trying to get rid of George Bush for the past two years and the war, as awful as it was, was really a second-order priority. 
It is time to focus on the war, but I'm not sure what an anti-war movement should look like now. I don't think the Vietnam era movement should be used as a template. First, although mass protests can be affirming and empowering, they don't tend to change minds, and they can be counterproductive. And, second, we have the Web now. We don't need to mass together physically in order to have an impact.
Also, in the 1960s, so many of us were so very young, and our zeitgeist was that of outsiders, if not outlaws, taking on the (older folks') establishment. We stood outside the gates of power and yelled and waved signs and tried to get the attention of those in charge.
We should not think that way now. We should not even in our own minds cede the notion that we are America, and we are the establishment. If most of our efforts consist of standing outside the gates waving signs, or yelling at passing motorcades, we're losing. Ultimately we've got to force the Bushies to stand outside our gates and yell at us.
10:01 pm | link

Grassy Knoll
I have a new post up at American Street. Also, just in time for the 41st anniversary of the Kennedy assassination -- A JKF Assassination video game!
10:21 am | link

sunday, november 21, 2004

Red Meat
This WaPo article about Alberto Gonzales reveals the man should not be practicing law at all, never mind be the Attorney General of the United States. Please read.
11:37 am | link

Stupid Medicine
This is off-topic for this blog, but I need to vent.
You've probably heard that recently the FDA warned that antidepressent drugs lead to greater risk of suicide in adolescents. For a lot of reasons I've been skeptical of this claim, but the news stories never provided the right information to verify my suspicion that depression itself, not the drugs, caused the suicides.
This New York Times magazine article confirms what I think. It focuses on a depressed teenage boy who killed himself. He had just begun taking a 50-milligram dose of Zoloft, and his parents are absolutely certain the Zoloft made him suicidal.
First, you have to take the SSRIs for several weeks before they have any effect, and second, 50 milligrams of Zoloft is too small a dose to do anything even after several weeks. A therapeutic dose of Zoloft needed to treat real depression is somewhere between 100 and 200 milligrams. (Doctors usually start patients on a very small dose and gradually increase to a therapeutic dose. )
If the young man had taken an aspirin that week, would the suicide have been caused by the aspirin? Blaming the Zoloft makes about as much sense.
As I recall, about 15 percent of people with untreated depression commit suicide. It's also been observed for many years that deeply depressed people are at increased risk for suicide when they are just beginning to get better. That's because deeply depressed people are too enervated and confused to carry out a suicide plan. When the depression begins to lift, they may still be in extreme emotional pain, but they have more energy.
Put another way: As deep depression lifts, patients often seem to go from being lethargic to being agitated. The agitation was there all along, but it wasn't visible to observers because the patient was so overwhelmed and exhausted that energy was sapped out of him. As the depression lifts, the patient is able to act out what he feels inside. People who don't understand how depression "works" observe this and assume whatever treatment the patient is receiving is causing the agitation.
Even before Prozac was invented, after a suicide family members tended to blame whatever therapy the patient was receiving instead of the depression itself. To attempt another analogy, if someone with terminal cancer takes an aspirin and dies the next day, likely the cause of death was not the aspirin. Yet people jump to that conclusion -- he took medicine, then he died, so it must have been the medicine -- without accounting for other factors.
Another problem with antidepressants is that while they may be effective in treating clinical depression, they can make someone with bipolar disorder worse, and they don't do a dadblamed thing for personality disorders. So when physicians hand out prescriptions for antidepressants to any kid with behavioral problems, as some of them do, the results can be unfortunate.
For example, when news came out that Eric Harris was on the anti-depressant Luvox at the time of the Littleton, Colorado, murders, many said, ah-HA! The Luvox made him homocidal! IMO it's more likely (based on what I've read about him) the kid was never actually depressed, but sociopathic, and the Luvox probably had no more than a placebo effect.
Another problem with antidepressants is that there is often inadquate supervision. For example, I've heard of people being on a drug therapy for months and months without effect. This is just stupid. Although the SSRIs need six to eight weeks for the effects to kick in, if someone's been on an antidepressant for more than three months and isn't getting better, the drug or the dosage should be adjusted. And I suspect most people, especially teenagers, benefit from psychological counseling as well as drug treatment.
Clinical depression is a brain chemistry disorder. It's not just being "sad." It's also nothing like common depression that an emotionally normal person might feel after an unfortunate incident. Lots of us are depressed about the election, for example, but that's normal. But clinical depression is a crushing, enervating, life-draining disease that is caused by abnormal brain chemistry.
It is not a character flaw. It cannot be willed away, any more than diabetes or a broken leg can be willed away.
Fifty years ago the only effective treatment for depression was electroshock therapy. And that was hit and miss; sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn't.  But now there are a number of drugs available that effectively treat clinical depression.
However, because so many people are illogical and have medieval attitudes about psychological and mood disorders, there are social and cultural prejudices against treating depression with drugs. This includes well-meaning people who assume that anything called "depression" is just a normal emotion that needs to be processed. It also includes people who can't understand how much their loved one was was suffering on the inside, when he just seemed so lethargic and apathetic, and assume that the suicide must be the drug's fault.
So now a lot of people who would benefit enormously are not being treated because of ignorance, and a lot of teenagers will suffer untreated depression, and there will be more suicides as a result. Yippee.
Full disclosure: I am on 300 mg. Bupropion (Wellbutrin) daily, and you'll take my pills from me when you can pry the bottle from my cold, dead hands.
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Ben Merens, "Conversations with Ben Merens,"
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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."

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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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