Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Time for bad history
The second full-fledged issue of the Carnival of Bad History is up over at Science and Politics. It's bigger and badder than ever before. Coturnix has gathered fourteen posts from twelve writers (including one by the Liberal Coalition's own Trish Wilson). What are you waiting for? Go. Read. Comment. Get inspired and write a contribution to the next carnival.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Wallowing in self-pity
Saturday, I wrote a great post. I worked on it off and on all afternoon. It had a little of everything. It had wit and compassion. It had contemporary significance and historical perspective. It tied the American experience into the international scene. It and multiple strands of meaning and narrative that that balanced out in the end to form a satisfying tapestry. It had personal revelations and it was perfectly suited to send to a carnival. It had pathos, bathos, portos and d'artangan. It had illustrations. When the text was done, I still needed to prepare those illustrations, but it was time to fix dinner, so I closed the file without saving it and turned off the computer.

Sunday morning, I got up and worked on the illustrations. When I had them all scanned and sized and colored just so I opened the text file to put it all together and found... three short paragraphs where there should have been about 1500 words. I tried all of the file recovery tricks I know, but sadly, those tricks only work for deleted files and computer crashes. None of the tricks in my repertoire work for misplacing my brain and deliberately closing a Notepad file without saving my work.

I loudly informed the computer that yellow legal pads never did this to me, but deep in my heart I knew it wasn't the computer's fault. I did it to myself and there was no way to escape the responsibility for my dumb actions. It was gone, gone, gone and there was nothing I could do about it. I went over to where my little cat, Mehitabel, was sleeping, hoping she would have some words of wisdom and comfort to soothe my fevered mind. I bent over and tore the seat out of my pants. I spent the rest of the day in an increasingly dark and nasty funk.

It wasn't that the post had been that great. It had been good, very good even, but it wasn't the best post ever. The problem was that I haven't been writing very good posts lately. Regular readers will attest that I've been in an increasingly deep writer's slump for about two months. My posting has become infrequent and shallow. There are a variety of personal and professional reasons for this slump, the most significant being the return of my mother's cancer. Creative concentration just hasn't been my strong suit lately.

Into this came a three-day weekend with no major crises or duties to fill it. That meant I had two days to take care of normal weekend business and one whole, free day just to spend on writing. I did a little yard work, to get a head start on the responsibilities, and turned to the computer. And it worked. Words flowed. Ideas came. It was exactly the kind of writing I had been trying to do, but had been unable to do since about February. Sigh. It wasn't the loss of the piece itself that caused such a crisis for me, it was the loss of the frame of mind that the piece represented.

Writers will probably understand the frustration I'm describing, but let me try a metaphor for the non-writers. It's like I baked this really great cake, with soft green icing, from a very complicated and borrowed recipe. Then some idiot leaves the cake outside and it rains and the cake is destroyed. I invested so much of my being into that cake that I don't think that I can take it, 'cause it took so long to bake it, and I'll never have that recipe again. Or something like that.

Anyway, I feel better having vented about it. I hope your weekend is going better. I'm going to fix something yummy and comforting for dinner and buy a new pair of pants.
Big crybabies of NASCAR
Rookie Danica Patrick came in fourth at the Indianapolis 500 yesterday, chalking up the best finishing time ever for a woman driver and one of the best for a rookie. This should be something to cheer about for anyone who like racing, roots for the underdog, and likes to see records fall, but some people, predictably, see it as something to grouse about.
Robby Gordon accused Danica Patrick of having an unfair advantage in the Indianapolis 500 and said Saturday he will not compete in the race again unless the field is equalized.

Gordon, a former open-wheel driver now in NASCAR, contends that Patrick is at an advantage over the rest of the competitors because she only weighs 100 pounds. Because all the cars weigh the same, Patrick's is lighter on the race track.

"The lighter the car, the faster it goes," Gordon said. "Do the math. Put her in the car at her weight, then put me or Tony Stewart in the car at 200 pounds and our car is at least 100 pounds heavier.

"I won't race against her until the IRL does something to take that advantage away."

You see, it's not because she's a woman that he's playing the conservative persecution card; it's because she's small. Any expert on racing will tell you that this is an issue with deep roots. It has long been a tradition that all drivers weigh the exact same 205 pounds. In all the history of auto racing, no male driver has ever weighed less than any of the others. Any divergence from this is seen as taking unfair advantage of genetics and a sure cause for all of the other drivers to stay home and pout.

In fact, that's probably why she did so well. All the other drivers stayed home in protest--as the long established tradition dictated they should. I'll bet there were only three other drivers. That's why she came in fourth. It couldn't be because she's a better driver. After all, she's a girl.

Fortunately, NASCAR is a manly red state sport un-polluted by those un-American blue state values like equal opportunity and rooting for the underdog. I'm sure Robby Gordon will find plenty of other persecuted conservative white males to comfort him.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Make Michelle Malkin cry
David Neiwert's new book Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community is finally out and I've ordered my copy. David has been working on this book for about thirteen years and the research he did formed the basis of his excellent repudiation of Malkin's pro-internment revisionism.

The flyleaf blurb describes the book this way:
Strawberry Days tells the vivid and moving tale of the creation and destruction of a Japanese immigrant community. Before World War II, Bellevue, the now-booming "edge city" on the outskirts of Seattle, was a prosperous farm town renowned for its strawberries. Many of its farmers were recent Japanese immigrants who, despite being rejected by white society, were able to make a living cultivating the rich soil. Yet the lives they created for themselves through years of hard work vanished almost instantly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. David Neiwert combines compelling story-telling with first-hand interviews and newly uncovered documents to weave together the history of this community and the racist schemes that prevented the immigrants from reclaiming their land after the war. Ultimately, Strawberry Days represents more than one community’s story, reminding us that bigotry's roots are deeply entwined in the very fiber of American society.

David says the book includes an epilogue specifically addressing Malkin's claims.

By the way, Strawberry Days is now number 1,416 at Amazon while Michelle Malkin's In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror is now at 15,319. I'm sure we can drive David even higher than that. After you buy and read your own copy, get another copy and donate to a local high-school library.
Protecting our morals; destroying our language
L. Brent Bozell of the Parents Television Council thinks a silly television ad ad starring a scantily clad Paris Hilton, a water hose, and a cheesburger should be banned.
"This is erotica. It's a quantum leap down this pike where we try to scrape the bottom of the barrel," Bozell told NBC "Today."

Tbogg explains what that sentence means:
Because once the horse is out of the barn you've got to get on your high horse and run with the pack until the cows come home or you're left with your pecker in your hand because beggars can't be choosers when you're buying the milk even though the cow is giving it away for free.

Who can argue with that?
This is frightening
Everybody loves to bitch about bad and stupid drivers. Someone has finally produced hard scientific data on where the stupid drivers are located.
When faced with a written test, similar to ones given to beginning drivers applying for licenses, one in ten drivers couldn't get a passing score, according to a study commissioned by GMAC Insurance.


Drivers in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states did worst. Twenty percent of test-takers failed there.

The state of Rhode Island leads the nation in driver cluelessness, according to the survey. The average test score there was 77, just eight points above a failing grade.

Those in neighboring Massachusetts were second worst and New Jersey, third worst.

Northwestern states had the most knowledgeable drivers. In those states, just one to three percent failed the test. Oregon and Washington drivers knew the rules of the road best. In Oregon, the average test score was 89.

I live among the most knowledgeable drivers in the country, and most of them are unaware that their cars came equipped with that fancy turn-signal option. If I leave my little corner of the continent, they just get dumber. That's one more reason never to leave the house.

This study reports figures whether people know the rules, not whether they obey them. And it only measured the lower 48. I'd love to know where Alaska fits into the picture. As a state of rugged individualists and iconoclasts, Alaskans neither know the rules nor follow them when they do. When I lived there, Alaska had more dinged up cars than any place I'd ever been. Having two working headlights was a clear indication that you were an outsider.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Polling question
It's now been over six months since the election. For that entire six months the advice on how to win the last election hasn't stopped. In general, the advice comes in two forms. We either need to be more like our enemies in some way or we need to distance ourselves from our friends. The former is the demand that we need to embrace red state values, wear religion on our sleeves, be more war-like, and stop fussing about civil rights. The latter is the demand that we stop talking like intellectuals, stop defending homos, start bashing Hollywood, and denounce Michael Moore. Both sides agree that we must mention the superiority of the "heartland" in every speech and never hurt a Southerner's tender feelings by being different from them.

Everyone can produce some poll to prove their point. And none of it convinces me.

Most of the post-mortem polls from the last election examine why people voted the way they did. Setting aside the issue of people lying to the polls, these polls still are not very helpful. They do not explain why people didn't vote a different way. "I voted for the Republican because he shares my religion," does not mean the same as "I would have voted for a Democrat if there had been one who shared my religion." Polls that tell us what people say they value and what they say was the deciding factor in how they voted does not give us a clear indication of what would have made them change their vote. (If such polling does exist, I'd love it if someone would point it out to me.)

This is the core of my problem with most "be more conservative" advice (well, that and the fact that I'm not a moderate; I am a liberal). If people think they want Republicans, why should they vote for fake ones when they can have real ones? We can only win by being unapologetically who we are and convincing people that we are what they want. We need some leftist populism. We need a little class warfare. We need to stop looking at the important swing group du jour as defined by lifestyle columnists. Why on earth did anyone think "Nascar dads" were swingable; they're a Republican core constituency. We need to figure out who the real swingable groups are (like conservationist hunters) and work them.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Call for bad history
Coturnix at Science and Politics will be hosting the next Carnival of Bad History. It's been a while since the last one and I was on the verge of giving it up whaen Coturnix volunteered to start it back up and give me the benefit of his vast experience hosting carnivals.
Have you seen lately an egregious example of misunderstanding or misuse of history? Was history botched in a movie or TV show you just saw? Was a book or article trying to rewrite history for artistic or political purposes? Does watching History Channel drive you crazy? If so, write about it on your blog, and send me the permalink by late May 30th (midnight EST) to be included in the carnival. You may also want to recommend someone else's blog post.

Based on Coturnix's advice, we'll try running Carnival of Bad History on a quaterly basis. That means anything you've written since early March is fair game for inclusion. Send your links to Coturnix at his place, to me here, or to The Carnival of Bad History.
The Deal
Within minutes of the deal being announced, most everything that could be said had been said. There were no surprises and the outline was pretty the same as had what had been publicly discussed since Friday.

I'm not real happy with the deal, but I'm not outraged either. Unless we had a guaranteed win, taking the deal is better than going all the way to a showdown. Frist's plan was illegal and unprecedented. Even if it would have failed, voting on it would have put most of the Republicans on record as being in favor of trashing the constitution for a momentary advantage. If it had passed, it would have irreparably damaged the principle of constitutional government in the United States and, by bad example, in the world. In the long run, avoiding the vote was the better course.

That said, what about the terms of the deal? What does it mean in the short term? At first glance, allowing Pryor, Brown, and Owens to pass, seems like an odd compromise. My impression has been that they are the worst of the lot, though that might be because I'm more familiar with their records than I am with the others'. I'm assuming our negotiators thought saving the filibuster for the Supreme Court fight was worth giving in on all three. They are right, but I still would feel more that it was a more equal deal if we had been able to get them to pull at least one of those three off the table.

As to who won and who lost, we need to wait for all the recriminations to fly to be sure. Frist's presidential aspirations have been damaged and McCain's have been bolstered in an almost equal trade off. The Senate itself won, in not lowering itself the level of the House, but that might be a Pyrrhic victory considering how low it have already allowed itself to fall. The principle of constitutional balance has won and the principle of brute strength has lost. The deal is a slap in the face to Bush, Frist, the religious extremists who bet so much on this, and the DeLay method of conducting government. Dobson is gnashing his teeth this morning; that’s good.

This breach of discipline within the Republican camp will not go unchallenged. Those who think that they are in charge (Bush, Frist, Dobson) will reach for both carrots and sticks to restore their control. To maintain power for the next eighteen months, it will be most important to bring the straying Senators back under the influence of party discipline, but with a majority of 55, they can afford to make a horrible, bloody example out of one, or even two, as a warning to any others who might be tempted to stray. This is where the vagueness of "extraordinary circumstances" bothers me. The deal essentially reads, they will allow us to keep the filibuster as long as we promise not to use it. If we make so much as a filibustery peep, the compromising Republicans will come under terrible pressure to declare us in violation and to invoke the nuclear option.

This is not the long awaited "split" in the Republican Party that foolish optimists (like me) have been predicting for years. At best, it's sign that the GOP is still made up of individuals and has not quite become a Borg-like group mind. The drive of their extreme wing to convert the United States into a one-party state is not over. We have not won the war or even one battle. We fought one battle to a tie. On the other hand, things have been going so quickly and consistently bad for the last four years that "not worse" is almost worth celebrating.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

What is Santorum babbling about?
John Byrne at Raw Story has this quote from Rick Santorum on the floor of the Senate about an hour ago.
Some are suggesting we're trying to change the law, we're trying to break the rules. Remarkable. Remarkable hubris. I mean, imagine, the rule has been in place for 214 years that this is the way we confirm judges. Broken by the other side two years ago, and the audacity of some members to stand up and say, how dare you break this rule. It's the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 "I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me. How dare you bomb my city? It's mine." This is no more the rule of the Senate than it was the rule of the Senate before not to filibuster. It was an understanding and agreement, and it has been abused. In a sense, what we see here on the floor of the United States.

Byrne reads it as Santorum comparing the Democrats' attempts to keep the filibuster to Hitler's moves in 1942. I read it as Santorum saying the Democrats are calling him a Nazi. That's sort of a reverse invocation of Godwin's Law. This is from the closed captioning, so it is not an official transcript and the punctuation is just guesswork by someone trying to take very fast dictation. The punctuation is the problem, especially the placement of the quotes. Where does the quote really begin and end?

Should it be "how dare you break this rule?"--in which case his interpretation is correct. Or is it "how dare you break this rule. It's the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me? How dare you bomb my city? It's mine."--in which case my interpretation is correct.

In either case, it's outrageous hyperbole. And Santorum is an idiot for thinking the conquest of Paris took place in 1942 (it took place in June 1940). Maybe he thinks the war in Europe didn't begin till after Pearl Harbor.

Update: Those who have seen the video (I still haven't) say Byrne's reading is the correct one. I can live with that. It doesn't make Santorum any less of an idiot or national embarassment.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Yet another "what kind are you" poll
Via Mustang Bobby and T Rex, we ask "What kind of a blogger am I?"

You Are a Pundit Blogger!

Your blog is smart, insightful, and always a quality read.
Truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few

The text is 100% correct (if by "many" he means fewer people than were in my ninth-grade gym class). The picture, however, is a different matter. To be a real blogger pundit, this guy needs to be bleary-eyed and hoarse from yelling at the news. To be me he needs to be older, out of shape, and less well groomed. He needs a clutered work-space, cats, and a keyboard.
Write a letter
Media Matters has a list of the top ten lies the republicans and conservative press are spreading to support Frist's power play in the Senate. They explain what's wrong with each and provide copious links to further details. It's a great resource for those angry letters to the editor that you should be writing.

Falsehood #1: Democrats' filibuster of Bush nominees is "unprecedented."

Falsehood #2: Bush's filibustered nominees have all been rated well-qualified by the ABA; blocking such highly rated nominees is unprecedented.

Falsehood #3: Democratic obstructionism has led to far more judicial vacancies during Republican administrations than Democratic administrations.

Falsehood #4: "Nuclear Option" is a Democratic term.

Falsehood #5: Democrats oppose Bush nominees because of their faith, race, ethnicity, gender, stance on abortion, stance on parental notification ...

Falsehood #6: Public opinion polling shows clear opposition to judicial filibusters, support for "nuclear option."

Falsehood #7: Filibustering judicial nominees is unconstitutional.

Falsehood #8: Clinton's appellate confirmation rate was far better than Bush's rate.

Falsehood #9: Sen. Byrd's alterations to filibuster rules set precedent for "nuclear option."

Falsehood #10: Democrats have opposed "all" or "most" of Bush's judicial nominees.
The damage of the nuclear option
Since the news and bloggers are giving minute-by-minute coverage of Frist's power play and detailed background is available all over the Web*, I'm going to limit my commentary to one thing: the long-term implications.

The top of the list, as both sides know, is that the administration and its supporters get a free hand to nominate judges as radical as they want, with the Supreme Court being the ultimate prize. The Democrats, and the half of the population that they represent, will have no influence on the process. Sure, Frist says we can still talk about it, but the Republicans have made it clear that they aren't going to listen. The last remaining check or balance will be those moderate Republicans willing to break party discipline and risk being cut off from re-election funds. The judiciary will take a hard swing to the radical right as openly ideological judges fill all the vacancies.

Given Bush's propensity to use appointments and announcements for gloating and "in your face" insults, I expect some of the most radical judges to appointed to the bluest states. When Bush cut scheduled civil service raises for the 2004 fiscal year, he chose the Labor Day weekend to make the announcement. When the Bush Justice Department signed on to the lawsuit opposing affirmative action at the University of Michigan, they made the announcement on Martin Luther King Day. Or consider who was offended by the new jobs for Gonzales, Bolton, Negroponte, and Wolfowitz. Though I think Bush's main reason for acting this way is personal and pathological, some of his advisors see a practical benefit in this kind of oafish behavior. It's the stick side of a carrot and stick calculation. Blue states will be punished for electing Democrats by getting the most reactionary judges. I don't think this strategy will work, but I do think they will try it.

Sen. Frist promises that he only intends to end the filibuster for judicial appointments and that he has no desire to end it for legislation (I'm not aware of saying anything one way or the other about other types of appointments). How believable is that? Once the majority gets a taste of completely ignoring half the country in one thing, how long will they bother to give us any consideration in any thing else?

The implications of this action extend far beyond the single political issue of judicial appointments or the parliamentary issue of filibuster. The very means they plan to use to remove the filibuster is against the rules. They plan to ignore the Seneate parliamentarian and the two-thirds vote necessary for a rule change and get the President of the Senate (Dick Cheney) to declare that they can change rules with a simple majority. This precedent will allow any simple majority to change the rules in any manner they want at any time they want.

Democracy is an inherently weak form of government. It only works as long as everyone involved agrees to show some restraint and respect the rules. Even cheating in a democracy is limited by an unspoken agreement about what constitutes going too far. Europe learned how easy it is for an unscrupulous, but determined, minority to undermine and destroy a democracy once in Central Europe in the thirties and again in Eastern Europe after the war.

To me, the bottom line is that if Frist gets his way on this, all minority protections are out the window. This is not about the rights of a group of Senators, it is about the rights of that half of the population that they represent. The half of the population that gets a bare majority in congress gets to do whatever it wants, without concession, without compromise, without respect to rules, or to traditional courtesy. The era of checks and balances will be over. Once they are gone, it will be very hard to bring them back.

* Except at CNN. Every time I've cruised by there today, the lead story has been the "Star Wars" premier.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Pete’s horrible revenge
Thursday, a bunch of second-rate movement conservatives got together to hold a special testimonial dinner for Tom DeLay (R - Badhair, Texas). The goal was to show us liberals how wide the support for Tom is. In that spirit, almost two-dozen of the House's more than 220 Republicans showed up. Among the speakers was Phyllis Schlafly, who is affectionately known as "the great, great, great grandmother of the conservative movement." Red meat was served, as was a cake decorated with little chocolate hammers. During dessert, a renegade bluegrass band performed a modified version of the sixties anthem, "If I Had a Hammer."

I'm a pacifist and an opponent of the death penalty, as is, I believe, the author of "If I Had a Hammer," Pete Seeger. Nevertheless, I would be remiss if I did not point out that the Levitical law so beloved to the religious right gives Seeger the right to kill both the band and DeLay. Not that I think he should; I just wanted to point that out.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Who designed the designer?
To many casual observers, one of the more puzzling aspects of Intelligent Design (ID) is the insistence of its promoters that it is not creationism and that it is not necessarily religious. Somebody at some time did something to start life and tell it what direction to go, but it wasn't necessarily God. Why the coyness? When the less disciplined supporters get to the mike they usually let slip that God and creationism is exactly what they want to have taught in the schools.

Though the ID crowd are working on a long-term plan to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state, they know they can't accomplish it in one leap. In 1999, the primary producer of ID materials, the Discovery Institute in Seattle, let slip a planning document on their "Wedge Strategy." The document put forth five-year and twenty-year goals for replacing the scientific method with religion (they are behind schedule). Their current object is to have ID accepted as an equal to real science. Only later will they replace science.

While other branches of the Dominionist movement work to get their judges in place, the ID movement needs to work around the judges who are in office today. The First Amendment forbids the establishment of a state religion. This is currently interpreted by the courts to mean any support of one religion over the others is off limits. The tax exemption for churches gives an equal advantage to all religions, so it slips over the wall.

If the ID promoters concede that the designer is a god, the next question must be which god? They do not want to answer that question. That puts them in the position of endorsing a specific religion. As soon as they do that, any public school that teaches ID will be, in effect, proselytizing that religion. And that is forbidden. Their first line of defense is that the designer could be a god or could be someone else. If forced to admit that the designer has to be a god, their second line of defense is that it could be any god, not necessarily the vengeful, fundamentalist Protestant one.

How can they be "forced to admit that the designer has to be a god?" Simple. Where did the designer come from? ID denies the possibility of a being that is spontaneously created and evolved without intelligent design and direction. If the designer is not a god, then who designed the designer? Who designed that designer? Who designed the designer before that? Any non-eternal being has to start somewhere. "Elephants all the way down" is not a scientific answer. Sooner or later you must have a creator. Only an eternal being can be uncreated. A being that is eternal and uncreated is, by definition, a god.

Once their first line of defense is gone and they have to admit that life, the universe, and everything were created by a god or gods, it's hard for the ID proponents to avoid the question of which god(s) did the designing. At this point they risk losing their fellow travelers.

The strongest argument that ID has is the fairness argument. They misrepresent modern biology as being a controversial science inside which there is a great deal of disagreement over fundamental principles. They portray themselves as representing just one side in this honest scientific debate. It's only fair to teach both sides to kids and let them make up their own minds. This is the same tactic that Holocaust deniers and climate change skeptics depend on.

Fair-minded parents will have trouble believing that ID is part to a legitimate scientific controversy when the terms of that controversy are reduced to the influence of the designer on the early universe. Was the beginning the divine light shattering the sacred vessels and cascading into the lowest realms, was it Raven stealing the sun from the underworld, was it Prometheus capturing a spark from the flaming wheels of Apollo's chariot, or was it the singular, lonely God murmuring "let there be light?" This not science; this is comparative mythology. This is religion.

Intelligent Design is religion. Specifically, it is fundamentalist Protestant creationism, nothing less and certainly nothing more. You can put lipstick on a pig and take her to the prom, but she's still a pig. You can dress creationism up in scientific jargon and hide it behind uncertainty about the identity of the designer, but it's still a religion. It's that simple.
DeLay: Democrats have 'no class'
I'm not sure whether we should file this under "It takes one to know one" or "Who says Republicans don't have a sense of irony."

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Eighth Skeptic's Circle
The Eighth Skeptic's Circle is up over at Pharangula and I'm in it. It's a huge carnival; it has something for every skeptical taste. Sure, you've already read my post, but there are over 40 others to choose from. Go over and be impressed by the fine company I keep, just don't tell them about the terrible mistake they're making in letting me hang out.

Speaking of carnivals, now that Coturnix is almost a grown-up, he's going to help me resuscitate The Carnival of Bad History. Watch this spot for details.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Do they even know what they believe?
At the core of the religious right, movement Christianity lies a great theological contradiction. For the rank and file, this is no doubt a case honest confusion, but for the leaders, who I credit with a certain degree of theological sophistication, I can only suspect that this is a case of open dishonesty and crass opportunism.

Conservative and fundamentalist Christianity in the United States comes in a variety of theological flavors, some of which directly contradict each other. There's nothing wrong with a little theological variety except that the religious right-movement Christians-try to advocate all positions at once. The greatest contradiction is between the pre- and post-millennial dispensationalists.

Pre-millennial dispensationalism is the familiar apocalyptic narrative of the rapture, the rien of the Antichrist, the tribulation, Amageddon, and the Second Coming made popular by Hal Lindsay's Late Great Planet Earth and Tim LeHaye's Left Behind series. This story and all of its details have become quite familiar to the American general public. Most of them would be surprised to discover that the full narrative appears nowhere in the Bible, that is a modern invention less than two hundred years old, and that their church probably opposes it.

The rapture and tribulation story first appeared in the dreams of a teenage girl in Glasgow, Scotland in 1830. A preacher named John Darby adopted her story and fleshed it out with prophetic references and an intellectual-sounding vocabulary. Darby made a number of successful lecture tours of the United States between 1859 and 1877. Darby's version of the story, with its detailed seven-year timeline was included in the Scofield Reference Bible, one of the core works of the emerging fundamentalist movement at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Most mainstream churches do not accept Darby's theology.

Darby's dispensationalism (his word) was based on an idea that history followed a very structured divine plan. History consisted of a divine week of seven thousand-year-long "days." Each of these he termed a dispensation that ended with a dramatic religious milestone (Noah, Moses, Jesus). The final day will be the millennium. Since, according to Bishop Ussher, the world was almost six-thousand years old, the last dispensation is nearing its end and the millennium is at hand. Dispensationalism is explicitly creationist and anti-modern (a subject that I'll go into in a later post).

So far, except for the detailed narrative and scientific-sounding jargon, Darby's dispensationalism is not that new. What makes it new is the very thing that gives it its name and is so familiar today, the rapture and tribulation story. The addition of the adjective "pre-millennial" to dispensationalism indicates that the Second Coming will happen at the beginning of the millennium. Mankind will fail to save itself and will face a certain doom of its own making. At that point, Jesus will arrive to save the deserving few, condemn the rest, and initiate the millennium.

It is an especially pessimistic, violent, and vindictive theology. What's more, because of the detailed and unalterable nature of God's timeline the only reasonable strategy is to try to save yourself and a small number of loved ones, that is to place yourself among the minority deserving of redemption. Since it is already written that the majority will enthusiastically support the Antichrist and be condemned, it actually goes against the will of God to try to make things better for the majority of mankind.

According to Darby's terminology, the previous version of the last days was post-millennial dispensationalism. According to this idea, mankind had to first create the kingdom of Heaven on Earth as a suitable realm for Jesus rule over. Only then would he return. The most obvious way of doing this would be to convert everyone on the planet to the correct form of Christianity. This idea is almost identical to the Muslim idea of the goal of history. Paradise will exist when we are all part of a single community among whom no discord exists. In other words, there can be no paradise as long as Ann Coulter is here to get on our nerves.

Among the contemporary American religious right, the most radical exemplars of post-millennial dispensationalism are the Dominionist and Reconstructionist movements. According to their philosophy, it is not enough to merely evangelize and gain converts to the true faith. They have a responsibility to rule over the Earth and all its peoples and enforce a strict Christian theocracy of their interpretation. Until everyone is converted to the true sect, only the right-believers are suited to rule. They have a religious duty to rule. The rest of us are to be tolerated only when we behave, and just barely then. Democracy, free speech, privacy, and protection of minority views have no place in their paradise.

Here then is the core contradiction of the religious right. The majority who are pre-millennial fundamentalists follow a theology that says things must get worse before they can get better. Evil-the Antichrist-must reign supreme in all spheres of life before the Messiah will come and bail us out. The minority doesn't believe in the Antichrist as a single being. They believe that they must reign supreme in all spheres of life before the Messiah will come. Seeking political power is directly opposed to believing in the Rapture and immanent end times.

Why do their leaders allow this confusion to exist? Are they also confused? I've asked this before. Do they lack confidence in their own theology and prefer to cover all the bases? Are they cynical bastards who will say anything to excite their followers? Forget I said that. Men of God (and an occasional suspect woman) would never do that.

Friday, May 06, 2005

New kid on the block
Frequent commentor Martin Langeland, AKA Dum Luks, has jumped into the blogging game. He's been having some interesting adventures in HTML. Wednesday night his site was rendering in 32 point font, but today it looks much better. In another day or two, he'll be winning awards for design, but we'll still be able to say we knew him when.

Go check him out and say "hi."
Revoke their tax-exempt status
Writers at Daily Kos and Democratic Underground are trying to get some details on this, but the bottom line is that a North Carolina church just excommunicated all of its Democratic members.
Religion and Politics Clash
Religion and politics clash over a local church's declaration that Democrats are not welcome.

East Waynesville Baptist asked nine members to leave. Now 40 more have left the church in protest. Former members say Pastor Chan Chandler gave them the ultimatum, saying if they didn't support George Bush, they should resign or repent. The minister declined an interview with News 13. But he did say "the actions were not politically motivated." There are questions about whether the bi-laws were followed when the members were thrown out.

Churches have tax-exempt status on the condition that they refraim from engaging in electoral politics. That's a very fine line to define. The rough rule of thumb is that churches can support (or oppose) issues but they cannot support candidates. The line gets messy with things like ministers and chuch members making personal endorsements, inviting politicians to speak at official church functions, or allowing chuch property to be used for political events. Though churches regularly push against the line, complete revocations of tax-exempt status are very rare.

To further complicate things, churches, both as organizations and as groups of individuals, have the same rights of free speech and association that private individuals have. If the church wants to require a declaration of faith that is identical to the Reublican Party platform from its members, they have that right as long as they do not put it in such blatantly political terms. Pastor Chandler appears to have crossed the line by bringing Bush's name and the act of voting into the discussion.

If the early reports are even remotely correct, the IRS has no defense. They must act.

Update - Coturnix and the North Carolina bloggers are all over this.
Protecting the kids
Mustang Bobby brings us the latest example of conservative culture warriors embarassing themselves.
Benton Harbor [Michigan] Superintendent Paula Dawning cited the song's allegedly raunchy lyrics in ordering the McCord Middle School band not to perform it in Saturday's Grand Floral Parade, held as part of the Blossomtime Festival.

In a letter sent home with McCord students, Dawning said "Louie Louie" was not appropriate for Benton Harbor students to play while representing the district -- even though the marching band wasn't going to sing it.

Band members and parents complained to the Board of Education at its Tuesday meeting that it was too late to learn another song, The Herald-Palladium of St. Joseph reported.


"Louie Louie," written by Richard Berry in 1956, is one of the most recorded songs in history. The best-known, most notorious version was a hit in 1963 for the Kingsmen; the FBI spent two years investigating the lyrics before declaring they not only were not obscene but also were "unintelligible at any speed."

To summarize, the school superintendant has decided to ban an instumental performance of one of the best known songs in America, because she once heard a rumor that the lyrics might be raunchy. This is forty years after the FBI determined they are not. On that last point, you've got to envy the kind of job security that allows someone to spend two years looking up the lyrics to a song and listening to the record a couple times. Maybe they even phoned the songwriter or the singer.

We turn to The Straight Dope to set the record straight:
[T]he "real" lyrics to "Louie Louie" are about as racy as a Neil Simon script, and almost as dumb. What's more, we have the assurance of the man who wrote the song, one Richard Berry, that the Kingsmen did not spice it up in the studio.

The song was about seven years old when the Kingsmen recorded their version in 1963, and the fantastic legend that grew up in its wake--a legend that even an FCC investigation couldn't kill--seems to have sprung solely from their extraordinary lack of elocution.

Berry, who spoke on the subject a while back to a Los Angeles interviewer named Bill Reed, explains the song as the lament of a seafaring man, spoken to a sympathetic bartender named Louie.

The real lyrics to Louie, Louie are:
Louie Louie, me gotta go.
Louie Louie, me gotta go.
A fine little girl, she wait for me.
Me catch the ship across the sea.
I sailed the ship all alone.
I never think I'll make it home.

Louie Louie, me gotta go.
Three nights and days we sailed the sea.
Me think of girl constantly.
On the ship, I dream she there.
I smell the rose in her hair.

Louie Louie, me gotta go.
Me see Jamaican moon above.
It won't be long me see me love.
Me take her in my arms and then
I tell her I never leave again.
Louie Louie, me gotta go.

(By Richard Berry. Copyright 1957-1963 by Limax Music Inc.)

Gotta protect those kids from faux-Calypso. 'Cause we all know it leads to the harder stuff, like Harry Belafonte.

I think we need to send all elected officials to some kind of boot camp where we will pound into their small minds (in a loving Dobsonian way) the fact that being elected to office is not a license to force all of your prejudices on the public or to run around abolishing all of your pet peeves. In the last year alone we have had local buffoons try to ban exposed midrifts (Louisiana), low riding pants (Virginia), "suggestive" cheerleading (Texas), books with gay characters (Georgia), and now "Louie, Louie."

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

"Operation Salami Drop"
I don't really have much to say about this, I just liked the title.
Brothers Marc and Michael Brummer figure the best way they can help support U.S. troops stationed in Iraq is to try to feed them -- thousands of them.

The co-owners of Hobby's Deli hope to send salami to the entire 42nd Infantry Division, currently in Tikrit.

It'll take an estimated 23,000 salamis to reach that goal. But the first 2,000 or so of the dried meat -- about 2 tons in all -- was boxed and loaded onto a U.S. Postal Service truck Tuesday in the first phase of what the brothers dubbed "Operation Salami Drop."


There are 2,500 more salamis in the store ready to go and 5,000 more on order, Marc Brummer said. All have been purchased with donations of $10 per salami, including a 13-year-old girl who donated $1,000 from her bat mitzvah money.

I do, however, suspect that any story that involves a thirteen year old girl, a hundred salamis, and an entire division of homesick soldiers has got to offend somebody. This can't be good for our national moral fabric.
Welcome, Crapheads!
Er, Crappies? Crapmeisters? What do you guys call yourselves?

I got linked by the lovely SZ at World O'Crap.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

I never metaphor I didn't like
Best mangled metaphor of the day:
"A jury may be picked by the smartest, most prepared lawyers on this planet. But if there are a few wolves in sheep's clothing seated in that box and the lawyers aren't given the leeway to ferret them out ... no amount of competent lawyering can ever prevent the oncoming train of injustice these wolves may be driving."

Ferrets? Wolves? Sheep? Trains?!? Wolves definitely should not drive trains.
Via Talkleft.
Bad morale
Things look bad in Terrorstan.
The U.S. military said Tuesday it has seized a letter from Iraqi insurgents believed to be intended for Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi complaining about low morale among followers and weakening support for the insurgency.


"What has happened to myself and my brothers is an unforgivable crime, but God will punish the oppressor," the letter reads. "I swear by God that you will be asked about what happened to us because you have not asked about the situation of the migrants. Morale is down and there is fatigue among mujahedeen ranks."

Fortunately for the insurgency, there are tried and true methods for dealing with morale problems.

First, terror management will have to go on a retreat somewhere really fun for a "working" weekend to brainstorm proactive solutions. When they get back, the first they will do will be to let the rank and file know they care by calling an insurgency wide meeting to roll out their new morale building program. The name of the program will form a clever acronym. Coffee and donuts will be served at the meeting.

To create a new sense of ownership and camaraderie among the rank and file, they will rename the terror cells, "teams." Next they will reinvigorate everyone's sense of friendly competitiveness by giving out a comical "terrorist of the month" award. Now that spirits are running high and everyone feels like they are really part of the insurgency, they will announce a new workaholic schedule of mandatory, unpaid overtime.

After three months they will tearfully lay-off all of the mujahedeen and outsource the insurgency to Shanghai.
It's a contest!
This one comes via Riggsveda.
With little fanfare and some adept bureaucratic maneuvering, a partnership between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and a select group of Justice Department prosecutors has been forged to identify and single out for prosecution the nation's most flagrant workplace safety violators.

Except for the summer spent processing salmon in Naknek (a requirement for all real Alaskan kids), I can't think of any of my employers who might be in the running. How about you?

Monday, May 02, 2005

Why do they give a damn
Yet another poll is out saying most people hate the Republicans’ ideas for Social Security, as well they should. However, “81 percent of respondents believed that the program would need major changes in the coming years.” This raises some questions in my mind as to the internal breakdown of the Republican base on this issue.

The official Party position is that Social Security will have WMDs shortfalls in about forty years. They say they don’t have a plan, but when they get a plan it will guarantee solvency for the program for eternity. Eternity is a long time. A lot of things can happen in an eternity. While I admire their confidence, I have to wonder if it is shared by the entire base.

Are the fundamentalist end-timers among that 81 percent who think something major needs to be done? And, if so, why? Do they really think they are going to still need Social Security in forty years? If so, their idea of end times with this being the last generation and all is quite a bit different than I would expect. Maybe they’re thinking in terms of the generations of Enoch, Methuselah, and Noah, who each lived for many hundreds of years. That should give them a century or two margin of error for the definition of the last generation. Or maybe they don’t have a lot of confidence in the powers of prophetic interpretation claimed by Lindsey and Lehaye. In that case it might be wise to cover all their bases and keep the Social Security fund around a little longer.

If they truly had confidence in their predictions, I would expect their attitude toward the fund to be a snort of derision and cavalier cry of “spend it all.” I’m not hearing that. So, why do they give a damn what happens to Social Security?
Holocausts and scapegoats
Mustang Bobby points out this column by Leonard Pitts, Jr. in today's Miami Herald.
Gay Holocaust?

That was the subject line of an e-mail I received last week from "Chris," a lawyer in a red state. He wanted to know if anybody else sees a similarity between the beginning of the Holocaust -- the nibbling away of rights and personhood that ultimately led to the attempted extermination of a people -- and what is happening to gay people in American right now.

He knows it's far-fetched. "But," he says, speaking of the conservative element that is pushing hardest against gay rights, "we are not dealing with normal people here."

Chris concedes that there are differences between the plights of Jews and gays. "But they also have this in common -- at one time in history, that time being the present for gays, they were the object of official government-sponsored hatred couched in the name of religion or morals."

Here's what I think:

The Holocaust is an atrocity unique in history, and I'm wary of appending modifiers: the "this" holocaust or the "that" holocaust. There's a reason the word takes a capital h.

Which is not to say the lawyer is off base. I've long felt the current spate of laws -- you can't do this because you're gay, can't have that because you're lesbian -- bears a discomfiting resemblance to Germany in the 1930s.

Both spring from a mind-set that says a given people is so loathsome, so offensive to our sensibilities, that we are obliged to place them outside the circle of normal human compassion. We don't have to hear their cries, don't have to respect their humanity, don't have to revere their tears, because they are less than we -- and at the same time, are responsible for everything that scares or threatens us.

Whatever it is, it's all their fault. Blame them, whoever "them" may be.

My problem is that I see human dignity as all of a piece. I don't know how to want it for me and mine but not for them and theirs. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, we are caught in a network of mutuality. As Dick Cheney put it, freedom means freedom for everybody. As Cain put it, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

I always considered that the signature lesson of the Holocaust; always felt that in the largest sense, it was not about Jews and Aryans, but about humanity and inhumanity. The Holocaust was, after all, only hatred carried to its logical extreme, the predictable outcome of an environment where we countenance taking rights from "them," heaping scorn on "them," making scapegoats of "them."

And who can deny that this describes the plight of gay Americans in 2005? Or that demagogic lawmakers are using this environment to further their own ambitions?

There used to be an expression in Southern politics. The candidate who lost because he had been found insufficiently draconian on racial issues was said to have been "out-niggered." These days, the worry seems to be that one might be "out-homoed." Consider, for instance, a law under consideration in Alabama to ban books with gay characters from public school libraries.

My only objections to the use of the phrase "Gay Holocaust" is that it is historically non-specific. There already has been a Gay Holocaust. It was part of the first Holocaust. While many groups suffered under Nazi rule, only a few were marked for total extermination: Jews, Gypsies, the Polish intelligentsia, Soviet commissars, and homosexuals. What do people thing those pink triangles refer to. Our work today is not to prevent a Gay Holocaust; our work is to prevent another Gay Holocaust.

As a lifelong Westerner (I've never been east of Billings), I would never have thought of the "out-niggered" parallel. I think that is one of the best parallels for the current situation that I have seen. I think it also think it shows the direction this kind of rhetoric is going. Hostility leads to exclusion which leads to elimination. In the US, we are less likely to have a German style Holocaust than to have Southern style lynchings with immunity or Ukrainian style pogroms. But I shouldn't get to comfortable with my Westernness and think that it vaccinates my neighbors from "Southern" behavior.

One of the recurring interpretations of the Holocaust is the Goldhagen Thesis, which claims that the Germans have a special talent for and inclination toward genocidal Anti-Semitism. I don't buy it. The problem with this kind of thesis, is that it absolves the rest of us of any responsibility. The Germans did that because "they" are not like us. This kind of "they" is just as corrosive as the "they" that allowed the Germans to remove and exterminate millions of their neighbors. Pitts points out that we and the victims are all part of the same humanity. That goes both ways; we also share the same basic humanity with the frightened killers.

At one time it was common to summarize the primary difference between liberals and conservatives as one of human nature. Liberals saw all humans as having the souls of angels who would act on their best impulses if only freed to do so. Conservatives saw all humans as having the souls of devils who would act out their worst impulses unless ruthlessly forced to behave. This attitude is still present, though somewhat modified. Lakoff points to it in his descriptions of the nurturing mother and stern father metaphors that form the basis of the liberal and conservative worldviews. In its purest form it is still visible in competing liberal and conservative theories of child-raising (Spock versus Dobson) and criminal law (rehabilitate versus punish).

Though I'm thoroughly in the liberal camp, I can't quite bring myself to make the old fashioned statement that people are born with the souls of angels. I'm more inclined to call it a blank slate. Most people have the same capacity for good or evil as any other person. It is shockingly easy to get the most decent people to commit or approve of the most evil acts. In this, I think we have moved from the attractive metaphysical metaphors of angels or demons into the more sterile social science metaphors of nature versus nurture. I'm sure you've heard the joke that liberals believe all behavior is learned, except sexual preference, while conservatives believe all behavior is inherited, except sexual preference. There is more than a wee bit of truth in that.

It's not a freak accident that I would prefer the science metaphor over the religion one. The liberal mindset is more comfortable with ambiguity and therefore more friendly to science. The conservative mindset is more absolutist and therefore more friendly to western style religion. But that is the subject for another post and another day.