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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Don't Try to Lay No Boogie-Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll
Since I won't be posting much more until Monday, I'd best weigh in tonight with a few thoughts on today's immigration debate in the House of Representatives. "Debate" isn't actually the word, I suppose. "Foaming, rabid nonsense," maybe. But not really "debate."

The illogic on display by the Repugs quoted in the AP's story on the debate is classic. Iowa's Steve King went into a rap about how "this new ruling class of America" (translation: "Democrats, and Republicans who don't agree with me") is "expanding the servant class in America." The part I don't get, however, is the bit about the expansion of the servant class coming "at the expense of the middle class of America, the blue collar of America that used to be able to punch a time clock, buy a modest house and raise their families. . . . Those young people are cut out of this process."

So, Congressman--are you saying that guest workers from other countries are keeping young Americans from getting high-paying jobs as domestics, gardeners, and valets? And if not--what the hell are you talking about?

It's curious, too, to hear a Republican invoking class conflict in America. Usually such language gives them the fantods, especially if spoken by Democrats. Republicans are the ones who always say this is a classless society, where even the most humble domestic, gardener, or valet can rise to become . . . a domestic, gardener, or valet who owns his own house.

Word Association:
OK, so that title really doesn't have much to do with this post. It's just that there's a DJ in Chicago--now a talk-show host--who, during his Top 40 days 30 years ago, used to start his shows with a snippet of Long John Baldry's song "Don't Try to Lay No Boogie-Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll." The DJ's name--Steve King.

The Theory That Dares Not Speak Its Name
You already know about "the n-word," a word so terrible we can't permit ourselves to speak it or even to write it. Last December, we learned that certain federal air safety personnel refer to "the b-word". Down in Arkansas, there's another word so awful and terrible that it's referred to by letter only.

The Arkansas Times published an article this week about the struggles of the state's science teachers to meet a state standard requiring them to teach that the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old. The challenge is to do it without offending the state's fundamentalist parents, many of whom believe the earth is approximately 6,000 years old. The article features a geologist who teaches as part of a science program used by several schools. He was disciplined recently by his employers for telling his elementary students a certain group of rocks was 300 million years old. Not that the program's administrators wanted to restrict him in that way, necessarily, but they had to--to stay in business, and to teach the good science they are capable of teaching in other areas, they have to avoid discussions of "deep time" and what they and other Arkansas teachers refer to as "the e-word"--evolution.

If it seems absurd that teachers might not even want to speak the word "evolution" aloud, consider the experience of another teacher working for a private science-education company:
Her story was that in preparation for teaching the students from that district, she had asked some of the teachers how they approached the state benchmarks for those items dealing with evolution. She said, “Oh, I later got in trouble for even asking,” but went on to describe their answers. Most teachers said that they did not know enough about evolution to teach it themselves, but one of them, after looking around to make sure they were safely out of anyone’s earshot, explained that the teachers are told by school administrators that it would be “good for their careers” not to mention such topics in their classes.
Or, to put it another way: You get in about as much trouble mentioning evolution in Arkansas as you would if you called one of your students a nigger.

Blue-state Yankees are always amazed at the pervasiveness of religion in the South, but it's time we quit being surprised. In lots of places, a de facto theocracy already exists, and if it's not as thoroughly implemented as some people would like it to be, perhaps it's only a matter of time. Whether the theocrats will achieve every one of their wet dreams remains to be seen. But they're victorious in one way already: Right now, on this morning, kids in Arkansas and other states, both Southern and not, are sitting down in science classes that will make them more ignorant, not less so.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Pepto-Bismol Breakfast
The Mrs. and I have no children, so I don't have any direct experience with morning sickness. Or at least I didn't until this morning, when Political Animal mentioned ValuesVoter.org's Contract with Congress. I decided I'd go read it, and voila! The 7:00 barf arrived right on schedule.

The contract is, as Kevin Drum describes it, "the wingnut Bill of Rights." It's full of the usual misinterpretations of American history (that the Founders were Bible-thumpers), overheated rhetoric ("Moved by our faith in God and this republican creed we join together now to defend representative self-government against the greatest assault it has ever faced"), and bad legislative ideas (the Constitution Restoration Act, which would forbid the Supreme Court from ruling on anything that acknowledges God as "the sovereign source of life, liberty, or government"--which, if passed, would open the way for any governmental entity to set up a theocracy beyond the reach of law). Not only that, it reads like something written by people who haven't been out of their bunkers in five years. Never mind that they're already in control of two branches of the federal government and on their way to control of the third. Never mind that they control state governments from sea to shining sea. It's not enough, because it has yet to lead to everything they want--and when it comes to moderating their wants and controlling their impulses, these people have all the willpower of five-year-olds. And this manifesto isn't something fringe nutjobs came up with--these demands are squarely within the mainstream of the Republican Party now, to the point at which some of the party's prospective presidential candidates wouldn't look sideways at them.

When you're out of your mind on dope, bad ideas can seem good, bad choices can seem like smart things to do, and your own self-aggrandizement becomes the only meaningful priority. And, as we noted here not long ago, when you're out of your mind on religion, you make the same sort of selfish choices, and the rest of the world be damned.

Recommended Reading:
The recent protests against immigration legislation pending in Congress represent some of the most impressive street action we've seen in the United States in a long time. At least since the prewar Iraq protests, maybe since the nuclear freeze marches in the early 80s, and possibly going back to the 1960s. (There ought to be that many people out every weekend in places from Gobbler's Knob to West Overshoe demanding impeachment, but I digress.) But the "debate" over immigration is being played in the media as if it's brown people from Mexico versus "Americans," who are never precisely defined. As Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez wrote this week, there's a lot more to the immigration issue than CNN and the rest are reporting--and the fact that they're getting it wrong is badly distorting the issue for the millions of Americans who only know what they see on TV.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Walkout
Our Wisconsin Repugs are providing high-quality entertainment again. Last Friday, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker abandoned his campaign for the Repug nomination for governor, which took lots of people, including me, by surprise. Walker and Green Bay-area Congressman Mark Green were the only announced candidates for the nom, and Walker seemed to me be a far stronger candidate, mostly on the basis of his higher profile. But Green had locked up the early money, leaving Walker to troll for crumbs, and it apparently became clear that the crumbs weren't going to be enough.

Of course, it wasn't Walker himself who ultimately decided his campaign was over. It was--wait for it!--God. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "I believe that it was God's will for me to run," Walker said. "After a great deal of prayer during the last week, it is clear that it is God's will for me to step out of the race." (Sounds like God is a flip-flopper, first telling Walker to run and then telling him to get out. I am not sure how God can continue to be a Republican if he's going to act so much like John Kerry, but I digress.)

A few Repugs apparently hoped that a deadlock between Walker and Green might bring former governor Tommy Thompson back into the picture, but that doesn't seem realistic. Thompson seems good and truly retired from politics, as his decision not to challenge Russ Feingold for the Senate last time indicates, but in spite of that, he remains as central a figure in Wisconsin Republican dreams as Angelina Jolie is in the dreams of adolescent boys. And so, God's intervention in the campaign clears the way for a straight-up match between Green and incumbent Democrat Jim Doyle.

The biggest advantage Walker's exit gives the Repugs is six extra months for them to bash Doyle as unfit to govern this Christian state, because Wisconsin's nutty political calendar postpones the statewide primary until September. Not that the Repugs were going to need much help in sinking Doyle. He's vulnerable on plenty of issues already. The big prize for Repugs would be to tie him to the ongoing Capitol corruption scandal, but even if they can't do that, he's plenty weak--too liberal for Republicans, not liberal enough for Democrats, who have watched him crawl into bed with the Repug legislative majority a few times too often. (This never works. The Repugs are always happy to get you into bed, but once the hookup is over, they think you're a slut and never call again.) Green and Walker had already been trying to out-Jesus each other, so we'll be hearing plenty of pious wankery on the campaign trail, plus, there's a marriage-defining Constitutional amendment on the November ballot to further energize the wingnuts. So Doyle's already climbing uphill. His likelihood of success will depend on how well he can portray Green and the Repugs as the extremists they are. And if he approaches that task with the same swift sharpness he's approached the task of governing, well, it may be time to move to Illinois.

Christ, what am I saying?

Say What?: The spring election is next week, which is mostly for county board and school board seats. There's also an advisory referendum on the ballot in several communities regarding withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Yard signs have sprouted in the last few days here in Madison, mostly favoring the referendum. The Repugs are also providing signs, which are a little confusing. They say, "No = cut and run." Given that the Madison referendum is worded "Resolved: The United States should bring all military personnel home from Iraq now," I wonder if they shouldn't have proofread their text a bit more carefully.

(Late note, 9:15AM: I got a closer look at one of the vote-no signs just now, and it turns out that they actually say "No to Cut and Run" and not "No = cut and run." Still, they're absurd. With large majorities believing the Iraq War is a mistake, the idea that such simplistic nonsense might persuade people to hold Bush's line goes beyond wishful thinking into blatant psychosis.)

Monday, March 27, 2006

Heard You Missed Me
So I'm back with 10 Reasons Why Gay Marriage Is Wrong. Try to deny any of 'em.

But that's it. We're all still exhausted up here after the Wisconsin men's hockey team played 111 minutes and 13 seconds of hockey last night before winning 1-0 to make its first Frozen Four championship series since 1992--and that after the Wisconsin women won their Frozen Four, 3-0 over Minnesota. Tonight's welcome-home ceremony for the women's team was a thrill--and we're hoping we get to have another one in two weeks after the men's Frozen Four.

More tomorrow, perhaps.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Basketball Would Be a Better Game if it Were Hockey
Links and notes from here and there, live from the bagel shop in the northern suburbs of Milwaukee:

All Your TVs Are Belong to Us: During the 1970s, people first became aware of something called the "tour rider," in which celebrities, mostly rock stars, made special requests of the arenas at which they performed and hotels at which they stayed. These commonly involve catering, but sometimes extend to furniture, entertainment options, and other requests. The most famous tour rider request was the one supposedly standard in the contract of Van Halen, who requested big bowls of M&Ms, but with the brown ones removed. Over at the Smoking Gun, they've gotten their hands on Dick Cheney's "tour rider", which is sent to all hotels at which Shooter will be staying. Most outrageous request: all TVs in the vice-president's suite must be pre-tuned to Fox News. I'd give a $50 tip to a chambermaid just to have her tune Shooter's TVs to Amy Goodman's Democracy Now instead. (When I stay in hotels, I use the add/delete channels feature on the TV or the remote to program out Fox News. You should do it, too. Maybe we'll start a trend.)

Drop the Puck: While most of the sports freaks in the country are focused on the NCAA men's basketball tournament, University of Wisconsin sports freaks are all about the hockey. This afternoon, the Badger women open NCAA Frozen Four play in Minneapolis against St. Lawrence. If they win, they play for the national championship tomorrow. Tomorrow, the top-seeded Badger men open NCAA first-round play in Green Bay against Bemidji State. If they win, they play for a Frozen Four bid of their own on Sunday. Take that, Canada: Madison is the hockey capital of the world.

Reclaim Your Purity: Abstinence-only sex education can change your life. In the hands of a master educator, it can make a left-wing lesbian into a pure young virgin fit to marry a Republican. Righteousbabe reports.

Talk Amongst Yourselves: If you're a Christian, riddle me this: Do you believe in Hell? And does it bother you that people you know and love may be going there?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Damn Internets
You may have noticed that when you have visited this blog over the last 12 hours or so, an ad for a porn site has popped up. I apologize. I have no control over the content of these ads, and I've reported it to the company that serves them. They're good about taking off this kind of thing, but just to be on the safe side, I've disabled the ad function temporarily.

Again, I apologize.

Off Base
In the spring and the fall, I teach classes to help students get ready for their ACT and SAT college entrance exams. (It's what I'm doing on the road this week.) Most of the kids are juniors. They're not exactly a representative sample of the entire junior population--they're college-bound, and their families have enough money to pony up $75 for the class. A lot of the groups I'm assigned to are in affluent suburbs and/or at private schools, which also tends to filter out the hoi polloi. So they're representative of the upper middle class--the favored children of America, who will grow up to be the same kind of people their parents are, and who will be anxious to raise their own families in the same affluent suburbs they grew up in.

At one point in the class, I demonstrate different types of test questions. One example goes like this:
Which president added a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine?
A. Ronald Reagan
B. Hillary Clinton
C. Theodore Roosevelt
D. George W. Bush
I ask the students which choices can't possibly be the right answer. The kids generally land on Hillary first, to which I respond, "Right--she's never been president." (One-beat pause.) "Not yet anyway." Then they land on Bush, because he's president now, and they can usually remember that the Monroe Doctrine goes way back in history.

I like to watch their reactions to Hillary and Bush. Nobody's ever said anything politically negative about Hillary--even when I'm in stone Republican areas, like the counties around Milwaukee, where I am again today. However, every once in a while some testosterone-addled boy will say that Hillary can't be the answer "because she's a woman." (One said it last night, and he did it with such a self-satisfied smirk that I stepped out of my usually affable teaching demeanor and responded coldly, "That has nothing to do with it.") Occasionally somebody, usually a boy sitting in the back of a large group, responds to the mention of Bush with a sort of cheer--"Bush, yeah!" But that response was more common a year or two ago then it is now. Today, I get a lot more eye-rolling, especially from girls, when Bush's name is mentioned. More than once this spring, when I have asked, "Why can't Bush be the right answer to the question?," somebody has said, "Because he's an idiot."

Well, I'll be damned. In the bright-red suburbs of Milwaukee, yet. Bush's base must be even shakier than we thought.

Recommended Reading: Several bigtime bloggers are noting a story from the Toronto Star this week reporting on a University of California study that suggests kids who are whiny and insecure grow up to be conservatives, while those who are confident, resilient, and self-reliant grow up to be liberals. (The article, by Kurt Kleiner, is fair and balanced--in a good way--by suggesting that the numbers are more ambiguous than they appear to both conservatives and liberals.) It's an interesting notion--that personality traits formed before we knew anything about politics may have more to do with our political opinions than rational choices made in adulthood.

But even if the numbers are more ambiguous than they seem, the idea that rigid, self-righteous adults were more likely to have been obnoxious kids seems plausible enough.

(A version of this post also appears at Best of the Blogs.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

How to Stay Healthy, Whether You Want to or Not
I left home today, and the hotel I am in has rather balky Internet access, so this is going to be brief.

It has been the official position of this blog for a long time that we should give Texas back to the Mexicans and much of the Southeast back to the Cherokees, thereby saving the United States from having to deal with the various strange fevers that sweep the land starting in those places. Well, here's another reason: Cops in Texas have begun going into bars undercover to arrest people who are drunk. I suppose you gotta give them credit for picking the berries where the bushes are the thickest, but this seems a wee bit off.

The ostensible reason for the program is to keep people from getting into cars and driving drunk--a worthwhile goal, to be sure. State laws in Texas don't permit public intoxication anywhere, including in bars. But I somehow think that whatever statewide organization Texas bar owners can belong to will not be too crazy about this law as soon as it starts affecting business. Plus, if cops can go into bars looking for drunks, it doesn't seem all that far-fetched that they could, if they chose, drop by your house whenever they wanted to, just to make sure you're not sitting in front of the TV ripped to the tits on $3 chardonnay.

Speaking of legal maneuvers involving sin, Madison has modified its famous no-smoking-in-bars ordinance to let people smoke cigars in cigar bars. This wasn't without controversy. A UW student speaking against the modification said, "I worry that this is a slippery slope. This is one exemption but where do we draw the line?" Nothing slippery about it, really. It's a cigar bar. You'd have to be, well, drunk to go in there and not know that cigars are the main attraction.

And if you are drunk, watch out for the virtue police.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Quote of the Day
In light of the comments to this morning's post, the quote with which Lewis Lapham heads his "Notebook" column in the current Harper's seems like a fine candidate for QotD. It's Edward Gibbon, writing in his monumental Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire: "The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful."

This seems to speak nicely to the pitfalls of ecumenism, especially of the Christian variety. If the people consider all variations of Christianity equally true--and as we noted earlier today, many mainstreamers certainly seem to consider each denomination as legitimate as the others, be they traditional or loony--that's certainly useful to the magistrate. The magistrate can rely on the ecumenical impulses of mainstream religions to give cover to the extreme flavors of religion--which is an especially useful function when the magistrate is collectively beholden to those same extremists, if not entirely colonized by them.

As for the philosopher, he's left scratching his head--or banging it against the desk. But he's used to that.

On the Similarity Between Crackpots and Crackheads
I hope you caught the comment from reader KN on yesterday's post about abstinence education. Referring to religiously inspired abstinence messages, she wrote: "If sex is sin, then planning to have sex is a sin, too. The shame, guilt, and fear these teachings create keep kids from making decisions that will guard their futures and cause mental issues that will affect their later relationships and marriages."

Abstinence education as it is practiced in schools isn't always, or even generally, overtly religious. But when you get down to its essence, it is undeniably based on religion, because it gets much of its authority from ideas about marriage and morality that derive ultimately from religious belief. Thus, it's no exaggeration to say that abstinence education, and the negative consequences that can result from it, are yet another example of the toxicity of religion. The Salon article I mentioned yesterday is yet another example of toxic religion run amok. Those who believe that the only proper role for women is the one they held in the 18th century are quite clearly addled, and it is in large measure their religious beliefs that are responsible for the addling.

Back in the early 90s, when I was going to church on a regular basis, one of my fellow congregants once remarked that what he liked about the United Methodist Church was that it didn't require you to get saved and re-saved every 10 minutes. Members of other mainstream liberal denominations often say something similar--that their belief is not focused entirely on their own individual souls, but on the broader work that religious believers are supposed to do in the world. It seems to me that conservative denominations are selfish by comparison, by focusing so much on individual salvation. Even their broader work in the world reflects back on themselves as individuals--they fight hard against anything they perceive to be Satanic, because if Satan gets a foothold in the world, he might be able to somehow tempt them away from God.

(Digression: I have said this before, but it bears repeating--the god of the fundies is supposed to be the most powerfulest and awesomest force in the universe, but at the same time, believers can be tempted away from him by such innocuous things as TV shows, rock music, and Halloween candy. That's sure some powerful awesomeness right there, bubba.)

All of this is by way of introduction to an interesting article by Bob Minor, who's working on a book called When Religion Is an Addiction. He points out that for fundies, religious belief functions a lot like crack cocaine or alcohol to an addict--it gives them a high and keeps them from thinking about how their addiction affects other people. Also, religious addiction, like substance abuse, tends to require ever-larger doses for the addict to get off--which explains the ever-ratcheting-upward demands of fundies for more, more, more. It's why it's not enough to simply teach kids to avoid sex until marriage; they also want to teach that condoms are bad and birth-control pills are harmful. It's why it's not enough to ban abortion; they want to restrict birth control and eventually ban non-procreative sex of all kinds. (The addiction metaphor also explains, to me at least, why religious believers so often turn on each other, as in the repeated schisms in the Christian Church during its history. When all the enemies are vanquished, addiction requires the creation of more from whatever is close at hand.)

As Minor observes, religion doesn't have to function this way. For a majority of Americans, it doesn't. But the minority for whom religion is an addiction have power out of all proportion to their numbers at the moment. Having such people in the driver's seat of our country is as dangerous as having a substance abuser behind the wheel of a bus or in the cockpit of an airliner. So nobody should be surprised when the thing crashes.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Your Biological Destiny
Last Saturday I taught a class at a high school in a nearby town, and we happened to be in the health classroom. Remember health class? The one where you learned that smoking is bad, eating healthy food is good, and drinking alcohol is bad--often taught by an overweight football coach who could often be spotted having a smoke behind the building?

In the 21st century, health class is also where you learn that abstaining from sex is good. There were more abstinence posters on the walls of this particular classroom than anything else, splashed with colorful graphics and photos of obviously cool kids, all attractive and well-dressed, all happy and filled with purpose. (I'd like to think you could see behind their eyes a horniness that dared not speak its name, but that's a stretch.) One poster touted something called "2nd Virginity"--pledging not to do the deed again after having done it previously. Another text-heavy poster waxed lyrical about the wonderful gift you give your spouse when you wait for your wedding night. The most effective one was, "If you think it's hard talking to your parents about sex, try talking to them about grandchildren." That's one that would have worked on me back in the day.

You probably know enough about abstinence education to know that it doesn't work as well as its proponents think it does. That it gives kids strange ideas about what constitutes "sex"--there's so much focus on avoiding genital-to-genital contact that kids don't consider alternate uses of the equipmment to be sex at all. That it leaves kids who don't abstain without any useful information to keep from getting pregnant. That it is, in the end, the ultimate designed-by-clueless-adults program for kids, one that ignores the hormonal reality that human beings, especially young ones, live with every day.
What you might not know is that I'm for it, up to a point. When I was student teaching, I had a student in one of my classes who, at age 16, already had two babies. She wasn't in class very much--which was entirely understandable. The Mrs. has a cousin who raised a close-knit, churchgoing family of five kids in a rural area of the Midwest. Despite receiving the sort of classic Leave-it-to-Beaver upbringing that the wingnuts think we all should return to, two of her cousin's daughters got pregnant during high school. A little abstinence would have been a good thing for all of these kids. Of course, a little education about how to use a condom would have helped, too. The only mention of condoms in the classroom I was in last Saturday was a poster that said, "Condoms don't protect the heart." (That one strikes me as potentially rather effective, too, especially with teenage girls.)

Abstinence education proponents talk about "waiting until kids are ready," but that usually means "waiting until kids are married." Thus, abstinence education reinforces the cultural norm of marriage, and the idea that the only place in which sex is appropriate is within that institution. That was the prevailing view in the United States for a long time; it's only within the last 40 years or so that we've readily entertained alternate views. Lest you think that the norm of the last 40 years is here to stay, however, get this: There's a report at Salon this morning about a fledgling movement with the goal of eradicating birth control entirely, for everybody, as a means to an even more spectacular end: forcing women to fulfill their biological destiny as mothers, by banning abortion, banning birth control, and also putting obstacles in the way of families getting out-of-home child care. To these people, sex is for procreation only, and if you're not having babies, you shouldn't be having it at all. They're not interested in simply turning the clock back to the 1950s, they'd like to turn it back to the Victorian Era. And they're succeeding, in the same way the wingers have succeeded in putting Roe v. Wade on the brink--by taking incremental steps that remain out of the glare of the public spotlight until the project reaches critical mass. At that point, the deal is nearly done before most people know the deal is being made.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Marching On
As I mentioned in my post this morning, I wasn't alone three years ago in feeling as though I knew that the Iraq War would be a complete disaster--that we couldn't turn the place into a sandy Connecticut, that we couldn't compel Iraqis to love us at gunpoint, that we couldn't trust people like Ahmed Chalabi, that we'd end up causing a civil war, etc., etc., etc. I knew it; you knew it; only the Bush gang and its fluffers did not. Three years later, all of us who knew it are saying "I told you so"--but at the same time, we're experiencing a certain feeling of amazed disappointment that we could have been so completely right. Subbing for Digby, Tristero writes: "I have never felt worse about knowing I was absolutely right than I did about the March of Folly. This was a lesson only incompetents unfit for public service needed to learn."

Yup, we have gotten what we predicted we would get out of this war--up to and including the continuing equation of dissent with disloyalty--and more, if you count things like the neutering of the Fourth Amendment. There's small comfort, maybe, in the fact that the rest of the country is realizing that war opponents were right (and are right), and that Bush was wrong then and remains wrong now--even though media coverage of the war and Congress' feeble response to events growing out of it, such as the manipulation of prewar intelligence or the warrantless wiretapping of innocent Americans, are still being driven by the opinions of the 33 percent of Americans who support Bush no matter what.

Bush can give all the speeches he wants talking about victory, but there are certain facts of history at work here, and more rhetorical dishwater, no matter how vigorously applied, is not going to change them. Not counting the Revolutionary War, every war the United States has ever won was largely over by the three-year mark. The first Gulf War lasted 100 days; the Mexican War lasted two years; the Spanish-American War, three months. Official American involvement in World War I lasted about 18 months. Three years after Pearl Harbor, the forces that invaded Europe on D-Day were rolling up the Germans; victory, while not entirely secure, was in sight. The three-year benchmark even holds for the Civil War. Three years after the war's first major battle, Bull Run in July 1861, Union armies commanded by Ulysses S. Grant were irrevocably on the offensive, an offensive that would end at Appomattox Court House. Even the wars that ended inconclusively, such as the War of 1812 and the Korean War, didn't last three years. Only in Vietnam--the war we lost--did the war drag on for more than three years. (Of course, the list lengthens if you count other losing wars, like the war on drugs or the war on poverty.) Fact: It doesn't take us this long to win wars we're going to win.

Bush-humpers might argue that Allied victory in World War II and the Union victory in the Civil War were not readily apparent at the three-year mark, and that it's only through the lens of history that those victories look inevitable. And so, they could claim, there might be some turning point yet to come (maybe even tomorrow if we clap our hands and wish harder). But anybody with a rudimentary grasp of Middle Eastern history, contemporary Iraqi politics, or memory enough to remember the course of the last three years, would be rightfully skeptical of such an argument. If we were going to win this one, there would be signs of it visible without resorting to rose-colored glasses. All the signs visible to the naked eye augur against it.

As of this morning, we've gotten 2,318 Americans and between 120 and 200 thousand Iraqis killed while Bush and the supporters of his war have been clapping and wishing. Bush's intransigence on the war--his failure to see the reality that we can't win--is going to get more Americans killed. He seems to me perfectly content to get every American under the age of 40 killed over there, if that's what it will take to maintain the appearance of resolve. But his resolve, far from being brave or principled, is the same kind of resolve that makes a four-year-old hold his breath in retaliation for some slight. We aren't winning this war, no matter how many more die, Americans or Iraqis. If Bush fears a pullout because of what history might think of him, it's too late. It's already easy to see what history's judgment is going to be.

Recommended Reading: Tristero's mention of "the march of folly," the title of a book by Barbara Tuchman that I've admired here previously, was appropriate this morning, given that Salon's Michelle Goldberg mentioned it earlier this week in a review of a forthcoming book by Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. Phillips, a sober historian and journalist, puts the United States in the same boat with imperial Rome, 17th-century Spain, and Victorian Britain--all empires that seemed to rule the world, but which swiftly fell, in part due to their own hubris. I share Goldberg's feeling that depressing though it is to contemplate America's similar fall, it's also weirdly comforting to realize that the feeling of spiraling disaster is legitimate: "A feeling that the world is falling apart is usually associated with neurosis; now, it's possible that it's a sign of sanity."

The Operative Ethic
Three years ago, the day the Iraq War started, I was on a business trip to Smithfield, Virginia. For what it's worth, here are some excerpts from my journal. First, from the morning of March 18, the day I left home, written while fogbound in Chicago, waiting for my flight to Norfolk:
The newspaper headlines are big and black today, although not as big and black as they’ll be on the Thursday or Friday when the war actually starts. It’s got to be on everyone’s mind as they walk through here. And people have to be wondering, as I am, what other shoes are going to drop, will it be here, or maybe where I’m going? The TV news trucks were thick on the ground as I walked through the terminals to my gate. There’s nothing to see out here—I have seen no cops or National Guardsmen, and I fly so seldom that I can’t tell whether there’s extra security or not. But we’re at Code Orange—Secretary Ridge gave us another “remain calm but prepare to die” speech last night—and unlike the last time, this Orange Alert might be permanent.

The fog makes for an interesting sight as planes take off—they soar up, a blast of mist seems to fly off the wings, and they vanish into the gray like a Star-Trek transporter. I remember how when I was a kid we would come to O’Hare just to watch the planes take off. In those days you could walk right to the gate where I am now without a ticket and stay all afternoon if you wanted to. Fewer things are deader and more gone than that.

I finally got to start reading Kingdom of Fear this morning. Dr. [Hunter S.] Thompson is a stiff drink so early in the morning, but worthwhile. I have a feeling I will be copying lines from the book into this journal all week long. “We are living in dangerously weird times now. Smart people just shrug and admit they’re dazed and confused. The only ones left with any confidence at all are the New Dumb. It is the beginning of the end of our world as we know it. Doom is the operative ethic.” The New Dumb—is there a better, more pungent, more accurate handle for the conservatives who rule us today? And the Doctor was writing in 2000, before what he might call the High Weirdness truly set in. “Guaranteed Fear and Loathing. Abandon all hope. Prepare for the Weirdness. Get familiar with Cannibalism.” Anything was possible thenb, and it’s even more possible now.
I finally made it to Norfolk that night, after being marooned at O'Hare for eight hours. The next morning, I wrote:
In the world at large, we are bracing ourselves for the whirlwind. The newscasts this morning are full of stories about increased security at home in fear of terrorist reprisals to the attack on Iraq, which will probably begin tomorrow. Why shouldn’t we expect them? If this is war, like the Repugs have been saying for 18 months, war means that both sides suffer. If Americans think we can rule the world with impunity, attacking anyone anytime for any reason, then we have to accept that the same will be our fate. We will also be attacked. While state and local governments are right to prepare, no one should be under the misapprehension that every attack will be stopped. It is not possible to achieve 100% security, Ridge and Ashcroft notwithstanding. So somewhere, something is going to happen. And with every Iraqi we kill, dozens of terrorists wanting to kill us will be born.

This is the thing the Bush gang doesn’t get. I have said it from day one. You cannot make people respect and love you by force. Only by other means can this be done—addressing the root causes of their dissatisfaction, for example. But this is seen as “caving in to terrorists,” so it won’t be done. Instead, we will fight perpetual war without result. Our children will never know peace. We were handed a moment of choice and we blew it.

The war that begins this week may look swift and decisive if it seems to end quickly. But that will be an illusion. It will never end until we learn to be braver than we are.
And that night, I wrote the following. I didn't know it, but I was writing at the precise instant the air assault on Baghdad was beginning:
No war yet, but it can’t be more than a few hours away. We have come a long way from the country we were three or four years ago, let alone four hundred. When I crossed the 4-mile-long James River Bridge tonight, I thought of those travelers of 1607 sailing up to what they called Jamestown. The ride across the bridge is quite striking--tall power line towers on one side, open water to the ocean on the other, with the Newport News shipyards on the oceanside coast. A strong wind was whipping whitecaps tonight--the river looked very wild, and maybe not much different than it looked 400 years ago--or how it will look 400 years from now, after we’re long gone. Makes me wonder what we’ll be leaving for those who come then.
I take a small amount of pleasure that commentators far smarter than I are feeling the same thing I am--a combination of incredulity and toldja-so, remembering how we could see, long before we started the war, that it was going to be a disaster for the United States. More on that later.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Counting Candidates
Twenty years ago this week--this Saturday is the actual anniversary--Illinois experienced the most extraordinary election in its history, and it was only a primary.

After Republican incumbent Jim Thompson defeated Adlai Stevenson III for governor in 1982, Stevenson didn't promise to seek a rematch right away. He would have been justified, however--Thompson won in a recount by 5,000 votes out of 3.6 million cast. Stevenson was a former U.S. Senator and son of the Adlai who was a former governor and who ran for president in the 50s. While he sat on the sidelines, Neil Hartigan, the state attorney general, became the front-runner in the '86 race, and held that status for almost two years beforehand. But in mid-1985, Stevenson decided to get in. Such was the power of the Stevenson name that Hartigan bailed out within days of Stevenson's announcement, making the March primary just a formality.

Then they counted the votes. Stevenson got the Democratic nomination for governor as expected, but his chosen candidate for lieutenant governor, State Senator George Sangmeister, did not. Neither did Aurelia Pucinski, the party regulars' choice for secretary of state, Illinois' third-highest office. Sangmeister and Pucinski were beaten in the primary by Mark Fairchild and Janice Hart, respectably--followers of Lyndon LaRouche. They'd made no secret of their intentions, running on LaRouche's weird platform, described by one political scientist as "nuclear power, anti-Semitism, Star Wars, militarism, and the imposition of martial law to cope with such menaces as rock music and AIDS. Its arch villains, denounced by militant bands of airport panhandlers, include Jane Fonda, Ralph Nader, and Queen Elizabeth II." They had gone door-to-door in downstate areas, campaigning aggressively while the regular Democratic organization seemed unaware anybody else was running in the primary. Fairchild and Hart likely benefited from their bland, whitebread last names compared to those of their opponents, and in many places, their names appeared first on the ballot. Whatever the reasons for their victory (and several examined are at the link above) the result left the regular Illinois Democratic Party utterly screwed. Stevenson, Sangmeister, and Pucinski ran in November under the banner of the Illinois Solidarity Party, but never had a chance. Thompson was reelected by a wide margin.

Twenty years later, Illinois is having another gubernatorial primary on Tuesday. The action is on the Repug side this time, as five candidates tussle for the nomination. The Illinois Republican Party has its strongholds--and the area I'm visiting today, the collar of counties around Chicago, is probably the strongest--but statewide, it's pretty much a shell, exhibit A being the 2004 disaster, when U.S. Senate nominee Jack "I'm Not the Tom Clancy Hero, I'm the Guy Who Was Married to Seven-of-Nine on Star Trek" Ryan imploded in scandal over the summer, and the party flirted with former Bears coach Mike Ditka and Chicago broadcaster Orion Samuelson before importing Alan Keyes from his home planet to lose by a landslide to Barack Obama.

The lineup includes State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, who would have been the strongest Senate candidate to replace Ryan in 2004 if she'd chosen to step in. She's the front-runner. Topinka is being chased by two conservatives who seem to be splitting the hardcore vote. One is a state senator from Bloomington named Bill Brady, who told a talk-show audience last year that "bringing God into the classroom through the principles of the Founding Fathers' design is a good thing." The other is businessman Jim Oberweis, who's making his third straight bid for high office, after coming second in U.S. Senate primaries in 2002 and 2004. (He, too, declined to replace Ryan in 2004.) Oberweis runs a dairy that bears his name--his lawn signs say, "Got Guv?"--and an investment firm. Ron Gidwitz, a Republican insider and former state school board member, would likely give Blagojevich trouble on education, but he's running far behind the others. He and his running mate have a website with the address ILTurnaroundTeam.com--cute, but one wonders how much the policies of the national Republican administration have to do with the need for a "turnaround" in Illinois, and how likely a serious Republican insider like Gidwitz is to do anything about it. The fifth candidate is Andy Moore, a perennial office-seeking gadfly without a chance.

Topinka caused a fuss last week after a candidate debate by referring to her opponents as a "bunch of morons." She's been the target of negative advertising campaigns (accused of being a "liberal" by Oberweis, largely for her pro-choice position, although she supports restrictions on abortion rights and goes down the line with other conservative principles), and her margin is down from what it was earlier this winter, but the latest polling shows her in the lead still. But in Illinois, nothing is over until the votes are counted--and sometimes, that's when the fun really begins.

Angkor Not
I'm on the road again. I greet you this morning from Joliet, home of the Blues Brothers and the Illinois State Penitentiary, at the ragged edge where "Chicago" meets "downstate Illinois." (For those of you out in the provinces, it's pronounced "joe-lee-ETT," and not "zwah-lee-AY," even if that's how the French Jesuit explorer Louis Joliet, for whom the place is named, might have pronounced it.) Taking a car ride from Madison to Joliet is nothing like hiking to Angkor Wat, but as I've written previously (here and here and here), only a failure of curiosity or imagination requires you to think of a trip as dull.

As you head down the interstate from Madison, you pass by Janesville and Beloit. Both of them are mostly shot-and-a-beer industrial towns, although like all shot-and-a-beer industrial towns, they've had to drink a little harder in the last 30 years as the economy has changed. Every time General Motors talks about closing plants, Janesville prepares to chug directly from the bottle, but as of now, its GM plant remains open. (Janesville may one day be much more famous, however--it's Russ Feingold's hometown.) Beloit, meanwhile, is Janesville without the cosmopolitan glamour--although it is the home of esteemed Beloit College, best known nationwide for its annual "mindset list".

At Beloit, you cross into Illinois and join the Illinois Tollway, which runs around and through the Chicago area. The next city you pass is Rockford, which often places at the bottom of various "most livable cities" lists. There are two different ways a city can take such an "honor." When The Mrs. and I lived in the Quad Cities and it made some magazine's Bottom 10, local people laughed it off. We knew what made the Quad Cities a good place to live, even if some magazine writers in New York didn't. Rockford, however, takes such disrespect personally--even the city's most important movers and shakers seem to have an inferiority complex.

Honesty compels me to report that there really isn't very much to see when you get south of Rockford on I-39. The land goes flat, and the only landmark you may notice is the towers of the nuclear plant near Byron. Turn east on I-88 and the view is the same. My destination yesterday was Plainfield, and to get there, you get off the interstate and turn south on Illinois 47.

Illinois 47 quickly drops you into the leading edge of the southwest suburban sprawl. Houses, condos, and retail developments are going up faster than roads are being built to accommodate them, so a two-lane state highway that two years ago carried mostly trucks and farm vehicles is now clogged with SUVs and luxury cars. The housing developments down here have a particular look--many are a few hundred yards back from the highway, presumably to allow future commercial development right along the highway. Lots of them contain maybe three different building designs repeated over and over, mile after mile of identical $300,000 homes laid out like a Malvina Reynolds memorial park, in developments with names like Lakewood Creek, even though any lakes, woods, and creeks nearby were obliterated to put up the development.

The newness of Plainfield has little to do with sprawl, however. In August 1990, one of the most powerful tornadoes ever to hit northern Illinois, category F5 with winds around 300MPH, roared through this part of the state. It killed 29 and injured 350 in Plainfield alone, leveling parts of the city, including the local high school. No sirens sounded and no funnel cloud was ever seen--and so there was controversy later about whether the National Weather Service had been asleep at the switch that day.

Two of America's most famous highways intersect in Plainfield--the old Route 66 (now Illinois 59) and U.S. 30. The story of Route 66 is fairly well-known. U.S. 30 isn't nearly as famous, but it too is a transcontinental route, from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Astoria, Oregon. Out here, U.S. 30 was part of the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental route, commissioned in 1912, which was to run from Times Square in New York to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. The Lincoln Highway ran along some of the most ancient routes in America, including Indian trails, roads laid out by Dutch colonists in New Jersey in the late 1600s and by the British during the French and Indian War, and the Mormon Trail. Today, Interstate 80 runs through the general corridor marked out by the original Lincoln Highway, but U.S. 30 soldiers on. Unlike Route 66, U.S. 30 was never decommissioned, and in many cities through which it passes, it's given the street name "Lincolnway."

(In 1919, a military convoy that included future general and president Dwight Eisenhower set out to travel the entire route of the Lincoln Highway, which was nowhere close to finished. The story of their adventure--for an adventure it truly was--is well-told in Pete Davies' American Road: The Story of an Epic Transcontinental Journey at the Dawn of the Motor Age.)

From Plainfield to the hotel in Joliet is a few miles along U.S. 30. It's a gray morning today with snow on the way tonight--a big snowstorm is headed for Wisconsin, and later on, so am I. Which means I'll be heading out on an adventure of my own.

Later today: the gloriously entertaining spectacle that is an Illinois governor's race.

Recommended Reading:
David Neiwart on the question of whether what we're seeing in America right now is really the rise of fascism, or not. As the best online journalist covering right-wing political movements, Neiwart knows what he's talking about--so go read, already.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

All You Need to Read Today
Russ Feingold: "I'm amazed at Democrats ... cowering with this president's numbers so low."

Glenn Greenwald: "And, at bottom, what this whole episode illustrates, yet again, is that if Democrats want to be perceived as strong, and if they want to lose the albatross of being pereceived as weak, what they have to do is extremely simple and clear -- stop being weak and be strong. Who appears stronger and more resolute right now -- Russ Feingold, or the Democrats scurrying around in the dark, afraid of their own shadows and petrified of standing up to a weakened President who got caught breaking the law?"

Molly Ivins: "I don’t know about you, but I have had it with the D.C. Democrats, had it with the DLC Democrats, had it with every calculating, equivocating, triangulating, straddling, hair-splitting son of a bitch up there, and that includes Hillary Rodham Clinton. . . . I can’t see a damn soul in D.C. except Russ Feingold who is even worth considering for President."

I think we can see a pattern here.

Also Worth It This Morning: Over at AMERICABlog, John Aravosis has had it with journalists who make stuff up, and politicians who let them get away with it: "The problem with today's media is the same problem with today's Democratic party. They confuse anger with policy. They do not understand that we are united in and motivated by our anger, regardless of our politics. And it is sloppy journalism, and sloppy politics, to assume that what is motivating the blogosphere today is its liberalism rather than its frustration. We are not fed up with a particular policy, we're fed up with politics."

And at The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Tornado Geek.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Heart of Darkness
(Warning to 24 fans--this post contains spoilers for last night's episode. Read at your own risk.)

In the last two weeks, 24 has become the darkest, grimmest program ever to appear on American television. (Not counting any randomly selected hour of any randomly selected day on any randomly selected news channel since 2001.) This season's major plot involves terrorists from a former Soviet republic launching nerve-gas attacks around Los Angeles--and in last week's episode, they hit the headquarters of CTU, the terrorist-fighting organization and home of special agent/killing machine Jack Bauer. Last week's ep ended with the shocking death of communications analyst Edgar Stiles and 40 percent of the people who work in the CTU building; last night's ended with the equally shocking deaths of agency chief Lynn McGill and ex-agent Tony Almeida, whose wife, ex-agent Michelle Dessler, had been shockingly killed in the season's first episode, approximately 14 hours ago in the show's "real time." You can't be squeamish about death if you watch 24. But even hardened fans have to be wondering how much further into darkness the show can go without actually starting to kill random viewers at home.

It's not just the deaths of characters we know. It's the whole vibe the show has been putting off for the last few weeks. There's a developing sense that something unspeakably horrific is going to happen before the season is over, something that will dwarf the horrific events we've already witnessed. The show's vice president, a Cheneyesque presence, is manipulating the panicked, out-of-his-depth president into--what? Martial law in Los Angeles at least, but what else?

Fans of the show will note that we've got this impending feeling of spiraling horror in past seasons, and the writers haven't always delivered. (Last year's fizzle of a nuclear-missile attack on Los Angeles springs to mind.) But leaving that possibility aside for a moment--as works of art will do, 24 reflects the times in which we live. Last season's story put torture front and center, and made viewers confront it at the precise moment it was in the news. This season, we're watching a president who likes the trappings of office and the appearance of being president, but who is eager to take advice, even bad advice, if it spares him from making the hard choices that come with the trappings of office.

We don't know if this is happening in our real-world White House. He Who Shall Not Be Named seems less like someone actively seeking to avoid difficult decisions, and more like someone who has no grasp of how to prioritize his job, and is therefore the tool of people who know how he should prioritize his job. And it occurs to me that reading the news everyday gives me a tingle of horrific anticipation not unlike the one I get watching 24. There's a growing sense, as I watch the administration assert its power and the Congress roll over with its legs in the air, that we too are headed for something that's much, much worse than what we've seen so far. And despite HWSNBN's 36 percent approval ratings, we and he are one terrorist attack away from being back in the 90s--and probably one terrorist attack away from a scenario that makes martial law on the streets of Los Angeles sound like a lark from the good old days.

Cosmetics: I am still seeking your opinions on the new look. At the suggestion of reader j, I tweaked the font to make it a bit easier to read. How do you like it otherwise?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Idle Hands Are the Devil's Tool

So I spent a few minutes this afternoon changing the template of this blog. Tell me if you like it or not. I haven't decided whether I like it myself. Any comments you've made to posts in the past, even if you made them this morning, are gone. (Such is life--brief and gone before we know it.)

More Snowballs in Hell
I've hinted at this before, but I'm happy to go on record with it today: It's the official position of this blog that the Democratic Party will find a way to lose the 2008 presidential election. It doesn't matter who the Repugs put up; the Democrats will find a way to blow it. They'll do it by nominating someone unelectable, like Hillary, or they'll do it by irreparably damaging an electable candidate in the primary season, or they'll do it by letting their candidate be swiftboated over the summer, or they'll do it in some other way--but barring some truly spectacular event on the Repug side, the Democrats will lose in 2008. (And that's assuming the election isn't jacked by the voting machines.)

But let's leave all that aside for a moment. Assume that the Democrats find an electable candidate and the voting machines return a fair result. The nightmare scenario for Democrats can be summed up in two words: John McCain.

I knew perfectly rational and quite liberal Democrats who, in 2000, said they could see themselves voting for McCain. There was sympathy all around when he was viciously smeared by the Bush gang during the 2000 primaries. Since then, he's got that whole plainspoken, war-hero, sculpted-from-granite thing down pretty good--and he's carefully cultivated the image of a maverick. If McCain were to get the Repug nom in 2008, millions of independents would vote for him, and more than a few Democrats would probably do so too. He'd be unbeatable.

With the Repugs having held their first '08 straw poll this past weekend (won by Nurse Frist, on his home field), it's time to start disabusing independents and liberals of the notion that McCain is selling something they might want to buy. Paul Krugman got off to a fine start this morning. Although the New York Times has it behind its subscription wall (and you can look it up--their policy has rendered the Times' op-ed columnists a lot less visible on the Web, and thus less influential), Tennessee Guerilla Women posted the whole thing. And here's the money paragraph:
When the cameras are rolling, Mr. McCain can sometimes be seen striking a brave pose of opposition to the White House. But when it matters, when the Bush administration's ability to do whatever it wants is at stake, Mr. McCain always toes the party line.
So much so, that he's actually the third-most conservative member of the Senate.

In other words, he's the perfect candidate to hoodwink millions of voters--and hoodwinkery is the best way for a Repug to get elected to anything from dog catcher on up. Thus, that makes him the perfect successor to King George. Start saying it now: Friends don't let friends vote for John McCain.

Meanwhile:
On the Democratic side, we have the first candidate into the presidential race who's guaranteed to be out before the first votes are cast. The question of the day is clearly this: How many meteors would have to strike the planet before he'd have a snowball's chance in Hell?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Read at Your Own Risk
It's a beautiful day up here today, and I don't want to harsh my buzz from the earlier events of the weekend--a great concert Friday night and Wisconsin's playoff hockey win over Michigan Tech last night. But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist got off a quote on one of the Sunday news shows this morning that's so brain-rattlingly stupid that it's taken on a life of its own and forced me to blog about it.

First, the background: Russ Feingold told ABC's This Week that he intends to propose a resolution on the Senate floor to censure He Who Shall Not Be Named for violating the Constitution and laws with his warrantless wiretaps. Feingold said, "What the president did, by consciously and intentionally violating the Constitution and the laws of this country with this illegal wiretapping, has to be answered."

Now, the quote, from Frist, also on This Week, criticizing Feingold's resolution: "The signal that it sends, that there is in any way a lack of support for our commander in chief who is leading us with a bold vision in a way that is making our homeland safer is wrong."

Jesus to Jesus and eight hands around--that giant sucking sound you hear right now is Frist's words making you dumber just by crawling around in your brain. The opposition party criticized Lincoln during the Civil War, the Republicans criticized FDR within days of Pearl Harbor--but Nurse Frist says, for the umpteenth time, that we dare not impugn King George's self-evident brilliance or the terrorists will win. Never mind that the rap itself is getting old--Bush has endured similar criticism for the last year or so and it hasn't had any demonstrable effect on the war on terror, positive or negative--that bit about the "bold vision" only makes sense if you're talking about a bold vision for screwing up a one-car funeral. Just read the stories out yesterday about our failures in port security. Georgie, you're doing a heckuva job.

In the face of such idiocy, you're almost obligated to say something critical of Bush just to keep your head from exploding.

Everybody--turn off your damn computers and go outside to play in the sun, right now. Your continued ability to function intellectually may depend on it.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Your Private Parts Are the Public's Business
Today's "ohferchrissakes" moment comes courtesy of Salon's Broadsheet, which reports on a bill proposed yesterday in Congress by Repug Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming, which would allow insurance companies to ignore state laws that require coverage for certain treatments or conditions. As Broadsheet's focus is on women's issues, they note this: If the bill became law, states would be free to prohibit women from designating their OB/GYNs as their primary care physicians--and to permit insurance companies to stop covering birth control if the companies chose.

Certain right-wingers have, for a long time, wanted to declare war not just on abortion, but on contraception, too. Legislation like this, even if not aimed squarely at contraception, make it pretty clear that this thinking is not just on the nutty edges anymore, but in the mainstream of Repug thought. (There's also the weird devaluation of OB/GYNs implicit in the bill's provisions, but that's another post.) And in fact, the bill's attitude toward birth control hints at a larger goal of the anti-contraception crowd. In the end, they're opposed to sex itself. And they seem to think that by making birth control harder to get, they'll make it so most people--those who don't want to make a baby every time they do the horizontal bop--just won't be able to have sex at all. This logic, if you can call it that, is persuasive only to people who have forgotten, if they ever knew, what their private parts are for.

In conjunction with a ban on abortion, it's easy to see that restrictions on birth control will inevitably lead to more unwanted pregnancies. Those babies, of course, will be on their own. The wingers are only interested in protecting embryos and fetuses. Speaking of fetus protectors, Salon's Tim Grieve reported today on an exchange he had with a New York talk show host who refused to answer a "trick question" on abortion called in by a listener--if you were in a clinic with five fertilized embryos and a two-year-old, and the place caught on fire, and you could save only the embryos or the two-year-old but not both, which one would you save? The only logical answer for the life-begins-at-conception crowd is to save the embryos, of course, on purely utilitarian grounds of saving five lives instead of one. The talk-show host wasn't willing to go there. He knows what he should say, but he can't do it, or his entire position on abortion will be exposed as the illogical mess it is. Read it. It's fun to watch him squirm.

(Note: I'm off tomorrow. No new posts until Saturday at least, unless the Sage is on about something.)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Buy Your Favorite Uppity Woman a Drink Today, But Don't Be a Sexist About It
Today is International Women's Day, and a few bloggers have declared it Blog Against Sexism Day. It's well-timed, given South Dakota's new law that essentially bans all abortions, period. It's a nasty bit of legislation, primarily because it exalts the fetus at the expense of the mother. That little fact opens a window into the sexist psyche of the anti-choice movement, a window that Amanda Marcotte and her pals at Pandagon have used to produce some brilliant stuff over the last week or so. (Latest example here.) Abortion restrictions, in their view, have a lot to do with men controlling the lives and bodies of women. By restricting abortions, the patriarchy reasserts itself over its women, who've gotten all uppity since the 1960s, and reestablishes the social order As It Should Be. And that's the very opposite of Blog Against Sexism Day.

(Parenthetical thought: Since the anti-choicers keep repeating that "abortion is murder," why is it abortion doctors they want to prosecute, and not women who choose to abort? After all, if you hire a hit man to do away with somebody and he gets caught, you're going to jail, too. Why isn't the woman who hires the abortion doctor just as legally culpable? Digby suggested yesterday that it's time to start asking that question, if only because even hardcore anti-choicers don't have a good answer for it. Digby thinks that by asking the question, we can reveal how untenable the position of the anti-choicers is. If abortion really isn't murder like murder is murder, laws that are founded in treating it as such are ridiculous.)

So anyway: South Dakota's Repug governor, Mike Rounds, who signed the new law last week, tried hiding from it today. "It's not my bill," he said. And if the bill's opponents take it to referendum this fall to keep it from going into effect, Rounds said he wouldn't campaign for it or against it. So if he doesn't support it all too terribly much, how come he signed it? Well, he revealed, inadvertently perhaps, that he--along with his legislature--was just a tool of people who were looking not to protect the fetuses of South Dakota necessarily, but to find a way to get Roe v. Wade overturned. Plus, Rounds is up for reelection this fall, and if he wins, it might make him a viable Senate candidate in a couple of years against Democrat Tim Johnson. So there's political opportunism in the air, too.

Mmmm, smells like leadership.

Plug: Tonight at The Hits Just Keep On Comin': The Day I Lost My Virginity.

I Voted for It Before I Voted Against It, Book Three
Good morning from the bagel shop, where I am finally getting back to something approaching normal after a busy stretch. Our Republican leaders are acting normal, too, on the national level and here in Wisconsin.

Nationally, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted on a party-line 8-7 count yesterday not to investigate Bush's illegal wiretaps. The majority included self-described "moderates" Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel, who were shouting for an investigation when the scandal broke, but who have now voted against the very investigation they called for. Glenn Greenwald has an extensive breakdown of their breakdown. Repugs on the panel say they have rejected "confrontation in favor of accommodation" by signing on to a proposal that would create more Senate oversight of wiretaps instead of looking into the ones that have already occurred. But Greenwald notes that since the administration is already ignoring several laws on wiretaps, some dating back to 1947, it seems "facially moronic" for Congress to pass another one.

Gee, you think?

Here in Wisconsin, State Senator Alan Lasee of DePere has spent his entire legislative career associated with one issue--the death penalty. He was doubtless vibrating like a man hooked up to an electric chair yesterday as the Senate put an advisory referendum on the death penalty on the September primary ballot. It's only fair to let the people have their say, don't you see--but the question will be voted on at the same time the Repugs will choose their candidate for governor, which assures that most of the people who see the question will be conservatives. Thus we can expect this "advisory" referendum to pass by something like 84-16.

I'll vote for it myself, if the following conditions are attached: Executions to be performed by hanging, off the deck of the Capitol on Farmer's Market Saturdays, by state executioner Alan Lasee. If we're going to kill people as a matter of justice for its supposed deterrence value, we should have the guts to do it in public rather than under cover of darkness at Waupun. And if Lasee is going to spend his whole adult life agitating for the death penalty, he should have the courage to pull the lever himself.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

JB's Busy, So I'll Complain A Little Instead
What are the odds that the only two lefty bloggers who don't watch The Daily Show would post to the same blog? Don't get me wrong—I'm a great fan of Jon Stewart in particular and the show in general, but we have only the most basic Adelphia cable package, and it doesn't include Comedy Central.

However, it does include three shop-at-home networks, a GodTV station, three PBS channels, a public bulletin board station, and the TV Guide channel. Heck, I've complained about this before. Nationwide, the really desirable channels are only available as part of some costly "package" deal, wherein the subscriber can enjoy Comedy Central, but only if he also pays for six Classic Golf channels and four incarnations of Outdoor Life. Anyone who tells you that a la carte cable options would be bad for the consumer is lying to you and likely stands to profit handsomely from the perpetuation of this buy-the-whole-bundle-or-else-you-get-nothing nonsense.

Happily, my cable package also includes C-SPAN and C-SPAN2, which we watch with some frequency. Sure, they show way too many conferences at The Heritage Foundation and The American Enterprise Institute, but there's a lot of good stuff, too. No other format enables you to witness the proceedings from the Senate floor. I grant that these can make for dry viewing, but they can also be riveting. The recent Byrd/Frist debates preceding Alito's anointing were as taut as that live episode of The West Wing wanted to be. And when Chuck Schumer really gets his blood up, it can be greatly satisfying to see him really dig into some Dubya drone, however futile the effort might ultimately be.

BookTV (shown weekends on C-SPAN2) typically showcases about fifty books on Lincoln each week but also features works about science, sociology, biology, and a range of subjects simply not covered elsewhere on television (Discovery Science, with its weekly UFO, ghost, and psychic updates does not count). In fact, some of the spiciest programming on basic cable appears on BookTV. Witness Paul Kengor, who's penned a pair of books so unapologetically worshipful that the Bible itself may now be obsolete.

In God and Ronald Reagan and God and George Bush Professor Kengor hits the whorish Conservative trifecta: linking Dubya and The Almighty Reagan; giving homage to the raw and irrepressible Godfulness of the two men; and making a buck on the whole pandering escapade.

Honestly, I have no problem linking Dubya to Reagan, since in my view Dubya is the only thing keeping Reagan from being the worst President since Nixon, so right off the bat they're in the same genre. But to stuff Dubya's empty skull and Reagan's corpse full of gold, frankincense, and myrrh seems, well, a little over the top. I should mention, by the way, that Prof. Kengor has apparently allowed domain name to expire, so maybe there's less money to be made in Conservative deification than I thought.

One can't help note that the Kengoroo (who teaches at a college mere miles from my home) has bounced right over our 41st and 42nd Presidents. Presumably that's because there's little money to be made on the piety of Bush the Elder, and even less on the divinity of Clinton. Of course, Clinton has that certain Zeus-like priapic vibe going for him, so maybe there's a book to be had there after all.

Readers of this blog are likely aware of my views regarding religion, and I have even less fondness for the church-state mingling lately so beloved of Conservatives. Reports differ on just how literally Dubya claims to be "called on" by God to smite the infidel, but if God really has time to speak to our greatest national embarrassment, then I have no time for God.

Kengor, whose gauzy admiration for Dutch and Dubya oozed so copiously from his orifices during his brief BookTV appearance, is guilty only of granting them the same de facto apotheosis that any of their countless drooling admirers have done already and will continue to do. Dubya's poll numbers may be hovering around 37 (coincidentally, Cheney's age for his first heart attack), but he has no shortage of apostles eager to step up and sanctify his name, Bill Kristol notwithstanding.

I suspect that, if Dubya ever leaves office, he'll ascend bodily to Heaven and thereafter be recalled as a deeply spiritual man of deep conviction who cared very deeply about freedom and democracy and all that deep stuff. Of course, since Kengor already penned his treatise on Dubya's deepness, he'll need to find a different godly Conservative upon whom to heap his latria.

In other news, Larry the Cable guy is apparently coming out with some kind of movie. Further proof of God's non-existence can only be redundant.

It's Hard Out Here for a Blogger
Let's hit a few things quickly, since I haven't got very much time this morning:

The Costanza Administration: There's a Seinfeld episode in which (for reasons too complicated to get into here) Jerry wants George to teach him how to beat a lie-detector test. George says he can't, but then says, "Remember, Jerry, it's not a lie if you believe it." Dateline London:
The U.S. attorney general defended his country's treatment of terror suspects against criticism from Europe and elsewhere, saying Tuesday that the United States abhors torture and respects the rights of detainees.

Alberto Gonzales also said the U.S. did not transport terrorism suspects to nations where it was likely they could be tortured.
You wonder how Gonzales can spout such obvious nonsense over and over and still be able look at himself in the mirror every morning--unless he really believes what he's saying. The alternative--that he's a man without a conscience--is grim indeed.

A Day Behind, as Usual: I haven't watched the Oscars for years, although The Mrs. usually does. I did catch the performance of the rappers who ended up winning Best Song for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," which indicates that movie music has pretty much jumped the shark as an art form. Apparently Jon Stewart didn't knock people out as host, but I wouldn't know, as I am apparently the only lefty blogger on Earth who doesn't watch The Daily Show. What surprised me the most is that for the first time in years, I'd actually seen the Best Picture winner before the Oscars were handed out. Crash is one of the best movies I've seen in years, but then again, I like that whole interlocking stories/ensemble drama thing.

One More Thing:
Do not visit this website if you want to get anything done at work today. If you disregard my advice and visit anyway, mute your speakers first.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Not Dead
Just missing in action, with other work to do. Back eventually.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Jesus Take The Wheel, or The Metaphysics of Gridlock
I work just outside of Pittsburgh, but my route mercifully allows me to avoid Steeltown’s shocking lack of foresight re: roadway planning.

However, I still occasionally hit a snag and wind up inching along at a glacier’s pace until the next geological epoch. Without fail, the delay occurs just after I’ve passed an exit or else on some other similarly inescapable thoroughfare, and I’m left to wait it out along with a thousand or so of my best friends.

At times like these, the stresses of the commute can inspire strange ruminations, and during a recent long delay I may have run straight into a motive that drives people to believe in God. Of course, being forced to stare for an hour at the W’04 sticker emblazoned on the rear window of the Hummer in front of you can make you believe in hell, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
We’ve all been there. After twenty or thirty minutes of immobility, you start pondering the possible causes. A meteor strike, perhaps. Or maybe an overturned and ruptured maple syrup tanker. Sure, we don’t actually wish these things to have happened, and unless you’re a raving lunatic you don’t want anyone to have been injured, but in a tiny, ruthless corner of your brain you’re hoping for a little dismembering at least. Maybe a leaning-out-the-window beheading, with its six-quart red geyser still bubbling at the side of the road. Heck, even seeing someone racing down the street in flames would make it all seem strangely worthwhile. And you’d know for certain that somebody’s day was worse than yours.

Yes, such an outcome would be tragic, but at least you’d be able to identify the reason for the delay. The worst is when you get to the place where the snarl originated, and you can see nothing out of the ordinary. No mangled wreckage, no shattered windshield glass, nothing at all to justify your hour’s wait behind Mr. Hummer. You’ll have endured it all for nothing. Or, if there was a reason, you’ll never find out what it was.

Many theists justify a belief in God on the basis that he provides purpose and meaning for our otherwise seemingly pointless little lives. Simply put, that argument is egotism of the highest order, because it requires the universe to cough up an explanation of itself that is satisfactory to our sensibilities and desires. Worse, it completely misses the possibility that there may simply be no why behind the universe, or at least not any reason that you or I can ever confirm to exist. And for my existential dollar, a thing that can’t be confirmed to exist is as irrelevant as a thing that can be confirmed to be nonexistent.

Of course, the Left Behind crowd would happily spend their whole lives in a traffic jam if it meant that, afterwards, they’d get to see Liberals and other godless savages writhing in divinely hideous agony along the side of the road.

Big, Bad, and Bald
So I am sitting here this morning--as millions are, around the country, with their web browsers or their newspapers open, reading the AP story about the briefing He Who Shall Not Be Named received before Hurricane Katrina. Like our web browsers and our newspapers, our mouths are open too, in shock. For all we've seen from this president in five years, for all he's done and left undone, it's still hard to comprehend that he could blow the hurricane response so badly, and then lie so baldly about it.

Lots of bloggers are on this story this morning. AMERICABlog has plenty, the Left Coaster mentions it, as does the Rude Pundit. But there's a feeling, from reading the sites I read, that HWSNBN is going to get away with this just like he gets away with everything else. The Left Coaster's post is especially pessimistic in this regard. It's media lapdog-ism that will get him off the hook, but that's not all that will be responsible.

Lewis Lapham's cover story in the latest Harper's, called "The Case for Impeachment," is headed with a quote that seems appropriate to this, as to much else: "A country is not only what it does--it is also what it puts up with, what it tolerates." (They're the words of Kurt Tucholsky, a German journalist of the 1920s and 30s, who feared the coming of fascism to his country--and who was proven right.) And so, to a certain extent, HWSNBN's failure is ours, as long as we permit him to go a'blundering on.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Trust Us, We're Republicans
Repugs in the Wisconsin Legislature took the last step yesterday to put the same-sex marriage Constitutional amendment onto the November ballot. I count six Democrats who crossed over to vote for it: Mary Hubler from Rice Lake, Peggy Krusick from Milwaukee, Tony Staskunas from West Allis, Terry Van Akkeren from Sheboygan, Annette P. Williams from Milwaukee, and Bob Ziegelbauer from Manitowoc. One Republican, Gregg Underheim of Oshkosh, voted against it.

The debate in the Assembly yesterday provided more head-scratching stupidity from Representative Mark Gundrum, who's the amendment's main pusher. Responding to openly gay Representative Mark Pocan's claim that the bill would "hurt real families" by limiting things like domestic partner benefits or domestic violence law enforcement, Gundrum called that a "red herring," and claimed that the law's effect would be much narrower.

This is, of course, bullshit. The law is going to do exactly what Pocan says it will do--which is why it bans domestic partner benefits in the first place--and Gundrum has to know it. If he doesn't, he is, perhaps, an even bigger idiot than he already seems.

Madison legal blogger Ann Althouse notes the hypocrisy inherent in the amendment-backers' claims that the amendment won't mean what Pocan rightly says it will mean.
We will see these individuals [who are going to be stripped of existing domestic-partner benefits] in the TV ads, and the other side will be reduced to arguing that the language of the amendment doesn't really mean that. Trust us, they will say. Trust the courts to interpret the language of the amendment so that it won't mean the bad thing the gay rights groups are saying it will mean. You hypocrites! The argument for the amendment was that we can't trust the courts not to find rights for gay people in the unamended state constitution.
If the goal of the amendment is to stop activist judges from finding stuff in law that isn't there (Gundrum: "If we didn't live in a world of activist judges, this wouldn't be here"), it's hard to imagine how Althouse could be wrong.

Representative Gundrum was on the floor of the Legislature yesterday fighting valiantly to save marriage as we know it, despite the fact that his wife was home giving birth to the couple's fifth child. Seems to me being at your wife's side for the delivery would be the good-family-values thing to do, but perhaps hating gay people is more important. Of course, the Gundrums now have five kids under the age of seven, so if it were me, I guess I'd spend as much time as possible at work, too.

Indexing: I love me some Harper's Index. Part of the charm of it is the weird, backward way some of the entries unspool. Another part of it is the odd statistics Harper's researchers often find, and the subtle commentary they often make on current affairs. Take this example, from the March Index: "Minimum number of times that Frederick Douglass was beaten in what is now Donald Rumsfeld's vacation home: 25." Harper's Index is also is one of the most widely copied features in the history of publishing. But funny is funny, and Witsend Here has its own Index for the month just concluded.

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