Saturday, April 30, 2005

These are the people in my neighborhood

Friday, April 29, 2005

Gitmo follies
Why are we not surprised?
The U.S. military staged the interrogations of terrorism suspects for members of Congress and other officials visiting the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to make it appear the government was obtaining valuable intelligence, a former Army translator who worked there claims in a new book scheduled for release Monday.

Former Army Sgt. Erik Saar said the military chose detainees for the mock interrogations who previously had been cooperative and instructed them to repeat what they had told interrogators in earlier sessions, according to an interview with the CBS television program "60 Minutes," which is slated to air Sunday night.

I think it went something like this. "Okay, as soon as the guys in the suits are in sight, I'm going to take your ice cream away and say, 'I sincerly hate to have to do this to you, Abdul, but there will be no more dessert for you until you tell us where Osama is hiding.' Then you say, 'aiee, infidel dog, your persistent yet humane tactics are too much for me. I will tell you everything you want to know.' Then you give me Michael Moore's home address."

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Happy Anniversary Tangled Bank
Bora Zivkovic, AKA Coturnix, is hosting the first anniversary issue of Tangled Bank at Circadiana. Go by and wish the Bank happy birthday. Bora is having some template problems, so if you can't see it on your first try, check again tomorrow. It's worth the effort.

Circadiana appears to be doing well, but the Cotournix family is going through a few tight weeks. Go drop something in his tip jar if you can afford it. We must take care of our own.
If you've seen one tree...
Reader Mark Paris made the following comment on my post about the discovery of a surviving Ivory Billed Woodpecker.
I truly hope the ivory-bill can survive, but I am not sanguine. This latest announcement is likely to bring out the contrarians of every stripe. You have perhaps heard right-wingers like Rush Limbaugh telling the tale that there is more forest today than 100 years ago? This will just encourage them. Of course, if you drive through the rural South you will see the forests he is talking about. For the most part they are nearly sterile, monoculture pine plantations with all the trees lined up like so many corn stalks, just waiting for the pulpwood cutters. This is not ivory-bill habitat.

I completely agree. That distinction between forest and land with trees on it is a hard one to get across to many people. The parallel I often use is to compare a putting green to virgin prairie. They're both mostly grass. It still doesn't work very often. I often had this conversation with my late father.

Part of the problem is that many people can only value nature in terms of its utilitarian or monetary value to humans. What good is a forest? It's pretty to look at and profitable to log. Therefore, there is little difference between virgin forest and a mono-crop tree farm. Trees are trees. This attitude was almost universal among Dad's generation and distressingly common even now. It was arguing this issue that led me to notice that disconnect that Lakoff talks about in his work on framing and metaphor.

Though they love nature in their own way, the majority of people in the West have become strongly anti-environmental over the last thirty years. More than cultural wedge issues, it was the incompetent way that the environmental movement communicated its values that enabled the Republican Party gain its lock on Alaska and the intermountain West. Lumber companies have closed mills all over the West because they can ship uncut logs to Asia for lower cost processing closer to the market. Into the mill towns, impoverished by layoffs at the mill, walk environmental activists who announce, "you can't log that hillside because it's the habitat of an endangered species." The lumber companies, seeing a god given opportunity to deflect attention away from themselves, shout, "you're losing your jobs because the bi-coastal elites won't let you log the forests!"

They say "jobs, families, schools" and we say "little birdies." And we lose every time. Our environmental arguments might be watertight within our own worldview, but we are completely incoherent to the rural West. It's worse than speaking another language; we might as well be babbling nonsense syllables because from their worldview there is just no sense in anything we say. We do more harm than good when we go to their town meetings and say, "little birdies have rights, too." We need to craft arguments that speak their language.

My Dad's utilitarian worldview was informed by his experiences in the depression. People over there want wood, people over here need jobs, there's a tree... , It would be almost immoral not to cut the forest under those circumstances. And yet, he was a man of the West. He hunted and fished, camped and hiked as long as he could. When he retired he built a house in the forest, five miles out of the nearest small town. He understood the conservationist position that some forests should be saved for hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping in the future. He understood the quinine argument; who knows what miracle drugs might lurk unknown in the woods? He even understood the pure science argument; think of the knowledge that might be lost before we can learn it.

I can recite all of these arguments, but they don't really work for me. I find myself wondering what happens when we have cured all of the diseases, cataloged all of the plants and animals, and nobody wants to experience nature any more. Can we pave it all then? I was obviously traumatized by the movie "Silent Running." To me, the answer to the question, "what use is the forest?" is "it doesn't have to have any use." The rest of nature is its own justification and has as much right to exist as we do.

If it came down to a complete us or them choice between the human race and the rest of nature, I suppose I’d side with humanity, but it would take a lot of convincing to make me believe that was the only choice.
Stupid justification of the day
Alabama Republican State Representative Gerald Allen wants to ban plays or books by gay authors, or about gay characters, in the Alabama school systems.
"I don't look at it as censorship," says State Representative Gerald Allen. "I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of our children."

No one ever wants censorship for good reasons; they only want it in the pursuit of unadulterated evil. His motives are pure. Therefore, it's not censorship.

I'd suggest someone buy him a dictionary, but he might discover that it has bad words in it and ban it, too.
This is just cool
We don't get very much good news from the environmental front these days. This is very good news.
The ivory-billed woodpecker, long feared extinct, has been seen in a remote part of Arkansas 60 years after the last confirmed U.S. sighting, ornithologists said on Thursday.

Several experts have spotted and heard an ivory-billed woodpecker in a protected forest in eastern Arkansas near the last reliable sighting of the bird in 1944, and one was captured on video last year.

"The ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis), long suspected to be extinct, has been rediscovered in the 'Big Woods' region of eastern Arkansas," researchers wrote in the journal Science in an article hastily prepared for release.


The survival of ivory bills is closely tied to that of the deep, swampy forests it lived in. "Its disappearance coincided with systematic annihilation of virgin tall forests across southeastern United States between 1880 and the 1940s," the researchers wrote.


But the discovery may help get protection for a larger area of the Big Woods, the nonprofit Nature Conservancy said.

Fitzpatrick said some of the hardwood trees the birds depend on have grown back after logging in the early part of the 20th century. "The conditions are only going to get better," he said.

"In concept, at least, it is possible the worst for this bird has passed. Proper management could let it thrive again," [John Fitzpatrick of the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology] added.

On that last point, I'd be a little more guarded in my optimism than Dr. Fitzpatrick. To this administration, "proper management" means "let one of our buddies log the forest for a song." Still, maybe they'll be kept too busy trying to save Tom DeLay's sorry butt to do too much damage.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Spare the rod
Our goddess friend Echidne seems to be operating on the same wavelength as I am this week. She has discovered the ugly sub-culture of American fundamentalism that believes beating children is a religious duty. If I said that about Dobson and Welchel, you might be justified in taking me to task for hyperbole. Unfortunately, it's a dead-on accurate description of the philosophy of Ronald E. Williams, the pastor of Believers Baptist Church in Winona Lake, IN.

Pastor Williams provides us with an exegesis on Proverbs 23:13,14: "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell." Williams is a separatist fundamentalist and allows no wiggle room in his interpretation. When Solomon says rod, he does not mean a switch or the flat of your hand, he means a stick. When Solomon admonishes us to spare not the rod, and to beat him, he means just that. Beat the child till you break his will. Beat him for hours if necessary. Lest we be confused by the male pronoun, Pastor Williams assures us that he means beat the girls, too. As the father of daughters and director of a rehabilitation ministry for troubled teenage girls, he assures us that girls can benefit from a a good beating just like boys do.
Many parents in using the rod of correction on their child do so with an obvious lack of vigor and often stop short of the child's will being completely broken. Manifestation of this error is illustrated in countless homes as a child gets up from his session of correction still spouting rebellious words and giving willful looks at his discouraged parent. The parent has no one to blame but himself for this problem since he did not completely break the will of the child during the session of correction. A child who is still willing to resist the authority of his parent after having received the rod of correction is still in need of more of that same rod.


Do not be discouraged, dear parent, when it appears that your Godly efforts to chastise your child with the rod of correction meet with total resistance towards your authority. This simply means that you have started on the right course and you must now pursue your objective of a broken will with great vigor until your mission is finally accomplished. This may require a great deal of self-discipline on your part but you can do it, since God requires you to do so.


Again, these concepts cause horrible thoughts and evoke dramatic reaction in those not accustomed to principles of God. Such folks may say at the top of their lungs, "That is child abuse"! My response to their cries of horror is that their methods of correction in never using the rod and never trying to bring a child to repentance for his personal sin is a horrible, hateful, and unloving method of correction. They are the ones who really are the child abusers, the parents who neglect and leave their child to his own devices. These are the parents who allow their children to express their natural depravity and become increasingly wicked and more sophisticated in their rebellion toward their authority and toward God in their advancing age.


A child very quickly demonstrates his fallen, depraved nature and reveals himself to be a selfish little beast in manifold ways. As soon as the child begins to express his own self-will (and this occurs early in life) that child needs to receive correction. My wife and I have a general goal of making sure that each of our children has his will broken by the time he reaches the age of one year. To do this, a child must receive correction when he is a small infant. Every parent recognizes that this self-will begins early as he has witnessed his child stiffen his back and boldly demonstrate his rebellion and self-will even though he has been fed, diapered, and cared for in every other physical way.

On what occasions should a child be corrected? Whenever a child directly disobeys authority or shows disrespect and rebellion toward authority, that child should receive correction.


Every father and mother must recognize this all-important fact, that the very soul of their child is at stake in this matter of Godly correction with the rod. The immortal, undying portion of that child is in very real jeopardy if his will is not broken and he is not trained to respond to God's authority in his life.

Williams goes on to recommend that you conduct beatings in the privacy of your home to avoid interference and persecution at the hands of ungodly child welfare agents. As a final warning, Williams lets us know that failure to obey God's will will turn America into "a nation of perverts" just like Sweden.

Williams' essay reads like a left-wing parody of a sociopathic, nutcase fundie. His other writings confirm that image: teenagers should be segregated by gender at all times, girls should not engage in sports, dating is with a no-touch policy and is always chaperoned, marriages should be arranged by the parents, Christian coupes should have as many children as possible, and, of course, women should stay home and take care of the kids. If it's a joke, it's a scary one in that it has been taken seriously as good advice by a number of churches. A quick Google search gets 23 hits for the title of the essay, " The Correction and Salvation of Children." Some offer to sell it as a pamphlet. One has it in video starring Pastor Williams himself.

The site Echidne found it on belongs to the Heritage Baptist Church of Friedens, PA. They also have a daycare center.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Tough love and peppers
I'm not a big follower of crime news, but when I heard this one on teevee Friday night, a couple details jumped out and caught my attention. Here is the basic story from the Tacoma News Tribune:
As she led a pair of Bonney Lake police officers into her garage Thursday morning, Rachel Lambert called to someone inside.

“The police are here to help me deal with you!” she said.

On the floor sat a 10-year-old boy, his ankles bound by plastic wire, his hands tied behind his back. The wires on his feet attached to the lid of a garbage can, weighted down with boxes.

Layers of yellow masking tape covered the lower half of his face, starting just below the nose. The officer asked if he could breathe. The boy nodded.

The other officer pulled Lambert out of the garage and asked a question.

“What’s going on?”

Lambert pulled a box of wire ties from the top of the refrigerator and said something like, “My husband gave me these and told me when the children get out of control, use these.”

Officers soon found another child in the garage – a 9-year-old girl, bound at the ankles. Police arrested Lambert and her husband, Brad. They spent the night in the Pierce County Jail.


The boy said he had been bound with handcuffs. The girl said she spent Easter Day in the recycle bin.

Officers searched the bin and found more wire ties. They found more on the bedposts where the children slept. The beds had mattresses but no bedding. Officers said they found no toys.

So far, this has all of the typical elements of a sickening, but far too common, abuse story. Rachel Lambert didn't seem to think there is anything unusual or wrong about tying her children to a water heater for the night. These two children were singled out for extraordinary discipline while two older children were not. Police, neighbors, and relatives all expressed shock even though the father, Brad Lambert, has a previous record for abuse. After the hospital checked the kids out, they were turned over to their grandparents (Brad's parents).

As I said, the pattern is horrifyingly familiar. So, what caught my attention? This:
Bonney Lake police said Rachel Lambert claimed the children's behavior had gotten progressively worse over the past month and that she disciplined the children by feeding them jalapeno peppers, the documents indicated.

The 10-year-old boy said "he had a hot pepper placed in his mouth and then had his mouth taped shut," the documents indicated. He told police "he swallowed the pepper so it would not be in his mouth anymore."

Police said another form of punishment Lambert used was to have the two children "stand in a tub of cold water and write out sentences."

It was the mention of the peppers that caught my attention. The Friday night news story also had the grandfather quoted saying his son told him he was practicing "tough love," but he didn't realize it was this bad.

The phrase "tough love" comes out of the drug rehabilitation community, but it is probably best known to most people in the context of an evangelical Christian, pro-corporal punishment, anti Dr. Spock movement that has been synonymous with James Dobson since the 1970's.
"Corporal punishment in the hands of a loving parent is a teaching tool by which harmful behavior is inhibited."

"Most (children) need to be spanked now and then."

"Two or three stinging strokes on the legs or buttocks with a switch are usually sufficient to emphasize the point, 'You must obey me.'"

"When a youngster tries this kind of stiff-necked rebellion, you had better take it out of him, and pain is a marvelous purifier."

"Minor pain can...provide excellent motivation for the child... There is a muscle, lying snugly against the base of the neck... When firmly squeezed, it sends little messengers to the brain saying, 'This hurts; avoid recurrence at all costs'."

"When a youngster tries this kind of stiff-necked rebellion, you had better take it out of him, and pain is a marvelous purifier."

"Real crying usually lasts two minutes or less, but may continue for five. After that point, the child is merely complaining... I would require him to stop the protest crying, usually by offering him a little more of whatever caused the original tears."

These quotes are from Dobson's two best known books, Dare to Discipline and The Strong Willed Child. Combined, they have sold five million copies. It might seem unfair, to some, to judge him on the basis of a few out-of-context sound bites. But, consider, how many of the owners of those five million copies read the books carefully and how many only absorbed the most vivid and exciting ideas?

My own experience with Dobson's books was as a clerk in a bookstore in Alaska during the eighties. Periodically, following a recommendation by a talk show or local minister, we would be flooded by requests for Dobson's books. From my own totally accurate and objective perspective, the buyers came in two main types, cult-like zombies ("I was told I must get this book") and the vindicated, those who seemed to be buying the book because it backed up what they already believed. Neither of those seemed to inclined to read carefully or thoughtfully.

Satisfied Amazon customers describe their experiences this way, the original edition of Dare to Discipline:
"My father used Dobson's methodology as a license to strike. If you wish to die alone in a nursing home, I suggest you listen to those who worship hate and violence."

"Book should be entitled "Dare to Hit Your Child with Whatever is Handy". Dobsen extols (sic) virtues of his wife snapping their not yet two-year-old with a switch across the shins, can you imagine? He also attests that he received great benefit, as a child, by being spontaneously walloped by his mom's girdle, complete with buckles and straps."

For the new edition of Dare to Discipline:
"It seems to this reader that, at the core, Dr. Dobson has no trust in the abilities of children to learn, to reason, to develop as moral creatures from the example and gentle teaching of their parents. And, through the course of the discipline methods he advocates, he has no compunction about destroying a child's trust in his or her parents."

For the new edition of The Strong Willed Child:
"His methods are mainly those of the schoolyard bully and seem to be contrived to raise kids who are afraid of you. Is that really the result you want?"

Recently, a spin-off of Dobson's movement has appeared that calls itself "Creative Correction." The name sounds like the whole point is to prevent the parents from getting bored with the same old blows, but that's not it at all. The theory is that the punishment should fit the crime in a Biblically based way. This sounds like it should lead to lots of stoning, eye poking, and hand casting away. The current guru of the movement, Lisa Whelchel, hasn't gone that far yet, but she's certainly on that road.

SZ at World O' Crap filled us in on this lovely trend last August, starting with this Washington Post article and adding some happy quotes from Whelchel's popular book on the subject.
Hot sauce adds a kick to salsa, barbeque, falafel and hundreds of other foods. But some parents use it in a different recipe, one they think will yield better-behaved children: They put a drop of the fiery liquid on a child's tongue as punishment for lying, biting, hitting or other offenses.

"Hot saucing," or "hot tongue," has roots in Southern culture, according to some advocates of the controversial disciplinary method, but it has spread throughout the country. Nobody keeps track of how many parents do it, but most experts contacted for this story, including pediatricians, psychologists and child welfare professionals, were familiar with it.


The hot pepper technique's current popularity is due in part to Whelchel, a former Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer and actress who played the character Blair on the television series "The Facts of Life" in the 1980s.

In "Creative Correction," now in its fifth printing, the mother of three provides parents with a variety of tips.

For example, she suggests hiding something a child has failed to put away, to teach the lesson that things left out may disappear. She suggests telling a child who refuses to hold your hand while crossing a street, "I can either hold your hand or hold your hair."

In addition, Whelchel offers the following: "For lying or other offenses of the tongue, I 'spank' my kids' tongues. I put a tiny drop of hot sauce on the end of my finger and dab it onto my child's tongue. It stings for a while, but it abates. (It's the memory that lingers!)"

Whelchel's advice was repeated in an Internet chat in which she participated and then circulated on numerous parenting Web sites and discussion groups.

And somehow the idea made its way to an abusive parent in Bonney Lake, Washington. Out of Tabasco? No problem, use whole jalapenos.

Just for the record, McIlhenny Co., the maker of Tabasco Sauce, does not endorse "hot tongue" and calls the practice "strange and scary" and "abusive." It's also dangerous.

Kendrick says parents who use the technique are "at the very least . . . ill-informed." He pointed out that many parents are not aware that hot sauce can burn a child's esophagus and cause the tongue to swell -- a potential choking hazard.

"There are many different kinds of hot sauce on the market, and parents who say they know the dilution to use so it won't sting, or say they only use one drop, are wrong," Kendrick said. "It's done because it hurts. It stings. It burns. It makes you nauseous."

Capsaicin, the substance that makes peppers hot, inflames membranes in the eyes, nose and mouth. While many adults find this feeling pleasurable, capsaicin can cause negative reactions even in the third of the adult population that has no tolerance for ingesting it, according to Joel Gregory, publisher of Chile Pepper magazine.

There are additional risks for children. Giorgio Kulp, a pediatrician in Montgomery County, said that the risk of swelling as well as the possibility of unknown allergies make the use of hot sauce on children dangerous.

If a few drops of Tabasco can be a choking hazard in child's mouth, how dangerous is swallowing a whole pepper with your mouth taped shut, after the adults have gone, and left you tied to the water heater?

Obviously, I think the judge should throw the book at the Lamberts. I think she or he should go out and buy a much bigger book for the sole purpose of throwing at them. To me, that would be the feel-good response, but it's not a solution to the problem. Dobson and Whelchel are the problem. They can add nice warnings to their books ("...don't overdo it") and these might be sufficient to protect them from legal liability. However, they are not sufficient to end their moral responsibility, and I think we are safe in saying that they are big fans of moral responsibility. They are spreading the twin messages that physical punishment of children is a good and godly thing and that parents should look for new and creative ways to punish their kids. In the wrong minds, this adds up to permission from authority figures to indulge in torture. How long before this kind of tough love kills some kids? How many has it already killed?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

On being "in control"
Echidne is feeling some angst over her powerlessness:
Someone on a political thread somewhere in the lefty blogosphere used this structure: "When we get back in control..." in talking about what might happen after the wingnuts have been defeated.

This sentence scrap kept echoing in my head afterwards and wouldn't leave me alone until I agreed to attend to it. Here's the attending:

I will never be in control. I have never been in control and expect never to gain control over anything much. This I know for a fact. Why, then, can someone else so trustingly expect to have control over the political situation? What is it that makes me feel as if I have really very little say on this planet? ...

This is all totally trivial. Or is it? Why do I feel as if my voice is inaudible in this world? Because it is? Because all our voices are inaudible in a world where only money and guns and gods can speak? Or is this a woman-thing? Something to do with the new pope, perhaps, with the celebration and glorification of a man who would not listen to women? Who would not listen to anyone with values like mine?

There's more and the comments are well worth reading.

I, too, cringe at that "When we get back in control..." line for the same reason and for some additional ones. First, let me assure Echidne that feeling unseen and unheard is not exclusively a woman thing. Nor is it a temporary state brought on by this Pope, or this President, or the industrial age.

At the very least, alienation is part of the human condition. It's the price we pay for our big brains and our awareness of the sheer size of natural creation and our own mortality. To say that is almost a cliché and comes close to cheapening Echidne's present angst by over-relativizing it. I believe she is talking about more than normal, garden variety background angst. There are very real reasons to feel worse than usual these days. I'd itemize them, but think you all know the list by heart.

My personal problem with the phrase "When we get back in control" is two-fold. One is that there no guarantee that we will ever "get back in control." Too many writers treat the ebb and flow of power between the parties as if it were a law of nature. It is not. All things end. That includes the American Republic. Many of the supporters of this administration are honest about their revolutionary goals. They expect to take complete power and stay there. Pay attention to the Christian Reconstructionists. They want to establish a theocratic oligarchy where only male members of the correct church are oligachs. They do not control the government yet, nor do they control the Republican Party. But they have crept further into the mainstream than most of us ever believed possible.

If that sounds completely off in conspiracy-land, look at the filibuster controversy and ask yourself this: why would the Republicans make a rule change that could so easily be used against them when the Democrats are back in control? Are they all completely blind and stupid or do some of them intend to never let the Democrats back into power?

This brings us to my other reason for disliking the phrase "When we get back in control." Personally, I don't like the idea of anybody being "in control." I want competent and liberal people in positions of responsibility and authority. But, I want them to answerable to me, not in control of me. "Control" is a word like "leadership" that immediately puts me on the defensive. As long as I have been aware of elections, I've cringed at the biennial demand for leaders. I don't want to be led, thank you very much; I'm a grown up and I can make my own decisions (even if I take a long time to do it).

Both words imply the sort of top-down, hierarchical thinking that I despise. I'm a bottom-up, collegial sort of guy. I don't view the current struggle as our dictatorship versus their dictatorship. I view it as dictatorship versus democracy. If we have a dictator--even if it's our dictator--I'm going to do everything I can to undermine him (or her, but probably him).

In a way, this brings me back to Echidne's feeling of powerlessness. Despite the administration's claim that freedom is on the march, democracy is losing ground in the US. Little people (like me) and little goddesses (like Echidne) simply are not valued as much as we were just a few years ago. She asks if we feel vanishingly small "[b]ecause all our voices are inaudible in a world where only money and guns and gods can speak." Yep. That's the problem.

The brave new world adores power to point of completely disregarding anyone who is not in the top one percent. But we have not vanished yet. The warm glow of the Enlightenment has not been completely extinguished. We might be dust-mote small, but if we all shout together Horton will hear us. The key is to remind people that the culture war really is a war of civilizations and not merely another cyclic rotation of political power. If we want to regain influence, we can't expect it to inevitably return like a season (hell, if we allow these people to remain, we can't even expect the seasons to return). We have to fight for our place, however tired we may be.
A few words for and against the Pope
Looking around Left Blogistan yesterday, I discovered that I was not the only one dismayed over Cardinal Ratzinger's big job promotion. Two points were regularly brought up in the posts. One is that he had been a member of the Hitler Youth and the other is that he had been the head of the Inquisition in its latest incarnation.

Ratzinger's Hitler Youth membership is fairly meaningless by itself. Most young boys in Germany were members. It was required during the last years of the Reich. True, he could have avoided it as some did. But the fact that a 14 year-old failed to commit a criminally punishable act of defying his government during wartime, is not a fair criticism. Millions of perfectly honorable boys signed up as required, went on the hikes, and slept through the indoctrination meetings. If he was an enthusiastic joiner and leader, it might mean something. But I haven’t seen any evidence that he was. So as far as this criticism goes, he is only guilty of being German and growing up at a bad time.

The Inquisition is a different matter. The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith has gone through many changes over the years since it was the Holy Inquisition. Having been the head of that body does not mean that Benedict will set up a torture chamber in his anteroom and start pitching Jews on the barbeque any time soon. And yet there is plenty to worry about.

As head of the Sacred Congregation for twenty years, Cardinal Ratzinger's job was to enforce purity of doctrine and dogmatic obedience within the church. He is not a friend of change, free thinking, or open dialog. For years he was an opponent of John-Paul's ecumenical outreach. Now he is promising to continue those programs he opposed. Will he really? Can he? Without accusing him of dishonesty, I wonder how changeable he is at his age. I suspect that his ecumenism will be strongly tainted with a Bushian "I'll let you follow me."

I could be wrong and he could surprise us. But I'm not counting on it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

What a week
Back when law enforcement people naively believed conservative white people were capable of being dangerous, the week ending tomorrow would have had them on a mild state of alert. For some reason, terrorists and radicals are very sentimental and are most likely to do something deadly on the anniversary of something significant to their universe. Posse Comitatus, the militias, Nazis, Identity Christians, various racists, and unaffiliated wingnut survivalists all have had a day or two to observe this week.

Last week, Eric Rudolph was sentenced in prison for his deadly 1996 bombing spree in support of a culture of life. Friday was tax day. Today is the anniversary of the final fatal confrontation with the Branch Davidians at Waco. It is also the anniversary of Timothy McVeigh's terrorist attack on the Oklahoma City Federal Building. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings. It's also Hitler's birthday.

No doubt in order to celebrate one of those things, Time Magazine decided they needed to do a cover story on Ann Coulter this week. We all remember Ann's comment on McVeigh: "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building." Some of us even remember her clarification on that comment: "RE: McVeigh quote. Of course I regret it. I should have added, 'after everyone had left the building except the editors and reporters.'" What a wacky babe! Too bad we hate-filled liberals can't match her constructive commentary and delicate sense of humor. Well, maybe it's not too bad.
Benedict XVI
They elected Joseph Ratzinger, the head of the Inquisition, to be the next Pope. I'm not a Catholic (or even a Christian) but I do follow the politics of various churches, because, obviously, religion is important in society. However, I was not enough of a hardcore church follower to have an opinion about the candidates for Pope. I knew next to nothing about most of the suggested front-runners. Except one. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, a body formerly called the Holy Inquisition. I knew I didn't want him.

For years the Republican Party has been courting Catholics through social wedge issues. Many American Catholic voters would probably have been surprised to learn that the entire republican platform was NOT an article of faith and a prerequisite for receiving communion. They would have been very confused to find out just how much the last Pope disagreed with George Bush and his handlers. John-Paul Opposed the death penalty, opposed the war in Iraq, frequently criticized the excesses of capitalism, and endorsed evolutionary biology.

If one of the Latin American Cardinals had been elected, there would have been a good chance that a new emphasis on the social gospel might have led at least some American Catholics to reconsider their friends. That's not going to happen now. As BBC tells us:
Cardinal Ratzinger has been head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - formerly known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition - since 1981.

One of his first campaigns was against liberation theology, which had gained ground among priests in Latin America and elsewhere as a means of involving the Church in social activism and human rights issues.

He has described homosexuality as a "tendency" towards an "intrinsic moral evil". During the US election campaign, he called for pro-choice politicians to be denied Communion.

He has also argued that Turkey should not be admitted into the European Union.

Ratzinger's election is sure to be an encouragement to the culture warriors. Whether he lives up to their expectations and down to mine only time will tell.

Update:Added better background quote. Still trying to figure out the significance of the name Benedict.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Migraines and musicals
Yesterday, I had to leave work early with a crippling migraine. Migraines can be very boring things. They make me sensitive to sound and light and my eyes won't focus, so I can't read or watch TV. Once the headache starts, any wrong move can reduce me to tears or even make me throw up, so I can't putter around the house. All I can do is lay in the dark, sipping black coffee, and wait for the throbbing to fade to the level where I can sleep the rest off. Just me and one of the cats, sitting and humming (me, not the cat).

When a migraine starts, the lights go dim, color fades from the room, and I become dyslexic and confused. I'll become anxious and stupid. Sometimes, Clever Wife will find me wandering from room to room complaining about the lights. She takes my hand, puts me to bed, and makes me some coffee (caffine is the only drug that helps). As the migraine ends, my senses make up for lost time. Colors become unaturally bright, my thoughts race along, smarter and clearer than usual, and I feel exhilarated to be alive. No wonder some people interpret migraines as religious experiences (see, Hildegard of Bingen).

Yesterday wasn't one of the religious kind of maigraine. It was the simple, sitting in the dark, humming to the cat kind. As my mind began to clear, I began to make up lyrics for songs. For a while, I had a whole musical going, but most of it's gone now. All I have left are one verse and a concept.

I call it "Talibornagain: The Musical." It's the story of Tom, Rick, and Bill's bogus revolution. It stars self-proclaimed moral defenders, menacing men in black robes, and, not one, but two media conspiracies. I'm not sure whether it has a happy ending or not.

Here's the opening number:
Way down South
they have a name
for cops and dogs and law.
Bubba's a cop,
'Ol Blue's a dog,
and they call the law Shariah.
Shariah, Shariah, and they call the law Shariah.

I'll throw it out to the community and see if anyone can think of some good dialog and new songs. Or not.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

At the bunker
In most political scandals, the crucial point at which criticisms become a real danger is not based on the growing number of critics, but rather it's the point at which the defenders begin to defect. As Tom DeLay's situation becomes more desperate and some Republicans become emboldened to openly criticize him, expect his defenders to arrange for big public displays of support. The coming public declarations of loyalty are not a meaningless ritual. The serve the very real functions of applying peer pressure to wavering Republicans and making an appeal to the jury of public opinion. By making enough noise, they hope to out shout the critics and portray them a minority of bitter losers.

Of course, testimonies of confidence and support aren't DeLay's only tool to fend off scandal. He's doing his best to distract us with Terri Schiavo and the horrible threat of activist judges. He's denying any wrong-doing. He's refusing to discuss the issue. He's crying conspiracy and persecution. And when none of that works, he's using that old favorite, "everyone else was doing it."

How well is it working?
People who are working in support of DeLay's position said the next several days would be critical, as leaders wait to see whether any other House Republicans call for his resignation. Last weekend, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who has long feuded with the majority leader, called for DeLay to step down.


House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said members are standing by DeLay. "We know we're under attack," he said. "It's a scorched-earth policy."

DeLay's defenders continued to galvanize national conservative groups on the outside while blaming Democrats on the inside. Allies coordinated appearances on talk radio stations, and supporters were given talking points detailing the number of trips taken by Democrats.

This coverage makes it look about even and they might be right. To political junkies, DeLay looks doomed. But he'll only really be doomed if the greater public becomes aware of him. Most people outside Washington and Texas don't know who he is. This could work either way for him. If he can hunker down and outlast our attention span, we will eventually be distracted by other things and forget his problems. On the other hand, if we can push his problems onto the national front page, most people who had never heard of him will gain a first impression of him as someone involved in some kind of sleaze or another. Then we can hang him around the neck of the whole Republican party and run against him in every congressional district in the country.

As a side note, look again at the quote from David Dreier above. Does he even know what "scorched-earth" means? He seems to think it describes destructive behavior by DeLay's critics. Does Dreier realize that "scorched-earth" is a defensive policy? It means he and DeLay plan to destroy everything rather than let the enemy (liberals, Democrats, "the media," judges) gain any advantage. The historical parallel he's drawing is of the last days of the Third Reich. He's placing DeLay in fuehrerbunker in the role of you-know-who (that makes Dreier's role either that of Eva Braun or Blondi, Hitler's dog). That can't be what he intended. I suppose Dreier is just another chickenhawk displaying his complete ignorance of things military.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

How to find the terrorists
Remember the old joke about the drunk who loses his car keys on a dark street and walks up the block to the nearest street light to look for them because it's easier to see there? The always amazing SZ at World O' Crap discovered this tid-bit by Walter E. Williams at Townhall.
Hundreds of readers responded to last week's column about airport security. These were letters from Americans who fit no terrorist profile -- airline pilots, mothers traveling with children, disabled people, elderly and other law-abiding Americans -- and yet were frisked, groped and hassled. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) behaves as if all passengers and all baggage pose an equal security threat, and that's stupid...,

Asking the question whether every passenger is a security threat is similar to a munitions manufacturer asking whether every hand grenade is good. A munitions manufacturer wouldn't pull the pin on every hand grenade to see if it was a dud. He'd devise a test, otherwise he'd bear huge costs by assuming each hand grenade had the equal probability of being a dud. Similarly, the TSA should devise a test to determine which passenger poses the higher probability of being a security threat. A good start might be to establish passenger characteristics of previous terrorist attacks.

Hmmm. That's where Mr. Williams' column ends. Let's see if we can guess which characteristics he has in mind.

The last major terrorist attack on US soil that went through an airport was conducted by 19 young, single, Muslim men on visas who commandeered commercial planes in flight and kamikazed them (or attempted to) into major American landmarks.

I'm sure Mr. Williams is smart enough to figure that the masterminds behind these attacks will know that a group of young, single, Muslim men on visas is too obvious to use again. So, what part of the pattern is still a predictable source of vulnerability that American security professionals can investigate? It must be that the flights were already in action before the terrorists acted. The course of action that big Wally is suggesting must be strip searches and thorough body cavity searches of all the passengers on any plane once the doors have been sealed and the plane is ready for take-off. Only when all air passengers have been violated by a cold rubber glove will the rest of us be safe.

Thanks for pointing that out.
Weasel exchange
Under the wonderful headline "Two Koreas to Exchange Weasels, Hippos Across DMZ" Reuters has this story:
North and South Korea have arranged for an exchange of zoo animals, including Siberian weasels, near their hugely militarized border to bolster animal stocks in both states, zoo officials said Wednesday.


The North was to send 16 animals, including Asiatic black bears, lynx, coyotes, African ponies and Siberian weasels, zoo officials said.

The South would send 10, including hippopotamuses, red kangaroos, wallabies, guanacos and llamas, they added.

I think, in order to keep the diplomatic dialog going, we should join the weasel exchange and send North Korea Tom DeLay.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The dreaded book meme – Part 6

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Mustang Bobby at Bark Bark Woof Woof because he's far more literate than any self-respecting blogger should be.

Echidne of the Snakes because who wouldn't want to know what a genuine goddess reads.

The Farmer at Corrente because... well, just because.

Update - Bobby, Echidne, and the Farmer all have their responses up and have passed the baton on to a new generation of bloggers. Bobby is here. Echidne is here. The Farmer is here, here, and here. Thanks for playing folks. For being contestants, you'll each receive a copy of our crappy home game and a year's supply of Rice-a-Roni, "the San Francisco Treat."

While you're visiting Bobby, Echidne, and the Farmer's sites, be sure to read some of their other fine work. All three should be on your regular read list.
The dreaded book meme – Part 5

Five books you would take to a deserted island:

First off, I would have to haveThe Junior Woodchuck Manual. I don't care if it's a fictional creation of Carl Barks, it's the world's greatest survival manual. It gives you careful, step-by-step directions on how to do anything, including speak to space aliens. Once my survival has been assured, I can worry about pleasure reading and improving my mind. As unoriginal as it sounds, I'd take a Bible. It's long, it has lots of stories, it's strewn throughout Western Literature, and it never hurts to study it for later arguments. As long as I'm away from city light for a while, I'd take a good star chart and study the sky. For the other two, I need big dense books, one fiction and one non-fiction, that I would never get around to at home. The non-fiction one would be Noel Mostert's 1300 page Frontiers: The Epic of South Africa's Creation and the Tragedy of the Xhosa People. South African colonial history was my secondary area of specialization in grad school. For the fiction I'll take a multivolume science fiction or fantasy series to be named at a later date.
The dreaded book meme – Part 4

What are you currently reading?

This is actually a hard question. I have the horrible habits of starting more books than I finish and reading several books at once. Sachar's Dreamland just got added to my bedside pile. I recently picked up a copy of Partisan Hearts and Minds by Donald Green, Bradley Palmquist, and Eric Schickler to read along with Lakoff's Moral Politics so I can write intelligent blog posts about how things work. I'm just finishing The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church's Response to Extrabiblical Evidence by Davis A. Young as part of a project on Creationist geology. I figure everyone writes about Creationist biology, so I should find an angle to attack that's less crowded with intimidating experts and make it my own. My clever wife has me reading Foul Matters by Martha Grimes about intrigue in the publishing industry. Along with these, over the last few months I've started a few books on fossils as part of the Creationist project, some conspiracy theory paperbacks, and a few children's fantasy novels, which are rapidly becoming the only fiction I read.
The dreaded book meme – Part 3

The last book you bought is?

Saturday, I picked up a used copy of Howard Sachar's Dreamland: Europeans and Jews in the Aftermath of the Great War. My specialty in grad school was modern Eastern Europe, but I haven't read anything on it in the last two years. Lately, I've been looking longingly at some of my unread Balkan books and thinking it's time to take a break from American Politics. I've read other books by Sachar, so this looked made to fill my longing.
The dreaded book meme – Part 2
Yee haw, it’s working. Let’s try the next question.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

I don't suppose statuesque comic-book super femmes count? I didn't think so. In that case, not really.
The dreaded book meme – Part 1
Coturnix at Science And Politics has pegged me to be one of his book meme victims. I’m already the last one to answer, but I have a good excuse. Blogger locks me out every time I try to post this. I just successfully published a tiny post, so I’m going to try breaking this into short posts and see if I can get through.

Without any further whining, here is my first answer:

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

Remember the end of the book (or the movie)? We are each supposed to memorize a book before destroying it, as all good citizens are required. When we are older we teach our book to a young person, thus ensuring the continuation of human knowledge. Most people choose a great work of literature for this one. When I was a teenager I memorized great swaths of MacBeth. I think a play would be rather easy even now. Were I to take that easy path, I would choose Inherit the Wind because it's a good drama, good stylized history, and an important set of arguments. Coturnix points out in his answers, that with so many people going after great literature, there might be shortage of valuable non-fiction. With that advice in mind, I'll choose one of the ancient historians, Herodotus' Histories or, if that's taken, The Jewish War of Josephus.
Trying to post. No luck so far.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The next Pope
When Paul VI died in 1978, I didn't know enough church politics to know who the main contenders for the apostolic succession were. Not having a strong opinion on who should be Pope, I lunged for my reference books to check out Pope names.

In my life that far, I could only remember two Popes: John XXIII and Paul VI. Before that, there was a rarely interrupted sequence of Pius's going back almost two centuries. My first hope was that we might get a new name. My second choice was that, if not a new name we might reuse an obscure name that had never produced a number two. In a way, I got both of my choices, with John-Paul and John-Paul both happening in less than two months. Though John-Paul was something of a cop out as far as new names go. So twenty-six and a half years later, let's give it another try.

But first, a moment of history geekiness. Lists of popes aren't a straightforward business. For the first three centuries of its existence, the Church was essentially an illegal organization in the Roman Empire. The succession of the earliest bishops of Rome is both obscure and debatable. In the later Middle Ages and Renaissance, the papacy was so embroiled in politics that factions often went off and elected competing Popes (the losing pretenders are called anti-Popes). A normal historical procedure for any other succession would be to list all of the possible candidates and leave it at that. But the Pope isn't a normal person. The Pope is the successor of the Apostle Peter and carries his holy authority. The apostolic succession needs to be clear and unbroken for the Pope to keep any authority. The list of Popes is an official history (in the worst sense of the phrase) and must be carefully scrubbed of anti-Popes and ambiguity. Of course, all that means to me is that some pretty cool names have been knocked out of consideration.

Looking at a good list, a few things stand out. During the first five hundred years of its existence, the Church had Fifty-four Popes. All of them except two (Liberius, 352-66 and Anastasius II, 496-98) have been made saints. Imagine how awful that must feel for them. Prior to John-Paul, the last time someone introduced a new name into the sequence was Pope Lando in 913. As a Babylon 5 fan, I could go for Pope Lando II.

Most of the early Popes have, for obvious reasons, very Roman names. Most of these early Roman Popes' names have never been reused. Here's a few of my favorites:
  • Hilarius - (last used 461-68) Isn't that a happy sounding name? Wouldn't you want to watch a Hiarius news conference?
  • Hyginus - (136-140) Because cleanliness is next to Godliness.
  • Simplicius - (468-83) This was the successor to Hilarius. Those sound like pleasant times (unless you know anything about Roman history).
  • Zephyrinus - (199-217) Maybe not; he sounds like an old wind-bag.
  • Vitalian - (657-72) Has the added benefit of sounding like a cure for baldness or impotence.

What about completely new names? Here are a few possibilities:
  • George-Ringo - for symmetry’s sake and just because.
  • Henry - Look at it as an ecumenical outreach to the Anglicans.
  • Spike or Butch - Something tough to let the world know this is not a Pope to be trifled with.
  • He could follow the American tradition of familiarity and go for something like Pope Chuck.
  • Since the bishop of Nigeria is considered to be in the running, maybe we could have something traditionally African and completely unpronounceable to western newscasters.

Does anyone have any other suggestions? We only have a short time to make nominations before the final call for bets is made.
Does he get paid overtime for this?
NEW YORK (Reuters) -- A Chinese food delivery man was found trapped in a broken elevator Tuesday, more than three days after he was reported missing, police said.

Ming Kung Chen, 35, who worked for the Happy Dragon restaurant in the Bronx, was reported missing late Friday when he did not return an hour after setting out on a delivery.

In most states he would get time and a half for the first twenty hours and double time for the rest. Of course, under Bush's preferred overtime laws, the employer would have plenty of ways to weasel out of paying any of it and would, no doubt, charge him for the dinner he failed to deliver.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Turn the bum over to a collection agency
There are so many ways a story like this could be framed: the rhetoric of personal responsibility, the bankruptcy bill, the frat-boy lack of consideration of Bush himself, the national debt, or the general incompetence of the Bush administration. I can't choose, so I'll just give you the story and let you craft your own commentary.
Three hotels, including the Rogue Regency, the Red Lion and the Jacksonville Inn, report they have been waiting almost six months for bills generated mostly by the U.S. Secret Service during President Bush's whirlwind tour through Jackson County, according to an article by the Mail Tribune newspaper.

Owed $3,332.72, the Red Lion Hotel in Medford sent a letter on March 28 to the president at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The letter written by the hotel's accountant Kirsten Yunuba Stephens, said: "My question to you: Is this how you help balance the budget at the White House by ripping off retailers in the towns you visit? If that is the case please do not come back to the Rogue Valley."


At the Red Lion, Stephens said that a member of the Secret Service asked last week for a $400 refund on the bill because he believed his agents hadn't used a particular briefing room. She said she pointed out that a refund wasn't possible because the rest of the bill had not been paid.

As the old joke goes: there's nothing like good leadership, and this is nothing...

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Pope passing and fun facts
The Pope died about two hours ago while I was out getting groceries. A palpable sense of sadness is settling on America as people realize the implications of this event; TV is going to suck for the next week. Even though I disagreed with many of the positions this Pope took--something that would have been true of any Pope--I have to admit that he was one of the most influential and important people on the planet over the last quarter century. I'm not going to go into his career or his cultural/religious/political impact. Many others will do that, and in far greater detail than I would ever be inclined to do. I just wanted to share a few random thoughts.

While tens of millions will mourn Pope John Paul II over the next few days, who will mourn Karol Joseph Wojtyla? That is, who were his friends and family; who thought of him as simply Karol and not Holy Father? They will suffer a special kind of alienation at this moment. Because they will be surrounded by a public outpouring of emotion, the uniqueness of their own pain will be drowned, hidden, and lost. The millions who would be inclines to cry, "we know how you feel; we loved him too," for the most part, don't know how they feel and miss the point entirely.

The Pope is not just a religious leader; he is also a head of state. He had his own little country, the Vatican City. Most trivia mongers will point out that the Vatican City is the smallest country on Earth (0.4 sq. km), but it has many other claims to fame. Among them are:
  • The Vatican City has the lowest birthrate on earth (no births per 1000).
  • Consequently, it has the highest ratio of immigrants to native-born in its population (100:00).
  • Though many have criticized the pontiff's sexual policies, they have resulted in the lowest level of teenage pregnancies on earth (none).
  • The last statistic is especially amazing in light of the fact that citizens of the Vatican City almost never get married!
  • Citizens of the Vatican City have one of the highest standards of living on the planet. Everyone lives in a palace and homelessness is completely unknown.
  • The Vatican City has universal healthcare, total employment, and a budget for arts and architectural preservation that exceeds their military budget.

That's not a bad record for a world leader to leave behind.

Friday, April 01, 2005

They've identified the problem
I almost never fisk, but this letter was just too good to pass up. The original target was John Aravosis of AMERICAblog.
You people make me sick to my stomach. Your group alone is responsible for the decline in morality in America.

Yay! They've identified the one group that is the sole cause of our national decline. Place your bets everyone. Our only clue, so far, is that it is a group that Aravosis is a member of.
Your group took advantage of the system, twisted it to suit the needs of every sick, perverted, & depraved person in America under the guise of "civil liberties"...

Buzz. I'm ready to guess. John Aravosis is a gay male who frequently writes about GLBT issues. "[S]ick, perverted, & depraved" is a favorite way for the religious right to refer to the GLBT community. That must be the group that's to blame for our national decline.
...& "freedom 'from' religion". When the Bible was removed from our public school systems, a moral decline started in America like a snow ball rolling down a hill. There is so much moral depravity in America because of that.

Oh. It must be the homosexuals and the secularists. And the atheists.
Put women in the workforce ... look at what that got you. A man can't get a good paying job ... it's called supply and demand. Give a woman a job for half the price and boot the man out. That is what "Corporate America" does & the government is forced to uphold that because you whiners sneak in with your "loop holes" & screwed America until it was morally bankrupt.

Um--it's the homosexuals, the secularists, the atheists, and women. And men who like women. And people who hire women.

Well, now that we've identified the problem group, we can do something about them. Right?
God will judge your kind ... the Bible tells us where you're going, and I feel so sad for your soul. Please pray for God's guidance in your life because you need it.

So the real America consists of straight, religious, misogynistic, males who, if they have ever held a job at all, have never held an executive or management position. And if the rest of us pray enough, we can be just as good as they are.

That sounds fair enough.