Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Keillor winds himself into a tizzy

My friend asked me to blog ths one, which was e-mailed to her by someone she knows and I don't. I read the piece and understand her anguish over it. Garrison Keillor makes Father Garvey seem a voice of sweet reason by comparison.

The problem is that Keillor doesn't say anything. I mocked Father Garvey's straying from his original point; Keillor doesn't have an original point to stray from. To take his words at face value, the height of the recent Republican party was Richard Nixon, which tells you either what he thinks of the Republican Pary or what he thinks of Nixon. (I've been wondering when the Democrats would resurrect and adopt Nixon; he's really one of them: he imposed wage and price controls; he opened relations with China; he negotiated with the Soviet Union; he cut and run from Vietnam What's to dislike? Unless it's the Watergate break-in, and a lot of today's Leftists don't think the law should interfere with their accomplishing their objectives.)

Anyway, Keillor's piece is too much of a soft pitch to bother with: a string of unstrung metaphors, cliches and stereotypes that serve more to show the writer's state of mind than any reality outside himself. The crowning irony, though, is this:
The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we’re deaf, dumb and dangerous.
preceding this:
This is a great country, and it wasn’t made so by angry people. (emphasis in original)
Take a few deep breaths, Mr. Keillor, or maybe a long walk. You used to be funny; now you're so angry you're sad.

The dog candidate and the cat candidate

I did a little piece for the Onion Dome about dog people vs. cat people.

Now I learn from OpinionJournal.com that there's a dog presidential candidate (and, now that they mention it, by extension) a cat presidential candidate.

Can you guess which is which?

Fisking Father Garvey, part 2

I promised to finish fisking Father John Garvey's Commonweal piece.

The initial point was that people nowadays tend to talk about moral or ethical issues as being between them and their private, isolated god. I agree with Father Garvey that this is a common tendency and that it's unhealthy. I disagree with many of his applications and his moral equivalency between morally different things (e.g., abortion and capital punishment).

Here's where we left off:
But religion can work badly in another direction. When Catholic bishops say that they will deny Communion to those politicians who support what is euphemistically called “a woman’s right to choose” (the Lexus or the Buick? To kill or not to kill?) they enter a fraught area.
I don't see what this has to do with the "point" of his essay. It was about "me and my god." Now, he says, Catholic bishops are evidence of religion working badly and entering a fraught area. But that's a matter of technique, not point, and I'll go on.
But here there is a weird selectivity. Until prochoice and pro-capital-punishment Republican politicians like Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki, and Arnold Schwarzenegger are mentioned by the bishops in the same breath as the offending Democrats, the Wasps who always wait in the wings to emerge as neonativists will be able to say that the Vatican will forever try to control American politics.
There is a difference between John Kerry, who presents himself as "a steady, churchgoing Catholic literally since the day he was born" in his Beliefnet spiritual biography. By contrast, I didn't know that Guiliani (should have guessed), Pataki and Schwarzenegger (should have guessed) were even Catholic. None of them has made the kind of statement about the primacy of "conscience" over Catholic doctrine ("I believe in the church and I care about it enormously," he said. "But I think that it's important to not have the church instructing politicians. That is an inappropriate crossing of the line in America.") that Kerry has in his attempt to curry favor with Catholics.

Should "the Church instruct politicians"? It's an interesting question, and it depends on what Father Garvey means by "instruct." Should the Church have a paid lobbyist wandering around the Legislature or Congress buttonholing politicians? No. Because in most legislation, God-fearing people can disagree, and any paid lobbyist doing his full-time job will end up causing more mischief than help. Should politicians, like all people, be formed by the Church, and will that affect their political, economic, moral and social views? Yes.

Still, if the issue is abortion, then it is inconsistent to pick on one politician and not another. I can say, as a voter, that this politician is an idealogue on the subject--voting for partial-birth abortion, against parental-notification laws, against giving health information about abortion to aborting mothers--and this one, although favoring legal abortion, is willing to countenance limitations and regulations on the practice. From a moral point of view, I suppose, it's all or nothing; from a political point of view, it's a matter of making progress where you can.

Still, I read a letter in a Catholic newspaper recently that said, Republicans haven't stopped abortion, so I'm voting for Kerry, because he will fund schools. It was a frustrating argument, because the barriers to stopping abortion have been ideologues like Kerry and like the ones he would nominate to the courts: legislators who refused to pass legislation; executives who vetoed it; judges who declared it unconstitutional once it was passed over the veto. The fact that the letter-writer will vote for one of the top obstructionists tells me that abortion was never very important to her in the first place.
as neonativists will be able to say that the Vatican will forever try to control American politics
I'm not a neonativist, and I don't think "the Vatican" is trying to control American politics, but it think it's worth looking at the ecclesial structure that makes hard-edged moral stands on taxes, budgets, trade and a lot of other issues that "the bishops" are ill qualified to analyze. Two people who care about the poor can disagree over the minimum wage, and bishops with no training in economics don't really add much to the argument by weighing in on either side with a lot of empty rhetoric about the "preferential option for the poor." More appropriate would be a reminder to both sides about the importance of caring for the poor and then working to ameliorate unintended consequences of any legislation that's passed.

But I speak as an outsider, and the Catholic bishops have no reason to care about my opinion. I only hope the Orthodox bishops don't walk that road if they ever gain more influence.
As an Orthodox Christian who does not believe in using Communion as a common means of discipline--though no one has a right to Communion, rights being a stupid category where the sacraments are concerned, and priests really should refuse Communion in some cases--I am not in a position to inform Catholic bishops or laypeople about how they should approach Roman Catholic discipline. But people who say they believe that the life of a conceived child is human and matters, and this is what Catholics and Orthodox believe, should not support political platforms that are callous or indifferent about this; and they really should think twice about receiving the body and blood of one who died for all human beings, including killed fetuses and executed criminals. The bishops are surely not wrong to affirm this.
I agree with most of this paragraph, and I also agree that Christ died for killed fetuses and executed criminals. But the equivalence between a killed fetus and an executed murderer hasn't been established to my satisfaction. Father Garvey goes on to presume that all his readers are on the same page on that--and considering the magazine, he's probably right--but the Orthodox Church is not universally opposed to the death penalty the same way it is universally opposed to abortion, and I'd like to know when the idea came into fashion that no crime is sufficiently heinous to require the criminal's life as a penalty. Father Garvey is trying to be even-handed, I think, but an even hand between an innocent unborn child and Saddam Hussein is a travesty.

He goes on to relate that some members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship wrote to "Senators Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), both Orthodox who cast consistently prochoice votes, challenging their record in this regard, and asking for some explanation of their position. The letters remain unanswered." No surprise there.
Catholics, Orthodox, and others who are troubled by this issue should not leave it to the bishops to challenge prochoice Democrats or pro-capital-punishment members of either party. Like the largely lay membership of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, they should challenge the politicians themselves. Isn’t that part of what the priesthood of the laity is all about?
Writing a letter to a senator--Republican or Democrat--who has already made up his mind about abortion is not "challenging" anything. The letter writer may feel better, more righteous, more "challenging," but it does nothing.

What would challenge politicians like Sarbanes and Snow--and Kerry--is to get involved in the process. Get them un-elected. That will not only "challenge" them (and politicians have been known to change their position if it seems to be in their political interest); it might actually get someone in the office who can make changes.

Father Garvey may be too holy, righteous and sophisticated to participate in the political process. I don't know if that's "what the priesthood of the laity is all about"; I thought it had something to do with making all of life and the cosmos an offering to God--so maybe it's part of it. More to the point, though, it's part of what being a citizen is all about. In the Roman Empire, the Emperor was responsible for these decisions, which removed their responsibility from the regular citizenry. In the United States, citizens have a lot of that responsibility, and we should take it as seriously as we would expect God to ask of the Emperor.

It takes s clear head and an interest in actual outcomes (as opposed to rhetorical flourishes), a willingness to argue, rather than just presume that people either agree with you or are barbarians, and trust that the people in high office are still human beings and not automatons run by vast paranoid conspiracies. I don't think the "pox on both their houses" cynicism is helpful.

And I still don't know where he left the "my little god and me."

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Chicken Little refuted

Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb, the 1968 best-seller, has determined UN and much of US policy for nearly 40 years and counting.

Those wacky pro-lifers have been arguing against Ehrlich's discredited Malthusian predictions for years.

Now comes the International Herald Tribune with a story from the New York Times: 'Population bomb' is a dud. It's handy list of all the reasons that pro-lifers gave for not believing Ehrlich's predictions. Give credit where credit is due. It may take a while to crack the iron presuppositions of the Gray Lady, but every so often a gap appears.

Any chance of Ehrlich saying, "Oops"? I didn't think so.

Friday, August 27, 2004

John Kerry's book tour

The Swift Boat Vets extend their hearty thanks to John Kerry for promoting their book.

Kerry's secret foreign policy

Stanley Kurtz says, "The Swift-boat controversy is not an ancient molehill turned into a mountain. It's how we're stumbling toward a debate that the Democrats don't want to have -- but that everyone knows exists anyway. The real issue here is Kerry's views on war and foreign policy. Kerry is a McGovernite -- a long-time member in good standing of his party's dovish wing. Kerry has hidden that fact, but now the truth is slipping out."

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Running interference on the cockroaches

in the midst of a not-bad column: "The insistence on discussing the cockroach in the sink, when there is an elephant in the room, must strike any foreign observer as peculiar."

The columnist, David Warren, is talking about the election's current focus on Vietnam, rather than anything of relevance now and into the future.

I disagree with Warren that we're unable to speak openly about what's going on; rather Kerry has pulled the conversation to Vietnam, by declaring any discussion other than congratulations on his medals off limits.

All Kerry's plans are secret, like his policy on Kosovo. If the children found out that Dad is taking them to get shots, they might not want to go, and then it would be difficult to get them into the car. Much better to say we're going to the carnival instead. Once he's elected, Kerry can tell us about the shots, the secret plans, the taxes and so forth.

It would be nice to kill the cockroach, but we can't, because it's too useful in taking our attention away from the elephant.

Sanity rules

The JibJab cartoonists and the Guthrie lawyers worked out a compromise, and the song plays on.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Remember the last 'good' war?

No, not WWII, and not Vietnam--more recent than that. And not Afghanistan and Iraq--earlier than that and a war that Democrats called "just."

Give up? It was the Paschal bombing of Serbia, to save the suffering Albanians of Kosovo. It was easy to forget: We fired NATO at it and went back to sleep. Then when the alarm finally went off, we were just too busy and . . .

Well, while we were busy finding out who'd win at Survivor, the Kosovo Albanians turned it around. Over the past five years (what's an exit strategy?), they have worked to push the Serbs out of the province, killing and raping Serbs, locking them out of business, schools, towns and hospitals, systematically dismantling the cultural heritage of the region (remember the Taliban and the Buddha statues? Remember the Holy Virgin of Ljevis Cathedral? I didn't think so.)

So what's all this got to do with the price of butter?

I'm glad you asked.

It seems that presidential contender John F. Kerry has issued a
policy statement on Kosovo that has the Albanians overjoyed and the Serbs terrified (and at least one Greek hopping mad).

I first heard about it when someone forwarded a copy of said Greek's letter to Kerry laying out why the Greek will be voting for a Republican for the first time in the 2004 election. I couldn't quite relate to his shock at Kerry's leaning on the issue, because after all, Wesley Clark supports Kerry, but aside from that, I wondered if the statement was true or an urban legend.

The truth is even more interesting. Apparently Kerry made a statement, says Blic, a Serbian newspaper, "primarily intended for voters of Albanian descent." I found nothing about it in the major news sites or on Kerry's website and only bites of it in the jubilant Albanian and despairing Serbian news sites. I finally found it, in an attachment to a comment on a Serbian news story.

The statement itself is pretty plain vanilla. There's a lot of mush about peace and prosperity and ending corruption and allowing self-rule, which the parties to the conflict are reading the same way, proved by their opposite reactions. More troubling is that a presidential candidate announces an aspect of his foreign policy only to people of a certain ethnic group, who are likely to vote for him based on the policy. I have the old-fashioned idea that all voters ought to have some indication of the candidate's plans--even voters of the "wrong" ethnic group.

Here's the statement:
July 23, 2004

John Kerry: Working Together with Albanian-Americans

Senator John Kerry issued the following statement:

I am proud to receive support from Albanian-Americans. For generations, Albanians coming to America have assumed eagerly the responsibilities and opportunities of citizenship. The newest generations of Albanian-Americans have carried on this tradition in a way that makes your ancestors – and all who love America -- proud. As Americans, you have built our communities, creating economic opportunity and prosperity. You value family, community, responsibility, and opportunity. And many Albanian-Americans have given their lives in our armed forces over the last century, proudly serving our country and protecting our freedoms.

I promise as president to promote policies that protect the communities you have built and preserve the values you have honored. We will take care of our elderly, make health care more readily available, promote education, help small businesses, and provide equal opportunity for all.

I also appreciate the strong bonds Albanian-Americans have with their friends, families, and brethren in South-Eastern Europe. These ties make our strong country a great nation. They remind us of the values that brought us here and of the hope and opportunity that remains elsewhere. They help America build our friendships and forge alliances. It is no accident that Albania has sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, that Albania has been steadfast in the war on terrorism, or that the Albanian people are among the most pro-American people in the world today. It is a tribute to the network of connections that knits together not just governments but people who share the same values. You have done that for both your country today and for the countries of your ancestors.

I believe that stability, democracy and prosperity in the Balkans are in America’s best interest. My administration will re-establish America’s leadership in the Balkans, particularly when it comes to Kosovo. The Bush administration has turned its back on the region, hollowed out our security presence, and left the people of the region without the opportunity to govern themselves.

At a time when the populations of these countries took courageous steps to break from the past and were desperately looking to consolidate momentous reforms, the Bush administration chose to do as little as possible. It has missed an historic opportunity.

My administration will act quickly to address the issues facing Kosovo. Kosovo's future status should be decided as soon as possible. The people of Kosovo must be able to determine their own future, including how they want to be governed. Proposals to change the territory of Kosovo or to partition it along ethnic lines do not help build a multi-ethnic society or prepare the region for its future in Europe. As we pursue Kosovo's final status, we want to work closely with others in the region and engage them in promoting a smooth transition. Continued delay - which is all the Bush administration has offered -- hardens the positions of extremists on all sides. The region is vulnerable to nationalists within and extremists from outside; we must help rebuild the institutions that can protect the people of Kosovo so that they will resist calls for more violence and further calamity. Should the region be allowed to degrade it would return to the lawlessness of the Milosevic era and allow criminals to flourish.

We will need your help. We must approach Kosovo’s status in a way that makes its neighborhood safer and more secure. This will take American leadership, alliances, and effort, as it did with Western Europe at the end of World War II. And it will take time; we cannot walk away from Kosovo and the region. I will need your help in building the support we will need in Congress and with the American people to carry out this historic task. With your support, my administration will:

  • Work with our European allies to see that all states of the Balkans are able to take their place as law-abiding members of the key institutions that helped to win the Cold War, including NATO and the European Union.

  • Assist the governments in the region to increase trade, attract investment, and address corruption, human trafficking, and minority rights.

  • Pursue individuals indicted for war crimes. All governments in the region must cooperate to achieve this purpose and bring war criminals to justice. I will also need your help to support more vigorously Albania’s efforts to develop its economy, integrate into Euro-Atlantic institutions, and strengthen its democracy. We will continue to support the efforts of Albanians in Macedonia and Montenegro to become equal citizens of democratic societies.

Not every issue will be easy. America at our best stands for human rights, for everyone. My administration will enlist your support in seeing that the human rights of people throughout the region are respected. This must include the Serbs and other communities of people who want to live in Kosovo. Otherwise, it will be more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve lasting peace and prosperity in the region and to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of all who live there.

I am proud that we will, together, help make real the dream of Albanians, of Americans, of our allies, and of all who care about our security and freedom, of creating a Europe that is peaceful, democratic, and free from fear and from oppression -- a Europe whole and free, from the Baltic, to the Black Sea – and in the Kerry administration, to the Adriatic.

ALBANEWS archives -- July 2004, week 5 (#5)

You're welcome, Paris

Paris celebrated its liberation today.

Something was missing in the first news story about the celebration: It was about French firemen, French policemen, French resistance fighters, and the French Army. And De Gaulle.

De Gaulle gave a speech that day, a month and a half after D-Day, in which he proclaimed that Paris liberated itself, with no mention of the Allies who invaded France on D-Day, opening the way for troops to arrive in Paris. By the time the resistance rose, the Germans were hearing guns on the horizon.

Allan Little of the BBC explains that "By the time the people took to the barricades, the approach of the Allies made liberation a near certainty." But France needed to restore its self-esteem. So here's the text of De Gaulle's speech:
"Paris - liberated by itself, liberated by its people, with the support of the armies of France, with the backing of the whole of France, of the true France, of eternal France."

All this is not to deny the courage of the French resistance fighters or the 1,600 people of Paris who died in those last 10 days of German occupation.

Only to say that sometimes nations are like people, and when a person's self-regard is built on a lie, it makes him brittle and proud and afraid that his shakily built dignity will collapse.

Anyway, not all the French had forgotten in 1944.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Sadie's lumps

When we last met Sadie, she had fallen asleep after an exciting day in Oregon City.

Today, she was decidedly lumpy.

She came into the house with a welt the size of a ping pong ball on her muzzle just below her eye and other lumps of various sizes all over her back and sides. My daughter heard her yelp from the back yard, and though we can't be sure, our best guess is that during her backyard excavations she uncovered a yellow jackets' nest.

I called the vet to find out if I needed to bring her in, and predictably, I suppose, I did. So I left work, drove home, picked up the dog, drove her to the vet.

Now Sadie doesn't do all that well in the car just yet, and I'm learning to take her for a short walk, to get the necessities out of the way before we get into the car. Well, nothing happened, so we loaded up in the car anyway and off we went.

About five minutes away from the vet's, the necessities caught up with her, and so I had a stinky mess to clean up when we got there (fortunately, we've got a dog cargo area with a plastic bottom), and I walked into the vet's office with a nervous dog and a plastic bag of stinky waste that I hoped the vet staff would throw away for me.

I opened the door, and Sadie poked her head inside. There was a great Dane, 180 pounds, probably four and a half feet tall at the shoulder. He stood across the waiting room, looking like a visitor from the Land of the Giants. Sadie took one look at that dog and said, "Holy sh*t. I'm not going in there." And she turned and headed out the door.

I pushed at the door, tugged at the leash and kept my hold on the stinky bag and tried again. I said, "It's OK, Sadie. Come on."

She turned around, looked through the door at the great Dane and said, "Forget it! The DOG GIANT is still there."

I dragged her in, closed the door, asked the receptionist if she could throw away my bag for me (I love vet staff; hardly anybody else in the world would treat that as a reasonable request), and sat on the waiting room sofa. Sadie, shedding a cloud of nervous dog fir, sat beside me, as the great Dane's two human girls (about 5 and 7 years old) made polite conversation about Sadie and their dog, while their mom took Big Boy out to the car.

In a few minutes, it was time for Sadie's weigh-in. I've never had a dog that handled the scale well. It's a large, flat, stainless-steel plate that the dog needs to stand on for about 15 seconds while the weight gets measured. No pokes, jabs, heat, cold or separation. But they invariably act like they're being tossed onto an ice arena to be chased by alligators. Having finished that trauma (67.6 pounds), we went to the examining room to wait for the vet.

We've had this vet for our series of dogs for more than 20 years: for Strider, Coho, Kenai and now Mocha and Sadie. We moved away and after trying another vet nearer our new home, we drive back to our old town to go to this vet. He is truly extraordinary, great with the dogs. But of course, poor Sadie scurried under the chair and didn't want to come out. But she got her temperature taken, her ears looked at (Mocha keeps them pretty clean), her teeth glanced at, and a cortisone shot. He warned us that the cortisone shot would make her process more water, in and out.

We paid the bill, loaded her in the car and went home.

What a homecoming! Mocha was there! and the girls! and me! Oh, it was so exciting--that she peed on the floor.

If I tell you, after all that, that she's worth the trouble, you know how good a good dog can be.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

How not to write an essay

Today, class, we're going to go over classic essay and argument structure again. We just saw last night that Father Garvey doesn't get it, and this morning, we're reading a piece by David Domke, and apparently he missed that lesson, too.

Briefly, class, when you make an assertion in print, you should back it up with evidence of some sort. Here's Mr. Domke's central assertion (in someone else's essay, it might be called a "central idea," but I think that's a little too positive for this one):
Since the attacks of Sept. 11, the president and his administration have converged a religious fundamentalist worldview with a political agenda -- a distinctly partisan one, wrapped in the mantle of national interest but crafted by and for only those who share their outlook. It is a modern form of political fundamentalism -- that is, the adaptation of a self-proclaimed conservative Christian rectitude, by way of strategic language choices and communication approaches designed for a mass-media culture, into political policy.
As we can see, Mr. Domke is pretty excited about the situation, but he needs to slow down and define some terms and support his proposition: "religious fundamentalist worldview"---what does Mr. Domke mean by that, and in what way does the Bush administration fit that definition? "Crafted by and for only those who share their outlook"--establish the truth of that in light of the administration's domestic and foreign policy actions (note to Mr. Domke--"only" is a hard word to prove). "It is a modern form of political fundamentalism -- that is, the adaptation of a self-proclaimed conservative Christian rectitude, by way of strategic language choices and communication approaches designed for a mass-media culture, into political policy": Well, isn't that scary--"rectitude" is uprightness, Mr. Domke. So the administration is trying to portray itself as morally upright by communicating through the mass media? Heck, the Clinton administration did the same thing. John Kerry is making the same effort. It's part of campaigning. Mr. Domke's "strategic language choices" seem to be aiming to make that something furtive and underhanded.

I'm not going to take apart Mr. Domke's essay--life is too short to dissect all the schlock that gets printed in the daily newspapers, but here are a couple more cappers:
For example, in his address before Congress and a national television audience nine days after the terrorist attacks, Bush declared: "The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them." Similarly, in the 2003 State of the Union address, with the conflict in Iraq imminent, he declared: "Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity." These are not requests for divine favor; they are declarations of divine wishes.
They are lasting themes of the American self-definition, in the same vein as Lincoln, Jefferson, and the Declaration of Independence (see my first rant on Father John Garvey.)
I systematically examined hundreds of administration public communications -- by the president, John Ashcroft, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld -- about the "war on terrorism" in the 20 months between Sept. 11, 2001, and the end of "major combat" in Iraq in spring 2003.
Stop a minute while I laugh at his "systematic examination of hundreds of administration public communications." It sounds like a kid's science project. OK. I'm ready.
This research showed that the administration's public communications contained four characteristics simultaneously rooted in religious fundamentalism while offering political capital:
  • Simplistic, black-and-white conceptions of the political landscape, most notably good vs. evil and security vs. peril.
It may surprise Mr. Domke, but a lot of people in the flyover states (and some who are not in the flyover states) actually think that good and evil exist and that it's our business to pursue the one and fight the other. And that security and peril are substantially different, opposites in fact, and we want our government to pursue the one and ameliorate the other.
  • Calls for immediate action on administration policies as a necessary part of the nation's "calling" and "mission" against terrorism.
  • Perhaps Mr. Domke was busy three years ago when 19 highjackers flew (attempted to fly) four airliners into public buildings. A lot of people in flyover country (and some on the coasts) don't want that to happen again. We're pretty sure that the planning continues, and we need to move fast to stop it.
  • Declarations about the will of God for America and for the spread of U.S. conceptions of freedom and liberty.
  • And the problem with that is--? We have people risking their lives to do stoop labor in the farms of America. They line up for visas and green cards. They demonstrate against their home tyrants even to the extent of facing down tanks and guns. Mr. Domke lives here, where he can make stupid statements like this with impunity. Why does he presume that the people of Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Zimbabwe and North Korea don't want the same rights and opportunities he has?
  • Claims that dissent from the administration is unpatriotic and a threat to the nation and globe.
  • Mr. Domke, show me one statement in your "hundreds of administration public communications -- by the president, John Ashcroft, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld" that supports this view. I'm not talking about an exaggerating pundit or a loud-mouthed talk-show host or some crazy in the comments of a blog (no crazies in my blog). You listed John Ashcroft, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfield and the president. Show me a statement from one of them that calls any dissenters unpatriotic. I'll even give you Condoleeza Rice for good measure.

    Then I'll show you statements from Howard Dean, Ted Kennedy, Gen. Wesley Clark calling George W. Bush unpatriotic. In fact, 97 percent (based on a seat-of-the-pants analysis of a Google search on "'george w. bush' unpatriotic") of the hubbub about "patriotism" is coming from the Left--either whining that they are patriotic, whining that other people think they're not, or accusing other people of being unpatriotic. People, get a grip. You brought it up. Maybe you've got issues.

    OK. That's all the attention Mr. Domke is going to get from me this morning. He goes on to complain about how the press advances Bush's nefarious agenda. I guess he didn't read the column by the New York Times ombudsman, Daniel Okrent, acknowledging that the paper is liberal--maybe even a little too liberal. It's not just the Times either. Mr. Domke apparently doesn't think the press should report on presidential statements at all.

    OK, class. That's our lesson for today. A good essay makes a point and backs it up. Paranoid ravings do not make for a serious discussion, although they may be useful in humorous writing.

    Saturday, August 21, 2004

    Fisking Father Garvey, part 1

    Someone I greatly respect sent me and a number of other people this article, I think hoping to start a discussion. I dashed off an e-mail and wisely clicked the "save" rather than the "send" button, because, well, I don't think my snarky remarks were the sort of discussion he was trying to start.

    After a few hours at the Silverton Arts Festival, I'm in a much better frame of mind to figure out what I found so infuriating.

    For the record, I've always liked John (now Father John) Garvey, since it was he who wrote the 1989 Atlantic Monthly article that began my journey to the Orthodox Church. I think our journeys were contemporaneous, because the next time I heard of him, he had converted also.

    So I am predisposed to like his work, and the first couple of paragraphs read like the beginning of a good but short blog post:
    There is a cliché floating around that people drop as if it were a self-evident truth-a category that may not exist, despite our Declaration of Independence. In anything involving religion, morals, medical ethics, or sexuality, whatever you choose to do is “between you and your God.”

    Euthanize comatose grandpa? This decision is between you and your God. (Grandpa’s God is presumably as out of it as grandpa is.) A woman’s decision to abort is between her and her God, and how a man chooses to worship, or whether to worship at all, is between him and his God.

    He continues:
    This "between you and your God” language comes up mainly in political contexts, usually in defense of a prochoice position, but the fact that it is so frequently accepted without debate shows that its effects are everywhere. The god invoked here is plainly a reflection of its possessor, and can be counted on to affirm its owner’s every longing or whim.

    I think the first sentence is a factual inaccuracy, which doesn't even agree with his own blog-opening paragraphs. "Me and my god" is not used mainly in political contexts: it comes up in any context in which someone wants to do something that his own conscience disapproves of. Otherwise, there would be no need to justify the action in the face of someone else's more persnickety "god."

    It does usually defend a pro-choice position, but that's by definition. Yes, pro-choice can apply to abortion, but also to euthanasia (remember comatose grandpa?), worship, pornography and traffic laws (ever met someone pro-choice on stop lights?).

    The fact that the formulation is so frequently accepted without debate could be a sign of its wide acceptance; it could also be because it's such an effective argument stopper that people use it in the first place. (How do you answer someone who says, "Well, my god says abortion is almost a sacrament"? By leaving the realm of religion entirely and talking human rights. Then we're accused of secularization, but that's later.)
    Those unlucky enough to feel obliged to vote this November will have to choose between a man whose god has no problem with the near-infanticide of late-term abortions and a man whose god was not displeased with hundreds of killed Texas prisoners, not to speak of dead GIs and Iraqis.

    "Those unlucky enough to feel obliged to vote this November": You poor man. People have died for the right to choose their own leaders; a lot of them have died for your right to whine about the leaders you either participate in choosing or allow someone else to choose for you.

    ". . . choose between a man whose god has no problem with the near-infanticide of late-term abortions": Kerry certainly is more consistent in his abortion record than in many of the important issues (he's in favor of it), but when he was speaking in the Midwest, he had some muddled statement about life beginning at conception, but not wanting to impose his religion on other people. I would argue the point with him, but it doesn't fit Father Garvey's pattern of "between my and my God."

    The same is true of Father Garvey's attributing to Pres. Bush a god not displeased with hundreds of killed Texas prisoners. Here's a quote from an October 2000 debate against Vice Pres. Al Gore:
    Q: Are you proud of the fact that Texas is number one in executions?

    BUSH: No, I’m not proud of that. The death penalty is very serious business. It’s an issue that good people obviously disagree on. I take my job seriously, and if you think I was proud of it, I think you misread me, I do.

    I was sworn to uphold the laws of my state. I do believe that if the death penalty is administered swiftly, justly and fairly, it saves lives. My job is to ask two questions. Is the person guilty of the crime? And did the person have full access to the courts of law? And I can tell you, in all cases those answers were affirmative. I’m not proud of any record. I’m proud of the fact that violent crime is down in the state of Texas. I’m proud of the fact that we hold people accountable. But I’m not proud of any record, no.

    By all means, Father Garvey, argue the death penalty if you will, but applying base and baseless motivations to someone else is dishonest and dishonorable.

    Onward, Watson, a thorough fisking is afoot. ". . . not to speak of dead GIs and Iraqis": Yes, Father Garvey, since you mentioned them while not speaking of them, I guess I'll speak of them while not mentioning them. To say that any president is not displeased by the death of U.S. soldiers is scurrilous on its face and beneath the dignity of an answer, but I will continue to fisk. There have been a total of just over 1,000 coalition deaths in Iraq since March 2003 (958 U.S. deaths; Father Garvey didn't mention or speak of the other coalition partners--if he were fisking himself, he might conclude that his god doesn't care about Poles, Brits and Ukrainians, but Father Garvey isn't doing this fisking, and I'll presume sloppy writing and thinking, rather than evil will). By comparison, more than 2,000 U.S. troops died on one day in Europe, June 6, 1944. But back to Bush's god's state of mind: here's a quote from the president's press conference:
    By helping to secure a free Iraq, Americans serving in that country are protecting their fellow citizens. Our nation is grateful to them all, and to their families that face hardship and long separation.

    This weekend, at a Fort Hood hospital, I presented a Purple Heart to some of our wounded; had the honor of thanking them on behalf of all Americans. Other men and women have paid an even greater cost. Our nation honors the memory of those who have been killed, and we pray that their families will find God's comfort in the midst of their grief. As I have said to those who have lost loved ones, we will finish the work of the fallen.

    ". . . not to speak of dead . . . Iraqis": Iraq Body Count gives a death toll range of 11619 to 13603. A rough estimate (page 12 of a pdf document, but the whole thing is worth reading) of the number of people Saddam Hussein killed from 1980 until his ouster from office is 1 million, divided by 24 is an average of about 42,000 deaths per year, leaving a negative death toll of about 30,000, even taking the high figure from Iraq Body Count. The coalition troops have endangered themselves to preserve Iraqi civilians, and they deserve to have that fact acknowledged.
    Am I saying that my god knows better than theirs? No. I am saying that any time any politician says anything about God and our relationship to God we should realize that we are being used, and idolatry is afoot. And we should loathe what we have been offered as a choice.

    Very humble of Father Garvey to state that his god isn't any smarter than Kerry's or Bush's. I'm not sure what that means, though. His article started as a rant about pro-choice (whatever choice) justified by "me and my god" and has wandered to the "loathsome" election.

    ". . . any time any politician says anything about God and our relationship to God we should realize that we are being used, and idolatry is afoot": any time and any politician. Father Garvey said it. Here's what it takes in:
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (Declaration of Independence)

    With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds. . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations. (Abraham Lincoln)

    I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. (Thomas Jefferson)

    We should live our lives as though Christ were coming this afternoon. (Jimmy Carter)

    America stands for liberty, for the pursuit of happiness and for the unalienable right for life. This right to life cannot be granted or denied by government because it does not come from government, it comes from the creator of life. (George W. Bush)

    I fail to see evidence that I'm being used in any of these quotes, and I fail to see idolatry. If Father Garvey wishes to go back on his "any time" and "any politician," then he's left actually analyzing actual words and arguing specifics instead of airy generalizations.

    "And we should loathe what we have been offered as a choice": On what basis do we loathe these people? Because Father Garvey has proclaimed them idolators? Because Kerry supports abortion and Bush supports capital punishment and the war on terror. Say it, Father Garvey. Say that the innocent unborn is the moral equivalent of the men who cut James Byrd's throat and dragged his body to bits on a Texas country road (who didn't even receive the same cruel sentence as the partial-birth abortion that Kerry ran back to the Senate to support).

    It's past my bedtime, I'm only halfway through the column, and Father Garvey is just preparing to pontificate on Catholic bishops, Catholic politicians and the Communion issue. This is going to have to be a two-part blog post, and I may not get part 2 in tomorrow. I'll finish it, though. It's doing me good to unpack his wacky presuppositions.

    Horror movie

    On your desktop. It's an animation of a T4 bacteriophage eating through a cell wall. It's like the creepy creatures in the Matrix, only more so because it seems to be covered with diamonds and emeralds, and because it's as close as the scientists can get to reality.

    I don't know if it's a "good guy" or a "bad guy" ("bacteriophage" sounds like something that eats bacteria), but anything that looks like a gastropod in the shape of a cell phone transmitter falls in the general category of "not sure I want it doing me any favors."

    What you don't see (because it happens at the submicroscopic level) may or may not hurt you.

    SOURCE: Douglas

    Friday, August 20, 2004


    It's been a bad week for blogging what with family celebration (31st wedding anniversary) and writing a long article that turned out to be a narrow footpath around some delicate sensibilities.

    But I'm done now, and my mind is mush.

    I'll come up with something tomorrow, maybe with photos.

    Wednesday, August 18, 2004

    Priest sentenced to bread and water for 'punishing' sermon

    How's a person supposed to write Orthodox satire when items like this appear in real newspapers?
    A Romanian orthodox priest is to live in seclusion for a month after delivering a five-hour funeral service.

    Agapie Aurel Rusu has also been ordered to live on just bread and water for the month as a punishment.

    The case of the long funeral service has also came under the attention of consumer protection authorities after complaints regarding the things he's alleged to have said during the service.

    It's reported the priest wanted to get revenge on the 21-year-old dead man's relatives who had wanted another priest to officiate the funeral.

    You just can't top reality.

    Is that any way to run an empire?

    What happens when the Great Satan and the Little Satan leave town?

    You'd think the residents would be singing, "Ding dong, the witch is dead." Instead it's, "Whatcha gonna do about me?"
    Germans clogged the phone lines of radio talk shows Tuesday, worrying that payback time had finally arrived after the nation's decision to oppose last year's U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. President Bush is retaliating, they said, by announcing that tens of thousands of U.S. troops will be withdrawn from their country over the next seven years.

    Meanwhile in Gaza: "The Erez Industrial Zone, a once-vital source of jobs for 4,000 Palestinian workers, is a virtual ghost town."

    The situation in Gaza is quite devastating; the people who suffer, as always, are the ones least guilty for the problem. Nevertheless, they don't get it. "I don't think the Israeli government can go away and say, 'You are closed in now and we don't care what happens to you.' There is a responsibility here," says Assaf Adiv, director of Ma'an, a Nazareth-based advocacy center for Arab-Israeli workers. The Palestinians have given their political lives over to leaders who want to drive Israel into the sea; you'd think they would realize that if they're successful, there won't be any Israelis to take care of them.

    Ramallah Online at least approaches reality:
    Thanks to the Palestinian Authority, corruption and nepotism are now ingrained in the occupied territories. The PA, the bare bones of a governing body that rules with no political legitimacy but that granted by Israel, only safeguards its own interests, the interests of its VIP cardholders and business contractors.

    Even this writer, a Palestinian-American journalist and head of research at Aljazeera.net English, can't escape the lens of victimhood:
    Concurrently, Israel, whose killings throughout the occupied territories never came to a halt, is already using the crisis in Gaza to retroactively justify its construction of the Apartheid Wall of the West Bank.

    As if after the many attempts at peace, to which Arafat responded with the Intifada, Israel needs to "retroactively" justify the wall by the crisis in Gaza. The crisis in Gaza is what the Palestinians, led by Arafat, have been building for decades.

    In Korea, despite mass demonstrations against the Americans, "The Korean government is scrambling to buy time and will request the United States to delay its plan to withdraw a large portion of the troops now stationed here."

    Kerry and the New York Times, naturally, think it's a bad idea. If George W. Bush announced that he wore socks, Kerry and the New York Times would say it's a bad idea (and Kerry would have a secret policy for avoiding socks, which he would reveal when he has the power to impose it).

    If only Hitler (the original Hitler, not the one that's in the White House now) had known how easy it was to make countries miserable--by pulling troops out--World War II would have been entirely different.

    UPDATE: Mark Steyn has a great piece on the "self-congratulatory holier-than-thou moral poseurdom" of (most of) Western Europe.

    Monday, August 16, 2004

    Today's unfortunate headline

    Face-To-Face Showdown In Michael Jackson Case

    I think Michael will lose.

    UPDATE: Why do they keep using these expressions?

    Michael Jackson in face-off with prosecutor at court

    Jackson might win this one.

    Saturday, August 14, 2004

    On being pro-life

    In a comment on an earlier post, David wrote something that has had me rethinking my position:
    I'm not pro-life. I'm against the unlawful taking of innocent human life, so I think the criminalisation of abortion (and euthanasia) is imperative.

    Life is not sacred. Lives that God has declared protected are sacred. But once you remove God from the equation, all that is left is monism.

    First, to tell the truth, I had to look up "monism," and that's added another layer of complexity.

    I've called myself pro-life, even though killing is sometimes necessary as a choice between one death and others. Capital punishment, necessary war and self-defense protect prospective victims of the criminal, regime or aggressor. I can't, as many who define opposition to capital punishment as "pro-life," equate the life of an innocent unborn child with the life of a convicted murderer.

    At the same time, killing is not to be done lightly, as if it has no cosmic implications. Even though human beings are capable of taking life, we're not capable of giving it. I've always thought of that as the indication that life is sacred, but is that true?

    I think it is. "Sacred" means set aside for a holy purpose. Life, and specifically human life, but not excluding even the life of a mushroom, is something given by God, and which only God can give, for the beauty of the Cosmos. We choosing beings get to choose whether we contribute to that beauty as light or shadow, but we all contribute to the beauty. Still, just because Hitler brings his shadow to the beauty of the cosmos, by revealing the light of those who stand against him, is no reason to let him go on eliciting that beauty. Then we're not standing against him, and we're all part of his shadow. We don't get, as Prof. Rosen says that journalists think they do, to stand outside the picture as an uninvolved observer.

    So I guess I'm still pro-life and still believe life is sacred, though I don't leave God out of it. Funny how we wander different hillsides and arrive at the same place.

    Check out David's blog, though. It's a good one.

    Friday, August 13, 2004

    The new divide

    During the terror threats a week or two ago against the Citicorp building and the New York Stock Exchange, a close acquaintance of mine said, "For all I care, they can blow those buildings up, and good riddance" (not those words, but that idea). Now he's an opinionated fellow who frequently uses hyperbole for emphasis and humor (he also said he's a lifelong Democrat and would vote for the Devil over a Republican, so you get the idea). But where I might formerly have laughed at his hyperbole, this time I couldn't. It wasn't funny any more, because he might have used the same joke about the World Trade Center on Sept. 10.

    I can't say what's in his head, but the conversation illustrates a division that Prof. Jay Rosen refers to in a recent blog post: Sept. 10th people vs. Sept. 12th people. Prof. Rosen observes that 9/11 was a watershed event for him and for many others (me, too), and asks if the news media (the topic of his blog) have redefined themselves in its wake. The answer is apparently mostly no.

    He quotes a snippet of an interview between then-New York Times editor Howell Raines and an NPR reporter:
    TERENCE SMITH: Is your mission or role or obligation at this stage on this story, and the related aspects of it, different in the wake of 9/11? We are dealing with an amorphous thing called "a war on terrorism." Is it different?

    HOWELL RAINES: No. I think not in the...if we're talking fundamentals here. We have an intellectual contract with our readers, which is we'll tell you what we know when we know it, within a framework of intellectual testing for soundness and information and within obviously the boundaries of law, and in certain cases, whether national security interests are involved.

    In describing what's happening, Prof. Rosen answers a long-standing question of mine: How can it not make a difference?
    There's a little trick there; a switch is thrown. What starts out as a big reckoning with a world-shattering event for editor Raines and his ideas about obligation, mission and purpose, turns into a coverage question, an excercise in news judgment on a big story-- September 11 and related events. That's the trick.

    I'll let you read Prof. Rosen's reflections on the implications for journalists. They're valuable and not easy to summarize.

    I guess the question will continue to be, for all of us, what difference does it make to me (for good or ill). And how do I want the new reality reflected in my daily life?

    UPDATE: Along this line, I wonder what Sept. 10th people would make of Exhibit 13. (SOURCE: The Truth Laid Bear)

    Thursday, August 12, 2004

    The narrative gift

    I ran across this blog today, written by an infantry soldier in Iraq. In today's post he tells the story of being brought into the colonel's office and eventually congratulated on his writing. He starts out:
    I never even knew what a Blog was until I read about them in an article in Time Magazine, about two months ago.

    He says he doesn't know about sentence structure, and he shows it. (His profile shows an extensive and varied reading list, though.)

    But his writing also shows that he's got the narrative gift. He uses colorful, concrete details to put the reader in the picture. I know what it's like to be a soldier called to visit the colonel, because he compares it to being called to visit the principal in high school, because he tells me how much he's sweating, because he shows me the colonel looking at the fat file of his blogging as the soldier waits. It's an engaging tale, and I was hooked through the whole thing, in spite of the fact that white type on a black screen makes my eyes jump around.

    The narrative gift trumps bad grammar, trumps a lack of education, trumps a lack of connections, because the writer sees and experiences enough to bring the story home. A person can always go to college, learn grammar, network, but that gift is harder to develop in someone who doesn't get it naturally.

    It's probably about as common as perfect pitch in music.

    The sad thing is that a lot of people think that because the gift trumps grammar, they don't need to learn to write; because it trumps education, they don't need to read; because it trumps connections, they don't need to develop their social skills. And most of them don't have the gift to begin with.

    I moderate an e-mail list for writers, and a young man, 17, wrote and asked for help with his novel. His e-mail was about five sentences long, and I had to read it six times to figure out what he wanted. I don't know if he had the gift or not--a 17-year-old writing a novel is impressive--but he was so crippled by his lack of language skills that he could barely communicate.

    The other sad thing is that some people think that learning about writing can destroy the narrative gift, as if it were a sputtering little candle flame instead of something innate to one's makeup. Learning may change it, may make it easier for him to choose between the styles of Hunter S. Thompson and Ernest Hemingway (I doubt that he'll ever add Jane Austen to his pallette).

    SOURCE: Adeimantus

    Wednesday, August 11, 2004

    The Synagogue of Scientology?

    I knew there must be something like this when I heard that Madonna was practicing the Kabbalah.
    this is Kabbalah, the mystical, ancient study that has turned into the spiritual therapy du jour, its classes meeting at a center near you. But some claim Kabbalah--"receipt" in Hebrew--is picking up where the Scientologists, Hare Krishnas, and Moonies left off.

    It's got all the elements, a charismatic leader with a contradiction-laden history, a high price tag on the "necessary" materials, celebrity adherents, and a feel-good, easy-does-it message that enrages more traditional adherents (well, OK, the Church of Scientology doesn't have any traditional adherents to enrage, unless they're 1950s SF buffs).

    I guess it's to the credit of the Jewish faith that it took so long for them to develop their Hare Krishnas, Moonies, Maharishi Maharesh Yogi and Victor Paul Weirwille.

    Just what we need

    Yet more terrorists.

    Some interesting FAQs from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals website:
    • "What do you mean by 'animal rights'?"--People who support animal rights believe that animals are not ours to use for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, or any other purpose and that animals deserve consideration of their best interests regardless of whether they are cute, useful to humans, or endangered and regardless of whether any human cares about them at all (just as a mentally challenged human has rights even if he or she is not cute or useful and even if everyone dislikes him or her).
    It sounds like that would include guide dogs for the blind and companion dogs for the deaf and wheelchair bound, but if it were a long-term goal to end that "slavery," PETA would be understandably hesitant to reveal it at this time.
    • Where does the animal rights movement stand on abortion?--There are people on both sides of the abortion issue in the animal rights movement, just as there are people on both sides of animal rights issues in the pro-life movement. And just as the pro-life movement has no official position on animal rights, the animal rights movement has no official position on abortion.
    This accords with the animal-rights movement's equivalence between humans and animals.
    • "Don't animal rights activists commit 'terrorist' acts?"--The animal rights movement is nonviolent. One of the central beliefs shared by most animal rights activists is the belief that we should not harm any animal—human or otherwise. However, all large movements have factions that believe in the use of force.
    Notice "most" animals rights activists oppose harming any animal, but "factions" believe in the use of force. Whatever floats your boat.
    • How can you justify the millions of dollars of property damage caused by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF)?--Throughout history, some people have felt the need to break the law to fight injustice. The Underground Railroad and the French Resistance are examples of movements in which people broke the law in order to answer to a higher morality. The ALF, which is simply the name adopted by people who act illegally in behalf of animal rights, breaks inanimate objects such as stereotaxic devices and decapitators in order to save lives. ALF members burn empty buildings in which animals are tortured and killed. ALF "raids" have given us proof of horrific cruelty that would not have otherwise been discovered or believed and have resulted in criminal charges' being filed against laboratories for violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Often, ALF raids have been followed by widespread scientific condemnation of the practices occurring in the targeted labs, and some abusive laboratories have been permanently shut down as a result.
    Including, for example, a research lab at Oxford University. The truth is that I don't like unnecessary vivisection either, or cruelty to animals, but I'd rather see us work through legislation, negotiation, persuasion and innovation to make the change, instead of depending on people who can justify any action on the basis that they're doing the equivalent of liberating Jews from the Nazis.

      Who needs paranoid conspiracies . . .

      when you've got the daily news? Read it with the imagination engaged.

      SOURCE: Allah

      Tuesday, August 10, 2004

      Greetings from across the pond

      My boss's daughter (age 8 or so) stopped at my desk to say hello. I asked if the taller quiet girl behind her was her friend.

      "I'm from London," the girl said. "My dad used to work here."

      Her voice reminded me of boating on the Thames, cool, quiet cloisters at Oxford, tea in the drawing room, and a walk through the shrubbery, even though I've never been there and even though, perhaps, "there" isn't even there anymore.

      People from England have no idea how cool they sound.

      Except, my co-workers tell me, young, single Englishmen, who quickly discover the "Austin Powers Effect" once they arrive in America.

      Monday, August 09, 2004

      Tabula rasa

      Not much to blog today, or rather I don't have any big public issues to blog about. Other people are covering John Kerry's sugar plums in Cambodia story and arguing about the Patriot Act and covering the psycho-spiritual dimension of various things.

      I saw some interesting articles, such as this one (Source: Godspy), but I'm too tired to do more than give it a link.

      I went to bed early last night, intending to make up for lost sleep, and was awakened at 1 a.m. for a medical emergency. After the first emergency-room visit, years ago--hours of waiting to be seen by a doctor who is too busy and too unfamiliar with the patient--I came up with a family policy--"No emergency room visits." I would state the family policy whenever my daughters did something I thought looked dangerous: climbing trees over rocks--"Remember the family policy"; riding a skateboard--"Remember the family policy"; chasing each other down stairs--"Remember the family policy." It's a good policy, and though it hasn't eliminated the dreaded emergency room visits, I tell myself that it has cut the number. Maybe.

      And then you get a kid who's actually sick and apologizing for violating the policy. Sheez. It's a policy, not a dogma. I'm not sure she comprehends the difference. But she's a sweet kid.

      So we straggled home at 5:30 a.m. (no complaints about the medical staff this time; in fact, they were excellent; it just takes a long time). I e-mailed in to work that I'd be there late and went back to bed. (The daughter is much better, thank you, and thanks to the wonders of modern medicine. But I don't blog about the girls. )

      And when I get home from work--at 7 p.m., after making up the time I missed this morning--the doggies aren't here. After searching the house and the yard, I ask about them and learn that they've gone off to the river with the other daughter (the emergency room policy applies to dogs, too), and it's amazing how quiet and empty the house seems without them. (It seems exceptionally busy and hopping with dogs when they're here, but . . . .) I think I must have looked a little like them, wandering from room to room looking for the missing family members.

      So, as you can see, my mind is a blank, tabula rasa, and if I ever had anything interesting to say, it isn't tonight. Tomorrow, perhaps, the illusion of profundity will return.

      On conspiracies and coffee shops

      My friend and I were at Papaccino's after church Sunday, talking about this and that, and I told her my search for the meaning of paranoid conspiracy literature.

      After listing some books and a lot of movies that fall into the genre, we talked ourselves into a answer about the audience that satisfies me, at least for now.

      Why do we love conspiracy literature? It answers the feeling of being a lonely protagonist against the great faceless institution. You call the insurance company (hospital, Internet service provider, whatever), and you get routed into voice hell, where you find yourself listening to a mechanical voice say, with feeling, "Your call is very important . . . ," all the while proving the opposite. Or you get to talk to someone who doesn't know anything and can't do anything and just wants to get this call done and get off the clock. Or even if people try to add a "personal touch," as in the supermarket, it's lame and mildly intrusive, like commenting on your groceries.

      And so the plot line of a great institution--the Church, the U.S. government, the world of perceived reality--being taken over by a secretive cult from within--the Knights Templars, the CIA, the Matrix--with only a handful of ordinary people to fight it is a metaphor of me against the faceless evil (never mind that in reality it's more commonly incompetence than evil--that doesn't have the same narrative power).

      Somebody could write a book in which the Lost Apostles become a heretical group then form a corporation and take over the CIA . . . .

      Anyway, my friend and I are in Papacino's, wandering the fields of conspiracy, and there's a young guy sitting nearby, looking our way. He was wearing sunglasses, so I was never sure where he was looking, but every so often he'd look directly in my direction and twitch. I think he wanted to join the conversation, but the sunglasses were a barrier (no eye contact, no invitation).

      Later I wished I had asked him, but he may have been just watching something behind me, which would have embarrassed both of us, or he may have been annoying.

      Or maybe he was part of the Conspiracy, and we were getting too close to the secret.

      Sunday, August 08, 2004

      Don't panic

      Does this scare you?

      SOURCE: Blue Goldfish | Surface

      Unity and group think

      Prof. Jay Rosen takes on the Unity journalists' group's unbalanced appreciation for Pres. Bush and Sen. Kerry.

      Unity, a group of minority journalists, wildly applauded Kerry's speech and were barely civil for Bush's. Rosen has a thoughtful contribution on the event, and I recommend reading his entry, and his blog, for anyone interested in the practice of journalism.

      I want to comment on one small part of it. He lists a number of "group think"s going on at the event, and here's one:
      Group think among conservatives says that it's right to slam journalists for being liberal when they deny it; and it's right to slam them when they show it. Too easy? Not to the American right.

      I can't speak for "conservatives," except for one (that would be me), but I don't slam journalists for being liberal. Sometimes I find it tiresome to read their arguments, because I've heard them so many times before. And I don't mind journalists' showing their opinion as citizens--or even as reporters.

      The problem is when, in the context of a news story, reporters choose the stupidest representative to speak for their opposition, if they allow any representative to speak at all; when editors deem stories that don't back up their position to be non-stories; when reporters make huge errors of fact in prominent news stories that are corrected in a Corrections column, on page 27D, weeks later, if they are corrected at all.

      These things have nothing to do with reporters' stating their opinion on a subject (or cheering a candidate). In fact, maybe it would be better if in the third paragraph, the reporter said, "This reporter supports the candidacy of John Kerry." It would remove the illusion of balance, and it would be better if the public didn't hold that illusion.

      All this particular conservative asks for is journalistic integrity, which doesn't require that journalists renounce their citizenship, only that they carry on the argument with honesty and with awareness that they are in a position of power and that their ethics require them to use that power responsibly.

      Saturday, August 07, 2004

      Pro-life Democrats vs. big, bad Republicans

      I can sympathize with the dilemma of a pro-life Democrat like Jim Wallis; at least, in my better moments, I try to.

      And then I read what Wallis actually says, and I'm back to my worse moments again. He writes:
      Many Democrats fail to comprehend how fundamental the conviction on "the sacredness of human life" is for millions of Christians, especially Catholics and evangelicals, including those who are strongly committed on other issues of justice and peace and those who wouldn’t criminalize abortion even as they oppose it.

      The reason Democrats don't appreciate how deeply affected pro-life Democrats are by the sacredness of life is that the life issues don't make it to the top of the pro-life Democrats' own lists.

      Take Wallis's own cry from the heart: "those who are strongly committed on other issues of justice and peace and those who wouldn’t criminalize abortion even as they oppose it." Quick now, wipe away those tears of sympathy for the plight of the pro-life Dems and look at this again. They wouldn't criminalize abortion even as they oppose it. What form does that opposition take? Making laws against it? Well, no. That would be criminalizing it. Voting for anti-abortion politicians? Well, no. By Wallis's own observation (and mine as well), if a politician votes pro-life he becomes a pariah in his own party. Marching in mass demonstrations? The Democrats for Life delegation is small. Working in crisis pregnancy centers? Most of those volunteers are ladies of no particular political orientation, but I would bet that the majority, if they vote, vote Republican.

      No, opposing abortion means complaining about both Democrats and Republicans and advocating more Democrat power because "Democrats are the only ones who could initiate a common project to make abortion truly 'rare' in America." How they would go about this common project when they are by Wallis's own witness hostile to any protection of unborn life is not clear.

      What it all comes down to--I could have guessed if I had thought about it--is that "Republicans stress some life issues, Democrats others, while both violate the seamless garment of life on several vital matters." Yes, the beloved seamless garment--the idea that abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, regime change in Iraq, the Kyoto protocols, the minimum wage, and the 1.75% Podunk County income tax increase are all on the same level of "respect for life." In other words, toss the unborn into a sack with convicted murders, Saddam Hussein and Arafat, the job outlook for inner-city teen-agers and whether an entrepreneur can open a shop in Podunk county, shake the whole mixture and pour it out on a counter and see what comes out on top. Now vote. Democrat.

      See how easy it is? And you get to maintain your sense of moral superiority while voting with the people who determine your cool quotient.

      But read the whole article. It'll be a year's worth of really high-level mushy sentimentality (not suitable for low-carb diets).

      SOURCE: Godspy

      The essence of presidential politics

      Ala71 interviews her 5- and 3-year-old sons for their take on the '04 election.

      Too funny.

      Sadie's big day

      I took the puppy for her first big Oregon City walk today.

      Sadie's been out for a hike before with her big buddy, Mocha, but this was her first time walking the loud and scary sidewalks of Oregon City. Mocha had an invitation to go to the beach today, and Sadie stayed behind.

      We walked across the beautiful and historic Oregon City bridge, beautiful and historic, that is, from five feet above the ground. At dog level, it's a span of rough concrete, high over the river, vibrating with the weight and growls and groans of vehicles trundling across it.

      We ascended to the upper part of the city by means of the Oregon City Municipal Elevator, where the friendly elevator operator welcomes well-behaved doggies and even gave Sadie a treat. But to Sadie, it was a journey into a dark cavern, followed by a closed-in room with strangers, where she had to sit for a minute, and then through another cavern. She had little little chance of finding her way home without Mocha, and the salty biscuit didn't cure her thirst.

      From there we walked the McLoughlin Promenade, a walkway along the bluff above the two paper mills and the Willamette Falls, a quiet grassy place with panoramic views upriver to the falls and beyond and downriver past the two Oregon City bridges and on toward Portland. Fine if that sort of thing appeals to you and if you're not being challenged by a Lab and a rottweiler barking at you from a pickup truck.

      Then a narrow pedestrian bridge over Hwy. 99 W, and a walk back to town with the highway close on our right and railroad tracks and the thumping, clanging paper mill on our left.

      Then through a cave-like pedestrian underpass beneath the railroad tracks and back across the bridge and home.

      Is it any wonder that she now looks like this?

      Wednesday, August 04, 2004

      On placed and misplaced 'hope'

      Thomas at Endlessly Rocking continues the discussion of politics and liturgy:
      This made me think a bit, and this is what I've concluded (remember, this isn't an argument with Jan - these are my own noodlings, for which no one else can or should claim responsibility).  I know you've heard this here before, and that it therefore risks making folks both bored and angry, but I think the pattern Jan ponders says something about misplaced hope - that we look to these elected officials for something no one in this penultimate order can offer us.  We don't look to them for moral courage, or disciplined attentiveness to their Constitutionally defined duties, but rather for transcendent hope and the righting of all wrongs in some ill-defined future (which wrongs vary from candidate to candidate and party to party).  In other words, whatever our democratic whimsy, we still yearn for philosopher kings who will parcel out wisdom and inspire hope all the while magically ensuring the bountiful harvest of, well, something.  I have a friend who's a pastor, and this all seems decidedly like what his ordination vows named as "false comfort and illusory hope", and it's really quite dangerous.  From such misplaced, false hope springs the desire for some strong, charismatic figure who will, with the necessary if unfortunate sacrifices, lead us to some promised greatness and prosperity and peace, eschatological hopes that find their only proper subject (in both senses) in Christ alone.  Just a thought.

      Before I had a chance to read Thomas's remarks carefully, I was going to say that we're in more danger of cynicism than false comfort and illusory hope, but I revise those thoughts now.

      Thomas is right that we do want philosopher kings--if not (on our side of the aisle) to parcel out all good things, then at least to be honest, honorable, thoughtful and principled people, who can hold a position against the wind, who has enough of a mooring in what's right to hold out against the raging crowd. Think of the best of the reputation of Churchill. Like that.

      On the other side of the aisle (this is at present what the aisle is about, after all), the philosopher king is one who brings "economic justice," which means an equal distribution of resources, providing charity for the unfortunate from the bounty of the fortunate. And I suppose, to the extent to which both yearnings are unrealizable, they run the risk of being false and illusory.

      I still think cynicism is at least an equal danger, the good people who turn from the process in despair, the gullible people who can't see any redeeming qualities on the "other side," the vicious and polarizing ad hominem attacks. I think our literature of conspiracy and paranoia is part of what has conditioned the mindset (and I still haven't been able to wrap my mind around that). That's not to say that there's never been a conspiracy or to deny that just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you, but people's willingness to assume conspiracy about every development is both a refutation and proof of what Thomas is saying. Refutation because there's not an expectation of finding a philospher king, proof because if it's not a philospher king, it's his evil twin, the devil's spawn, an anti-christ, who has equal power and a will of the destroyer.

      Like Thomas, I'm still thinking this out, and I appreciate his willingness to join the discussion.

      Notice the dateline

      It's not Saudi Arabia, and it's the first case I've ever heard of where someone was fired for eating a BLT:
      ORLANDO, Fla. -- A Central Florida woman was fired from her job after eating "unclean" meat and violating a reported company policy that pork and pork products are not permissible on company premises, according to Local 6.

      It's apparently an unwritten policy for this mostly Muslim telecom company in Orlando that even non-Muslim employees may not eat food forbidden to Muslims:
      However, by the company's own admission to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that policy is not written, Local 6 News reported

      Here's a classic exchange:
      The CEO of Rising Star, Kujaatele Kweli, told Local 6 News that they have tried to create an office that accommodates anybody's religion -- not just Islam.

      "Clearly you're accommodating," Holfeld said.

      "Yes." Kweli replied.

      "And you have an ecumenical philosophy," Holfeld said.

      " Yes," Kweli replied.

      "[Then] shouldn't you be able to accommodate all faiths in the same lunch room?" Holfeld asked.

      "We do, we can," Kweli said.

      "But you've dismissed one of your employees for eating pork in the lunch room," Holfeld said.

      "Yes, pork is considered unclean," Kweli said.

      Notice the structure of the conversation. Every question is answered, "yes." "Yes, we're accommodating." "Yes, we accept all faiths." "Yes, we're ecumenical [sic]." "Yes, we fired someone for eating a BLT." Logical connections not required. What are required are 1) to keep stating the necessary platitudes about diversity and accommodation and 2) to continue to deny diversity and accommodation in practice.

      I don't care if a private company declares itself kosher or halal or vegan, but it ought to have the decency to declare itself. If they want to have an all-Muslim staff, great. If they want to stop work five times a day for the prayers, that's fine, too.

      Any bets on whether the ACLU will take on the case?

      Coming soon to a community near you.

      SOURCE: Allah

      The righteous indignation of Nicholas Kristof

      New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof seems quite pleased with the response from readers disagreeing with his column comparing Christian fundamentalists to jihadists (Kristof's column has rolled into the for-pay archives of the Times).

      I don't agree with the eschatology of the Left Behind series either, and my view of how Christ saves is different from Tim LaHaye's and Jerry Jenkins'.

      Kristof uses the tactic of an intellectual bully, pulling out a weak reproach and arguing against it as if it were the strongest. Here's the letter:
      You’re whining about what’s in the Bible? Like it or not, God does not tolerate sin, nor immorality, and he will do what He says. “The wicked shall be turned into Hell, and all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:17).

      As a Christian, this verse is an example of God reaching out and warning us to get with His program. The alternative is eternal punishment. Which will you choose? You can act like the Bible is not true, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is. You’ll see. You really will….

      Following Jesus Christ is the only method to Heaven that God allows. Christians didn’t come up with this. It’s in the Bible.

      Kristof doesn't show all the letters he received, though he says there were many, but there must have been something better than this. The writer is amost incomprehensible and doesn't understand basic sentence structure and is one of many Christians who takes every opportunity to "witness about Christ," even when it's not the topic at hand. I've run across them, too, and a lot of them think I still need to be "saved," but they're well-meaning and harmless, even if occasionally annoying. These, according to Kristof, are our jihadis. I'll take them.

      What Kristof doesn't deal with is the thoughtful, non-sectarian argument of people such as Robert Spencer:
      For Mr. Kristof to term this set of novels "militant Christianity," which is somehow equivalent or becoming equivalent to militant Islam, shows that he has not the remotest idea of what the jihadists are really saying, why they are saying it, and how it differs from what Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are saying. This kind of theological equivalence is the idiot stepchild of the moral equivalence that the learned pundits used to preach regarding the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

      And just as moral equivalence played into the bloody hands of the Communists, so theological equivalence plays into the hands of the jihadists, attempting as it does to blunt the force of the moral argument against them. Yeah, sure, they preach murder, but hey, look at these novels! A few days after it appeared, Kristof's piece was picked up by the Pakistan News Service and the notorious "Jihad TV network," Al-Jazeera. They know a friend when they see one.

      Much easier than dealing with serious argument is to get involved in a spitting match with the letter writer:
      That’s representative of a lot of the mail I’m getting, and I hardly know where to begin. Look, Ed, I’m sure you believe in your reading of the Bible, just as I’m sure that white racists honestly believed that the curse of Ham meant that God wanted blacks to be slaves, or just as Crusaders honestly believed that God wanted them to slaughter Muslim civilians, or just as the Taiping rebels in China honestly believed that their leader was Jesus’ younger brother. But pardon me if I have a different reading from theirs -- and yours.

      Yes, Nicholas, let's bring up some red herrings about slavery, the Crusades (don't get an Orthodox Christian started on the Crusades!) and the Taiping rebels in China. Nobody cares what your reading of the Bible is. People are angry about your reading of the culture.
      Frankly, I don’t see how anybody can read the Bible and emerge thinking that billions of people around the world are going to roast for eternity because they happen to grow up in Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish or other traditions.

      This is like the bilious arguments that get started on e-mail lists, two steps before the writers start shouting in ALL CAPS AND CALLING EACH OTHER NAZIS!!!
      One of the central messages of the New Testament is the importance of love and looking after the poor, and in one of the passages that scholars believe is most likely to be genuinely from Jesus’ lips, Jesus is famously quoted as saying that the test for getting into Heaven is feeding and clothing the poor. I know lots of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Jews who meet that test better than many Christian fundamentalists.

      Thanks for the theology lesson, Bishop Nicholas. That's what we read the Times for.
      Frankly, writing a series of best-sellers about non-Evangelicals getting “left behind,” and getting personally rich from the proceeds, doesn’t seem to me a Biblically-inspired path to salvation. And assuming that anyone of a different faith will be damned strikes me as utterly heretical, self-righteous, and mean-spirited.

      Ah, is this the rock in the shoe, Nicholas? Envy? The Left Behind authors wrote a series of best-sellers and got rich enough to do whatever they want with their money? Your books got good critical reviews but never showed up in Costco.

      And here he proclaims Christian fundamentalists to be heretical and casts them into the outer darkness away from the Church of the Times.

      In the meantime, we've forgotten about people whose religion drives them not to write "mean-spirited" books but to fly airplanes into buildings with lots of people in them. But maybe that was the point from the beginning.

      SOURCE: Dhimmi Watch

      Tuesday, August 03, 2004

      Open letter to John Grisham

      Dear Mr. Grisham --

      I just finished reading your novel The King of Torts. It was structured as a tragedy. I've had some discussions with writer friends about the dearth of tragedy in American literature, and so I was interested in the ending of The King of Torts. The bankruptcy, the loss of his legal license and the departure from Washington, D.C., functioned as a sort of symbolic death of Clay Carter, but it was offset by the new beginning of Clay and Rebecca.

      Did you decide to soften the ending or was it something your publisher urged you to do? Was it because American audiences can't handle tragedy? If so, do you have any guess why that might be?

      I was going to send this letter to John Grisham, but I quickly found that he apparently doesn't want to receive e-mail from readers. I can understand why, of course, but I still wonder about the answer to my questions.

      However, since he probably won't ever see the letter anyway, I'll add some more questions that I didn't include out of politeness.

      Did you write Clay Carter as a jerk deliberately? Was I fulfilling your expectations when I shouted, "Yes!" at his defeat? I never really liked him, never quite identified with him enough to be sympathetic. His attitude toward his job, his girlfriend's parents, the people around him was so dismissive and judgmental that it was hard to become enough attuned to his desires to experience his rise and fall with him. He works with the public defender's office, but never makes any attempt to find a job elsewhere, doesn't even look into one that's offered to him, and yet jumps at his first chance to get out when Max Pace shows up. Why didn't he just move to Seattle or somewhere? (I know why, but the reason isn't strong enough, considering where he did go.)

      The aim of tragedy, says Aristotle, is to inspire pity and fear. Was that your aim in The King of Torts? How does a writer evoke pity? I don't think it's enough to have the protagonist beaten up by thugs.

      The character needs to come to terms with what he's done. Clay realizes he was greedy. OK. But you keep telling me that Clay is not really responsible for the illness of the second set of drug patients, even though he clearly put his own interests ahead of theirs. So no he's not responsible for their deaths, but he is, by his own reckoning, responsible for their not being compensated enough for their suffering.

      I wanted to read The King of Torts because it was recommended as a view into the kind of lawyering John Edwards has done. It was an interesting glimpse into that realm of the law, but I still don't care for Grisham's nonfiction passages. I wandered into the swamp in The Testament and put the book down and never picked it up again. I don't think I'll bother with any more Grishams.

      The role of the citizen (notes on a comment)

      Adiemantus, who writes an informative blog frequently on political matters, has composed a thoughtful comment on some of my political ramblings. I'm bringing it out front because I hate to have so much effort and thought left where possibly so few people will see it. My thoughts are interspersed.
      I much appreciate your thoughtful ideas on this and other subjects.

      With regard to those, such as your wise friend, who are disgusted with politics: I almost think that one of the beauties of our polity is that its well-functioning does not seem to require that all or even most of the citizenry take an active interest in politics.

      Of course, you're right, and I oppose mandatory voting for this reason and because I know so many uninformed and frankly stupid people that I wish wouldn't vote (and who probably wish I wouldn't).
      Let me push that thesis a step or two further: Our polity was designed to allow (perhaps even to encourage) most individuals to live free from the muck of politics, and instead to devote themselves fully to other endeavors, such art or writing or (most especially) commercial pursuits, without having to worry that their neglect of political matters might permit the rise of tyranny.

      Designed? Really? I say this more in amazement than doubt. I haven't read many of the primary sources around the time of the founding documents, but I've always been given to understand that they assumed an educated, informed and involved citizenry. In a way, it's a benefit of a monarchy that the citizens don't have to (or don't have the opportunity to) spend as much effort on the process of good government.
      With its elevation of wealth (as distinct from class), our polity was organized so that many of the most ambitious souls, rather than aspiring to become captains of great armies whose shedding of blood would redound mostly to the glory of the leaders, would instead seek public acclaim as captains of industry directing legions of workers in peaceful and productive activities that benefit not only the leaders, but also the workers.

      The few still drawn to seek glory in politics arise for the most part, not from among the greatest souls, but from a second or third tier of humanity. And they must to conduct themselves with moderation, as they find few citizens with the time or inclination to serve any zealous scheme, and certainly no scheme that might seriously and unnecessarily jeopardize the citizens' material well being. And, thanks to the constitution's checks and balances, these politically ambitious ones find their actions constantly challenged by others equally ambitious. They, much like the captains of industry, win adherents not by promising glory or salvation, but only by arranging for the citizens' acquistion of physical comforts.

      So, notwithstanding the constantly over-heated rhetoric from all political quarters proclaiming that the nation is going to hell in a handcart, that rhetoric is sound and fury signifying little or nothing. The most important political territory in our lives has been permanently walled off from politicians' battles, so that the politicians are limited to fighting their rhetorical disputes over some rather measly parcels, the conquest of which (in historical terms) has relatively small effects on our lives. Meanwhile we citizens can safely ignore the politicians' petty battles and go on about our business of making art or money or whatever else appeals to each of us.

      This may be true part of the time--Goldwater vs. Johnson, Carter vs. Ford, even arguably Clinton vs. G.H.W. Bush--but there have been times when national leadership was truly crucial to the survival of the republic and of its citizens. Of course, you can never be quite sure if it's one of those times, and even in hindsight, you never know what the losing candidate would have done, and you don't know for certain the effects of President M that come to fruition during the presidencies of N, O, P and Q. So maybe a little trepidation going into every election is not overblown.
      Aristotle thought that to be truly free, a person must participate in politics because that was the activity which ultimately ruled our lives. His definition of citizen was "a person who rules and is ruled in turn." A person who did not participate in the politics of his city was equal to a slave because he left himself under the rule of others. Of course, Aristotle believed that the aim of politics was to bring about virtue in the citizens. Seeing how disagreement over what is true virtue leads often to bloody conflict, the founders of our polity aimed not for virtue, but for freedom--a lower target, but one that is less controversial in its details and easier to hit.

      Going back to your sausage metaphor: If your friend is so disgusted with politics that she refuses to participate in it, is that decision of greater import than her decision not to work at a meat-packing plant? If we all were butchers, would the sausage be any better?

      Every metaphor breaks down at some point. If all were butchers, the sausage might actually be better, but it's not an important improvement. If we all took our role as citizen more to heart, I think the republic would be stronger and people's lives would be better.
      I apologize for having taking so many comments to express myself, but I had composed my comment offline, and then discovered the word limit on your comments system.

      On the contrary, thanks for a thoughtful response making the best of my blog-on-the-cheap.