Monday, December 31, 2007

The War Against New Year. Or: Happy 2008!

Would make more sense than Bill O'Reilly's attempts to argue that there is a secular war against Christmas. I don't like the idea of a New Year. Nobody knows exactly when the new year starts and the old year ends, and it's been plugged into the bumhole of Christmas for a reason: Everybody still has booze and food left. Or many people do.

In any case, I don't feel like "new beginnings" and "ten things to change" this time of the year. I feel like curling up in a little ball inside a large feather quilt. If anything, I feel like kicking the idiotic old year in the ass on its way out, and I really don't want to even think about the next horrible year to start. There are 385 days, 8 hours, 26 minutes and 19 seconds left of the Bush Reich as I write this.

Those two paragraphs above are a sufficient explanation for my eternal status as a minor blogger. The Goddess of Glooom. To enjoy that is an acquired art.

That so many of you did acquire that art is something I'm eternally grateful for. You have brought so much excitement and ideas and just plain reality to my life. I value you all very much, even the trolls, and I value this connection, the learning and the warm emotions and the interesting debates, all of it.

I wish you a very happy new year.

Some Good News and Some Housekeeping

The Pretty Bird Woman House, a shelter for the victims of domestic violence, got enough money to open! And largely this was due to those who gave on various blogs. Thank you all who donated. This shows some of the good the netroots can accomplish, and it is also very good news at the end of a year which has mostly not been full of them.

I promised in some earlier comments threads to write a post on choice feminism today, but when promising that I forgot that it's New Year's Eve. Not the best time to put up something I'd like lots of people to read and also not the best time for me to write it while also trying to find something to wear for tonight. The topic needs and deserves a little more time, and I'm going to delay the post two three days. My apologies to anyone who clicks here today for nothing.

Huckster On Women

What does Mike Huckabee think about the role of women? This guy wants to be our president so his views might matter. It could be that they have changed but once he believed this:

Mike Huckabee, a Republican relying on support from religious conservatives in Thursday's hard-fought presidential caucuses, on Sunday stood by a decade-old comment in which he said, "I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ."

In a television interview, the ordained Southern Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor made no apologies for the 1998 comment made at a Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Salt Lake City.

"It was a speech made to a Christian gathering, and, and certainly that would be appropriate to be said to a gathering of Southern Baptists," Huckabee said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

He gave the speech the same year he endorsed the Baptist convention's statement of beliefs on marriage that "a wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ." Huckabee and his wife, Janet, signed a full-page ad in USA Today in support of the statement with 129 other evangelical leaders.

He would fit right in with the Taliban.

Bill Kristol and the New York Times

Bill Kristol, a conservative writer and editor, has managed the astonishing feat of being wrong on most every prediction about the Iraq war. For this he gets a reward: A contract as a columnist for the New York Times.

So delicious, isn't it? I've laughed so hard my tummy hurts. It's a version of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party at the Times. One conservative pundit moves a seat to the right (John Tierney who was sent to write about sciences which is natural because that's not his area of expertise) around the table and another one takes the chair thereby freed. And Bill Kristol is just about perfect: Not only has he been wrong on everything important but he also hates the Times. Thus, it's natural and obvious that he should be hired there as a columnist.

That was mean of me. All true, of course, but still mean. Do you think that would qualify me for one of those contracts, too?

The answer is a cold negative. I'm not a conservative, for one thing, and I don't have a penis for another thing. And besides the Times NEEDS to hire white guy conservatives. That shows everyone that they are not really liberal at all but impartial. Never mind if Maureen Dowd represents the lonely apex of the female brain for them; they must hire more guys who hate their guts.

To ridicule any of this just shows how intolerant I am:

Times' editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal defended the move. Rosenthal told shortly after the official announcement Saturday that he fails to understand "this weird fear of opposing views....We have views on our op-ed page that are as hawkish or more so than Bill....

"The idea that The New York Times is giving voice to a guy who is a serious, respected conservative intellectual — and somehow that's a bad thing," Rosenthal added. "How intolerant is that?"

I don't know. How intolerant is it? Is it as intolerant as the total lack of liberal pundits at any of the conservative newspapers? They have zero of those, you know. Only the so-called liberal newspapers feel the need to hire more conservatives than liberals. The conservative newspapers no longer hire any liberals. This doesn't seem to be problem in intolerance. Very confusing.

So why did the Times hire Kristol? For his scintillating language? I doubt it. I think the Times is scared of the right-wing establishment.

He certainly wasn't hired for some odd reason of balance, because the Times stables don't have any extreme left-wingers at all. Where is Noam Chomsky, for example? Kristol is certainly as right as conservatives of the non-fundamentalist type come these days, but the Times feels no need to balance him with someone the same ideological distance in the other direction. Given that the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post have long pursued the same strategy of affirmative action for the wingnuts we now have a politically biased system of writing on politics. It tilts to the right so badly that a wingnut who can write without making grammar mistakes is feted as ready for the Pulitzer Prize in journalism.

What's worse, this wingnut favoritism means that readers get many more conservative takes on every topic than they get liberal ones (all the major "liberal" newspapers are full of Republican writers and of course all the major conservative newspapers are chock full of them). The lessons learned from the marketing campaign of the Iraq war should have warned the Times of the serious consequences of this.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

La Bolduc Le Jour de L'an

Le jour de l'An

Préparons-nous son père Pour fêter le jour de l'an J'vas faire de bonnes tourtières Un bon ragoût de l'ancien temps

C'est dans le temps du jour de l'an On se donne la main, on s'embrasse C'est le bon temps d'en profiter Ça arrive rien qu'une fois par année

Peinture ton cutter Va ferrer ta jument On ira voir ta sœur Dans l'fond du cinquième rang

C'est dans le temps du jour de l'an On se donne la main, on s'embrasse C'est le bon temps d'en profiter Ça arrive rien qu'une fois par année

Va t'acheter une perruque Fais-toé poser des dents C'est vrai que t'a rien que moé à plaire Mais tu serais plus ragoûtant

C'est dans le temps du jour de l'an On se donne la main, on s'embrasse C'est le bon temps d'en profiter Ça arrive rien qu'une fois par année

Ti-Blanc à ton oncle Nazaire Doit venir au jour de l'an Montres-y ton savoir faire Comme tu dansais dans ton jeune temps C'est dans le temps du jour de l'an On se donne la main, on s'embrasse C'est le bon temps d'en profiter Ça arrive rien qu'une fois par année

Tâche pas de perdre la tête Comme t'as fait il y a deux ans T'as commencé à voir clair Quand t'avais plus d'argent

C'est dans le temps du jour de l'an On se donne la main, on s'embrasse C'est le bon temps d'en profiter Ça arrive rien qu'une fois par année

Y'en a qui vont prendre un verre Y vont profiter de c'temps là Aujourd'hui ça coût si cher Y'a tant d'monde qui travaille pas

C'est dans le temps du jour de l'an On se donne la main, on s'embrasse C'est le bon temps d'en profiter Ça arrive rien qu'une fois par année

Il y en a qui sentent la pipe Et d'autres qui sentent les oignons J'aime bien mieux le dire tout de suite La plupart sentent la boisson

C'est dans le temps du jour de l'an On se donne la main, on s'embrasse C'est le bon temps d'en profiter Ça arrive rien qu'une fois par année

Happy New Year, Everyone.

Meditation While Stacking Wood, New Year’s Eve 1982

I’m less of a snob every year,
I’m less of a snob every year,
My clothes and my shoes get me hardened cold stares,
I haven’t got Rolexes or Guccis or shares,
And Reagan is scum, it's the truth, yes I dare,
I’m less of a snob every year.

I’m less of a snob every year,
I’m less of a snob every year,
The years pass along in a dizzying race,
It’s harder and harder to keep up a face,
It’s more pleasant just to get used to disgrace,
I’m less of a snob every year.

I’m less of a snob every year,
I’m less of a snob every year,
You’re greedy and selfish and stupid as well,
Your soul is a cesspool, they think you’re a swell,
You’re rich, I’m a bum, you can just go to hell,
I’ve nothing to lose so I’m free and can tell,
I’m less of a snob every year.

UPDATE: Looking at the notebook the above comes from, it's necessary to remember that this was the end of the second year of the Reagan regime. The attempts to turn Americans from people who cared about other people into selfish snobs was in full swing, designer everything, expensive brand names, nasty, social-climbing Yuppies and people who mistook the Preppy Handbook as a how-to instead of a spoof. It was the nadir of the Me generation before Reaganomics really began churning out high unemployment in which greed was good. It was a really rotten time.

Man Bites Is News Posted by olvlzl.

It used to be a point of pride, NOT having grown up foolish enough to think the New York Times was the greatest newspaper in the world. That was before nyt corp bought the paper of my infancy, The Boston Globe, gutting it as they did to other once fine newspapers they parasitized*.

So I’m not surprised to see that Bill Kristol has been hired to lie on it’s op-ed page. Irv and Gert’s boy has a record of being entirely fact free and wrong but he has what it takes to get hired by the nyt. Sulzie is a real sucker for those who are allegedly intellectual but who will never cause him to be answerable to the oligarches at a dinner party.

Kristol’s hiring by the most pretentious rag in the English language is not news. As usual, The Good Roger Ailes says it short and sweet.

* I will never forgive them for taking one of the finest weekly newspapers in the country, The York County Coast Star, and turning it into a social column covering Kennebunkport during the Bush I regime. The New York Times corp, is in the business of destroying papers, running them into the dirt.

Hosmer is overhauling a vast heap of manure in the back of his barn, turning the ice within it up to the light.

Yet he asks despairingly what life is for..... H. D. Thoreau
Posted by olvlzl
Clearly the “ success of the Surge” in Iraq wasn’t what made George W. Bush’s 2007 so special. I read the tripe which supplies the cover story for today’s Parade Magazine in an act of supreme dedication to the readers of this blog. The word “Iraq”, never mind “surge” doesn’t appear to have survived the cut though “Afghanistan” is no longer a non-war and is once again mentioned. One suspects a movie tie-in. “

Knowing that the eldest scion of George H. W., out of Babbs, isn’t so good at the attention-span thing you might suspect that this, held by our media to be the greatest success in the history of war science, just slipped his mind. But knowing this, we also know that he didn’t write the thing. He might not even know it was written or published. This Parade Magazine ready garbage has the signs of a minor branch of the Bush PR operation written all over it.

One suspects that Parade noticed the unseemly omission of the “I” word in this fiction, get this:

It’s been a tumultuous year for President Bush. So when PARADE asked him to share his thoughts on the best and worst moments of 2007, we didn’t know what to expect. Would he talk about the war in Iraq, the housing crisis or the California wildfires? The President told us right away that he is “an optimist”

So you can safely go on to essential reading, Juan Cole’s “Top Ten Myths about Iraq 2007". Though they are all worth considering, I’ll post only three of them.

2. Myth: Iraq has been "calm" in fall of 2007 and the Iraqi public, despite some grumbling, is not eager for the US to depart.

Fact: in the past 6 weeks, there have been an average of 600 attacks a month, or 20 a day, which has held steady since the beginning of November. About 600 civilians are being killed in direct political violence per month, but that number excludes deaths of soldiers and police. Across the board, Iraqis believe that their conflicts are mainly caused by the US military presence and they are eager for it to end.

1. Myth: The reduction in violence in Iraq is mostly because of the escalation in the number of US troops, or "surge."

Fact: Although violence has been reduced in Iraq, much of the reduction did not take place because of US troop activity. Guerrilla attacks in al-Anbar Province were reduced from 400 a week to 100 a week between July, 2006 and July, 2007. But there was no significant US troop escalation in al-Anbar. Likewise, attacks on British troops in Basra have declined precipitously since they were moved out to the airport away from population centers. But this change had nothing to do with US troops.

I’ll interject that I am with those who believe the various sides are just saving themselves for the all out civil war that is bound to come are correct. Why should they waste themselves on the Americans who will eventually leave when they've got to stay. All they’ve got to do is pretend for a while to have seen the light to get military supplies and training from them*. Americans generally have been brainwashed into thinking it’s all about us and our pretendedly idealistic goals but people in their own country are primarily concerned with themselves, not us. Until Americans learn this lesson we will be susceptible to the lies of the oligarchs who have repeatedly led us into one disaster after another.

10. Myth: The US public no longer sees Iraq as a central issue in the 2008 presidential campaign.

In a recent ABC News/ Washington Post poll, Iraq and the economy were virtually tied among voters nationally, with nearly a quarter of voters in each case saying it was their number one issue. The economy had become more important to them than in previous months (in November only 14% said it was their most pressing concern), but Iraq still rivals it as an issue!

As in the run up to the illegal war, The People have shown themselves to be more serious and more interested in reality than the corporate media. That is a remarkable fact, maybe even an encouraging, fact. Despite the constant lies and deletions of the American media The People show more interest in the disastrous occupation of Iraq than they are supposed to. Perhaps that’s due in part to the fact that The People here are the ones who know those who are getting killed whereas the elite are mostly wearing their white feather shields for this one too.

The media, who will be doing everything in their power to ignore what’s really coming in Iraq next year, aren’t keeping the lid securely on it. The Surge is going to be ending, the pretense that Baghdad has been pacified, and that it represents what is happening in the rest of the country is an ever thinner veil over what is really happening. I predict that before long you will hear Cokie Roberts talking about “Iraq fatigue” in the general public, she is a reliable bell weather of official election year themes. But the elite media is what increasing numbers of us are done with.

The American Enterprise Institute and the other oligarchic PR firms might come up with a successor to The Surge, another tactic of dragging out the inevitable conclusion until the election is over so it can be blamed, if their worse nightmares happen, on a Democrat. Look for members of the putrid Kagan clan on C-Span and NPR shows as an early sign of this, Diane Rehm has already started.

Read the rest of Juan Cole’s list. He’s got a far better track record in predicting what’s going to be coming in the mid-east than anything you will hear from the predictable stable of DC based news-liars and guess-pool experts.

* I’ve mentioned before the time I heard William Sloane Coffin talking about the possible problems that Reagan’s arming the anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan could lead to. A callow young conservative in the audience chided him for not realizing that we were making friends with the “freedom-fighters” and they’d take our side now. Coffin predicted, with a 100% accuracy rate not enjoyed by the media consulted “experts” of the time, that they didn’t have to choose us or the Soviets, they could hate us both.

America’s establishment is again arming people who are going to hate us even more than those in Afghanistan because George Bush has given them so much more to hate us for.

But will Tom Hanks “be able to deal with” the role without a major revision?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Looking Back To The Future Posted by olvlzl.

I can’t point to a post I’ve done this year that would be my favorite, none of the ones I’ve looked back at would go without a major revision. None of them would be taken back in their entirety, a few flat jokes excepted.

Looking back, it seems hard to believe that some of those things were written less than a year ago. Memory falsely says that it was a lot longer ago than that. Odd thing, public writing. It’s so different from the writing that gets sent off and forgotten or stuck on a shelf, never to be seen again.

The various experiments testing the currently fashionable superstition of scientism and the limits of genuine science took up a lot of time. Maybe those were the theme of the year. Now they are giving way to the necessities of an important election year, one which could be the death of democracy in the United States. If any of the Republicans win the presidency or if Bush appoints one more member of the Supreme Court, democracy is over for the rest of our lives.

The intention of a lot of what I’ve written is to look at the unconsciously held assumptions that endanger the political success of the left, democracy, freedom, civil rights and the environment. Pretending that many of the most commonly accepted ideas are not either flawed in themselves, leading to dangerous situations, or that they consist of more than words that have had the reality hollowed out behind them is one of the most compelling problems of our very sick society and world. Many of these dangerous ideas are held to “go without saying”.

I’ll give an example. The supremacy and wisdom of The Market and the Anglo-American legal system which upholds it.

Where I live The Market, seeking, as always, the highest monetary return for a given thing, deems that subdividing farm land and wooded land to allow speculators to strip it of its natural vegetation and life, to put up tacky, superficially attractive houses is that land’s highest use. That the houses are shoddy, built to require constant patching, high energy consumption and are surrounded by America’s most abundant, most energy expensive and least useful agricultural product, a lawn, doesn’t signify to The Market or The Law.

By the time the predictable problems with these places spring up, assuming they sell to begin with, the developers, the builders and the real estate companies have taken the money and gone on to destroy more of the rapidly disappearing open land. That many of the people who “buy” these monstrosities are now finding that they can’t pay the usurious mortgages and are defaulting and being forced to abandon or move out of them is just beginning to really register the media’s attention. When banks lose money, you can depend on the establishment taking an interest. That the all wise Market didn’t see this coming this time, when we have the experience of an only slightly different variation fewer than twenty years ago, has done nothing to diminish the absurd repute in which The Market is held. Our media never made Neal Bush an issue in any subsequent election. The same people who robbed us blind then are still operating with complete impunity. McCain is once again on his way to becoming the great hope of the establishment as the rest of the empty suits are abandoned.

But beneath this disaster is the far worse disaster of the liquidation of the agricultural possibility of large parts of the United States. A housing development is the last crop that will ever be planted on a former farm field. In large parts of the Eastern United States the amount of land useful for growing crops is a very small fraction of what it once was when the population was far smaller. And as any marginally intelligent farm hand could tell you they aren’t making any more of it. Something that most of the most august members of our intelligentsia couldn’t tell you.

As energy becomes more expensive, as much of that energy consumes what was once food, as the population grows, the loss of farm land will become an increasingly obvious crisis. That crisis is directly attributable to the superstition of The Market, the Unseen Hand, the wisdom of finance and the entire REAL religion of the majority of people today. Our legal system is largely given over to the propagation of the religion of property and contracts, it serves the god Mammon and no other.

A friend of mine is a politician in one of the towns next to where I live. There was extensive flooding last spring and a number of expensive houses built on the watershed of the Salmon Falls River were heavily damaged. He told me of a meeting he went to in which FEMA representatives heard complaints from, among others, the largest real estate agent in town and a member of what is jokingly referred to as the Planning Board. Most small town planning boards could be replaced by a large rubber stamp. Why, they wanted to know, had their houses sustained extensive damage? Why were the floods coming more often and reaching farther onto the land, causing them great expense and discomfort. The FEMA specialist said that one of the reasons was that development had denuded the land and the problem of run off and so flooding was enhanced. Of course those with a financial interest in the deforestation couldn’t believe this was true, knowing one of them I’m sure they would blame it on immigrants before they would face reality. Money makes people stupid, that’s an idea that I’ve seen little to contradict.

We are well past the cusp of the problems predicted by environmental scientists over the past fifty years, problems that will result in famines and other horrors that won’t be ignored. There are a lot of things that will have to be faced up to, the population problem, the problems of depending on depleted sources of energy, energy that destroys the environment.... You know a lot of the catalog of coming disasters. We won’t have the option of pretending that The Market and the Anglo-American legal religion will be applicable, those have largely enhanced the problem, they won’t survive once the disasters they mandate have run their course. Increasingly those orthodoxies will be seen for what they are, man-made institutions set up largely to enhance the privilege of the wealthy, at their most enlightened to manage the rabble into acquiescence.

I wish I could be more optimistic but until we give up the superstitions of The Market and the absolute rights of those who hold property to profit from it at the expense of society in general and the environment we all depend on, optimism will be a phantom. Maybe optimism is in believing that it is possible to at least mitigate the disasters that our delusion has caused.

Radio Bug Starving In A Field of Rock Posted by olvlzl.

Last week on his WGBH radio program, The Jazz Decades, Ray Smith played a very fine recording of Careless Love from the 1930s sung by a singer I wasn’t familiar with and whose name I didn’t catch. Waiting impatiently for the play list to be posted on his website I was at last glad to find out who the singer with the distinctive alto voice and unique vocal style was. Lee Morse.

Researching Morse, I had been mistaken to think that Careless Love was the first recording of her to pass my way. Robert Skoglund, who had once hosted the best program in the history of Maine Radio, The Humble Farmer*, often played her novelty number “T’aint no sin to take off your skin and dance around in your bones,” but I’d never caught the name of the singer then. It’s fun, and it was a distinctive voice but it didn’t drive me to look into her then.

You can hear Lee Morse singing a range of songs for yourself here. Careless Love is listed for 1938, I’d recommend it as a good place to start. I’ve only begun listening but have been impressed with what is there. I especially like Mailman Blues and her version of Mood Indigo makes you understand why the word “sultry” needed to be invented. She was quite a singer, unlike just about everyone else. It’s a shame that her personal troubles overwhelmed her career for more than a decade and that she died unexpectedly when she was making a comeback attempt in the 50s.

II. "You might have seen that best selling author who made the evening news because he had lied to the American people on national television. --- This was news because he was an author."

The Humble Farmer, Robert Skoglund was an institution on Maine Public Radio for almost three decades before he was kicked off last summer over his political and social commentary. Management made him a demand no one of any integrity could have taken. When he was first fired many of us had hoped that management would relent but that hasn’t happened yet.
Firing him over the blood-curdling accusaion that he participated in a non-endorsing Democratic get-out-the-vote message is an outrage against democracy. One for which they'd have to fire most of their on-air personalities for.

Humble’s” mix of old and newer jazz, corny and sophisticated humor and comments were idiosyncratic and funny and, at times, bitingly serious. They were what public radio is supposed to be for. His weekly shows were the best program that MPR has ever produced. Given the management’s and board’s treatment of a volunteer like him, it’s unlikely that anyone will ever try to do as well again.

Skoglund was just about always unpaid to do the show over decades of dedicated production for public radio. Shortly before he was dumped* they apparently started to pay him $30 to produce his one hour weekly show, perhaps so they could claim that he was a “contractor” in violation of his terms of “employment”. Whatever else someone might say against him, we know that he can’t be bought for $30 a week or discouraged away by nothing.

But The Humble Farmer hasn’t been silenced, his regular rants and music selections are still to be heard, his weekly Whine and Snivel still read. It’s lucky that he was so used to doing it for free because it’s not much of a difference sitting in front a piece of paper and a microphone whether it’s done for broadcast or for webcast. You can still hear him and read him almost like when he was on the air and decide for yourself. You might hate it or find it puzzling but he has many dedicated listeners and readers. It might make you want to dance around in your bones. Wait for warmer weather.

"Now I know that you have read 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich' and probably other accounts of prison life," he said in one rant, after mentioning a friend whose father survived nine years in Siberia. "So even if you have been spared this particular form of cultural enrichment, you know what was going on in Russian prison camps 50-so years ago.... Can you think of anything that would take more out of you than a prison camp in Siberia? Years later, they put the old man in a nursing home in Maine. And he died the next day."

* Management at Maine Public Radio has a history of firings, discouraging volunteers and cancellations of popular programs, having had to take back their attempts to go to the sterile all talk format a few years back. I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t a more subtle attempt to change formats by boring the audience out of listening.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Year-End Meditations

Is it sad that the Onion (a humor magazine) in 2000 predicted the Bush presidency almost to a t, with the exception of forgetting to mention the shredding of the Constitution? Or is it funny, in a very dark and twisted way?

Respect for Religion. An Unedited Version.

Representative Steve (St. Eve?) King recently demanded that the U.S. Congress kiss the feet (or the ass?) of Christians all over the world, and the Congress hastened to oblige. I wrote about that earlier, from the usual angles of the poor oppressed mega-majority of Christians in this country and the odd right-wing fetish of desiring to see the Christians as still in the arena being attacked by the lions and the donkeys. (Well, not the donkeys. I put that in there to create a subtle link to the current U.S. politics. Is it not wonderful that no editor will strike out my smart asides on this blog?)

Anyway, to return to the topic: When I was a tiny goddess I really did respect the religious people. They were the ones I saw walking the hard walk, feeding the poor and keeping the churches running. They knitted blankets and collected money for the starving children in Africa and they arranged all those Christmas bazaars where you could buy really ugly stuff as Christmas presents. They tried not to have feuds with their neighbors over the fence location, and they usually did not pass on the juiciest gossip. Of course this meant that conversation froze when they entered the room, but that is just a part of the crown of thorns I assumed one wears when going religious.

Yes, I did respect the Christians in those days, and probably would have respected all the other religious folk, too. All that has changed now. Mostly I fear the super-religious, because I identify them with the fundamentalists, and I identify the fundamentalists with those who would like to put women into little boxes, with a lid that cannot be opened from the inside. (Though I probably should be grateful for all the rabid clerics. It was this wave of religious fanaticism that made me really study the large monotheistic religions and to bring to my conscious thought the extreme misogyny which truly is one of their main pillars. That, in turn, let my own spirituality be freed.)

So I no longer have that reflex-reaction of respect for religiosity. Neither do I especially respect religions themselves. They have truly beautiful parts and beautiful ethical and moral rules, but they also contain much that is not commendable, and the history of the main religions does not make pretty reading. Human beings reach for the gods and end up grabbing the brass rings of power more often than not. Then those rings are used to crush the skulls of the heretics and nonbelievers. At the same time, many religious people have done much good in the world, the desire to touch the toes of gods is real, and no amount of nasty blogging about religion will make a difference, especially when done from the outside. The yearning is there and religions will always be with us.

But should we respect religions and religious people? What does "respect" mean in this context? The answer depends heavily on that interpretation. If by "respect" we mean to treat with consideration and the general rules of politeness, the answer is clearly affirmative. If by "respect" we mean to treat as something above and beyond our rights to criticize, as something good and wholesome, as something from the immaculate lips of the unerring god, then the answer must be a very feisty NO.

Because to call something "religion" does not mean that it is thereby immediately good and right, and to call something "religion" does not mean that it is from a god or a goddess, and to call something "religion" might mean that a person is just using it as a weapon for getting other things: power, money, sexual partners. (Did you notice the threefold repetition there? Trinity and manual of style all bundled up together, dosed with too much Christmas chocolate?)

This post is the child born from an unholy marriage between my pagan thoughts and this little item of news about the priests in Bethlehem fighting each other with brooms while cleaning the church. I can't respect priests who end up hitting each other hard enough to shed blood, and all over their territories within a church. True, the story is also funny, but if this is the purifying effect of religiosity, what would these priests have been in their original state?

That is not a flippant question, actually. I suspect that many fundamentalists believe that people in their raw state are unadulterated evil and that to come from that stage to the broom-fighting stage shows the glorious hand of god in work. The original sin and the nastiness of the human flesh (as opposed to the spirit which is supposedly willing) are important building blocks in that world view. Religions are needed to control the masses and the meanness of the masses. How are we going to keep people good if there are no fires of hell to fear after death, I hear fundamentalists mutter, and they mutter that because they see no other obstacle to some sort of a dream of pillaging and rampaging across the world than the divine stop-signs (with the international symbol for the fires of hell on it).

Well, I don't think people are sweet little angels, either, but I'm not going to curtsy to a priest who has just come from a broom fight, because I think I wouldn't have participated in that fight myself. (I'm trained in martial arts, after all, and part of that training was how to restrain upset priests without really hurting them.)

That is a subjective judgment about what to respect, true. But I also don't respect that branch of Christianity which argues that Jesus wants his followers to be really rich here on earth and that the way to accomplish that is by sending money to television preachers. Those preachers are engaging in something very much like fraud and a careful perusal of the Bible suggests that Jesus didn't think riches were that great a thing to focus on, rather the opposite. It's perfectly acceptable to start a religion about wealth being a signifier of divine approval, but that religion should not be called Christianity. That's just wrong. Or at least false advertising.

I have rambled all over the divine landscape here and probably angered all good believers. My apologies for that. I'm not throwing darts at you (so you are just collateral damage, I guess). I just think that if religion is supposed to be awarded special respect over and above the usual respect one should award human beings and their ideas, then religion should demonstrate special worthiness. And "respect" is not the same thing as the power to tell others what to believe or the power to make them shut up.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

On Bhutto's Assassination

She is dead now. That's about all that is absolutely certain.

Was she the U.S. plant in Pakistani politics as many believe? And if so, was she the candidate of all power-brokers in the Bush administration or not? Was her return to Pakistan orchestrated in order to keep the pro-American sentiment alive? Was her death the greatest diplomatic blunder of all?

These are the kinds of questions I have been reading about the Bhutto assassination. I also saw her being called "a Westernized cunt" in a comments thread, where the comment was intended to be sarcastic, to sum her up the way she supposedly would be viewed in Pakistan.

Layers upon layers, as always, but underneath all of them is that awkward aspect of gender. She may well have been corrupt as a leader, but then how much choice do we have on that count in Pakistan? And she may well have been a pawn for the American chess-game, but then who is not? Did she really have no Pakistani support? I doubt that. Yet somehow everything I have read about her is reflected through that gender prism, made larger, more glaring, more suspicious somehow.

Why did she return to Pakistan? Was she really that power-hungry as many have argued? Or did she have deeper reasons for returning? Love of her country? Democracy?

And the question I can't help wondering about: Did she know that she was making a date with death?

Taxing Strip Joints To Benefit Rape Victims

They are going to do just that in Texas:

In what some have dubbed the "pole tax," the Lone Star State will require its 150 or so strip clubs to collect a $5-per-customer levy, with most of the proceeds going to help rape victims. The tax goes into effect on New Year's Day.

Club owners and some of their customers say the money is going to a noble cause, but they argue that the tax infringes on their First Amendment right to freedom of expression, that it will drive some bars out of business and that it unfairly links their industry to sex crimes.

My eyes went permanently crossed from trying to think this one through. Thoughts popped in and popped out, so I'm going to number them here, to capture them before they disappear altogether:

First, if the tax is levied as a "sin tax", it shouldn't be expected to yield revenues for the state. Instead, it should be aimed at cutting back on the consumption of lap dances and suchlike services. On the other hand, if the tax is just your ordinary revenue tax, why link its proceeds to the funding of services for rape victims?

My suspicion is that the politicians want to tax the strip joints because the demand is pretty inelastic (meaning that most men who frequent them won't stop going because of an extra five-dollar charge) and thus will give the state lots of revenues. At the same time, the state can pretend that they are frowning on all that grinding and bumping, and that pleases the fundamentalist faction in Texas.

Second, if you read the whole article I link to you will notice various takes on this issue, including the argument that the extra tax will just hurt the strippers who otherwise would all go to college with the income they are earning from rubbing their pubic bones against the mustaches of some men. It is an odd argument, economically speaking, because who ultimately bears the burden of this tax depends on the elasticities in both the market for the strip joints' products and the market for stripper services. It is by no means certain that the strippers will end up bearing the whole burden of the tax.

It is also an odd moral argument in some ways. Are we now to view the strip joints as charities, existing only for the purpose of giving the strippers a chance to get a college education?

Third, the article appears to argue that the tax introduces a class-based injustice into the system: Rich guys can easily pay the extra tax for their titillation, whereas the poor guys in their pickup vans must now stay at home (and do what instead?). Are we really supposed to be concerned with this particular aspect of the class war? That all men should have equal access to lap dances?

Fourth, note that the architect interviewed in the story routinely takes his customers to strip joints. Including female customers? Does he ever have female customers? Does he have female colleagues? How common is this way of doing business, with the other half of humanity acting as a sort of gigantic masturbation mitten? Is that deductible in taxes?

Fifth, and finally (though I could go on for longer), what IS the relationship between the use of strip joints and sexual violence? Is there any good research on this topic? And if there is good evidence on such a correlation, shouldn't the state of Texas use that in a way which actually protects women, rather than make money out of the industry?

The whole story leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Duplicity upon duplicity.
Link by GM.

The Almanac of American Politics and the Cootie Awards

One of the things I collect are old editions of the Almanac of American Politics (oops! I forgot that women don't collect, based on the Evo-Psycho theories). It's fun to read them in the bathtub (only if you own them, of course), and it's especially fun to follow the mental melting of Michael Barone (an editor of the Almanac from the very beginning) over time. In the most recent editions his role appears to have been to make sure that almost every page has something venomous about the Democrats and sissies in general.

I'm awarding him the Scout Boy version of the Cootie Patch. For his fear of anything female in politics. True, he has chosen to call those frightening female things "soggy" or "soft" but my goddess eyes see straight through that. So, for those furious moment of anger among my bath bubbles, here's to you, Michael:

On Glass Ceilings and Slippers

(This is a post I wrote at the very beginning of my blogging career. I still like it as an example of the use of fairy tales, so here it is as a holiday rerun.)

Cinderella's foot fitted the glass slipper and so she married the prince and lived happily ever on. At least in fairy tale terms. But imagine how uncomfortable glass shoes would be, how easily they would crack and splinter around your unprotected feet.

In some ways that's what women in business management wear every day. Their slippers are made of all sorts of contradictory materials: assertive, but not too much so or you'll be called bitchy, nurturing, but not too much so or your capabilities are suspect, just-like-the-guys but not too much so or you'll be called a ballbreaker. That these slippers crack and splinter is to be expected. That they cut the wearer's feet is not surprising.

So what does this have to do with glass ceilings? Glass ceilings are nice, they let us gaze at the sun rays or the moon and the stars, and pretend that there's nothing between us and these vast upper reaches. But of course there is. The glass is there.

Or is it? The corporate glass ceiling is supposed to keep women out of higher management; all they can do is to gaze at the stars. But now some say that there is no glass ceiling that would prevent women from flying straight up and getting a comet named after themselves. Instead, the reason for few women in leading positions is said to be.... Guess. If you are even one tenth as old as I am, you have heard this before.

Well, the blame belongs to the women, of course. They don't want the brass ring hard enough to grab it. They don't want the long hours. They want to be with their children, and to write poetry or ride a horse. They want to go to Africa to cure hunger. Women are just different.

Hmmm. Different from what? Men, of course, you thick-headed goddess.

Aah! That's why they don't fit into the public sector; the public sector was built to fit men's desires. Well, this is really interesting: why doesn't the public sector reflect the desires of both men and women? Why doesn't the fact that children must be taken care of by somebody, that families must at least meet once and a while, that human beings might need to write poetry or ride horses or cure hunger; why don't any of these things affect the way the jobs and the labor market are structured?

Why is a good manager one who has no life outside the job? Who thinks that managers are equally bright and energetic in their sixteenth consecutive work hour as in their first eight? Do you want important economic decisions made by people who don't remember what their children look like, or who haven't smelled at a flower or played a game for fun for decades?
Never mind if they are men or women, I'd shudder if humans took the division of labor to such extreme degrees.

What I see through my divine sight, are glass mountains on which people slip and slide in their glass slippers. Only those who also have glass hearts thrive. Too sad.

The glass ceilings are still there, of course. That so many deny their existence is because they are not there all the time. When some people look at the stars, they can feel the breeze and sense the raindrops, too. They know that the road is open. When others look up, they see the stars but they also see gates and locks, tree-houses with "No girls allowed" signs, preachers telling what good motherhood is, coworkers looking at you askance when you are pregnant and tell that you are coming back, husbands 'helping out' but not knowing if the fridge has milk or what the pediatrician's name is. These people don't imagine things.

It's not as bad as it used to be. Families are more democratic, employers are more open-eyed and many men do their fair share at home. But turning the looking-glass back to face nothing but the women, each alone and separately, is a very cruel thing to do. Women are neither evil step-mothers nor Cinderellas, and the story doesn't reward the one who fits the glass slippers.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

End of Year Cootie Awards

I have quite forgotten about my cootie awards ("Girls Have Cooties!") for the best misogynists. I'm going to start awarding them again. Chris Matthews deserves an award for all the good work he has done to keep the patriarchy free of women, or for his own private nightmares having to do with Hillary Clinton and a pair of hedge shears.

So, for all that manly work, Tweety gets a First Class Louse Award With Pink Ribbons And Manly Smells.

The Fear Of Immigration in New Hampshire

A recurring topic for conversation on liberal blogs is this mystery: How can the Republicans in New Hampshire state that illegal immigration is their number one political concern? It doesn't seem to make much sense, given the location of New Hampshire. They may fear immigration from Massachusetts, true, but most of that is surely not against the law.

I think the answer to the mystery is the same as the answer to all mysteries of this kind: When someone is asked a question of this kind, the person desperately leafs through those memory files about politics, looking for whatever seems to be the approved topic for general consternation in his or her party. In the case of a Republican voter, the approved topic for these elections is immigration. The war on terrorism wasn't going terribly well at the time when the managers of opinions created the ad campaign, and illegals were picked as the reptile-brain topic to be scared about.

In short, I believe that people view these questions the way we would view a quiz on something we have been just taught: to spew out the "correct" answer and not necessarily the answer about what bothers you personally the most. The public message is all about illegal immigration and that must be the "correct" answer.

This is not only something Republicans do. I remember several earlier elections when "everybody" was suddenly concerned about crime or health care or whatever, and the minute the elections were over the topic got absolutely no attention in the media. Real concerns would not go away, or at least one would not expect the media to ignore them so totally after they no longer give political mileage. It's not that these kinds of topics wouldn't be real concerns, they certainly are. But the game that is being played here is about something quite different and the voters know that.

My Best Blog Post for the Year?

Jon Swift is going to do a year-end round of blog posts, those which the bloggers themselves liked the best. I write too much, but I will try to see which one it might be. Right now I think it's the Peach Porn post. Do you have better ideas? The deadline is today. As usual, I wake up late.

Bill Kristol on Ron Paul

Kristol doesn't like Paul. Paul is an extremist! It's quite funny.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Songs

You get to listen to the Christmas songs of my childhood. The first one begins: "I do not seek power nor glory but peace on earth."

The second one is about the manger. This particular group (their name translates to "limitless" or "borderless" or "infinite") sings them both beautifully and with that peace which is welcome whatever our religion might be.

Enjoy, I hope.

Women: Know Your Limits

I have finally seen the light. Feminism is wrong:

Link by the excellent Shaw Kenawe, a goddess of Italian food.


Who gets more pleasure from gifts, the giver or the receiver? What are the webs that are being woven when presents are exchanged? If you give money to someone who lives on the streets, do you worry how it will be used? Do you give because "for the grace of God, there go I?" Or do you want the homeless man or woman to shape up, shed off that mental illness and to get a job? Do you worry that the money will be spent on booze or drugs?

Questions, questions, and perhaps not the most Christmassy ones at all. I was just thinking about the power giving gifts may convey to the giver (including divine givers such as Jesus), especially when the recipient is not part of the decision-making process. For instance, you could give your nasty in-laws a psychobabble book about how to get on better with people. It is a gift, of a sort, but it is also an insult and an accusation, all wrapped up with a tidy bow. Or you could give a friend a year's supply of deodorant, soap and toothpaste, and that friend might well wonder if he or she smells bad.

Ok. I'm not in the right mood at all. I started this post wanting to shed Christmas cheer and goodwill to all, but I end up picking on kindness as if it was a zit ready to be popped. Perhaps this is not just because I'm a bitter goddess whose worshipers consist of snakes but also because it is hard not overdose on materialism around this time of the year.

What I would really like to give to all of you and the world is peace and peace of mind. Clarity and that sweet, sweet sense of rightness. And love, of course. Lacking that, chocolate will do.

Going to the Horse Races

Have we yet measured the height and weight of the presidential candidates? Have we looked at their teeth? There's probably an article or two that could be written about any speed-enhancing substances they may have taken.

It is an odd thing, this reframing of a political election into a horse race. The journalists must write so as to make the race more interesting, bashing the front-runners and pushing up the rear. It's all fun and games, and very little of it has to do with democracy at all. If Adolf Hitler rose up from the grave and was running for the president of the United States someone, somewhere, would write that sure his mustache looks like a dead cockroach and sure his haircut is terrible but the man can speak!

Ok. Now put me in a barrel and nail down the lid, for I have committed a Godwinism.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Read In Heavenly Peace Posted by olvlzl.

One of my fondest memories of Christmas is from a couple of decades back when I was the only person working at our public library the afternoon of December 24. I remember a few people straggling in and out, most returning books not anticipating having time for extra reading. The silence, the heavenly peace among the books, the happy mood of the patrons of the public library sanctified the day.

This Christmas week I’m giving myself a much anticipated and long planned treat, I’m going to read “Way Station” by Clifford Simak to my nieces. My first reading of it made another Christmas stand out among the others It’s a book I’ve never known anyone to not like. .

The story is simple and, for early 1960s Sci-fi, original. Enoch Wallace, the Civil War veteran cut off from the rest of humanity by his job as the sole attendant at an interplanetary railroad station, his closest friend Ulysses, an alien, and Lucy Fischer, the deaf, non-communicating, child of a no-account hillbilly neighbor, who turns out to be not only the most important person on the planet but in the galaxy are sketched well and, I hope, with enough skill to keep two ‘tweens from fighting like rival moon shiners for a week.

Even if you don’t have to keep two feuding sisters apart you might want to check it out of the library to read or reread it. Or you might just go there for refuge from shopping and the mass media.

Any other suggestions for out-loud reading will be greatly appreciated.

Bill Moyers For Vice President Posted by olvlzl.

Last year, the week before Christmas I was thanking Bill Moyers for his great journalism, this weekend’s program requires the same. Benjamin Barber on modern capitalism:

BENJAMIN BARBER: "Tell us what's going on? What's wrong with American consumers?" Which is kind of what you and I have been talking about. But the trouble is we're looking the wrong way. It's not what's wrong with American consumers, it's what's wrong with American capitalism, American advertisers, American marketers? We're not asking for it. It's what I call push capitalism. It's supply side. They've got to sell all this stuff, and they have to figure out how to get us to want it. So they take adults and they infantilize them. They dumb them down. They get us to want things.

And then they start targeting children. Because it's not enough just to sell to the adults. You've got to sell to that wonderful demographic, first it's 12 to 18 year olds. Then it's the 'tweens. The 10- to the 12 year olds. But then it's the toddlers.

BILL MOYERS: You used a word that went right past me. Infantilize? What do you mean?

BENJAMIN BARBER: What I mean is that grownups, part of being grown up is getting a hold of yourself and saying, "I don't need this. I've got to be a gatekeeper for my kid. I want to live in a pluralistic world where, yes, I shop, but I also pray and play and do art and make love and make artwork and do lots of different things. And shopping's one part of that." As an adult, we know that. But if you live in a capitalist-- society that needs to sell us all the time, they've got to turn that prudent, thoughtful adult back into a child who says, "Gimme, gimme, gimme. I want, I want, I want." Just like the kid in the candy store. And is grasping and reaching.

and here with Sanford Levinson on the dangerous defects in the Constitution:

BILL MOYERS; Let me briefly list some of what you called the grievous defects in the Constitution. And you tell me why they're-


BILL MOYERS; --so grievous? The allocation of power in the Senate. You say the Senate is among our most grievously flawed institutions?

SANFORD LEVINSON: Well, just on the one person, one vote notion. That to give Wyoming, with one 70th of the population of California, the same political power. And I'd mention one other feature. We have a bicameral system in Congress that gives each house a power absolutely to veto the other. So, that the Senate can block anything the House does, which makes Wyoming and the other upper-Midwest states so powerful in the Senate.

The modern Senate works, frankly, as the worst sort of affirmative action program for the residents of small states. It doesn't protect the values of federalism, state autonomy, diversity and the like. Rather, it means that senators of small states, particularly the small states that are clustered together in the upper-Midwest, quite frankly can make out like bandits. So that-

BILL MOYERS; That's where they get the bridge to nowhere?

SANFORD LEVINSON: We--the bridge to nowhere. You also have what is widely agreed to be a dysfunctional-- agricultural program.

BILL MOYERS; Oh, yeah.

SANFORD LEVINSON: That has all sorts of consequences, ranging from the obesity epidemic, to whether Africans who grow some of these crops can get a fair share of the world market. And the reason that candidates from both parties-- support the ethanol subsidies are unwilling, at the end of the day, really to touch the sacred cows of our agricultural programs is because of the power these states have in the Senate.

BILL MOYERS; The small states-

SANFORD LEVINSON: The small states.

And if these weren’t enough for one week, there is Moyer’s analysis of the steroid scandal as a symptom of a society with a terminal illness.

In our drugged state, we cheer the winners in the game of wealth, the billionaires who benefit from a skewed financial system -- the losers, we kick down the stairs. We open fire hoses of cash into our political system in the name of "free speech." Television stations that refuse to cover government make fortunes selling political bromides over public airwaves. Pornography passing as advertising assaults our senses, seduces our children, and pollutes our culture. Partisan propaganda gets pumped up as news. We feed on the flamboyance of celebrities. And we actually take seriously the Elmer Gantrys who use the Christian Gospel as a guidebook to an Iowa caucus or a battle plan for the Middle East. In the face of a scandalous health care system, failing schools, and a fraudulent endless war, we are as docile as tattered scarecrows in a field of rotten tomatoes.

As for that war, you may have heard that a quarter of the heavily-armed æshooters' working in the streets of Baghdad for the Administration's mercenary Blackwater foreign legion are alleged to be chemically influenced by steroids or other mind-altering substances.

If this doesn’t become a classic text for the analysis of the United States during the past thirty years it will only be because the species has gone extinct.

In one of her columns a while before she died, Molly Ivins proposed nominating Bill Moyers for President, and that’s a great idea if he’d take the job. I suspect that having been close to that kind of power he would rather tell the truth to the present generation and for the ages. But if I’m wrong I’d suggest to John Edwards that he approach him as a running mate. I can’t think of many things that would help his campaign more or which would help an Edwards’ presidency. Bill Moyers has no illusions about anything, he has a vast knowledge of populism and politics and he will do what no politician would dare to do, tell the plain truth in language people can understand. He would stand up to the hack advisors and DC insiders who condescendingly mention their forays into “the heartland” or “outside the beltway” as if they were doing missionary work in an alien culture. He knows that a politicians’ job in a democracy isn’t to look down at the people or to pretend to be looking up at them on a pedestal but to look them in the eye and tell the truth. And that's why he's head and shoulders above just about any journalist today.

Update: Digby is also indispensable in the real news media today. Her column from yesterday is essential reading for getting beneath the surface of our present day politics.

The founders worried a lot about the power of political parties or factions. In Federalist 10, Madison defines a faction as "a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community."

Ironically the major concern was that the rubes would use the power of faction to take away the property of the Big Money Boyz. Obviously, he needn't have worried. When it comes to common impulse and passion, nobody has it over the conservative movement in service of its wealthy benefactors.

It might be that we are building up for a rewrite of the Constitution, which is needed if we are to avoid a dictatorship. It could take years to get there but we have to start agitating for a truly democratic system now.

Even more necessary than making the Senate equal and democratic, or, preferably, junking it altogether, and almost as necessary as ending that longest enduring insult from the “founders” to The People, the electoral college, we have to insure that the phony “persons”, the corporations, created by the aristocratic idiocy of the Supreme Court. Real people always lose when these stitched together monsters are given “equal” power and rights. Political rights belong to real people. Maybe if this was done the protection of Peoples’ lives, health and rights would take precedence over the law of contracts and our legal system would stop being the disreputable sewer that it so often is today.

Hen House Yoga Posted by olvlzl.

No matter how great or justified your pride or modesty, how well or badly you do,
no matter how brilliant or foolish, good or bad,
to these hens you’re just the idiot human who is late with their food again.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Put Jesus Back into Christianity and FOX Will Declare War. Posted by olvlzl.

If Christians are people who try to apply the teachings of Jesus to life, and the word has no meaning if this isn’t the case, they are one of the smallest religious groups in the world. Jesus somewhat cryptically said many are called but few are chosen. I’ve never quite understood what that means but it’s certain, very, very few choose to follow his radical version of the Jewish justice tradition despite their proclaim of his divinity, his status as the one savior of the world whose words are the commandments of God. Attempts, such as St. Francis’, to literally follow these teachings, are inevitably deemed to be too impractical before they are actively and, often, violently suppressed.

While there are a number of points that could be discussed, about the only instance in the gospels of Jesus consigning an individual to hell is the rich man at whose door the destitute Lazarus died in abject misery. Nothing which is commonly identified today as a sin or fault in the rich man is mentioned in the parable. Jesus only felt it necessary to say that he was rich, well clothed, well fed and well housed while a poor person lingered on his doorstep. Yet he is about the only individual Jesus condemned to unquenchable fire, refusing even the request that he be allowed to warn his brothers that the same was waiting for them. This is shocking when you consider the role of “christianity” as one long condemnation of the majority of humanity to hell for things never mentioned by Jesus. Why is this one sin, wallowing in luxury in the midst of poverty, not the cause of active concern among the bible toting, bible thumping and, especially these days, gay hating “christians”? Don’t they care to save the souls of these sinners?

In today’s “christianity” wealth is taken as proof of God’s favor. Those who have enjoyed the greatest success while posing as ministers of Jesus’ message have most typically laid aside his explicit instructions to preachers of his message. They are to not take money with them, to have the most minimal of clothing and to depend on the charity of those they are preaching to for food. They are to eat what is set before them, heal those who need healing and to go on their way. If someone rejects them they are merely to leave. And they are, apparently to go on foot, not in a Mercedes or Jet bought for their use by “the faithful”. Obviously Prada and designer clothes aren’t to be worn. The most basic and clear instructions about their chosen career from the Son of God are found to be inconvenient and are given the status of minor rules to be disregarded.

In the most successful changing of the subject in history, they replace the clearest messages in Jesus’ teachings, justice, remembering the poor, treating them as you would treat yourself, with tabloid style obsession with other peoples’ sex lives. Not that it keeps many of them from enjoying quite exotic sex, themselves. Jesus was almost silent on the subject of sex except to point out to the bible thumpers of his day that prostitutes and tax collectors* would enter into the Kingdom of God before they would. In his most well known treatment of the subject, he pardoned a woman caught in the act of adultery and refused to judge or participate in the prescribed penalty for adultery. Another teaching that doesn’t seem to have taken hold.

Those most constant servants of imperial power, the media, in the past forty years have defined “religion” as being the fundamentalists because of their political utility to the imperial order which the media serves. These religious hypocrites have covered up the justice teachings of Jesus by appealing to the worst in human character, racial, ethnic, gender and religious hatred and subjugation, selfishness and stinginess, cowardly hatred of the poor and powerless. And there is a reaction to this disgusting spectacle.

For the most part liberal religion of all kinds is ignored and so not discussed and so doesn’t exist. Those who the corporate media wish to kill, they ignore.

It’s striking how many active in the current anti-religious agitation are the product of fundamentalist “christianity” and, to a lesser extent, it’s lesser known cousin, integralist Catholicism. They identify “xians” as the target of their anger but their particular indictments are aimed at fundamentalists who have entirely rejected the core teachings of Jesus. Those who bring the person of Jesus into disrepute are those who invoke his name as an excuse for practicing evil. There are none better at generating hostility to Jesus than conservative “christians”, those who are pretended to be the most fervent in their belief but whose every action belies that they don’t really believe in Jesus at all. The most potent weapons of anti-Christian propaganda are the hypocrisies of those who proclaim Jesus loudest while refusing to follow him.

So, what am I proposing? One of the greatest needs in the Christian world today is for those who really, truly, believe in the teachings of Jesus to do as he instructed, to act them out and to proclaim them. And they have to point out the hypocrisy of those who pretend to Christianity while practicing a modern version of Roman imperialism here in the United States. I challenge those who really believe in Jesus to insist on justice, equality, the common distribution of the things people need in order to live. And justice is first and last a matter of economic justice for everyone including the alien and even your enemy. Christianity may require many beliefs in things unseen and taken on faith but one thing is as clear as can be, Christianity cannot exist in someone who doesn’t act as if they believed its central message, economic justice for real people in the physical world. That justice isn’t an extra to be forgotten while setting up a manger scene on public property in an effort to rub the noses of unbelievers in the political power of “christianty”. Where there is no justice there is no Christianity. In the United States during this period of conservative ascendence, it has become almost extinct.

* Yes, tax collectors, a group even more reviled than prostitutes, for whom many of the most vocal “christians” have a most definite use. The “christians” don’t seem to believe Jesus on that point either.

Note: Today’s column by Rich Barlow is as good a Christmas piece as I’ve yet read this week.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Hell's Grannies

An old Monty Python skit. It's not without the usual dosage of sexism or ageism or violence as funny, but I love the idea of old women misbehaving.

(Link from Richard.)

The House of the Falling Sun

My feeble attempt to say something witty about the New Orleans City Council meeting which decided to "demolish a vast swatch of subsidized housing units". There were demonstrations and riots against this decision, and when I was reading the early reports on them at various links I noticed an unusually biased take in at least three of them, with the implication that the demonstrations were brought in from outside and that all right-thinking people agree with the plan to demolish those units.

And that may well be true, of course. But those articles didn't tell me what it was that the protesters were angry about. I was supposed to assume that they were just a bunch of loonies, and this made me more determined to find out both sides of the issue.

The official side is that the old housing units for the poor were storage facilities, places in which crime and despondency flourished and not homes at all. They segregated the poor from the rest of the community and didn't serve the initial purpose of subsidized housing. From this angle starting from scratch and building new small-sized units in mixed-income areas sounds like a great plan.

But the other side is also important, and it has to do with the suspicion some have that the city of New Orleans doesn't just want to get rid of the old buildings for the poor but that it also wants to get rid of the poor at the same time. At least this Los Angeles Times article covered both sides.

The Holy Highway

Some Christians believe that Interstate 35 is the highway mentioned in the Bible:

According to CNN, the small contingent of churchgoers believe that Interstate 35, a sprawling highway running from Texas to Minnesota, is specifically mentioned in the Book of Isaiah, chapter 35.

"A highway shall be there, and a road," reads a portion of the chapter's verse eight, "and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean shall not pass over it..."

But if I-35 is indeed the place, some Christians believe there's a lot of work to be done before the road can fulfill it's saintly destiny, according to CNN's Gary Tuchman, who was on the scene in Texas as believers launched an effort to pray for the road.

"Churchgoers in all six states recently finished 35 days of praying alongside Interstate 35, but the prayers are still continuing," reports Tuchman. "Some of the faithful believe that in order to fulfill the prophecy of I-35 being the 'holy' highway, it needs some intensive prayer first. So we watched as about 25 fervent and enthusiastic Christians prayed on the the interstate's shoulder in Dallas."

It is charming, in its way. Human beings find meaning in the oddest places. I remember reading Nostradamus as a teenager and trying to relate the mumbo-jumbo in his predictions to the political events of my time. It didn't occur to me that Nostradamus might not have had my particular time in mind when he wrote his book. Or perhaps it did, but I wanted it all to apply to the only slice of history I can personally witness.

Something like that might lie behind the desire so many seem to have to live in the Biblical end-times right now. It's more exciting than living in times which are not especially significant in any particular way.

All this ties into the deep and difficult question of how to interpret holy texts (or even Notradamus). How concrete should one be in those interpretations? The fundamentalists prefer to err in the direction of excessive concreteness, other believers go to enormous lengths to turn the meaning of the text upside-down when the direct message appears to be an unsavory one.

I liked Sheri Tepper's take on this issue in a few of her science fiction books set in some future world of planets. In one of the books a woman from our earth is viewed as a prophet. She pops up on various planets at various times and one of the messages she tells people is this: "Don't let them mess with your head."

In another book, set in a time centuries later, a religion flourishes based on the records of this prophet's life. Her followers never cut their hair.

I Went to New York City And All I Got Were These Leg Cuffs

Eva Ósk Arnardóttir had been looking forward to her shopping and Christmas break in New York City with a few other Icelandic women. But when their plane landed it turned out that she had a previous visa violation:

Last Sunday I and a few other girls began our trip to New York. We were going to shop and enjoy the Christmas spirit. We made ourselves comfortable on first class, drank white wine and looked forward to go shopping, eat good food and enjoy life. When we landed at JFK airport the traditional clearance process began.

We were screened and went on to passport control. As I waited for them to finish examining my passport I heard an official say that there was something which needed to be looked at more closely and I was directed to the work station of Homeland Security. There I was told that according to their records I had overstayed my visa by 3 weeks in 1995. For this reason I would not be admitted to the country and would be sent home on the next flight. I looked at the official in disbelief and told him that I had in fact visited New York after the trip in 1995 without encountering any difficulties. A detailed interrogation session ensued.

Not that odd, you might say. She did, after all, outstay her welcome earlier. Laws must be honored. Quite. And would you send someone like that to spend a night in prison before the deportation? According to Ósk Arnardóttir that is what happened to her next:

I was exhausted, tired and hungry. I didn't understand the officials' conduct, for they were treating me like a very dangerous criminal. Soon thereafter I was removed from the cubicle and two armed guards placed me up against a wall. A chain was fastened around my waist and I was handcuffed to the chain. Then my legs were placed in chains. I asked for permission to make a telephone call but they refused. So secured, I was taken from the airport terminal in full sight of everybody. I have seldom felt so bad, so humiliated and all because I had taken a longer vacation than allowed under the law.

They would not tell me where they were taking me. The trip took close to one hour and although I couldn't see clearly outside the vehicle I knew that we had crossed over into New Jersey. We ended up in front of a jail. I could hardly believe that this was happening. Was I really about to be jailed? I was led inside in the chains and there yet another interrogation session ensued. I was fingerprinted once again and photographed. I was made to undergo a medical examnination, I was searched and then I was placed in a jail cell. I was asked absurd questions such as: When did you have your last period? What do you believe in? Have you ever tried to commit suicide?

It sounds like a police state to me. Of course we don't have the story from the authorities yet (or at least I couldn't find one), and it could be that Ósk Arnardóttir is a dangerous criminal or that she attacked the people who interrogated her or something like that. But if her only crime was to have overstayed her visa over ten years ago, well, I for one would recommend that foreign tourists stay out of this country, never mind the cheap dollar right now. Yes, even if those foreign tourists are squeaky clean, because records can be wrong and someone else can have the same name and you might end up leg-cuffed, too.

My guess is that her experiences are one of the fruits we are now harvesting because of the fear of illegal immigration and terrorism. The irony is that she is not exactly a member of those groups we are supposed to fear.
Thanks to Swampcracker for the link.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Spears Soap Opera

Where to begin? Perhaps by noting that soap opera is what our public conversation most seems to love. I don't really want to write anything about Jamie Lynn Spears, the younger sister of Britney Spears, and her pregnancy at the age of sixteen, both, because it is a fluff topic (except for the people intimately involved) compared to the other stuff that happens all the time and because the not-so-fluffy parts of the topic have been ably covered by Lauren here, and by Scott here.

So why am I sitting here pecking at the keyboard anyway? Probably because the Spears sisters have become archetypes in the media and because their lives are read and interpreted as morality lessons for all. And because of what Lauren and Scott said in the above links: That "taking responsibility" means to have the baby once you have made the irresponsible decision to have sex, but this only applies to girls and women. Men and boys don't take responsibility for sex as they are assumed to have it all the time and its possible connection to someone else having babies is kept vague and muffled by our popular culture. It's very odd, this idea that recreational sex is an accepted male activity but not something good women practice, especially in a country where homophobia is not uncommon. Who are all these hip young men having sex with? The double standards sometimes require that I stand on my head AND read from left to right to get the message.

Then there is the list of major parts in the soap opera. They are all played by women: mama Spears and her two daughters. The men only have character roles to play and certainly don't have to take responsibility for how their daughters turn out or how their girlfriends or wives get pregnant. No. Those we laugh at or ridicule or blame are all of the girly persuasion, and the values we engage in doing so are the old patriarchal values: all men do it, good girls don't do it or don't get caught, but if they do get caught they will either take their punishments like a man (heh) and/or they will turn into another archetype: the all-loving mother.

And all the time we stare the way people stare at traffic accidents.

The Cost Of Not Having Health Insurance

A new study tells us something that is not unexpected: You are more likely to die when you don't have health insurance:

Ward and colleagues looked at data from 598,635 cases in the National Cancer Data Base (NCDB). The NCDB is held by the ACS and collects data from 1,500 hospital registers. It tracks about 70 per cent of the cancer cases in the US.

They also included information from the 2005 and 2006 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which covers about 40,000 American households and is carried out by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The patients in the sample were either privately insured, covered by Medicaid (the government scheme for individuals and families on low incomes), or not insured at all.

The results showed that:

* Patients on lower incomes were less likely to have insurance.

* Patients without insurance were less likely to use certain health services.

* For all cancers, uninsured patients were 1.6 times more likely to die within 5 years than individuals with private insurance.

* About 54 per cent of patients aged 18 to 64 without insurance did not have a usual source of health care.

* Nearly 23 per cent of patients without insurance did not get care because of the cost.

* About 26 per cent of patients without insurance delayed care because of the cost.

* About 23 per cent did not get prescription drugs because of the cost.

* Patients with health insurance were twice as likely to have had a recent mammogram or screening for colorectal cancer, compared to the uninsured.

* Regardless of race or ethnicity, women without health insurance were half as likely to have had a mammogram in the last two years compared with women who were insured.

* About 48 per cent of insured adults aged 50 to 64 underwent colorectal cancer screening compared with 19 per cent uninsured.

* Insured patients were more likely to have been diagnosed early and less likely to have an advanced cancer diagnosis compared with uninsured patients.

* About 89 per cent of insured white women with breast cancer survived at least 5 years.

* This compared with 76 per cent of white women on Medicaid or no insurance.

* About 81 per cent of African-American women with breast cancer survived at least 5 years.

* This compared with 65 per cent of African-American women on Medicaid and 63 per cent of those with no insurance.

* There was a similar pattern for colorectal cancer.

Not having insurance can kill you.

That women on Medicaid, the government health insurance system for some selected groups of the poor, also had higher death rates than those with other types of insurance suggests to me either that Medicaid is a little bit like not having insurance, what with the large number of doctors who don't accept it because of its low reimbursement rates, or that the study still failed to control for something else associated with poverty, something which affects mortality rates.

The study author also pointed out that the lack of insurance doesn't explain all the mortality differences by race or ethnic group. I wonder if controlling for income and education at the same time would do that? Or if environmental factors from, say, living in polluted and dangerous areas would still exert an independent effect?

UNICEF Photo of the Year

Is this one:

Stephanie Sinclair took it in Afghanistan. The couple in the picture are going to get married. He is forty years old, she is eleven.

Child brides are not uncommon in this world, and neither are child mothers, despite the fact that having children early is a very dangerous business.

What drives this custom? It may have once been necessitated by a short and brutal life and the need to leave progeny even under those conditions. But today it probably has more to do with the low value placed on daughters and the desire to get rid of them early in order to avoid the expense of feeding and educating them. The parents of Ghulam, the girl in the picture, also needed money, and she was what they had to offer in exchange for it.

Our views about childhood have a strong cultural component. An eleven-year-old girl is a child in our eyes but a woman, ready to be married, in the eyes of someone else. There was a time when the Europeans held those views of children, too, seeing them as miniature adults. Upper class families would marry their children off whenever it was most economically and politically convenient, even in the cradle. But I doubt that those marriages were consummated until much, much later.

The above paragraph does not mean that I see nothing wrong in that picture. Children are not psychologically or physically ready for marriage, and the early marriage age of girls mostly dooms them to a life of no education and few opportunities for any improvement. I'm just trying to avoid "othering" the Afghanis, because doing so will not improve the lives of girls like Ghulam.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Out in 2008: The Letter "K"

I'm playing one of those end-of-year games which tells people, firmly and authoritatively, what will be in fashion next year and what will not. Among conservative pundits at Time the letter "K" will not be in fashion, for neither William Kristol nor Charles Krauthammer are having their contracts renewed.

The reason for their departure? Search me. But it's not a sign that Time is becoming more liberal, as they are thinking of replacing these two writers with Ramesh Ponnuru, an editor at the National Review and hailed everywhere as the famous author of Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life (Regnery).

Ponnuru is not known for politeness or comity or bipartisanship. Of course those things are needed only if one blogs. The opinion magazines can be as rude as they wish, and so can the television networks.

The Pretty Bird Woman House

It's the time of giving and then basking in the pleasant glow one gets from doing good deeds. If you can afford it, the Pretty Bird Woman House is a very worthy cause for you to contribute.

Use the comments thread here to add your own worthy causes if you wish. I know that there are many, many more.

On Jamie Leigh Jones

The Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security has just finished hearing the case of Jamie Leigh Jones. A Justice Department official was expected to attend the hearing in order to answer questions but did not appear. That tells a lot about how seriously this administration takes Jones's accusations that she was gang-raped by her colleagues while working for Halliburton/KBR in Iraq:

A Houston, Texas woman says she was gang-raped by Halliburton/KBR coworkers in Baghdad, and the company and the U.S. government are covering up the incident.

Jamie Leigh Jones, now 22, says that after she was raped by multiple men at a KBR camp in the Green Zone, the company put her under guard in a shipping container with a bed and warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.

“Don’t plan on working back in Iraq. There won’t be a position here, and there won’t be a position in Houston,” Jones says she was told.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court against Halliburton and its then-subsidiary KBR, Jones says she was held in the shipping container for at least 24 hours without food or water by KBR, which posted armed security guards outside her door, who would not let her leave. Jones described the container as sparely furnished with a bed, table and lamp.

And why is this in a special hearing? Because of the way the contractors in Iraq have been defines as being outside the law. This means that the case can't be taken up by a criminal court in Iraq or here in the United States.

The following YouTube video is of Jones reading her opening statement. It may be upsetting for some to watch:

A transcript is available at the Pelosi blog, as well as a video and a transcript of the questions the Committee Chairman John Conyers asked.

I can't believe that the Justice Department official didn't turn up. Most unfortunate.