Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Wednesday, August 27, 2003  

This will be my last post until next Tuesday. I'm taking a week off to try to finish a novel I've been working on for the last thousand years. The reason I'm mentioning it at all is to prevent the siren call of the blog from luring me back online. If I post this for all my 13 readers to see, perhaps that will keep me motivated. In any case, I'll feel obliged to post an update next Tuesday.

(And just to quell the rising tide of interest: it's a multigenerational epic that starts with a poor young man from back east who seeks to earn his wealth in the beaver trade. It's the narrative of a city, a state, a people--a metaphor for the rugged individualism of a broad-shouldered republic too plucky to just lay down and die or establish universal health care and a responsible social safety net. It isn't just the great American novel, it's the great human novel, a striking work of such profound scope and searing insight as to embarrass an entire generation of writers.

Actually, not. It's about a cab driver.)

posted by Jeff | 2:02 PM |

Tuesday, August 26, 2003  

Go buy an August 18 - 25 New Yorker as soon as you can (I don't think it will be on newsstands much longer). In an article called "The Marriage Cure" (sorry, no link available), Katharine Boo has written a searing story about being down and out in Oklahoma City. If you're black and live in the projects, you get the shaft. Bus drivers swerve around you, and the laws try to extract whatever nickels you mght have earned:

But in the legit world Kim kept botching things. In the six weeks between leaving her burglar-alarm job and taking the new one, she had applied for emergency food stamps and been denied. [Her neighbor] eventually accompanied her to the welfare office and pleaded her case successfully, but in the meantime Kim bounced several checks to Wal-Mart. Oklahoma penalties for bad checks are stiff, and are a politically popular income-generator for the District Attorney's office. For writing a $12.18 check, she now faced a $114 penalty, including "victim restitution" to Wal-Mart and a fee to the D.A. And then there were two more bounced checks, and, as the letter from the D.A. said, if she didn't come up with $495.53 in ten days, she could face a year-long jail sentence.

[Her neighbor] pointed out that the District Attorney's wife, a plastic surgeon and former Miss Oklahoma, had just pleaded guilty to illegally obtaining narcotics, for which she received community service and permission to resume doing nose jobs. But Kim, who had seen her own father and brother face less forbearing jurists, did not anticipate lenient treatment.

But wait, there is some "good" news. The government isn't completely insensitive to the plight of America's poor. They're willing to lend a hand.

Oklahoma has rarely found itself in the vanguard of antipoverty thinking, but the class to which the two women were heading embodies a vigorous new idea--something known locally, and archly, as "the marriage cure." Traditionally, singleness has been viewed as a symptom of poverty. Today, however, a politically heterodox cadre of academics is arguing that singleness--and, particularly, single parenthood--is one of poverty's primary causes, for which matrimony might be a plausible tonic. For the past few years, the state of Oklahoma has been converting this premise into policy. In an initiative praised by the Bush Administration, which aims to seed marriage-promotion programs nationwide, the state has deputized public-relations firms, community leaders, and preachers (among them the pastor at Holy Temple Baptist Church) to take matrimony's benefits to the people.

What I like most about the article is how well it uses these women's lives to tell the story of poverty in America. Similar to Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed in reportage, it explodes all the Republican-fueled myths about the "welfare queens." Rather, it paints a portrait of women using every bit of their energy and intelligence to try to get by, but who are constantly frustrated by governmental, legal, or commercial barriers. It's incredible stuff. Seriously, go buy a copy.

posted by Jeff | 9:27 AM |

It may not pass the House, but yesterday the Oregon Senate voted 23-2 to pass a resolution urging congress to roll back the Patriot Act.

(What Oregon's legislature is still doing in session is a different story, but we'll save that for another time...)

posted by Jeff | 8:28 AM |

Monday, August 25, 2003  

Have you noticed there's been trouble lately on the Ecosystem? I'm in no position to complain. Since the jumble, I shot up 40 links and have now (sort of) evolved to Large Mammal. Let's see, what's that phrase?

Oh, right: don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

posted by Jeff | 2:24 PM |

Incidentally, Howard Dean was in town yesterday (or Dean Howard, if you were watching our local NBC affiliate). Owing to fatigue, I lolled on the couch, listlessly cursing the clouds for being so chicken this summer. Thus I can offer no first hand accounts of his visit. A shame, really, because I would like to have compared his speech to Dennis Kucinich's, one of the most inspiring I've seen.

Still, coming as close as it did after the President's visit, I can offer a few comparisons:

Cost to visit candidate privately: Bush - $2,000; Dean - $1,000

Attendence at the private visit: Bush - 500+; Dean - 60.

Number who attended candidates' free public speech: Bush - 0; Dean - 3,000-5,000.

Number in attendence at free speech protesting candidates' visit: Bush - 3,000 - 7,000; Dean - none reported.

Current totals raised for campaign (estimated): Bush - $50 million; Dean - $14 million.

posted by Jeff | 2:13 PM |

Two bombs exploded in Bombay (Mumbai) earlier today. The events are still sketchy--I can't find any info about who set them off. They were car bombs placed in taxis, one going off at the Gateway of India (roughly equivalent to the Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty in significance to the city) and a second near the Mumbadevi Temple in the city's jewelry district. The death count at this writing is 44; it will probably climb.

As shocking as this news is, it's perhaps less significant than another, closely related story. The Archaelogical Survey of India today released a report that finds evidence of a Hindu temple on the site of the destroyed Mosque in Ayodhya. This is really, really big news. For those of you who haven't followed this story, it is, briefly:

In 1528, during the Mughal reign in India, Muslims erected the Babri Masjid (mosque) in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Religious violence began as early as 1853, but things didn't really pick up steam until the 1980s, when Hindus began to mount a campaign to have the mosque torn down. According to Hindus, the Mosque was built on the site of Lord Rama, the hero of the Ramayana and a human incarnation of the God Vishnu. That mosque-destruction movement was precipitated by the forerunners of the fundamentalist Hindu political parties (one of which, the BJP, now runs the country). Then in 1992 Hindus destroyed the mosque, sparking Hindu-Muslim violence across the country that killed thousands (and recalled the bloodletting of independence). Since then, both sides have become more violent, and Hindu fundamentalists now want the country to be ruled by Hindu law. In the past year, 50 Hindus and at least 900 Muslims have been killed in sectarian violence.

Sometime today someone will take credit for the bombings. It doesn't really matter whom; there will certainly be retribution. This is a 500-year old dispute, and the ASI report just makes it all that more volatile. What's at risk, ultimately, is one of the world's most diverse democracies, and the largest. India has endured epochs of violence, but rarely has it managed unity. This 56-year experiment is a good one, and those of us who have been constantly inspired by it can only cringe when we see events like this unfold.

posted by Jeff | 9:30 AM |

Saturday, August 23, 2003  

Thursday morning, some people living in the University Park neighborhood learned police were serious about securing the streets around the University of Portland. They woke up to find their parked cars had been towed from the street the night before.

Normally, I try to work up a little satire for the Friday blogging. Yesterday my heart just wasn't in it. For just about exactly three years, I've been trying to reconcile George W. Bush--the man, his history, his beliefs, his motivation, and his policies--with the fetishistic support he receives. Because, I mean, on paper, the guy looks pretty shoddy. A failure who bumbled along on his daddy's name—literally--George had distinguished himself at exactly nothing. He wasn't smart, didn't speak well, led a life of aimless privilege, and had a drinking problem. Everything he'd ever run, he'd run into the ground.

Bush arrived at the private campus for the fund-raiser amid heavy security, including police dressed in black body armor. Streets in the neighborhood surrounding the campus were heavily patrolled and protesters were ordered to stay on sidewalks except for a three-block stretch that was cordoned off with temporary fencing.

I didn't start taking him seriously until just a few weeks before the election, when his abysmal showing in debates against Al Gore were hailed as "victories" (never mind that he argued we should follow the Russians' lead on the Bosnia issue). Needless to say, I was astounded when the inexperienced, ignorant, bumbling candidate won. Karl Rove had just pulled off the one of the biggest upsets in political history.

People attending the event arrived at the campus in limousines, luxury cars and three charter buses, using a stretch of North Portsmouth Avenue that was closed to other traffic.

When he passed through town yesterday, the visit was a further exercise of our national schizophrenia. While the President wined and dined and raked in the single-largest windfall of the new campaign ($1.05 million for a 16-minute speech--nice work if you can get it), the City of Portland debated whether to charge him for the visit or not.

Meanwhile, some Portsmouth Avenue homeowners, some of them Bush supporters, were told they couldn't watch the motorcade from the sidewalk. Dressed in red, white and blue, Bernie Verbout clutched a large American flag as he stood on his front lawn with his family. A camera hung from his neck.

After blasting through Portland, Bush headed out on a swing through the rest of the Northwest. In Central Oregon, he told loggers not to fear because, as a friend of the logging industry, he'd be supporting their efforts to thin forests. In case anyone was unclear about his moral clarity on the issue, he described fires he had just flown over as a "holocaust."

Bush spoke at a May 2000 fund-raiser in Oregon that brought in more than $1.3 million for Republican Party accounts that did not have any limits on the size of the donations. Several contributions were in $100,000 checks from timber-industry sources.

Later, he told a Northeast Washington audience that he was a friend of hydropower and had restored salmon runs. "We don't need to be breaching no dams that are producing electricity. We've got to make sure we increase the supply and maintain the supply." (That is, of course, an actual quote.) The dam, it turns out, is all about maintaining our power against the terrorists (literally) and (oddly) staying in control of our own food supplies--he didn't mention anything about supporting his cronies in the energy industry, who in the last election gave him $3 million dollars.

(Meanwhile, far from the dams, Coho salmon, and firs of the Great Northwest, the White House was quietly announcing that it was gutting the Clean Air Act and allowing outdated factories to dramatically increase their emissions. So while the President was taking credit for having revived salmon runs, he was handing energy companies a multi-billion dollar bonanza to foul the skies and expedite global warming.)

The president, due at a similar fund-raiser today in Seattle, has raised at least $50 million for his re-election campaign, expected to be the best-financed candidacy in U.S. history. The $1 million raised in Portland -- with a ticket price of $2,000, the maximum allowed under federal law -- was the most collected in the state for an individual candidate's coffers.

The President speaks, brokenly, in the language of morality. For him, issues can be divided into easy compartments of right and wrong. His divisions reflect the divisions in America--current polling puts him at an approval rating of 52%, just above the percent by which he was elected. People's attention seems equally divided: they listen to his words and ignore his actions.

On Thursday the President passed through Portland. Those who supported him paid two grand a head; those who opposed him, or those who supported him but didn't have the extra cash to pay, were cordoned behind barbed wire and treated to the angry glares of black-clad riot police and snipers.

Welcome to Portland, Mr. President.

"I challenge any other candidate to raise a million bucks in this town, in this economy," said Craig Berkman, a former Oregon Republican chairman, who helped sell tickets for the event.

"I loved it," said Paul Mabie, owner of Cascade Auto Body in Vancouver, after shaking Bush's hand at the fund-raiser. "He's reflecting everything I've been for."

Portland Oregonian, Seattle Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

posted by Jeff | 9:19 AM |

Friday, August 22, 2003  

Around the blogosphere in 80 minutes...

After Kevin posted his thoughts about conservatives in the academy, readers had a lively discussion on the topic. John Lemon responds on the thread, and has posted long responses on his site.

On the newly-renamed Pacific Views (formerly The Watch), Natasha has posted a fascinating description of a public meeting that a Washington Representative held on Iraqi intelligence. The discussion included former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who has been at the center of controversy around the Niger yellowcake story.

Via Atrios, loyal Naderites respond to an attack by Michael Tomasky in the American Prospect. I'm troubled by Tomasky's approach and tend to agree with the points the Naderites make. Here's a representative passage:

"Tomasky claims conservative initiatives like the USA PATRIOT Act and the upper-class tax cut would never have passed if Greens had stayed out of the 2000 presidential contest and allowed Al Gore to carry the election (which he of course did).

But as Tomasky surely knew even when writing that disingenuous passage, those and other hard-right policy schemes were victorious, thanks in large part to congressional Democrats' support.

Problem is, Tomasky's also right when he says the way to affect change is through broad-based support, not through fringe candidates. Where I question Tomasky is in his tactics: the people who will lead America left are exactly those disenfranchised lefties who supported Nader in 2000 (I know, I was one of them). Attacking Nader is the wrong choice: setting a progressive agenda and asking Naderites to contribute is the right strategy.

Dr. Laura: an Orthodox Jew no more. She didn't get enough "warmth" from them, so now she's off to a "smorgasbord of 'very loving, very supportive' Christian faiths." I missed this story. Dustin at One Man's Opinion didn't. He's got a nice post on it.

Something else I missed: Republicans Against Bush. Thanks to the Mad Prophet for pointing it out. You know what? He's making the same point we lefties have been making for months. Nice to see other Republicans agree.

The US? Right where Osama wants us opines Max in a nice bit of analysis:

"In other words, the UN attack fits the profile of what I imagined was the Osama Bin Ladin strategy -- draw the U.S. into a broad, protracted conflict -- the Clash of Civilizations (CoC). The rationale is that it would destroy the U.S. as it did the U.S.S.R. Create conditions for the Islamic world to be ever-more alienated from the U.S. Under this hypothesis, the fundies want the U.S. to stay in Iraq so they can kill more Americans, just as they invited invasion of Afghanistan. Osama may have underestimated U.S. military capabilities, but there's no turning back now."

And finally, Poison Kitchen presents an ode to Ann Coulter made on the BBC's Vogon Poetry Generator. A passage:

Tell me, Ann Coulter do you
Wonder why the wildebeest ignores you?
Why its foobly stare
makes you feel Coultergeisty?

posted by Jeff | 10:38 AM |

Thursday, August 21, 2003  

And via the Portland Communique we have a local news station (KATU) completely whoring itself for ratings. They've got an online "blog" of today's activities that's well worth a look. Among the amusing items:

Strong odor of marijuana observed at protest scene
12:24 PM

A KATU News photographer near the scene at Willamette Blvd. and Portsmouth where protesters are assembled reports that there is a strong odor of marijuana in the crowd. Police in riot gear have also doubled their presence outside the center where the president is addressing supporters.

(Of course, I wouldn't be surprised. But there were also a number of people smudging sage, and I doubt seriously if, having smelled burning sage, a KATU reporter could distinguish it from ganja. But either way, best to put it online with a screamer headline...)

More screamer headlines: KATU News crew assaulted by protesters (judge for yourself on this video); Protesters burn American flag (a lot of others were just waving them); Protesters climbing barrier; Protesters now on Willamette Blvd.; Protesters testing police?

They're working hard to make satire obsolete.

posted by Jeff | 4:26 PM |

According to at least one account, there were 2,000 protesters to greet the President this morning. Another called it "a few thousand." Honestly, I can't guage numbers in the best of circumstances, and in today's protest, we were sprawled down residential streets and around corners. Still, I'd say "a few thousand" is close enough.

A few thousand anti-Bush demonstrators gathered near the university where the police presence was heavy. One man wore a Bush mask and carried a sign that said "Stop me before I lie again." Along the motorcade route, one group, ringed by police in riot gear, made rude gestures at the entourage with their middle fingers. Several signs, carried by people against the war in Iraq, said: "Killer. Impeach Bush."

Still, the protesting crowd was more peaceful than it was it was in August 2002, when the president attended a Portland fund-raiser. Then, more than 1,000 protesters screamed anti-Bush messages, and police used pepper spray and rubber bullets to control the crowd.

That's a pretty accurate description. The crowd was divided up into two kinds of groups, and I wonder if we don't see in them something of how lefties are responding to things now.

The far larger group was the peaceful contingent, and interestingly, they were in a pretty joyful mood. I've been to a half dozen protests in the last year, and this was the first time I saw anything approaching joy in a crowd. Generally we're a grim lot, out there for something so offensive it seems hard to believe we have to protest it. But if hopelessness marked the earlier gatherings, I saw today a group who smelled blood. People were much more united in their messages, and their messages were good. One fellow standing next to me was hollering out to the police that they should fight the President, who would love to see them become un-unionized, low-pay workers. Another protester was dressed as a scientist and had a chart showing the increase in greenhouse gasses.

If you judge engagement by signs, we've also turned a corner. There were hundreds of hand-made messages, from the usual ("Bush lied, people died") to the personal "Turn Off Your TV--We're All Being Mislead!!") to the weird ("Milk of Human Kindness Project: Breastfeeding for Peace"), with everying in between. (My favorite: Dennis Kucinich Will Heal American Trauma.) A lot of people spent a lot of time thinking up messages and the method of communicating them. That's engagement.

The other group was far smaller (perhaps 5-10% of the crowd): the mad. These people were spitting with fury. As we walked along the side of the University of Portland campus, an older man was screaming at the police on the other side of the chain-link fence, calling them "gestapo," "fascist," and "brownshirts." Others screamed obscene names at Bush, Ashcroft, and the police. My sense is that these folks represent a very real group in America. If anything, the hopeful majority at the protests is probably a minority of liberals and Democrats in the US. They are the folks who see the tipping point of change on the horizon and are out trying to move the date up.

I don't know if today's protest can be generalized to illustrate anything about America. But we are Little Beirut, the most active liberal city in America, and so we bear watching. And today, we were mostly pretty happy.

posted by Jeff | 4:12 PM |

I'm off to holler about the President. Holler about because although he represents me, he will not offer up his goofy mug for me to holler at (not unless I pony up two grand, anyway). So I'll be at an adjacent park with my fellow unhappy Oregonians, where I hope we'll express our displeasure fulsomely and peacefully.

Bush thinks he has a shot at Oregon, and so he's planning on pumping up his huge political machine here. I'm hoping "Little Beirut" disabuses him of these hopes today. Update this afternoon--

posted by Jeff | 8:43 AM |

Wednesday, August 20, 2003  

Kevin Drum has an interesting post about the politics of the academy. He quotes a professor new to the blogging game. A conservative who goes by the psuedonym John Lemon to "slip under the radar" of the brownshirted liberals at his university, he asserts that "some of my colleagues refuse to tenure Republicans." This is a constant theme with conservatives: the universities are filled with pointy-beared Marxists who seek to destroy Republicans. Kevin wonders if it's true.

A few thoughts. First, let's take the case of John Lemon. If he is really a university professor, his story doesn't make much sense. Although the liberals will blackball conservatives, he's got tenure. Well, why not come out of the closet, then? If he has tenure, he can do his fellow conservative tenure-trackers a lot more good out in the open. (Office politics? He wants the corner office, maybe. Well, at a certain point, you have to ask yourself if you really stand for anything if you're worried about a little office politics.)

Never mind Lemon, what about universities? Are they really cabals of liberalism? Truth? Yes (or sort of--more in a minute). But not because colleges are the last hold-out of the intellectual scoundrel. Rather, because professors let reason guide their views, not mindless ideology. The reason the Limbaughs and Coulters of the world so intensely dislike academe is because its the one place where the population knows the patent lies from the facts. In my (admittedly limited) experience (I made it a couple years in a Ph.D. program in the humanities before flaming out), conservatives would be just fine if they had the data/theory to back their positions. But it's pretty damn hard to be a supporter of, say, the pre-emption doctrine, if you have even a passing knowledge of history.

Finally, not all departments are equally liberal. The humanities are notoriously pinko, but schools are increasingly dominated by the hard sciences and business departments--places where politics aren't discussed, or lean right.

This is one of those pillars of misinformation of conservative rhetoricians, along with the welfare queen and the limosine liberal: it's the "liberal elite." It's far easier to identify the elitism as a kind of effete snobbery based on discredited ideas, to characterize the elitists as victimizers, than to admit the "elitism" is education and knowledge.

posted by Jeff | 4:34 PM |

Weather Report

The scent of freshly cut grass: you won't catch it wafting on an August breeze in Portland. In the one region in the country where it might be arguable to use water to keep lawns emerald velvet, Portland lets them go brown. No one waters the lawn, and generally by mid-August they're looking pretty bad.

Not this year. This year, they were looking bad in in mid-July, and now they're so dry that any foot traffic grinds off the little straw-y blades and leaves bald patches of dust. I worry that they'll grow back. Why, you wonder?

I fault myself.

Last spring, I foolishly moaned about the weather in Portland--the wet weather. We had some amazing run of rain (something like a three-month span with maybe 10 dry days), and presented with my own little soapbox, I complained. The gods quickly smote me for my impertinence: they cleared away the clouds in late May and it's been hot and sunny since. (Portland isn't reliably sunny until after the 4th of July.)

So what do I have to say about the endless, fiery devil-sun who blasts my west-facing farmhouse and gasping perennial garden? I say...not a peep. I've seen what that can do.

posted by Jeff | 1:42 PM |

Because of the unsanctioned US invasion, it now appears that Iraq presents a far, far greater risk to the world than it did under Saddam Hussein. Far from democratizing the region, it has formed a destablized nexus for terrorists and fundamental Islamicists newly invigorated by hatred over American actions.

You know what? Many people warned to expect exactly this kind of situation.

It's an extremely harsh consequence of the arrogance of the administration and the absurd lies its members have told--and expecially the failure of the media and American public to examine the lies and arrogance. Since 9/11, the White House has made a number of shocking statements and moved forward with a number of bizarre policies--all unchallenged because of extremely thin, hopeful evidence (generally contradictory) offered by the adminstration.

Our government has called other nations evil. It adopted a policy of pre-emption. It promoted a war with an unthreatening foe with contractory, possibly faked evidence. It went ahead with the war despite UN opposition and no credible support. At every single stage a large minority of Americans screamed that none of this squared with the values, laws, or history of US policy--nor even credible interpreations of law. Moreover (and this is the strongest indictment), they pointed out that even taking the evidence at face value, it didn't make any sense.

So now Iraq has become a sacred ground to which violence is drawn. Expect the President, in the face of the obvious reality we all watch on the news, to lie about the circumstances there and praise the effectiveness of the "coalition" in establishing democracy. Also expect the media to dutifully report this fiction while meanwhle covering the wreckage of the UN bombing, upholding this bizarre reality/spin discontinuity.

Tomorrow Dubya's coming to Portland. He will journey to a private space and speak to those who pay $2,000 a pop and avoid the far larger group of unpaying constituents down the road at a public park. The media will also dutifully cover his speech, though it will propogate a lie they do not believe, and ignore the mass of citizens who are demanding an end to the deceit. His war chest will ever grow, as will the power money exerts over the federal government, to the ill of the public good. Only citizens will question this. They won't get media coverage and their arguments won't be heard.

But, just like when they protested about the war and predicted that it would result in catastrophe, they'll be right.

posted by Jeff | 9:33 AM |

Tuesday, August 19, 2003  

Holy Moly. Go read this.

posted by Jeff | 4:45 PM |

Fred's the UN, Iggi's Egypt. But, me:

You're Chile!

You're really skinny, and kind of bumpy in frame, but you're not as rough a person as you used to be. You like long, long, long walks on the beach and avoiding having your rights violated, just like anybody else does. You're even willing to stand up to those with more power and influence than you, trying to bring them to justice. Fight the man!

Take the Country Quiz at the Blue Pyramid

posted by Jeff | 4:27 PM |

Are you ready for something really cynical? The President is planning to play politics with terrorism.

The Bush administration, under increasing criticism over its terrorism policies, is beginning an unusual counteroffensive this week in an effort to shore up support for the prized legislation that grew out of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The pitchman for the campaign-style initiative is Attorney General John Ashcroft, a politically divisive figure who plans to deliver more than a dozen speeches around the country beginning on Tuesday in defense of the administration's terrorism efforts.

The campaign will take Mr. Ashcroft to states that are considered central to Mr. Bush's 2004 re-election effort and where some political strategists say the administration's tough antiterrorism tactics play well....

"The administration realizes that Ashcroft is a bit of a lightning rod," said a prominent Republican consultant. "He has his down sides, but not in the realm of prosecuting terrorism and protecting national security. He works well in that area."

further evidence to those of us who allege that the President uses fear and terrorism to fuel his political machine.

posted by Jeff | 2:50 PM |

More fair and balanced satire:

Unreliable sources report that the Fox suit has inspired Paul Newman, the actor, to file a similar suit in federal court against the Department of Housing and Urban Development, commonly called HUD. Mr. Newman claims piracy of personality and copycat infringement.

In the 1963 film "HUD," for which Mr. Newman was nominated for an Academy Award, the ad campaign was based on the slogan, "Paul Newman is HUD." Mr. Newman claims that the Department of Housing and Urban Development, called HUD, is a fair and balanced institution and that some of its decency and respectability has unfairly rubbed off on his movie character, diluting the rotten, self-important, free-trade, corrupt conservative image that Mr. Newman worked so hard to project in the film. His suit claims that this "innocence by association" has hurt his feelings plus residuals.

Paul Newman, the actor, is also the author.

posted by Jeff | 9:56 AM |

Who's the "Greatest Figure of the 20th Century?" The Dalai Lama? Mother Theresa? MLK? Left-wing bloggers (including me) make the call (and two of those three didn't even make the list). This group seems somewhat less objective than the previous "Worst Americans" list, and includes both the unworthy and excludes the worthy.

Among the unworthy, Bill Clinton leads the pack. Come on people, Bill doesn't make a top five list for best presidents in the 20th Century, must less best figure (compare him to aforementioned absent folks). Kennedy and Eisenhower are poor choices as well. FDR is rightly chosen, and is in my mind the only US president who warrants a mention. (Carter, a poor president, is an arguable inclusion based on all the wonderful human rights and diplomatic work he's done since.) Edison's a straddler, but I would have placed him in the 19th Century.

Among the omissions are, of course, Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama. The list is heavily skewed toward pols and scientists. Any rounded list would include some more folks from the arts: only Picasso, Louis Armstrong, and George Orwell made this list (and Orwell's a wonk's choice for literary figure if ever there was one). Literary figures? I went with Beckett and Sartre. It was the century of film and not a single filmmaker made the list. I went with Kurosawa. I also threw in two pop musicians, and this was the hardest. I chose Louis as the embodiment of jazz, and then I chose Dylan, mistakenly. Given a second chance, I'd have chosen Chuck Berry.

Of 28 listed figures, 18 were American, showing a xenophobic streak among lefties (in my own list, only six of 20 were yanks). Fourteen (depending on how you count) were political figures, and only 3 were artists. Seven were scientists or innovators.

A few folks I had who didn't make the list are Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, and Linus Pauling. I waffled over Pauling and Salk, but decided to go with Pauling, who had a funky and full career. I knew he wouldn't make the list.

How would you vote?

(Oh, and I should give some props to John Hawkins, who conceived of a fun and clever way to bring a lot of traffic to his site from lefties who might otherwise rarely visit.)

posted by Jeff | 9:27 AM |

Monday, August 18, 2003  

The news doldrums of late summer give us an opportunity to reflect on less immediate, but important issues, as Nicholas Kristof did last Friday. Writing about religion and culture, Kristof identifies a trend toward unthinking faith in America. And not just among the religious, but tellingly, the nonreligious as well.

So here's a fact appropriate for the day: Americans are three times as likely to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus (83 percent) as in evolution (28 percent)….

Americans believe, 58 percent to 40 percent, that it is necessary to believe in God to be moral. In contrast, other developed countries overwhelmingly believe that it is not necessary. In France, only 13 percent agree with the U.S. view….

Yet despite the lack of scientific or historical evidence, and despite the doubts of Biblical scholars, America is so pious that not only do 91 percent of Christians say they believe in the Virgin Birth, but so do an astonishing 47 percent of U.S. non-Christians.

Kristof is making the point that there are a number of different kinds of religious beliefs. The one that's on the rise in America, however, is a dogmatic view.

Amy Sullivan, writing today on his article, takes issue. Her view is revealing and makes Kristof's all that more potent. Sullivan, a Christian liberal and intellectual, argues that Kristof misses the long history of Christian intellectualism.

My initial reaction is, perhaps, pithy but true: The same way that Martin Luther King, Jr., Henri Nouwen, Cornel West, C.S. Lewis, not to mention Copernicus, Descartes, and even Einstein did or do….

Kristof hangs his point on the fact that large numbers of Americans -- both Christian and non-Christian -- say they believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. I really don't know what to say to that except that it doesn't tell me much of anything. Large numbers of Americans also think we've found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

…[I]f he's saying that religious people are poorly educated, easily manipulated stooges (as the Washington Post so famously said a few years ago), then he should make that clear. Bemoaning the fact that "the great intellectual traditions of Catholic and Protestant churches are withering," as he does instead, leaves us nowhere.

That Sullivan misses Kristof's point means its worth a second iteration and perhaps some more context. Kristof (whom I believe is also a Christian) isn't arguing that Christianity is anti-intellectual. He's arguing that Americans are--as they often have in the past--turning away from science and reason and retreating into rigid dogmatism. He sees within this move a grave danger: it's exactly this kind of dogmatism that leads to the certainty of an Osama bin Laden (or a Pat Buchanan).

At the heart of religion is a paradox. On the one hand, the questions with which religions are concerned are those that can't be answered through the scientific process. They require a different kind of insight, one based on (variously) faith, intuition, or experience. Yet on the other hand, in order to avoid the nihilism of uncertainty, religions constantly try to provide some support for sustaining this inquiry. Thus, in the Christian context, one has faith in the answer to the questions without requiring a kind of scientific proof. But that faith can, of course, move toward certainty and dogmatism if the confidence of one's faith leads one to think he's found the answers.

Among the industrialized world, no culture is as deeply steeped in religion as America's. Whether or not one is actively Christian, in America one still holds culturally-sanctioned religious beliefs (we're almost all deists, whether we copt to being Christian or not). Over the course of our history, this has led to moments of great religious ferment--almost always in the "absolute faith" mode. In the 1830s, for example, this kind of grassroots mysticism reached a pitch and religions sprang up throughout the country, all fueled by unwavering faith. It was from this period that Mormonism arose; at the time Joseph Smith was preaching his discovered gospels, he was competing amongst a din of religious leaders. While their teachings differed dramatically, they all shared that characteristic American quality of being highly mystical and experiential.

As with everything there are two sides to this coin. Mysticism can lead individuals to personal transformations. I think it's safe to say that most religious leaders have had experiences of this kind; it informs and guides their beliefs. The most insightful among these leaders are able to hold the questions of religion open. They understand that the value is in the question itself, not the answer.

There's a great danger, however. When people open themselves up to mystical experience, they are extremely vulnerable. There are countless examples of the wreckage of people who, during authentic mystical transformation, opened themselves up to charlatans; followers of Jim Jones, Rajneesh, David Koresh, and on and on speak to this. The danger of mysticism is that there's no safety switch, no circuit breaker--once a person gives himself over to absolute faith, there is nothing to persuade him he's wrong. I think the mistake most mystic-charlatans make is that they allow themselves to answer the questions. Once that's done, there's no action that can't be committed with the confidence it's God's work. Then you have the unyielding views of the religiously dogmatic.

It's Americans' nature to think of ourselves as the ultimate answerers. We put a man on the moon, for crying out loud--we can do anything. Yet there's nothing special about American insight. Dogmatism in our hands is no different than dogmatism in the hands of an Indian Hindu, Iranian Muslim, Israeli Jew, or Burmese Buddhist. Kristof wasn't talking about Christianity. He was talking about dogmatism. As we can see with his numbers, and as we've seen in the rhetoric of our leaders, he's got a point.

posted by Jeff | 10:18 AM |

Tom DeLay isa piece of work:

"We're supposed to, by Constitution, apportion or redistrict every 10 years. We in Texas have prided ourselves on honor, duty and responsibility. Unfortunately, the Democrats in the state Legislature don't understand honor because they're violating their oath of office to support the United States Constitution."

DeLay, lecturing Democrats on the purpose of the Constitution, is roughly like Idi Amin conducting a seminar on human rights.

posted by Jeff | 8:18 AM |

Saturday, August 16, 2003  

This probably isn't such a controversial thought, but: why is it that people think Arnie's not qualified to be the guv? Who is qualified? Businessmen run and raise no eyebrows. Ditto lawyers, doctors, teachers, labor leaders. No one says boo. But an actor runs, and all of a sudden it's a circus.

Arnie let everyone know years ago that he was interested in politics. He's spent three decades in the entertainment industry, conquering it a way that Reagan never did (nor, for that matter, Dubya). He married into one of the most powerful political families in America. It's safe to assume that public policy is something he regularly discusses over dinner, at the very least. He appears to be at least reasonably intelligent, competent, and interested in policy--setting himself above at least half the politicians who manage to get elected as our leaders. But he's an actor, so.

Criticisms that he hasn't answered hard questions about policy are legitimate, of course. But there's something distasteful in the notion that of all the prepatory professions, Hollywood is somehow exempt as an appropriate political lead-in. In fact, the so-called "appropriate" lead-ins are anything but. Consider what governing involves. As a lawmaker, you must become familiar with a vast array of public policy issues: crime and law, social programs, defense and foreign policy (in some offices), budgets and economics, taxes and tax law, education, and on and on, not to mention the issue of playing the give-and-take game of politics.

Businesspeople claim that running a business qualifies them to run the government. Really? Exactly how does selling widgets prepare you to compromise with your opponents to create law about, say, teachers' salaries? Being a trial lawyer informs you on budgetary issues how?

No one comes into the game knowing their ass from a hole in the ground. All you can do is look at the candidate's level of competence, her history of dealing with challenges, her record of innovation, her intelligence, and her character and then make a good call. So for the record, don't tell me Arnie's not qualified (which is not to say he should be elected).

posted by Jeff | 5:35 PM |

Friday, August 15, 2003  

(All right, it's predictable, but how could I avoid it? Happy Satire Friday!)


In addition to a lawsuit aimed at comic writer Al Franken over the title of his new book (Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right), Fox News Channel announced today lawsuits against 10,424 bloggers, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), Webster's, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Comedy Central.

Filed Monday in Manhattan, the trademark infringement lawsuit seeks to force the offending parties to remove all references to "fair and balanced," as well as "fair" and "balanced," and in once case, "objective." It also asks for unspecified damages.

Fox News registered "Fair & Balanced" as a trademark in 1995, and revised the mark last week to include "fair" and "balanced" where the meaning involved media or communication. If successful, the landmark case could signal a broad new set of power granted to Rupert Murdoch over the English language.

"The intent of these publications is clear," read the suit. "To exploit Fox News' trademark, to confuse the public as to the origins of the 'fairness and balance' and, accordingly, to boost sales of their respective products."

Fox spokeswoman Caitlin Darkheart spoke at the news conference announcing the suits. "It has been clear for some days now that a number of parties have sought to exploit the success of Fox News. In 1995, as we were revolutionizing not just attack media, but language itself, we clearly perverted the meaning of the words 'fair' and 'balanced.' Taken out of their original context, they became a cynical tagline for our product. It's difficult to see at this point how these entities expect to use the words in any context except for said cynical promotion of our conglomerate. Ironic uses of the words--which ridicule us while returning the words to their earlier meaning--are violations of our mark, as well as damaging to our name. For that reason, we're seeking legal recourse."

Since the fracas with Franken, hosts of web logs ("blogs") have incorporated the phrase "fair and balanced" into their titles in order to satirize the absurdity of the Fox move. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a media watchdog, and Comedy Central, host of "The Daily Show," were also targeted by Fox's wrath. Less clear was how Webster's and the Royal Shakespeare Company violated the mark.

Said Darkheart, "The words fair and balanced are each referenced in their obsolete, confusing context in the dictionary. As we have established, that only confuses consumers. Also, we found a prevalence of the words in the comedies of the bard, William Shakespeare, which further confound the meaning of the words. Occasionally they're used facetiously, but occasionally they're also used in their older sense. In neither case, however, is it clear that the bard intended them as promotional words for our company. Given the strength of the Shakespeare name, and the pervasiveness of the message, we'll be seeking to remove all references from his plays."

The lawsuits will be heard beginning in December.

posted by Jeff | 12:25 PM |

Thursday, August 14, 2003  

What's the role of government? Stepping back from policy questions, is it possible to make some general observations about why we even have such an entity? In his book The Third Way, Anthony Giddens offers these as a working definition:

Government exists to:

Provide means for the representation of diverse interests;

Offer a forum for reconciling the competing claims of these interests;

Sustain an effective system of law;

Promote the active development of human capital through its core role in the education system;

Foster social peace through control of the means of violence and through the provision of policing;

Create and protect an open public sphere, in which unconstrained debate about policy issues can be carried on;

Provide a diversity of public goods, including forms of collective security and welfare;

Foster regional and transnational alliances and pursue global goals;

Regulate markets in the public interest and foster market competition where monopoly threatens;

Have a directly economic role, as a prime employer, in macro- and microeconomic intervention, plus the provision of infrastructure;

More controversially, have a civilizing aim--government reflects widely held norms and values, but can also help shape them, in the educational system and elsewhere.

These, of course, apply only to democratic governments. Furthermore, Giddens, a Briton, reflects some of his own cultural view here; I've rearranged these from their most universal to their most particular senses (and I may be wrong, too). I'd say the first five are not controversial. After that, there may be quibbles.

What I found interesting when I read the list (and this will surprise exactly no one) is that the stated purposes of policy rarely cohere with these larger purposes. And particularly, the White House's policies run directly counter to them in many cases. The way in which the White House governs, moreover, definitely runs against the purposes Giddens identifies.

I wonder if it would be handy to pull these out from time to time and see how well our government is doing fulfilling its purpose?

posted by Jeff | 1:47 PM |

Wednesday, August 13, 2003  

I've been meaning to get back to the Democrats, bless their hearts. This morning I received an idiotic email from Terry McAuliffe asking for $57 in celebration of Clinton's 57th birthday to get me talking. Nothing like a nostalgic look back to get me fired up. (However, the Dems do have a decent rebuttal of the White House's lies and misdemeanors on the webpage.)

It's all about Dean at the moment. Vermont 'phants think they can get some traction by demanding that Dean open his gubernatorial records (they'll be sealed until 2013). This is actually great news. Dean can now play the "show-me-yours-and-I'll-show-you-mine" card. Let's see, the most secretive President in history versus a mostly-already-revealed gubernatorial record--who do you think stands to lose on that trade?

Meanwhile, according to lefties, Dean's not a liberal, dammit. No wait, he really is.

He's conservative, I tell you:
"Dean's supporters don't believe what they're told. They hear what they want to believe, and Dean provides the strident vagaries that fuel their self-delusion. 'We need to know what the president knew and when he knew it,' he spat when Bush got caught lying about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in his State of the Union address. That reference to the 1974 Nixon impeachment hearings affirmed many Democrats' belief that Bush deserves serious punishment for lying about Iraq, but will President Dean turn over Bush to the International War Crimes Tribunal? Not bloody likely. And how can antiwar types reconcile Dean's support for Bush's invasion of Afghanistan?" (Rall)

Wrong, he's a progressive:
"Since the speech, Dean has consistently spoken out on Iraq and many of the occupation policies. He has called on Bush administration officials to resign for misleading the American public, and continues to criticize those Democrats who voted for the Iraq resolution." (Pitney, AlterNet)

He's conservative, I tell you:
"Clinton played libbies the same way in 1992. The pro-business Arkansas governor promised to stand up for workers--without naming specifics. But when he moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Clinton approved pro-corporate, GOP-authored 'free trade' agreements that robbed Americans of millions of high-paying jobs, trashed the environment and did almost zilch to improve employee rights." (Rall)

Wrong, he's a progressive:
"Dean has pledged to renegotiate current trade agreements (including NAFTA) and oppose new trade agreements that do not require the enforcement of internationally recognized workers' rights and environmental standards. He will also 'oppose any further rounds of the World Trade Organization agreements that do not make substantial progress on incorporating' these rights and standards. When asked about policy toward Africa and the Caribbean Basin at the NAACP Presidential Forum, Dean voiced his support for debt forgiveness and remarked that 'we need to get the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank off the backs of these countries.'" (Pitney, AlterNet)

(The point is moot--with press like this, all he has to do is smile.)

I don't know what to say. If everyone's reading something into the Dean campaign, no one's reading anything into Kucinich's. He's actually getting some press (see the Guardian, Nashua [NH] Telegraph, Akron Beacon Journal, and AlterNet) and based on the grossly unrepresentative Portland supporters, got some populist backing. But he can't quite get over that "unelectable" label, nor the 7th-man-slump. Money ain't everything, but it's the only thing that gets you press. All Kucinich supporters should step up to the plate. Put a Ben Franklin in for Dennis. We've got to start backing him with our dollars, not just our voices.

The Rest of the Crowd.
Rest of the crowd? Aren't they all just talking Dean? The only real news is that Gephardt managed to rally the Teamsters. It still may not be enough to win him Iowa.

posted by Jeff | 11:22 AM |

Maureen Dowd thinks politicians who blog are lame. Leave it to the amateurs, implies she.


posted by Jeff | 10:44 AM |

Eagle eyes may notice a slight revision in the tagline. This is a suggestion via Matthew Yglesias to include the tag "fair and balanced" in the blog as a response to Fox's power-mad grab.

Seems reasonable to me.

posted by Jeff | 9:24 AM |

Tuesday, August 12, 2003  

E.J. Dionne blasts the President's critics:

Isn't the hatred shown our president just awful, especially when we face such serious challenges to our national security?

One major politician called the administration's policies an "abject national embarrassment."

A former national security official said the president "has squandered American credibility and undermined our preeminence around the world." Another highly respected foreign policy expert said the administration "has not been able to distinguish between professorial concepts and foreign policy."

A key House leader insisted that "the president does not have the divine right of a king." He accused the administration of providing the public with "the spin, the whole spin, and nothing but the spin."

An important senator called the president "a jerk," and a House member said: "He still looks like a small man in a big office and an illegitimate president."

Terrible, terrible stuff. These politicians clearly don't know what the thoughtful conservative writer David Brooks knows: that politics should not take on a "lurid and emotional tone," and that it's self-defeating to indulge "the hypercharged tendency to believe the absolute worst about one's political opponents."

Oh, wait, those were criticisms by Dick Cheney, Jim Baker, Henry Kissinger, Tom DeLay, and Orrin Hatch about the last President. Thus Dionne spanks David Brooks for decrying the "lurid and emotional tone" the Dems have brought to bear on the current Prez. Quick, somebody call the Capitol Hill cops on 'em!

posted by Jeff | 4:49 PM |

Further thoughts on Michael Tomasky's study of editorials in liberal and conservative newspapers. Since I first wrote about the article last week, it has been the subject of some debate (Arcturus, Rhetorica, Begging to Differ, and FrontPage). Predictably, conservatives were not convinced, and used that time-honored tradition of nitpicking details to avoid discussing the conclusions.

(There is some meager cover for the argument about methods advanced in some of these criticisms. It's impossible to find identically comparable situations to pair and discuss. But the criticisms mainly dispute Tomasky's motives and assumptions, and ignore his findings and conclusions. Yes, Tomasky's a liberal, but he didn't hide his work--it's right there for all to see. Let me critique the critics. You don't like the assumptions of Tomasky's study because you agree, not disagree with it: he was attempting to determine which papers were more partisan. Who's really surprised by his findings?)

I read the entire report, just to see what I thought of his methods and findings. I'll agree on the point that not all the pairs work as well in comparison. But there are two things that emerge unrebutted, and I'll bet they never will be: the conservative papers do not criticize their own, and when they criticize liberals, they do it in far more aggressive, personal language than the liberal papers.

The conservative papers were critical of Bush 7% of the time negative about Clinton 89%. The liberal papers were critical Bush 67% and Clinton 30%. Here's a challenge to those who question the methodology: select any period of time and merely count positives and negatives. If you choose the first year of both presidents' terms, do you think these proportions will change? Of course they won't. Which is, of course, Tomasky's point.

As to the language; this, too, is obvious. Here's one example (Tomasky provides dozens). During the Ashcroft nomination period, the Wall Street Journal wrote "With the crew that made Bork a verb now lining up to oppose John Ashcroft as Attorney General, you have to wonder precisely what lies are coming." I challenge anyone to find an occasion when either the Times or the Post has ever taken an ad hominem attack and dismissed a "crew" of Republicans as liars. Even when the President is caught in lies, those papers don't stoop to ad hom attacks.

Say what you will about Tomasky, but let's hear a legitimate defense about his conclusions, not his politics.

posted by Jeff | 11:07 AM |

Because I'm always pleased to help out my fellow blogger, irrespective of ideology (as Tomasky would predict), I participated in a poll of the "Worst Figures in American History" over on Right Wing News. Findings here. Compare to an earlier poll of right-wing bloggers. Not to make too much out of the findings (I approached it humorously, including Bud Selig and the Portland Trailblazers in my list), but even these support the thesis that conservatives are more partisan/ideological than liberals.

On the conservatives list are 12 figures you could call "political" or "ideological," six criminal, and two that fall somewhere in between (Benedict Arnold and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg). Of the political figures, all but one (Nixon) are leftists. Surprises include FDR and Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter? Yeah, his presidency was a failure, but does he qualify as the fourth worst American? Most of the choices are a who's-who of ideological attack, most of recent vintage. No real themes about what qualifies as "worst" is evident--save being a Democrat.

Liberals were more willing to spread the blame. With a slightly larger selection (25), fifteen were political, 5 criminal (including the communist Rosenbergs), and 5 more random selections (a nazi and a clan member, Hearst, Arnold, and J. Edgar Hoover). Of the political figures, 4 were leftists or Democrats (Strom Thurmond also made the list, but I didn't include him in the tally). Whereas the Republicans tended to just hate those on the other team (the only real ideologue on the righties' list was Chomsky; the rest were garden variety Democrats), from the liberal bloggers' list we can definitely discern a theme. For them, "worst" meant greatest threat to the Constitution and democracy.

Without getting ideological, one can argue that McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover (1st and 3rd on the list) were overt threats to the country, while George Lincoln Rockwell and Nathan Bedford Forrest represent the dark foundation that gives rise to the kind of danger McCarthy became. Leftists are also much more interested in equality, and identify those who worked against it in their lives. In addition to Rockwell and Forrest are Andrew Jackson, George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, and Pat Robertson.

So it seems from these two, very unscientific lists, that "worst" means something different for lefties and righties (no suprise there). I'll add, ideologically, that it looks like lefties have criteria beyond partisanship.

[Update: Rex Stetson gives some nice analysis on his blog.]

posted by Jeff | 9:39 AM |

Monday, August 11, 2003  

Oh, and it's time for Lieberman to go. His platform now has become the "I hate Dean" platform. I don't know that it's getting much traction with other Democrats (whereas he was earlier dying a slow death of disinterest, now he's committed speedy hara kiri), but the Republicans sure seem to love it (see also the Washington Times ). Appearing on--what else?--Fox News, he went on the Democratic attack yesterday.

Since the start of this campaign I've maintained an "any Democrat but Lieberman" position. Now it seems I can proclaim that I'll back "any Democrat."

posted by Jeff | 8:56 AM |

This was a clever move. The Texas Dems (now Cheneying in Albuquerque) wrote to President Bush and asked for him to intervene in the state's redistricting battle. Knowing that he's a buck-passer, they knew they'd have a chance to accuse him of dirty partisan politics if he did anything but support them.

In their letter to Bush, the 11 Democratic senators said the GOP redistricting plan "smacks of blatant racism by Republican leaders" because of its likely impact on minority voters. Democrats charge that the plan would dilute the votes of about 1.4 million black and Hispanic voters by "packing" them into a handful of congressional districts. "Clearly you recognize the increasing significance of the Hispanic and African American vote in national elections because you sought our help in Texas," the senators said. "Early on, you vowed to unite, not divide. Today your Texas successors threaten to divide us as never before in our state's history. This flies in the face of your national Latino outreach programs. With all due respect, Mr. President, you cannot have it both ways...."

"Your continued silence [on the Texas dispute] is being interpreted by thoughtful Americans as complicity or as tacit approval," the senators wrote on special stationery bearing the title "The Texas 11."

Of course it worked: the President was forced to play the "ain't-my-bidnez" card.

A White House spokesman said in reply yesterday: "While the president always maintains an interest in Texas, he currently is concentrating on governing all of America." When White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked about the dispute last Monday, he called it "a matter that the state of Texas is addressing."

But in fact, with the House Majority Leader and federal agencies directly involved, the President can't really call it a Texas issue. His own party has made it a national issue. Demanding the President get involved sheds some light on Republican tactics and keeps the heat on. In California, piqued Republicans used the recall technique to accomplish what they could not do through the ballot box. (It takes 51% of Californians to elect a Governor, but it only takes 2.3% to demand a recall--and then possibly as little as 25% to elect a Republican.) Republicans in the House recently called the cops on their Democratic colleagues because the Dems were unruly--that is to say, not dancing to the right goose step. This is not a party particularly charmed by the virtue of democratic process.

Oh, and let's not forget that the President himself was elected by a margin of just a single vote--when a different group of Republicans decided they liked him better than Al Gore.

posted by Jeff | 8:42 AM |

Sunday, August 10, 2003  

Should states be paying for college students to study religion? How about theology? It's likely to be a decision that the Supreme Court will have to make.

On July 21, Judge George Caram Steeh of Federal District Court in Detroit issued a preliminary ruling in her favor, saying the state had probably engaged in religious discrimination. Judge Steeh ordered the state to put her scholarship money in escrow until there is a final court ruling.

A case much like Ms. Becker's from Washington State will be decided by the United States Supreme Court in its next term. A trial in Ms. Becker's case has not been scheduled and may never be needed; the Supreme Court case will probably effectively decide hers as well....

The Washington case is in some ways the narrower one. The State Supreme Court interpreted theology to mean "instruction that resembles worship and manifests a devotion to religion and religious principles in thought, feeling, belief and conduct."

In Washington, then, teaching about religion as an academic subject, as opposed to religious teaching meant to inspire devotion, is fine.

As a graduate with a B.A. in religious studies, I have some interest in this case. I think Washington's interpration is right on. The discipline of religious studies is a pedogogically accepted one, and a legitimate part of the humanities. Like the other departments in the humanities, religion is a filter. From my alma mater, the department's description:

...the study of religion is defined as a field of investigation distinct from religious practice. The program gives students the opportunity for critical reflection on a variety of religious traditions in the world, including their own. Students read the texts and examine the practices of both Western and Eastern religious traditions in the social and historical context in which they originated and in which they are now practiced. The field of religion is broad in content, not only because of the variety of religious traditions in the world, but also because religion has pervaded nearly everything else in human experience. Linkages with these other dimensions of human experience are systematically explored in order to understand the role religion has played and continues to play in every society.

The study of theology, on the other hand, necessarily involves supporting and promoting a particular religion. From the Harvard Divinity School mission:

Its purpose is to educate women and men for service as leaders in religious life and thought--as ministers and teachers, and in other professions enriched by theological study.

The argument can be mad (and, obviously, has) that state or federal money given to a student to study theology violates the "establishment clause" of the First Amendment. I'm not totally sold on that point, but I can definitely see the argument. To identify religious studies as an establishment of religion, however, is to misunderstand what the instruction is. No doubt I'll be writing more about this.

posted by Jeff | 9:11 PM |

Saturday, August 09, 2003  

Following up Paul Krugman's report that the White House tried to influence Treasury Department numbers, here's another one:

An investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general into official statements about air quality after the collapse of the World Trade Center has found that White House officials instructed the agency to be less alarming and more reassuring to the public in the first few days after the attack.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon apparently met secretly with the middleman from the Iran-Contra scandal.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld confirmed Friday that Pentagon officials met secretly and discussed Iran with a controversial and discredited figure in the Iran-contra scandal.

But Rumsfeld said the talks "went nowhere...."

posted by Jeff | 9:53 AM |

Friday, August 08, 2003  


In an unexpected announcement yesterday, US Attorney General John Ashcroft revealed that a captured prisoner, held at Guantanamo, Cuba since the Afghanistan war, has admitted to being Osama bin Laden.

"We suspected all along that the man calling himself Rashid Habib was in fact the brutal terrorist. I am extremely pleased to report that last week, after 14 months of excellent work by Justice Department interrogators, he finally admitted it."

When asked what the "work" entailed, Ashcroft replied that he wasn't at liberty to divulge the Department's techniques. "Of course, he was well treated throughout our discussions; the United States isn't in the business of coercion." The press conference ended abruptly, however, after a reporter asked, "But reports from your own agency have already implicated you in coercive behavior in treatment of other detainees." The Attorney General called it nonsense and dismissed the reporter as "dangerously unpatriotic."

The President, speaking later in the day from between service games at the tennis courts of his Crawford, Texas home, made a brief, laconic statement. "I told you we'd smoke 'em out. Well?"

To complicate matters, France has declared that the prisoner is in fact Rashid Habib, a barista and native of Paris. Said French Ambassador with usual Gallic overstatement, "It is an outrage. The United States can no longer claim to be a democracy!" After denouncing the US, the ambassador held up a picture of Habib. It revealed a somewhat plump man bearing little obvious resemblance to the famed terrorist. "Tell me: this is Osama bin Laden?"

When asked what would happen next to bin Laden, DOJ officials read from a prepared statement. "Osama bin Laden is the most dangerous criminal ever prosecuted by the United States. Due to issues of national security, he will be prosecuted by a military tribunal. Of course, we must also protect the nation by shielding them from bin Laden's evil ways and therefore he will not be made available to media scrutiny. He will be tried secretly, where he will, God willing, be found guilty of his heinous crime. We will announce the results of the trial as soon as it is complete."

posted by Jeff | 9:53 AM |

Thursday, August 07, 2003  

cynical (adj).
1. Believing or showing the belief that people are motivated chiefly by base or selfish concerns; skeptical of the motives of others: a cynical dismissal of the politician's promise to reform the campaign finance system.
2. Selfishly or callously calculating: showed a cynical disregard for the safety of his troops in his efforts to advance his reputation.

At the heart of a brazenly cynical White House is one of the most cynical figures I've ever encountered. I am referring, of course, to Condi Rice. You want cynical? How about this:

"We've heard that argument before, and we more than any should be ready to reject it," Rice told about 1,200 people at the National Association of Black Journalists.

"The view was wrong in 1963 in Birmingham, and it is wrong in 2003 in Baghdad and in the rest of the Middle East," she said.

"We should not let our voices waver in speaking out for people seeking freedom and never, never indulge in the condescending voices who say that some people in Africa or the Middle East are just not interested in freedom -- culturally just not ready for freedom," she said.

Right, because the Klan are the ones who oppose the war now, just like they opposed the Civil Rights movement. Or because they're like the Klan. Yeah, that must be it. Those who oppose the war are morallly similar to those who lynched black Americans.

Anyone want to defend this?

posted by Jeff | 1:10 PM |

A busy morning, so the blogging will come later. I'd like to point you to further commentary on the Maher Hawash plea, though. Here in Portland we have a thug named David Reinhard who breaks legs for the Republicans--metaphorically speaking, of course. A characteristic of his assaults is, well, how to put it gently: ah, Dave's got a problem with non-whites. He recently launched an attack on the friends of an unarmed black woman who was gunned down by a white cop. Of course, he supported the President in the Michigan case. And most infamously, he wrote an article wherein Reinhard found evidence of Hawash's guilt in his "Islamic beard." Today Reinhard demands that Hawash's friends "come clean."

On Rantavation, Fred Henning has written an elequent defense of those friends' actual position--and of the US's Constitutional judiciary. I urge you to go read it.

posted by Jeff | 10:52 AM |

Wednesday, August 06, 2003  

Whoa--shocking news.

PORTLAND — Maher “Mike” Hawash, one of seven Portland-area suspects charged with terrorism related crimes, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to provide services to the Taliban, but will not face other charges in exchange for testimony against other suspects.

Hawash, a software engineer who worked for Intel, had initially pleaded innocent to charges of conspiracy to wage war against the United States, conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaida and conspiracy to contribute services to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

In exchange for testimony, federal prosecutors agreed to drop charges of conspiring to levy war against the U.S. and conspiring to provide material support for terrorism. Hawash pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide services to the Taliban.

He will serve a minimum of seven years in federal prison under the deal, which was approved by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Of course, no one knew whether Hawash was guilty or not. We'll be hearing a constant flood of "I-told-you-sos" from the conservative lock-em-up right. So let's all keep our heads about us: none of the Portland protesters ever said he was innocent. We protested the fact that he was locked up for 80-odd days without being charged. We protested because the US government felt it was necessary to suspend his Constitutional rights to build a case against him.

That Hawash is guilty doesn't mean John Ashcroft has been exonerated.

posted by Jeff | 2:42 PM |

I was thinking some more about that whole kielbasa vs. incrementalism deal, and I had another thought. Part of what plagues the left is that, since Reagan, it hasn't come to terms with its pursuit of equality. Liberalism is founded on the idea that working together produces benefits for the whole. If you follow that idea in one direction, you end up with communism; if you follow it the other, eventually you come to conservatism, with its reliance on the individual (or personal liberty, the twin pillar of the American dream).

Looking at the 20th Century through this lens, we can see the swing back and forth between a polity favoring indivdual liberty and equality. The century started out in hardcare individualist mode, and we had child labor and 120-hour work weeks and the wealthy overloards and the nearly enslaved underclass and, of course, no middle class. With the rise of labor unions and the crash of the stock market, the pump was primed for a collectivist movement and an emphasis on equality. Enter FDR and the WPA and later LBJ and the ERA. In reaction to the economic bogdown of the 70s and a reaction against civil rights and gender equality, we got the Reagan administration, wherein our current era of "free market" liberty has held sway.

However, a historical hiccup derailed the left's push for equality: the fall of the Berlin Wall. The greatest historical experiment with collectivism collapsed, proving once and for all that this notion of equality led inevitably to sloth and tyranny. (Well, not really, but that's what we read in Time.) And unfortunately, liberals haven't known what to do with this. Clinton made a couple of ill-fated forays into the equality pool--health care and gays in the military--and when these failed, it seemed to signal the end of equality. Because the original sense of equality--an equal playing field--was lost, now the right has co-opted equality as the freedom to pursue individual liberties. So Affirmative Action is unfair because it interferes with a white man's ability to get a job.

So it seems relevant to ask: is equality a virtue the left stands for?

The reason I like Kucinich is because he's unabashed in his answer to the question: absolutely yes. He realizes you can't have freedom and personal liberty without equality. If the government does not create an environment in which all citizens have equal access to food and water, shelter, health care, education, physical safety, and a decent job, it's wholly unreasonable to claim that it's serving their individual liberty.

In a broader sense, the virtue of equality springs from the sense that working together we can create a society that's better for people than one that's wholly competitive, winner-take-all. If you happen to have all the advantages, the freedom to compete head to head is beguiling. It seems superficially democratic. But we know from history that this leads to the situation of the gilded age--good for a very few people, and bad for the country as a whole. As a country, we're far better off when we have a fat middle class. Promoting equality is good for the country. We have always known that, but we forget from time to time. Even now many of the Dems have forgotten--or are just uneasy with the idea. Time to remember what we stand for: liberty and equality.

Which is another reason I'm backing Kucinich.

posted by Jeff | 12:13 PM |

Didn't get around to commenting on Krugman yesterday, but he's well worth a read.

The [Treasury] agency's analysts find that they are no longer helping to formulate policy; instead, their job is to rationalize decisions that have already been made. And more and more, they find that they are expected to play up evidence, however weak, that seems to support the administration's case, while suppressing evidence that doesn't....

Here's the story: Treasury has an elaborate computer model designed to evaluate who benefits and who loses from any proposed change in tax laws. For example, the model can be used to estimate how much families in the middle of the income distribution will gain from a tax cut, or the share of that tax cut that goes to the top 1 percent of families. In the 1990's the results of such analyses were routinely made public.

But since George W. Bush came into power, the department has suppressed most of that information, releasing only partial, misleading tables. The purpose of this suppression, of course, is to conceal the extent to which Mr. Bush's tax cuts concentrate their bounty on families with very high incomes. In a stinging recent article in Tax Notes, the veteran tax analyst Martin Sullivan writes of the debate over the 2001 cut that "Treasury's analysis was so embarrassingly poor and so biased, we thought we had seen the last of its kind." But worse was to come.

For his June 22 interview with Howard Dean, Tim Russert asked the Treasury Department to prepare examples showing how repealing the Bush tax cuts would affect ordinary families. Presumably Mr. Russert thought Treasury would provide a representative selection — that is, like many in the media, he doesn't yet understand the extent to which Treasury has become an arm of the White House political machine.

In any case, the examples Treasury provided to Mr. Russert and others in the media were wildly unrepresentative. To give you a sense: the Treasury's example of a "lower income" elderly household was one receiving $2,000 a year in dividend income. In fact, only about one elderly household in four receives any dividend income, and only one in eight receives as much as $2,000. Not surprisingly, the "Russert families" gained far more from the Bush tax cuts than a representative sample. As Mr. Sullivan put it, "If this continues, the Treasury's Office of Tax Policy may have to change its name to the Office of Tax Propaganda."

What I enjoy almost as much as reading Krugman's latest article is reading the response at Just One Minute. But yesterday's column went curiously un-rebutted. Bulletproof?

[Update. Well, hard to call it a rebuttal, but Tom got around to waxing snarky about the good professor after all.]

posted by Jeff | 9:59 AM |

Tuesday, August 05, 2003  

One more thing on that Harvard media analysis. What it says to me is this: the editorial agenda of the "liberal" newspapers is different from their conservative cousins. Based on the brief data I mentioned (and I've printed out the report, so if it disputes those findings, I'll retract everything; as you know, I'm good at retraction), the Times and Post seem to be positioned as watchdogs. They keep an eye on government and are quick to pull a border collie whenever they think a politician has gone astray.

The conservative papers, on the other hand, are simply partisan cheerleaders. Their editorial position--as evidenced by the Harvard findings--is to cheer for the home team and boo the other side. I don't think you would expect to see them dig around as much to find misdeeds when the home team is running the show; alternatively, you can expect something just this side of slander when the other team's got the reigns. (Hmmm, I guess it didn't take a Harvard study to tell us that.)

So maybe it isn't fair to compare the two sides, except to note that their intentions are different. Lawrence Krubner, a reader with a long memory, asked if my thoughts on this study mean I've changed my view on whether media should aspire to "objectivity." (I'd link back to my early blogs on the subject, but I had to eat a lot of crow; they're in the archives if you're interested.) I'm going to stick with yes. Or at least, I think there should be a place for "watchdog agenda" newspapers. When a paper is willing to always question leaders, always challenge leaders, and always remain skeptical of the stories the leaders tell, our country is the better for it. I'd hope to see news go after a Kucinich White House as roundly as it did a Bush White House. (Or rather, if the media would confront the Bush White House as critically as I think they should, I'd be happy to agree to similar treatment when the Dems take back the Presidency.)

But I guess I also think we ought to realize that the calculus has changed. The "watchdog" agenda is no longer the dominant or even majority agenda, and we have to confront that reality. The Fox News cabal exploit the disparity of agendas and punish "watchdog" news for playing fair. This is successful because most people don't realize the Times and Fox are playing by different rules. Americans aren't used to the European model of partisan news--they don't even know it exists. We're culturally conditioned to think the news is objective. Well, it's not. Publicizing the evidence is the first step in creating a more educated media consumer.

posted by Jeff | 3:59 PM |

Via Howard Kurtz comes this news from Harvard: conservative papers are far more partisan, more intensely critical of the opposition, and far more likely to give a pass to conservatives.

The major findings:

"The liberal papers criticized the Clinton administration 30% of the time. By contrast, the conservative papers criticized the Bush administration just 7% of the time.

The liberal papers praised the Clinton administration only 36% of the time (the balance were mixed). The conservative papers, on the other hand, praised the Bush administration 77% of the time.

The liberal papers criticized Bush 67% of the time. The conservative papers criticized Clinton 89% of the time."

Put another way, the liberal papers praised, criticized, and gave mixed press to Clinton in roughly thirds. The conservative papers praised Bush three-quarters of the time, criticized him once in twenty times, and the balance was mixed. Remind me again, who's fair and balanced?

But wait, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Working from the numbers Kurtz quotes, here's some startling percentages. In the first years of each of the last two Attorney Generals, the Washington Post and NY Times both ran 47 editorials. For Janet Reno, 26% were positive, 30% were mixed, and 45% were negative. For John Ashcroft, they were a little more negative, but not much: 17% positive, 28% mixed, and 55% negative. The two liberal papers were 10% more negative about Ashcroft than Reno.

With the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times, however, it was night and day. Janet Reno rated one positive review between them (3%), 18% were mixed, and 79% were negative. Johnny, however, they love. He gets 76% positive, 12% mixed, and 12% negative. The two conservative papers were 67% more negative about Reno than Ashcroft.

There are similar findings about the administrations. Kurtz writes:

When Hillary's health care task force was sued in 1993 to open its records, the NYT wrote four editorials, all negative toward the Clintons. The WP had one mixed. The WSJ wrote eight, all negative. The WT had seven, all negative.

The New York Times, for example, called the Clinton secrecy "unseemly, possibly illegal and wrong." The Washington Times said that "if ever there was a situation that demanded that all ethics regulations be followed down to the last dot on the last 'i' and the last cross on the last 't' it is the doings of the health care task force."

Cut to Dick Cheney's energy task force keeping its records secret. The NYT, as it had with Hillary, wrote five editorials, all negative. The WP wrote one, mixed. The WSJ wrote one positive, and the WT wrote one positive, one mixed and one negative.

Said the Journal: "This purely political lawsuit was [John Dingell and Henry Waxman's] attempted end-run around the Constitution's tedious separation of powers."

The Washington Times compared the Hillary and Cheney situations, saying: "Perhaps the most important difference between the two task forces is that no one on the Bush team is channeling policy from Eleanor Roosevelt."

I'd love to see Bernie Goldberg spin these findings.

posted by Jeff | 2:06 PM |

Incrementalism or the whole kielbasa? These are the choices for progressives--candidates and their supporters. The candidates who have emerged as viable progressives are Dean, Kucinich, and possibly Kerry. Kucinich is the big-vision guy, your whole kielbasa man. I'm growing increasingly convinced about Dean's credentials, but his vision is concrete and incremental. (Kerry's a floater--he's liberal, but I haven't seen any vision from him. This is why he's failed to form a base; aside from a nice voting record, no one knows which direction he's headed.)

Last week, the Times ran a great article that documented Dean's track record. Liberals who are worried about Dean's lefty cred point to a spotty track record:

Over 11 years, he restrained spending growth to turn a large budget deficit into a surplus, cut taxes, forced many on welfare to go to work, abandoned a sweeping approach to health-care reform in favor of more incremental measures, antagonized environmentalists, won the top rating from the National Rifle Association and consistently embraced business interests.

But it conceals a greater coherence to his plan, one that looks pretty good:

He inherited a state budget deficit of about 11 percent, the highest income taxes in the country and the lowest bond rating in New England.

To the dismay of liberals in the Legislature who wanted to expand social and environmental programs, Dr. Dean and his chief economic adviser, Harlan Sylvester, a conservative stockbroker and investment banker, stuck with the Snelling budget-cutting plan. Helped by a booming economy, the state's finances improved sharply. Dr. Dean lowered income tax rates by 30 percent and put away millions in a rainy day fund. Vermont's bond rating became the highest in the Northeast.

In his last term, Dr. Dean won a change in law so that Vermont taxes were not automatically lowered by Mr. Bush's cut in federal income taxes, and Vermont had a comfortable surplus this spring when most other states faced crippling budget shortfalls. On the stump, he blames the federal deficit for the weak economy and derides Mr. Bush for running "a borrow-and-spend credit-card presidency." Mr. Bush's tax cuts, he say, are a gift to "the president's friends like Ken Lay," referring to the former chief executive of Enron....

When he entered office, Dr. Dean was determined to provide health insurance to everyone in the state in one fell swoop. Despite support from liberal lawmakers, his plan failed, along with a similar initiative by the Clinton administration.

So Dr. Dean changed tactics and managed to accomplish much of his goal incrementally. Vermont now offers the nation's most generous health benefits to children, low-income adults and elderly residents of modest means. Almost all children in the state have full medical insurance, and more than a third of Vermont residents on Medicare get state help in paying for prescription drugs.

Then there's Kucinich, who offers one of the most liberal visions we've seen from a national candidate in a long time. He's the eloquent dreamer, the hopeful idealist. He offers an almost evangelical form of liberalism:

I offer these brief remarks today as a prayer for our country, with love of democracy, as a celebration of our country. With love for our country. With hope for our country. With a belief that the light of freedom cannot be extinguished as long as it is inside of us. With a belief that freedom rings resoundingly in a democracy each time we speak freely. With the understanding that freedom stirs the human heart and fear stills it. With the belief that a free people cannot walk in fear and faith at the same time.

With the understanding that there is a deeper truth expressed in the unity of the United States. That implicate in the union of our country is the union of all people. That all people are essentially one. That the world is interconnected not only on the material level of economics, trade, communication, and transportation, but interconnected through human consciousness, through the human heart, through the heart of the world, through the simply expressed impulse and yearning to be and to breathe free.

Say Amen, brothers and sisters!

Which One?
There are strengths and disadvantages to both approaches. Let's assume both candidates are sincere in their vision. The Dean model has the advantage of appearance. Americans are never flustered by pragmatism; I think that's why most identify themselves as essentially "moderate" on the political spectrum. Doc Dean seems like a legitimate candidate. And in terms of passing the agenda, it also seems to make sense that change is easier achieved in small steps.

On the other hand, the incremental approach is a long road. The danger is compromising yourself right out of your vision (many, including me, felt this was Clinton's ultimate legacy). It takes a strong, visionary leader to continue to plod along and make the change.

The big picture candidate is the inspirational candidate. By inspiring people to imagine things larger than they would have considered, a candidate like Kucinich (or FDR or even the current President) can make dramatic changes happen quickly. In fact, this is how dramatic change almost always happens. People on the left always associate this approach with McGovern's failure, forgetting that FDR and JFK both ran on big-vision platforms and inspired a nation to join them. McGovern ran at the end of a long period of liberal dominance; Kucinich is running, like FDR, at the end of a period of conservative dominance.

The disadvantages are obvious with the big picture candidate. It's the hardest road. If the big picture fails--like Clinton's health care plan--where do you turn? Democrats are especially leery about the prospect of high-profile failure. The don't want destroy a nascent return to liberalism.

There are other discussions within the Democratic party. For the liberal wing, though, I think this is the central one. Over the course of the next few months, we'll be talking again and again about how to inspire our moderate friends with our vision. The whole kielbasa or pragmatic baby steps--which will be the winner?

posted by Jeff | 12:01 PM |
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