Boy Trouble

Baby Boy HelpDigby’s Frederick of Hollywood and the Tiny Silicone Penis is a look at the "strange phenomenon of anxious Republican masculinity and the way it’s informing our politics".

It’s based on The Wimp Factor by clinical psychologist Dr Stephen J Ducat, and cites as an example, an article in The New Republic, The Masculine Mystique of Fred Thompson.


Here’s a review on Amazon for The Wimp Factor:

This book is an amazing tour de force of the political and psychological landscape in America today. From George W. Bush’s "Mission Accomplished" while adorned in a flight suit to John Kerry tramping through the Michigan woods in a camoflage jacket toting a shotgun, the "politics of anxious masculinity," as Stephen Ducat calls the phenomenon, couldn’t be more pervasive. Ducat’s scholarship shines throughout this erudite, entertaining look at what passes for masculinity in our media-driven culture, surpassed only by his wit and sense of humor. …Ducat’s prescient analysis of who men mistakenly think they are…

Digby excerpts a choice passage from The Wimp Factor:

By far the most compelling confirmation of the phallic meaning of the president’s aircraft-carrier cakewalk was found on the hot-selling George W. Bush Top Gun action figure manufactured by Talking Presidents. I originally ordered one to use as part of the cover design for this book. The studly twelve-inch flyboy not only comes with a helmet and visor, goggles and oxygen mask, but underneath his flight suit is a full "basket" — a genuine fake penis, apparently constructed with lifelike silicone.

And from The New Republic’s The Masculine Mystique of Fred Thompson:

….Thompson stands as the Daddy Party’s dream Daddy–although a Daddy of a very particular type. Forget the nurturing, "compassionate conservative" model of Bush’s 2000 candidacy, which has been roundly discredited on the right. Forget, too, the blustery, "Bring it on!" swagger that W. adopted after September 11, a little-guy machismo one also sees in Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. Thompson’s manliness is laconic rather than feisty, a style more John Wayne than Jimmy Cagney. "He’s a big man," says Duncan. "He has a way of filling or dominating a room." And, as all of us recall from our schoolyard days, big guys like Thompson don’t need to run around picking fights, talking smack, and constantly reminding us of how tough they are because, well, look at them.

Certainly, the Thompson talk in both cyberspace and the traditional media is a study in hero worship, with grown conservatives swooning like cheerleaders smitten over the manliness of the varsity quarterback. There is much rejoicing about the senator’s growling voice, his studly cigar habit, and his physical size. My favorite bit of macho Fred-worship making its way around the Internet is a widely circulated joke about the title of the recent film 300, in which a small troop of Spartans holds the line against the massive Persian army: "If Fred Thompson had been at Thermopylae, the movie would have been called 1." (Reading posts like this, it’s unsurprising that, according to USA Today, 64 percent of Thompson’s supporters are male, the highest percentage for any presidential hopeful.)

Digby closes with:

I’ve been calling them "The Baby Party" for a long time. They are now literally reverting to infancy.

These Republicans need to see some professionals about this problem. Tiny silicone penises on action dolls and fantasies of a big gruff manly man with a "strong pair of hands to hold us" are cries for help and this country needs to hold a massive intervention. November 2008 sound good to you?

The good news is that there are people like Ducat (and Digby) who can connect the dots on this phenomenon, which is as big as the elephant in the dining room – everyone senses it, but few talk about it to any depth. How do you get through to people who want these kind of "leaders", or if that’s not possible, how do you marginalize them?

On a more serious level, this particular Republican anxiety, with its weird, manufactured "solutions", is really a cry for authentic masculine leadership, which truly is, and has been, in crisis for quite awhile in this country. I wrote in an earlier post how feminine consciousness has been in ascendance worldwide, for a century or longer. The anxieties of "The Baby Party", with its desperate grasping at dolls with silicon penises and its swooning embrace of Hollywood Fred, represent the flip side of this same phenomenon.

Because We Can

A.S. Hamrah says some true things in today’s Los Angeles Times (emphasis added).

Right before his recent colonoscopy, Bush announced that he had issued an executive order banning cruel and inhumane treatment in interrogations of suspected terrorists. This clarified interrogation guidelines he had issued last fall banning techniques that “shock the conscience.” While the guidelines appear to be a step toward more concrete protection of human rights, the administration’s constant rejiggering of the border between interrogation and torture reveals something else: a Sadean interest in the refinement of torture, a desire to define what is and is not “beyond the bounds of human decency,” as the order puts it.

The claim that there is an element of sexual perversity in the government’s interest in prisoner abuse may seem broad, but consider how officials discuss it. And when it comes to pictures documenting torture, they react in ways that should be as interesting to psychoanalysts as they are to constitutional lawyers, civil libertarians or investigative reporters.

A lot of us have thought this, but it’s nice to see it in the pages of a major newspaper.

Tenet’s reference to voyeurism — which the dictionary defines as “the practice of obtaining sexual gratification by looking at sexual objects or acts, especially secretly” — would seem to imply that these unmentionable techniques are sexual in nature and therefore inappropriate. But Tenet can never know if that’s the case because he, not being a voyeur, claims never to have seen them. So why bring up voyeurism at all?

A quote from an unidentified lieutenant general in Seymour Hersh’s article, “The General’s Report,” in the June 25 issue of the New Yorker exposes a similar unwillingness to confront scenes of torture. “I don’t want to get involved by looking” at photographs and videos of torture, the officer told Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba during the torture investigation at Abu Ghraib, “because what do you do with that information, once you know what they show?”

When babies cover their eyes, they assume the world has disappeared because they can’t see it; they think they’re invisible too and that the world can’t see them. Donald Rumsfeld, in Hersh’s article, comes off like an innocent child rubbing his eyes and waking in a world he never made. “My God! Did I authorize putting a bra and underwear on this guy’s head and telling him all his buddies knew he was a homosexual?” asks the former Defense secretary. Heck, was it all just a dream?

Sometimes I do want to smack people and tell them to wake up. See also last week’s post by moonbat, “Be Here Now.”

Maybe the reason members of the Bush administration are reluctant to look at evidence of torture is that if they did, they would be forced to admit that, for them, what happened at Abu Ghraib really wasn’t torture. For them, evidently, it was sex, and that’s why they won’t watch.

It’s not like government officials have never come right out and said that. In 2004, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) bridged the gap between the painful and the erotic by dismissing the Abu Ghraib abuses as a mere “sex ring”: “I’ve seen what happened at Abu Ghraib, and Abu Ghraib was not torture. It was outrageous, outrageous involvement of National Guard troops who were involved in a sex ring.” When asked to clarify, Shays backtracked and dug himself in deeper at the same time. “It was torture because sexual abuse is torture

This is more about pornography than torture.”

About a month ago some news stories alleged that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was “overzealous” about the death penalty. Paul K. Charlton, one of nine U.S. attorneys fired last year, told Congress that Gonzales pushed U.S. attorneys to execute people. Amy Goldstein wrote for the Washington Post:

Charlton testified yesterday that Gonzales has been so eager to expand the use of capital punishment that the attorney general has been inattentive to the quality of evidence in some cases — or the views of the prosecutors most familiar with them. …

…Justice Department data presented at the hearing demonstrated that the administration’s death penalty dispute with Charlton was not unique. The Bush administration has so far overruled prosecutors’ recommendations against its use more frequently than the Clinton administration did. The pace of overrulings picked up under Gonzales’s predecessor, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, and spiked in 2006, when the number of times Gonzales ordered prosecutors to seek the death penalty against their advice jumped to 21, from three in 2005.

Goldstein described a particular case:

According to Charlton, the case on which he clashed with Gonzales involved a methamphetamine dealer named Jose Rios Rico, who was charged with slaying his drug supplier. Charlton said he believed the case, which has not yet gone to trial, did not warrant the death penalty because police and prosecutors lacked forensic evidence — including a gun, DNA or the victim’s body. He said that the body was evidently buried in a landfill and that he asked Justice Department officials to pay $500,000 to $1 million for its exhumation.

The department refused, Charlton said. And without such evidence, he testified, the risk of putting the wrong person to death was too high.

Charlton said that in prior cases, Ashcroft’s aides had given him the chance to discuss his recommendations against the death penalty, but that Gonzales’s staff did not offer that opportunity. He instead received a letter, dated May 31, 2006, from Gonzales, simply directing him to seek the death penalty.

Charlton testified that he asked Justice officials to reconsider and had what he called a “memorable” conversation with Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty. Michael J. Elston, then McNulty’s chief of staff, called Charlton to relay that the deputy had spent “a significant amount of time on this issue with the attorney general, perhaps as much as five to 10 minutes,” and that Gonzales had not changed his mind. Charlton said he then asked to speak directly with Gonzales and was denied.

Last August, D. Kyle Sampson, then Gonzales’s chief of staff, sent Elston a dismissive e-mail about the episode that said: “In the ‘you won’t believe this category,’ Paul Charlton would like a few minutes of the AG’s time.” The next month, Charlton’s name appeared on a list of prosecutors who should be fired, which Sampson sent to the White House.

Gonzales was Bush’s legal counsel and Texas secretary of state while Bush was governor of Texas. In that capacity he provided summaries of death penalty cases when the condemned sought clemency from the governor. According to Alan Berlow in the August 2003 Atlantic Monthly, Bush and Gonzales were both shockingly casual about putting people to death, even in cases where the evidence was weak. Typically, Gonzales would provide Bush with a highly truncated, one-sided memo on the facts of the case, usually on the day of the execution, and Bush would spend no more than thirty minutes reading the memo and making the decision to deny clemency.

It’s possible Bush and Gonzales avoided getting into the details of death penalty cases because they found them distasteful. But the Charlton testimony says something else entirely. At the very least, somebody’s on a power trip. Let’s execute people because we can. D. Kyle Sampson and others in the Justice Department showed a similar attitude toward firing U.S. attorneys — let’s fire somebody because we can.

Torture, death, sex, power. Like those things never go together, huh?

No end of experts in such matters have testified that torture is not a good way to extract usable information from people. Yet the White House won’t let go of it. One might think they’re more interested in the torture than in the information. Let’s torture people because we can.

I’m opposed to the death penalty on principle. But it’s one thing, IMO, to advocate the death penalty as “justice” when there is ironclad evidence — including DNA — that the condemned committed a cold-blooded, first-degree murder. It’s something else entirely for Gonzales to go out of his way to push for the death penalty in a weak case, and then fire the attorney who doesn’t comply. That’s not justice; that’s blood thirst.

But then, I think the whole bleeping administration belongs in a bell jar in the Mental Pathology Hall of Fame.

The Wisdom of Doubt, Part XI

The first line of the Tao Teh Ching (China, ca. 500 BCE), in most translations, is “The Tao that can be talked about is not the Tao,” or variations thereof. John Wu (Shambhala, 1989) begins the first verse:

Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao.
Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.

Lin Yutang does it this way:

The Tao the can be told of
Is not the Absolute Tao;
The Names that can be given
Are not Absolute Names.

I’ve read all manner of commentaries saying that it is impossible to translate Zhou Dynasty Chinese into English literally. Each translation is, therefore, a reflection of the translator’s conceptualization of what the ancient text is trying to say. If you breeze around the web you can find at least a dozen translations, and no two begin exactly the same way. However, most of them say that the true nature of the Tao cannot be explained with words.

In spite of the caveat, the Tao Teh Ching is a work of words — 81 verses about the Tao. How do you talk about that which cannot be talked about? One way is by simile, and the Tao Teh Ching is full of ’em. The Tao is like a empty bowl (verse 4). The Tao is like a bellows (verse 5). The Tao is like water (several verses).

Jesus used simile also, to describe the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast (or “leaven”; Matthew 13:33). The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed (Matthew 13:31). The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44).

There’s a big difference between water and an empty bowl, or between a grain of mustard seed and hidden treasure. What do these similes communicate? Of course, the original passages from which these similes were taken provide more explanation to guide the reader to the possible meaning. Even so, over the centuries there have been diverse interpretations of the texts.

If you’re talking about something that has no precise physical attributes and is outside most peoples’ experiences or conceptual frames of reference, how do you explain it? As soon as you open your mouth, your listeners will try to relate your words to something they already know. Struggling to “get it,” they’ll conceptualize all manner of things that may bear little resemblance to what you are trying to explain.

If the communication is from another time or culture, the likelihood of misunderstanding is even higher. Often people who live in the same culture share metaphors that are easily misunderstood by someone outside that culture. There’s a good example in moonbat’s “Freeway Blogging” post. A sign says “We’re all wearing the blue dress now.” How would a time-traveler from twenty years ago interpret that? They might relate it to the song “Devil With a Blue Dress,” but I doubt that’s the reference intended by the sign maker. Similarly, maybe yeast and mustard seeds had connotations for Jesus’ listeners that have been lost.

Joseph Campbell wrote,

The symbol, energized by metaphor, conveys, not just an idea of the infinite but some realization of the infinite. We must remember, however, that the metaphors of one historically conditioned period, and the symbols they innervate, may not speak to the persons who are living long after that historical moment and whose consciousness has been formed by altogether different experiences. …

… The problem, as we have noted many times, is that these metaphors, which concern that which cannot in any other way be told, are misread prosaically as referring to tangible facts and historical occurrences. …

… When the language of metaphor is misunderstood and its surface structures become brittle, it evokes merely the time-and-place bound order of things and its spiritual signal, if transmitted at all, becomes even fainter. [Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor, Eugene Kennedy, editor (New World Library, 2001) pp. 6-7]

When people insist the old texts must be interpreted as literal facts, the deeper meaning is entirely lost. Karen Armstrong writes,

Before the modern period, Jews, Christians and Muslims all relished highly allegorical interpretations of scripture. The word of God was infinite and could not be tied down to a single interpretation. Preoccupation with literal truth is a product of the scientific revolution, when reason achieved such spectacular results that mythology was no longer regarded as a valid path to knowledge.

We tend now to read our scriptures for accurate information, so that the Bible, for example, becomes a holy encyclopaedia, in which the faithful look up facts about God. Many assume that if the scriptures are not historically and scientifically correct, they cannot be true at all. But this was not how scripture was originally conceived. All the verses of the Qur’an, for example, are called “parables” (ayat); its images of paradise, hell and the last judgment are also ayat, pointers to transcendent realities that we can only glimpse through signs and symbols.

And then there are myths. We use the word myth to mean something that isn’t true. We might say, “Al Gore didn’t claim to invent the Internet; that’s just a myth.” But myths are more than just made-up stories. Consciously or unconsciously, myths shape our unspoken assumptions. They create the context within which we understand ourselves and everything else. These days we refer to political myths as “the narrative.” The narrative is a kind of folk history/mythos through which people form ideas about What America Is Supposed to Be and who we Americans are as a people. The factuality of the narrative is less important than the values, ideas and beliefs it conveys. This is why attempts to correct the many factual errors in the Right’s narratives don’t put a dent in their belief in them, since the stories themselves are not the point. The narrative shapes the collective imagination and identity of those who choose to accept it. As Bill Moyers argued here, we progressives ignore the power of narrative at our peril.

Religious myths have a similar function. The Bible can be read as a huge myth that informs the Jewish people who they are. Or, you can read it for more universal truths. For example, the Garden of Eden story in Genesis is a very rich myth with many layers of meaning. Truly, you don’t have to believe in God to appreciate it. We start with Adam and Eve in the Garden, naked and carefree. They are forbidden only one thing (the One Forbidden Thing is one of the most consistent story devices in all the world’s myths, I think), which is to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. So when they ate the fruit (characters in these stories always do the One Forbidden Thing; otherwise there wouldn’t be a story) they recognized their nakedness and felt shame.

Then God showed up and said, “You blew it, people. You did the One Forbidden Thing. From now on, humans will be conscious of themselves as separate from the rest of Creation. Women will have pain in childbirth because their babies will have grapefruit-size heads. You will have to work for a living. And your descendants will have neuroses. They will need psychiatrists and lawyers. Way to go.”

This is, of course, a loose interpretation. Joseph Campbell wrote, “When Man ate of the fruit of the Tree, he discovered himself in the field of duality instead of the field of unity. As a result he finds himself out, in exile” (op cit, p. 15). Sort of what I said.

There’s a lot in this myth that underscores a paternalistic worldview, and of course I don’t much care for those parts. But the fruit-eating bit is fascinating. What does it say about knowledge of good and evil? What does it say about human consciousness? What does it say about how humans understand themselves vis-à-vis other living things on our planet? There’s lots of juicy stuff to contemplate in that story. I dare say you can find a lot of Truth in there, if you look for it.

And the great irony is that those who insist the story itself is factual, not myth, squeeze all the Truth out of it.

It’s stunning to me that people think the Garden of Eden had a geographical location and that Adam and Eve were real people, not archetypes. I understand the Garden as a level of consciousness. Can we return to that consciousness? Do we want to? And what does knowledge of good and evil have to do with it?

I’m thinking of the Hsin Hsin Ming, a 6th century Zen text called in English “Mind of Absolute Trust” or “Verses of the Faith-Mind.”

The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind.
When the deep meaning of things is not understood the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail.

Another translation at the same link substitutes “The struggle between good and evil” for “To set up what you like against what you dislike.” The latter is the more common translation. In any event, it’s a clear warning against sorting things into binary absolute piles.

Humans have a limitless capability to misunderstand things. A recent “Explainer” column at Slate about the supposed reincarnation of the Buddha mentioned the “32 marks” or 32 physical characteristics of a Buddha, which include 40 teeth and a tongue long enough to lick his own ears. This is out of one of the old sutras of the Tripitaka. Allegory, people, allegory. Not that I have even a clue what significance 40 teeth and an extra-long tongue have. But compare/contrast to the fifth verse of the Diamond Sutra

“Subhuti, what do you think? Can the Buddha be recognized by means of his bodily form?”

“No, Most Honored One, the Buddha cannot be recognized by means of his bodily form. Why? Because when the Buddha speaks of bodily form, it is not a real form, but only an illusion.”

The Buddha then spoke to Subhuti: “All that has a form is illusive and unreal. When you see that all forms are illusive and unreal, then you will begin to perceive your true Buddha nature.”

The Slate piece doesn’t get anything else right, either, but I thought the bit about the 32 marks was a particular hoot.

The iconic characters of Buddhist art sometimes are portrayed with numerous arms. The significance of the arms should become clear when you understand these characters as something like Jungian archetypes. The god, goddess, or bodhisattva is not to be worshiped, but realized as one’s own self. As the Hindu say, Thou Art That. When many people realize themselves as the Goddess of Compassion, then of course the goddess has many arms (and eyes, and feet, and multiple everything else). Just don’t expect to see someone who looks like that appear in your back yard in a puff of smoke. If you do, seek professional help.

One of the really aggravating things about the fundies is that they’ve persuaded non-religious people that religion is just a matter of believing nutty things written in scripture. In my experience it’s harder to explain why this isn’t true to atheists than to religious people, fundies excepted. I think even most Christians appreciate that at least some parts of the Bible are allegorical. I have come to realize that the crusading atheists assume all religious people are some kind of fundamentalist, and the only distinction is that some of us are more wishy-washy about it. The truth is that different people understand religion in an entirely different way.

The point of most of the world’s sacred texts is not to “believe in” whatever they say, but to understand what they’re trying to tell us. In most of the world’s sacred texts, “what they’re trying to tell us” is about ourselves. Even in the great epics like the Mahabharata, which has a long and convoluted story with many characters, the real subject of the story is the person hearing it. The story presents a way for the hearer to understand and experience himself in relation to everything else in the cosmos, throughout space and time. People who thumb through the epic looking for “facts” about Krishna and other deities in the story are missing the point.

Awhile back John Shelby Spong wrote a book called Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. “My purpose in this volume is first to rescue the Bible from the exclusive hands of those who demand that it be literal truth and second to open that sacred story to levels of insight and beauty that, in my experience, literalism has never produced,” he wrote. Amen.

Joseph Campbell said,

The best thing one can do with the Bible is to read it spiritually rather than historically. Read the Bible in your own way, and take the message because it says something special to each reader, based on his or her own experience. The gift of God comes in your own terms. God, pure and in Himself, is too much. Carl Jung said, “Religion is a system to defend us against the experience of God.” It may be a species of impudence to think that the way you understand God is the way God is. [op cit, p. 60]

Although I agree generally with Campbell’s advice, lots of people will misunderstand what “spiritual reading” is. There always will be people who get stuck in the literal interpretations. Sometimes it helps to get a guide. A major function of a Zen teacher is to get students unstuck by challenging their understanding and urging them to go deeper. My first teacher, Daido, used to say that his role was to pull rugs out from under people.

Years ago I was active on some Buddhist Internet forums, and there I encountered no end of people determined to study Zen without a teacher. They figured they could just read the books, study the koans and figure it out for themselves. Inevitably they came up with dreadfully anal, left-brained, not-even-close ideas about what various teachings meant. And, of course, once they had made up their minds that their understanding was the “true” one, no one could talk them out of it. This phenomenon is so common it’s come to be called Zen Lite.

There’s a wonderful Zen story from 8th century China, give or take, about a tenzo, or monastery cook. (Tenzo is a Japanese word. This is a Chinese story but I mostly know Japanese names for things.) The tenzo usually was not chosen for his ability to cook but for his spiritual maturity, and it was a great honor to be the one chosen to nourish the rest of the monks. Anyway, one day while the tenzo was cooking the Bodhisattva Manjusri rose up out of a rice pot and began to expound upon the Dharma, or the teachings of the Buddha. Manjusri is the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, and one might assume anything he said about the Dharma would be profoundly wise.

So the tenzo, as a spiritually mature monk, did the correct thing. He picked up a large spoon, smacked the Bodhisattva back down into the cooking pot, and slammed a lid on the pot so he couldn’t come back.

Why did the tenzo do this? He might have assumed he was seeing a hallucination. But I think the real reason was that the tenzo feared he would become attached to the Bodhisattva’s words and be unable to see through them to the deeper meaning. The Tao that can be talked about is not the Tao.

Did this story really take place? Does it matter?

Freeway Blogging

We are all the blue dress now

There’s a lot to be said for a (mostly) free and open Internet that allows anyone to sit behind a computer, get a blog, and blather on about any subject they desire. It’s a 21st century version of the founders’ ideal of a free press. One problem with this medium is that these blatherings tend to be read mostly by folks with similar inclinations, IOW preaching to the choir. Freeway Blogging is a combination of political free speech, visual art, and performance art, and, it’s lower tech and more accessible than the internet. Best of all, the audience is far more demographically diverse – and often more numerous – than that of the usual poli-blog. Combining Freeway Blogging with the Internet yields a site like Tales of the Freeway Blogger, where people can share their efforts. One of my favorite sharings happened a few months ago, in Chicago:

George Bush is a Lying Sack of Shit

One of the artists who created this wonder describes the effort (and the reward) in the comments:

Hi, I was one of the (2) people who put up this banner in Chicago. Thanks for your supportive comments. We used a roll of cheap plastic white tablecloth, available at party supply stores or websites. Using a Sharpie I traced out the letters with a digital projector (you can also use an overhead or slide projector) using Adobe Illustrator (Word or Wordpad is fine too). I tacked and untacked the roll to the wall as I moved down the roll. After tracing, I rolled it up and took it to my comrade’s house. There, we laid it out on his very long driveway, held down edges of the plastic with a few rocks and painted the letters in quickly with cheap red latex paint. Don’t spend too much time being perfect with the letters, because from 10-20 feet, nobody can detect those imperfections. Then we duct-taped some pieces of wire to the edges: on the corners and about every 8 feet or so. All in all, it took about 2 hours (results may vary). At the pedestrian overpass at Bryn Mawr over I-90 (inbound to Chicago loop at rush hour) my comrade unrolled as I fastened the wires to the chain link fence. Once unrolled, we went back and further secured the sign from the wind by stretching duct tape from the top to the bottom about every 4 feet (if you look closely at the pic you can see it through the light plastic). It took about 3-5 minutes to set up with two people, but I recommend 3. If it had not been for Illinois Dept of Transportation clean up guys seeing it so quickly, it could have stayed up for a lot longer. While we were putting it up, the supportive honks from the hundreds of cars passing by was DEAFENING! It was so visible, that people in the opposite 4 lanes were honking as they read it in their rear-view mirrors. Try this at home kids! Thanks again for posting your comments of support! (my emphasis added)

I encourage you to visit Tales of the Freeway Blogger for inspiration, and for a look at a different, low-tech way to reach others. Also, the photos shown here have been cropped from the originals, which are much more impressive than what you see here.

Saturday Cartoons

See ’em at Bob Geiger’s place.

The Every Day Cartoon is, of course, on Fox News Network —

Rick Perlstein provides not-so-funny testimony on Bill O. and the hating of America.

And in the You Can’t Make This Shit Up department, see the Right Blogosphere. The wingnuts think Sen. Chuck Schumer is attempting a coup d’état . WTF?, you say? One of the Power Tools explains,

The Democrats’ unconstitutional usurpation of power continues: Chuck Schumer, possibly the wackiest of all Capitol Hill Democrats, announces a change in the Constitution:

    New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a powerful member of the Democratic leadership, said Friday the Senate should not confirm another U.S. Supreme Court nominee under President Bush “except in extraordinary circumstances.”
    “We should reverse the presumption of confirmation,” Schumer told the American Constitution Society convention in Washington. “The Supreme Court is dangerously out of balance. We cannot afford to see Justice Stevens replaced by another Roberts, or Justice Ginsburg by another Alito.”

I guess “dangerously out of balance” means 5-4. What Schumer really means, of course, is that he wants to hold the fort for a year and a half so that a Democratic President can be elected, and the Court can be “dangerously out of balance,” i.e., 5-4 in the other direction.

The Right, of course, has never even thought about placing people to their own ideological liking on the Court.

However, what puzzles me is the bit about “changing the Constitution.” Article II, Section 2, paragraph 2, clearly says,

He [the President] shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law: but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.

In Rightie World, the only “advice and consent” the Senate is allowed is “Yes sir, Mr. President!” Unless, of course, Republicans hold the majority in the Senate and the President is a Democrat.

This confusion on constitutional theory might have come about from a recent conference call held by the White House for rightie bloggers, in which the bloggers were initiated into the Revealed Wisdom of Executive Privilege. Captain Ed wrote,

The power to hire and fire federal prosecutors belongs exclusively to the executive branch. Congress has no particular oversight in these matters, and so the executive privilege claim is very compelling in this instance.

Yes, the President has the authority to hire and fire federal prosecutors, but the Constitution (see above) explicitly gives the Senate oversight regarding “all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law.” U.S. attorneys have been included in this classification since Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789. However, according to the DoJ’s own web site,

Initially, United States Attorneys were not supervised by the Attorney General (1 Op.Att’y Gen. 608) but Congress, in the Act of August 2, 1861, (Ch. 37, 12 Stat. 185) charged the Attorney General with the “general superintendence and direction duties …” While the precise nature of the superintendence and direction was not defined, the Department of Justice Act of June 22, 1870 (Ch. 150, 16 Stat. 164) and the Act of June 30, 1906 (Ch. 39, 35, 34 Stat. 816) clearly established the power of the Attorney General to supervise criminal and civil proceedings in any district.

Wouldn’t it be fun if Congress took back its supervision of the U.S. attorneys? Anyway, further down the DoJ web site says,

United States Attorneys are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate for a four-year term. See 28 U.S.C. Sec. 541.

It’s possible, of course, that when the White House Captain Ed and the Power Tools and other righties talk about “the Constitution,” they are not talking about the Constitution of the United States.

See also JeffFecke at Shakesville and Down With Tyranny.

See also Dr. Steven Taylor, one of the few honest small-government conservatives left in America:

Escape from Fundamentalism

I started to write a comment to Maha’s latest installment of The Wisdom of Doubt, which was about fundamentalism, but felt there was enough of importance here for others, to promote it out of the comments. The important part is not so much my thoughts, but the work of Sara Robinson (at Orcinus), who has done what in my mind is some major thinking on authoritarianism and fundamentalism, much of it from her own personal experience with scores of people who are leaving or have left these worlds:

For the past five years, I’ve been a member of a large and busy online community of former fundamentalists. Through years of discussion, we’ve learned a lot from each other about how and why people become fundamentalists — and also how and why they find themselves inspired to leave authoritarian religion behind. We’ve noticed patterns in the various ways people are seduced into fundamentalism; and also a predictable progression in the steps they go through in the agonizing months and years after enlightenment dawns. We’ve also discovered that we seem to fall into readily-identifiable subgroups, and that each of these subgroups wanders down somewhat different paths and uses different techniques as they approach the wall, determinedly hoist themselves over it, and then set about coming to terms with life here on the reality-based side.

Two or three times a week, we find new members on our doorstep. Safe in the anonymity of the Internet (and often under cover of night — these missives are typically time-stamped in the wee hours of the morning, usually posted furtively after weeks or months of lurking) we’re often the first people they’ve ever whispered their doubts out loud to. Their introductions are often heartbreakingly miserable: "I can’t believe this any more — but my husband will leave me if he knows." "My whole family is fundie. I can’t tell my parents I’ve stopped going to church — it will kill them if they ever find out." "I’m a deacon at my church. If I start asking these questions, I’ll lose my whole community."

If this sounds interesting, it starts in a series called "Cracks in the Wall", and concludes in "Tunnels and Bridges". You get to these by going to Orcinus, and find them in the left side bar, under "Sara’s Recent Series". There are multiple installments, so it’s a lot to list the links to all of it here.

Even if this doesn’t interest you personally, Sara’s series, like Maha’s Wisdom of Doubt, are big keys to understanding and cracking the right wing mentality that has our country and parts of our world so in thrall.

Now onto less important stuff, my thoughts on Maha’s latest Wisdom of Doubt:

Related to the belief in scriptural inerrancy is the deification of the bible as “The Word of God”. This one book is set apart, and placed on a pedestal, from the millions of others, which is as pretty clear cut an example of absolutist thinking as you can get. It’s my own simple litmus test for whether someone is a Christian fundamentalist or not.

Related to this, is the more specialized belief that one particular translation, usually the King James, is the only authentic Word of God (accept no substitutes). I suspect this may derive from Scofield’s influence and era, but I’m not sure.

Many claim the bible is The Word of God, but few fully live out this belief. They make judgments about this Word, saying that this section here is about cultural matters (and can be ignored), but this stuff over here is vitally important. Most women do not cover their heads, for example, which the Apostle Paul suggests/orders in one of his letters. And so their petty, fallible human judgments overrule, and to my mind invalidate, whatever grand, cosmic claim they make for the entire corpus.

Such are the mental contortions one must make to adopt an absolutist mindset (any black and white mindset) in a world of grays. This doesn’t even go into the variety of ways this Word of God is interpreted.

It’s the need to have this kind of absolute mental anchor – regardless of the kind of anchor it is, religious or political or whatever – that is most interesting. It would be interesting to find:

  • what factors drive people towards absolutist thinking
  • how is the inevitable cognitive dissonance typically masked or handled or ignored (what are the types of mental contortions people go through)
  • what factors pull people out of this kind of thinking

After I wrote this list, I recalled that much of this work has already been done, in the writings of Sara Robinson, above.

This type of absolutist thinking (and the cognitive dissonance that goes with it) once infected an entire country, the Soviet Union. Enough people believed, more or less absolutely, in the Communist ideology to get into enough positions of power, to take over this vast nation, which provided a backdrop for much of the history of the 20th century. A specific tenet of Communist rule was that other political viewpoints (other kinds of thinking) were disallowed, which meant absolute rule from one absolute viewpoint, the Communists’. My point is that absolutist thinking isn’t limited to religion (as we know), although religion is probably the most natural mental space in which this kind of thinking can thrive.

Katrina Isn’t Over

Since Maha started today with a post about one government cover-up, I thought I’d post this item about another. I wrote about it last week on my own blog, but since then this story seems to have failed to penetrate the broader media. I’d hate for it to be missed. – Paul

What’s worse than having your house destroyed and being forced to wait for a FEMA trailer to live in?

Having to live in that FEMA trailer.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency since early 2006 has suppressed warnings from its own field workers about health problems experienced by hurricane victims living in government-provided trailers with levels of a toxic chemical 75 times the recommended maximum for U.S. workers, congressional lawmakers said yesterday.

A trail of e-mails obtained by investigators shows that the agency’s lawyers rejected a proposal for systematic testing of the levels of potentially cancer-causing formaldehyde gas in the trailers, out of concern that the agency would be legally liable for any hazards or health problems. As many as 120,000 families displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita lived in the suspect trailers, and hundreds have complained of ill effects.

Ironic, isn’t it, that we can now add George Bush to the list of leaders who gassed their own people?

It’s clear that, despite the embarrassment of Katrina, FEMA’s morally upstanding, gung-ho, do-what-it-takes-for-the-disaster-victim attitude is just as strong as ever:

On June 16, 2006, three months after reports of the hazards surfaced and a month after a trailer resident sued the agency, a FEMA logistics expert wrote that the agency’s Office of General Counsel “has advised that we do not do testing, which would imply FEMA’s ownership of this issue.” A FEMA lawyer, Patrick Preston, wrote on June 15: “Do not initiate any testing until we give the OK. . . . Once you get results and should they indicate some problem, the clock is running on our duty to respond to them.”

Of course, they did have reason to expect that, if they did do testing they’d find problems. Because problems existed.

FEMA tested no occupied trailers after March 2006, when it initially discovered formaldehyde levels at 75 times the U.S.-recommended workplace safety threshold and relocated a south Mississippi couple expecting their second child, the documents indicate. Formaldehyde, a common wood preservative used in construction materials such as particle board, can cause vision and respiratory problems; long-term exposure has been linked to cancer and higher rates of asthma, bronchitis and allergies in children.

One man in Slidell, La., was found dead in his trailer on June 27, 2006, after complaining about the formaldehyde fumes. In a conference call about the death, 28 officials from six agencies recommended that the circumstances be investigated and trailer air quality be subjected to independent testing. But FEMA lawyers rejected the suggestions, with one, Adrian Sevier, cautioning that further investigation not approved by lawyers “could seriously undermine the Agency’s position” in litigation.

“Yeah, people are dying, but before we do anything, we really need to check with the lawyers.” Nice. Of course, now FEMA has reversed itself and has ordered tests. Why?

On the eve of yesterday’s hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, FEMA reversed course on the issue and said it has asked federal health officials to help conduct a new assessment of conditions in trailers under prolonged use.

How about that? Oversight. Imagine.

But revelation of the agency’s earlier posture — in documents withheld by FEMA until they were subpoenaed by Congress — attracted harsh bipartisan criticism.

Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) decried what he called FEMA’s indifference to storm victims and said the situation was “sickening.” He said the documents “expose an official policy of premeditated ignorance” and added that “senior officials in Washington didn’t want to know what they already knew, because they didn’t want the legal and moral responsibility to do what they knew had to be done.”

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said FEMA had obstructed the 10-month congressional investigation and “mischaracterized the scope and purpose” of its own actions. “FEMA’s reaction to the problem was deliberately stunted to bolster the agency’s litigation position,” Davis said. “FEMA’s primary concerns were legal liability and public relations, not human health and safety.”

About 66,000 households affected by Katrina remain in the trailers at issue. FEMA has replaced 58 trailers and moved five families into rental units. The Sierra Club in May 2006 reported finding unsafe levels of formaldehyde in 30 out of 32 trailers it tested along the Gulf Coast, and some residents filed a class-action lawsuit last month in federal court in Baton Rouge against trailer manufacturers.

Three trailer residents who testified before the panel described frequent nosebleeds, respiratory problems and mysterious mouth and nasal tumors that they or family members have suffered. They also said veterinarians and pediatricians have warned that their pets and children may be experiencing formaldehyde-related symptoms.

You can see why the FEMA folks might want to make Congress subpoena the records instead of just handing them over. What a swell bunch of folks. They’re still doing a “heckuva job.”

Too Easy

Via Atrios and Whiskey FireMichael Gerson writes,

Recent books and studies seem to indicate disturbing sexual trends among evangelical Christians. And this time we’re not talking about their pastors or political leaders. The new attention is on evangelical teenagers, who reportedly start sex earlier than their mainline Protestant peers.

One gleeful headline on an Internet site recently read: “Evangelical Girls Are Easy.” That is not the way I remember it.

Um, Mr. Gerson, maybe girls just didn’t like you.

Yeah, I know. That was too easy.


It was one thing when it appeared the Bush Administration was trying to cover up a “friendly fire” death by claiming Pat Tillman was killed by enemy fire. I remember similar episodes from the Vietnam War. I dimly remember a made for television movie about a “friendly fire” coverup, in fact.

But today Martha Mendoza of the Associated Press reports that there is evidence Tillman was killed [deliberately] by another Ranger. Forensic evidence suggests he was shot in the head — three times — by an M16 from only about ten yards away.

I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but this definitely requires more investigation. There will be more congressional hearings next week.

Update: You’ll enjoy this.

He wasn’t so much a patriot as he was apparently an antiwar lefist [sic] who enjoyed chomping on Noam Chomsky.

Not the first, won’t be the last leftist in the ranks. Fact is so is his brother, Kevin. Shame. We used to sniff them out in basic training and help them “out”.

Update 2: See Jesse Lee at the Gavel.