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saturday, december 25, 2004

Merry Christmas
 
Old folks (people my age): Click here and enjoy a Christmas nostaliga wallow.
 
 
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1:27 pm | link

friday, december 24, 2004

Tara O'Brien
 
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Some of you probably remember Tara. She's very ill (possibly a cancer, although we don't have a diagnosis yet) and has been in the hospital all week. We're doing what we can for her, but so far she is not getting better.  
 
 It's a hard thing to judge how much to put animals through to save them.  Right now she's scheduled for a blood transfusion, and then a biopsy. This must be terrifying for an animal. So I wonder if I'm being selfish. But I don't want to give up on her too quickly, either. She's only about nine years old, which is just middle age for a cat.
 
Anyway, although I wish everyone a lovely holiday, I'm not feeling too Christmas-y myself.  
 
 
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11:54 am | link

Statist News
 
The questions from the troops for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld were considerably more friendly on his Christmas Eve visit to Iraq than they were on his previous trip to the region a couple of weeks ago.

"How do we win the war in the media?" asked one soldier in Mosul. Another soldier in Tikrit wondered why there is not more coverage of reconstruction efforts going on in the country.

"I guess what's news has to be bad news to get on the press," Rumsfeld responded to the first question - after supposing, with a big grin, "that does not sound like a question that was planted by the press."

No, but it does sound like a question that was planted by Karl Rove.

 
 
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9:22 am | link

thursday, december 23, 2004

More Squeaking
 
Kevin Drum has another post up about Dems wimping out on the abortion issue. I mostly agree with it. It sounds as if some weenies in the party -- i.e., former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer, who wants to be Democratic chairman -- think the party shouled be "more tolerant" of anti-choice positions.
 
To which I say, at what point does the Democratic Party wimp out on so many positions it becomes completely irrelevant?
 
As Kevin Drum says, "The Democratic party is no more 'intolerant' on this issue than the Republican party — just on the opposite side. There aren't any pro-choice folks in the Republican leadership, after all, and if it's lack of tolerance you're after, just look at the humiliating process Arlen Specter had to go through recently just to get a Senate committee chairmanship."
 
But I disagree somewhat on Kevin's second point.

I'm usually in favor of more inclusive language, greater sensitivity, etc. etc. But obsessing about the emotional turmoil of getting an abortion just doesn't work. Since we fundamentally believe that there's nothing wrong with pre-viability abortion, shouldn't our job instead be to persuade women that they shouldn't feel emotionally whipsawed if they choose to get an abortion? It's awfully hard to take both sides.

I am an old lady with allegedly grown children, and this is what I have to say about that:
 
What has to be understood is that once you're pregnant, there is no painless way out of it. At that point, you will be emotionally whipsawed no matter what choices you make. Whether you abort or give birth; whether you keep the baby or put it up for adoption; unless you are very miswired you will go through an emotional wringer, and you will experience some degree of physical discomfort. And this is true for women who want babies as well as for women who don't.
 
To this generation, the “choice” of a legal abortion is no longer something to celebrate. It is a decision made in crisis, and it is never one made happily. Have you ever talked to a woman who has had an abortion? Even a married, intentionally pregnant woman who has had a “D and C” for a dying or dead embryo? A college student whose birth control failed? I promise you, such a woman does not talk about exercising the “right to choose.” You may accuse her -- and me -- of taking such rights for granted, and maybe you’d be right. But mainly she will tell you how sad she is, how she wished she hadn’t had to make that “choice,” how unpleasant the procedure was. She is more likely depressed than defiant.
There's a lot of stuff they don't tell you, toots. To hear the so-called "pro-life" activists talk about adoption, you'd think giving birth and giving away a baby is FUN!!! At worst, no worse than giving away a puppy. Somehow, I doubt that is true. Adoption might be the best resolution in many cases, but for the birth mother it is not a painless resolution, physically or emotionally.
 
And then there's childbirth. Even if you take childbirth classes, there is much no one will tell you. Frankly, I think there's a lot the medical profession has yet to figure out. For example, they give you an episiotomy, and a few hours later a hospital nurse trots by and wants to know if you've had a bowel movement. Hello? In the words of one new mother, that first postpartum number two hurts worse than having the baby, and there's no glory in it. Yet nobody tells you this stuff; you're left on your own to either tough it out or hold out until the Colace kicks in.
 
Seriously, pregnancy and childbirth do have medical risks, even in these medically advanced days. And according to this page, about 75 percent of new mothers get "baby blues," and 10 to 20 percent suffer full-blown postpartum depression. 
 
And don't even talk to me about the emotional whipsawing that raising kids puts you through.   
 
So, I don't think we should tell women they "shouldn't feel emotionally whipsawed" if they get abortions. Women are going to feel what they're going to feel.  I just wish I could get my hands on all the Ms. Blausteins who whine about "how sad she is, how she wished she hadn’t had to make that 'choice,' how unpleasant the procedure was."
 
Would not having a choice make you happier? Would it cheer you to resort to a coat hanger? Would you like to have to petition a court in order to terminate a pregnancy? Would you prefer to be forced to continue a pregnancy against your will?
 
No? Then exactly what are you whining about? 
 
Back to the Dems -- there's nothing at all wrong with avoiding absolutist positions, or with compromising on some restrictions, particularly restrictions on late-term abortions.  But if the Dems don't stand for something they stand for nothing, and if they don't stand for reproductive rights, the hell with them.
 
 
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5:09 pm | link

Sound Familiar?
 
(Or, Freepers are the new barbarians.)
 
In today's Washington Post, Richard Cohen writes,
When, for instance, I wrote a column suggesting that Bernard Kerik was a bad choice for secretary of homeland security, I got a bucket full of obscene e-mails right in my face. I was denounced over and over again as a liberal who, moreover, never would have written something similar about anyone Bill Clinton had named. This would be news to Clinton.

What struck me about the e-mails was how none of these writers paid any attention to what I had to say. Instead, they preferred to deal with a caricature -- someone who belonged to a movement, a conspiracy, and was taking orders in the service of some vast, nefarious cause.

Here I'm supposed to inject the "fair and balanced" clause -- there are such people on both ends of the political spectrum. And there are. But not nearly in the same proportion.

Recently, Ellen Nagler wrote a post on "Trolls, Spam and Stereotyping" at BOP News. A comment on this post by paperwight  (his spelling) says,

I've seen this over and over again on every liberal blog as it gets more popular. Right-wing movement conversatives (where "conservative" is a complete misnomer") start to infest the comments with nasty remarks and that combiniation of victimization and gloating peculiar to the right wing, and then as soon as they're called on it in any way, they start to complain that the "liberals are rude, liberals are haters, liberals aren't practicing the tolerance they preach, liberals don't respect free speech."

It's the equivalent of pissing on someone's living room carpet, and then complaining because they're not sufficiently gracious. It's a particularly odious form of trolling, and I've got no patience with it, because it detracts from anything resembling constructive conversation (as it's doing right now). The folks at BOP who control the comments are far more patient than I am, but that's their business.

This is, of course, followed by a comment by Mark:

The point of my post was that with a double-standard being imposed there can never be an "honest" debate. Rather, if the blog masters here only enforce the rules on the opponents while allowing the hate fetishists (paperwight) free-reign there is NO desire to have an honest debate. Might as well turn the comments into nothing more than a honey pool for the sycophants/hate fetishists and bloggers to roll around together in.

This is the box we're in. If you are a regular here, you know that I usually delete comments from trolls. This is not to shut down debate. Indeed, if someone disagrees with something I've written and posts a reasoned and factually supported argument expressing disagreement, I'd be happy to leave the comment there for all to read. Indeed, I may argue back. I love to argue, actually. I appreciate someone who's a good argue-er with whom I can butt heads, so to speak. 

However, that's not the kind of post rightie trolls leave. Rightie trolls leave posts that say you're a liberal so you stink, except with more vulgarity. Rightie troll posts rarely come with reason or factual support. Usually rightie troll posts are nothing but gratuitous insult. If there is support, it's generally a statement of some rightie myth that's been proved untrue a thousand times over. And since I don't want to be responsible for the propagation of lies, off my blog they go.

If you spend time cruising both sides of the blogosphere, IMO there is a marked difference in overall tone between right and left. There's plenty of snarkiness all around, and it's no secret that left and right don't trust each other. But generally, leftie bloggers post about current events and explain (with reason and factual support) what the blogger likes or does not like about said events. And generally, rightie bloggers just spew out hate.

The few rightie bloggers who manage a civil tone are still intellectually dishonest about it, dismissing any news story that violates their ideological sensitivities as "liberal bias." Whether the facts presented in the story are or are not true is rarely a consideration. Just publishing something the rightie doesn't want to hear is an act of bias

If a news story is too obviously true to dismiss, any unfortunate aspects of the story are somehow the fault of the "left." Here's a classic example, courtesy of Pandagon 

Recently, Peter Daou started a site called The Daou Report that featured snips from the left blogosphere in the left column and the right blogosphere in the right column. I use the past tense because, in the past few days, the right column has been empty. I regret that, because the right column was a rich compendium of vomit and bile and would go a long way toward illustrating the point I'm making. But perhaps Mr. Daou was feeling a tad contaminated, as I tend to do after surfing the right blogosphere. (If there is another reason, I sincerely want to hear it.)

It appears I'm not seeing the right column because of display problems, but I'm told it is still there. So if you can see it, check out the right column.

But, courtesy of The Daou Report, here's a nice post from Not Geniuses:

Bullies are powerful. Bullies are popular. Roaming the halls of junior high, wallet-chain jingling, bullies answer your begs for mercy and appeals for reason with Five Good Reasons of their own.

But worse than the bully is the inevitable sidekick, the sniveling half-pint who is often a victim of the bully himself, but teams up with the bully out of cowardice and self-hatred. I call this guy The Squeak.

The Squeak is always there, usually doing the majority of the verbal hectoring so the bully doesn't have to. The bully bullies, and The Squeak gets in a few slaps of his own, relieved that someone else is on the business end of the knuckle sandwiches.

In our national political bully/victim dynamic, in which the Right gets to kick the Left, and kick and kick and kick the Left, and then complain that the mean old Left scuffed the Right's Cole Haans, the role of The Squeak is usually played by our press corps. ...

I often wonder what The Squeak feels when he joins the bully to bash his powerless friends, liberals who've had the guts to say "No" to the bullies of the Right. It must be an awesome rush of superiority and strength to be on the side of the powerful against the weak. What a relief, too, to finally stop worrying and love the Republicans; resisting the march of Soldiers of the Movement is, well, painful and frustrating. It is a hero's errand, The Squeak tells himself, to Souljah the Democratic Party from the life-threatening perch of the New York Times Op-Ed page. Maybe, just maybe, the bully will favor him over the others, The Squeak hopes secretly. The bully's nasty, all right, but he's also misunderstood, and I just know I could get through to him if I can prove that I'm as mean of a liberal-basher as he is, Sir Squeaky reasons.

The thing about The Squeak, is, though, he always gets screwed in the end. The bully inevitably gets tired of The Squeak's flattery, the constant nag of the "Me too, boss!" And The Squeak ends up assuming the position along with all the rest of us, having done nothing but fetch the bully's toilet plunger.

It's a really good post; be sure to read all of it. As I say, the box we're in is that we liberals are vilified and lied about freely on the blogosphere and in the Main Stream Media, but when we fight back we're told we're not being tolerant. And some of us are weenies enough that we back down.

Not me. 

Now, a rightie reading this might be saying, you are stereotyping righties. Well, no, I don't think so. There are conservatives who write with reason and factual support, but they don't tend to be part of the rightie pack. A good example is the libertarian Lew Rockwell site, which features a lot of articles with which I do not necessarily agree, but to which the authors have applied some independent reasoning and factual support. 

But then, as Mr. Rockwell does think for himself and considers facts, he is not a big George Bush supporter.

The bald truth is that to be a Bush supporter means that you are (a) ignorant of what's going on; (b) suffering massive cognitive dissonance; or (c) are a soulless sociopathic bastard. 

Jeanne d'Arc speaks of a rightie neighborhood who lightly suggested (in the context of illuminating an outdoor Christmas decoration) that if a kid stuck his finger in a light socket it would teach him responsibility.

I laughed, and then, as the conversation continued about responsibility and learning lessons from experience, I realized it wasn't a joke. He was willing to kill a few neighborhood kids for the honor of good old American self reliance.

Not really. I don't think. This is actually a very nice man, who, if anything went wrong in your life, would be the first to show up at the door with condolences and offers of help. But he has a certain ideology and it leads to  a cavalier attitude toward children's safety. What's more, it struck me dumb. Someone stood in my living room, next to the plate of salt dough ornaments my daughter made that morning, and plans to paint today, next to a tree full of paste-jewelled pine cones, cardboard snowflakes, clothespin reindeer, and tin-foil stars, with a nine-year-old listening to Jingle Bell Rock in the next room, and told me it was okay to kill or injure a child if it made the lights on the house shine a little brighter. And I didn't know what to say.

Merry Christmas?

Like a lot of people, Kevin Drum has been asking lately how conservatives get bizarre memes like the idea that liberals are trying to destroy Christmas into the public discourse. (In fact, destroying Christmas is way down at the bottom of my To Do list. Today I'm baking gingerbread and helping to sandpaper and paint the salt dough stars, and tomorrow, I still have some wrapping to do. At the rate I'm going, I won't have time to destroy Christmas at least until Sunday, and by then, what's the point? The siege will just have to wait until next year.) But I'm wondering, as well, how the most insane conservative speech has slipped so easily into private discourse.

What disturbs me most about the suggestion that a concern for children's safety is a plot by weak liberals is that the framework isn't at all uncommon. I frequently hear conservatives -- not on tv or on the radio, but in casual conversations like this -- say the most outrageous, indefensible things, in a tone so nonchalant that it leaves me speechless, not quite believing I heard what I thought I heard. They don't feel any need to explain their beliefs, even the most bizarre ones. they just assume you agree, and can't take in why you wouldn't.

I don't think people on the left do this. At least I don't, and I don't know people who do.  I don't casually drop my political or social beliefs into conversations. But maybe I should begin to learn how.

Damn straight.

I postulate that rightiness (as opposed to actual political conservatism, which is something else entirely) is less an ideology than a pathology, bordering on sociopathy. Those who don't tidily conform to their world view are not human beings, in their minds. Democrats, liberals, neighborhood children who might be electrocuted, the poor, and often minorities --are not human beings. Just caricatures. They don't bleed. They don't think. They don't have souls, or mothers. Therefore, it's easy for righties to suggest that killing a few of these vermin might be a good thing, and no twinge of conscienceness stops them. This is sociopathy on its face.

Dismissing one's political opposition as psychological deviants is an un-liberal thing to do. Liberalism by definition (American Heritage Dictionary) is "A political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual and favoring civil and political liberties, government by law with the consent of the governed, and protection from arbitrary authority." Liberals by nature appreciate that people have diverse opinions, and that no one ideology is always right. Liberals by nature are respectful of opposing points of view. 

But I say that being a liberal doesn't mean being a patsy. Liberalism cannot exist where sociopathy is the norm.  

I respect conservative opinion. I do not respect, or tolerate, sociopathy. We liberals need to be clear of the difference if liberalism is going to survive in America.

Update:  I have deleted the comments for this post because, typically, some righties were determined to leave flame bait and I got tired of deleting their comments.

To those of you whining about being censored -- my dears, this blog is my property. I pay for the bandwidth. Therefore, I control the content. And I choose to maintain a place where liberals can talk to each other in peace, without flamers or trolls or thread disrupters. There are plenty of other places you can go to bait lefties. So go there.

9:48 am | link

wednesday, december 22, 2004

Pentagon Briefing
 
I'm watching a live Pentagon briefing with Rummy and General Myers on NBC. Myers just said the insurgents responsible for the attack on Mosul yesterday were the same insurgents responsible for 9/11.
 
When the transcript of this briefing is made available, the Blogosphere is going to have a ton of fun with it. 
 
 
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3:16 pm | link

Pain
Sept. 30, 2004Merck & Co., Inc. today announced a voluntary worldwide withdrawal of VIOXX® (rofecoxib), its arthritis and acute pain medication. . . . there was an increased relative risk for confirmed cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke, beginning after 18 months of treatment in the patients taking VIOXX compared to those taking placebo.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Dec. 17, 2004--With a new study that indicates the nation's leading arthritis painkiller could raise the risk of heart attacks, the Food and Drug Administration advised doctors Friday to consider "alternative therapy" to Celebrex.

Earlier Friday, drug giant Pfizer Inc. said it had no plans to pull the painkiller off the market despite the data that showed patients using the drug in a long-term cancer study had increased cardiovascular risks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dec. 21, 2004--U.S. health regulators are warning of heart risks connected to over-the-counter painkiller naproxen. The drug is sold as a generic and under several brand names, including Bayer's Aleve, and as Roche Palo Alto's Naprosyn.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dec. 24, 2004--It is impossible to ensure the safety of imported drugs purchased individually by American consumers, and even a federally run program of bulk importation would pose medical and economic risks to consumers, according to a highly anticipated and instantly controversial pair of reports released Tuesday by Bush administration officials.

Yeah, you don't know where those risky Canadian drugs come from -- unlike U.S. drugs from Merck, Pfizer, Bayer, Roche, etc. .... 

 
 
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11:07 am | link

tuesday, december 21, 2004

Bush's War on Women
 
Please read this article by Haifa Zangana in Wednesday's Guardian. Please read all of it.
 
Highlights:
The US state department has launched a $10m "Iraqi women's democracy initiative" to train Iraqi women in the skills and practices of democratic life ahead of the forthcoming elections. Paula Dobriansky, US undersecretary of state for global affairs, declared:"We will give Iraqi women the tools, information and experience they need to run for office and lobby for fair treatment." The fact that the money will go mainly to organisations embedded with the US administration, such as the Independent Women's Forum (IWF) founded by Dick Cheney's wife Lynn, was, of course, not mentioned.
Lordy, when did we elect Lynn Cheney to anything? She's got her little fingers stuck in a whole lotta pies these days, methinks.
 
Back to the Guardian --

Of all the blunders by the US administration in Iraq, the greatest is its failure to understand Iraqi people, women in particular. The main misconception is to perceive Iraqi women as silent, powerless victims in a male-controlled society in urgent need of "liberation". This image fits conveniently into the big picture of the Iraqi people being passive victims who would welcome the occupation of their country.

Ah, yes, the simple peasants longing to be liberated by the Great White Father in Washington. (Pause for a recitation of "The White Man's Burden.")
 
Zangana goes on to explain how Iraqi women have been actively involved in public life for more than a century. Iraqi women gained legal equality with Iraqi men in the 1950s, which means they got legal equality before American women did. During Saddam Hussein's regime, Zangana writes, "There were more professional women in positions of power than in almost any other Middle Eastern nation."
 
Women who opposed Saddam Hussein were treated brutally, and Zangana is critical of those Iraqi women who didn't defend their sisters.
 
But the status of women is deteriorating in the "new democratic Iraq." And, as in Saddam Hussein's day, women who are not part of the official regime are subject to brutalization. "The gap between women members of Allawi's regime and the majority of Iraqi women is widening by the day," Zangana says. 

Lack of security and fear of kidnapping make Iraqi women prisoners in their own homes. They witness the looting of their country by Halliburton, Bechtel, US NGOs, missionaries, mercenaries and local subcontractors, while they are denied clean water and electricity. In the land of oil, they have to queue five hours a day to get kerosene or petrol. Acute malnutrition has doubled among children. Unemployment at 70% is exacerbating poverty, prostitution, backstreet abortion and honour killing. Corruption and nepotism are rampant in the interim government. Al-Naqib, minister of interior admitted that he had appointed 49 of his relatives to high-ranking jobs, but only because they were qualified.

But Lynn Cheney figures all Iraqi women need is "training in democracy." Brilliant.
 
 
 
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9:49 pm | link

Drip Drip Drip
 
London Times online headline: "FBI Files Implicate Bush in Iraqi Jail Abuses."
 
So far I haven't seen any American news sources that link Bush to the prison abuse.
 
 
 
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8:24 pm | link

It Gets Better
 
Headline in today's Boston Globe: "Bush Criticizes Iraqi Troops Who Leave Posts."
 
Hoo boy, that's rich.
 
 
 
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12:21 pm | link

So What Happened to Peace on Earth?
 
Christmas Wars in the news ...
 
What in the world is "Christian" about insisting on saying "Merry Christmas" to a devout Jew or Hindu who might reasonably view the statement as a sign of disrespect? At the level of government: Is it really "Christian" for a religious majority to press its advantage over religious minorities, including nonbelievers?
 
... The great Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that "the chief source of man's inhumanity to man seems to be the tribal limits of his sense of obligation to other men." I fear that in these Christmas debates, Christians are behaving not as Christians but as a tribe: "We will pound them if they get in the way of our customs and rituals."

Tribal behavior is antithetical to the spirit of peace and good will. In this season, we ought to be taking the most expansive possible view of our obligations to others.

Ed Naha (Note: be sure to read to the end of this article, not repeated here):
Who is behind this attack? O'Reilly, the well-scrubbed seer, pointed to "secular progressives" with an evil agenda!

"Secular progressives realize that America as it is now will never approve of gay marriage, partial birth abortion, euthanasia, legalized drugs, income redistribution through taxation, and many other progressive visions because of religious opposition.

"But if the secularists can destroy religion in the public arena, the brave new progressive world is a possibility. That's what happened in Canada."

Canada!!!??? Oh, Thou vast wasteland of paganism. (I think they're in the midst of assembling an all-Druid hockey team. HEATHENS!)
 
The American culture of victimization needs and nurtures people and controversies like this. You're nobody in this country — the richest and among the freest in the history of the world — unless somebody is trying to oppress you. "I kvetch, therefore I am."
 
... Why are these allegations of a war against Christianity coming up now? Not only is there no such war on Christianity going on, the balance between minority accommodation of the majority culture and majority accommodation of minority sensitivities hasn't even shifted in favor of the minority.

The real explanation is close to the opposite: The majority is feeling its oats. Or, more accurately, a few would-be cultural commissars think this is the moment for the majority to feel its oats. It's part of the agenda coming out of the last election. They don't think they're losing the culture war. They think they're winning, and it's time to go on the offensive.
In the Boston Globe, James Carroll makes a point I'd never thought of before:
THE SINGLE most important fact about the birth of Jesus, as recounted in the Gospels, is one that receives almost no emphasis in the American festival of Christmas. The child who was born in Bethlehem represented a drastic political challenge to the imperial power of Rome. The nativity story is told to make the point that Rome is the enemy of God, and in Jesus, Rome's day is over. ...
 
Christmas in America has turned the nativity of Jesus on its head. No surprise there, for if the story were told today with Roman imperialism at its center, questions might arise about America's new self-understanding as an imperial power. A story of Jesus born into a land oppressed by a hated military occupation might prompt an examination of the American occupation of Iraq. A story of Jesus come decidedly to the poor might cast a pall over the festival of consumption. A story of the Jewishness of Jesus might undercut the Christian theology of replacement.

Today the Roman empire is recalled mainly as a force for good -- those roads, language, laws, civic magnificence, "order" everywhere. The United States of America also understands itself as acting in the world with good intentions, aiming at order. "New world order," as George H.W. Bush put it.

Slate reports that the militant Xtians are going to court to use law to enforce Xtianity (Madison? Jefferson? Where are you?):

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. And that means that throughout the land, litigants are heading to court to wage war over crosses, crèches, and Christmas trees. In the meantime, those wishing to spread Christmas cheer in the public square are suddenly emboldened to use court orders to get it done.

Follow the link above and read the heart-warming story of how little Jonathan got a court order so he could tell his public school classmates the Legend of the Candy Cane: The candy cane is shaped like a J for Jesus and bears a red stripe "to represent the blood Christ shed for the sins of the world."
 
I never liked candy canes, anyway.
 
Elsewhere, the Christmas Wars are taking a different shape. This is Germany:
A group of Germans are wanting to get rid of Santa saying he has become a symbol of the commercialisation of Christmas.

Thousands of stickers have been printed declaring whole areas in Germany and Austria "Santa Free Zones" and pamphlets have been handed out on street corners reminding people that the traditional bringer of presents is St Nicholas and not the red-suited, white-bearded immigrant from the English-speaking world.

In some towns like the east Austrian town of St Wolfgang, Santa has even been banned from the local Christmas market - and shop keepers are restricted to offering traditional Austrian products and gifts as well as typical Austrian culinary delights.

Spokesman Bettina Schade from the Frankfurter Nicholas Initiative said: "We object to the material things, the hectic rush to buy gifts, and the ubiquity of the bearded man in the red suit that are taking away from the core meaning of Christmas.

"The Christian origins of Christmas, like the birth of Jesus, have receded into the background. It's becoming more and more a festival that is reduced to simply worldly gifts and commerce."

Local tourism manager in St Wolfgang Hans Wieser said: "Santa Claus is not a typical Christmas tradition neither in Germany nor Austria - this red-suited man only turned up over the last decade or so.

The Germans didn't get the memo. The Christmas wars are not about making Christmas more sacred; they're about "We won, you lost, nyah nyah nyah." Something of a departure from "Peace on earth, good will to all men," huh?
 
 
 
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8:37 am | link

Wonderful Me
 
Stephen Taylor of PoliBlog gave a very generous review to "MyBook." Big surprise to me, I'm on Amazon. I didn't know you could get "MyBook" on Amazon.
 
Wow, I feel like a real author.  
 
While I'm posting -- big breaking news on the Blogosphere is from the ACLU -- "A document released for the first time today by the American Civil Liberties Union suggests that President Bush issued an Executive Order authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq." Read about it on Eschaton.   
 
 
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11:04 pm | link

monday, december 20, 2004

Time Warp
 
The transcript of today's presidential press conference is, typically, surreal. The part about Social Security is surreal. The part about Donald Rumsfeld is surreal. The rest of it is surreal.
 
But because I feel kind of obligated to write something about it, I'll pick out this bit on Bernie Kerik. Bush said, 
Well, first, let me say that I was disappointed that the nomination of Bernard Kerik didn't go forward. In retrospect, he made the right decision to pull his name down. He made the decision. There was a -- when the process gets going, our counsel asks a lot of questions and a prospective nominee listens to the questions and answers them and takes a look at what we feel is necessary to be cleared before the FBI check and before the hearings take place on the Hill.

And Bernard Kerik, after answering questions and thinking about the questions, decided to pull his name down. I think he would have done a fine job as the Secretary of Homeland Security, and I appreciate his service to our country.

We've vetted a lot of people in this administration. We vetted people in the first, we're vetting people in the second term, and I've got great confidence in our vetting process. And so the lessons learned is, continue to vet and ask good questions and get these candidates, the prospective nominees, to understand what we expect a candidate will face during a background check -- FBI background check, as well as congressional hearings.

Now, in terms of the NDI -- DNI, I'm going to find someone that knows something about intelligence, and capable and honest and ready to do the job. And I will let you know at the appropriate time when I find such a person.

Is he saying that he nominated Kerik before he was vetted? It's hard to tell what he's saying, exactly, but that's what he seems to be saying.

 
 
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8:26 pm | link

Three Wise Persons
 
A little followup to the last post ... I just found this in Slate:

So it's official: The new gauntlet-throwing catch phrase from the right is "Merry Christmas" (can't you just see Eastwood saying it from behind the barrel of a gun?). Apparently, uttered in the right context—like on Fox News—those four syllables no longer convey simply holiday cheer, but a red-state/blue-state, my-god-is-better-than-yours challenge: I've got your "happy holidays" right here, buddy. This trend has been emerging all over the television dial: Last week on Scarborough Country, there was Pat Buchanan's distinctly testy-sounding "Merry Christmas" in answer to a guest from the American Atheists association who wished him a happy "winter solstice." And this week, there was George W. Bush's brief speech at the end of the Christmas in Washington variety special. (Throughout which I waited in vain for one politically correct, non-Christian number: Mandy Patinkin doing "Dreidl, Dreidl"? Queen Latifah rapping about Kwanzaa? C'mon, TNT, other religions can be cheesy too!) When the performances were through, Bush took the stage to thank the singers (who included LeAnn Rimes, American Idol 's Ruben Studdard, and the teen pop star JoJo) and remind the nation that the purpose of the season was to "remember the humble birth of our savior." Right, and to reach out to Americans of all faiths, in our country's great tradition of separation of church and … ? Mr. President? Are you finished already?

Ah, I see The Plan. By claiming victim status, the Xtians have given themselves permission not to acknowledge or honor other religious traditions. Payback, y'know.
 
The Slate article links to this must-read Frank Rich column. Rich says,
 
Yet if you watch the news and listen to certain politicians, especially since Election Day, you'll hear an ever-growing drumbeat that Christianity is under siege in America. Like Mr. Gibson, the international movie star who portrayed himself as a powerless martyr to a shadowy anti- Christian conspiracy in the run-up to the release of "The Passion," his fellow travelers on the right detect a sinister plot — of secularists, "secular Jews" and "elites" — out to destroy the religion followed by more than four out of every five Americans.

... The only evidence of what Pat Buchanan has called Christmas-season "hate crimes against Christianity" consists of a few ridiculous and isolated incidents, like the banishment of a religious float from a parade in Denver and of religious songs from a high school band concert in New Jersey. (In scale, this is nothing compared with the refusal of the world's largest retailer, Wal- Mart, to stock George Carlin's new best seller, "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?," whose cover depicts its author at the Last Supper.) Yet the hysteria is being pumped up daily by Fox News, newspapers like The New York Post and The Washington Times, and Web sites like savemerrychristmas.org. Mr. O'Reilly and Jerry Falwell have gone so far as to name Michael Bloomberg an anti-Christmas conspirator because the mayor referred to the Christmas tree as a "holiday tree" in the lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center.

What is this about? How can those in this country's overwhelming religious majority maintain that they are victims in a fiery battle with forces of darkness? It is certainly not about actual victimization. Christmas is as pervasive as it has ever been in America, where it wasn't even declared a federal holiday until after the Civil War. What's really going on here is yet another example of a post-Election-Day winner-takes-all power grab by the "moral values" brigade. As Mr. Gibson shrewdly contrived his own crucifixion all the way to the bank, trumping up nonexistent threats to his movie to hype it, so the creation of imagined enemies and exaggerated threats to Christianity by "moral values" mongers of the right has its own secular purpose. The idea is to intimidate and marginalize anyone who objects to their efforts to impose the most conservative of Christian dogma on public policy. If you're against their views, you don't have a differing opinion — you're anti-Christian (even if you are a Christian). 
Just one more example, from Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog -- check out this birthday ecard for Jesus --
Still, some reject -- despise your name
With such intensity;
In spite, they celebrate instead,
Their Secularity.
So, the only reason a person wouldn't celebrate Christmas is to spite Jesus.
 
(Note to Jesus: I hope You are not bothered by my Seventh-Day Adventist kinfolk who don't do Christmas stuff, either, because it's not in the Bible. They're nice people, Lord. They mean well. Don't smite them in Your wroth, or whatever it is You do when You're pissed.)
 
After the Three Examples come the Three Explanations, courtesy of Three Wise Persons.
 
When discussing fundamentalists on this blog, I often refer to Karen Armstrong's book The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism. She sees all fundamentalisms -- Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, etc. -- as a common phenomenon. Armstrong demonstrates that fundamentalism arose in response to modernity, especially to scientific rationalism. "Fear is at the heart of fundamentalism,” she writes. “The fear of losing yourself." This is true of Islamic fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden as well as our homegrown types. Liberals cherish tolerance, democracy, pluralism, and civil liberties; fundamentalists fear these values as weapons of (their) annihilation.

It is important to recognize that these theologies and ideologies are rooted in fear. The desire to define doctrines, erect barriers, establish borders, and segregate the faithful in a sacred enclave where the law is stringently observed springs from that terror of extinction which has made all fundamentalists, at once time or another, believe that the secularists were about to wipe them out. The modern world, which seems so exciting to a liberal, seems Godless, drained of meaning and even satanic to a fundamentalist. [Armstrong, The Battle for God (Ballantine, 2000), p. 368; emphasis added]

Osama bin Laden gave himself permission to wipe out the World Trade Center and the Pentagon because he saw himself as a victim of western (Christian) oppression. And the moral is, Beware of righteous people with a persecution complex. (And don't miss The Fundamentalist Agenda.)

Thus ended the First Explanation. For the Second, let's turn to Jesus, Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5 (New King James translation).

21"You have heard that it was said to those of old, "You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' 22But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, "Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, "You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire.

The magnificent chapter 5 continues with the advice about turning the other cheek and loving your enemies. And in the 49th verse, which most translations leave out, Jesus says, "Beware when Satan tempts you to oppress others by whispering in your ear that they are oppressing you, when they really aren't, because that makes you a bleeping idiot."

Since this is my blog, the Buddha gets the last word. Here is the Third Explanation, from the Dhammapada:

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your shadow, unshakable.
"Look how he abused me and hurt me,
How he threw me down and robbed me."
Live with such thoughts and you live in hate.
"Look how he abused me and hurt me,
How he threw me down and robbed me."
Abandon such thoughts, and live in love.
In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.
You too shall pass away.
Knowing this, how can you quarrel?

I know many of us long for The Rapture, when the fundies will all disappear and leave the rest of us in peace. But as much fun as fundie baiting is, the superior person remains pure of heart and tries real hard not to grow his own persecution complex.

Update: "Why Mix God and Country at Christmas?"

 
 
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7:59 am | link

sunday, december 19, 2004

Do They Know It's Christmas?
 
Looks like the Save Merry Christmas brigade has work to do in Iraq. According to the LA Times [emphasis added]:

After a painful year of church bombings, death threats and assassinations, Iraq's 800,000 Christians have all but canceled Christmas.

"Officially, we are not celebrating this year," said Father Peter Haddad, who is in charge of the Virgin Mary Church in Baghdad.

Fearing insurgent attacks, bishops across the predominantly Muslim country recently announced that they would call off the usual Christmas festivals and celebrations. Some churches will also forgo Christmas Eve Mass, a step unheard of even during Saddam Hussein's regime.

Attendance has plummeted. During the holiday season, Haddad's church would have been packed with more than 700 people. Last Sunday, only 27 brave worshipers showed up.

Christians have lived in Iraq for hundreds of years, enjoying peaceful relations with Muslims for most of that time. But after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, insurgents began targeting the community, accusing Christians of cooperating with American "infidels" by working as interpreters, house cleaners and merchants. Harassment by Islamists became so bad that many Christian women took to wearing head scarves to blend in.

Christians are brave to stay in Iraq at all. If Iraq becomes an Islamic theocracy, which is likely, they may be in greater danger.

I don't think I should have to say that I am opposed to all religious bigotry, but for any righties who might drop by -- I am opposed to all religious bigotry. Including bigotry against Christians. I'm also against this and this.

It so happens that also in today's LA Times, a Republican pollster named Gary Lawrence bravely proclaims that he will wish others a "Merry Christmas" and damn the consequences.

It was a year of the most hateful political campaigns that I have seen in 36 years as a political pollster. The diatribes of 2004 ridiculed, demeaned and trivialized religious belief and attacked those who defer to a higher power, as opposed to those who believe that human intellect is the highest hope for mankind.

And yet, despite these attacks on their beliefs, too many Christians hesitate to express a simple greeting rooted in the second-most important event in Christian history — one that carries with it the promise of peace on Earth and goodwill toward all. Isn't it time to take a stand?

Excuse me, but who was it that "ridiculed, demeaned and trivialized religious belief and attacked those who defer to a higher power"? I honestly don't remember.Was it somebody on network or cable television? A newspaper? Some national spokesperson? Who was it that did this? Please, give me an example. On the web I run into the occasional curmudgeon who genuinely hates all religion, but I didn't notice these people taking an active role in the recent election campaigns.

Is it not true that Mr. Lawrence is imagining things? 

And where did this "Merry Christmas" paranoia really come from? Is this not a controversy manufactured out of thin air? Is this not pathological? Do these people have a victimization wish, or a martyr complex, or what? 

So I have a suggestion for Mr. Lawrence and everyone else who imagines They are out to get him if he says "Merry Christmas": Please, go to Iraq. Sounds like they need real help with Christmas.

And while you're there, please experience real oppression and get the martyr complex out of your system. Thanks much, and Merry Christmas.

 
 
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8:46 pm | link

Hey Hey Hey Hey, Update
 
According to ABC News, today some prominent Republicans let it be known they don't think Donald Rumsfeld should be replaced. 

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said a change at the top of the Pentagon would be too disruptive, given the elections scheduled in Iraq for Jan. 30. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., also said the administration was addressing the missteps that have occurred in the aftermath of the U.S.-led ouster of Iraqi President Sudan Hussein.

"We should not at this point in time entertain any idea of changing those responsibilities in the Pentagon," Warner told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, added, "We really can't go through that ordeal" now of finding a successor. Rumsfeld "should be held accountable and he should stay in office," said Lugar, R-Ind.

What ordeal? Since when does logic dictate that when someone is found to be incompetent in his job, replacing him would be an ordeal? Seems to me keeping him is an ordeal.

I know Iraq is a mess, but Rummy is a big part of the reason Iraq is a mess. So, logical conclusion, if you want job security, create a collosal foul-up so terrible you can't be replaced.

Anyway, Andy Card came forth on "This Week" and declared that Rummy is doing a "spectacular" job. "The president has provided good direction for our military, and Secretary Rumsfeld is transforming our military to meet the threats of the 21st century," Card said.

This tells me that Bush plans to keep Rummy at DoD, at least for the near future.

 
 
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6:04 pm | link

Hey Hey Hey Hey Tell Me What'd I Say
 
Re Josh Marshall -- Elisabeth Bumiller writes in today's New York Times that Bernie Kerik and George Bush met and bonded when Bush visited New York City just after September 11.
President Bush first met Bernard B. Kerik near the smoking ruins of the World Trade Center on Sept. 14, 2001, a day that instantly changed Mr. Bush's relationship with a city he had never much liked.

More important for Mr. Kerik, who was then the New York City police commissioner, the day forged his relationship with the president and helped lead to his nomination to Mr. Bush's cabinet this month.

The bond between the president and the former police commissioner was a major factor, Republicans say, in Mr. Bush's decision to nominate Mr. Kerik for homeland security secretary. Although no one has suggested that the relationship was close, Republicans called it warm and based on equal parts self-interest and admiration.

This confirms the growing suspicion that Bush didn't nominate Kerik because of bad advice or sloppy vetting. He did it because he wanted to do it, and the hell with the vetting.

See, for example, this post by me and this post by Digby. Says Digby,

... it is past time that they come to the realization, however frightening it may be, that Bush actually is making decisions. In the first term it seemed clear that he was manipulated by a powerful group of courtiers who were able to guide him in the direction they wanted him to go through flattery and access. Now that he has been validated by the people his personal arrogance has come to the fore.

All we need do is look to the Kerik debacle to see that Bush himself is now making decisions and he is doing it against the will of his advisors. It is obvious that Kerik appealed to Bush as a man's man. It was a sympatico relationship --- a pair of testosterone cowboys, one blue, one red, in love with their images as tough guys who take no shit. Bush saw in Kerik the man he now believes he is --- self-made, salt of the earth, leader of men, killer of bad guys. The empty frat boy and the crooked bureaucrat teamed up as adventure heroes. 

So, even though Rudy Giuliani has publicly taken a fall for the incredibly bad lack of judgment in nominating Kerik, it's possible Rudy had little to do with it. It was just Bush.

 
 
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8:17 am | link


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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

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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."

·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

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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