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  • Friday, April 29, 2005


    Ego-boo by Numbers

    I'm used to toiling in the fields of my blog without too many readers. While I, like most bloggers, would appreciate more readers, I've been somewhat fatalistic about it. I guess I unconsciously subscribe to the notion "If you write it, they will come... unless it's sh*t, then they won't." In the last couple of months I've started to participate more in other blogs with comments and such. This has increased the number of visitors to my blog, a pleasant side effect though not really my objective. I'm just being a friendly participant in blogs I like. I call it "community."

    Then I wrote a bit about Dominionism because I found Shakespeare's Sister mentioned it in a post. That's generally how I pick my subjects: spur of the moment web research. Then I found a reference to Dominionism in a Molly Ivins piece on Alternet so I left a comment with a link to my post. Zowie! I got more hits in a couple of days than I normally get in a month. Cool.

    I didn't plan to increase my traffic. I was mostly intrigued by several different references to Dominionism suddenly popping up. The increased readership was a nice bit of ego-boo though. (ego-boo= ego boost: flattering to the ego; praise leading to ego stroking and preening.) It felt good and I felt smart. Then I wanted more. Of course that's where some people opt for serious blogpimping by inserting comments into high traffic sites, whether or not they have anything to say. Drive that traffic to your blog, flog the blog everywhere, become a darling of the blogosphere. The fantasy of fame looms large.

    That's not really my style or intent. I blog mostly so I can write regularly; I obviously need the practice. Sure, I want people to read these posts but that's almost secondary to developing my writing skills. (I notice I qualified that assertion with "almost." See? I'm not entirely high-minded or above a common desire for recognition.) I'll probably continue on my path of writing about what interests me, commenting in other blogs and, if appropriate, inserting a link to a particular post of mine.

    Wednesday, April 27, 2005


    Religion and Power

    A mini-epiphany of the obvious: People bring to their religious practice some of their deepest desires and urges. I distinctly separate organized religion and individual spirituality. By deepest desires I'm referring more to ego and personality traits than desire for connection with some divine being or source.

    So if a person desires power and prestige, they might become a politician or a religious leader. I'm not saying religious leaders are always ego driven or want power over other people but I am saying many activist religious leaders in the US seem to be motivated more by a crusading force than love of God.

    Tuesday, April 26, 2005


    Global Poverty

    I've been aware for a long time of the disconnect between American's perception of their charitable works and the reality of private and government donations. We suck at donating yet think we're king donor of the world.

    There is an attitude, fostered by the hypercapitalists and those interested in killing as much of our government as possible, that being poor is a moral failing. This goes along with the American myth/mirage/dream: If you just work hard enough, you will be rewarded with money and status. Almost total BS but we're indoctrinated with it.

    The following is from Failing to Curb Global Poverty by Sean Gonsalves:

    ''Americans do not believe this, but it's true. Americans believe, when they're asked in opinion surveys how much aid we give, they believe first that the official aid is roughly 25 to 30 times what it actually is, and they believe that the private giving is many times more than the official giving. Both of these are simply wrong,'' he said.

    The official giving this year will be about $16 billion of development assistance in a $12 trillion economy. That's about 0.15 percent of our gross national product.

    Private charity will offer about $6 billion. If you add it all up total U.S. giving is about 0.2 percent, or about 20 cents of every 100 dollars.

    In Monterrey, Mexico, Bush attended the conference in which the U.S. and other governments signed the Monterrey Consensus, agreeing ''to make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7 percent of gross national income as official development assistance'' - the international standard the Bush administration signed up for.


    MiniCredo: Soul of Revolution

    Dreams of justice haunt me, call to the heat of my blood.

    The Republicans, the Biblical fanatics, the cursed right-wing noise machine all dominate our culture in many ways. They strive to separate us, divide us from each other. They lie, obfuscate, tell us who and what is important. Like a stage magician, they focus our attention elsewhere while they destroy, while they conspire openly to dominate, to enslave, to break our spirit.

    What will unite us? Some leader? Some organization? Some movement? Perhaps. I think what will bring people together is the point when they say, "No more: No more hatred, no more destruction, and no more ravening corporations."

    When is the moment? When do isolated individuals and small groups come together in common vision? When do the hopeless and helpless feel a surge of cleansing empowerment? I believe in a commonwealth, a state for the good of all people, a body politic founded on principles of truth and justice. I believe in turning the tears of anguish into a righteous rage. It's not a rage of hatred, of denial, of lies. It's a rage against poverty, against alienation, against hypocritical leaders. It's a rage for honesty, compassion, empathy.

    Do I speak of insurrection, of rebellion, of revolution? Yes. Do I speak of violence, force of arms, or a will to conquer? No. I speak of the power in people clearly envisioning a possible future, finding consensus together and acting for the greater good. I speak of individuals discovering the form and shape of oppression, and devising tactics to alleviate these forces.

    I dream of justice. Do you?

    Monday, April 25, 2005


    REAL Women's Voices


    Over at the Family Research Council I was looking for information on their justification for how Justice Sunday, a very political event to abolish the Senate filibuster, could be shown in churches without affecting their tax exempt status. I came upon the graphic above. The link led here. I thought to myself "REAL must be an acronym. Surely they can't be suggesting that pro-choice or pro-abortion women aren't real women?"

    Despite finding phrases like "This historic day gives REAL women, pro-life women, an opportunity to make their voices heard across America!" and "REAL pro-life spokeswomen Dr. Alveda King..." and "As a REAL pro-life woman advocate and legal scholar...," I couldn't find any reference to any expanded version of the term REAL. I have to conclude this is a case of misleading advertising, pimping their event and a way to brand participating women with a validating label to raise their self-esteem. Not that there's anything wrong with raising women's self-esteem, but it seems to me a classic case of dividing women and setting them against each other rather than empowering them.


    My Poor Photoshop Skills

    I created this silly photo a few months ago, just fooling around. Not very good but I wanted to post it anyway because it tickles me a little... in a special way.

    A hand in the Bush Posted by Hello


    Dog Blogging the Cuteness

    We share our home with these vicious canines. Don't let the cute looks fool you. Sheena has a profoundly disorienting banshee shriek and Ripley is quiet but a quite effective hunter. Did I mention that she killed a porcupine? She is one tough dog, very like her namesake from the "Alien" films. But aren't they cute? Little teddy bears curled up together!

    Sheena and Ripley share a beanbag chair. Posted by Hello


    Will Geek for Words

    Word Lover’'s Dictionary: Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words by Josefa Heifetz (New York: Carol Publishing, 1974, 1994)

    Word lover, yep, that describes me. But not, you know, in some inappropriate way; I’'m not an etymological version of Michael Jackson*. To communicate ideas, concepts, and stories, I feel a need for a large vocabulary to describe things in just the right way. This is part of nuanced verbal communication. Sadly, my desire for an excellent, expansive, and expressive vocabulary runs afoul of what most people can actually understand without resorting to a dictionary too often. Not that I'm blaming you, no, I wouldn't do that. You can't help being unfamiliar with or disinterested in the obsolete or obscure words I love. My problem is learning to write without either oversimplifying or putting more than a soupçon of unfamiliar terms in a particular piece. I don't have such a problem using unusual words conversationally because, frankly, my pronunciation of words I've never spoken before is crappy. I seem to have trouble deciphering the pronunciation guides in dictionaries for some reason. Slo-o-o-owly sounding them out sometimes works but I still have a tendency to accent the wrong syllables and slip in phantom letters.

    Perhaps if I was an academic I would be encouraged to cultivate my hobby, my lexcitation® into a career. But, being a classic underachiever, I must generally gloat over my little lexical finds in private. A blog, though, ahh... A blog can be a vanity showcase, an exhibit of quirks, tics, personal obsession, faux intellectual scenarios, and compulsive collecting. Heck, I could style myself "King Geek of Words®" and dig out a nice cozy cyberhomestead, dispensing "Word Geek'’s Word of the Day”©®". Just like "In space, no one can hear you scream," "on the web, no one knows your qualifications." Just don’'t call me “Bulldog

    Thus I come to Word Lover's Dictionary, my current bedtime reading. Yes, it's organized like a dictionary and yes, I'm reading from front to back, highlighting as I go. It's only about 280pp. All the words were found in at least one dictionary. Some were included because the author liked them for one reason or another. Some are slang. Here are some of my favorites so far:

    adevism, n.: the denial of legendary gods.
    altruipathia, n.: pathologic altruism.
    anachorism, n.: foreign to a certain locality; geographically impossible.
    anautarchia, n.: perpetual unhappiness.
    assification, n.: the act of making an ass of; an asinine act.
    babyolotry, n.: baby worship.
    belaud, v.t.: to ridicule by excessive praise.
    bibliotaph, n.: one who hoards or hides books.
    blatantation, n.: loud bragging or swaggering.
    boobocracy, n.: government by boobs; plebianism [sic] ad absurdum (slang).
    booboisie, n.: the mass, rabble (coined by H.L. Mencken).
    cacogen, n.: an antisocial person.
    callomania, n.: the delusion that one is beautiful.
    cerebropathy, n.: hypochondria resulting from too much thinking.
    chiliad, n.: one thousand [years].

    *Disclaimer: Mr. Jackson is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Really. Please do not laugh. So don’'t call him a pedophile or a child molester. Unless he'’s convicted, these labels must be prefaced by "alleged." However, feel free to call him a monster or freak; these are clearly appropriate labels and need no qualifiers.

    Saturday, April 23, 2005



    [Update: There are now two other posts to this subject: Dominionism, Part 2 and Part 3. I may eventually combine all three of these posts into one under this post title.]

    Through a reference on Shakespeare's Sister, I was moved to do a little research on Dominionism. It's a theological/political movement sure to give me nightmares tonight. I'd heard of it before, perhaps sometime in the 1990s, but I don't think I'd seen much else until today. I first went to the reference, a lengthy and well footnoted article named The Despoiling of America: How George W. Bush became the head of the new American Dominionist Church/State by Katherine Yurica. Here's a sample:
    It is estimated that thirty-five million Americans who call themselves Christian, adhere to Dominionism in the United States, but most of these people appear to be ignorant of the heretical nature of their beliefs and the seditious nature of their political goals. So successfully have the televangelists and churches inculcated the idea of the existence of an outside “enemy,” which is attacking Christianity, that millions of people have perceived themselves rightfully overthrowing an imaginary evil anti-Christian conspiratorial secular society.

    Born in Christian Reconstructionism, which was founded by the late R. J. Rushdoony, the framers of the new cult included Rushdoony, his son-in-law Gary North, Pat Robertson, Herb Titus, the former Dean of Robertson’s Regent University School of Public Policy (formerly CBN University), Charles Colson, Robertson’s political strategist, Tim LaHaye, Gary Bauer, the late Francis Schaeffer, and Paul Crouch, the founder of TBN, the world’s largest television network, plus a virtual army of likeminded television and radio evangelists and news talk show hosts.

    Dominionism started with the Gospels and turned the concept of the invisible and spiritual “Kingdom of God” into a literal political empire that could be taken by force, starting with the United States of America. Discarding the original message of Jesus and forgetting that Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” the framers of Dominionism boldly presented a Gospel whose purpose was to inspire Christians to enter politics and execute world domination so that Jesus could return to an earth prepared for his earthly rule by his faithful “regents.”

    Sweet people doing tha Lawd's work. Here's another quote from Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence by Frederick Clarkson from 1994. It sounds very much like The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. (As noted in the quote above, Dominionism is an offshoot of Reconstructionism.)
    Epitomizing the Reconstructionist idea of Biblical "warfare" is the centrality of capital punishment under Biblical Law. Doctrinal leaders (notably Rushdoony, North, and Bahnsen) call for the death penalty for a wide range of crimes in addition to such contemporary capital crimes as rape, kidnapping, and murder. Death is also the punishment for apostasy (abandonment of the faith), heresy, blasphemy, witchcraft, astrology, adultery, "sodomy or homosexuality," incest, striking a parent, incorrigible juvenile delinquency, and, in the case of women, "unchastity before marriage."

    According to Gary North, women who have abortions should be publicly executed, "along with those who advised them to abort their children." Rushdoony concludes: "God's government prevails, and His alternatives are clear-cut: either men and nations obey His laws, or God invokes the death penalty against them." Reconstructionists insist that "the death penalty is the maximum, not necessarily the mandatory penalty." However, such judgments may depend less on Biblical Principles than on which faction gains power in the theocratic republic. The potential for bloodthirsty episodes on the order of the Salem witchcraft trials or the Spanish Inquisition is inadvertently revealed by Reconstructionist theologian Rev. Ray Sutton, who claims that the Reconstructed Biblical theocracies would be "happy" places, to which people would flock because "capital punishment is one of the best evangelistic tools of a society."

    I don't know about you, but in these quotes I hear strong echoes of arguments and perspectives offered by conservatives in the media every day. It's rarely stated as strongly as above but still there. I'm a firm believer in throwing light and attention on movements like this. Unattended, this sort of philosophy festers, grows evil tendrils into the fabric of society and establishes itself as an acceptable approach to social and political issues. I've heard it said that some of the worst atrocities in history were carried out in the name of religion. I know I see visions of autos-da-fé dancing horribly in my mind's eye. I'm generally not prone to shrill imprecations. I don't use the word "evil" lightly, usually reserving it for genocide or true sociopaths. This stuff strikes me as evil.


    Chairman of Voting Reform Panel Resigns

    I was turned on to this story via AmericaBlog. (wow. am I reliving the '70s yet? "turned on to"? who says that any more?) Anyway, as the story says, the Voting Reform Panel was formed out of the ashes and chaos of the 2000 election debacle. Seemed like a good idea but I remember hearing at the time about the delays in choosing members for it. The farfetched idea mooted about then was that the formation was delayed precisely so the panel could not possibly be effective in implementing reforms for the 2004 election. Hello? Prescient much?

    Some nice details about the enormous support they received for their work. From AP:

    WASHINGTON - The first chairman of a federal voting agency created after the 2000 election dispute is resigning, saying the government has not shown enough commitment to reform.

    DeForest Soaries said in an interview Friday that his resignation would take effect next week. Though Soaries, 53, said he wanted to spend more time with his family in New Jersey, he added that his decision was prompted in part by what he called a lack of support.

    "All four of us had to work without staff, without offices, without resources. I don't think our sense of personal obligation has been matched by a corresponding sense of commitment to real reform from the federal government," he said.

    Soaries and the other commissioners complained from the beginning that the group was underfunded and neglected by the lawmakers who created it.

    "It's bad enough to be working under extremely adverse circumstances, but what throws your thinking into an abyss, as it were, is why you would be doing that when, for instance, you have to beg Congress for money as if the commission was your idea," Soaries said.

    But the commission has failed to preside over the kinds of sweeping reforms some hoped for, with many counties still relying in November on the same punch-card and lever machines derided after the 2000 election. Soaries said the commission is making progress with improvements, including technical guidelines and centralized voter registration lists, that are supposed to be in place for the 2006 election.


    Pundits as Political Shock Troops

    The current modern incarnation of pundits is very particular. In keeping with my current thoughts on advertising and public relations being the root of almost all public misinformation, I realized the purpose of pundits today. They are the neon lights to attract viewers and readers, not explainers or explorers of political policy and action.

    Short of getting an FCC fine for indecency, TV pundits need to generate excitement. Robert Reich on The Daily Show refered to these shows as the "shouting" shows. It doesn't really matter what the excitement is about, it just needs to draw in viewers. It doesn't matter whether viewers agree or disagree with the shouting as long as they watch. In the movie Private Parts about Howard Stern, there was this tidbit of information: People who liked Stern and listened to his radio show tuned in for an average of 45 minutes. People who hated Stern, listened for an average of 90 minutes. (My memory is probably off in the exact numbers but the ratio is about right.) No, Stern is not a pundit but the principle applies to TV punditry today.

    How many well-known TV and print pundits are liberal or moderate in their presented opinions? Give yourself a point if you can fill up the fingers of one hand. Now how many are conservative? My guess is you could probably name at least twice as many in half the time. (If you couldn't, subtract that point because you're getting too much exposure to the "liberal media." Shame on you!)

    Exaggeration and hyperbole is the stock in trade of pundits. Accuracy and logic, not so much. They try to avoid big whopping lies most of the time but it only takes a little massaging to change a factual error into a bold opinion.

    This current tirade was set off by a recent piece by Michael Reagan titled A Catholic Pope? I just kept noticing how many of his points were wrong, not on a political level but a factual level. Here's a little list of quotes, out of context but check the link if you think I'm grossly misrepresenting Reagan's writing.
    I know he's obviously aiming this (apparently) as a Catholic to Catholics but so much of it is patently false. Consistent for 2000 years? Two small exceptions off the top of my head: 1) The Books of the Bible as we current know them were only codified in the 5th century, and 2) until the Renaissance, priests were allowed to marry.

    Pagan media?! This seems like an extension of the "liberal media" cannard. Of course "pagan" media will be hostile to Catholics, right? It's not like Catholic Church wasn't a little hostile to the pagan religions they encountered.

    Our times are "filled with such corruption as to make the decadence of ancient Rome appear virtuous by comparison"? How about slavery? I guess that's not the kind of "decadence" he's refering to; he does seem to have a warm spot for homosexuals. Vomitoriums? Hmm, I guess bulimia might cover it. Gee, maybe I'm wrong, maybe these are the End of Days?

    Friday, April 22, 2005


    These Sites Caught My Eyeballs (ouch!)

    Other blogs occasionally group particular posts or sites they want to highlight together on Fridays. I think I'm already committing to too many Friday blog things but I'm going to give this a try. [Slight disclaimer: I may seem serious (hah!) but I also have some rather outré interests. Not all are very, um, PC. NO! I am not talking about pr0n! Get your mind out of the gutter, will you?]

    The Joe Bob Report is the site for Joe Bob Briggs, connoisseur of B-films, humorist, proponent of Drive-In movie theaters, etc. I find him funny but not everyone thinks evaluating a film's quality on the basis of the number of decapitations, explosions, and bare female breasts is very dignified or respectful. What can I say? Inside my urbane yet sensitive exterior lurks a yuck-yucking, lowbrow male slob.

    The Big Brass Blog is a kind of umbrella site for eight or ten bloggers who all seem to have their own separate blogs. It loads a little slowly for me but I'm stuck with a dial-up speed of 36.6. I sometimes feel I'm on the dirt roads of the information superhighway. (now there's a dated metaphor.)

    Bitch. Ph.D is generally feminist with a dollop of personal stuff on her life. Recent entries have also been about her child, amusingly referred to as Pseudonymous Kid.

    I was going to add more to this list but I have to go out food shopping.


    Word of the Day: Bibliolater

    Using the term "fundmentalist Christian" has often irked me a little. In my opinion, a fundamentalist Christian would adhere strictly to (wait for it) the teachings of Jesus Christ. However I think most of the denominations and people refered to as fundamentalist Christians would more accurately be described as Bibliolaters or Biblicists. I'm capitalizing these words to link them to the Christian Bible and not books in general.

    From Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary:
    Bibliolator: one excessively venerating the Bible literally interpreted.
    Biblicism: adherence to the letter of the Bible.
    I looove finding new ways to label things. Many Christians would undoubtedly be pissed off to be called a "Christian Jew" indicating that the Christian religious stream branches off Judaism. Not to be confused (I don't think at least) with "Jews for Jesus," a different group. Yes, I know this nomenclature doesn't make any sense. What next, Presbyterian Catholic?


    Fundamentalists of Exclusion

    Neat little analysis of the recent participation of Fundamentalist Christians in politics. From The Politics of Intolerance by Charles Cutter:
    Deb Comer, an American living in the United Kingdom, writes to ask: "What is happening to our country? Why do so many people appear to be part of God-based hate groups?"

    To answer her question, it’s necessary to understand the fundamental goal of the fundamentalist Christians: To deny basic human rights to segments of society they deem unworthy in their god’s eyes. They believe that Americans should reject the Constitutional concept of equality in favor of their religious caste system. They seek to legally stigmatize all non-fundamentalist Christians.

    Historically, Christianity has been used to justify such atrocities as the genocide of Native Americans and the institution of slavery; current favorite targets include women, gays, atheists, and pro-choice supporters.

    In recent years, however, it seems that religion - as a political tool used to solidify voting blocs and foment divisiveness - has become both common and acceptable.

    Definitely worth reading. (via Shakespeare's Sister)


    Some Capitalist Thoughts

    Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is often said that Communism failed and Capitalism triumphed. I find the comparison a bit simplistic.

    Communism, as practiced in the Soviet bloc, was basically a combined economic and political system. In the West these are (very) loosely divided into capitalism and a separate political system, often a form of democracy but not infrequently a dictatorship, military dictatorship, etc.
    I find it interesting how widespead the acceptance of capitalism is in the US. I tend to think of Capitalism in a narrow definition: People who own capital (money, machinery, land, etc) and use that capital to create more capital through investment, service, and/or manufacturing. Oh, many people participate in capitalism as workers and consumers but I think of a very small percentage as actual "capitalists."

    (I had some purpose in writing this but I've forgotten it. This is my bane, a disheveled mind striving for linear coherence.)


    One of Coulter's Little Fibs

    It speaks for itself. From Media Matters:
    Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter falsely accused an Arizona county attorney of anti-conservative bias for dismissing charges against two men who allegedly threw pies at her during an October 2004 speech. In fact, the blame lies with Coulter herself; the charges were dropped becuase neither she nor the arresting officer appeared for the scheduled trial.


    Those Darn Terrorist Tree-Huggers!

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) apparently thinks the granola and birkenstocks crowd might be very dangerous. Tip to DHS: People who deliberately get arrested at protests are probably not terrorists. People who subscribe to a philosophy of non-violent resistance are probably not stockpiling explosives and guns. Hmm, it's a good thing those militia fellows are not paranoid nuts; we might have a real problem with them. From a Yahoo story:

    WASHINGTON - The Homeland Security Department is focusing on possible terror threats from radical environmental and animal rights activists without also examining risks that might be posed by right-wing extremists, House Democrats said Tuesday.

    A recent internal Homeland Security document lists the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front with a few Islamic groups that could potentially support al-Qaida as domestic terror threats.

    The document does not address threats posed by white supremacists, violent militiamen, anti-abortion bombers and other extremists that Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (news, bio, voting record), D-Miss., called "right-wing hate groups."

    ALF and ELF "are the left-leaning groups that they identified," said Thompson, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. "But they absolutely left out any of the other groups."

    "If your responsibility is to protect the homeland from these domestic terrorists, then you have an obligation to identify all of them — not just some of them," Thompson said.

    Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the internal document — which was not meant for public distribution — identifies only general categories of threats and vulnerabilities, and is not meant to be a comprehensive list.

    Tuesday, April 19, 2005


    Prisoners and Religious Freedom

    When I'm not following political and social concerns, I watch the news for info on non-mainstream religions, some of the so-called "new religions": Wicca, Celtic Reconstructionism, Norse, etc. (Satanism, not so much.) The following was titled Justice Dept. Defends Satanism, Wicca.
    The U.S. Justice Department believes that Satanism, Wicca and polytheism are religious beliefs.

    The federal government argued in the Supreme Court Monday that states must enable prison inmates to practice and observe such "religious" beliefs – no matter how unconventional they may be.

    But many states think the federal view will cause mayhem in prison systems throughout the nation.

    Ohio state officials argued that a law requiring them to give such special attention and benefits to these, and other, prison practitioners of religion is an unconstitutional endangerment of prison security. And at least one federal court has agreed so far.

    The New York Times Tuesday noted the unusual alliance between the conservative Bush administration and those who want to practice Satanism.

    Yesterday, lawyers for the state of Ohio claimed to the High Court that a five-year-old federal law mandating such religious accommodations for prisoners violates the Constitution's First Amendment.

    Specifically, Ohio Solicitor Douglas R. Cole says the law requires states to provide additional support to prison inmates seeking to practice their religion – support that is unavailable to non-religious practitioners.

    Cole, in arguments before the high court, said the requirement violates the Constitution's prohibition of government "establishment" of religion, a view agreed upon by the U.S. Sixth Court of Appeals.

    "Can Congress really say to prisoners, 'We'd like you to be religious and we'll give you a better show for getting out from the rules that apply to everyone else?'" Cole argued.

    Specifically, the paper said, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 "provides that 'no government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution' unless the burden can be justified as being the 'least restrictive means' of furthering a 'compelling governmental interest.'"

    The case began originally as three separate lawsuits filed by five Ohio prison inmates, who said the state violated their rights by not allowing them to worship as a group, possess religious literature and other ways.

    The inmates are followers of Satanism, Wicca and a pair of religious organizations associated with White Supremacy, the Church of Jesus Christ Christian and Asatru, the Times reported.

    Ohio lawyers think Congress went too far, especially since complying with the law could endanger prison security, as well as the lives of other prisoners. Cole said the law, for one, "forces prison officials to change the balance they would otherwise strike" between safety and religion.

    "He also said the law provided an 'impermissible incentive' to inmates to adopt a religion as a way of obtaining favored treatment," the Times reported. "He said the law invited 'constant pressure, day after day, if you want this set of benefits, get religion.'"

    The federal government disagrees, however, and is siding with prisoners in defending the propriety of the legislation.


    Catholic Demographics

    With the death of one pope and the election of a new one, I keep hearing the phrase "over a billion Catholics worldwide." This seemed a tad large to me. I've often wondered at the sources for different denominations claims for their member numbers. I've always assumed that it was a self-reported statistic, that the central bureaucracy of these denominations supplied the stats. This made them suspect in my mind and of doubtful accuracy. Of course a religion is going to claim the largest numbers they can get away with. This makes them more influential and substantial.

    "Oh, a religion would never fudge such numbers! How can you even think that? You're accusing the leaders of lying! You nasty, nasty man!"

    Mainly it comes down to how you define a "member" of a religion. Me, I think somewhat regular attendance might be a requirement. Heck, once every year or two would be fine in my book. The Catholic Church has an interesting method: baptism. That's it. If you were baptized, you're Catholic till you die by the Church's reckoning. So, apparently, I'm counted as Catholic although I haven't attended a service in 35 years and have a non-Christian spiritual practice. I believe some things that might make a Catholic priest blanch from their heretical nature. Yet I'm counted as Catholic? How... odd.


    Abortion and TV

    The issue of abortion is taboo on TV in many ways. As this Clamor article points out, in a TV landscape that shows all kinds of surgery, abortion is still tiptoed around. I particularly liked this description of a roundabout way of dealing with the subject on TV shows. This excerpt in from by Rachel Fudge. (Note: the whole article isn't available on the Clamor site unless you subscribe but Alternet has a full version.)
    With the rise of the primetime teen soap (Beverly Hills 90210, Party of Five, Dawson’s Creek) in the mid-’90s, it was inevitable that sexually active teen and young adult characters would be confronted with pregnancy, often in the guise of the Very Special Episode. Enter the convenient miscarriage. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, some 13 percent of unwanted pregnancies end in miscarriage, but on TV that number is much, much higher. The convenient miscarriage goes something like this: Sympathetic lead character gets knocked up. SLC agonizes over what to do, sometimes going so far as to visit an abortion clinic. SLC decides that although she believes in a woman’s right to choose (her boyfriend or best friend most likely feels significantly different, however), she’s going to keep her baby. Moral dilemma resolved, SLC spontaneously miscarries; SLC is sad but realizes that in the end she wasn’t really ready to be a mother anyway. (Alternatively, the pregnancy turns out to be a false alarm, an even more tidy wrap-up to the dilemma.)


    Ann is Such a Sweet Girl

    I can't pass this up. Media Matters has a number of counterpoints to the cover story in Time magazine this week on Ann Coulter. The following showcases some of her standout quotes.

    While embellishing Coulter's legal work, pretending it was something more than partisan hackery, Cloud downplays Coulter's history of outrageous comments, unquestioningly quoting Coulter friend Miguel Estrada downplaying her vicious attacks as "a little bit of a polemicist" (Coulter herself sees no need for the qualifier; she told the Sunday Times of London that "I am a polemicist. I am perfectly frank about that") and writing that "Coulter can occasionally be coarse."

    "Occasionally" coarse? A "little bit" of a polemicist? This about a "commentator" who claimed that the Democratic Party "supports killing, lying, adultery, thievery, envy"; who said of the idea that the American military were targeting journalists, "Would that it were so!"; who said President Clinton "was a very good rapist"; who insisted that "[l]iberals love America like O.J. loved Nicole"; who said that "I think a baseball bat is the most effective way these days" to talk to liberals; who said it was lucky for former senator Max Cleland's political career that he lost an arm and two legs in Vietnam; who has said her "only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building"; and who wrote that the only real question about Bill Clinton was "whether to impeach or assassinate."

    What, exactly, would it take for Time to declare that someone is "frequently" coarse?


    No News is Good News?

    David Sirota has an interesting list of instances where the Bush administration has stopped the government from publishing certain data that makes them look bad. Coincidence? Perhaps, but his list seems rather consistant. Check it out: Bad Data Means Stop Publishing. Here's the most recent example:
    Knight-Ridder reports today that the Bush administration announced yesterday that it has "decided to stop publishing an annual report on international terrorism after the government's top terrorism center concluded that there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985, the first year the publication covered."

    Monday, April 18, 2005


    Of Course We'll Clean Up This Mess

    There's nothing too surprising in this article by Naomi Klein. It's a little depressing to realize the US government plans ahead for their brutish military actions. Sorry, Freedom Parades. And I'm sure a little profit can be made during reconstruction. From The Rise of Disaster Capitalism:
    Last summer, in the lull of the August media doze, the Bush Administration's doctrine of preventive war took a major leap forward. On August 5, 2004, the White House created the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, headed by former US Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual. Its mandate is to draw up elaborate "post-conflict" plans for up to twenty-five countries that are not, as of yet, in conflict. According to Pascual, it will also be able to coordinate three full-scale reconstruction operations in different countries "at the same time," each lasting "five to seven years."

    Fittingly, a government devoted to perpetual pre-emptive deconstruction now has a standing office of perpetual pre-emptive reconstruction.

    Gone are the days of waiting for wars to break out and then drawing up ad hoc plans to pick up the pieces. In close cooperation with the National Intelligence Council, Pascual's office keeps "high risk" countries on a "watch list" and assembles rapid-response teams ready to engage in prewar planning and to "mobilize and deploy quickly" after a conflict has gone down. The teams are made up of private companies, nongovernmental organizations and members of think tanks--some, Pascual told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in October, will have "pre-completed" contracts to rebuild countries that are not yet broken. Doing this paperwork in advance could "cut off three to six months in your response time."

    The plans Pascual's teams have been drawing up in his little-known office in the State Department are about changing "the very social fabric of a nation," he told CSIS. The office's mandate is not to rebuild any old states, you see, but to create "democratic and market-oriented" ones. So, for instance (and he was just pulling this example out of his hat, no doubt), his fast-acting reconstructors might help sell off "state-owned enterprises that created a nonviable economy." Sometimes rebuilding, he explained, means "tearing apart the old."

    Sunday, April 17, 2005


    Our Bodies, Ourselves

    Excellent post on culturekitchen by Lorraine Berry. The title is What is Mine. Here's a bit but the whole thing is worth reading.
    I have heard progressives repeatedly offer dumping Roe v. Wade as a means of appeasing the right wing in this country so we could take our country back. Sorry. I know it would be convenient to dump parts of us to take back the country for the left, but bodies are not negotiable. Bodies matter. They matter when they're being restricted, and they matter when they're being exterminated. And you know what? History shows us, time and time again, that those who seek to control bodies eventually want to destroy them.
    (via Bitch.Ph.D.)


    Haloscan Commenting and Trackback Added

    I've wondered how Trackback works and it seemed like a good idea to implement it. Since I rarely get comments, it will be interesting to see if I get any trackbacks.

    Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.


    Judging Judges

    Senate Bill S.51 is nearing it's final vote. Some people are a little worried about Democrats not going along with confirming some of Bush's nominees for judges. With the passage of S.51, tensions around this issue should be eased.

    S.51 allows for a simple majority in the US Senate to vote to execute judges based on the judge's record of decisions. Many people are worried this may be a little extreme but it seems a reasonable counterbalance to judges being appointed for life. So you end the life, appointment ended, no conflict with the constitution. Problem solved. Uncle Joe Stalin found this an expedient method.

    Those obstructionist judges in the Terri Schiavo case? Gone. A judge makes a judgment coming down hard on corporate crimes of major campaign donors? Gone. This may also help free up the congested court dockets. Fewer people will bring legal actions if the outcome may be reversed by execution of the presiding judge by lethal injection or a .22 bullet to the base of the skull. Yes, S.51 has provisions to allow reversal of troublesome judgments by Congress upon elimination of the judge in the case.

    This mild level of intimidation may also cause some of the judges to seek early retirement or, hopefully, not accept judgeship in the first place. Congress might have to expand some to take over these responsibilities but certainly a couple of subcommittees can take care of such adjudication. Everyone knows judges are just slackers in black, a kind of legal Beat poet.

    UPDATE: I shouldn't write bitterly cynical satire in this blog without warning. Sorry. It's a joke, a sick joke from my fetid imagination. Clicking through the link for S.51 at the top takes you to an actual current bill with this title: "A bill to ensure that women seeking an abortion are fully informed regarding the pain experienced by their unborn child." And this is somehow less outrageous than my faux bill description, right?


    Some Drug Laws Suck

    Actually, most of them seem to suck a lot. My illicit drug use is long past. I'm certainly not an advocate for using such drugs but I think our drug laws are awful, nasty and perhaps designed to create felons (who can't vote in a number of states) of Democrat leaning people. Conspiracy? No, but that is the effective result as I see it. From Talk Left:

    Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner has launched his next assault on freedom. The full House Judiciary Committee is set to vote as early as next week on H.R. 1528, which creates a new group of mandatory miniumum penalties for non-violent drug offenses, including a five year penalty for passing a joint to someone who's been in drug treatment.

    That's right: Passing a joint to someone who used to be in drug treatment will land you in federal prison for a minimum of five years.

    The "Defending America's Most Vulnerable: Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act of 2005" (H.R. 1528) was introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) on April 6, and it has already passed out of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.


    Andrea Dworkin Links

    I should mention that Sappho's Breathing has a nice list of links related to Andrea Dworkin's life and death. Check it out.

    Saturday, April 16, 2005


    The Joy of Druidry

    I'm always happy when people follow their hearts. From the Philly Inquirer:
    Episcopal priest leaves for Druids

    The former Downingtown rector said it was "a joyous occasion."
    By Kristin E. Holmes, Inquirer Staff Writer

    An Episcopal priest who resigned from a Downingtown church last fall after his ties to a Druid society were made public has renounced his Episcopal ordination and become a Druid priest.

    W. William Melnyk, former rector of St. James' Episcopal Church, has formed the Llynhydd Grove of the Druid Order of the Yew, which he is leading under his Druid name, OakWyse.

    In a phone interview yesterday, Melnyk called his move "a joyous occasion."

    The involvement of Melnyk and his wife, the Rev. Glyn Ruppe-Melnyk - also an Episcopal priest - in New Age activities came to light in October, when two Druidic liturgies attributed to them were posted on the Episcopal Church's national Web site as a model of feminist liturgies.

    Conservative groups and Internet bloggers accused the church of supporting paganism. The church denied the accusations but removed the liturgies from the Web site.



    A fascinating look at the workings and philosophy of the Cavalry Chapel™ style of church. This is apparently a quite strong branch of American Christianity. Focused on The Rapture™©®, it has complete certainty that these are the End Times. The authors of the "Left Behind" series belong to this church. This is from GodAssault by Lisa Lambert. Read it and you'll probably feel like an anthropologist. I did.

    Religious scholar Donald E. Miller, who studied Calvary Chapel for his book Reinventing American Protestantism, found its congregations to be dominated by blue-collar Americans. Only 20% of church members had a college degree. Over half of the pastors Miller surveyed had grown up, or spent parts of their lives, in single-parent homes; 70% had parents who abused drugs or alcohol. The numbers were similar for the congregants, almost a third of whom claimed to have been physically and/or sexually abused...

    What liberals might have learned from visiting Livermore, listening to K-Wave, or reading Calvary Chapel-inspired web sites is that "morality," at least as they imagine it, is beside the point. In fact, Calvary Chapel-style Christianity is a complex system with intricate rules. Think of it as God's game. Instead of X-Box's MechAssault, this is GodAssault.

    If you play the game correctly, you'll receive that change in fortune. If not here, then in the after-life.

    The guidebook to the game's moves is the Bible; the key steps to winning are in the Book of Revelation. Conventional notions of "morality," in which people adapt standards of right and wrong to an ever-changing world, don't hold here. Neither do the teachings from my childhood, which emphasized enlightenment and a sense of knowing God through your mind and heart.

    In GodAssault, your conscience is not your guide.

    The Bible is.

    Like many evangelical forms of Protestantism, Calvary Chapel preaches that everything a Christian needs is written, word by holy word, in the Bible. In Miller's surveys, everyone from Calvary Chapel's pastors to its recent converts said they took the Bible literally. If you read the Book of Revelation as the physical, material truth, then you come to see God's game as one played in a swirling, planet-devouring vortex of blood and violence.


    Better Living Through Chemistry?

    One particular problem with our industrial age is the proliferation of chemicals and concentrations of unnatural substances in the environment. I'm using the term "unnatural" here in a very basic sense: not naturally found in the environment. I don't presume to have the knowledge to judge what harm these substances can cause.

    There's something creepy to me in this soup of hundreds of thousands of artificial compounds entering the environment and the food chain. Again, I'm using "artificial" fairly narrowly: produced by people not nature. I admit I'm not entirely rational about it. It can't be good to have these chemicals ingested, put on our skin, sprayed in our gardens, spewed from autos, etc. The longevity of their existance particularly worries me. And the way some concentrate up the food chain. Some fish and mercury is a good example. There are some fish you shouldn't eat more than once a month because of the toxicity of the mercury in them.

    Which brings me to birds and DDT. You remember DDT: It's a pesticide banned in the US in 1972. Except the US used about 1.4 billion pounds of it between the end of WWII and then. Oops. And now it may be causing the decline of non-migrating songbirds in the US. Non-migrating means they didn't pick the DDT up in another country, they ingested it here. Wisconsin is moving towards authorizing hunting feral and uncollared cats because they are blamed for the decline of songbird species. Um, maybe not?

    The following is from Old Culprit hits Birds - Maybe:

    The results were intriguing. Traces of DDT and other related chemicals were showing up in the birds. But the real shock came when Dr. Harper, a biology professor at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, compared his results with DDT levels in nonmigrating songbirds. These year-round residents of North America - including a who's who of birds like the northern cardinal, black-capped chickadee, and dark-eyed junco - had more kinds of chemicals and dramatically higher levels of them than the migrating species.

    Those are surprising results. Heavily restricted in the United States since 1972 and a declining problem for eagles, osprey, and other predatory birds, DDT continues to show up in alarming levels in nonmigrating songbirds. Does that spell trouble ahead for these still-healthy species? Are humans at risk? No one knows. But one lesson seems clear: Beware of what you put into the environment, because it can be extraordinarily difficult to remove.

    "These [findings] are reminders that our decisions are going to affect us for decades," says Greg Butcher, a senior scientist with the Audubon Society and author of a recent "State of the Birds" report that showed many North American species in decline. "There may not be a toxic effect that kills birds at these levels. But it very well could affect their embryonic development."

    Friday, April 15, 2005


    Friday Bloggin' Those Darn Dogs

    Poised at the top of the stairs, watching and waiting for action, are three of the dogs who live here. Sometimes they are almost as difficult to read as cats. But not often.

    Sentinels Posted by Hello


    WordLackey Freakin' Out

    Vanity, vanity, thy name is Lackey of Words,
    Peering though a veil of curls,
    Lacking meter an' rhyme, sense and time.

    Freakin' on Friday Posted by Hello


    The Eyes of Word Lackey Are Upon You!

    How do I end up with a meme like this? I was tagged by The Dark Wraith™ to post a photo of my eyes. Why my beady eyes? Mr. Wraith even wrote a nice poem to go with his post. Me, I've got nothing but the photo. I must note that, although I do wear glasses, those in the picture are not my regular pair. The caption is a nod to the original L. Frank Baum novels about Oz. In the novels, the city itself wasn't green, people entering it were issued green glasses at the gate so the city appeared emerald green.

    Ready for the Emerald City. Posted by Hello

    Thursday, April 14, 2005


    Suppressing Information Doesn't Work

    Current bee under my bonnet: Attempts to legislate information dissemination. Doesn't work, never has. It mostly guarantees a rise in the amount of misinformation, often in important situations where accurate knowledge can make a difference between life and death. Take sex education as an example.

    Kids, particularly those in a peer group hitting puberty, know some things about sex. They can't help it. Their bodies are changing and hormone levels are doing a chacha. Even if you could lock them in a room with no contact with other people, they would probably still figure a few things out. This isn't quite a priori knowledge but it's certainly rooted in body awareness, sensation, response, and innate desires, not in intellectually gained information. Trying to keep certain information away from kids cripples their decisionmaking abilities. Teenagers already sometimes don't make the best decisions about sex in some situations; hormones and arousal often trump knowledge and good judgement.

    It's not as if kids can't spread misinformation about sex themselves. If accurate information isn't available at schools or in libraries, they'll look to other sources: peers, pornography, etc. In high school I counselled some of my peers, male and female, about birth control. What did I, a shy teenaged boy with practically no sexual experience, know that they didn't? I owned a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves and actually read it. I don't remember ever getting any information from school or my family on sex. I didn't consider myself a paragon of sexual awareness but I did feel it was important to share accurate information about sex. Did knowing this information hurt any of us? I don't know for sure but I do know I helped prevent some pregnancies.

    Anyway, the following comes from by Chris Mooney.

    And even as demands rigorous proof of condom effectiveness for every individual sexually transmitted disease, it simultaneously celebrates abstinence on completely idealized grounds. Cynthia Dailard of The Alan Guttmacher Institute has observed that abstinence advocates frequently contrast theoretically perfect use of abstinence with actual real life condom failure rates, thus comparing "apples and oranges." is no exception. The site refers to abstinence as "without question, the healthiest choice for adolescents." But as a method of disease prevention, abstinence -- just like condoms -- only works if you actually use it properly. And there's abundant evidence that despite the best of intentions, "abstinence" fails because many teens just don't stick to it.

    For instance, lists a "pledge of virginity" as a "protective factor" against risky sexual behaviors. It does not bother to cite actual research on how virginity pledgers behave. In a recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Yale sociologist Hannah Bruckner and Columbia sociologist Peter Bearman found that teenagers who took these pledges -- promising to abstain from sex until marriage -- delayed having sex for longer but did not have correspondingly diminished STD infection rates. That's because most pledgers didn't actually keep their oaths all the way to marriage, and those breaking them were less likely to use condoms the first time they had sex. Moreover, the minority of pledgers who actually managed to abstain from vaginal sex until marriage were more likely to get it on in other ways -- such as trying out oral or anal sex -- in the meantime.


    Word of the Day: Bloviator

    Sometimes a word will suddenly seem to gain public currency. It's not that I didn't know the word bloviator. I did but I also note that it's not listed in the collegiate dictionary I keep next to my desk. OK, it's not unabridged but I find collegiate dictionaries contain 97% of the words I look up. (I tend to look up unusual words and phrases, accounting for that 3%.)

    In the last two days, I've come across four or five separate instances using bloviator in articles and opinion columns. It just seems... odd. No conclusion except that bloviator has obviously moved into the "popular" word category in some circles. For the record, here's the definition I retrieved from Web Wordnet:
    1 sense of bloviate
    Sense 1: bloviate -- (orate verbosely and windily)

    Wednesday, April 13, 2005



    I just don't have a politically tactical mind. The attempt to nuance a position, to appeal to a larger group of people, is a little foreign to me. It's not that I don't believe in compromise; I just don't believe in compromising your core integrity. With the mainstreaming of several gay rights groups and their reliance on appealing to an expanding donor base, that is what I see happening. As a veteran of the AIDS protests and die-ins of the 1980s, I'm not big on expecting change to come just through lobbying and writing letters. Oh, I know lobbying efforts have their place but I don't personally support them much.

    I really liked a photo I saw recently in an Advocate article on the Human Right Campaign (HRC) in the March 29, 2005 issue. It showed Larry Kramer protesting against the HRC with a sign that said: "HRC- What the fuck are you doing with all that money"? Over on Charity Navigator, HRC has an amazingly low rating. Less than %50 of the money given actually goes to progams. The rest is for more fundraising and administration costs.

    The following is from Straightwashing by Rebecca Hyman:

    If it's not enough of an indignity to be resoundingly spanked by the passage of eleven amendments forbidding gay marriage, gay folk are now in the position of reading articles in The New York Times announcing that the Human Rights Campaign and other mainstream gay rights organizations are engaged in a "debate over whether they should moderate their goals in the wake of [their] bruising losses." In the face of such a rout at the national level, the mainstream press seems to expect that queers, tails between their legs, will follow the DNC in castigating themselves for promoting any agenda other than that of corporate interests.

    What's interesting to consider is how it became plausible for the Times and other members of the press to read the success or failure of gay marriage as indicative of the gay rights movement's relative progress. Or, more precisely, why "gay marriage" has come to stand for gay rights, when historically, many of those involved in the gay rights movement have fought not only to achieve sexual freedom, but also to destroy those larger structures of power - classism, racism, and patriarchy - that contribute to the oppression of those who are different. Given the fact that some progressive queers read marriage as symbolic of the very culture they seek to transform, it is not surprising that they see the quest for marriage rights as inherently problematic.

    Yet it can also be said that because the Right so successfully used the threat of gay marriage to galvanize voters in the re-election campaign of President Bush, those working in mainstream gay rights organizations were compelled to respond: the gay community was under attack. And, following the truism that "no publicity is bad publicity," it made sense for them to re-appropriate the negative attention by demonstrating that gay and lesbian couples deserve the rights granted to their straight married analogs. As stories about gay marriage crowded out reporting on other issues that could have been the central focus of the movement, the debate about marriage, either by default or by choice, appeared to be the main concern of gay people as much as the Christian fundamentalist base. At the pride parade in Atlanta last summer, for example, almost all of the floats focused on marriage, and participants threw intertwined rings to the spectators to remind them of the Christian Coalition's efforts to pass a constitutional amendment forbidding gay marriage.


    Kill the Judges!

    I've read a couple of articles on this conference and I still am amazed at the homocidal rhetoric emerging from the attendees. Somehow I don't think judges, who preside over trials, are going to be very pleased if this kind of talk can be directly linked to actual violence against them in the future. From In Contempt of Courts by Max Blumenthal:

    Michael Schwartz must have thought I was just another attendee of the "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith" conference. I approached the chief of staff of Oklahoma's GOP Sen. Tom Coburn outside the conference in downtown Washington last Thursday afternoon after he spoke there. Before I could introduce myself, he turned to me and another observer with a crooked smile and exclaimed, "I'm a radical! I'm a real extremist. I don't want to impeach judges. I want to impale them!"

    For two days, on April 7 and 8, conservative activists and top GOP staffers summoned the raw rage of the Christian right following the Terri Schiavo affair, and likened judges to communists, terrorists and murderers. The remedies they suggested for what they termed "judicial tyranny" ranged from the mass impeachment of judges to their physical elimination.


    Oil and Suburbia

    There are many wide ranging problems with a dwindling and tightening oil supply. I consider it a superficial view to focus on the rising costs of oil by the barrel and at the gas pump. This is the least of our problems. A much deeper problem is, for want of a better term, the American lifestyle. Cheap gas and mobility has profoundly altered almost everything about the American infrastructure. Two major items are where we live and where we work.

    An example: Where is the nearest food store to your home? Could you walk there? Bike there? If you live in a city larger than 100,000 people, how does the food get to your local store? Larger cities are supported by a wide reaching network that imports necessary food items, particularly fresh produce, probably mostly by truck.

    I'm not trying to be a doomsayer or alarmist. Plenty of other people can do that. But when you start to think about gasoline costing, say, $10, $15 or more a gallon, it changes some rather fundamental aspects of American life. A possibility I expect as well is rationing. Suppose your family was allowed only 10 gallons a week? 5 gallons? It might not matter how much you're willing to pay for gas if there was a cap on the quantity you are able to purchase. These are disturbing questions but Americans are going to have to examine these issues seriously before we have no choice and few options.

    The following comes from Global Warning By Paula Routly.

    Paula Routly: You've long criticized the housing and transportation policies that drove people from the cities to suburbia after World War II. Now it turns out "Levittown" is not only ugly and soul-killing, but unsustainable. Explain your vision of the "Long Emergency."

    James Howard Kunstler: We poured our national wealth into the construction of a living arrangement that has no future -- and the future is now here. The infrastructure of suburbia can be described as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. It was deficient and problematic as a human habitat even apart from the question of its sustainability. The way we live in America represents a tragic set of collective and individual choices we made at a particular point in history, the mid-to-late 20th century, when circumstances seemed to suggest there were no limits to our quest for comfort, convenience and leisure. These things turned out to be a poor basis for a value system and for an economy.

    So life without oil equals the apocalypse?

    Your word, not mine. I rather resent being labeled "apocalyptic." It demonstrates how poorly even journalists understand what we face, which is an epochal discontinuity in the conditions of daily life, not the end of the world. In fact, we don't even face a life without oil, at least not imminently. We face a life without cheap oil, which is a big difference. Specifically, we are heading into a period of social, political and economic turbulence, which will probably include a lot of hardship. That's not the end of the world. That's something that the human race has been through many times before. For instance, the Europeans of 1913 would never have conceived the degree of destruction and vicissitude visited upon their societies by two 20th-century world wars. We're equally blind and clueless about what we are facing.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2005


    Sullen Oblations at Alien Altars

    Dammit, I've started another blog despite the fact that I have two others that are fallow. If you have the slightest interest in visiting these semimoribund sites, they are Invisible Books and The Devil's Dictionary Addenda.

    I've been writing crappy poetry off and on for much of my life. I do have moments of wit and the occasional gem of a phrase but for the most part I'm far too enamoured of my own words and personal mythology. I had a streak of poems a few months ago. Some seem tolerably amusing and droll. So why not air them and see if anyone else is amused? Isn't this what blogs were made for? Self-indulgent displays of vanity and spewing inchoate aphorisms suits me. Give me a break from all this sturm und drang about politics and social tidal flows.

    I was going to name it "House of Words" but that seemed a little vague. Then I remembered the title of a poem I wrote a loooong time ago and it seemed perfect. Thus I present Sullen Oblations at Alien Altars. It will be full of lighthearted froth and cute rhymes about kittens and birds of prey. Don't be afraid. Just keep telling yourself: They are only words, they are only words... nasty, horrid words with a Lovecraftian slime dripping from them, but just words.


    11.5 Trillion in Tax Havens

    I found this through a Molly Ivins piece, but thought the info important enough to link to directly. The Price of Offshore is in pdf format so you need Adobe Reader to see it. Or here is a Google HTML version. It's only two pages long but here are the summary points:
    Our research suggests that:
    • approximately US$11.5 trillion of assets are held offshore by high net-worth individuals;
    • the annual income that these assets might earn amounts to US$860 billion annually;
    • the tax not paid as a result of these funds being held offshore might exceed US$255 billion each year.


    A Thing Called Taser Love

    Perhaps you've heard of the phenomenon of kids getting hit by a baseball in the chest and dying? It doesn't happen often. Apparently there's a one or two thousandth of a second window during the cycle of a heartbeat where such an impact can disrupt the electical impulse and essentially stop the heart. This isn't urban legend. Here is a source and a quote:

    As described in a previous paper [12], the Consumer Product Safety Commission conducted a study on sports injuries in children between S and 14 years of age. The study found more baseball related fatalities in the 5- to l-year-old age group than for any other sport [2, 12]. In a follow-up study, 51 baseball-related deaths of children were documented [9]. The most frequent type, 21 cases in total, involved impact of a ball to the child's chest. Of those fatalities, 11 occurred during organized games and the remainder in unorganized recreational play. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has since reported another 11 deaths in children secondary to chest impact from a ball between 1983 to 1990 [10].

    Now it should come as no surprise that deliberately running a 50,000 volt shock to the body might, just might, disrupt those heartbeats as well. I do understand the reasoning behind using tasers. They are undoubtedly less lethal than guns, probably less chance of wounding a bystander, etc. But this supposes a direct comparison to gun use, i.e., that every use of a taser is a situation where a gun is the only alternative means of force. Somehow, I don't think so. This is from The Trouble wth Taser by Anne-Marie Cusac at the Progressive mag site:

    High-powered tasers are the new fad in law enforcement. They are becoming ever more prevalent even as their safety is increasingly in question. The proliferation of tasers in police departments across the country has led to unconventional uses. Among those hit by tasers are elderly people, children as young as one year old, people apparently suffering diabetic shock and epileptic seizures, people already bound in restraints, and hospital mental patients. Police used tasers against protesters at the 2003 Miami Free Trade Area of the Americas demonstration and against rowdy fans at the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. School systems are employing the weapons, with some officers carrying tasers even in elementary schools.

    But doctors, reporters, and human rights groups have raised questions about the safety of the devices, which shoot two barbs designed to pierce the skin. The barbs are at the end of electrical wires carrying 50,000 volts. Last summer, The New York Times reported that at least fifty people had died within a short time after being hit with a taser. By November, when Amnesty International released its own report, that number had risen to more than seventy.

    In February, Chicago police used the device against a fourteen-year-old boy, who went into cardiac arrest but survived, and a fifty-four-year-old man, who died. The Chicago Police Department, which had recently purchased 100 of the devices, decided not to distribute them until it had investigated the incidents.

    Monday, April 11, 2005


    Big Conservative on Campus

    I'm more than a little amazed at the traction of the complaints by college conservatives that they are an "oppressed" minority. I have to think this is a deliberate misuse or appropriation of the word oppressed. Screw the intellectual arguments, I might as well decend to low humor, insults, and crude analogies: Big Conservative on Campus = Big CoC. Or in the common vernacular: dickheads.

    This is from The New PC: Crybaby Conservatives by Russell Jacoby:

    For William F. Buckley Jr., author of the 1951 polemic God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of "Academic Freedom" and a founder of modern American conservatism, the solution to this scandal was straightforward: Fire the wanton professors. No freedom would be abridged. The socialist professor could "seek employment at a college that was interested in propagating socialism." None around? No problem. The market has spoken. The good professor can retool or move on.

    Buckley's book can be situated as a salvo in the McCarthyite attack on the universities. Indeed, even as a Yale student, Buckley maintained cordial relationships with New Haven FBI agents, and at the time of the book's publication he worked for the CIA. Buckley was neither the first nor the last to charge that teachers were misleading or corrupting students. At the birth of Western culture, a teacher called Socrates was executed for filling "young people's heads with the wrong ideas." In the 20th century, clamor about subversive American professors has come in waves, cresting around World War I, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and today. The earlier assaults can be partially explained by the political situation. Authorities descended upon professors who questioned America's entry into World War I, sympathized with the new Russian Revolution or inclined toward communism during the cold war.

    Today the situation is different. The fear during the cold war, however trumped up, that professors served America's enemies could claim a patina of plausibility insofar as some teachers identified themselves as communists or socialists. With communism dead, leftism moribund and liberalism wounded, the fear of international subversion no longer threatens. Even the most rabid critics do not accuse professors of being on the payroll of al Qaeda or other Islamist extremists. Moreover, conservatives command the presidency, Congress, the courts, major news outlets and the majority of corporations; they appear to have the country comfortably in their pocket. What fuels their rage, then? What fuels the persistent charges that professors are misleading the young?

    A few factors might be adduced, but none are completely convincing. One is the age-old anti-intellectualism of conservatives. Conservatives distrust unregulated intellectuals. Forty years ago McCarthyism spurred Richard Hofstadter to write his classic Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. In addition, a basic insecurity plagues conservatives today, a fear that their reign will be short or a gnawing doubt about their legitimacy. Dissenting voices cannot be tolerated, because they imply that a conservative future may not last forever. One Noam Chomsky is one too many. Angst besets the triumphant conservatives. Those who purge Darwin from America's schools must yell in order to drown out their own misgivings, the inchoate realization that they are barking at the moon.

    This bit is from a story on Media Matters for America:

    Fox News host Bill O'Reilly and S. Robert Lichter, George Mason University political communication professor and director of GMU's Center of Media and Public Affairs, both falsely claimed that a recent study of the ideological composition of faculty at U.S. colleges and universities, which Lichter co-authored, proves that conservative academics face discrimination in hiring and promotion. In fact, the study shows only that liberals outnumber conservatives in academia; it does not prove -- or even suggest -- that this disparity is the result of anti-conservative discrimination.


    Andrea Dworkin is Dead

    She apparently died quietly on April 9, 2005 at home in her own bed. There's more info on Andrea Dworkin at the Wikipedia entry. It includes the general facts of her life. However, one of the better sources on Andrea Dworkin is this site and its page called The Lie Detector. This separates the truth from some of the lies told about Ms. Dworkin. Many people who have strong opinions about her have not even read her work, a truly tragic oversight.

    I'm saddened by her death. I only recently began reading more of her work as I commented here.

    UPDATE: Since I posted this on Sun. April 10, 2005, there has still been scant news reporting of her death. While there were some posts, particularly on feminist blogs before now (Mon evening, April 11, 2005), the only official report I've seen has been at the Guardian Unlimited. Their obit also includes links to other stories about her so it's worth checking out. Their source was Ms. Dworkin's agent. As of 7pm Eastern, the obit was only about five hours old.

    I'm starting to get quietly furious at the press silence. It's understandable that, in the wake of someone's death, the notification of the press isn't a high priority. I hope now, with one official obit out, more will follow but I'm not holding my breath. My understanding is that Europeans have a continued interest in her written work so I expect more notice in the European press. My cynicism is currently on its high setting.

    Sunday, April 10, 2005


    Online Lit. Mag Forming

    Over on T. Rex's Guide to Life, there's a movement afoot to start an online literary magazine. This looks to be fun. I'm uncertain about committing to it but I encourage other writers to check it out. The following is from the post on T. Rex:

    Inspired by Bobby Cramer, Mustang Bobby's blog about his novel in progress, and by my own unpublished writings, I came up with an idea.

    Now, like most of you other bloggers, one of the reasons I blog is so that I have a regular writing gig. Like some of you, I'm sure, I got into writing by writing poetry fiction, not political stuff. And, like many of you, I have a resevoir of unpublished fiction and poetry that is just screaming at me for an audience.

    So, here's what I propose. A group of us should get together and create our own online magazine for the purpose of publishing our fiction, poetry, drama and other literary works. Theoretically, we would push it in the direction of becoming a legitimate publication that amateur writers would submit stuff to and the like, maybe we'd even appear in literary market and things like that. We could also include articles and essays on literature, reviews, and stuff about getting published or the art of writing. We would run the show and we could take advantage of something we're all familiar with, blogging software, in order to organize and run the site.

    If you are interested in this idea, I'm thinking we would have a very open-ended project with no particular commitment to regular publishing. If you have something, you publish it, if not, you don't. But if you did, you'd have an audience. I'd even want a comments section on my stories, although some authors might not. I think MT can handle such a thing, right?

    So, who's interested? I'll probably go ahead and do it whether I get much interest from others or not, but it'll be a much better project if others get involved. Even if you don't write fiction, poetry, etc., let me know whether or not you'd be willing to help promote the project through your blog, blogroll, etc. Leave a message in comments if you are interested, or send me an e-mail at

    Update: Also, if you have ideas for a name and/or a theme for the design, let me know ASAP so we can start the design process. I was going to suggest something about "Big Brass Writing" or something like that, but apparently that one has already been taken.


    Bloggrrrlz Gallery

    The Bloggrrrlz Gallery is a cool site! Or, rather, it's a portal to a group of feminist blogs through The Dark Wraith Forums. Here's the explanation from Dark Wraith:
    Big Brass Blog, in association with The Dark Wraith Forums, is proud to announce The Bloggrrrlz Gallery, a portal meta-site featuring some of the best bloggrrrlz blogs on the Web. A permanent link can be found in the Dark Wraith BlogRing in the right-hand column.

    Click on the link, and you'll find yourself at a Website that has a string of bloggrrrlz blogs listed across the top. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, "Ah, this is just a list of links"; but you'd be missing the big feature. Notice that below the listings is a giant window. Watch what happens when you click on a blog link. After what happens has perhaps impressed you, click on another link; click on a third. Go through the whole list if you like.

    That's right: one site, The Bloggrrrlz Gallery, from which you can look into a portal window and see the world of feminist blogs. The Bloggrrrlz Gallery is a one-stop meta-site where you can park every day to watch the Blogosphere unfold through the words and images on the hottest, fastest-growing, most dynamic part of the Blogosphere today.

    By providing this new service, the Big Brass Blog continues its tradition of giving voice, forum, and opportunity to those who have been ignored, turned away, turned down, and set aside for too long. Perhaps one day, the extremists of the Right will have the world of violent men and cowering women they want. Perhaps one day, the fascists of religions across the world will return the wrath of their angry and false gods to those who would dare to question. And perhaps one day, the mainstream news media and the giant graffiti blogs will be able to once again decide who matters and for how long.

    We don't think so. In fact, we intend to make sure the past stays buried.

    It's one thing to talk the talk;
    it's quite another to blog the blogs.

    The Big Brass Blog most definitely blogs the blogs.
    (via Shakespeare's Sister, one of my current fave blogs.)


    Social Security IOUs

    From Media Matters for America:

    In an April 6 New York Times article, reporter Anne E. Kornblut asserted that President Bush "was on solid ground when he said it [the Social Security trust fund] was basically 'just I.O.U.'s.'"

    If this description of the trust fund is accurate, it is also an accurate description of every mutual fund account, every personal savings account, every checking account, every certificate of deposit, and every money market account owned by Americans, as well as hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. treasury bonds owned by foreign central banks worldwide. All of these are "just I.O.U.'s." In fact, the private account plan that Bush has been advocating, which would allow workers to divert nearly two-thirds of their share of payroll taxes into portfolios that would include stock funds and government bonds, would also be "just I.O.U.'s."

    The Social Security Administration (SSA) is obligated to purchase Treasury securities with its surplus payroll taxes, and the U.S. Treasury is legally obligated to redeem them as needed by the SSA. Currently, the trust fund contains about $1.7 trillion worth of these securities. The total amount of outstanding debt issued by the Treasury, including both debt owned by the public and intra-governmental holdings, is currently about $7.8 trillion.


    Cornel West on C-SPAN

    One of the delights and difficulties of watching "Book TV" on C-SPAN on weekends is not knowing what is on until I tune in. OK, I just found the schedule online here, but I generally don't look at an online schedule. I usually look at the guide on TiVo which does not have these details. The guide will say something like "Book Events", 9:30AM to 3:30PM. No details on the 4-6 independent events within that 6 hour block.

    So I happened to catch Cornel West speaking sort of in support of Harvard Rules: The Struggle for the Soul of the World's Most Powerful University by Richard Bradley. This was at Hue-Man Bookstore in New York City. He is an excellent speaker and I now know why his courses at Harvard were so popular they regularly drew more than 700 students.

    I haven't read any of West's work and have only been peripherally been aware of him. I do remember when he left the Harvard faculty in 2002 amid some controversy but I wasn't clear about the nature of the controversy. Well, Harvard Rules is about the tenure of Lawrence Summers as President of Harvard and includes the brouhaha. Admittedly the sources I got my info from were Bradley and West so it was bound to be biased, but it was still astonishing the demands Summers made on West. Everything from trying to dictate what sort of books West should write to practically forbidding him from expressing support for particular political candidates.

    West is a marvelous orator, partaking of the black preaching style with humor and a wide-ranging choice of rhetorical examples. I think he also has a certain generosity of acknowledging his sources and yet incorporating them easily into his delivery. No conclusion, I just liked him and thought I'd share.

    Saturday, April 09, 2005


    American Fatwa on Judges

    This is pretty alarming news I got via AmericaBlog. Conservatives are starting to sound like... No, some are also starting to act like fascists. The killing of judges and judges' family are tactics used as intimidation of the justice system and certain aspects of the democratic process. The following showcases some amazingly twisted quotes from a conference attended by some well-known conservatives. From And the Verdict on Justice Kennedy Is: Guilty By Dana Milbank in the Washington Post (subscription required):

    Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is a fairly accomplished jurist, but he might want to get himself a good lawyer -- and perhaps a few more bodyguards.

    Conservative leaders meeting in Washington yesterday for a discussion of "Remedies to Judicial Tyranny" decided that Kennedy, a Ronald Reagan appointee, should be impeached, or worse...

    Not to be outdone, lawyer-author Edwin Vieira told the gathering that Kennedy should be impeached because his philosophy, evidenced in his opinion striking down an anti-sodomy statute, "upholds Marxist, Leninist, satanic principles drawn from foreign law."

    Ominously, Vieira continued by saying his "bottom line" for dealing with the Supreme Court comes from Joseph Stalin. "He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him, whenever he ran into difficulty: 'no man, no problem,' " Vieira said.

    The full Stalin quote, for those who don't recognize it, is "Death solves all problems: no man, no problem." Presumably, Vieira had in mind something less extreme than Stalin did and was not actually advocating violence. But then, these are scary times for the judiciary. An anti-judge furor may help confirm President Bush's judicial nominees, but it also has the potential to turn ugly.

    A judge in Atlanta and the husband and mother of a judge in Chicago were murdered in recent weeks. After federal courts spurned a request from Congress to revisit the Terri Schiavo case, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) said that "the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior." Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) mused about how a perception that judges are making political decisions could lead people to "engage in violence."

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