Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Such a divine day today! Crocuses turning their round little mugs up hopefully, only to be smashed to smithereens by the very fat feet of Hank the Lab. Both my dogs have the spring fever. Hank carries her George Bush doll everywhere with her and even smuggled it into the dog park where she instantly became a celebrity as all the dogs wanted to chew Georgie! Luckily the owners were largely Kerry-voters, too.
Henrietta walks around with her hackles raised, like some sort of a Maffia boss, while Hank follows half a foot behind but glued to Henrietta's right shoulder. They barrel out of the car like a cyclone and every other dog in the park cowers. I feel dreadful. Owning a pair of ill-behaved Maffia-type dogs is not fun, even if they have never bitten anything more than dog butt. And it makes me look bad.
So I have renewed dog training. It goes like this: I cut a meatball into small pieces and give the dogs various commands like "Sit!", "Down!", "Stay!", and if they get it right they get a sliver from a meatball. They'd do anything for a meatball, and this should work really well. In theory it does, in practice the dogs keep guessing various possible commands, sneaking looks at the other dog for hints, and in general getting less and less trained every second.
It's true that Hank is not the smartest of dogs, but she learns the commands almost immediately. She just doesn't see the point of doing them again after that, ever. Henrietta knows exactly what I try to achieve and she's not going to play into my hands. She has no intention of becoming a well-trained dog. She likes being the bully of the park.
The presidency in Iraq is a largely ceremonial role. It goes to a Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani. He will now lead a presidential council consisting of three people: himself and his two deputies, one Sunni, one Shia, to appoint a Prime Minister for Iraq. The choice is expected to be Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a conservative Shia Islamist.
What does this all mean? It's hard to say. The Kurds are pro-American so can't be ignored but will a ceremonial post make a difference for them? They are more likely to be secular and want at least some local independence, whereas the Shias are keen on centralization and on an Islamist country.
I am still cynical about the whole situation and if I were a betting goddess I'd put my money on a final result of some kind of a theocracy in Iraq rather than anything resembling a secular democracy. But I desperately want to be wrong about this.
Some parts of the Patriot Act will expire at the end of this year unless renewed. The administration has begun its fight to renew them:
The Bush administration, launching its campaign to renew portions of the USA Patriot Act that expire at the end of the year, acknowledged today that it had used the act's most controversial sections dozens of times.
The administration also opened the door to accepting incremental changes in the law, which it has said is crucial in the fight against terrorism.
U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, strongly defended the administration's use of the terror-fighting law and warned that any effort to dismantle it would be tantamount to "unilateral disarmament" in fighting terrorism.
FBI Director Robert Mueller, testifying at the same hearing, argued for major new powers that would expand the bureau's authority to issue administrative subpoenas in terror cases that would give it access to a wide range of data without gaining court permission.
The hearing marked the beginning of what is expected to be a long and wrenching congressional review of how the Patriot Act has operated in practice.
In other words, these guys want to have even more secret powers to intrude in private lives. It is the secrecy of the law that has made it so difficult to criticize, actually, for we really don't know what the government has been up to:
Public opinion about the Patriot Act remains sharply divided, in part because much of the law and how it operates has remained shrouded in secrecy.
Even some congressional Republicans -- including Sen. Arlen Specter, the powerful chairman of the Judiciary Committee -- have expressed concern over how the law has operated and have indicated that revisions are needed.
What I would like to know is how, exactly, terrorism is defined by the administration, and who might be viewed as a terrorist. I'm worried that a lax definition allows the law to be used against anyone at all who disagrees with the administration, including those who are simply protesting the government's policies.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
The Senate is hearing testimony today from the Attorny General concerning the Patriot Act. When passed, certain provisions of the Patriot Act were set to sunset unless reauthorized. in general, these are some of the more serious violations of civil liberties contained in the Patriot Act. The Attorney General is expected to ask the Senate to make these provisions permanent.
Contact your Senator and tell them that 9/11 DIDN'T change everything, including American's civil rights.
Thanks for taking today's action.
The latest of the foot-in-the-mouth disease sufferers is Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas. He doesn't like activist judges which means that he doesn't like lefty activist judges or judges who are not in fact activist but who decide against the wingnuts because that happens to be the law. Mr. Cornyn, himself a lawyer, is very angry at the U.S. judiciary. In a recent speech he said this:
Federal judges, who have lifetime appointments, should be held in check, he argued.
"It causes a lot of people, including me, great distress to see judges use the authority they have been given to make raw political or ideological decisions," he said. "No one, including those judges, including the judges on the U.S. Supreme Court, should be surprised if one of us stands up and objects."
And he also said this:
Cornyn continued: "I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. . . . And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in, engage in violence. Certainly without any justification, but a concern that I have."
There is a certain symmetry between the two statements, but one shouldn't draw too many conclusions from it. As Yglesias has pointed out, Cornyn wasn't threatening the judges, nope. He was just kindly warning them that if a certain behavior continues (like not finding for the wingnuts in all cases) then a certain consequence, sadly, might ensue (like getting killed by an outraged wingnut). Sad, yes, and Cornyn, himself, is most upset about this possibility, but what can you do? Add some mental shrugging of shoulders and tut-tutting here on Cornyn's behalf.
The best known recent cases of judges getting killed had nothing to do with political agendas, of course, but it behooves the right-wing to pretend that they did. The campaign for Taming All Activist Judges would benefit from a frightened judiciary, wouldn't it? The judges have grown far too big for their breeches, we all know that. For one thing, they are not adequately wingnutty.
Do you know what would be most interesting? It would be to study Cornyn's own legal decisions to see if he ever engaged in political activism. Not because if he had, one could then laugh at his inconsistencies, of course not, but simply to make sure that he has adequate protection in case someone else, someone totally unrelated, gets angry at him.
The proof is in the fact that David Brooks is a columnist for the New York Times and I'm but a penniless blogging goddess. His columns are not only full of lies and inaccuracies and made-up sociological trends which nobody else has ever observed but they reek of immense intellectual laziness. Isn't sloth one of the deadly sins?
Today's serving of Brooks-babble is unusually bizarre, though, almost interesting in its inanity. Brooks argues that Democrats are wrong in thinking that it's the Republican message machine and its fanatic efficiency which has brought them into power. He, of course, thinks that the Republicans are correct in their beliefs, but in case this doesn't quite go down with the morning cappuccinos of the Times-readers he also presents a theory so upside-down that it's almost fun:
Conservatives have not triumphed because they have built a disciplined and efficient message machine. Conservatives have thrived because they are split into feuding factions that squabble incessantly. As these factions have multiplied, more people have come to call themselves conservatives because they've found one faction to agree with.
Well, it is true that there are several types of Conservatives: wingnuts, wingnuts and wingnuts, for example. But Brooks really implies that the wingnuts argue with each other more than we do among ourselves, and that there are fewer types of us than them. Otherwise his argument has nothing to latch onto.
Anyone following U.S. politics knows that progressives and liberals are as herdable as a bunch of cats. Everybody and their uncle has a different theory about the best thing to do next, and all these theories are expressed with great conviction, usually at the same time. Think about it. We have the greens, the trade union people, the traditional Democrats, the human rights people, the feminists and so on. All these groups bicker incessantly.
But Brooks hasn't noticed any of this. Instead, he believes that the wingnuts spend their days having erudite debates about their favorite philosophers (Jesus?) and this is why they have figured out the natural moral order of the society so well (wingnuts on the top, everyone else below them in color order, women always a rung below the otherwise comparable men). Progressives and liberals, on the other hand, know nothing about any of this deep stuff because they don't read books of philosophy.
Sceptical about what I said here? Read this:
Liberals have not had a comparable public philosophy debate. A year ago I called the head of a prominent liberal think tank to ask him who his favorite philosopher was. If I'd asked about health care, he could have given me four hours of brilliant conversation, but on this subject he stumbled and said he'd call me back. He never did.
Liberals are less conscious of public philosophy because modern liberalism was formed in government, not away from it. In addition, liberal theorists are more influenced by post-modernism, multiculturalism, relativism, value pluralism and all the other influences that dissuade one from relying heavily on dead white guys.
As a result, liberals are good at talking about rights, but not as good at talking about a universal order.
Modern liberalism was formed in government?!!! Philosophers themselves have nothing to do with concepts such as relativism and value pluralism? Liberals (John Locke, John Stuart Mill, John Rawls) are not good at talking about a universal order?
Why didn't Brooks bother to google some of this stuff if he didn't know anything beforehand? And if he didn't know anything beforehand, how did he get to write a column in the New York Times? I honestly don't want to address this stuff which makes me wonder why I wrote about it in the first place. Probably in revenge for early morning indigestion Brooks gave me. Well, thank God he's not on our side.
Nothing in the news gives me that internal "beep" which I need to write, not at this hour anyway. When you don't know what to say it's time to ask questions. People always like to answer questions! Everybody loves to talk about themselves. So, how many STDs have you had? Just kidding...
Here are some questions I have stolen from various places on the internet:
1. Do you like where you live? Why or why not?
2. Do you have a silly fear or phobia? Or can any fear or phobia be called silly?
3. How much of the reason for those patient paper gowns is to make sure that the patients feel powerless and humiliated?
4. How much chocolate in one day is too much chocolate in one day? (I sort of have a reason to ask this one...)
5. What do you like best about yourself? Be honest and boastful!
6. What is the one thing you'd absolutely want to have done with the rest of your life?
7. Say something nice about a wingnut.
Monday, April 04, 2005
John Paul II did quite a few good deeds during his earthly sojourn, and many have told us about them, with love, George Bush included. He spoke for peace and for the poor of this world. What also needs to be mentioned is his shadow side. We all have one, even the most saintly among us (the presence of the shadow side being what differentiates humans from angels), and John Paul II had quite a sizable one.
It was the policies of the church that he pushed for which made condoms unacceptable for Catholics in African AIDS-stricken countries. It is probably not possible to measure how many lives could have been saved by a more liberal Catholic church, but this does not mean those lives were not lost.
The pope's social conservatism may have made him close his eyes to the pederasty scandal in the American church, too. It's as if the church was more important for him than the people it was intended to serve here.
John Paul II was, if anything, consistent in his limited view of women (not equal to men) and their allowed roles (mothers and nuns) in this world and in his policies towards gays and lesbians (you must not exist). He showed very little mercy and love in these areas.
Thus, I agree with Frances Kissling in that the next pope could do better than the previous one:
We can only hope that the next pope will engage all Catholics in ways this pope did not. An extraordinary communicator, John Paul II was also a great polarizer. Through the choices he made in dinner companions, papal appointments, religious orders and lay associations, he exacerbated the divide. Women in the North were told that we were exaggerated or extreme feminists and that our desire for autonomy -- bodily, spiritual and intellectual -- was not shared by the good women of the South. First-world Catholic women who believed in radical equality between men and women in the church were demeaned and caricatured by other women whom he appointed to Vatican commissions.
Conservative Catholic intellectuals who had unprecedented access to him and the Curia dined on that access and publicly degraded mainline Christian churches and leaders as irrelevant while lauding conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christians as true partners in faith. Bullies who spoke to and of those they disagreed with in the ugliest terms were welcomed in the Vatican. I can only cringe at my memory of Randall Terry -- who stood in front of abortion clinics in the United States screaming at women entering those clinics and justifying the murder of healthcare professionals who serve them -- meeting the pope.
Jane Fonda has written a new book and we are going to be subjected to several opinion pieces on her. The Guardian already published on interview with her. What struck me is how difficult it is to write a story about someone like Fonda. What should she be made into? A star? A good actress? A radical lefty, the Hanoi Jane of various right-wing websites? A member of the wealthy elite? A nutcase? A feminazi? A fitness fanatic? A woman who has managed to age well? Ted Turner's ex-wife? Tom Hayden's ex-wife? Roger Vadim's ex-wife?
All of these must be squashed in and the whole thing must be done so that Fonda will end up looking ridiculous whatever she actually says:
I get up to leave. "I'll show you out a different way," she says. We walk through an atrium painted in pale pink, with huge silver doors leading out of her flat. "I designed it myself," she says. "It represents the womb. The doors are the labia, and this" - she points to the corridor - "is the birth canal."
I stare at her. Are you serious?
"Yes," she says. "I'm serious."
This has been done for so long that I really don't know what she is like. This is tiresome. Maybe I should read her book?
I had to lie down and take a glass of calming nectar after reading in Media Matters for America that Thomas Sowell, a right-wing economist, has said this in a recent column:
People on the political left not only have their own view of the world, they have a view of the world which they insist on attributing to others, regardless of what those others actually say. A classic example is the "trickle down theory," which no one has ever advocated, but which the left insists on fighting against.
What happened? Did I go totally mad at some point? Did I actually assign university students economic articles on the trickle-down theory to read if it was so trivial that nobody had even recommended it? No wonder a minor Greek goddess took over my body; I must have been bonkers already. Or so Thomas Sowell would have us believe.
Thomas Sowell is an African-American wingnut economist. His books are mainly discourses on how minorities can pull themselves up by their Nike shoelaces. But he also appears to be an expert in long-term memory loss.
And what is this weird thing? It's sponsored by Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and co-sponsored, among others, by Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, and it says:
Constitution Restoration Act of 2005 - Amends the Federal judicial code to prohibit the U.S. Supreme Court and the Federal district courts from exercising jurisdiction over any matter in which relief is sought against an entity of Federal, State, or local government or an officer or agent of such government concerning that entity's, officer's, or agent's acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government.
Prohibits a court of the United States from relying upon any law, policy, or other action of a foreign state or international organization in interpreting and applying the Constitution, other than English constitutional and common law up to the time of adoption of the U.S. Constitution.
Provides that any Federal court decision relating to an issue removed from Federal jurisdiction by this Act is not binding precedent on State courts.
Provides that any Supreme Court justice or Federal court judge who exceeds the jurisdictional limitations of this Act shall be deemed to have committed an offense for which the justice or judge may be removed, and to have violated the standard of good behavior required of Article III judges by the Constitution.
Let me assure you that this act will not pass. There are insufficient wingnuts still for that sort of thing to happen. But note that the act would both make it illegal to learn anything from any other country's legal systems and, much, much more importantly, it would make the United States into a theocracy! Any decision of a lower court that is argued to be based on the Bible could not be appealed, by anyone. Reminds me of the shariah law.
If the "Constitution Restoration Act" (what a cynical title!) doesn't have any chance of passing, why I am writing about it? Because it is crucial to see what the wingnuts intend in the long-run, and to remember that each little step they take is on purpose. The proposed act reflects the United States they wish to build after the destruction of the current one is complete. Never forget that, never fall for the easy view that they are just a small vociferous minority which will go away if ignored or appeased. They will do neither of these, and this vociferous minority is in power, right now.
The proposed act is most likely unconstitutional because it violates the separation of state and church. Also, it denies the right of appeal in certain cases and it gives preferential treatment to those groups who believe in a personal god over those who do not (Buddhists and atheists, say). It will not pass, as I mentioned above, but the reason it is introduced is to please the religious wingnuts.
Meat-to-the-tigers sort of thing. The corporate Republicans do this all the time to the religious faction, thinking that it can be controlled by such feedings. But the tigers have long since escaped from their cages and are right now running the zoo.
Via this dailykos diary.
Sunday, April 03, 2005
We all know that far too many people died in the violent tsunami of last December. What may not be so well known is that the dead were predominantly women. A study by Oxfam International, done in villages in Indonesia, estimates that three times as many women as men were killed there. Some villages had only women die, and in one village the ratio of men to women is now ten to one.
Something similar happened in India where three women died for each man and also in Sri Lanka where most of the survivors in the camps are men.
Why this sex disparity? Were more men saved because of their greater average strength? Because they were better swimmers or could climb trees more quickly? Perhaps. But other effects were in play, too, including pure chance:
On the Indian coast many women were waiting for the fishermen to return with their catches, while in Batticaloa on the east coast of Sri Lanka, the tsunami hit at the exact moment many of the women were taking baths in the sea.
Because it was a Sunday, most of the women in Aceh were at home with the children rather than at work.
Many of the men were either carrying out errands or in their boats out at sea where the waves were less ferocious.
Or are these examples of pure chance? Surely sex roles have an impact on who would be waiting on the beach for the fishing boats to return or who would be at home with the children. Sex roles and restrictions had an even more obvious impact on the excess death rate of Sri Lankan women:
The hardest part of Supini's story is the death of her mother. More than a month later, she still chokes through her tears as she recalls the way her 36-year-old mother disappeared.
"The water came with a huge force, moving like an angry monster across the sand and into the home. My mother helped my younger brother to tear of his shorts to swim away, but she didn't follow. She was just too modest to remove her clothes to escape," says Supini.
Modesty is highly valued in women in this area and inculcated in them from early childhood onwards. Tragically, the concept of modesty also demands that women are not taught how to swim.
Closely associated with modesty is the idea of proper female dress. In the affected areas of Sri Lanka this means traditional saris: a long piece of cloth wrapped around the body, and long hair for women. Both of these caused tsunami deaths:
Fernando, who has worked for years with rural women, says that most of the village women who drowned in the huge wave were wearing traditional saris that restricted them from running and also weighed them down when they became water logged after the sea swept into their homes.
Volunteers cleaning the areas also report several deaths in which women appeared to have been pinned by the long hair to broken rubble.
Isn't it odd how all these little facts, trivial in themselves, somehow add up to something huge and horrible?
That the traditional roles for women would make them less able to fight for their lives is not unexpected. Anything that encourages passivity, weakness and modesty will not help when a tsunami strikes. Add this to the lesser average strength of women and the fact that many mothers were carrying small children which made running or swimming almost impossible and it is easy to see why a seemingly neutral natural catastrophy would reap many more female victims.
What are the consequences from this to the affected areas? The Oxfam International study in Indonesia found:
...that even the women who survived suffered from the tsunami, many pushed into early marriages because of the relatively few women left.
Those in the emergency shelter told of physical and verbal harassment from the men and fear of sexual abuse.
Becky Buell, from Oxfam, said: "The tsunami has dealt a crushing blow to women and men across the region. In some villages it now appears that up to 80% of those killed were women.
"This disproportionate impact will lead to problems for years to come unless everyone working on the aid effort addresses the issue now.
"We are already hearing about rapes, harassment and forced early marriages. We all need to wake up to this issue and ensure the protection, inclusion and empowerment of the women that have survived."
Then there is the problem of taking care of the surviving children. In some of the tsunami-stricken areas the fathers are not trained in how to care for their children, and there will not be enough women left to help all of them.
This post was inspired by one by Linnet.
This post is completely p**e-free, nothing about his death or the selection of a new one or how wonderful he was or was not. Instead of the p**e, there will just be a blessed silence. Do whatever you wish with it.
As long as you don't mention the word p**e.
Saturday, April 02, 2005
How do you put those diagonal thingies over letters and what are they called in English?
Anyway, this is a stew of news items that drew my attention for one reason or another:
First, John Paul II has died. May he find peace. The next pope will be selected by all Cardinals under eighty. As the current one nominated most all of them it is quite likely that the current conservative policies of the Vatican will continue, if not get worse.
Second, the Governor of Illinois has come out on the side of the women who want their contraceptive pill prescriptions filled:
Gov. Rod Blagojevich approved an emergency rule Friday requiring pharmacies to fill birth control prescriptions quickly after a Chicago pharmacist refused to fill an order because of moral opposition to the drug.
The emergency rule takes effect immediately for 150 days while the administration seeks a permanent rule.
"Our regulation says that if a woman goes to a pharmacy with a prescription for birth control, the pharmacy or the pharmacist is not allowed to discriminate or to choose who he sells it to," Blagojevich said. "No delays. No hassles. No lectures."
Neat that he uses the discrimination argument as it has been used, quite successfully, by the other side so far.
Third, the President of Sudan refuses to have the criminals of Darfur accused in the International Criminal Court. What's good enough for the United States is good enough for Sudan, maybe? Anyway, this was one of the reasons other countries criticized the American policy of not backing the ICC. For why would anyone else want to back it when the most powerful country doesn't?
That's about it for today. There are a few other posts on the American Street today, as on most Saturdays. But I recommend going out instead. Life is short.
This is from Toonscribe on the Eschaton threads:
Basic rules of reportage:
"dozens of protestors" -- roughly 50.
"scores of protestors" -- close to 100, but not quite
"over 100 protestors" -- at least 101
"100s of protestors" -- maybe 200, counting is hard
"1000s of protestors" -- see counting is hard above.
"a handful of troublemakers" -- anything over 500,000 anti-war protestors
"a million pro-choice protestors" -- Look over there! Two hundred anti-choicers!
We have had our share of these during the last week, and there is no end in sight. The media first let us vicariously experience death by dehydration and the religious fervor of a small bunch of demonstrators outside the hospice where Theresa Schiavo died. This bunch was used as proof that the country was massively split into the pro-life and pro-death camps, as defined by the wingnuts. A sort of orchestrated reality.
Now we are waiting for the pope to die. There is something very unwholesome and callous about this whole waiting process, with the repeated reports on how many tubes go into and out of his body, what facial movements he still has control over and so on. It's quite disgusting, really. We have somehow confused our right to know when the pope has died with some idea that we have a right to know how it feels to be a dying pope.
I can't help seeing all this tasteless coverage as a media response to the wingnut takeover. There is a medieval flavor to it, a flavor of religion as consisting of magical suffering, self-flagellation and the worshipping of bits and pieces of dead bodies. I almost expect the next news announcement to be about the black death or the persecution of nonbelievers. Well, perhaps the time is not yet ripe.
Friday, April 01, 2005
What fun will we all have:
The Roman Catholic Church plans to establish its first religious society devoted exclusively to fighting euthanasia and abortion, church leaders said this week.
The male-only Missionaries of the Gospel of Life — founded by Father Frank A. Pavone, an outspoken opponent of abortion rights — will be housed in a vacant Catholic high school and dormitory on the grounds of the Diocese of Amarillo.
The order will have a decidedly political bent, and will be active rather than contemplative, Pavone said.
Its priests will be trained to conduct voter-registration drives, use the media to get out their antiabortion message and lobby lawmakers to restrict abortion rights.
They also will learn to lead demonstrations outside offices where abortions and family-planning services are provided.
"There is a difference between knowing the teachings and knowing how to effectively advance a movement," Pavone said.
There is something very odd about a movement focusing on abortion and yet allowing only celibate men as its members. Or perhaps it's not that odd at all if one puts on the cynic's hat and muses about ways that misogyny might be expressed without any societal condemnation. Then a boys' club* like this one seems just the ticket.
*There's a girls' club for this stuff within the Catholic Church, too, though the women in it focus on prayer rather than direct acts.
Link via Krupskaya.
I have been offered a book contract! The book will be all about my life as a snake goddess and the many exciting adventures I've had over the centuries. It will include a "Passion of the Christ" episode where I spill the beans about what really happened. Don't worry, there will still be plenty of whipping.
And sex. They doubled the advance when they heard that I once had a hot one-night stand with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert... Ah, those wobbly little chins bring back such memories. I will also reveal all about Eleanor Roosevelt. That was some hot lady! And Franklin wasn't that bad, either, especially after some moonlight swims. But the rest of their staff was pretty clueless.
Then to the modern era! There are good reasons for the glum face of Laura Bush, and I will spell them out. Twice, just to make sure. I will also explain, in great and explicit detail, why Liberal men are so much better in bed, though the word "liberal" will give you the gist of it.
I did offer to correct all the misconceptions in world history and to tell what will happen next, according to us gods and goddesses, but the publishers were not interested. There's no money in it. Instead, they wanted to know if they could have nude pictures of me on the cover. I said no when they explained that they wanted to make me look like I had sixteen breasts.
Ok. This is an April Fool joke and not a very good one, either. I never went to bed with Queen Victoria!
Here is another snake picture. Reverse applique, embroidery and quilting. The black hair is most likely from Henrietta the Hound and on the camera lens. Sorry about the white area. I figured out how to remove it and then forgot again. It's more complicated than just framing what you wish to show.
Juan Cole has a good opinion piece on the Salon about the American fundamentalism. It begins with:
It isn't just Michael Schiavo -- even George W. Bush has drawn the wrath of American evangelicals. In February 2002, the president and Laura Bush visited a Shinto shrine in Japan, to which they showed respect with a bow. They were immediately denounced by evangelical organizations for having "worshipped the idol." To listen to the anguished cries of disbelief from Bush's Christian base, you would have thought he had met the same fate as Harrison Ford in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," where Indie was hypnotized by the evil rajah into worshipping the pernicious Hindu idol of the thugees.
The reason for the evangelicals' frenzy is the first two commandments of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments), said to have been given to Moses on Mount Sinai by God. The first says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." The second says, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God..." George and Laura's respectful nod to the spirits in the Meiji Shrine violated those precepts in the eyes of true believers.
Cole then goes on to discuss the question whether the United States is a Christian state or not, and points out that the number of people regarding themselves as Christians is falling while the numbers of those of other religions or none are rising. Still, Christianity is by far the most common religion in this country.
Does this explain why the country is currently being governed by a small but vociferous number of fundamentalists? For despite all appearances to the contrary, the numbers of religious extremists are still quite low:
Both the reelection of George Bush and the Schiavo travesty have heightened the sense that the religious right in the United States is all-powerful. Reading the press, you get the impression that almost all Americans are devout Christians, people who believe in a literal heaven and hell and spend their idle moments devouring the "Left Behind" novels about the end of the world. This isn't true -- and it's getting less true all the time. While evangelical Christians are a significant political force, they are probably only a fifth of the country, and not all of them are politically conservative: Only 14 percent of voters in an exit poll for the presidential elections in 2000 characterized themselves as part of the "Christian right."
If the fourteen-percent figure expresses the true size of the fundamentalist voting block how did it manage to overtake the most powerful country in the world? And what do the other Christians think about this? Even if the higher figure Cole cited is correct it is still puzzling how the takeover came to be. I believe that it has something to do with the truly sick marriage between Big Money and Fervent Faith (truly sick, because of the offspring of such couplings produce in new laws). The corporate Republicans needed the votes of the fundamentalists and thought that they could handle them by throwing them bits and pieces of meat (women's rights, anti-evolution school curricula)when they got too hungry, while all the time making sure that they were not overfed in order to guarantee their continuous attendance at the polls. It's a tricky act and one that seems to have gone seriously wrong. I wonder if the money-Republicans ever have sleepless nights over what they have done to this country?
Whatever the explanation of our impending transformation into a theocracy, the truth is that religious fanatics are still a minority in the United States. But you would not assume so by watching the political television shows or news programs. There was a time when certain personalities on the fringes were viewed with embarrassment by even other Republicans, and this time was not that long ago. Today these same personalities have their own mainstream television shows.
Fundamentalists are important for George Bush, of course. He needed their votes to get elected, even if the elections were not otherwise completely fair. And George Bush is important for the fundamentalists. He is their golden boy, the "ethical" president, the one who thinks like they do. I remember a television program about the household of one fundamentalist family. The walls had a picture of Jesus, a picture of George Bush and a stuffed moosehead. A trinity of a kind, perhaps. Though the moosehead and the picture of George seem to violate the Second Commandment.