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Fundamentalism

Gay Teen Battle

After reading a new Time Magazine article, â??The Battle Over Gay Teensâ? by John Cloud (read here or here), I had mixed feelings. There is much good information in this piece, but why does it have to be wrapped with such a contentious theme?

From the article:

It's important to note that nearly all mental-health professionals agree that trying to reject one's homosexual impulses will usually be fruitless and depressing--and can lead to suicide, according to Dr. Jack Drescher of the American Psychiatric Association, who has studied programs that attempt to alter sexuality.
[...]
Few young gays actually want to change: six surveys in The New Gay Teenager found that an average of just 13% of young people with same-sex attractions would prefer to be straight.

That said, why is there so much content in this article allotted to Christian fundamentalist groups that are dedicated to making gay teens straight in orientation or lifestyle in some attempt to depict a â??battleâ?? Fact is that there is still bigotry in this world and there are positive strides being made to counteract this. And we should expect to see a backlash from the far right, even though the gay â??movementâ? is not a contingent of just some stereotypical, far leftie, out-of-touch whackos waiting to be pigeonholed in a polarized setting.

Certainly there are many other Christians who have no desire to alter sexuality and even those who have no problem with homosexuality. The far right groups attempting to change sexual orientation are small in number, but obviously not in organized political influence when it comes to publicity. It seems that right extremists have become so comfortable in our culture that their polarizing pressure has seeped into many aspects of our society regardless of facts.

Fact: Not that many gay kids want to become straight. And these kids come from all kinds of backgrounds.

So, whatâ??s the real battle here?

Confrontational Creationists in Museums

Creationists are seeking converts by building exhibits, such as roadside dinosaurs and a Creation Museum. But their influence doesnâ??t end there.

Now, sometimes aggressively, they are challenging proponents of evolution education on their own turf. These are not the thinking, polite creationists, touring museums, minding their own business. These are systematic badgerers.

In other words, these particular creationists are making their stance quite clear. This is a war of ideas, even with other Christians whose views of explaining â??creationâ? differ. And museum directors are taking note by training their docents and staff members how to politely but resolutely confront these soldiers of religious fundamentalism.

Every now and then there comes a time when ignoring the adversaries doesnâ??t stop their advance. Telling them they are wrong either falls on deaf ears or fuels the fire.

You simply hold your ground by stating your position, thereby demanding the right to be able to express it as you respect othersâ?? rights, without fear of harassment.

I hope this works. I wonder whether this only involves an issue of respect. As a friend recently observed, â??The right to exist cannot be found amongst those who believe you have no right to exist,â?... unless their power is removed.

God's Penguins

From Guardian Unlimited (The Observer) today:

If ever the world needed reminding about the oddities of America's Christian Right, its espousal of the film March of the Penguins provides us with a perfect example. To the movement's intellectuals, this French nature documentary - with its images of birds blinded by blizzards but still battling to protect their young - affirms decent, traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child-rearing. Boys and girls have been urged to watch with notebooks to write down pious musings as they watch this life-affirming work. Penguin decency needs shouting about, it is argued. It shows us The Way.

But surely the penguin is only one of God's works. Earth also has Bonobo chimps, whose jaw-dropping sexual athleticism would make Hugh Hefner blush; well-fed cats that cruelly toy with their prey; and praying mantises that eat their spouses. How do we know that these creatures do not point The Way? We don't, therefore we should remember the words of the film company executive responsible for March of the Penguins: 'You know what? They're just birds.'

No, they are not. They are evidence of Godâ??s intelligent design in nature. It doesnâ??t matter that the filmmakers are strong proponents of the theory of evolution. It does not matter what they think or intended with this film. It also doesnâ??t matter what science tells us about emperor penguins and that they are usually monogamous with a particular mate for a year, not for life. Monogamy, serial monogamy, whatever. Itâ??s still monogamy. Facts are simply facts. They do not supersede Godâ??s message of monogamy, which is self-evident in this film.

It doesnâ??t matter what you think or whether I think. God has spoken. Just ask all those good girls and boys taking notes in the movie theaters. Theyâ??re learning how to spend lots of time with their heads underwater, just like their parents. Just like those emperor penguins who spend up to 75 percent of their time underwater. See? More proof, if thatâ??s what you want,... heathen.

Christian Exodus

Wouldnâ??t it be convenient just to gather all the Christian fundies into one location and let them secede from the rest of the world?

One such group does propose moving thousands of Christians to South Carolina. But they are gathering in order to influence, not escape government. Of course, there are other residents of the fine state of South Carolina who do not at all share enthusiasm for the Christian Exodus plans. Those plans, by the way, include â??redeemingâ? states, one at a time. Scary stuff? Good news at present is that their numbers are very small. I figure they make news because they are very weird. Apparently, even President Bush is not conservative enough.

Sometimes I wonder if their god shakes his omnipotent, or would that be impotent, head once in a while.

I really donâ??t know why these people are so impatient. After all, this kind of takeover takes time. And, quite frankly, aggressive conservative Christians have made a few inroads. Just look at one of the fundamentalistsâ?? latest victories: a new Bible study course offered nationwide for school curriculums, which, for example, ignores evolution theory in favor of creationism.

Then again, we can choose where to live and what not to believe,... those of us who arenâ??t impressionable children.

Separation of Church and State, A Texas Quandary

A friend of mine who on occasion checks out my blog recently commented, â??You seem to have a dim view of the evangelicals, rightfully so, I think.â?

Actually, I wouldnâ??t put all evangelicals in the same hat. There are some reasonable evangelical Christians who also take a dim view of those who Jim Wallis would say are right wing ideologues, cultural fundamentalists, not having much to do with what he would call evangelicalism.

In a PBS interview from 2003, Wallis explained:

I would say that if our gospel isn't good news to poor people, it isn't an evangelical gospel. That's what I believe.

On George Bush, he also commented:

Then Sept. 11 came. I think his role changed dramatically, his notion of himself and his place in history, and he became commander in chief of the war on terrorism. The self-help Methodist became now almost a messianic American Calvinist, speaking of the mission of America, and even of his perhaps divine appointment to be president at a time such as this.

This raises some deep and unsettling theological questions, I think, whether there's a confusion now in the role of church and nation -- the body of Christ, the Christian community, what its role is versus the role of the nation.

The confusion remains.

Separation of church and state issues were brought to the fore again recently when Texas governor Rick Perry chose to sign bills restricting abortion and prohibiting same-sex marriage while on the grounds of a Christian religious institution. Make no mistake. This was a blatant religious celebration.

Per Ralph Blumenthal (The New York Times):

The event caused a stir last week when it was revealed by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The Perry campaign later released the text of an e-mail message sent to religious groups. It said in part, "We want to completely fill this location with pro-family Christian friends who can celebrate with us."

People of all faiths were welcome. Rabbi David Stone, in fact, gave the benediction. Of course, his â??group believes Jesus was the Messiah, a tenet heretical to traditional Jews.â?

Debate ensued. But there is no doubt that the religious right unabashedly was pushing the limits. And some other religious people who value separation of church and state didnâ??t like it.

Ralph Blumenthal wrote:

Several professors at Southern Methodist University in Dallas denounced the planned event as rare, if not unprecedented, by a Texas governor.

The Rev. Robin Lovin, a Methodist minister and an S.M.U. professor holding the Maguire Chair in Ethics, said, "There are lots of reasons to go to church on Sunday, but making laws isn't one of them."

Signing a bill into law in a church, he added, "is a pretty clear symbol that the church is at the service of the state or the state is at the service of the church and either way we've crossed an important line that has a long history in both politics and theology."

In this historical vein, Harvey Wasserman (Columbus Free Press â?? Ohio) recently drove a searing point home about how â??The Fundamentalist Attack on Separation of Church & State Defames America and Its Founders.â?

Awakened America rose up in revolt against King, corporation and clergy. Its rejection of a state-sponsored church, Christian or otherwise, was fiercely explicit and decidedly mainstream.

Today's corporate-funded fundamentalist jihad is at war with America's uniquely diverse revolutionary soul. Spitting in the face of our historic core, the Big Lie of a "Christian nation" is vintage Rove at his most Orwellian.

And it is mainstream America - atheistic, agnostic, religious and spiritual people working collectively to maintain secular pluralism - that needs to continue to expose and reject the right wing shenanigans, which insidiously, as well as overtly, attempt to compromise the long-term health of our Constitution.

Intelligent Design Meets Critical Thinkers

David Morris over at AlterNet advocates â??Having Fun With Intelligent Designâ?:

There's no question that if science teachers had their druthers, they wouldn't be teaching intelligent design or gratuitously criticizing evolution in their classrooms. But they do. They can whine or refuse or resign. How much better for them to take this opportunity to teach their students while exasperating their school boards with the power of thoughtful investigation. And have a whole lot of fun doing so.

If you canâ??t lick â??em, join â??em, and then deride them? Good luck. Morrisâ??s target seems to be the religious right creationists because many religious people donâ??t have a problem accepting a theory of evolution. So, whereas those more open-minded religious students might not have a problem with science classroom discussion espousing critical thinking skills, using examples of male and female orgasm, or debate as to whether there were little green men from outer space interbreeding with humans, or whether a gay god exists, or an androgynous one for that matter,... donâ??t be surprised if religious right students opted for dismissal from classes talking about such subjects. After all, parents already generally are allowed to excuse their children from sex ed classes.

Of course, if I were a science teacher venturing to embark on such a mission, Iâ??d probably want to enlist many science teachers to join a group effort and not be a lone target for infuriated fundamentalist parents and educators.

Mature Content Warning: This Program Might Make You Think

Before Nova this evening, there was a "mature content" warning.

Nova tonight discussed an ongoing controversy regarding the origin of the original human inhabitants of the Americas. In brief, it discussed the long-standard "Clovis-first" theory in the light of new archaeological finds, conjectures based on analysis of tools from ice age Europe, and evidence from analysis of mitochondrial DNA.

In short: About as hard-science as archaeology gets. Finding the bones, finding the tools, big-time.

During the entire program, there wasn't a single bare breast, not a single blue word or phrase, not one mention of gay marriage or even a hint of sexual liaison (aside from the implication that the ancestors of modern native americans might have, you know, reproduced).

So why the mature content? Is it, perhaps, that they're scared that some religious fanatic might point out that when you're talking about things that happened 15,000-20,000 years ago, you're pretty much assuming that the world is older than 4,000 years -- hence insulting all the KJV Baptists in the Nova audience?

By contrast, consider any random episode of Law & Order: Elevator Inspectors Unit, or CSI: Sheboygan, wherein you're likely to find references to "last meals" of semen or violent sexual deviance. I don't recall ever seeing a "mature content warning" before either of those shows. Ever. But then, they don't challenge the Dog-given age o' the universe....

Recipe for a Fundamentalist Creationist

Recipe:

Take one young child.

Inculcate said child with fear of a loving, but wrathful God that could leave the childâ??s sinning ass behind if he/she does not have faith in the secondhand faith of their relatives and/or peers.

Carefully fold in lesson about how child is not to consider evidence about the theory of evolution presented in school science classroom because it does not agree with literal, fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, which is infallible. After all, God was the only one around In the Beginning of the universe. No mere human was there to observe. Why is the Bible infallible? Why, because it says so right in 2 Timothy 3:16 that every scripture is God-breathed. No, thatâ??s not considered circular logic.

Add articles written by science professors (whether or not they even support the above-mentioned ingredients) about how proving evolution theory is a dead-end proposition and that facts thereof are cold and, for whatever reason, not at all compatible with the type of story one would like to tell as the child is tucked into their warm bed to bake. That should help seal the deal.

â??Justice Sundayâ?

Over a year ago a friend of mine sent me an article written by Southern Baptist Albert Mohler, â??Can We Be Good Without God?â?. She was gathering materials for a group study on morality and wanted my thoughts on the article before deciding to offer it to her group for discussion. I popped some antacids in my mouth and proceeded to read Mohlerâ??s diatribe full of venom and patent misinformation, such as his characterization of â??secularistsâ?:

Secularization, the process by which a society severs its ties to a religious worldview, is now pressed to the limits by ideological secularists bent on removing all vestiges of the Judeo-Christian heritage from the nation's culture. They will not stop until every aspect of Christian morality is supplanted by the new morality of the postmodern philosophers--a morality with no absolutes, and without God.

I read this today and cringe as I realize that what at one time might have been brushed away by some as nonsensical allegations has taken on teeth. Albert Mohlerâ??s name has come up again today in Frank Richâ??s New York Times article, â??A High-Tech Lynching in Prime Timeâ?:

Tonight is the much-awaited "Justice Sunday," the judge-bashing rally being disseminated nationwide by cable, satellite and Internet from a megachurch in Louisville.

[...]

The only major religious leader involved with "Justice Sunday," R. Albert Mohler Jr. of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has not only called the papacy a "false and unbiblical office" but also told Terry Gross on NPR two years ago that "any belief system" leading "away from the cross of Christ and toward another way of ultimate meaning, is, indeed, wicked and evil."

We also can expect to see Senator Frist on video (his prophylactic shield â??from the charge that he is breaching the wall separating church and stateâ?).

Last year I took the time to e-mail my friend a few pages of critical feedback on Albert Mohlerâ??s harangue about â??morality with no absolutes.â?

Mohler had ended his article:

Welcome to post-Christian America. All the rules are off--it's everyone for himself. Write your own rules, find your own way, just be sure to leave God out of it. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome, warning that "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God has been made plain to them" [Romans 1:18]. God is not mocked. Welcome to Rome--America in the postmodern age.

I suppose Mohler and I might disagree about whom Paul is speaking here regarding the â??godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.â? I also see mention of â??truth,â? not â??rulesâ? in Paulâ??s passage.

I had ended the e-mail to my friend:

We are not supposed to be a theocracy, but many see a blatant attempt of right-wing Christians in our government to turn our republic into a right-wing Christian autocracy.

Welcome to Rome.

Who Needs A Majority When You've Got Righteousness?

Forget about resisting the tyranny of the majority. We're past that. Right-wing Republicans are looking to lock in the tyranny of a minority.

People in both parties, but most notably currently prominent Republicans, are saying there's still hay to be made on the Schiavo case. Democrats say that it can be used to galvanize opposition to the planned Republican takeover of the judiciary branch. Republicans say that it 'energizes the base' -- where the definition of "base" seems to be "hard-core right-to-life Evangelical Christian Republicans." The most wildly exaggerated numbers I know of put that at about 25% of the American population.

Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio, on Morning Edition this morning [RealAudio], says they're both wrong: That if there had really been an opportunity there, smart Democratic legislators would have jumped on it; and that, furthermore, Republicans had gone too far. "You know, there is a difference between energizing your base, and having your base push you off the edge.... Was it that we needed to prove to the middle, the middle of American politics, that we were willing to go someplace place that they didn't want us to go? How many times can you do that and still be successful politically?"

Republican lion and Episcopelian minister John Danforth agrees. He notes that "traditional Republicans" have complained about the courts going too far. "Most republicans would have said, 'We think that the courts go too far.' Now, it turns out that it's Republicans who are saying that we want the courts to go very far, but in our direction, and I just think that's wrong."

I'd like to think that both Danforth and Fabrizio are right, in their own ways. Danforth's view implies a basic belief that people ought to be morally consistent: That means ought to be consistent with the end, not merely contributory to it. Further, he's clearly a real believer in a pluralistic society. Fabrizio states his view in pragmatic terms, with the clear underlying assumption that it's normal for a nation to be comprised of people with differing views. (If you can dictate people's views, you don't need to worry about being "successful politically.")

But they're both wrong, at least in pragmatic terms. The Republican train is being driven by people who don't see a problem with means that are contrary to the end, or with the idea that the nation ought to bend to their will. Voices of moderation, even when conservative, are no longer welcome. They get in the way of the program, which is to let the Republican Party (by which they mean the intensely activist religious right component) install hegemonic control over American discourse.

Their will is a holy will, after all. Whether it's all the same religion is another question; all that really matters is that one (the religion of power and capital) can be translated into the ends of the other (semitic absolutism, as manifest in right-wing American Christianity).

The Imaginary Terri Schiavo

Imaginary people make much better martyrs.

Case in point: Terri Schiavo. The appeals are finally exhausted; Terri Schiavo is dead, unequivocally, unappealably. And we've just begun to see the consequences. Quite aside from the impending wrongful-death suit (which will be brought regardless of the results from the forthcoming autopsy, to be performed by a Jeb Bush appointee), the fight has catalyzed a constituency. It's given bullshit artists like Tom Delay (that old exterminator) a soapbox to stand on. Note, as we go forward, the endless repetition of their Big Lies: That the "American People" are behind the reckless Conservative-Republican adventurism; that the case shows improper involvement by the courts, instead of the courts doing their jobs by (perish the thought!) making judgements.

What was this case about? It certainly wasn't about whether one person would have preferred to have her body die; it passed beyond that threshold years ago. It passed beyond that when Bob and Mary Schindler concocted a "person" they called "Terri Schiavo", and identified her with their daughter, and pasted her face over their daughter's face whenever they saw her limbic-brained body in that bed. The "Terri Schiavo" that Bob and Mary struggled so hard to defend was not their daughter, but their dream of their daughter, or at least the best dream they could muster under the circumstances.

And she was a perfect daughter, in many ways: She didn't talk back, never contradicted their version of her life's narrative, never corrected their inventions about what she might be thinking at that moment. Or have thought when she was eight, for that matter.

It certainly wasn't about what the real Terri Schiavo's wishes might have been. What they are, I can't know, and I daresay Michael Schiavo can't know for sure. But judges have been evaluating the matter for seven years and not found a reason to suspect that she wanted her body to remain alive long after she'd lost the capacity to engage in detectable interactions with other people.

True, Michael can't have known for sure; but her parents -- surely they must have known?

Why? Why would we suppose that? My own parents wouldn't have the faintest idea what I'd want in such a situation. For practical purposes, they know nothing of real substance about me that they didn't know before I was eight. I could name four or five close friends, a handful of ex-lovers and seven or eight not-so-close friends who'd have a better idea.

So, no, it's got nothing to do with Terri's wishes. But it's got a great deal to do with how her parents imagine her wishes -- with the wishes of their fictional Terri, as it were.

And Jeb and George Bush's and Randall Terry's and Tom Delay's fictional Terri. Which is the real obscenity, here, of course. If it were just Bob and Mary, it would be a tragedy. And anyway, their version of Terri is at least based on something real. But with Jeb & George & Randall & Tom in the game, any hope of the real Terry S. being remembered are completely gone. She's doomed to be immortalized as an abstracted martyr for the cause of eliminating secular justice.

Volcanoes at the IMAX

â??Volcanoes of the Deep Seaâ? is making quite a splash (sorry, I couldnâ??t resist). Itâ??s showing around here at the Detroit Science Centerâ??s IMAX Dome Theatre and was touted as one of the â??best bets for family funâ? in Februaryâ??s MetroParent Magazine.

Thatâ??s nice.

At least in my area itâ??s a recommended science documentary. But then, I donâ??t live in a neighborhood inundated with irate religious fundamentalists waiting to attack any reference of the theory of evolution. I canâ??t imagine Iâ??d survive long in such a community.

I read todayâ??s New York Times article, â??A New Screen Test for Imax: It's the Bible vs. the Volcanoâ? by Cornelia Dean, with a mixture of awe, repugnance, and indignation.

The number of theaters rejecting such films is small, people in the industry say - perhaps a dozen or fewer, most in the South. But because only a few dozen Imax theaters routinely show science documentaries, the decisions of a few can have a big impact on a film's bottom line - or a producer's decision to make a documentary in the first place.

That is just sad.

In any event, censoring films like "Volcanoes" is not an option, said Dr. Field, who said Mr. Low, the film's producer, got in touch with him when the evolution issue arose to ask whether the film should be altered.

"I said absolutely not," recalled Dr. Field, who retired from the National Science Foundation last year.

Mr. Low said that arguments over religion and science disturbed him because of his own religious faith. In his view, he said, science is "a celebration of what nature or God has done. So for me, there's no conflict."

Dr. Lutz, the Rutgers oceanographer, recalled a showing of "Volcanoes" he and Mr. Low attended at the New England Aquarium. When the movie ended, a little girl stood in the audience to challenge Mr. Low on the film's suggestion that Earth might have formed billions of years ago in the explosion of a star. "I thought God created the Earth," she said.

He replied, "Maybe that's how God did it."

Mr. Lowâ??s comments reminded me of another piece I read this week in The Guardian. Giles Fraser and William Whyte wisely admonish, â??Don't hand religion to the right.â? The religious right doesnâ??t represent all of mainstream religion just as much as the left doesnâ??t embody only secularists. Itâ??s unfortunate to have to speak in terms of polarities, but the strong right swing seems to invite it.

The irony is that the religious right and the secular left have effectively joined forces to promote the idea that the Bible is reactionary.

There is a progressive religious left that needs to stand up and be counted. Presently itâ??s â??hounded from both sides, finds itself shouted into silence.â? This is happening in Britain, and itâ??s happening in the U. S.

But the present situation also demands a reassessment by the secular left of the religious left. Because only the religious left is capable of challenging the religious right with the language of faith. The secular left, in short, needs to stop sniping and start making new friends. In America, the Christian right and the neocons have grown strong by working together. Now so must we.

Itâ??s time. Well, unless you really believe that the Bible is infallible, literal, and Adam and Eve were real people or... you donâ??t believe, but only prefer to react (cater) to those religious people who believe that the Bible is infallible, literal, and Adam and Eve were real people.

Perceptions of Secularism

Karen Armstrong is on a mission,

bearing warnings for Americans and the world: Beware. Beware. Misbegotten U.S. foreign policy is pushing Islamic fundamentalists closer and closer to the use of weapons of mass destruction. Time is running out. The American administration and its allies have ignited a conflict that will last a generation [â??God is Big These Daysâ? by Michael Valpy, Shambhala Sun, January, 2005]

Alan G. Ampolsk comments on Armstrongâ??s thoughts after reading the interview in Shambhala Sun magazine. He considers many of her points worth considering, but others trouble him as having an â??anti-secular, anti-American note.â?

Secularism isnâ??t a threat to religion, itâ??s the ground against which all religions can emerge on equal footing. Thatâ??s what the framers understood.

I agree with Alan Ampolsk. He makes a valid observation. However, his definition of secularism may not be the same as one perceived by some fundamentalists -- a view of secularism as a doctrine that outright rejects religion in our culture. Regardless of what might more accurately describe American sentiment, this variant perception of secularism used by fundamentalists, one â??fuelled by fear,â? seems to be reflected in Karen Armstrongâ??s interview:

Armstrongâ??s concerns are echoed by Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, who spoke at the same Couchiching Conference as Armstrong. He says religion has become a systemic, hard-wired feature of U.S. presidential elections, driven by a new coalition of conservative Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants and fuelled by fear that American culture is being taken over by militant secularism.

So, how does one define secularism? This term has more than one definition, and sometimes it can cause complication or misunderstanding if participants in a dialogue havenâ??t agreed upon the meaning.

Elsewhere, in a recent BuzzFlash interview with Jim Wallis, evangelist and critic of G. W. Bush, the interviewer felt the need for clarification:

BuzzFlash: I'm not quite sure of the implications of what you've said about moving from a secular to a a religious society. I regard a secular society as a society that includes all faiths or people who don't have faith. ... And it means, not that society is without religion, but that the government doesn't impose any one religion or religious interpretation ... on all the people of society because people have the right to believe in their own faith, or not believe in a faith. I just want to know if you are comfortable with that definition of secular.

Jim Wallis: Yes. I was saying that, when I was growing up, it was often viewed as a real battle between religion â?? us â?? and secularism â?? secular humanism. That's always the big fight.

I suppose a question remains as to which perception or definition most accurately reflects what is going on in the U. S. Are fundamentalists reacting to a spurious perception? Then again, itâ??s quite possible that some with theocratic inclinations would be hostile to any definition of secularism.

Alan Ampolsk asks,

... isnâ??t it both naïve and pernicious to suggest that since fundamentalism is a reaction, it doesnâ??t merit blame in the same way as the thing that caused it?

Pernicious, to be sure, since the perception of what caused it continues to twist and turn in definition. Linguists, take note:
Insidious confusion mounts as secularism is now considered by some to be a religion.

Woe and Woebegone Explanations

At least 7,400 people have been killed in South and Southeast Asia Sunday, after one of the largest earthquakes in a century struck off the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Most of the dead were victims of a tidal wave that spread out across the Indian Ocean, devastating coastal communities as far as Sri Lanka and Thailand.

The death toll continues to rise as rescue teams reach more remote coastal communities in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Maldives and Indonesia. [â??Death Toll Rising After Asian Earthquake & Tsunamisâ? by Tim Johnston, Voice of America, December 26, 2004]

Could someone tell me what in the hell explanations of a god that created a perfect world ruined by human sin have to do with devastating, natural disasters?

Oh, geez, of course. Silly me. I havenâ??t been keeping up with my creationism science homework. How could I forget that:

Through our sin, we brought death and decay not only upon ourselves but on the rest of creation as well. The world and all that is in it became cursed for our sake, and so it remains to this day (Rom. 8:22).

Cursed? Wait a minute. I read that section in Romans and I donâ??t see where it says, literally or otherwise, that humans caused death and decay on the rest of creation. Iâ??m gonna get me a new teacher. *mumble-grumble*

"I pay your salary. So yes, I CAN tell you how to vote."

"The only thing a free man can be forced to do is die." So when Lynne Gobbell got an ultimatum from her boss to remove the Kerry-Edwards sticker or find another job, she had the choice to comply and stay, or to defy and go.

She had the choice to listen and obey when her lawful employer told her what to do in order to continue to earn a paycheck. Or to disobey, and not earn a paycheck.

Did she know that fealty to President Bush was the price of continued employment? Look for plant owner (and bankrupcy attorney) Phil Gaddis to take the position that she did, and that she understood the risks. After all, he'd inserted a slip of paper into everyone's pay envelope that read (in part):

Just so you will know, because of the Bush tax (cut):

  • I was able to buy the new Hammer Mill
  • I was able to finance our receivables
  • I was able to get the new CAT skid steer
  • I was able to get the wire cutter
  • I was able to give you a job

...

You got the benefit of the Bush tax cut. Everyone did.

So is it really Phil Gaddis's fault if Lynne Gobbell is too pig-headed to know who her betters are? Of course he can tell her how to vote: He owns her labor power. She sold it to him. Voting is work. End of discussion. When you own this country, you can vote however you like. Until then, get back to work.

MemoGate Circle Jerk

"I've not seriously doubted since that afternoon that any lie will receive almost instant corroboration, and almost instant collaboration, if the maintenance of it results in the public enjoyment of someone else's pain, someone else's humiliation." ['Phillip E. Marlowe', The Singing Detective]

I need to leave off MemoGate, at least at the detail level. It's making me insane. But I will take a couple of parting shots.

On Saturday morning I took the trouble of mapping out a few of the point by point reasons why most of the "challenges" to authenticity are completely irrelevant. For the most part, they end up being quite a bit like arguing that the Mona Lisa must be a forgery because it's possible to make a digital represenation of it that looks the same when viewed on a computer monitor...

And yet, people keep treating these amateur forensics as though they mean something, even when they're carried out by incompetents. (That's being charitable; when someone repeatedly states that "x typeface didn't exist on typewriters", even after it's been shown that it was actually common, what you really ought to call that person is a liar, not incompetent. And when people proceed to create elaborate arguments based on detailed exegesis of of the minutiae of typefaces, while looking at a fundamentally corrupt dataset -- in this case, a digital image of a fax created from an nth-generation photocopy [alas, his popularity has swamped his website] -- you have to wonder why it never occurs to them that their dataset is fundamentally corrupt. So maybe I should settle for "willfully incompetent." That would at least be consistent with Our President's approach.)

Someone at PC Mag has been bothered by this same thought, and took the trouble to point out via a visual example that it's not terribly surprising when systems designed to make things look consistent actually (lo, and behold!) accomplish that goal: So, using word processing software, I can make a document that looks a lot (note: "a lot", not "completely" -- anyone claiming the latter about these "forensic exercises" is [ahem!] willfully incompetent) like a document that was done 30 years earlier on a typewriter. And that's surprising...why?

Anyway, I'm glad I didn't bother to buff up my own inventory. Media Matters for America has done a much better job than I could have in my exasperated state. They take a different tack, too, ignoring the blogosphere's circle-jerk to concentrate on the second-order circle-jerk that's been infesting media circles.

It's worth reading; they isolate the core charges, debunk them briefly, then proceed to demonstrate the failure of "journalists" across the spectrum to raise the obvious questions. I'm tempted to accuse these journalists, also, of willful incompetence; does it make a difference whether they're just protecting their jobs, or piling on?

Ultimately, of course, and so very, very sadly, none of this matters. The fact that the lie has been uttered so widely and in such an unquestioning, uncritical manner, will make it true, in the public eye. This is, again, the big lie. It's been refined and honed since it got this modern name, but of course swindlers and despots have understood it since the dawn of humanity: It's an intellectual circle-jerk, where each participant understands (at least, at some level) their own failure, but (willfully) (and oft uncharacteristically) presumes the integrity of their informant. Why? Because it's in their interest to do so. Because it protects their rice bowl. But mostly, I fear, becaues it lets them harm someone else without taking the blame for it, themselves. ("If everybody's guilty, no one's guilty.")

ADDENDUM: Maha at Daily Kos -- a bona fide type expert -- has talked extensively about (among other things) the fact that the data being used for these "analyses" is so degraded as to be nearly useless. He points to Jeanne d'Arc (blogger, not saint): "In general, people on the left face uncertainty the way I did in that post -- asking for answers, and weighing evidence (and often giving people with an ax to grind more credit than they deserve). On the right, 'evidence' is just whatever supports what you want to believe."

In the end, Maha bids us to:

Stop it. Just stop it. Could the Killian documents be forgeries? Could Paul Wolfowitz be a space alien? Anything is possible.

But there is no evidence I've seen so far that has persuaded me the documents are forgeries. And I'm the best expert I know.

Before The Coming Coup

"These are doomsday scenarios. Nobody expects that they're going to happen....But we're preparing for all these contingencies now."
[Rep. Christopher Cox (R-CA), Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, via Reuters]

"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier...just as long as I'm the dictator."
[President George W. Bush, Washington, DC, Dec. 18, 2000, during his first trip to Washington as President-Elect]

The news everywhere this morning: The Administration has sent Tom Ridge out to shill for the upcoming coup.

It astonishes me that they speak about this so openly. And that so few people in the mainstream American press seem to have noticed what's going on.

It's critical that the American public be reminded, again and again, that there are mechanisms in place to deal with this kind of thing: Automatically triggered recounts, individual re-votes state-by-state... There is absolutely, absolutely no legitimate reason for this. None. It's purely a power grab.

People think of coups as being something that involves guns and tanks and men in uniform, yet it need not work that way at all. The amazing thing is that they can happen so insidiously. In Weimar Germany, the heavy lifting -- perhaps "dirty work" is a better way to put it -- was done by "men of good conscience" like Hindenberg. Front men, in effect. Tom Ridge is just such a front man. He was an astonishingly good choice for that post, and for the point position in planning for this coup: He's moderate, popular, likeable, and pragmatic, and he doesn't believe that he's doing what he's actually doing: He does not understand that he is laying the groundwork for a coup.

In fact, of the administration, I would wager that only Karl Rove and maybe Dick Cheney really truly understand that what's being planned is a coup. The bulk of the Bushites are so self-deluded that they think they're acting in the country's best interest. The President himself would happily short-cut the separation of powers to ensure "freedom"; like most of his disciples, he does not see any contradiction in curtailing freedom to save it.

W.W.A.d.T.D. [What Would Alexis de Tocqueville Do?]

To paraphrase Lincoln: You can't fool all of the people all of the time; but a plurality, most of the time, is good enough.

For the last couple of weeks, every time there is a major story, someone attacks Groklaw, placing scores of offensive pornographic links as comments on old stories. When they all got removed the first time, next they interspersed tech words with the porn, hoping to get past our filters, I suppose. They seem to use a bot, so it does affect us. I didn't put it out as a press release and imply or accuse SCO or AdTI of doing it, even though it is certainly possible, because ... well, because folks in the free world don't do such things. We are not in the business of trying to destroy anyone or ruin their good name with implications without proof. If I ever get proof, I'll tell the world, naturally. But I don't call press conferences on a hunch, even though I have one.

[Groklaw] [link added]

There's a free-market hit-tank called the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute, that recently published a very ill-researched tome on the origins of Linux. The report's gotten a lot of press, and has been widely and effectively discredited, sometimes by the people cited within it as authorities (e.g., Dennis Ritchie, Andrew Tandenbaum). Event their own experts don't support them.

So now they're claiming to have been literally attacked for their incorrect views.

It's endlessly curious to me that wild, paranoid accusations have become so primarily the domain of conservatives. Wild wingnut leftists hardly merit notice anymore, though I'm sure they're still out there.

There really can be only one reason for it: Money. As in, Conservatives have it, and are willing to give it to wingnut conservatives to act as their cannon-fodder. "Liberals" with money aren't that "stupid."

So, why in the world would "conservatives" want to fund wingnut radicals? Perhaps: Because it works. Because if the way you get power is by convincing as many random people as you can that they agree with your aims, it doesn't matter who those people are or how you do it.

Aside: For the first several weeks that I had this new blog up, the bulk of my external referrers were porn spammer sites. I couldn't figure out why; now I know: They wanted to insert into my comments. I should enable comment posting with moderation just to see what comes in...

Faith v. Morality

Harry the P vs. the "Left Behind" series:

In that sense, despite their similarities, at their hearts the two series are different in a fundamental but not obvious way. Left Behind is fatalistic; Harry Potter sees outcome determined by individual actions. Both provide a roadmap for how to live a good life, but in one case the key is morality, and in the other it is faith. [emph added] ["No Wizard Left Behind", Slate]

I'll add: The Left Behind books are ultimately about getting to gloat (if only virtually) over the ruination of people you don't like.

(Thanks to MeFi.)

Choosing [Real] Life

I used to see a sig-line on a Plastic profile, and debated over it a few times: "The only thing a free man can be forced to do is die." That ends up being the slogan writ in fire that keeps me going -- striving to find new and better ways to articulate how painfully, insultingly wrong it is.

It's trivially true, at best, and yet to most people with enough imaginagation to get out of bed in the morning, it's so plainly irrelevant to actual human lives in the world. In that, it serves as another illustration of the fact that the trivially true is more or less meaningless without some actual understanding of what it would feel like to have it be true for you.

Of course, to the mind that would think up such a slogan, there's no trumping the trivial truth. Such minds think that they actually operate on the rational principles that they espouse. Which makes hard-core libertarian rationalists a ripe target for many types of confidence game....

The Utility of Righteousness

There's absolutely nothing as powerful as knowing absolutely that you're right.

And even some of the president's closest allies say they are not sure when he is speaking from the pulpit and when from the Beltway. "There is no question that the president's faith is calculated, and there is no question that the president's faith is real," Mr. Wead says. "I would say that I don't know and George Bush doesn't know when he's operating out of a genuine sense of his own faith or when it's calculated."
[NY Times [reg req'd], from Frontline's "The Jesus Factor"]

I remember learning in 10th grade Geometry class that anything can follow from a contradiction. Here we have an example of that in the messy world of the real, not the abstract. Like most humans, Bush is able to hold contradictory views concurrently. (People who can't do that tend not to get out the door in the morning.) When those views include the notion that you act on the will of an infallible being, then it's a very simple step to being able to justify everything that you do -- whether it's to make money or glorify God -- oh, hell, to the Christian Crony Capitalist ("CCC"?) they're eventually all the same thing.

I've said all along that I didn't think that George W. Bush was really a very religious man. "He thinks he is, but he's not, really," I'd say. In my eagerness to state a paradox, I wasn't being precise. G. W. Bush believes, sincerely, that he's a religious man, and at a certain level, that means he is one. He could believe that he believes in the Sacred Cat; if he really believed that he believed in the Sacred Cat, he'd be a religious man.

But there's an important thing that I fail to communicate with a superficial paradox like "George Bush believes he's a religious man, but he's not": that such a position gives you incredible power. He believes that he operates from a moral high ground, and in that belief (made more dangerous as it becomes more sincere), he can and does make himself invulnerable to the criticisms of others.

Because if you believe that you're righteous, you can justify anything. And he has.

The sense of righteousness isn't enough, though; it's necessary to feel as though you are persecuted by outrageous fortune:

When you come into my office, please take a look at the beautiful painting of a horseman determinedly charging up what appears to be a steep and rough trail. This is us. What adds complete life to the painting for me is the message of Charles Wesley that we serve One greater than ourselves. [memo to TX Gubernatorial Staff]

Righteousness, combined with the sense of persecution, has ever been a most powerful fuel for the zealot. Whether the zealot is a (nearly) lone sociopath, weighed-down by inferior humans, or the member of something larger and more powerful, determines primarily how much damage they can cause. That's not obvious, of course, because the lone sociopath could cause trememdous localized damage.

Contrast that to the vast scope of the damage that religious absolutism is causing in the world today. If you're still not getting it, consider that when you're driving a tank, you can't see very well what you're running over.

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