Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Wow, Kerry shows some fire!

DO read the article "Kerry and G.O.P. Spar Over Iraq Remarks," by David Strout, in today's New York Times. Excerpt:
[Senator Kerry], who was campaigning for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Phil Angelides [in California], opened with several one-liners, joking at one point that President Bush had lived in Texas but now “lives in a state of denial.”

Then, Mr. Kerry said: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”
Predictably, Busheviks conveniently chose to interpret this as Kerry's having demeaned servicemen and women. For example, White House Spokesman Snowjob
asserted that Mr. Kerry’s speech “sort of fits a pattern” of criticizing American troops in Iraq. “This is an absolute insult, and I’m a little astonished that he didn’t figure it out already,” Mr. Snow said. “If I say something stupid, I apologize as quickly as possible.”
Kerry had now had enough.
But if anyone should apologize, Mr. Kerry said, it is President Bush and his administration officials who started the ill-conceived war. He said his remarks, which he conceded were part of a “botched joke,” had been distorted and called the criticism directed at him the work of “assorted right-wing nut jobs and right-wing talk show hosts.”

“If anyone thinks a veteran would criticize the more than 140,000 heroes serving in Iraq and not the president who got us stuck there, they’re crazy,” Mr. Kerry said in a statement. “I’m sick and tired of these despicable Republican attacks that always seem to come from those who never can be found to serve in war, but love to attack those who did.”

“I’m not going to be lectured by a stuffed-suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium, or doughy Rush Limbaugh, who no doubt today will take a break from belittling Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease to start lying about me just as they have lied about Iraq,” Mr. Kerry went on. “It disgusts me that these Republican hacks, who have never worn the uniform of our country lie and distort so blatantly and carelessly about those who have.”

...“Had George Bush and Dick Cheney been in combat one minute of their comfortable lives, they would never have sent American troops to war without body armor or without a plan to win the peace, and they wouldn’t be exploiting our troops today,” the senator said.

...“No Democrat will be bullied by an administration that has a cut-and-run policy in Afghanistan and a stand-still-and-lose strategy in Iraq,” he said in his statement. At his news conference, he accused Republicans of creating “straw men” because “they’re afraid to debate real men.”
American politics, the cheapest entertainment going.

Only it isn't pretty or funny. Or fun.

Senate Takeover Unsure for Two Reasons

A Democratic takeover of the U.S. Senate is a bit of a long shot because a smaller proportion of its seats are being contested than are being contested in the House.

And there's a second reason why it'll be harder for the Democrats to take over the Senate. Senate races are statewide. Ballots for the U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania, for example, will be marked (manually or electronically) in every polling place in the state. But ballots for Representative from District x will be marked only in the polling places in that district.

So what? you might ask.

Here's what. In the Senate race, Karl Rove has a lot more electronic polling places to choose from in deciding which ones to shift some numbers around in. And the Democrats, conversely, have many more polling places to try to keep under surveillance.

John Kerry conceded Ohio quickly two years ago, perhaps thinking he didn't really want to be president all that much anyway, Bush had made such a mess to have to deal with. If Bob Casey "loses" to Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, he'd better be ready to put up more of a protest than Kerry did.

Other Blogs You Might Enjoy

One of my favorite blogs is Steve G's, called "Writing and Having Fun." He recently posted two pieces in which he recommends a few of his favorite blogs, most of which I have now visited myself and can also recommend. You might enjoy them. See Steve G's recommendations at "Drop In and Say Hi" and "Are You Looking for Something to Do?"

[Photo by Steve G]

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Lost Candy

That candy that wasn't in my suitcase when I unpacked in Mountain View on October 17 evening turned up today. I was in the library borrowing books and movies, and I reached into the outside pocket of my canvas bag for something, and...there it was! Not only had I examined this canvas bag in California (not the outside pocket, alas, for I was too "sure" that I had packed the See's Candies bag between my travel pillow and my jacket), but also I even carried the canvas bag on the airplane with me to fly home. I could have had a piece of California brittle anytime I wanted! (And I had one this evening with a cup of tea, during a break from my get-out-the-vote calling for MoveOn.org.)

It rather looks as though what has been lost is some of my mental acuity! (At least, I think I used to have a fair amount.)

But this experience, too, seems to have been a useful one. For one thing, I went from "lost candy" to "lost innocence" and have started to think about mankind's ability to blind itself to fairly plain facts in order to suit its prejudices or other preconceptions. And you know, if you've been following my blog, I'm concentrating on political and religions "blinding." One thing I haven't clarified yet is my concept that a simple syllogistic schema is operative. I've labeled "syllogism" the example:
It's inconceivable that the president of a country like the U.S. could send Americans to die for a made-up or lost cause.
Therefore, George W. Bush hasn't done so.
But a syllogism consists of three statements, not two. What's the missing statement? (And how do the two current statements need to be adjusted accordingly to reveal the "blinding logic"?)

I think I know, but as a quiz (or a puzzle to amuse those of you who belong to MENSA), maybe you'd like to take a stab at it? (I assume you know how to comment.)

Another useful thing about the "lost candy" is how great I felt when I discovered that it wasn't lost! I felt lighter. I felt as though some burden I'd been carrying had been lifted off me. I walked out of the library with a livelier step than I'd walked in with. The college girls looked even sexier! Made once, my day was made yet again.

And I got to thinking. I recalled how depressing it has been having George W. Bush in the People's White House. And I know that I'm not the only one who feels this way. Obviously, there are many millions who feel similarly put upon and dejected. And angry.

Well, then: How heavy a weight nationally will be lifted off the People of the United States when the Busheviks are defeated? It'll be huge. The Planet Earth might even heave a sigh of relief.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

That feeling, that surpassing feeling...

...that surpasses all understanding1....

I've been home sick all week after returning from California. I've mostly stayed inside. But after a change in medication Friday and feeling better yesterday morning, I went outside for a couple of hours. During the unusual experience I had there, I felt as fluent as I have ever felt, and if there existed (and I owned) a machine for dictating from my thoughts, I might at the time have written a truly eloquent description of my "surpassing feeling."

What happened was nothing anyone else could have observed. It was inside my head. All anyone else present might have observed would have been something possibly similar happening inside their head.

It seems to me this morning, in the cold light of reason and remembrance, that the experience I had might simply have been one of those "best ever" experiences, like my experience of that guacamole in the Mexican restaurant. Only, this time, yesterday on a glorious fall afternoon in my back yard, nestled amidst Carolina's Piedmont Forest, I was experiencing nature as best ever. "Best ever" in the sense I formulated in describing the guacamole experience: as something "I can't imagine...being any better than I find it to be at this moment."

Nature. Not some wilderness, some high mountain, some vast plain, just the domesticated nature of a rural residential community. Not that I prefer nature domesticated, but I do like it close in, foresty. Probably because I've been very nearsighted for over fifty years.

Persimmon tree, Fall 2005Such surpassing experiences may be the only evidence2 we have that "God is," whatever we could mean by that. A new young friend we met in Culver City told me (reminded me, actually, since I too believe this) that faith should spring not from dogmatics or reason, but from feeling, like listening to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony rather than reading a performance review.

But was my feeling yesterday, which I chose at the time to regard as somehow "of God," not, rather, just of nature? Nature seems so all compared to guacamole or even a John le Carré novel. Nature seems so all that maybe we take it as an emblem of "God"? The way Whitman experienced the grass3?

And Whitman concluded that section of Leaves of Grass with the observation (or longing) that:
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas'd the moment life appear'd.
All goes forward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
Religion, as Harris points out in The End of Faith, seems to be bound up with our concern about, fear over, what happens after we die. It's natural to hope that nature, in its annual rebirth from winter into spring, demonstrates that there is, really, ultimately no death.

Nevermind that we ourselves, individually, might nevertheless really (and forever) die? We're biologically driven to procreate, to further our genes, our DNA. Have we not then always, however unconsciously, known that we ourselves are really, truly going to die and be done with? I admit that my experience outside yesterday did arouse in me a need to experience sexual release. The procreative urge that nature needs for us to feel would only be strengthened by our knowing that we are individually doomed to die.

My October 18 post about the guacamole jarringly ended with the comparison of "best ever" (or surpassing) experiences to an Islamic suicide bomber's blowing up American servicemen (or, I might add, other, improperly believing Muslims). And I am reminded that Harris (and others who have studied the probable psychology of Islamic suicide bombers) points out that the believer in this case seems to think that in his act of "defending Islam" he is instantly ensuring his immortality in paradise...his own, individual life's going "forward and outward."

Yesterday, as I mowed the grass (for that was what I was doing in my back yard), I wondered whether the final experience of such believers, when they detonate themselves, is as surprassing as what I sometimes feel in the Carolina woods?
_________________
  1. As I said the other day, Sam Harris is undertaking to study the neurological basis of faith, so maybe someday it won't surpass all understanding.
  2. As the burning bush said unto Moses (according to Exodus 3:14), "I AM THAT I AM." That is, we can't confidently say what "God" is, if God is. I quote the Bible on this not because it's the Bible, or because I believe that the Bible is authoritative, but because, after a lifetime of being concerned about God, this is what I happen to believe. (I don't count the existence of holy books as evidence that God is. They're just hearsay evidence that someone else may have had such a feeling. And the Bible seems to agree with me—at least in this one verse in one of its books.)
  3. "A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands,
    How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.
    I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
    Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
    A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt..."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

"Difficult to keep up..."

As a follow-up on negative campaigning, I'd be hard-pressed to find anything more incisive than this, from another of my heroes, truth-speaking journalist Molly Ivins1:
I realize it is difficult to keep up with the degree of Republican sleaze around these days, but I did like ["p]resident["] Bush's celebration of National Character Counts Week. He went to Pennsylvania to support Rep[resentative] Don Sherwood, who is being sued for repeatedly beating his mistress.
Maybe "[n]ext week should be National Body Counts Week"2?

And the week after, if the Busheviks retain control of Congress, National Vote Recount Week?
_____________
  1. Writing in the Star-Telegraph (as reprinted under the title "The noise of October" today in Raleigh's The News & Observer).
  2. Comment #19, by Dale, on "The Carpetbagger Report."

Friday, October 27, 2006

Rumsfeld wants me to back off

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has, according to this morning's newspaper, "urged [us] critics of administration policy 'to just back off' and 'relax.'" Wow, this is perhaps the most significant endorsement I'd had.

Sort of like negative campaign ads? The same newspaper, in a front-page article titled "Political ads hit sleazy lows," quotes Stanford professor Shanto Iyengar: "The more negative the ad, the more likely it is to get free media coverage. So there's a big incentive to go to the extremes."

In case you haven't heard about any of the current negative campaign ads, how about "Rep[resentative] [name withheld to stop the innuendo right here] pays for sex!"
That's what the Republican challenger for his Wisconsin congressional seat, Paul Nelson, claims in his new ads, the ones with 'XXX' stamped across [the incumbent's] face.

It turns out that [the incumbent]—along with more than 200 of his fellow hedonists in the House—opposed an unsuccessful effort to stop the National Institutes of Health from pursuing peer-reviewed sex studies. According to Nelson's ads, the Democrat also wants to "let illegal aliens burn the American flag" and "allow convicted child molesters to enter this country."

To Nelson, this doesn't even qualify as negative campaigning.

"Negative campaigning is vicious personal attacks," he said in an interview. "This isn't personal at all."
If Wisconsin voters can ignore Nelson's "impersonal campaigning," it might be fair to say that they have lost some of their innocence.

But, oh, you're wondering how Rumseld's endorsing me is "sort of like negative campaign ads"? Well, it's like this. As newspapers pick up and amplify Karl Rove-type ads (because they have historically aroused emotion and sold newspapers), so do desperate politicos like Rumsfeld eventually have to mention the criticism that is piercing them like so many arrows into St. Anthony's flesh...thus amplifying those criticisms. Or sharpening their arrowheads, as it were.

Thanks, Rummy. Now, would you square your shoulders and turn this way, please. There's another volley coming.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Telephoning for a Change in Congress

I just got off the phone after spending my first 50 minutes or so calling potential Democratic voters for MoveOn.org. It was a good, even exhilarating experience. I dialed 30 homes and actually spoke with someone in ten of them, which is more than I was told to expect to reach in the tele-training session I participated in yesterday.

Only two people hung up on me. In most of the 20 homes where I didn't speak with anyone, I was greeted by an answering machine. (MoveOn.org doesn't leave messages.) One woman said that she wasn't voting for the candidates whom MoveOn.org is supporting because she didn't think they were "pro life." One man said that he wasn't going to vote for the candidates I mentioned simply because MoveOn.org was supporting them. He said that MoveOn.org has an agenda different from his. I thanked all of these for their time and got on with the next call.

My task was to try to get probable Democratic voters out to vote, not to try to convince anyone who is undecided or is otherwise inclined. As I make the calls, I'm logged onto a MoveOn.org page that provides each next telephone number to dial, provides a tested script for me to follow (including the names of the relevant Democratic candidates), and displays buttons to click to record the result of each call (no one home, hung up, yes—supporting the mentioned candidates, no—not supporting them, etc.).

I was supposed to ask those who say they plan to vote for the candidates I mention what one issue is most important to them this year, but the first person in this category that I reached made me so excited when she said, "You're with me!" that I gushed, "That's great! Thanks a lot," and immediately hung up before clicking the "yes" button and moving to the part of the script that asks about issues. Oh well. Everyone else I asked said, "The war."

I joined MoveOn.org about eight years ago, immediately after it was formed to try to mobilize the protest against the U.S. Congress's impeachment of President Clinton. "Let's move on and do something worthwhile." In the interim, MoveOn.org has grown to become a premier organizer of liberal/progressive money, time, and talent to make a difference in the quality of life in the United States and the world.

I realize that I contacted more potential voters by phone this evening than I probably have people reading this blog, but if you're interested in telephoning to get out the Democratic vote for the November 7 election, let me know, and I'll tell you how.

Hey, that 1997 telemarketing experience I had helped prepared me for this! It's a lot more fun getting out the Democratic vote than it was selling prepaid cremation, let me tell you.

More Thoughts on the Innocence of American Voters

This morning I recalled that during the run-up to the 2000 presidential election, after I warned an old friend about some of the dangers Bush's candidacy posed for the United States, my friend replied that he himself wasn't concerned. In fact, he said, he respected and appreciated that someone like Bush (a member of the privileged class) was willing to make the sacrifice of running for office in order to serve our country. Readers of this blog may find it hard to believe that I didn't rub this in my friend's face when he later admitted that he could see now that Bush isn't even qualified to serve as dog catcher.

After recalling this, I realized that my friend's appreciation for a member of the privileged class's being willing to serve his country (rather than just exploiting his privilege to enjoy life) is an extremely good example of the "innocence" that I believe afflicts American voters...and American (and other) religiously faithful. Some things are just too inconceivable for the innocent to entertain as possible:
That one's holy book could actually mean it when its words seem to incite the faithful to stone a backslider to death.

That a member of the privileged class could make the huge sacrifice of running for high political office without an honorable reason for doing so.

That the president of a civilized, enlightened country like the United States of America could be a moron. (But this same "president" is reported in this morning's paper to be affirming that "absolutely we're winning" [in Iraq].)

That the vice president of the same country could actually mean it when he endorses water-boarding. (Yet he is reported in the same paper to have confirmed yesterday that indeed "U.S. interrogators subjected captured senior al-Qaeda suspects to a controversial interrogation technique called 'water-boarding,' which creates a sensation of drowning," and to have reaffirmed his endorsement of the "technique"—"the Bush administration doesn't regard water-boarding as torture.")

That a senator of the same country (North Carolina's Elizabeth Dole) could be doing more than ordinary political lying (putting her spin on things) when she says (as also reported in this morning's paper), "We'll keep the majority in the Senate." (Hint: Mrs. Dole may know something the rest of us don't about how electronic voting machines are going to behave on November 7.)
While it's true that I really did not rub my friend's naivete in his face at the time, I guess it may seem as though I'm doing that now. But I'm not. This innocence is...well, so innocent. We should be gentle with the innocent. For we too are innocent on occasion.

For example, perhaps we still believe that the United States of America, which is pretty clearly among the most civilized and enlightened of nations, really is all that civilized and enlightened....

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Quote of the Day

From an op-ed piece* in today's New York Times:
The [Busheviks] don’t connect words with action. Action is something that’s secretly plotted with the inner circle behind closed doors. The public should stay out of it. The [Busheviks] just connect words with salesmanship. Poppy Bush never meant it when he said “Read my lips: no new taxes” at the 1988 convention. It was just a Clint Eastwood-sounding line in a Peggy Noonan speech, meant to pump up his flighty image.

Just so, his son never paid any mind to his campaign promise not to nation-build, and he didn’t come through on his bullhorn pledge to catch the perpetrators of 9/11 or his tough-guy vow to bring in Osama dead or alive.

To W., the words he says to Americans don’t matter as much as the words Dick Cheney says to him....
___________________
* Maureen Dowd, "Running against Themselves."

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Paradise as an al Fresco Bordello

While I continue to think about the sense in which American voters may have lost their innocence, you might like to consider this information from Sam Harris's book The End of Faith (pp. 124-127): The Pew Research Center for the People in 2002 conducted a survey of 38,000 people. "The survey included the following question, posed only to Muslims:
Some people think that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. Other people believe that, no matter what the reason, this kind of violence is never justified. Do you personally feel that this kind of violence is often justified to defend Islam, sometimes justified, rarely justified, or never justified?"
Harris's estimate from the Pew findings that there are at least "more than 200 million avowed supporters of terrorism" [among the world's billion Muslims] is extremely conservative, because "places like Saudia Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Iran, Sudan, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories were not included in the survey."
We must not overlook the fact that a significant percentage of the world's Muslims believe that the men who brought down the World Trade Center are now seated at the right hand of God, amid "rivers of purest water, and rivers of milk forever fresh; rivers of wine delectable to those that drink it, and rivers of clearest honey" ([Koran] 47:15). These men—who slit the throats of stewardesses and delivered young couples with their children to their deaths at five hundred miles per hour—are at present being "attended by boys graced with eternal youth" in a "kingdom blissful and glorious." They are "arrayed in garments of fine green silk and rich brocade, and adorned with bracelets of silver" (76:15). The list of their perquisites is long. But what is it that gets a martyr out of bed early on his last day among the living? Did any of the nineteen hijackers make haste to Allah's garden simply to get his hands on his allotment of silk? It seems doubtful. The irony here is almost a miracle in its own right: the most sexually repressive people found in the world today—people who are stirred to a killing rage by reruns of Baywatch—are lured to martyrdom by a conception of paradise that resembles nothing so much as an al fresco bordello.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Lost Innocence [revisited in the evening]

[Beautiful morning here, south of San Juan Bautista, California, in this long, deep canyon where my wife's brother and his wife have retired to the horse-ranch life.]

Yesterday I wrote that lost candy doesn't much signify....

[It's evening now, and we are back in Mountain View after our San Juan Bautista hosts' annual pumpkin party.]

This morning, alas, I tried to write (and thought for a while that I had written) a defensible statement about the loss of innocence by Americans who voted for George W. Bush and Dick Cheenie in 2000—or didn't vote for them but weren't sure that it made any difference....

But by this evening, what I wrote (and left posted for the better part of the day) had come to seem to "need some work." I think that the problem with my essay was that it wasn't clear what "innocence" could mean in this context. I tried to equate it to the unconscious (and self-delusional) state of believing the argument that, because it's inconceivable that the president of a civilized, enlightened country like the United States of America could send Americans to die for anything less than a good and necessary cause, therefore George W. Bush must not have done so....

But unconsciously (and "self-delusionally"!) believing such a syllogism seems to me now as much a pathological condition as any kind of "innocence," and an appropriate development of this position must await a fresh new day...and a fresher me.

Friday, October 20, 2006

152.0/1,311/2,787

After eating two of my son-in-law's chocolate-syrup-topped brownies and two scoops of vanilla ice cream for dessert last night, I seem to have gained a pound. Usually I weigh about 151 in the morning. Maybe I'm still mourning the "theft" of those four pieces of California brittle.

A rather foolish use of energy, given all of the losses being experienced these days by the Earth and its inhabitants. Today, for example, is the 1,311th day of CHEENIE's war (let's say, in the interest of accuracy—that is, not boy Bush's war), with 2,787 U.S. deaths so far in Iraq*, which had essentially nothing to do with the events of 9/11/2001...and no weapons of mass destruction either.

Lost candy doesn't much signify.
_________________
* ...according to Parenthetically Speaking...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

At the San Francisco Zoo

[When we left Los Angeles on Tuesday morning, I had four pieces of See's Candies "California brittle" safely stowed in my checked suitcase. They weren't there when I unpacked in Mountain View.]

Feeling hungry at the San Francisco Zoo
after raptly cooing and doting over the two
five-month old reticulated giraffes*
(just seven feet tall, they both still were calfs),
who playfully, like a boldly tossed stich,
would run to elude the pesky old ostrich,

after confirming that flamingos—
like single-amputated gringos—
can poise on one leg (and can do it
without needing a peg stand to do it),
after seeing in their pink-feathered quivering
tutued ballerinas en pointe demi-quavering,

while looking into the eye of an ibis,
I discovered something useful, aye—this:
imagined chocolate can taste and smell almost
as good as the actual thing...well, almost.
______________________
* The zoo's web page on the giraffes

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"The best ever"

At that dinner with Susie the other night, I remarked, "This is the best guacamole I've ever had." When Susie's husband nodded noncommitally and said, "It's okay," I realized that I needed to examine what I mean when I say that something is "the best ever." While my statement seemed to be comparing quacamoles, what I really meant was something like, "I can't imagine that this quacamole could be any better than I find it to be at this moment."

I suspect that my capacity to experience things in this way (as new and total in themselves) is a main reason I enjoy my life so much from moment to moment, however plain and "uneventful" it may be. This attitude goes along with a sense I have long had that the commonest of daily chores (washing dishes, making up beds) can be experienced as sacraments. That is, for example, washing a dish can be, if regarded with requisite mindfulness and awe, fully as worshipful as, say, taking communion can be for a Christian, or blowing up American servicemen can be for an Islamicist suicide bomber.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Still

Last night we had dinner with the younger sister of a friend of mine from Yale. In the forty years since we met Susie, right after we were married and she was a teenager, we'd seen her on only two other occasions—her brother's wedding and his fiftieth birthday party. So last night presented a rare opportunity to spend some time together.

During dinner, at a fine old Mexican restaurant in Santa Monica, California, Susie spoke of the impression we'd made on her the first time we met. "The way you looked at each other," Susie said. "It was powerful." My wife was looking down so I wasn't sure she'd heard this. Yes, she said, she'd heard. If she was looking down, it was because she was blushing.

I think I was blushing too. It hadn't occurred to me that during the summer following our wedding, my wife and I might have looked at one other in a "powerful" way, but it was sweet, forty years later, to think that maybe we did. Or at least that it looked that way to a teenage girl who, forty years later, still remembered the impression we'd made on her and seemed to be reminded of it last night...by something, perhaps, in the way my wife and I looked at one another still?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Neurological?

Early Monday morning, attempting to form my first sentence, I couldn't quite put the words together, but I managed, in my second sentence, to say, "It's so cold, my stung is tuck." Ah, I thought, Professor William Archibald Spooner himself might have noted that felicitous transposition. "Or my brain," I added.

Of course, probably (or, at least, for all I know), it's the brain in either case. Neurology has something to do with almost everything human. Possibly even our propensity to have faith. Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, is reported to now be "investigating the neurological basis of belief."

I've always been sceptical of attempts to reduce mental acts to neurology, perhaps fearing that my own consciousness would somehow be compromised. It is perhaps a tribute to the power of Harris's book that reading it is warming me up to the project and leading me to feel hopeful rather than fearful that the investigators may find out something reliable. God knows we need to get a hold on religion...*
____________________
* ...for the sake of formulating and enacting an enlightened social policy—in nations, anyway, not in thrall to theocracy.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

"Whereas conservative Christian...

...parents," wrote Ryan Sager1, in his book The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party,
once thought it was inappropriate for public schools to teach their kids about sex, now they want the schools to preach abstinence to children. Whereas conservative Christians used to be unhappy with evolution being taught in public schools, now they want Intelligent Design taught instead (or at least in addition). Whereas conservative Christians used to want the federal government to leave them alone, now they demand more and more federal funds be directed to local churches and religious groups through Bush's faith-based initiative program.
I suppose that these same "conservative Christians" are more likely than other Christians to be familiar with the following passage from Deuteronomy—a book in the Bible, in case you're unfamiliar with "Deuteronomy"—which Sam Harris quotes in The End of Faith2 to illustrate that "the God of Abraham [seems to have wanted] heresy expunged" as much as some passages of the Koran indicate Allah wanted it expunged:
If your brother, the son of your father or of your mother, or your son or daughter, or the spouse whom you embrace, or your most intimate friend, tries to secretly seduce you, saying, "Let us go and serve other gods," unknown to you or your ancestors before you, gods of the peoples surrounding you, whether near you or far away, anywhere throughout the world, you must not consent, you must not listen to him [or her]; you must show him no pity, you must not spare him or conceal his guilt. No, you must kill him, your hand must strike the first blow in putting him to death and the hands of the rest of the people following. You must stone him to death, since he has tried to divert you from Yahweh your God... (Deuteronomy 13:7-11)
The "end of faith" may not come anytime real soon, but I hope that the end of the control of our government by people kowtowing to such "conservatives" will end soon (in November 2006 and November 2008).
___________________

  1. According to conservative columnist George F. Will, in his op-ed column, "What Goeth before the Fall," Thursday in the Washington Post. Will's column ridicules House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who may be even more of a nincompoop than George W. Bush, if that is possible. The occasion is Hastert's statement ("to Rush Limbaugh's 20 million receptive listeners"), relative to the Representative Mark Foley debacle: "We [referring to Republicans, as Will points out] have a story to tell, and the Democrats have—in my view have—put this thing forward to try to block us from telling the story. They're trying to put us on the defense." Will comments: "It is difficult to read that as other than an accusation: He seems to be not just confessing a cover-up, but also complaining that a cover-up was undone by bad manners. Were it not for Democrats' unsportsmanlike conduct in putting 'this thing' forward, it would not be known and would not be disrupting Republicans' storytelling."

  2. I recommended Harris's book in yesterday's post.

Friday, October 6, 2006

On The End of Faith

I'm reading Sam Harris's 2004 book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. Page by page, it sparkles continuously with such clear light of provocative statements, it's difficult to decide which short passage to share by way of recommending the book. I'll share this one (from p. 29):
To see that our problem is with Islam itself, and not merely with "terrorism," we need only ask ourselves why Muslim terrorists do what they do. Why would someone as conspicuously devoid of personal grievances or psychological dysfunction as Osama bin Laden—who is neither poor, uneducated, delusional, nor a prior victim of Western aggression—devote himself to cave-dwelling machinations with the intention of killing innumerable men, women, and children he has never met? The answer to this question is obvious—if only because it has been patiently articulated ad nauseum by bin Laden himself. The answer is that men like bin Laden actually believe what they say they believe. They believe in the literal truth of the Koran. Why did nineteen well-educated, middle-class men trade their lives in this world for the privilege of killing thousands of our neighbors? Because they believed that they would go straight to paradise for doing so. It is rare to find the behavior of human beings so fully and satisfactorily explained. Why have we been reluctant to accept this explanation?
Lest you get the idea that Harris's book is all and only about indicting Islam, read the immediately following paragraph:
As we have seen, there is something that most Americans share with Osama bin Laden, the nineteen hijackers, and much of the Muslim world. We, too, cherish the idea that certain fantastic propositions can be believed without evidence. Such heroic acts of credulity are thought not only acceptable but redeeming—even necessary. This is a problem that is considerably deeper and more troubling than the problem of anthrax in the mail. The concessions we have made to religious faith—to the idea that belief can be sanctified by something other than evidence—have rendered us unable to name, much less address, one of the most pervasive causes of conflict in our world.
I love to read a good thriller (such as Steve Glossin's works—alas, not yet available in bookstores, although you CAN read excerpts on his blog), but I find The End of Faith as compelling a page-turner as the best thrillers. You might too.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Thinking Less of You Know Who

I probably couldn't think less of Bush, but my health demands that I try.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

"But Bush isn't personally...

...killing our servicemen and women, whereas Ted Bundy very personally killed those women." True. But murders—even serial ones—are similar to traffic accidents. They're going to happen, and whether you're in one depends on where you are, when, under what circumstances.

But in our system of government what Bush has been doing isn't supposed to happen. When a president (I'm stretching the term to include Bush) goes to war because HE has an agenda1, and misleads the Congress and Us the People to do so, then persists out of a pathological need to be seen as strong and steady (or maybe just because his Turd Weed says to), it's no accident. In fact, in our system of government, sending military personnel to war is supposed to be done Constitutionally, subject to checks and balances. For it to happen any other way is a serious abuse of power.

The Bushevik majority in Congress has collaborated in that abuse, too. And maybe, if we don't speak out, we collaborate as well? As Edward Abbey says, "A patriot must be ready to defend his country against [its] government." And, perhaps, from its greedy supporters? Bush's crimes are white-collar—the kind preferred by the powerful, whose license in our society is lubricated by the liquidity of money. (Bush is reported this morning to have raised $2.3 million dollars for his party yesterday.)

And Bush's war has significantly more bad consequences than 2,700+ wrongfully dead military personnel. He has seriously damaged America. Bob Woodward reports in his new book that General Jim Jones, the NATO commander, in midsummer 2005 told his old friend General Pete Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, that "U.S. prestige was at a 50- to 75-year low in the world." Jones wondered "if he himself should not resign in protest."

Bush has seriously rent the office that he occupies—an office, as I've pointed out on several occasions, he couldn't even win fairly, in either 2000 or 2004. And he has continued to rent the office ever since. (How appropriate that "to rent" means both to rip and to get the use of by paying money.)

And I'm not even getting into how his war is said by that NIE report to be "stok[ing] the global terrorist threat, generating recruits for increasing acts of terror across the globe" (that is, making Americans—and other people—less safe).

Bush is no laughing matter, even though one of my readers commented on yesterday's post: "Jokes are the only way I can take this, um, administration." It may help us to laugh at Bush (and his administration) occasionally, but he's so far beneath contempt that he doesn't deserve to be found funny.
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1...to paraphrase Secretary Snowjob on Bob Woodward's latest book, which, by the way—in case you haven't seen the latest issue—is featured on the cover of Newsweek.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Why Bush Jokes Are Not Funny

In Comment #4 to "Open Letter to George W. Bush (vii)," I said that we don't joke about serial rapists, so we shouldn't joke about Bush either. Perhaps I'd better argue a little for my comparison of Bush to Ted Bundy.

About fifty young women are thought to have been murdered by Bundy (after being taken in by his good looks and charm). Over two thousand American servicemen and women have been killed1 in Iraq and who knows how many tens of thousands severly wounded (after being ordered to go to Iraq by our affable and steadfast "commander in chief," who cooked up a fake justification for invading Iraq and now says, in essence, that because our men and women have died and been maimed, others must follow them). By that measure alone Bush rather wins in the Ted Bundy lookalike contest.

No need to even get into how many others, right here in America, have been "raped" by Bush's economic and social policies (while his superrich friends, such as the seven-figure-income lobbyists who live in McLean, have been wined and dined)....
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  1. I don't know exactly how many have died either, any more than do Bush, Cheenie, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Cant-doleezza2 Rice.

  2. Cant-remember either that July 2001 meeting at the White House when George Tenet delivered the CIA briefing about an imminent Al Qaeda strike on an American target. But—oh, that's right—Bob Woodward "has an agenda" in reporting the meeting in his new book3.

  3. Philip Shenon and Mark Mazzetti report in their article, "C.I.A. Chief Warned Rice on Al Qaeda," in today's New York Times that
    Now, after several days, both current and former Bush administration officials have confirmed parts of Mr. Woodward’s account.

    Officials now agree that on July 10, 2001, Mr. Tenet and his counterterrorism deputy, J. Cofer Black, were so alarmed about intelligence pointing to an impending attack by Al Qaeda that they demanded an emergency meeting at the White House with Ms. Rice and her National Security Council staff.