Friday, March 25, 2005

The Minnesota School Killings

This horrible event is not getting the same amount of publicity as the previous school massacres. Why the relative silence? Even our president is mum:

After tragedies of a certain order, it's standard operating procedure for the president to make a statement.

But Ceci Connolly writes in The Washington Post: "Native Americans across the country -- including tribal leaders, academics and rank-and-file tribe members -- voiced anger and frustration Thursday that President Bush has responded to the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history with silence. . . .

" 'From all over the world we are getting letters of condolence, the Red Cross has come, but the so-called Great White Father in Washington hasn't said or done a thing,' said Clyde Bellecourt, a Chippewa Indian who is the founder and national director of the American Indian Movement here. . . .

"The reaction to Bush's silence was particularly bitter given his high-profile, late-night intervention on behalf of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman caught in a legal battle over whether her feeding tube should be reinserted."

There's the Schiavo case, of course, and it has all the hot buttons: emotion, anger, religion, difficult ethical questions and so on. Everyone agrees that the Minnesota victims are dead, after all. But so were the victims of previous school shootings and we never heard the end of the "deep" societal analyses on their causes.

No, I don't think that the Schiavo case is enough to account for all that is going on (or rather, not going on) about the latest tragedy in Minnesota. I smell racism here, or classism, or both. Hmm. Maybe I should check what wingnuts like Peggy Noonan are writing on the infinite value of the lives lost here?

Friday's Embroidery Blogging

Bird in Cage

This is something I dreamt about during the Taliban years in Afghanistan. The technique is mostly French knots.

Peacekeeper Babies

The United Nations has a small problem: babies left behind by the peacekeepers in the various war-torn countries that need peace keeping by an international organization. Now a new report argues for DNA testing and child support payments from any peacekeepers who are found to have fathered these babies.

The report is about sexual exploitation and rape by the United Nations peacekeepers, the ones who are supposed to be the good guys. Most of them probably are, but enough are not to acount for the concern:

Titled "A Comprehensive Strategy to Eliminate Future Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations," the document insists that U.N. interventions operate on the principle that they will not "in any way increase the suffering of vulnerable sectors of [a] population."

In the DRC, the report says, "sexual exploitation and abuse mostly involves the exchange of sex for money (on average $1-$3 per encounter), for food (for immediate consumption or to barter later) or for jobs."

Sexual exploitation by peacekeepers may threaten the security of missions, the study suggests, exposing them "to blackmail and violent retaliation." It also speeds the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

"Victims frequently suffer from psychological trauma as a result of their experiences. Victims and abandoned peacekeeper babies may face stigmatization by their families and communities, which deprive them of all support."

Proposals for change include things like banning all sex, having more sports facilities and internet facilities and introducing more female peacekeepers. This last idea made my hair stand up until I read that

"The presence of more women in a mission, especially at senior levels, will help to promote an environment that discourages sexual exploitation and abuse."

What the report might not address is the fact that the peacekeepers causing most of the problems come from a small group of countries. This suggests to me that it might be the values and traditions of some peacekeepers that need to be addressed for any real change to happen. But this is a touchy topic as the U.N. doesn't want to blame any country which would then huff and puff in indignation and maybe even withdraw its offer to send peacekeepers.

But something certainly needs to be done. Some of the sex discussed in the report was with children, and all the victims had just undergone extremely traumatic events in their lives, including violence, dislocation into camps, hunger and the loss of family members. They need protection, not exploitation.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

A Cartoon By Artful Asp

By Artful Asp

This cartoon may need to be clicked on for total appreciation. It's by Artful Asp, my darling sweet little teenage snake. Don't you think it shows some real talent? She finds humans very silly, of course.

Freedom and Wingnuts

Freedom is one of the most common words coming out of George Bush's mouth, but what he means by it is not at all clear to me. Who, in particular, is supposed to enjoy freedom?

Take the Terri Schiavo case. Maureen Dowd commented on the rising theocracy in the United States in her most recent column:

The president and his ideological partners don't believe in separation of powers. They just believe in their own power. First they tried to circumvent the Florida courts; now they're trying to pack the federal bench with conservatives and even blow up the filibuster rule. But they may yet learn a lesson on checks and balances, as the federal courts rebuffed them in the Schiavo case.

Mr. DeLay moved yesterday to file a friend of the court brief with the Supreme Court asking that Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube be restored while the federal court is deciding what to do. But as he exploits this one sad case, Mr. DeLay has voted to slash Medicaid by $15 billion, denying money to care for poor people in nursing homes, some on feeding tubes.

Mr. DeLay made his personal stake clear at a conference last Friday organized by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group. He said that God had brought Terri Schiavo's struggle to the forefront "to help elevate the visibility of what's going on in America." He defined that as "attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others."

I think that "freedom" is something Mr. DeLay is supposed to enjoy, not something that poor people on Medicaid might aspire to. Us lefties don't really seem to have the freedom to criticize this wingnut government, either. At least Mr. DeLay is pulling the victim card in talking about such criticism.

Then consider the concept of academic freedom. This was based on the idea that professors would not feel free to engage in scientific inquiry if what they study or publish could be grounds for their dismissal. Academic freedom never meant that professors could spout off anything they felt like. There has always been several safeguards in place against this possibility. On the most elemental level, students are free to change courses and to make complaints against specific professors. They are also free to write bad teaching evaluations for courses which they don't like, and a professor who gets consistently bad reviews will be in trouble. And students can also move to another college or university altogether, if all else fails.

Maybe all this is not sufficient. The wingnuts think so. They want academic freedom to work the other way round: not to enable professors to do research and teaching freely, but to enable the students to be protected from such endeavors. A new crop of state laws is trying to achieve exactly this outcome by making it obligatory for professors to teach all sides of an issue and by requiring that grading is not affected by any differences of opinion between the students and their teachers. Now, all this seems commonsense to me, and the vast majority of college professors are already doing exactly this. But the wingnuts don't see it the same way. They believe that the academia is the last powerbase of the left and they want these rats out.

Instead, they want all teaching to respect wingnut beliefs, even if there is no scientific basis for these beliefs. As an example, consider this Florida state proposal on one such academic bill of rights:

Republicans on the House Choice and Innovation Committee voted along party lines Tuesday to pass a bill that aims to stamp out "leftist totalitarianism" by "dictator professors" in the classrooms of Florida's universities.

The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, passed 8-to-2 despite strenuous objections from the only two Democrats on the committee.

The bill has two more committees to pass before it can be considered by the full House.

While promoting the bill Tuesday, Baxley said a university education should be more than "one biased view by the professor, who as a dictator controls the classroom," as part of "a misuse of their platform to indoctrinate the next generation with their own views."

The bill sets a statewide standard that students cannot be punished for professing beliefs with which their professors disagree. Professors would also be advised to teach alternative "serious academic theories" that may disagree with their personal views.

Nothing wrong with wanting professors to teach alternative "serious academic theories". In fact, that's what teaching in universities is all about: showing students all the different ways of thinking about a topic, and then showing them how to criticize each of these.

But this is not really what the Florida proposal aims to achieve:

According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill, the law would give students who think their beliefs are not being respected legal standing to sue professors and universities.

Students who believe their professor is singling them out for "public ridicule" – for instance, when professors use the Socratic method to force students to explain their theories in class – would also be given the right to sue.

"Some professors say, 'Evolution is a fact. I don't want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don't like it, there's the door,'" Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue.

Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, warned of lawsuits from students enrolled in Holocaust history courses who believe the Holocaust never happened.

Similar suits could be filed by students who don't believe astronauts landed on the moon, who believe teaching birth control is a sin or even by Shands medical students who refuse to perform blood transfusions and believe prayer is the only way to heal the body, Gelber added.

Clearly, what is viewed as alternative "serious academic theories" is the crucial question here, and the wingnuts' ideas are not going to match normal scientific criteria.

I suspect that the real freedoms at stake here are two: First, the right of the student to leave the college unchanged by any new ideas, and second, the right of the students' parents (or whoever pays the bill) not to have the students' values challenged. Both of these "freedoms" are the opposite of what academic inquiry should achieve. It will be a very sad day for the United States when this is what higher education will achieve: nothing.

There is something very paternalistic in all this freedom-talk. It's the government who decides for us what our freedoms might be, it's the government who decides what we should be taught, and it's the government who decides when feeding-tubes will be disconnected or not. Maureen Dowd is correct in the above quote: it's not about freedom or about the separation of powers or about students' rights; it's all about wingnut power, the right of the wingnuts to have the world remade in their own image.

In Love With Death

Did you know that this is us? Us liberals and progressives, we are the pro-death party, the party that is in love with death. So Peggy Noonan tells us in her beautiful opinion column on the Terri Schiavo case:

The pull-the-tube people say, "She must hate being brain-damaged." Well, yes, she must. (This line of argument presumes she is to some degree or in some way thinking or experiencing emotions.) Who wouldn't feel extreme sadness at being extremely disabled? I'd weep every day, wouldn't you? But consider your life. Are there not facets of it, or facts of it, that make you feel extremely sad, pained, frustrated, angry? But you're still glad you're alive, aren't you? Me too. No one enjoys a deathbed. Very few want to leave.

Terri Schiavo may well die. No good will come of it. Those who are half in love with death will only become more red-fanged and ravenous.

And those who are still learning--our children--oh, what terrible lessons they're learning. What terrible stories are shaping them. They're witnessing the Schiavo drama on television and hearing it on radio. They are seeing a society--their society, their people--on the verge of famously accepting, even embracing, the idea that a damaged life is a throwaway life.

Our children have been reared in the age of abortion, and are coming of age in a time when seemingly respectable people are enthusiastic for euthanasia. It cannot be good for our children, and the world they will make, that they are given this new lesson that human life is not precious, not touched by the divine, not of infinite value.

Once you "know" that--that human life is not so special after all--then everything is possible, and none of it is good. When a society comes to believe that human life is not inherently worth living, it is a slippery slope to the gas chamber. You wind up on a low road that twists past Columbine and leads toward Auschwitz. Today that road runs through Pinellas Park, Fla.

Gulp. I'm in tears with the beauty and touchingness of Ms. Noonan's writing. Except when she calls me red-fanged and ravenous. I just had dinner, anyway.

Then I read what she wrote again and turned An Angry Goddess With Thunder in the Background:

So Ms. Noonan thinks every life is of infinite value, does she? Even all those lives in Iraq that are usually called collateral damage? Even the lives of Iraqis? If so, how does Ms. Noonan justify our going over there to nip so many lives in their freshest of buds? We probably killed some pregnant women there, too, and their fetuses would then be dead also, right? Were these lives of infinite value? And if they were, how does Ms. Noonan explain what her masters did over there, all those pro-life Republican neo-cons who think that freedom in the Middle East is worth any price, including thousands of innocent lives lost?

And the road to Auschwitz, the one that goes by Pinellas Park, Fla, does it happen to make a detour to Baghdad? And if not, why not? Did Haliburton embezzle all the money that was intended for paving this road to Hell?

The U.S. government doesn't usually act as if every life were infinitely valuable. If it did, there would be no mercury in the tuna that is being fed to our children. If it did, there wouldn't be a single bridge that needs maintenance work. If it did, there wouldn't be a single product sold in the country that fails the highest safety requirements. For the mercury in the tuna may kill a child one day, a bridge may collapse with cars on it and a faulty product may murder people one day. Even a traffic junction without lights can cause a deathly accident.

No, Peggy, your party doesn't think that human lives are infinitely valuable, not when it comes to actually spending resources to save them or when it comes to not attacking people with weapons of war. Your party finds only some lives infinitely valuable, and only when it suits the political aims of your party.

So much for the infinite value of human lives.

And what about Ms. Noonan's other arguments? She argues for the relativity of all human suffering in the first part of the quote I have extracted from her article:

But consider your life. Are there not facets of it, or facts of it, that make you feel extremely sad, pained, frustrated, angry? But you're still glad you're alive, aren't you? Me too. No one enjoys a deathbed. Very few want to leave.

What if the deathbed has lasted fifteen years so far? Would that make you change your mind, Peggy? And do you really intend for us to equate things like aching teeth and bad hair days with what Terri Schiavo's existence is like? Many people on their deathbeds actually do want to leave, in fact, desperately pray to be allowed to leave. Ms. Noonan has been very lucky so far not to know this.

Not that we know what Terri Schiavo feels or thinks, if anything. But people who write beautiful articles like the one I'm discussing here think that they know what should be done, and the right thing to do is to reconnect Schiavo's feeding tubes. If this happened and Terri Schiavo lived another fifteen years would Peggy Noonan go and visit her, say, once a month? Would she pay for the costs of Schiavo's care or would she at least ask her masters to pay for those costs? Would she pressure the administration to cover the costs of care for all people like Terri Schiavo? Or would she never write another beautiful article about Terri Schiavo again?

How rude of Echidne, you might mutter here. Why is she attacking Noonan like that? Journalists don't have to do any of those things she demands. Probably not. But journalists don't usually call people on one side of a political debate the pro-death party or talk about their ravenous red fangs. That is really rude in my books and Noonan deserves a good (imaginary) kick in the backside.

Consider her pro-death argument. She's using it because she is trying to fan the flames of the culture war, to make the fundamentalists hate people (and goddesses) on the other side even more than they already do. She's doing this to encourage the fundamentalists to turn up in the elections of 2006. But does she care about the dangers in fanning the flames of extremist anger? We have enough unstable individuals with guns in this country without Ms. Noonan pointing at liberals as something to use in target practice. And yes, the sarcasm of this paragraph is intended. Sometimes I wonder why no-one else notices that it is the pro-lifers who seem to be especially keen on violence.

What about the "bizarre passion" for death that Ms. Noonan attributes to us liberals and progressives? I don't actually have a definite opinion on the case of Terri Schiavo. That's because I'm not a medical, ethical or legal expert or someone who knew Terri and loved her. All I know about the case is what I have read.

But I do know one general thing and that is something that Ms. Noonan fails to grasp: that there is ambiguity in the borderline between life and death, that the very concepts of life and death are unclear and fuzzy, that the value of life depends on the actual concrete case we are looking at, that to value "life" even if this means to value pain and suffering and unbearable torture seems cruel, that to value "life" without valuing the dignity of the individual, his or her actual life and its meaning to that individual seems pointless.

All this is much too complicated and unclear for the wingnuts. That's why I'm not one of them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Picture of the Day

Worth a thousand words, isn't it?

Via P. O'Neill in Eschaton threads.

Jeb Bush On the Schiavo Case

You can hear the family likeness in Jeb's comments about getting Terri Schiavo's feeding tube reconnected:

Bush said he is "doing everything within my power" to get Schiavo's feeding tube restored. His announcement came as federal appeals court in Atlanta rejected her parents' latest attempt to obtain a federal court order restoring the feeding tube.

"I'm to make sure that Terri is afforded at least the same rights that criminals convicted of the most heinous crimes take for granted," Bush said. "If a prisoner comes forward with new DNA evidence 20 years after his conviction suggesting his innocence, there is no doubt that the courts, in our state or all across the country for that matter, would immediately review his case. We should do no less for Terri Schiavo."

Glad to see he's working so hard for his constituency. Or at least one named person in this constituency. And the pro-life voters of the Republican party. The rest of us will not get the same attention, I fear.

My Random Travel Memoirs, Part I

Thanks for all your good suggestions on what to do in NYC. Sadly, I had to do snake goddessing work there so I didn't have time to take advantage of all that the city has to offer. But I did go to the Guggenheim and I walked a lot. Here are some hasty memoirs of the trip:

1. New York City has lovely cabdrivers! Lovely! I had one today from Haiti who knows everything about Haitian politics and more about the politics of the U.S. than one George Bush. I told the cabdriver to run for the office of the president but he said he was too busy educating people in his cab.

2. Did you ever notice what Evian water spells backwards? And is it relevant? Especially given the large number of very wealthy people imbibing it?

3. Central Park is great. Things are sprouting from the ground and birds are beginning to tune up for spring concerts. The earth smells of Spring, too. And there are dogs everywhere, even in New York City. Though Hank and Henrietta said they don't want to move there, because barking is less efficient in those chasmlike streets than here in the open air of Snakepit Inc.. I think that I have been forgiven for deserting them for a few days, by the way, as the dogsitter has fed them steak!

4. Cell phone conversations are not very private, and I didn't really want to know, by overhearing someone else's phone conversation, that the water was cut off before someone had time to flush this morning, and that under no circumstances should the toilet lid be lifted before flushing. Though now I'm curious, of course. How big, I wonder...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Today's Action Alert

Today's Action

Today's Action comes from the League of Conservation Voters.


We need your help to stand up against the lifetime appointment of anti-environment extremist William Myers to be a senior federal judge. As expected, yesterday a committee voted along party lines to pass his nomination on to the full Senate for a final showdown vote. The vote is scheduled to tak place just after Easter, so we don't have much time to act!

The only way to stop this former mining lobbyist from undermining environmental laws for decades is to flood the Senate with phone calls. Call (202) 224-3121 and tell them directly.

Myers is being nominated to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over some of the nation's most pristine wilderness areas, including California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Alaska, and Hawaii. We cannot take the risk of having a friend of the mining industry in this post. He's a danger to the Clean Water Act, our wilderness areas, and the Endangered Species Act.

Together we can send a message to George Bush that we don't want anti-environment extremists sitting in judgment of the laws that protect our air, land, water, and wildlife.



Betsy Loyless
Vice President for Policy & Lobbying

Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.
Paid for by the League of Conservation Voters

The Action Alert is brought to you by:
League of Conservation Voters
1920 L Street, NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20036


Thanks for taking today's action!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Greetings from Gotham City

I have walked all day long! I know nothing about today's political events, if any, and therefore I can't blog on them. Too bad.

But I've had a very interesting day, some wonderful food and really sore feet from all the walking.

The keyboard I borrowed is acting up. Must finish.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Big Apple

I'm going to New York City for a few days. It's not clear how regularly I can post until Wednesday evening. I will try for regularity, it's so important... but if I fail it's not because I don't love you all.

American Politics in the Year 2005

The Terri Chiavo case. We all eat, drink and sleep it, if we watch the so-called liberal media. We see pictures of distraught wingnuts crying over her impending death and we hear this astonishing piece of news: The Congress is going to sign a bill for just Terri Chiavo, a bill which will overrule the legal branch of the government and spit in the face of states' rights. Moreover:

President Bush said he will return early from his ranch in Crawford, Tex., to sign the bill, which would allow a federal court to review the case.

President Bush wouldn't leave his beloved ranch when the tsunami killed countless people but he will leave for the sake of one named person who has been brain-damaged for fifteen years.

The Republicans are not alone in this desire to wreck the Constitution by making the legislative branch take over the judicial one. Our very own wingnut in Democrats' clothing, one Harry Reid, has given this statement:

"I am pleased Senator Frist and I were able to pass the bill that protects the life of Terri Schiavo by allowing her parents to go to federal court.

If the House Republicans refuse to pass our bipartisan bill, they bear responsibility for the consequences."

So now we are bipartisan in our push to retire the Constitution of the United States of America. Gee, thanks, Harry.

Politicians know what sells, of course. Most Americans react emotionally to this stuff and the Democratic party doesn't want to be the party of death, even if the cost is the downfall of all democracy in this country.

Atrios quotes an article that goes and on about the boring legal implications of the case with not a single quote about grieving parents or horrible husbands, but I'm going to give you a snippet, anyway. Because it is important:

QUESTION: What does that concept do the regular give and take between the court systems, the idea of comity and cooperation between judges?

ANSWER: It destroys it. But that's the whole point of this Congressional action. Not liking a particular result in a case that has been litigated fully and completely by a court with competent jurisdiction, Congress now has said that the game must be re-done with new rules that heavily favor one side over the other. The implications of this move are astonishing. Just think about it. Anytime Congress doesn't like the result in a particular case, it could swoop in and call a "do-over," which is essentially what this legislation represents. And this from a Congress that has for a decade or so tried to keep all sorts of citizens-- including disabled employees-- out of federal court. If this law is declared valid, no decision in any state court in the country will be immune from Congressional second-guessing. It would throw out of whack the entire concept of separation of powers. The constitutional law expert Tribe calls it "trial by legislation" and he is right.

There you have the problem with this recent administration stunt. The real reason for it is that it's feeding time for the religious fundamentalist section of the party. They are not going to get a ban on gay marriages but they need to get something to keep them coming to the voting booths in 2006, and this is the payback for all their prayers. Besides, it promotes the anti-abortion goals of the wingnuts: if all this effort is made for the sake of someone who is severely brain-damaged and will never get better (except by miracle) then how can there be abortions at all?

Of course, the voting booths will be in the hands of Republican friends and there will be no paper trail so in some ways the Republicans don't need to worry. But it's always a good idea to make sure that the pre-election surveys show a lot of disgruntled wingnuts supporting Bush and his culture of life.

They Just Don't Get It #5

I was reading the Rude Pundit on the Terri Schiavo case and came across this paragraph:

Terry Schiavo was a vain woman, driven to bulimia by a sad desire to be thinner and thinner, afflicted, as so many women are and so many women aren't, by pop culture standards of thinness. Chances are it was the bulimia that led to the heart attack that led to the brain damage that led to the gooey being that is Schiavo being prayed over by the President and his brother. Now ask yourself: if Terry Schivao saw herself right now, knowing what we know about who she was and how she felt about looks, would she want to stay alive?

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. It seems.