Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Beware of Kindly Old Ladies in Sensible Shoes Who Hate America
There was an interesting column by Joe Sharkey in today's New York Times about airport security screening. Since two Russian planes were brought down last August by explosives believed to have been hidden in women's clothing, there have been more patdown searches of both men and women at U.S. airports, and more complaints from women about being patted down in an offensive manner. Sharkey's right, however, that even men can sometimes find the procedure offensive. Last year, a screener at the airport in Aspen, Colorado, got rather too intimate with my belt buckle while trying to figure out if it was setting off the metal detector. I suppose it's possible that some evil genius might figure a way to rig his belt buckle to explode. The trouble with such an explosion is that might not kill you--and it might injure you in such a way that you'd wish you were dead, if you get my drift. So I doubt it. (Before we left for DC last week, we heard that DC-area airports would be requiring people to remove sweaters and sweatshirts for screening if they were wearing shirts of any sort underneath--in essence, to partially strip--but they didn't.)

It's been nearly three years now since the immortal Shoe Bomber, Richard Reid, tried to light his tennies aboard a plane, but his legacy lives on every time a passenger has to remove his or her shoes while going through security. "Well, jeez, one guy tried to put a bomb in his shoe, so we'd better check all shoes now." (Thank goodness Reid didn't try to light his shorts.) As Sharkey notes, what makes the shoe screening requirement especially maddening is the inconsistency with which it's applied. Sometimes just putting your foot on the magic box is enough, but sometimes you have to take your shoes off and run them through the X-ray machine along with your comb and your hat. I once heard a screener tell a fellow passenger that if you had to take your shoes off, it meant there was some indeterminate increase in the level of threat. Well, maybe--but my experience has been that if the airport is really crowded, I'm going to have to take my shoes off, period. Maybe they think it'll make it harder for an evildoer to run.

I do my best to tolerate the screening procedure at the airport, but I'd sure like to know how effective it is, really. How many evildoers have actually been caught? How many nefarious acts have been prevented? We'll never know, of course, because that's classified, and there's a good argument that if we prevent one terrorist attack, whatever we spend is worth it. But given the widely reported shortcomings in security at ports, railways, and chemical plants, wouldn't some of the money we spend making sure somebody's grandma won't blow up a flight from Minneapolis to Bemidji be better spent on that?

Recommended Reading: You've probably heard about the giant NBA brawl on November 19, which involved players going into the stands to fight with fans. (A former radio colleague of mine, now the play-by-play broadcaster for the Indiana Pacers, was injured by a flying player.) I don't know if it was the worst thing ever to happen in pro sports--after all, soccer players in South America have been murdered for losing games. I do know that while it was shocking, it wasn't surprising. The game has adopted a hip-hop vibe over the last several years, and because violence is undeniably a part of that vibe, an incident like the one in Detroit was bound to happen eventually. The NBA has steadfastly denied this problem with its image, but the brawl may finally force the league out of denial. A lot of the commentary on the incident focused on whether it was symptomatic of broader problems in society. Jarrett Murphy of the Village Voice found--surprise!--that mainstream media outlets indeed found signs of moral rot in the incident. Murphy wonders why they have yet to apply a similar moral-value lens to, for example, the war in Iraq. Good question.

Monday, November 29, 2004

More Holiday Snapshots
Somehow, I reached my mid-40s without ever having visited Washington, D.C. But we have family in the area now, so we made it there over Thanksgiving, and we'll be back. Here are some more impressions from along the way, in no particular order.

--My response to patriotic symbolism is rarely visceral, but not at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, where a lone sentinel stood guard in the rain, walking his post, 21 steps in front of the tomb, as if on parade. (Sentinels are on guard 24-7 and walk the post in the prescribed manner even when nobody's watching; they have done so since 1948.) I was surprised to find that JFK's gravesite had far less emotional punch, even on a rainy day close to the anniversary of his burial there.

--Our nephews, ages 11 and 8, accompanied us on our sightseeing trips. At JFK's gravesite, the boys were far more interested in just how the eternal flame stays lit all the time than they were in who JFK was. Nevertheless, as a history geek and erstwhile social studies teacher, I doggedly tried to catch teachable moments wherever possible, even when they weren't being pitched. At the Jefferson Memorial, I thought that the eight-year-old had asked me who Jefferson was, so I launched into a brief bio, only to have him interrupt me and say he only wanted to know which direction Jefferson's statue was facing.

--The originals of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, are displayed at the National Archives, which was our first stop and a place I'd always wanted to visit. The documents now live in a display hall which, according to a security guard, has an even more sophisticated system for protecting the documents since the hall's renovation last year. Considering that the previous system dropped them below the building into a bomb-proof vault that would survive a nuclear attack, what they've got now (which the guard couldn't discuss) must be really something. Whatever it is, I am guessing Dick Cheney probably lives there, too.

--I have always heard how powerful the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is, the black granite wall inscribed with the names of every soldier killed or missing. Sorry, but I didn't get it. Maybe it was the throng of visitors or the sunny day, but I found myself understanding some of the criticisms leveled at the monument when it first opened in the early 80s. Not that I found it insulting to those who served, as some critics did, but that it doesn't fit with the other monuments on the National Mall, and that it leaves a visitor (this visitor, anyhow) with a sense not of the sacrifice of the soldiers living and dead, but of shame at the war's waste. The World War II Memorial, the busiest of the places we visited on the day after Thanksgiving, is the Vietnam Memorial's diametric opposite in that it's entirely about heroism. Its soaring columns and iron wreaths are as overblown as the black granite of the Vietnam Memorial is understated, and having one festooned column for each of the 50 states, DC, and various territories is overkill. As several historians have noted, public memorials say as much about the times in which they are erected as they do about the past events or people they commemorate. Even though the World War II Memorial was designed in the late 1990s, it's clearly an artifact of America's 21st Century empire.

--You can already buy 2005 inaugural souvenirs all over Washington, and the specter of Bush and the Republicans looms over the city like Godzilla. But Washington's permanent population is 60 percent African American, DC voted for John Kerry by a margin of 10 to 1, and its license plates read "Taxation Without Representation," a protest against the fact that DC citizens pay federal taxes but have only a non-voting delegate in Congress. Compared to other places, the District is foreign territory, particularly to the red-state Republicans atop the federal government.

Other quick observations:

--The funniest highway sign along the Capital Beltway is the one pointing toward the exit for the George Bush Center for Intelligence.

--On the tour bus through Georgetown, we saw five or six people carrying signs protesting the recent election in the Ukraine--which would be five or six more Americans than I've seen protesting the recent American election.

--The members of the family that I had suspected of being Republican are even more Republican than I had feared. "Tell me, Jim, why would a flat tax be a bad idea?"

--When I saw my two-year-old niece the last time, over Memorial Day weekend, I thought it was impossible for her to get any cuter or more adorable. I was wrong.

Mission Statements
When a wordsmith such as I visits a place such as Washington, D.C., the first thing he notices is that words are carved in granite everywhere--on the sides of buildings, over the doors of buildings, on the inside walls of buildings. The words we carve into the buildings of our national capital represent mission statements about who we are and what we value. If they were less meaningful or significant, the thinking goes, we wouldn't bother with such permanent inscriptions in such important places.

But when you carve words in granite, their very permanence makes them just another decorative feature after a while, like the cornice of a building. Carving words in granite elevates them to a plane above the mundane--and therefore, we turn them into safe and sanitized platitudes everyone can agree on, instead of thinking of them as the living ideas they once were.

I first thought about this while walking through the FDR Memorial last Friday with The Mrs. and our nephews, age 11 and 8. The memorial is the most quote-heavy of the major memorials on the National Mall, with more than 20 inscriptions, including his greatest hits ("fear itself," "arsenal of democracy," etc.) and some others that should be:
The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation. It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world.

We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all our citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
Take FDR’s name off of these quotes (and remove his cadences from them), put them in the mouth of a modern political candidate, and you’d have a significant portion of the American electorate ready to vote against that candidate as being unfit to lead the post 9/11 world (quote 1), trapped in a pre-9/11 mindset (quote 2), and failing to recognize who's responsible for the nation's prosperity (quote 3). Yet some of those very same voters walk around the FDR Memorial reading and nodding, immunized against the meaning of those words by the fact that they’re in granite. (The Mrs. suggests that new members of Congress be bused out to the FDR Memorial and made to read the quotes before being sworn in.)

One of the most anomalous quotes on any wall in Washington is at the Lincoln Memorial, where Lincoln's Second Inaugural is inscribed. More than anything else at the Lincoln Memorial, the volume of text dates it to an era earlier than our own--a time before visuals reigned supreme. Nevertheless, I saw many people at the Memorial trying to read the entire address, but I wonder how many of them really understood what it says. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural is the most fearsome speech any American president ever gave. Instead of offering certitude about the Civil War, it offered only questions. And instead of offering comfort and faith in a happy ending, Lincoln suggested something else entirely:
If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, he now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him? Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
Were it translated into modern English, people would be shocked by it:
If this war is our punishment for a great national sin, how can we be surprised? After all, we believe God punishes sinners with perfect justice. We want this war to end, but if God wants to use it to destroy us, then destruction is clearly what we deserve.
No American politician would dare deliver such a speech today, even in a country as godly as this one is supposed to be. And even if someone did, nobody would inscribe it on a wall commemorating him.

Thomas Jefferson is the most malleable of the Founding Fathers. Both liberals and conservatives can invoke him frequently, because Jefferson's own head was often divided by contradictory ideas, sometimes in ways that defy logic. But it's hard to read the Jefferson Memorial's most prominent quote as anything other than a slam at those today who would repeal the Enlightenment: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." You can say such a thing now--but prepare to be accused of anti-Christian bigotry. (Jefferson himself faced just such an accusation.) Nevertheless, the inscription’s power--both to offend and to galvanize--seems to have been robbed by its elevation to granite.

This isn't to suggest that we should stop honoring our nation's heroes as we do, only to recognize that monuments, by being carved out of stone that's supposed to last forever, can't help removing their subjects from the realm of the real. But if we remove their ideas from the realm of the real, we lose the benefit of their wisdom--and if there's one place wisdom is often in short supply, it's Washington, D.C. If the words we carve in granite really do represent deep and lasting statements of our nation's mission, maybe our current crop of leaders are an anomaly, and someday we'll awaken again to our better selves. Maybe. But we won't, if we forget that those mission statements aren't just decorations.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Abused and the Abusers
On a third-season episode of The West Wing, a political consultant tries to convince administration officials to fight back against a Republican pamphlet accusing the president of being a liberal, telling the president's aides:
We all need some therapy because somebody came along and said liberal means soft on crime, soft on drugs, soft on Communism, soft on defense. And we're going to tax you back to the Stone Age because people shouldn't have to work if they don't want to. And instead of saying "Well, excuse me, you right-wing reactionary, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-education, anti-choice, pro-gun Leave it to Beaver trip back to the '50s," we cower in the corner and say, "Please don't hurt me."
Fictional character, fictional president--absolutely factual statement of the Democrats' problem since the Reagan Era. To put it another way:
Watch Dan Rather apologize for not getting his facts straight, humiliated before the eyes of America, voluntarily undermining his credibility and career of over thirty years. Observe Donna Brazile squirm as she is ridiculed by Bay Buchanan, and pronounced irrelevant and nearly non-existent. Listen as Donna and Nancy Pelosi and Senator Charles Schumer take to the airwaves saying that they have to go back to the drawing board and learn from their mistakes and try to be better, more likable, more appealing, have a stronger message, speak to morality. Watch them awkwardly quote the bible, trying to speak the new language of America. Surf the blogs, and read the comments of dismayed, discombobulated, confused individuals trying to figure out what they did wrong. Hear the cacophony of voices, crying out, "Why did they beat me?"
That's Mel Gilles, a veteran advocate for victims of domestic violence, who says that liberals' reaction to the constant abuse we take from conservatives is almost exactly like the reaction domestic violence victims have to the constant abuse they take from their spouses. And like an abused spouse, you can't stop the beatings until you stand up for yourself--anything less just gets you beaten again and again.

More Recommended Reading: The week of Bush's inauguration in 2001, The Onion published a story headlined "Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity Is Finally Over.'" As Dan Chak discovered, it wasn't just political satire, it was prophetic.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

A Quick One While He's Away
Jonathan Chait in the Los Angeles Times on three candidates who want the Democratic nom in 2008 and who must be stopped. I agree totally on two, and sadly am persuaded to agree on the other one.

The Thanksgiving Day edition of The Boondocks on real-world analogues for the Republicans and the Democrats. Jury's out on that one.

I am still officially on holiday with the family in the Virginia suburbs of DC. Because the combination of dialup access and AOL as an ISP is enough to turn the Internet into the cyberspace equivalent of backpacking on one leg, that's all I can stand for now. Back home tomorrow.

Monday, November 22, 2004

The Mode Before the Pumpkin Pie a la Mode
We are in pre-holiday mode here at the Daily Aneurysm today. Admittedly, it's not much different from regular mode, except we feel less guilty about blogging instead of doing remunerative labor. Pre-holiday mode also gives us less stomach for all the trouble in the world, although there was some interesting media news today.

First, a package of eight bills before Congress, five of which have been passed already, would drastically affect the principles of "fair use." Now if you want to know what the potential demise of fair use means for intellectual property rights in broad terms, try this post from last week at Lean Left. If you want the short-n-sexy version, it's this: Congress wants to take away your TiVo. The bills would make it illegal even to fast-forward through commercials on old-fashioned videotape. (Technology Review has more details here.) Of course, you gotta wonder how they would catch you doing it--although as we've seen, the Repugs in Congress want to regulate everything you do in your private life, so they're probably working on something.

Also on the media front, Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales, one of the country's preeminent writers on television, took out after FCC Chairman Michael Powell yesterday. Powell's a man on a mission, and the mission is to make the business end of American media safe for corporations, and the programming end safe for eight-year-olds. Shales doesn't get into the issue of whether Powell would like to be president one day, but how could he not? Every time he grandstands on an issue like the Desperate Housewives flap, he banks wingnut IOUs.

Being in pre-holiday mode means, logically enough, that soon we will be in holiday mode, and in turn that means this blog will go on hiatus for several days while The Mrs. and I go over the river and through the woods to visit her family over Thanksgiving. If I can find a computer and a few quiet moments away from the niece and nephews at some point, I may try to post a bit from the road. If not, we'll be offline until Sunday November 28.

People often think it's real funny to ask who atheists give thanks to on Thanksgiving Day. I will leave aside the boorishness of that question and say that I am grateful to all of you who read this bilge on a regular or semi-regular basis. Every time you visit this site (and especially when you weigh in via the "Comments" link), you make my half-assed efforts seem worthwhile. Thank you very much.

Thou Shalt Not Play Hide the Salami
John Aravosis and his readers over at AMERICABlog had a discussion last night that tied together some of the ideas in both of my major posts yesterday. (I'm pretty sure it was a coincidence.) Aravosis suggests that one way to fight back against the religious right might be for liberals to call for a Constitutional amendment banning divorce, making adultery a felony, and forbidding acts of sodomy (including oral sex) even for legally married couples in the privacy of their own homes. Why shouldn't a ban on adultery be a major focus of "marriage protection"? A commenter to the post observes that adultery causes 100 percent more divorces than gay marriage, is one of the big sins proscribed by the Ten Commandments, and it breaks a vow made before God. Putting such a bold proposal on the table would force conservatives to argue in favor of adultery or divorce. As I noted yesterday, making them talk about the real effects of their positions instead of letting them argue on their hand-picked rhetorical ground is not a bad strategy.

Another commenter to John's post picked up on the idea that "deliberate childlessness" is a threat to traditional marriage. If marriage without procreation is an abomination against God, then the following types of marriage should be illegal, too:
Marriage among couples if one of them is sterile.
Marriage among couples if one of them is a soldier who got his balls blown off in Iraq.
Marriage among couples if the woman is past menopause.

Adoption by single mothers or single fathers.

Furthermore, if you get married and don't have kids by the time you die, the state should retroactively revoke all the rights that you took advantage of while you were defrauding the state.
None of those ideas are inconsistent, if you believe that "The Scripture does not even envision married couples who choose not to have children."

The positions espoused by marriage-protecting, moral-values conservatives are riddled with inconsistencies sufficient to make those positions blow apart when put to the test. So maybe the best way to fight extreme positions is to show what will happen if they're taken to their logical extremes.

Recommended Reading: Somebody over at Daily Kos blogged about the AP article on conservatives and marriage I mentioned last night, and it generated some interesting comments.

Quote of the Day: "To be blunt, this is a fat-cat top-down campaign. The campaign staff doesn't really get grassroots."--top Kerry staffer, mid-February 2004, quoted by Susan at Daily Kos, describing her experiences trying to get hired by the Kerry campaign. I complained last winter that Kerry didn't understand the stakes in 2004--that he was running the kind of campaign that any Democrat could have run in any election of the last 30 years--and Susan's experience seems to confirm it.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Mistooken Identity
In both posts today about yesterday's action in Congress, I called Ernest Istook of Oklahoma "Senator Istook." He is, in fact, a representative and not a senator. I apparently confused him with Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe. Clearly, I have mixed up my prize specimens of Oklahoma conservatism, not that there's much difference. I regret the error.

Rebels Without a Clue
With all the focus on same-sex marriage at the moment, some other conservative ideas about family life often go unnoticed. For example, hardcore pro-lifers are also opposed to artificial birth control, claiming that anything getting between sperm and egg is just as sinful as abortion. Less nuttily, some on the right have argued that it ought to be harder to get a divorce than it is now. As the AP noted in a story today headlined "Conservatives Urge Closer Look at Marriage" (presumably appearing in Sunday newspapers as well as on the web), other scholars are arguing for greater tax incentives for marriage, more premarital education, and so forth. But it was a comment in the article by Southern Utah University professor Bryce Christensen that got my attention:
If [state and federal bans on same-sex marriage] are part of a broader effort to reaffirm lifetime fidelity in marriage, they're worthwhile. If they're isolated--if we don't address cohabitation and casual divorce and deliberate childlessness--then I think they're futile and will be brushed aside.
Wait, wait, wait--"deliberate childlessness" is among the threats to the place of marriage in society? Dude be wack, I thought--but then I went out and searched the phrase "deliberate childlessness" on the Web, and found an article from last summer in something called The Christian Post, which propagated across the web in various guises: "Deliberate Childlessness: Moral Rebellion With a New Face." The author is R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. After quoting several childless adults who say their lifestyle doesn't have room for children, Mohler says:
Christians must recognize that this rebellion against parenthood represents nothing less than an absolute revolt against God's design. The Scripture points to barrenness as a great curse and children as a divine gift....

Morally speaking, the epidemic in this regard has nothing to do with those married couples who desire children but are for any reason unable to have them, but in those who are fully capable of having children but reject this intrusion in their lifestyle....

The Scripture does not even envision married couples who choose not to have children. The shocking reality is that some Christians have bought into this lifestyle and claim childlessness as a legitimate option. The rise of modern contraceptives has made this technologically possible. But the fact remains that though childlessness may be made possible by the contraceptive revolution, it remains a form of rebellion against God's design and order.

Couples are not given the option of chosen childlessness in the biblical revelation.... Those who reject children want to have the joys of sex and marital companionship without the responsibilities of parenthood. They rely on others to produce and sustain the generations to come.
Well. When you frame the issue in terms of a moral obligation to produce future generations, you're not far from suggesting that given America's moral responsibility to the world, it's the moral duty of Americans to have more babies--which smacks of the sort of "growing of the race" encouraged in Nazi Germany. And even if nobody leaps that far, this sort of thinking represents the worst kind of intrusion on the right of personal choice and privacy--and yet another way in which conservatives assume the right, or as they might put it, the duty, to police what goes on in America's bedrooms. (Or doesn't go on, as it turns out.)

It so happens that The Mrs. and I are childless, not because the equipment doesn't work, or we don't know how to work it (or because we are trapeze-swinging libertines), but because after we had been married a few years, we simply chose not to have any. We've been married 21 years, and I find it hard to imagine that a stable marriage like ours is somehow contributing to the general decline of marriage as a societal institution because we haven't reproduced. It seems to me that at this uncertain moment in history, opting not to have children is far from an immoral act. It's hard to argue against the wisdom of having fewer mouths to feed, and fewer people to grow up and become consumers of dwindling natural resources. But then, I'm not the sort of person given to narrow readings of ancient texts, either.

This sort of rhetoric from the right bears watching. Some of them really do mean to make the world over again, and they don't give a damn what you think, want, or believe for yourself.

Recommended Reading: Some of our blogosphere pals have spent their Sunday figuring out what Oklahoma Senator Ernest Istook was up to yesterday with his amendment to the appropriations bill that would have permitted the chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, or anyone they designated, to snoop into personal and business tax returns without privacy restrictions. Josh has the short version; a poster at Daily Kos has the long one.

Nixon's Ghost
This morning we awaken to a story that looks like inside baseball, and because it happened on a Saturday night leading up to a holiday week, it's unlikely to get much play beyond the community of wonks, but it's huge. DailyKos and Josh Marshall have the best summaries (the Kos post starts by talking about Iraq and Vietnam, but keep reading). Short version: During debate on the $388 billion appropriations bill in the Senate yesterday and last night, Oklahoma Senator Ernest Istook inserted a provision that would permit the chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, or any agents they chose to designate, the right to pull any American's tax return and review it for any reason they chose, with no privacy or disclosure rules applying.

You might want to go back and read that sentence again.

We were lucky that Democrats caught the provision, because these spending bills are phone-book sized; and we're also lucky that the Democrats chose to raise hell, given that they don't always. In the end, the provision was yanked, and the Repugs are blaming staffers and other minions for a screwup, but it's clear from reading the reports that somebody up Repug leadership foodchain had to approve the insertion of the provision, and knew precisely what it was.

The obvious question to ask is why. Well, with Repugs taking out after Ronnie Earle, the Austin, Texas, district attorney who's about to indict Tom DeLay, the ability to use Earle's tax returns against him would be mighty helpful. But it's also clear that there are many, many, other ways to screw opponents by using their tax returns. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican, said the provision reminded him of the bad old Nixon days, when taxpayer information was routinely used against political enemies. Although Senator Istook hasn't explained himself yet, why else would the provision have been added, if not to give the majority a weapon for political guerilla warfare on the minority?

If Nixon's ghost ever walks the halls of Congress, I promise you it was walking last night.

I highly recommend a post at Orcinus, which went up even before the Istook shenanigans of last night, about the coming assaults on the right to privacy. Bush's judicial appointments, the "strict constructionists" beloved by those who believe everything wrong with the country is due to "activist judges," will generally look askance at the concept of a right to privacy. They believe that since it's not explicitly stated in the Constitution, it doesn't exist. And once you throw away the right to privacy, it's easy to start hacking away at gay rights, abortion, birth control, and all the other big targets of the right. What we're talking about is nothing less than the end of the concept of individual freedom--and it's coming, if liberals don't think of a way to talk about it in terms that everybody can understand. Dave Neiwart suggests we start talking explicitly about the right to privacy, and the umpteen ways the curbing of it can lead to consequences Americans (even many red-blooded red-state Americans) wouldn't want. Some of the commenters to his post have extremely good ideas: One suggests that Democrats, instead of framing the issue in roundabout constructions like, "Americans have the right to know if George W. Bush believes in a Constitutional right to privacy," they ought to just come out and say Repugs don't believe in it, period. There's certainly enough evidence to support the claim, and if the Repugs want to come out and say "Oh yes we do," then we can put some pressure on them to prove it. Another suggests proposing a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to privacy, which would put Repugs in the uncomfortable position of having to argue against it. That's entertainment.

It hasn't been three weeks since the election, but only someone not paying attention would disagree that the brakes are off and the train is a runaway. We can try to grab the wheel, but we'd also best brace for impact.

Recommended Reading: I don't believe in Hell, but on the odd chance there is one, I'll be there--and because he is responsible for this, so will George W. Bush.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Dumb and Dumber
We're adding another new blog to the roll this morning: AMERICABlog, which has featured some good stuff in the last day or so:

--The wingnuts have gone ape sending e-mails to the FCC demanding that ABC, Nicolette Sheridan, the Philadelphia Eagles, and anybody who didn't avert his or her eyes in horror at the Monday Night Football skit be exiled to Outer Mongolia. AMERICABlog suggests those of us who think the whole thing is ridiculous should send our own e-mails to the FCC, and provides addresses.

--Speaking of wingnuts going ape, AMERICABlog reports they created their own fanciful scientific term yesterday and talked about it in a Senate hearing: "erototoxins," which are released when pornography is available on the Internet. Erototoxins are more addictive than crack--my god, they cause masturbation! Presumably they are also responsible for other bad stuff, such as liberalism.

It is getting harder and harder to be a satirist these days, I swear.

So: Given the amount of misinformation and hoax that is passing for reasoned debate (and turning into public policy), here's a website that is a useful tool (not to mention an entertaining time-waster): the blog at Alex Boese's Museum of Hoaxes. A couple of years ago, Boese wrote a book about some of the weirdest hoaxes, pranks, and urban legends of all time, and he's kept collecting them at his website. His blog examines newsworthy incidents of weirdness--for example, debunking the I-69 name-change story that got picked up by several bloggers and news outlets this week. In a world growing dumber by the day, The Museum of Hoaxes is a breath of intelligence.

Note to All: We are taking the rest of the day off here at the Daily Aneurysm to sweat out two college football games--first, Michigan at Ohio State, followed by Wisconsin at Iowa, the outcomes of which will determine the post-season pecking order in the Big Ten. Most desirable outcome: Ohio State and Wisconsin both win, to put the Badgers into the Rose Bowl, which is the only bowl game that matters. Do I have any divided loyalties, given that I attended Iowa and used to live in Iowa City? Absolutely not. Go Bucky!

Friday, November 19, 2004

Don't You Mean "Uncle Ben"?
I had planned to take the rest of the day off from blogging, but I am forced to rise to the defense of a former colleague. The most e-mailed story at Yahoo News this afternoon--by a three-to-one margin--is "Radio Host Calls Rice 'Aunt Jemima'." The host in question is John "Sly" Sylvester of WTDY here in Madison. (Sly and I attended the University of Wisconsin at Platteville together back in the day, and we both worked at the campus radio station. I always thought I was the first program director ever to suspend him for something he said on the air, until I found out years later he'd been kicked off the air in high school, too.) In the intervening quarter-century [!], Sly's fearless attitude toward, well, everything, has turned him into the top radio personality in Madison, a position he's held for the better part of 10 years.

You can read the story linked above yourself for the details of what he said. I'd call your attention to Sly's quote in the Wisconsin State Journal this morning:
"I'm not apologizing for what I said," Sylvester said Thursday in an interview. "I stand by it.

"I was aiming that directly at a black person that is letting himself (and herself) be used by an administration that has been extremely hostile to minorities," he said.

"Being subservient and being a black role model are two different things. I think (Rice) has not only been bad for the country and for national security, but I think she's been a bad black role model.

"I don't think being subservient to white people and not blowing the whistle on their misdoings is a good role model at all." . . .

"I did call her the Aunt Jemima of the administration because I think not only have they used her race as a trophy, but I think her price of admission to the White House has been complete obedience to the white power structure in the White House," Sylvester said. "(And) I called (Powell) Uncle Tom. Frankly I think they bought his silence."
As usual, it seems to be the language used to express the sentiment and not the sentiment itself that's got people upset. Because Sly's pretty much right on the substance--Rice and Powell have been part of an administration that's been an absolute disaster for black America without, as far as we know, raising a peep about it. They have served as a kind of window dressing for an administration whose commitment to diversity and equality is appalling. And people like Senator Russ Feingold and the Madison Urban League, both of whom criticized the remarks, have to know it. You can argue that the non-focus on Rice's and Powell's race is a great step forward for racial equality--but we all know we don't live in that country yet. Race still matters here, even when we try to act like it doesn't, and this flap is Exhibit A.

Here's the weird part: A couple of weeks ago, Milwaukee talk show host (and sometime-Rush Limbaugh fill-in) Mark Belling referred to Mexicans as "wetbacks" and was yanked off the air in response. (As program director of WTDY, Sly says he has no plans to suspend himself.) Latino groups in Milwaukee have attempted to organize advertiser boycotts and get Belling fired, but he returned to the air this week full of sarcastic apologies. Belling's remark was almost exclusively a Wisconsin story. However, if you Google "sylvester jemima" this afternoon, you'll find over 170 links to the story from all across the United States and from Australia and the UK, too. So Sly, who is generally an unapologetic progressive, takes out after two powerful individuals and it's a worldwide story, but a conservative throws a comparable insult at an entire ethnic group and barely breaks through the torrent. The so-called liberal media strikes again.

About Sly personally: In college he was (and I don't think he'd dispute this), an asshole. (It takes one to know one; so was I.) He was utterly contemptuous of almost everything, starting with authority and moving on to most other students, the faculty, the city of Platteville itself, etc. I don't think you could find very many eminent Plattevillians who would have a lot of good things to say about him as he was back then. I can't say we were friends, exactly--colleagues is a better term. Officially, as a manager, I had to look askance at his renegade nature; unofficially, I admired his renegade nature a little bit. We lost track of each other over the next 20-plus years, but we got reacquainted this past summer. In a roundabout way, he's become the successful professional lots of us aspired to be 25 years ago. He's still an iconoclast and still as blunt and opinionated as hell--but he's also thoroughly dedicated to what he does and utterly serious about it. He didn't get to be successful by accident (as I think some of our Platteville colleagues from back then like to believe). So this remark isn't a simple matter of popping off by a guy starving for attention.

My hope is that the management of WTDY will stick by him; I suspect they will, but I can't be entirely sure. This town is far more self-consciously liberal than Milwaukee, and self-consciously liberal outrage is just as capable of inflicting casualties as conservative outrage. I hope WTDY won't go stupid and fire the guy--because by assuaging Madison's white liberal guilt, they'd be contributing to the wingnut crackdown on criticism of the Bush cult.

Late Note: Right after I posted this, I saw that Lean Left had blogged the story also--and a commenter there reported that the Belling story logged over 300 weblinks when it broke the week before the election. So contrary to my statement above, the Belling slur got national attention too--but I stand by my contention that it didn't penetrate the zeitgeist to anywhere near the extent that the Sly story has, if the Yahoo most-emailed designation means anything. (5pm)

Rotten Boroughs
Interesting editorial in a Pittsburgh newspaper this morning about whether Senator Rick Santorum is really a resident of Pennsylvania or not. He owns a house in Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, but rents it out; his family lives in Leesburg, Virginia, where his five kids are homeschooled through an online charter school, which is receiving voucher funds from the Penn Hills district--or it was, until light was shone on the whole thing and the Santorums withdrew their kids from the school. Whether they'll actually move home or not remains to be seen.

We've got something similar here in Wisconsin involving one of our high-profile pols. State Assembly Majority Leader John Gard of Peshtigo has been known to go off on out-of-touch Madison liberals as if he'd just shucked his flannel lumberjack's shirt, put down his axe, and come down from the woods of northeastern Wisconsin to speak truth to power. Except he owns a house in the Madison suburb of Sun Prairie, even though he continues to collect the legislative per diem intended to pay for the 180-mile one-way trip from Peshtigo to Madison. His kids attend school in Sun Prairie, and have for several years.

Santorum and Gard (a likely candidate for governor here in 2006) are neither the first nor the highest-profile Repugs with such impressive powers of bilocation. George H.W. Bush of Kennebunkport, Maine, ran for vice-president and president as a Texan, thanks to the Houston hotel room that served as his legal address for filing purposes. Dick Cheney, ostensibly of Wyoming, is currently serving as vice-president, but was mostly a resident of Texas following his stint as Defense secretary under Daddy Bush. (Of course, nobody knows where he lives now, secure undisclosed location and all.) Most recently, there was Alan Keyes, who ran for the Senate in Illinois despite being from Mars. Sure, the Democrats have Hillary Clinton, and although I'm a fan, I was opposed to her decision to move to New York and run for the Senate in 2000. She's done an admirable job of learning what matters to her New York constituents, but there's no denying that her high national profile makes her a kind of Senator-at-large.

For hundreds of years, the system of representation in the British Parliament grew like a weedy thicket. By the early 19th century, nearly a fifth of the members of the House of Commons came from so-called "rotten boroughs," which were controlled by powerful members of the aristocracy despite the fact that almost nobody lived in them. Fifty of the 150 rotten boroughs had populations of 50 people or less, while growing industrial cities like Manchester and Birmingham, with tens of thousands of residents, had no representation at all. One of the great parliamentary reforms of the 19th century was the abolition of such boroughs. Yet even today, it's not necessary for an MP to live in the place he represents. In the past, when an influential cabinet minister had the misfortune of being defeated in an election, he could often be returned to office by election from another district. (Winston Churchill got back into office this way at least once.)

The great British constitutionalist Edmund Burke didn't see a problem with this sort of representation, saying that the kind of people chosen to Parliament could be depended on to represent the best interests of the country as a whole, an idea known as "virtual representation." Clearly the Rick Santorums and John Gards of the world would say that they can represent their Pennsylvania and Peshtigo constituents just fine by visiting on the weekends. And some would argue that people like Santorum and Gard are representing people across the country or the state who believe as they do, but whose direct representative believes something else entirely. (Certainly a fair number of Democrats across the country feel that way about my man Russ Feingold, if the number of small contributions he receives from states other than Wisconsin is any indication.)

In the end, though, widespread "virtual representation" just won't fly in a country whose governmental roots go back to the New England town meeting, and whose great hero, George Washington, was a gentleman farmer called upon to lead first the Revolutionary Army and later, the government itself. Plus, we like thinking we might run into our representative at the grocery store or the basketball game, just like a regular person. So yeah, it matters that the home residences of Santorum and Gard are a legal fiction. It's just another way in which actions are divorced from rhetoric; just another little bit of dishonesty to fuel the hypocritical bonfire that's raging in the new Repug America.

Unstuck in Time
What year is this? The Nation says it feels like 1925. The Progress Report was waxing nostalgic yesterday for 1999. I'm afraid it's just more of 2004, except that given the breathtaking acceleration in all things bad in the 2 1/2 weeks since the election, 2004 is likely to resemble a sepia-tinted nostalgic dream a couple of years from now.

Or maybe it's the 1330s. Back then, an English philosopher and theologian named William of Occam developed a principle now known as Occam's Razor, which is often translated as either "do not multiply entities unnecessarily" or "plurality should not be assumed without necessity." In contemporary language, what it means is that the simplest explanation is often the likeliest to be true. (Or, if you prefer, "keep it simple, stupid.") And so, while we're positing all sorts of reasons for the spiraling debacle and why the American electorate chose Bush, while we're setting up a series of funhouse mirrors through which Iraq and the economy and Christianity and homophobia and whatnot make Bush look like a success instead of the Worst President Ever, maybe we're violating Occam's Razor. Maybe people voted for the Repugs with both eyes open, knowing precisely what they were likely to get. Maybe this is what they want.

Recommended Reading: You gotta like a website called Project for the Old American Century, where columnist Jack Dalton asks a simple question. Americans still doggedly believe in the old social-studies class image of our country, America the good, the kind, the generous, even after everything that's been done in our name in recent years.
My questions to my fellow American citizens are this: What for you would be too much? What would this nation’s government have to do in its foreign policy, or domestic policies, that would cause you to forsake your basic belief in and support for that governing body and its policies?
If it hasn't happened yet, will it ever?

And at Counterpunch, Hugh Urban looks at the parallels between the Project for a New American Century and the Left Behind novels. Both fantasies feature an intrepid group of people (specifically, white American people) who do battle with Evil to bring forth a new heaven and earth. And neither one has much to do with the reality-based world.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Unicorn's Mind
When I went off to college to begin my education in radio, I was gung-ho in capital letters. I wanted to learn everything I could about how the industry--most of all, how to be a professional. This was going to be my life's work, and I was damn serious about it. But some of my colleagues didn't view their education as a response to a calling. Lots of them looked at it as just a thing they were doing. They liked radio, but their actual bliss--the thing that gave meaning and purpose to their lives--lay elsewhere. This shocked the hell out of my 19-year-old self, and represented a lesson I have tried to remember ever after: People are in a given place doing a given thing for a wide variety of reasons, and what motivates them to act will not necessarily be what motivates me.

A couple of weeks before the election, I said that undecided voters were like unicorns--mythical. How could any American at this point in history fail to take a stand? Well, I had forgotten the lesson I learned at college. People vote for a wide variety of reasons, and what motivates them to vote will not necessarily be what motivates me. I am motivated by a geek's interest in politics, but not everyone is. Some of my fellow citizens look at it as one of many things they have to do, and often view it as far less important than dozens of other things in their lives. It's not that they don't care, necessarily; it's that they care about other things more.

Christopher Hayes spent seven weeks canvassing for the League of Conservation Voters in the Wisconsin suburbs where I live (was he the League guy who knocked on my door one afternoon?), and wrote about it for the New Republic.
Political junkies tend to assume that undecided voters are undecided because they don't care enough to make up their minds. But while I found that most undecided voters are, as one Kerry aide put it to The New York Times, "relatively low-information, relatively disengaged," the lack of engagement wasn't a sign that they didn't care. After all, if they truly didn't care, they wouldn't have been planning to vote. The undecided voters I talked to did care about politics, or at least judged it to be important; they just didn't enjoy politics.

The mere fact that you're reading this article right now suggests that you not only think politics is important, but you actually like it. You read the paper and listen to political radio and talk about politics at parties. In other words, you view politics the way a lot of people view cooking or sports or opera: as a hobby. Most undecided voters, by contrast, seem to view politics the way I view laundry. While I understand that to be a functioning member of society I have to do my laundry, and I always eventually get it done, I'll never do it before every last piece of clean clothing is dirty, as I find the entire business to be a chore. A significant number of undecided voters, I think, view politics in exactly this way: as a chore, a duty, something that must be done but is altogether unpleasant, and therefore something best put off for as long as possible.
And so, the issues that motivate more political animals, like me and maybe you, don't reach these people in the same way. In fact, as Hayes discovered, "issue" is often as foreign a word to these voters as a random noun in Swedish or Urdu--they don't connect things that affect their lives, like health care or labor rights, with "issues," or recognize them as being something politics can deal with. This might be due to the fact that undecideds tend to be more skeptical about the ability of politicians to solve anything, so undecideds don't think in terms of political solutions to problems. Nevertheless, that people might actually fail to connect certain basic American problems to the political system is hard to fathom, but it makes the existence of the undecided voter a lot easier to understand.

And even when these disconnected voters grasp the scope of a particular problem, they can be fatalistic about the ability of anyone to solve it, incumbent or challenger. Nevetheless, they plan to vote anyhow, which led Hayes to observe the following mind-bending conundrum:
So the staggering incompetence and irresponsibility of the Bush administration and the demonstrably poor state of world affairs seemed to serve not as indictments of Bush in particular, but rather of politicians in general. Kerry, by mere dint of being on the ballot, was somehow tainted by Bush's failures as badly as Bush was.
In the end, Democratic thinkers need to apply the lesson I learned back in the day to politics now: Not everyone is motivated by the same things we are. We tried to fight this presidential campaign on the turf of ideas, but that turf is unfamiliar to some voters, and uncomfortable to others. We shouldn't decide we won't fight on that ground--which is what merely retrofitting our current positions with fuzzy language about morals and values would represent. Instead, we've got to find a way to make it less painful for people to meet us on that ground.

Linkage A-Go-Go
We'll keep it relatively brief and effortless today--if you're looking for brain food this lunchtime, try these:

Howard Dean proves why he's the only one who can save the Democratic Party.

Paul Waldman explains why audacity is the Repugs' greatest product.

Tapped, Atrios, and Kos all talk about the latest Repug tax plan. It includes such fine ideas as cutting the very tax incentive businesses have to provide health insurance to their workers in the first place, eliminating federal deductability of state and local taxes (which will be particularly effective in screwing the blue states, where such taxes tend to be higher), and shifting more of the tax burden from wealth to work. This is bad public policy on nearly every front, and as evidence of what Bush and the Repugs really think of those Americans not fortunate enough to be independently wealthy, it's vile. What would it take to bring out the piano wire and lampposts, if not this?

Kevin at Lean Left says what I've been thinking about the flap over ABC's Monday Night Football opening sketch earlier this week--marveling at the apparent fact that Nicolette Sheridan's naked back is more offensive than the miles of cleavage displayed by the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and babes in the Coors Light ads, and far worse than the increasingly innuendo-laden ads for erectile dysfunction drugs. (I'm no prude, but I wonder whether it's necessary to show women talking about the quality of their partner's erections on TV.) Just as the Janet flap at the Super Bowl permitted Americans to spray big clots of outrage all over their favorite easy targets, so has this. That Mr. and Mrs. Average American care more about this than about getting screwed for a generation by bad tax policy doesn't give a guy much hope that we can save the country.

If you were a literary classic, which literary classic would you be? (I'm Orwell's 1984, which surprised me not.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

How to Win the War, Just Like in Iraq
When you preside over a half-assed one-man blog like this one, you can't begin to cover everything you'd like to, and in a timely fashion. Sometimes (like yesterday), you've just got to disengage from the media torrent, whether it's for the sake of your sanity or because you need to do actual remunerative labor instead. And even when you're soaking in it, bloggable news and commentary slips through the cracks--or, to use a better metaphor, it goes blasting through the firehose and you don't see it until later, if at all. So I'm seriously late getting to this Matthew Yglesias article from The Prospect, which was posted last week--but you should read it anyhow. In it, he tallies up just what moral values voters have gotten from the first four years of Bush, in the wake of that sink of moral depravity known as the Clinton Years.
In 1994, when the Democrats controlled everything, there were no civil unions; gay marriage was a concept most people had never even considered; abortion was legal; and new policies allowed homosexuals to serve in the military only if they agreed to stay in the closet.

In the four years hence, Republicans captured the Congress and then the presidency. Abortion is still legal, and, under Bush's policies, the number of abortions has grown--a consequence of rising poverty, declining availability of health care, and a faith-based campaign to make it harder to obtain contraceptives and scientifically accurate sex education.

Civil unions now exist in Vermont. More and more corporations and state governments allow gay and lesbian couples to enjoy similar joint benefits in health care and other areas. Laws are being implemented in Hawaii, California, and New Jersey to give gay couples most of the rights of heterosexual couples, albeit without the term "marriage." In Massachusetts, of course, the term itself may now be applied. Anti-sodomy laws were deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court--and rightly so--struck down mainly with the votes of Republican-appointed justices, while a mostly-Democratic court ruled the other way in the 1980s. Thanks to the proliferation of cable and the Internet, pornography is now more widely available than ever. The feminist movement, whose early "assaults" on traditional morality sparked the backlash in the first place, is now utterly victorious....

This is what decades of voting for conservative politicians has wrought: nothing.
So cultural conservatives are losing their culture war despite having their hand-picked generals running it. Sound like any other war you know?

Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing, Baby: Earlier this week various Internet sites, including Wonkette and Electablog, as well as the Harper's Weekly Review, noted a story from Indiana claiming that a congressman there was proposing a bill to change the name of Interstate 69 to a more moral number. The story comes from something called Hoosier Gazette, which is apparently Indiana's answer to The Onion, because the story is a joke. Yet the very fact that lots of people took it seriously--including me for a minute--is a pretty effective commentary on the state of the Union at the moment.

L'Etat, C'est Moi
It's said that if something happens once its an accident, and if it happens twice it's a trend. If it happens three times, maybe you've really got something.

1. The nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general is said to be an attempt to burnish his credentials with conservatives, who don't find him conservative enough, so that he can be bumped to the Supreme Court eventually.

2. Arlen Specter is apparently going to get to be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee after all, despite the furor over his insufficiently conservative credentials to head the panel that must sign off on Bush's judicial appointments.

3. The nomination of Margaret Spellings to succeed Rod Paige as education secretary is reportedly causing some consternation among conservatives who think she's soft on vouchers and school privatization.

So the conventional wisdom of only a week ago--that Bush II was going to be the Unqualified Triumph of the Wingnuts--may no longer be operative. They're still waiting for the perfect nominee to set their hearts aflutter, and they'll most likely get one someday. For now, they'll come to accept Gonzales, Spellings, and Spector eventually (Specter especially, whose dissent from the conservative line will now be limited to jumping two feet in the air when he's told to jump instead of three.) But the mere fact that they have to settle for less than they hoped, only two weeks after supposedly giving Bush his spendable political capital, has to harsh their victory buzz.

A telling fact in what's really going on here is the frequent use of the word "confidante" to describe three high-profile nominees--Gonzales, Spellings, and Condoleezza Rice. Combined with news that "disloyal" CIA agents are being purged from the agency and the likelihood of a similar purge coming to the State Department, the second Bush term is starting to look like a cult of personality--which isn't much of a surprise. We were told repeatedly during the campaign that only the reelection of Bush could save us from Insensate Evil; we were told repeatedly that God chose him to be president; so why shouldn't the man, and the needs of the man, become more important than those of the office or even the party? Never mind enshrining theocracy in law; never mind even preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution. If you want a federal gig now, you'd better be focused on the preservation, protection, and defense of George W. Bush.

And by the way: about that meme that says "moral values" voters decided the election for Bush--guess who's responsible for pushing it? That's right--liberals and the media, at least according to this post at Real Clear Politics, which gives a share of the blame to the religious right itself. The post does make a good point, however, that I've seen made elsewhere--the moral values meme comes from the responses to a single question in one exit poll. This post is the first attempt I've seen, however, to blame its propagation on somebody other than the wingnuts.

Elsewhere: It's not often that we can combine Recommended Reading and Quote of the Day, but today we can: "The Republican Party is the party of 'fuck'. The Democratic Party should become the party of 'shit.'" That story (which is actually a pretty good piece of analysis) and the bit about the moral values myth both came to my attention via the Daou Report, a website compiling blog posts from left, right, and center. Peter Daou worked for John Kerry, and used to compile a similar digest for the campaign each day. His guy's loss is clearly a blog reader's (and writer's) gain.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Humankind's Work
I do not believe in God. Let me be clear--I'm not an agnostic, which is somebody who doesn't take a position one way or the other. I don't believe there is a God, period. So when I attack the corrosive effects of religion on politics and culture, I do so from a position that presumes we'd be far better off as a planet if people ordered their lives by simple humanist principles. We should do what advances our own happiness and that of our fellow human beings, not in hopes of some eternal reward or because somebody living in a yurt 3,000 years ago said we should, but because it's the right thing to do, now, in this, the only world we know. Is that so different, really, from the principles of liberal Christianity? I don't see a conflict--but believers can get so freaked out by what they consider to be the implications of unbelief that they fail to see how much common ground we all have.

When confronted with an actual living, breathing atheist, people tend to ask the same questions. "Don't you wonder what happens after we die?" Nope. "Aren't you afraid of going to Hell?" Nope. "Doesn't it bother you that you will cease to exist when you die?" Nope. What most of them don't ask--but they think it--is, "Should I be afraid of you? Because if you don't believe in God, then you can have no moral anchor, therefore you must be a monster who will seduce my wife, corrupt my children, and drag everyone you meet down into Hell with you." Nope. First of all, I am not likely to seduce your wife, unless balding fat men get her really hot (then it's Katie-bar-the-door). And second, I'm far from amoral. We humanist types--and I really do prefer "humanist" to "atheist"--sign on to a lot of the same moral principles that all of the major world religions follow, and we can even talk about them in similar language. Although we may disagree about the sources of such principles, we can agree on their worth in advancing a goal we share: doing what's right for ourselves and our fellow human beings sharing the ride on this planet.

All this is by way of introduction to a sermon preached at a congregational church in Minneapolis the Sunday after the election by the Reverend James Gertmenian. It's a lovely thing, really, and after I tried to excerpt the good bits here, I decided it would be better to simply advise you to read it yourself. There's nothing dogmatic about it, no "thou shalt nots," no exhortations to take up the cause of one candidate or issue so as to smite another--it's simply an eloquent reminder of what it means to do what the Reverend Mr. Gertmenian would call "God's work." I'd call it "humankind's work," but either way, the work that will get done by heeding his call is work worth doing indeed.

Recommended Listening: If it turns out that God exists after all and I wind up in Hell, I take comfort in the fact that most of the people I know will be there, too. You're probably going there just for reading this, so it won't be any worse if you click this link. (Windows Media file, fast connections only, not safe for work.)

Wake Up and Smell the Circumstantial Evidence
For a moment over the weekend I was freaked out by the use of the word "purge" to describe what is reportedly going on at the CIA--all those connotations of the old Soviet Union--until I realized that the word "purge" is the least scary part of it. What we're seeing looks an awful lot like a witch hunt. Josh Marshall says it looks to him like the agency professionals who know what they're doing are being replaced by political people who know only what they believe. Both groups--pros and pols--have been wrong now and then, but it's demonstrably true that the pols have been wrong far more often on intelligence matters (and more spectacularly) than the pros. Bottom line: Be very afraid.

Elsewhere, the Boston Globe published an article yesterday speculating on what will happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned in the next four years, as most of us expect. Reading Drake Bennett's analysis, you gotta wonder if the Repugs really want Roe tossed out--it might be most useful to them as something to demonize, because demonization costs nothing (and helps win elections). Once Roe is gone, the conservatives in the party will want action instead of just talk, and they'll want it immediately. Bennett says they'll get it, up to a point. Anywhere from 12 to 30 states have abortion laws in place and ready to go the moment Roe is overturned, but what those laws do varies from place to place. Some states would allow abortion, some would only limit it, and some would ban it outright. The wingnuts would then most likely demand that Congress step in (ignoring its supposed commitment to federalism) and outlaw the practice nationwide--at which point, Bennett says, the party's alliance between moderates (who tend to believe that abortion should remain legal in at least some cases) and conservatives would likely blow apart.

And in our WTF political moment of the day, the first Zogby poll taken after the election reveals that Bush's approval rating is 48 percent positive, 51 percent negative. Read that again: 48 percent positive, 51 percent negative. That means 10 days after reelecting the guy, the electorate thinks he's doing a poor job, by about the same margin he was reelected by. WTF, indeed. When you match this up with the election-day exit polls, which were wrong this time for the first time in history, it only increases the circumstantial evidence of an election theft.

Speaking of WTF, if you haven't seen the "Flabbergasted Eagle" yet--maybe you'll want to put it on your Christmas list.

Next Stop: Tibet
Not a lengthy post this morning; I'm not in the mood. I am glad to see that poor Colin Powell has decided to resign as Secretary of State. If he couldn't bring sanity to U.S. foreign policy during Bush's first term, there's no way in hell he could have done so in a second--although he's not blameless in the first-term disaster, either. He chose to sell the defective Iraq product even though he knew how flawed it was, either out of respect for the authority of the commander-in-chief or out of fear of seeing the State Department further marginalized by the Defense Department, and he got peed on by the neocons for his trouble anyway. Powell was once one of the most respected figures in America, an inspiring presence who seemed to represent the best this country could be, and a man who probably could have had the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 or 2000 if he'd wanted it. Now he leaves public life as perhaps the most pathetic figure of the first Bush term.

As to who gets the gig next, I'm not sure it matters. At the very least, the new secretary will be required to have the fuck-the-world, we're-America attitude necessary for high administration positions, even if he or she has to hide it for the sake of appearances. Whoever it is will be less moderate than Powell. It'll be somebody who has to continue to truckle under to the Defense Department--which makes me wonder if it won't be somebody from the Defense Department, like Paul Wolfowitz. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

We haven't heard too much about it yet, but battles over the Patriot Act will be one of the main political events of 2005, as many of its provisions are due to expire a year from now. Bush and Ashcroft have already pushed for its renewal, and for its expansion. As bad as Patriot I is, Patriot II would be even worse. As first revealed early in 2003, Patriot II would resurrect Total Information Awareness and increase other forms of surveillance, add more secrecy to government operations and legal proceedings, and just for kicks, would make it illegal for you to encrypt your e-mail and would allow the government to strip you of your citizenship more-or-less at whim.

Nat Hentoff writes in the Village Voice this week about roadblocks on the way to Patriot II. He notes that there is still a coalition of civil-liberties Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans in Congress, and he praises lower federal courts for their "awakening" to the implications of the act. Hentoff's example is federal judge Victor Marrero of New York, who struck down sections of the Patriot Act in September. Ashcroft likely had Marrero in mind, among others, when he gave a speech last week blasting judges for endangering national security by second-guessing Bush. (My guess is that the speech was a way for Ashcroft to announce that he wants to be a Supreme Court justice someday.)

When the history of our era is written--if we manage to keep the theocrats from establishing a Ministry of Truth to write it for us--the various land wars we are fighting and will fight under the umbrella of the War on Terror will be footnotes. The Patriot Act is going to be seen as the main event. Ashcroft and the Bushistas don't believe in democracy, they don't believe in accountability, and they sure as hell don't believe in the Constitution. People of Ashcroft's ilk believe, ultimately, that they're doing God's work, and that the ends justify the means. Alberto Gonzales won't be anointing himself with Crisco every morning or holding Bible study in his office, but his contempt for the Constitution is equally toxic.

In a way, the most noxious thing about the Patriot Act is its title. True patriotism is something else entirely.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Doing the Wingnuts' Will
Today we launch a new feature on the Daily Aneurysm--"Doing the Wingnuts' Will," in which we will cite incidents of people who are not wingnuts themselves acting in ways that advance the wingnuts' agenda. We'll consider the decision by some ABC affilates to dump Saving Private Ryan the other night to be incident number one. Incident number two comes to us from Chapel Hill--liberal Chapel Hill--North Carolina, where a public-radio underwriter has been told it can no longer refer to "reproductive rights" in its underwriting announcements for fear that it would be considered "advocacy," and violate FCC regulations against public radio stations engaging in such speech. The underwriter has to say "reproductive health" instead. So now the word "rights" is considered too hot to say?

Incident number three comes from Colorado, where student musicians at a high school who planned to sing Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" at a school talent show this week got a visit from the Secret Service after some local wingers claimed they were threatening President Bush's life. For chrissakes, you dumbasses, Dylan wrote the damn song in 1963. Best of the Blogs' Michael Scott responds, "High school students aren't the only ones reminiscing about those lyrics lately."

These are merely (merely?) incidents of institutional wingnuttery (albeit the North Carolina case was more precisely an institutional action prompted by the fear of wingnuttery), which we saw plenty of before the election, and which would most likely have continued even had John Kerry won the presidency and the Democrats had taken back the Senate. What's more disturbing is the emboldened wingnuttery of individuals who feel their cultural superiority confirmed by Bush's reelection, and who have appointed themselves enforcers of that superiority. Institutional wingnuttery rarely draws blood or damages property. Orcinus has some examples of vandalism directed at individuals, and of the kind of right-wing rhetoric that is likely to inspire more. These wingnuts are not part of the evangelical base, which has gotten all the press this week, but like the evangelicals, they're a segment of Red America that's louder than their numbers alone would indicate. And they are just as capable of making people act--or more precisely, not act--for fear of their wrath.

Recommended Reading: Peggy Noonan was a White House speechwriter during the Reagan years, and wrote a charming book about it called What I Saw at the Revolution. Today, she writes a syndicated column in which she sounds like an elderly aunt with a mild case of Alzheimer's--one moment she's lucid, but the next, she's up at treetop level having tea with the birds of the air. World O'Crap (a smart and funny blog with a name that makes it easy for people to ignore) has some deep thoughts (by Jack Handey) about her post-election column. And finally: The Gadflyer has the first endorsement for president in 2008. Hint: It's one of the guys who wants to be head of the Democratic National Committee.

Friday, November 12, 2004

High Times for Wingnuts
This is a great time to be a wingnut, because even batshit loonballs like Bob Jones are being taken somewhat seriously. And not just Jones, but James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson, and whoever is reponsible for this. We haven't seen this kind of preaching in public since Billy Sunday left for his dirt nap.

It seems possible, however, that the wingnuts' words and actions might be their own wooden stakes and garlic. It's in our interest to publicize these theocratic outbursts far and wide whenever possible--such "Shi'ite Republicans (as Molly Ivins has called them for years) speak for only a fraction of Bush's 59-million vote majority, and the extremism they express might be one of the best weapons we have to make some of those 59 million see how wrong their vote was.

Over at the Guardian today, Sidney Blumenthal offers his perspective on the rise of the right, and pulls out a quote from Thomas Jefferson worth remembering as the mullahs step up and demand what they see as their due:
History furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.
Josh Marshall suggests we start calling Jones, Dobson, Falwell, et. al., "radical clerics," as we do with Muqtada el-Sadr and others in the Middle East, which some people might consider name-calling. Not me--I'd like to think of it as framing. (If the election did nothing else, it made all of us disciples of George Lakoff.)

Speaking of framing, Dave Pell at Electablog, responding to yesterday's Frank Rich column about the ascendance of blue-state culture, notes that the election wasn't about values as much as it was "framing morality as a set of issues and then selling that message." There's nothing absolute about those values, and you need look no further than Fox for evidence.
[W]e all know that Fox sells one set of values on their news channel, but strips that message down, rubs it with oil and gives it a rocking pair of fake tits before selling it on their entertainment channel. And both channels are doing pretty damn well.
Recommended Reading: After a somewhat slow start after its debut earlier this year, the Gadflyer's Fly Trap blog is pretty hot right now. Yesterday it featured some great posts, including Paul Waldman on red-state/blue-state attitudes toward spanking and a post-election analysis from the only member of the Gadflyer team to closely call the Electoral College result in advance, Michael Coblenz. (He says he's sorry.) He predicts that the Repugs will soon be split by divisions between the Shi'ites and the moderates, and that Democrats have an opportunity to bounce back, provided we present ourselves as something other than not-Republicans.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Dangerously Weird
See if you can guess which of the following is from The Onion and which is from a real story in the Washington Post. Story number one:
Tara Leslie, Cary's wife, has been praying for President Bush, too, and now she is saying, "I think it's so important to have a society of moral absolutes." ...

On Sept. 10, 2001, Cary was earning about $55,000 a year. On Sept. 12, the decline began. . . . "Maybe $35,000," he says of what he earns now, and that includes income from a second job he took a year ago, delivering pizzas on Friday and Saturday nights....

"I don't blame President Bush for anything that's happened with my income," Cary says. Rather, he looks at Bush as someone who believes in "personal responsibility," which Cary believes in as well. Don't complain. Solve. "There are jobs out there" ...
Story number two:
"My family's been suffering ever since I lost my job at the screen-door factory, and I haven't seen a doctor for well on four years now," said father of four Buddy Kaldrin of Eerie, CO.... Basically, I'd give up if it weren't for God's grace. So it's good to know we have a president who cares about religion, too." ...

"Our society is falling apart--our treasured values are under attack by terrorists," said Ellen Blaine of Givens, OH.... "We need someone with old-time morals in the White House. I may not have much of anything in this world, but at least I have my family."
The first story is from the Post; the second is from this week's Onion. Many, many Americans are going to have to work harder thanks to the results of the election, but I bet you would have never imagined the writers at The Onion would be among them.

Frank Rich of the New York Times earns Quote of the Day today for his comment on the Leslies in his latest column. Measuring Cary Leslie's hearty embrace of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage against his own characterization of his family as "working poor," Rich says, "Maybe by 2008 some Democrat will figure out how to persuade him that it might be a higher moral value to worry about the future of his own family than some gay family he hasn't even met."

Recommended Reading: It's been hard for something as big as the Battle of Fallujah to get noticed on cable news this week, what with the Yasser Arafat death watch and the soap-operatic jury deliberations in the Lacey Peterson case, which is probably why the appearance of two military tanks at an antiwar protest in Los Angeles on Tuesday night isn't getting much press, either. The official explanations: They were in town for a Veteran's Day parade and they were lost; either that or they got stuck unexpectedly at a traffic light. But you know what it looks like. Welcome again to George Bush's America--where thinking the unthinkable keeps you from being surprised.

"We are living in dangerously weird times now.... Doom is the operative ethic.... Guaranteed Fear and Loathing. Abandon all hope. Prepare for the Weirdness...."--Hunter S. Thompson

Private Ryan Gets Busted
And so it begins. From the New York Times website this morning:
Several ABC affiliates have announced that they won't take part in the network's Veterans Day airing of "Saving Private Ryan," saying the acclaimed film's violence and language could draw sanctions from the Federal Communications Commission.
Station officials say that since they can't get a waiver from the FCC promising that they won't be fined or otherwise cited for broadcasting the film, which includes the word "fuck," they can't risk it. The film has been broadcast twice before, and the FCC acknowledged getting a complaint about the language in 2001. So did at least one affiliate that will be dumping the film this time.
WSOC-TV of Charlotte said it had received complaints about language in the movie when it was aired in 2001 and 2002.

"Now, after much concern and discussion about family viewing over past months, and with Americans at war across the world, it is the vivid depiction of violence combined with graphic language proposed to begin airing at 8 p.m. that has forced our decision," said Lee Armstrong, the station's vice president and general manager.
Stop and take that in for a second. The movie is inappropriate "with Americans at war across the world." Seems to me that makes Saving Private Ryan more appropriate, not less, if only by helping Americans on their couches to come to a deeper appreciation of the experiences of Americans on the front lines, but that's a subject for another post.

The FCC regulations on profane language say that the context in which the language appears is of critical importance--which makes me think these stations are overreacting a bit. The f-bombs in Saving Private Ryan, which are dropped incidentally, are far different from the f-bombs in an episode of The Sopranos, where the characters use them the way some people use the word "like." This plot-driven use of language is similar to the nudity of concentration camp prisoners in Schindler's List, which was broadcast in 1997 (and blasted by then-Congressman, now newly-elected Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn). A glimpse of a starving, naked prisoner is a far different matter than a lingering shot of some starlet wiggling out of a bikini--or Janet Jackson being partially disrobed at the Super Bowl, for that matter.

Nevertheless, affiliates are worried about the movie's content, and perhaps rightly. One station group president says, "We're just coming off an election where moral issues were cited as a reason by people voting one way or another and, in my opinion, the commissioners are fearful of the new Congress."

And so it begins. One of the dark thoughts I've had over the past week concerns precisely to what extent the newly empowered wingnuts can actually succeed with their plans for cultural cleansing. I think to myself that surely, there are too many cable stations, magazines, and Internet sites for them to police, and they'll have their hands full just making a marginal impact on our rights to see, read, hear, and ultimately think whatever we want. But this incident shows us that the wingnuts won't have to do all the work themselves--people who are afraid of them will pitch in to help, thus multiplying their power.

The number of stations preempting the movie represents no more than a handful of ABC affiliates nationwide, but the film some will show instead of Saving Private Ryan provides a commentary on the cultural state of the union: Return to Mayberry.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Red State, Blue State, Hey-Screw-You State
In the wake of Josh Marshall's post about blue values versus red values comes another worthwhile post from Paul Waldman of the Gadflyer, who's tired of hearing how contemptuous we blue-staters are toward the good, honest souls of the red states.
The only expressions of contempt I ever hear are directed from red-staters at places where there are lots of Democrats. From "Massachusetts liberals" to "liberal Northeastern elitists," the only regional prejudice allowable is that directed at the coasts. When the DNC chose Boston as the site for its convention, Dick Armey said, "If I were a Democrat, I suspect I'd feel a heck of a lot more comfortable in Boston than, say, America." Can anyone imagine a Democrat saying such a thing about Kansas? His career would be over.
Marshall made a related point in his post--the language the two sides use to talk about one another is quite different. When blue-staters put down red-staters, it tends to be by portraying them as bumpkins; when red-staters put down blue-staters, they tend to portray us as devil worshippers who kill babies and would invite Osama over for a glass of chardonnay. Yet it's the red-staters who are hacked off at the way they're talked about. Welcome to life in the Bizarro World.

As Waldman observes, "conservatives need something to bitch about." A friend of mine called up last night and said he was surprised that conservatives still seem so angry. "Don't they know they won?" Yes, they certainly do, but so much of what they stand for is intimately bound up with anger--anger at terrorists, welfare cheats, immigrants, secularists, and so on--that without it, the whole enterprise would collapse for want of an organizing principle.

For Sale, One Crystal Ball, Slightly Defective: The new attorney general is going to be White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, not deputy AG Larry Thompson, as I predicted this morning. Even though I'd heard Gonzales' name mentioned, I figured he was a better bet for the Supreme Court at one of the upcoming vacancies. (He still could be, of course--and Ashcroft could be, too, saints preserve us.) Democrats should get ready to grill him about the memos he put his name to suggesting that the Geneva Convention doesn't apply in the War on Terror, and that torture is probably OK. Ladies and gentlemen, the New Chief Guardian of Your Civil Rights.

Elmer Gantry Goes Home
I trust you slept incredibly well last night, given that "the objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved." That's what John Ashcroft wrote in his letter of resignation as Attorney General yesterday. Let us count some of the ways in which his comment is the most hilarious thing a public official has said since the last time Bush tried to ad lib. First of all, it's off-the-charts untrue, both empirically and metaphorically. Empirically, because crimes are still being committed in every state, little old ladies being knocked on the head and having their purses taken, gang members capping each other, etc. It's not as if every criminally inclined American has taken up other pastimes thanks to the thoroughness of Ashcroft's department. Metaphorically, it's also false--Ashcroft was something like 0-for-5000 in catching terrorists, so if the country is secure, it's hasn't got much to do with him. And nobody believes terrorists will never try to strike again. Plus, Ashcroft's proclamation goes pretty far off the administration's talking points. Didn't he get the memo that Americans are never going to be safe, which is why we have to keep electing Republicans or we'll die?

Ashcroft submitted his resignation with a handwritten letter, which he claimed was to "maintain confidentiality." Ashcroft was disliked by some of his subordinates in the Justice Department because of what they perceived as his love of grandstanding--and this is another example of it. What, Margaret from the secretarial service might be an Al Qaeda plant? Or worse, from CNN?

If Ashcroft were a character in a novel, you'd call him a caricature. A Pharisee praying on the street corner, self-promoting, priggish (remember the draped statues in the Justice Department?), and utterly convinced of his own incorruptibility. He'd be the worst public official in the history of the Republic if his boss wasn't worse. You'd think his replacement would have to be better almost by default, but don't hold your breath. It will likely be his deputy, Larry Thompson, who won't be any better on civil liberties, but will likely be smoother than Ashcroft was--in other words, a better salesman for the same lousy product.

On the subject of "resignations," it's standard procedure for a newly elected president to ask for the resignations of his entire cabinet, and then accept as many as he likes. Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Don Evans were merely the first; there will be others. Poor Colin Powell will probably go next--one hopes he might follow his service with a pilgrimage to Tibet to find his missing honor and dignity. (Gibbering warhawk Michael Ledeen is proposing Powell be replaced by Zell Miller, which is so unthinkably insane that it will probably happen.)

Recommended Reading: We have heard a lot over the last several years how the decadent coastal elites are immoral, and that the cultural values we should value the most are those of the "heartland." Josh Marshall put up a stone brilliant post yesterday pointing out that when we look at indicators of moral values, such as divorce rate, out-of-wedlock births, incidence of preventable disease, and crime statistics, there are indeed regional differences in values--the rates of all of these negative indicators tend to be higher in the supposedly more moral Red States, particularly in the South.

Some blue-staters have had enough of the South, and think that newspaper editor Horace Greeley was right after all when he told Abraham Lincoln in 1861 that we should "let the erring sisters go in peace." I think that's what this guy is trying to say, although he chooses slightly different words.

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