Thursday, January 25

:: When Democracy Sucks

We all love democracy, but there are some issues that demand a certain amount of expertise and/or deal with fundamental principles. Such issues should not be decided by the average voter, nor by the average office-holder elected by the average voter. Case in point, from WaPo – “Gore Film Sparks Parents’ Anger”:

"No you will not teach or show that propagandist Al Gore video to my child, blaming our nation -- the greatest nation ever to exist on this planet -- for global warming," Hardiman wrote in an e-mail to the Federal Way School Board. The 43-year-old computer consultant is an evangelical Christian who says he believes that a warming planet is "one of the signs" of Jesus Christ's imminent return for Judgment Day.

His angry e-mail (along with complaints from a few other parents) stopped the film from being shown to Hardiman's daughter.

The teacher in that science class, Kay Walls, says that after Hardiman's e-mail she was told by her principal that she would receive a disciplinary letter for not following school board rules that require her to seek written permission to present "controversial" materials in class.

The e-mail also pressured the school board to impose a ban on screenings of the film for the district's 22,500 students.
This situation is a sterling example of successful pressure politics. First, find a target who is ambivalent / not focused on your issue and is sensitive to public opinion or conflict averse. Next, start shouting to high heaven that there is something wrong or something has offended you. Make clear in your shouting that your target has the power to make the problem go away. Then, watch target blanch at the unwanted attention. Look closely and you can see the target twitching like a kangaroo in an elevator. Finally, watch target give you what you want if you’ll just promise to park your circus in someone else’s gazebo.

It works for toddlers in the supermarket, it works for picketers, and it works for wackaloons. File it under “effective tactics.”

This story also reinforces a separate but related principle:
In the end, though, the board opted for an abundance of balance. That means that "An Inconvenient Truth" may be shown only with the written permission of a principal -- and only when it is balanced by alternative views that are approved by both a principal and the superintendent of schools.

His daughter's science teacher, meanwhile, said she is struggling to find authoritative articles to counter the information in the Gore documentary.

"The only thing I have found so far is an article in Newsweek called 'The Cooling World,'" Walls said. It was written 37 years ago.
What principle does this story reinforce? Why, its “sh-t always rolls downhill,” of course. Read more!

Wednesday, January 24

:: And Another Thing...

I'm still on a tear about the right to privacy, aka "the right to be let alone." You know, the whole "the word privacy doesn't appear in the Constitution" schtick. Well, for those who didn't see the trap that argument was setting up (courtesy of Robert Bork), here comes the "its an invented right / the word doesn't appear in the Constitution" argument, part II.

GONZALES: There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There is a prohibition against taking it away. But it's never been the case, and I'm not a Supreme --

SPECTER: Now, wait a minute. Wait a minute. The constitution says you can't take it away, except in the case of rebellion or invasion. Doesn't that mean you have the right of habeas corpus, unless there is an invasion or rebellion?

GONZALES: I meant by that comment, the Constitution doesn't say, "Every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right to habeas." It doesn't say that. It simply says the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended except by --

SPECTER: You may be treading on your interdiction and violating common sense, Mr. Attorney General.

And so on. The term "separation of church and state" doesn't appear, either. Read more!

:: An Exciting Day

I learned a new word today: clero-fascism. Apparently its been around for a while but up to now I’d completely missed it. It is a more efficient way to say “clerical fascism,” with the added benefit of not conjuring images of goose-stepping administrative assistants. The prefix, clero, means clergy in Spanish and Italian; the other part you know.

An example of the meaning:

“The close alliance of Catholicism and Fascism was not unique to Slovakia, of course. It was found in many other European countries, as well: in pre-war Austria under Dollfuss, in Salazar's Portugal, in Romania under the Iron Guard, in Pavelic’s Croatia, in Horthy’s Hungary, in Vichy France and, of course, under Generalissimo Franco, who called himself “Leader of Spain by the grace of God”. All of these, to varying degrees, exemplified “clerical fascism”, that is to say, “fascist regimes in which clergy played a leading role.”

And of the usage:

“This situation only confirms the position of peace activists and defenders of human rights in Serbia. Our security is endangered by the state as well as by neo-Nazi and clero-fascist individuals and groups.”

Not only am I excited about adding a word to my already fantabulistic vocabulary (have I mentioned 8,000 times my perfect score on the GRE verbal section?  Let's make that 8,001), I also think the term is very useful. Though it appears clero-fascism has been used only in the context of Europe and Christianity, I don’t see why it couldn’t apply to fascists among our homegrown Christian fundamentalists, or fascists of the Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist or what-all else varieties. (Remember, not all fundamentalists are fascists - for example, the Amish).  

Its more wieldy that the “religious-political extremist” some of us have been taught to use, and much less offensive than “Islamo-fascist” as used by Republicans. Using a term that captures both the Taliban and Human Life International gets right to the point – the anti-democratic, anti-choice, wholly intolerant ideology that blends religion and politics and would make religious leaders into political leaders – without besmirching an entire faith.

I plan on using it a lot, even in inappropriate situations. Example:

Waiter: Would you like the chips or the salad with that?
Me:   I don't know.  Are the chips clero-fascists?

- and -

Dr. P: How long have you had that rash?
Me: Ever since I bumped into a clero-fascist at Metro Center.

Clero-fascist. It works for me.  I recommend it.

Read more!

Tuesday, January 23

:: Madame Speaker

Maeve is unimpressed. I on the other hand got a little choked-up about the "Madame Speaker" stuff. Did you catch that he said that the "best health care decisions are made not by government and insurance companies, but by patients and their doctors." Except pregnant women, of course. Read more!

Sunday, January 14

:: Faith and Conscience

Asra Q. Nomani writes persuasively in today's Washington Post about domestic violence and contemporary interpretations of the Koran. While she admirably focuses on the specific verse referencing abuse rather than relying on vagueness and generalizations, it is worth noting that a similar discussion concerning the Bible is taking place as well. The Archbishop of Canterbury recently released a report on domestic violence and the influence of the Biblical command that a wife must "obey" her husband:

“Over the centuries questionable assumptions about the relation between men and women, which were supposed to reflect the will of God, have influenced the Church’s interpretation of the Bible, its moral teaching and pastoral practice.. It is a tragic fact that bad theology, in this case a faulty understanding of God and human beings in relationship, can have the effect — whether intended or not — of betraying victims of domestic abuse and encouraging the actions of perpetrators.”
Nomani is right: if you believe that might makes right in the private sphere, most likely you believe in the public sphere as well. This is one of the reasons extremist Muslims in the Middle East sound so very much like extremist Christians in the United States. Read more!

:: President Comma

Wars are fought with commas. They are essential. Here and there is a world leader who does not care about human life, but most do. The only way they can function is to plant commas around the misery they cause, to subordinate the loss of life to a supposedly greater cause.

Not too long ago, I embraced the commas myself. I favored this idiotic war because I thought that the deaths of some would improve -- even save -- the lives of many.
Richard Cohen writes today about the President’s characterization of the “present difficult period in Iraq as ‘just a comma,’” – a mere punctuation mark in a greater tale that will end, no doubt, in some kind of fantastic religious-political triumph that will place the name “Bush” alongside the likes of Alexander the Great and George Washington in the annals of history. Not.

That “comma” was described in a horrifying story in the Guardian. Its exactly what some people – mainly, but not exclusively, the women’s rights and human rights communities – said might happen in Iraq, and yet much, much worse because instead of being a prediction, it is real and happening right now. These are key paragraphs from that lengthy article:
[There] is a violence that would not be possible without a wider, permissive brutalising of women's lives: one that permeates the 'new Iraq' in its entirety. For it is not only the religious militias that have turned women's lives into a living hell - it is, in some measure, the government itself, which has allowed ministries run by religious parties to segregate staff by gender. Some public offices, including ministries, insist on women staff wearing a headscarf at all times. Most serious of all are the death threats women receive for simply working, even in government offices. Zainub - not her real name - works for a ministry in Baghdad. One morning, she said, she arrived at work to find that a letter had been sent to all the women. 'When I opened up the note it said, "You will die. You will die".'

The situation has been exacerbated by the undermining of Iraq's old Family Code, established in 1958, which guaranteed women a large measure of equality in key areas such as divorce and inheritance. The new constitution has allowed the Family Code to be superseded by the power of the clerics and new religious courts, with the result that it is largely discriminatory against women. The clerics have permitted the creeping re-emergence of men contracting multiple marriages, formerly discouraged by the old code. It is these clerics, too, who have permitted a sharp escalation in the 'pleasure marriages'. And it is the same clerics overseeing the rapid transformation of a once secular society - in which women held high office and worked as professors, doctors, engineers and economists - into one where women have been forced back under the veil and into the home. The result is mapped out every day on Iraq's streets and in its country lanes in individual acts of intimidation and physical brutality that build into an awful whole.
So that is life between the commas. I suspect we will be paying for what we've done to these people for a long, long time. Read more!

Saturday, January 13

:: Wicker Man = Wicked Funny

The funniest thing I’ve seen since I watched “I (heart) Huckabees” – and loved it – is the remake of The Wicker Man. The good people of Belgium had to wait until yesterday for this movie to open, and I just couldn’t stay away. It turned out to be hilariously campy, one of those movies that is so bad it makes you laugh, yet not so bad that it is unwatchable.

“The Wicker Man” does not benefit from comparison to another movie about the disappearance of young girl that was filmed in the coastal Northwest and uses the settings of a barn, a ferry and a cistern. “The Ring” had eerily beautiful imagery and an intriguing subtext concerning reproduction and responsibility. “The Wicker Man” has moments of surreal stupidity, as when Nicholas Cage runs through the forest dressed as a bear, and an idiotic subtext of gender-based paranoia.

Reviewers have called this movie misogynist, but that is not quite right. Instead, it is gynephobic. Writer/director Neil LaBute is apparently afraid that all women are evil, conniving bitches who would like nothing more than to lure him towards a gory doom. But the things that LaBute finds scary – a lot of blond women in the same place, “goddess” worship, organic honey – are just not scary to normal people. Thus the movie plays as a parody – think “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” or Monty Python’s vorpal Rabbit. And after a while, the obtuseness of Cage’s character forces the audience’s sympathies to shift to the evil women of Summerfield Island; I soon found myself rooting for their every ploy.

Ultimately, LaBute creates a protagonist who is simply too dumb to live; when the movie reaches its sadistic final minutes, death really does seem like the blessing the women of Summerfield island believe it to be - even if our hero is too stupid, rude and flammable to appreciate it.
Read more!

Friday, January 12

:: Not Again!

The fist-sized yellow and black Yariguies Brush-Finch, topped with an orange plume, was found ... high atop the country's eastern Andean range in Santander province.
At first glance, this looks like the kind of innocent story any grade school science teacher would be happy to discuss with her class. But look closer.

The timing of this story is highly suspicious. Why did evidence of this bird suddenly surface now, four weeks before the election?

And what's so "new" about this bird anyway? Hasn't it been "evolving" over millions of years, as the secularists would have us believe? It is hard to see just what is so newsworthy about a picture of a bird in Colombia - which sharp observers will notice just happens to share a continent with Venezuela!

Once again the enviro-terrorists, the so-called "scientists," the liberal media and the Democratic Party have conspired to spread their toxic hate to an unsuspecting America. Once again these traitors give succor to America's enemies by drawing attention from the President's plans to safeguard our nation. I, for one, am appalled.

And don't think for a minute that Al Gore isn't lurking in Jakarta right now with a couple tons of dry ice. Read more!

Thursday, January 11

:: Oh, Olbermann!

The traditional media has been slow to come to grips with the American public's distrust and dislike of President Bush -- sentiments clearly reflected in opinion polls dating back well over a year.
This is the Washington Post's Dan Froomkin, commenting on a puzzling (to me, anyway) phenomenon. I used to think that tv news programmers were biased towards the conventional wisdom of their target audience. In other words, if the target audience went cuckoo for cocoa puffs, you'd get, um, a puff piece on cocoa puffs. If a politician had high favorables, the coverage would be favorable. And if his numbers dropped, so would the tone (or quantity) of his coverage. I guess this is a long-winded way of saying that I believed tv news content was in large part inspired by the market.

But the coverage of Bush throws that idea out on its ass. The media fawned over the Decider right after 9/11; only natural, since his favorables were at one hundred million gazillion percent. But the bloom has been off that stinking rose for quite a while. So why does the mainstream media remain enthralled, repeating the WH spin, diminishing criticism, and downplaying bad news (i.e. the Four Faces of Newsweek)?

I have no idea. Despite describing Olbermann as "shrill" (an odd pot-calling-kettle-black sort of thing), Froomkin writes appreciatively of the man who has become a lone voice of sanity among the barking and drooling hyenas he has the misfortune to call his peers. Froomkin is right to question why there aren't more like him in the mainstream media - though I suspect Olbermann's greatest contribution is towards saving cable news from itself.
Read more!

Wednesday, January 10

:: Bottoming Out

What a face.
And speaking of a profoundly repulsive creature, here's an item about Fox's Bill O'Reilly (as noted by National Journal's Paul Mercurio).

Naturally, Bill and friends have been doing their bit to blame the Foley (R-FL) situation on Democrats:
During Tuesday night's show, the chyron below the former congressman's name repeatedly flashed the words: "Mark Foley, D-FL." Three different times. In two separate segments.
The entire column by Mercurio is a terrific overview of the venality gushing forth from Republican mouthpieces this week.

Luckily for sane people, the numbers coming back from the field indicate a sizable chunk of Republican voters see this issue as a matter of accountability, which makes the "blame Clinton / blame Soros / blame Canada" message exactly the wrong one. This is how Lawrence Nuccio, a 78 year-old habitual Republican and resident of Glen Cove (Long Island) puts it when he explains why he will vote Democratic this year for the first time ever:
I'm a registered Republican, but when I turn around and see them trying to cover up — and that's what they're doing — and try to pass the buck to the Democrats, that's not right. You have elected officials who are running the country and you assume are doing the right thing, but they're not.
In case you are wondering, Mr. Nuccio's Congressman is Peter King (R-NY). I don't like him (that is, Peter King; not Mr. Nuccio who I'm sure is a lovely fellow as well as a paisan), but as far as I've seen, he's had nothing whatsoever to do with the Foley business.

Even Republican attempts to confuse sexual predation and homosexuality - thereby appealing to their bigot base and ostensibly turning the issue against Democrats because of the party's support of gay civil rights - will fall flat since the Republican leadership clearly had countenanced the homo evil in their midst.

I imagine quite of few of the so-called "values voters" who were told they were the linchpin of Republican victories in 2004 are considering the adage "you dance with him what brought you" and asking "so why were you dancing with him?"

Read more!

Tuesday, January 9

:: "Why should such a man be?"

Why should such a man be?
The question is a crucial turning point in the great novel "The Brothers Karamazov." The four brothers each consider it in reference to their father, a man so vile, so bereft of redeeming qualities, and so prolific in malevolant and destructive activity that it drives even the devout to question God's wisdom in making such a creature.

It sprung to mind today when I read Media Matters Daily (aka the Misery Missive). Today's edition noted a press release by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, a hate group that has yet to be disowned by Catholic institutions. Yes, the bishops will threaten to excommunicate your sorry heathen ass if you vote pro-choice, but those who spread hatred far and wide have naught to fear.

The press release concerns the Foley Follies; it notes Foley's lawyer's claim that the ex-Congressman/current pervert was molested as a 15 year-old by a priest. This is the Catholic League's contribution to the fray:
“As for the alleged abuse, it’s time to ask some tough questions. First, there is a huge difference between being groped and being raped, so which was it Mr. Foley? Second, why didn’t you just smack the clergyman in the face? After all, most 15-year-old teenage boys wouldn’t allow themselves to be molested. So why did you?”
This is such utterly disgusting trash that there's hardly any reason to look behind it, other than to take note of another man who combines intense anger and a baseless perception that he is being persecuted with a rigid religious sensibility. But maybe its worthwhile to make this point:

Donohue suggests that a teenage male who is molested has allowed this to happen, insinuating that not physically fighting back can be taken as a "come-on" (in other words, he was asking for it.) This is a sensibility shared by many sex predators, who sometimes inhabit "fantasy worlds" in which the children (or teens) they target, through subtle "signals" perceptible only to the predator himself, invite sexual activity. The creation of the fantasy world shields the predator from appreciating the true nature of his acts.

Funny how bleak, twisted minds can think alike. Read more!

:: Bless His Heart

The Archbishop of Canterbury released a report this week addressing the misuse and misinterpretation of Christian theology with regard to domestic violence.

Britain's The Times explains:

It warns clergy that the bride’s traditional marriage vow to “obey” her husband could be used to justify domestic violence as could referring to God as “He” and “Lord”.

Bad theology, such as using the Virgin Mary “to reinforce norms of female passivity and obedience”, has even been used to convince victims to forgive their abusers and not take action against them.

The report criticises the Church of England for failing to challenge abusers and for intensifying the suffering of survivors, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

“Over the centuries questionable assumptions about the relation between men and women, which were supposed to reflect the will of God, have influenced the Church’s interpretation of the Bible, its moral teaching and pastoral practice,” the report says.

“It is a tragic fact that bad theology, in this case a faulty understanding of God and human beings in relationship, can have the effect — whether intended or not — of betraying victims of domestic abuse and encouraging the actions of perpetrators.”
The Archbishop's report makes me question my inclination to view all religious institutions as sinister at best (but just a little). If he can release something so... civilized, it makes you wonder why our homegrown Christian institutions are so... not. And this doesn't mean the nice individual clergypersons with their nice small liberal congregations and no power within the greater church hierarchy. I mean the leadership, the keepers of tradition, the heads of the old (and new) clerical behemoths.

This is the sort of analysis that our Leaders Religious would produce if they were serious about promoting tolerance of the beliefs of others (forget about women's rights; they would sooner swallow iron shavings). We get no end of commentary about backwards social ideas contained in the Koran and promoted by Islamic clergy; a little perspective on how many chestnuts of lunacy are contained in the Bible and some of the ass-backwards ideas promoted by Christian clergy (I'm thinking of you, Southern Baptists) might help our people develop a sense of context. But no. Even if our church leaders were so inclined, none would risk the inevitable public disapprobation that would follow a thoughtful, specific critique of the misuse of Christian theology. I predict we'll see something critical in our media of passages in the Bible and statements made by wackjob Christian leaders round about... never. Read more!

Monday, January 8

:: "Ain't I a Woman?"

A photo from my favorite organization's trip to Ethiopia. "The weaker sex" doing manual labor while the men supervise... what would the sociobiologists and the cultural conservatives - who believe biology reifies gender stereotypes - say to this?

Probably nothing. But we know what Sojourner Truth would say:

“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?”
Read more!

Saturday, January 6

:: The New Conservative Message on Iraq

The Sunday New York Times offers a tantalizing glimpse of what may be a new White House message strategy that attempts to reconcile the First Truth - the White House is always right - with the reality-based assertion that the Iraq basket is on a fast track to hell. Columnist David Brooks, always game to try the latest conservative Jedi Mind Trick on the NYTimes readership, put it thusly: "Iraq is the most xenophobic, sexist and reactionary society on earth." ["Closing of a Nation," New York Times, September 24, 2006.]

Brooks cites World Values Survey research on Iraq to back up his claim. The World Values Survey is indeed a treasure, so much so that I suspect every staff member is worth their own weight in gold. They are the go-to place for transparent comparative data about social attitudes around the world, and they put much of that data up on the web for researchers, the curious and the habitual procrastinor to peruse for free. There is no doubt in my mind that the figures from the World Values Survey that Brooks cites are accurate: for example, that 90% of Iraqi Arabs say they would be uncomfortable having a foreigner as a neighbor.

The real matter of interest is to what end Brooks presents this information. After all, the man who recently defended traditional gender stereotypes as hardwired in the brain (ergo natural, ergo good), concerned about Iraqi sexism? The man who thinks America is Number One in any and all circumstances, concerned about Iraqi xenophobia?

The answer is revealed in this statement: "... over the past 15 years, things have become much worse. It's impossible to tell how much of the trauma has been caused since the American invasion. We do know, however, that American policy makers were surprised to learn how religious Iraqi society has become during the 1990's. (Iraqi exiles had not prepared them for this.)"

Set aside, for the moment, the notion that we can't compare conditions before and after the invasion. Set aside, also, that Brooks uses religiosity as a euphemism for the aforementioned xenophobia, sexism and reactionary-ism (oops, I think the correct term is knee-jerk conservatism.) And set aside, lastly, that Brooks uses figures for Iraqi Arabs (rather that all Iraqis) to get more dramatic numbers.

The real message is that democracy in Iraq is failing because the Iraqis themselves are the most xenophobic, sexist and reactionary people on the planet. In other words, things are going wrong not because of anything we did, but because (1) the Iraqis are the most screwed up people in the world, and (2) the Iraqis didn't tell us how screwed up they are ahead of time. And they were like this long before we got there.

Its a morally and intellectually bankrupt argument which, among other things, breezes over the distinction between describing a condition and examining its causes, but no doubt some people - people who have the need to believe our leaders are always right, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary - will buy it. At least one person already has. Read more!

Friday, January 5

:: Is That So Wrong?

I posted a reader's review of the new Sofia Coppola movie "Marie Antoinette" at the NYTimes website today (okay, so I was bored):

"Coppola's true achievement is in updating the cinematic aesthetics of privilege. Here and in Lost in Translation the primary subject is the "terrible irony" of being young, beautiful, rich and yet lonely. To her credit, Coppola may be sticking to a dynamic with which she is intimately familiar (we are always told to "write what we know"). To her discredit, you can find this trope in a thousand different fashion layouts, in the celebrity mythology of Paris Hilton, and in the anachronistic blend of 1930s gangster fashion, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous opulence and 'mo' money, mo' problems' sensibility of a typical big budget rap video. If you are happy to spend ten bucks on pretty costumes, pretty actors, cool music and content that won't make you break a synaptic sweat, then by all means have at it. As for me, I look forward to seeing what Coppola creates when she grows up."
So what if I haven't seen the movie. Is that so wrong? I did see the trailer - twice! Read more!