Thought for Today

The important thing is that you have lots of ideas and that you learn most are going to be wrong. The trick is to figure out which are the most promising and work on those. A man who is right every time is not likely to do very much. It's the person with just one idea who is a menace because he won't give his idea up.
--Francis Crick, who, with James Watson, discovered the structure of DNA

Jerry Falwell's Convention Prayer: A Contest

It's mid-summer. Easy for the brain to turn off. So Swami's decided to encourage you to be Smart and Funny with a contest.

The question: Let's say it's true--that Jerry Falwell will give a prayer at the Republican Convention. In l50 words or less, write that prayer.

Deadline: August 15.

How to enter: Message board. Or mail to SwamiUptown@AOL.com.

Judge: Swami. And as you know, Swami's decisions are final (sort of).

Entry to beat:

Lord, we beseech you to turn our plowshares into swords that we might smite the heathens, gays, atheists, and all those who would stand against the righteousness of your will. We pray that you will guide President Bush to suppress the evil in our midst, to deafen him to pleas for tolerance and fairness that the enemy uses to confuse and weaken our nation's resolve. For surely his cause is your cause and it is just. And so Lord, lay your hand upon him, guide him, and bless him as he lets loose your righteous wrath against all who would deign to question the wisdom of his calling.
Hint for future entrants: Sincerity is not exactly the point here. And don't forget The Environment. Consider this BBC report:

In 2001 NASA scientists published a major study based on observations by satellite and aircraft.

It concluded that the margins of the Greenland ice-sheet were dropping in height at a rate of roughly one metre a year.

Now, amid some of the most hostile conditions anywhere on the planet, Carl Boggild and his team have recorded falls as dramatic as 10 metres a year --- in places the ice is dropping at a rate of one metre a month.

The glacier we visited--the Sermilik glacier in southern Greenland --- is so volatile that one automatic monitoring station was lost into a yawning crevasse. Swami's thought: More proof the End Times are coming. Falwell might want to give a cheer for faster global warming. But don't limit your imagination--extremism in the defense of [Christian] liberty is no sin.

News of the Week in Review

John Kerry got nominated last night. Swami gave the speech a B. That is, considered as a speech. Considered as a speech by the often-wooden Kerry, an A. But not the same kind of A that Sharpton got from Swami. Or Max Cleland.

This morning's full-page headline in the New York Post, a Rupert Murdoch rag that's become so vile Swami and Mrs. Uptown are canceling our subscription (and, hypocrites that we are, reading online for free): "'I don't need Michael Moore to tell me about Sept. 11,' Rudy blasts ranting director." Which only raises the question: What was Rudy Giuliani doing in Boston? Think he just "happened" to be there on business. Think he was sent there by the Republican leadership, just so he could toss off this front-page-worthy sound bite.

Jon Stewart ripped Chris Matthews and Brian Williams and David ("Listening to Barack Is Like Watching Tiger Woods") Brooks a new one last night for their inability to make sense of Al Sharpton's unscripted remarks. Here's what Sharpton said:

"Mr. President, the reason we are fighting so hard, the reason we took Florida so seriously, is our right to vote wasn't gained because of our age. Our vote was soaked in the blood of martyrs, soaked in the blood of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, soaked in the blood of four little girls in Birmingham. This vote is sacred to us. This vote can't be bargained away. This vote can't be given away."
Not too hard for you? Well, maybe that's why you're not TV-worthy--you gotta be stupid-on-demand these days.

And speaking of Florida, Paul Krugman polishes off two items--one about Florida, one about a well-timed terrorist arrest--that you ought to know about:

Another story you may not see on TV: Jeb Bush insists that electronic voting machines are perfectly reliable, but The St. Petersburg Times says the Republican Party of Florida has sent out a flier urging supporters to use absentee ballots because the machines lack a paper trail and cannot "verify your vote."

Three weeks ago, The New Republic reported that the Bush administration was pressuring Pakistan to announce a major terrorist capture during the Democratic convention. Hours before Mr. Kerry's acceptance speech, Pakistan announced, several days after the fact, that it had apprehended an important Al Qaeda operative. This arrest may have made The New Republic look prescient. But it makes the government look stupid. According to The Los Angeles Times:

Another U.S. counterterrorism official said Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani's capture would have been even more significant if not publicized so quickly.

"He's been on the run since 1998 so you have five years of critical intelligence that can be mined: where he has been, who he has been with, how his operations worked," said the counterterrorism official.

"Now, anything that he was involved in is being shredded, burned and, thrown in a river. Those things are all going away as we speak," the official added. "We have to assume anyone affiliated with this guy is on the run... when usually, we can get great stuff as long as we can keep it quiet."

Several U.S. officials said it was unclear why Pakistan publicized the arrest.... Clearly, those "U.S. officials" don't work in the White House.

Maybe It's True about Bush and Anti-Depressants

The reporter called to ask about low-quality jobs. As Reuters reports, an assistant overheard the question and called out:

"Why don't they get new jobs if they're unhappy--or go on Prozac?" said Susan Sheybani, an assistant to Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt.
She said she was just kidding. Maybe she was. Maybe she was.

Don't Take Your Guns to Town, Son

Recently, Ohio's legislature made it legal for citizens to carry concealed weapons. Aa a civic gesture, The Cleveland Plain Dealer published the names of the permit holders.

A local gun rights group, Ohioans for Concealed Carry, fired back on its Web site by publishing the name, home address and phone number of Plain Dealer Editor Doug Clifton--it even published a map to his house. The group's argument: if readers have a right to know who has concealed weapons, they have a right to know all about Clifton.

From Editor & Publisher:

"The Plain Dealer was one of the first to publish its intention to abuse the media access privilege, granted after Gov. [Bob] Taft insisted that reporters could act as a check and a balance to insure that licenses were being issued appropriately," the OFCC Web site states. "The editor believes in open records. Thus he should certainly have no problem with OFCC publishing his home address and telephone number."

OFCC also posted information about the cost of Clifton's house, his personal background and educational information, and how many children and grandchildren he has.

Clifton, a longtime leader in the Freedom of Information battle and former chair of the American Society of Newspaper Editors FOI committee, said the information went up at noon Wednesday and sparked a flurry of phone calls to his home. "There has been a steady stream of phone calls, some of them obscene," he said. "I talked to my wife at about 3 p.m. and she said they were coming about one every two minutes."

"The veteran editor, who said he has always had a published phone number, hoped he would not have to change it, and did not expect to alter the paper's plans for publication of the names, which will include a monthly update on any new concealed weapons permit registrants. "I'm going to play it out and see what happens," he said. "I hope no one gets it in their head to come knocking on my door." Ohio, Guns and George Bush

Here are five Assault Weapons that will be legal on Sept. 14th, thanks to President Bush's refusal to say Word One to Congress.

Some are too big to conceal, but scroll down to the TEC-9. With this baby, you could take out a dozen or so of your friends and neighbors--oops, Swami means: terrorists invading your suburb--before anyone could get to cover.

Something else for Falwell to pray for?

Thought for Today

Yes, I had a 'born again' phase. But then I started taking Lithium and it ended. And so I'd advise all those Christians who hear God talking to them: Just get some medication. The voices will stop.
--Larry Flynt, publisher of "Hustler," on "Topic A with Tina Brown"

Jerry Falwell at the Republican Convention

So far, it's still a rumor. But if true, Jerry Falwell will offer up a prayer at the Republican Convention.

A blogger poses the inevitable question:

I suppose this means the Bush campaign agrees with Falwell that gays and lesbians, ACLU members and pro-choicers caused September 11?

May Swami suggest a topic to the message board lovers among you: Write a draft of the prayer Falwell should give. If you will, Swami will. Maybe Loose Canon will even give it a shot.

Has Bush Gone Loco?

The President on anti-depressants? Okay, the source is Capitol Hill Blue, a website of uncertain authority. (But then, so is the Internet, if you believe some folks.) True? Read on...

The prescription drugs, administered by Col. Richard J. Tubb, the White House physician, can impair the President's mental faculties and decrease both his physical capabilities and his ability to respond to a crisis, administration aides admit privately.

"It's a double-edged sword," says one aide. "We can't have him flying off the handle at the slightest provocation but we also need a President who is alert mentally."

Tubb prescribed the anti-depressants after a clearly-upset Bush stormed off stage on July 8, refusing to answer reporters' questions about his relationship with indicted Enron executive Kenneth J. Lay.

"Keep those motherf---ers away from me," he screamed at an aide backstage. "If you can't, I'll find someone who can." Swami alerted you to that hissy-fit weeks ago. And it's that hissy-fit that makes Swami think there might be something to this story. If so, Swami winces at the prospect of a medicated Bush in the debates with Kerry. Can you spell s-u-r-r-e-a-l?

Also: Bush's "base." The Evangelicals. How do they feel about this kind of medication? Do they cheer when depressed and angry people seek help of this kind? Or do they think depressed and angry people should pray more? Readers, please advise Swami....

Teresa: "Shove It"

The message boards have been buzzing over Teresa Heinz Kerry's remarks to a reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Revenue. The debate has largely been about civility--or lack of. And the comparison has been to the language Dick Cheney used on the Senate floor.

Your posts have been interesting to read--but most of you don't seem to have a handle on the background of this story. The key fact: That paper is owned by Richard Mellon Scaife, a billionaire so right-wing that he makes Rupert Murdoch look like Michael Moore. As a result, that newspaper bears about as much resemblance to name-any-respectable-paper-you-can-think-of--even a Murdoch rag--as Ann Coulter does to Joan Didion.

The liberal-but-balanced journalist Joe Conason serves up a handy primer of Scaife's hate-mongering. Here's a sample:

A few days after the Massachusetts Senator and his wife celebrated their second Christmas together, the Tribune-Review ran a column suggesting that Mr. Kerry had been enjoying a "very private" relationship with another woman. There was no byline on the story and no evidence to support the salacious insinuation. There was nothing to it, in fact, except pure malice.
Since you didn't ask, Swami will now share his view of this dust-up: Mrs. K was wrong. She should have acted according to the dictates of her class. You know, "rise above it." As everybody in her set is told since birth, you lie down with a pig, you get dirty--and the pig likes it.

And, no, that pig metaphor wasn't accidental.

Bush to the Injured: "Shove It"

Have you been injured by prescription drugs or medical devices? And, if so, have you thought of bringing a lawsuit?

You miserable scum, you worse-than-welfare-cheat, you're not going to see a penny for your troubles.

Yes, it's your old pal, George W. Bush, screwing you once again--the Administration is going to court to block lawsuits by consumers who say they have been injured by prescription drugs and medical devices.

On what legal grounds?

Well, the products were approved by the Food and Drug Administration. So if you were hurt, you used them incorrectly.

As The New York Times reports, consumers are less than thrilled.

Kimberley K. Witczak of Minneapolis said her husband, Timothy, 37, committed suicide last year after taking the antidepressant drug Zoloft for five weeks. "I do not believe in frivolous lawsuits," Ms. Witczak said, "but it's ridiculous that the government is filing legal briefs on the side of drug companies when it's supposed to be protecting the public. My husband would be alive today if he had received adequate warnings about the risk of self-harm." Ms. Witczak sued Pfizer, the maker of Zoloft, in May. The government has not intervened in her case.
At this point, the sensible reader--that's you--would ask: Gee, how much has Big Pharma given to the Bush campaign and to Republican candidates to Congress to buy that kind of immunity?

Swami turns to The Progress Report, which tells us:

Now, as the [the new Medicare drug discount card] program is set to start, the White House has once again looked to its top campaign contributors in deciding which companies it approved to administer the cards. All told, the 73 companies selected gave President Bush and conservatives in Congress more than $5 million since 2000. Of those 73 companies approved by the administration, 20 (almost one third) have been involved in fraud charges.
But that's not even the cool part. When FDA employees tire of government pay, they zoom over to pharmaceutical and health companies, where they get fat salaries. Let's not be so vulgar as to say they're being rewarded for the programs they approved at the FDA. Oh, what the hell. Let's say it.

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Yesterday a suicide bomber in Iraq killed 70 people and injured 56. Assuming that not all of the suicide bombers are Al Qaeda members who have taken our President up on his kind invitation to "bring it on," we must wonder why people who have been "liberated" are willing to blow themselves up. For what--so Saddam can return? Swami thinks not.

On his exhaustive website, psychoanalyst Stephen Soldz lays out the history of the War on Iraq--from the Iraqi point-of-view:

Imagine yourself an Iraqi. You've suffered terribly under a ruthless dictator. The Americans invade your country under false pretenses. They promise democracy but don't organize elections. They appoint exiles to rule you, exiles who spend most of their time out of the country and the rest in a few highly protected areas. The occupiers break into your homes in the middle of the night and arrest your men, who then disappear, with no accountability. They shoot Iraqis at roadblocks and from convoys. They declare war on the second most popular man in the country, announcing his death in advance. They open the economy to US corporations and give them sweetheart contracts, ignoring local business. Then they write hundreds of laws and establish commissions limiting any future government. They build permanent military bases on your soil. Then they turn your country over to a former associate of Saddam Hussein, also a former CIA agent, known for his ruthless brutality. Imagine that was your country.
And then Soldz asks: What would you do? If you were an Iraqi, that is.

Can't Buy Me Love

So they're not grateful. So they hate us. Bet the Iraqis will change their tune if we...bribe them.

As the Boston Globe reports:

Even patrol leaders now carry envelopes of cash to spend in their areas. The money comes from brigade commanders, who get as much as $50,000 to $100,000 a month to distribute for local rehabilitation and emergency welfare projects through the Commanders Emergency Response Program.

There are few restrictions on the expenditures, and officers acknowledge they consider the money another weapon...

"I'm trying to give them something to do rather than take shots at someone," said Sinclair, who said he gets $50,000 every three or four weeks to distribute. "It's not bribery. It's priming the pump. And it works well." Thought for Today

"A large nose is the mark of a witty, courteous, affable, generous, and liberal man."
--Edmond Rostand, author of Cyrano de Bergerac

Barack Obama

Did you see it? Regardless of your politics, did your heart pound? Did you cry? [If not, time for a pulse check--you just might be dead.] Here's the full text of Barack Obama's speech. For the rushed or overwhelmed, here are the killer lines:

We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States.

We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States.

There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

In the end, that's what this election is about.
On some network--Swami missed it--conservative New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks reportedly said after the speech, "This is like watching Tiger Woods." As a poster on a blogger's message board noted, "He might as well have said, 'He's so well spoken!'"

Barack Obama is the punchline of the new installment of the violently interesting comic Get Your War On. Trust Swami: Everything that comes before the punchline is well worth perusing. As ever, parental guidance is advised (though, more and more, this means: the kids will get it, the 'rents will fume).

Those Sexy, Sexy Christians

Swami, like everyone else, wonders what others do between the sheets. Especially conservative Christians, as they seem to be--forgive the generalization--so obsessed with (or is it afraid of?) sex that they devote outrageous energy to controlling/suppressing the urge.

So Swami went a-hunting on the web for Christian Guides to Sex. And came up with one from 1894--INSTRUCTION AND ADVICE FOR THE YOUNG BRIDE. Subtitle: On the Conduct and Procedure of the Intimate and Personal Relationships of the Marriage State for the Greater Spiritual Sanctity of this Blessed Sacrament and the Glory of God by Ruth Smythers beloved wife of The Reverend L.D. Smythers Pastor of the Arcadian Methodist Church of the Eastern Regional Conference.

Here's its take on Christian sex:

Most men, if not denied, would demand sex almost every day. The wise bride will permit a maximum of two brief sexual experiences weekly during the first months of marriage. As time goes by she should make every effort to reduce this frequency. Feigned illness, sleepiness, and headaches are among the wife's best friends in this matter. Arguments, nagging, scolding, and bickering also prove very effective, if used in the late evening about an hour before the husband would normally commence his seduction.

Clever wives are ever on the alert for new and better methods of denying and discouraging the amorous overtures of the husband. A good wife should expect to have reduced sexual contacts to once a week by the end of the first year of marriage and to once a month by the end of the fifth year of marriage.

By their tenth anniversary many wives have managed to complete their child bearing and have achieved the ultimate goal of terminating all sexual contacts with the husband. By this time she can depend upon his love for the children and social pressures to hold the husband in the home. Jolly, huh? Leap forward a century. Ands now, thanks to Melissa and Louis McBurney, M.D., "marriage therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado, where they counsel clergy couples," we learn:

Doing only what is mutually agreeable sexually means that each partner will make sacrifices for the sake of intimacy. A wife may give herself more frequently or try a variety of sexual experiences that go beyond her comfort zone. A husband may relinquish some sexual fantasy or adjust his demands for intercourse twice a day just to show love to his mate. Those exercises in personal restraint are not easy, but help build the oneness of intimacy.

Specific behaviors that often fit this criteria are oral sex, rear-entry vaginal penetration, initiation of sexual activity, positions for intercourse, and mutual masturbation. We find no scriptural injunction against any of these or of frequency of intercourse. Now, that's what they call outreach--Swami just might convert.

Call to Action: The Least of These

Who's at the very bottom of the charity food-chain? Prisoners. Americans just love prisons--they're great places to warehouse millions of people we don't know how to help. So we lock 'em up and would, if we could, throw away the key.

Carol Fennelly, of Hope House doesn't feel that way. She's dedicated herself to incarcerated fathers--and their children. Prison visits with reading and art activities are just the most visible Hope House programs; there's also a camp that brings a dozen kids at a time to their fathers' prison. (At night, the kids sleep at a church camp.)

Ms. Fennelly's rationale: "I do not look to save anyone. I believe a closer reading of that Matthew passage says that, in fact, doing works of mercy saves us. So nobody has to pray to be in the Hope House programs. We respect the faith or non-faith perspectives of all those with whom we work."

Here's a Hope House Success Story:

When grown men cry, it always gets to us. We just can't help it. Especially when they are dads crying over their kids. And especially when they are supposed to be bad dudes in prison. At the end of each day of our Father to Child Summer Camp, Bill sat in the corner and cried as his eleven year old son Jason walked out the door. Bill went to prison when his son was eleven months old. That was the last time he saw Jason, until we brought him to camp to spend a week with his dad in the prison visiting room.

Our first meeting with Bill, he left an indelible mark on us. He was the most ragged prisoner we'd ever met, with long gray hair, a beard to his waist, and no teeth. He was bitter and just wanted to bury himself in prison because he had nothing to which he could look forward. Meeting his son face to face changed all of that. He cut his hair and beard and put in his teeth and I saw a transformed individual by the end of camp. He writes to us of the healing and hope he experienced that week that has stayed with him even months after camp ended. Here's another:

We sat in a prison in Cumberland, Maryland recording a story being read by an inmate for his child. The day had been a long one, and we had already recorded stories with more than a dozen others, so we weren't paying a lot of attention. But we became aware that the man sitting across from us was having difficulty. Soon he was unable to read because of the tears flowing down his cheeks and the sobs coming from his throat.

We turned off the tape, and asked if he wanted to collect himself. He nodded his head through his tears. He was Hispanic, and said in broken English that he had never before read a book to his children. The book, titled "The Tree of Hope," seemed perfect for the moment. We too were moved to tears and we wept together. Looking for a faith-based charity that doesn't make the recipient kneel to someone else's idea of God? This is it. Want to donate to Hope House? Click here.

Memo to Loose Canon

Yesterday you wrote about the Planned Parenthood "I Had An Abortion" t-shirt.

Your comment: "Does this mean we're about to quit playing games with language and just call you pro-abortion now?"

Nothing of the kind. The clear point--clear to Swami, anyway--is that a great many women have had abortions. Mothers. Neighbors. Women we see every day. They're not proud of having had abortions--parse Swami the psychology of THAT, please, LC. They're announcing: "This is what someone who's had an abortion looks like."

In his charitable mode, Swami is an Adviser to a terrific child-abuse cause, Darkness to Light. Its annual fundraiser is in Charleston, South Carolina, not exactly a hotbed of radicalism. It's a black-tie event, said to draw "everyone who's anyone." And at that chic party, the Master of Ceremonies asks everyone who's been abused to stand up. And they do--by the dozens and dozens. And then they get a huge ovation.

Can you imagine what it takes to stand up? Could you do it?

There's a name for those Charleston survivors of childhood sexual abuse. It's the same name those who understand would give to those who wear "I Had An Abortion" t-shirts.

God bless them for their acts of courage.

Thought for Today

A government can also believe it knows the only way to make a nation prosper and be happy. That government and nation may commit itself to that ideology for one hundred years or more. During that time its citizens can suffer so much. Anyone who disagrees or dares to speak against the government's ideas will be locked up. They might even be considered insane. You can transform your nation into a prison because you are committed to an ideology.
--Thich Nhat Hanh, in "No Death, No Fear"

Spiritual Healing in Boston

Swami does not see the point of protest at politican conventions. But this is a great idea: a life-affirming prayer/meditation vigil during Convention Week. If you're there....

The vigil will be held at the Holocaust Memorial Park near Boston's Government Center, from dawn to dusk each day of the convention. The root of "vigil" means to watch, to be awake. We use the form of a traditional Buddhist retreat, with sitting and walking meditation, in order to be awake to what is happening inside the convention, in the world around us, and in the workings of our own minds and feelings. We come to open our hearts and minds to all the events of the day, to be intimately present with all people involved in the election process, and to speak truth to power. We invite people to join us for as much time as they can offer.

Ann Coulter: Why Do Republicans Tolerate Her?

The story thus far: USA Today hired Ann Coulter to report from the Democratic Convention, Michael Moore to cover the Republican Convention. But Coulter's column couldn't be edited into anything USA Today could publish. USA quickly replaced her.

If you know Coulter's oeuvre, you may well be wondering: What was USA Today thinking?

When asked why his paper picked Ann Coulter specifically, [USA Today Executive Editor Brian] Gallagher said that they "thought she was a voice from [the conservative] side with standing and visibility."
Coulter had her own view on the botched alliance:

"Apparently," said Coulter, "USA Today doesn't like my 'tone,' humor, sarcasm, etc. etc., which raises the intriguing question of why they hired me to write for them in the first place. Perhaps they thought they were getting Catherine Coulter."
Catherine Coulter, the thriller writer and romance novelist? Doubtful. But let's look at Coulter's piece for clues. Some excerpts:

"Here at the Spawn of Satan convention in Boston..."

"Democrats are constantly suing and slandering police as violent, fascist racists..."

"My pretty-girl allies stick out like a sore thumb amongst the corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie-chick pie wagons they call "women" at the Democratic National Convention."

"Looking at the line-up of speakers at the Convention, I have developed the 7-11 challenge: I will quit making fun of, for example, Dennis Kucinich, if he can prove he can run a 7-11 properly for 8 hours. We'll even let him have an hour or so of preparation before we open up. Within 8 hours, the money will be gone, the store will be empty, and he'll be explaining how three 11-year olds came in and asked for the money and he gave it to them."

"I want Americans to get a good long look at the French Party and keep the 7-11 challenge in mind."

Coulter usually is a one-note ranter. She refuses to get specific about her ridiculous message--Liberals are traitors. Anyone can guess why: To name names would make her a libel target for those filthy liberals and those creepy liberal judges.

But now she's got a new shtick: She's a humorist. A put-on artist. She doesn't mean to insult everyone at the Democratic Convention--she's just funnin'.

Here's Swami's question: Do you find Ann Coulter funny? (Don't be fooled by Swami's excerpts--he's a well-known liberal commie traitor. Read all of her column, if you can stand it.) By this, Swami means: Did she induce a belly laugh? A chuckle? A smile?

No? Then is she really "a voice from [the conservative] side with standing and visibility," as USA Today believed? Or is she an embarrassment to her cause--a drunk-or-drugged dotty aunt that Conservatives/Republicans have to tolerate? Or is this the way you guys really think, but you're too careful to come out with it--is Coulter a female David Duke?

Love to hear from you on this, Loose Canon. And from others as well.

Starry, starry night/Paint your palette blue and gray/Look out on a summer's day/With eyes that know the darkness in my soul

On July 27, 1890 Vincent Van Gogh shot himself. He died two days later. He was 37.

A few days earlier, he wrote to his brother:

I have painted three more big canvases.... They are vast fields of wheat under troubled skies, and I did not need to go out of my way to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness.... I almost think that these canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words, the health and restorative forces that I see in the country.
Speaking of Libel: If Saddam Sued Bush....

A legal-minded blogger poses the question:

President George W. Bush said that Saddam Hussein had a "relationship" with al Qaeda. He explained, "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda [is] because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda." The 9-11 Commission subsequently concluded that Saddam and al Qaeda had no "operational relationship." Can Saddam sue President Bush for defamation? Assume your state applies the common law version of defamation and all jurisdictional requirements have been met.

Because this statement involves a matter of public concern, the First Amendment is implicated. Thus, to win, Saddam would have to establish: (1) a defamatory statement made about him; (2) publication or dissemination of that statement; and (3) injury to his reputation. In addition, because this is a public concern, Saddam would also have to show that (4) the statement was false; and (5) it was made with "malice."

Clearly, the first three requirements have been met. Bush stated that Saddam had a relationship with a murdering terrorist organization. This statement was widely published and injured Saddam's reputation. Indeed, he was even invaded for it!

The last two requirements are more tricky. Whether Bush's statement was "false" depends on how one defines "relationship." If Bush meant "relationship" in the sense of "having relations with," then his statement is clearly false. Richard Clarke, al Qaeda/Iraqi prisoners, and the 9-11 Commission have all stated that no relationship existed. However, if Bush meant "relationship" in the sense of "having no relations at all," then Saddam's case would fail as Bush's statement would fall under the "2 + 2 = 5 exception." But I conclude the statement was false, so I'll proceed to the next and final step.

Saddam must also show that Bush spoke with "malice"--meaning that Bush's statement was either knowingly false or was made with reckless disregard as to its truth of falsity. Clearly, Bush was at least reckless. His so-called "best evidence" was Zarqawi--a man who may not even be a member of al Qaeda, but at the very least was operating in a region outside of Saddam's control. Surely the President of the United States understands the complexities of the Arab world well enough to make these basic distinctions.

I therefore conclude that Saddam would recover on his action for defamation. Riveting, huh? But only if you care about the law...

Thought for Today

I always question why anyone would listen to an actor. But it's not your profession so much that defines you as your personhood. I listen to all kinds of people whose qualifications to opine on anything are that they have a radio show or a degree in art history. Our most famous president of late was an actor. You don't jettison your citizenship just because you're famous.

--- Meryl Streep, in a terrific profile in The New York Times

The Speech John Kerry Should Give (And Won't)

Today is the day when every blogger with an audience bigger than his/her family writes the speech that John Kerry needs to deliver (and surely won't). Here's Andrew Sullivan's effort:

Let me now address those in the world who believe that the United States, under a Democratic president, will cower before terror or respond to any future attacks with passivity and weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth. As president, I will pursue this country's real enemies every day I am in the Oval Office; I will seek them out and bring them to justice; I will ensure that our historic duty to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq is met in full, however long it takes, however hard the task. To the murderers of al Qaeda, let me say this. Do not even begin to interpret a Democratic victory as some sign that we will acquiesce to your murderous intent and nihilist politics. In the war against Jihadism, there is no Democrat or Republican. There is simply American. We will unite to defeat you and to secure our country.
Swami concurs. But Andrew's screed doesn't go far enough. Not nearly.

Here's the gist of the speech that Swami wishes Kerry would give:

It's time to tell Americans the truth: We're screwed. Bigtime. And now we find ourselves exactly where the Russians were when Ronald Reagan was elected--a short walk from bankruptcy.

Who screwed us? Our own government. Clinton, Bush--the party doesn't matter. The fact is, all American presidents since Eisenhower have turned about half of our government's annual budget over to the military. That was okay as long as we needed to be a SuperPower, as long as we had an enemy that was also beefing up its military.

But it's been about 15 years since the Soviet Union collapsed, and, ever since, we haven't needed the hardware of a SuperPower. The enemies we face now aren't countries, they're extremist groups. And as even the conservative pundit David Brooks points out, the best way to defeat those groups is with ideas and values. Brooks writes:

Last week I met with a leading military officer stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, whose observations dovetailed remarkably with the 9/11 commissioners. He said the experience of the last few years is misleading; only 10 percent of our efforts from now on will be military. The rest will be ideological. He observed that we are in the fight against Islamic extremism now where we were in the fight against communism in 1880.
So our challenge now isn't to defeat armies, it's to buff and polish our democracy so others want to import it. We haven't done that. Just the opposite. Though we have no need of new bombers and tanks, we order them--at insane cost. That's good for defense contractors. But it's bad for our defense.

Our schools suck--and are getting worse. Our technology lags--the Chairman of Samsung recently said, "I pity America." Our roads are crumbling. Our poor go without medical care. Our middle class is often uninsured. And in the richest nation on earth, a sixth of our children go to bed hungry. That alone tells you our priorities are way off.

Things change--that's the ultimate law of life. We can change with them. If we are very clever and very lucky, we can even get ahead of change. But if we fight change--if we insist of being a military superpower that lumbers out like a crazed giant looking for enemies--we will join the ranks of other fallen empires.

One way or another, we will stop building bombs that slaughter civilians but barely touch terrorists. The question is whether we'll do that because we're on our knees--or because we finally see clearly that peace pays better than war.

Bruce, come on out....

[Springsteen comes onstage. Together, he and John Kerry sing--eventually, of course, everyone joins in:]

I've done my best to live the right way
I get up every morning and go to work each day
But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold
Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode
Explode and tear this whole town apart
Take a knife and cut this pain from my heart
Find somebody itching for something to start

The dogs on Main Street howl
'cause they understand
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister I ain't a boy, no I'm a man
And I believe in a promised land

There's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain't got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted

The dogs on Main Street howl
'cause they understand
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister I ain't a boy, no I'm a man
And I believe in a promised land

Game. Set. Election. And then a shotload of hard work to unseat the "Americans" who sell our country out as surely as the "patriotic" villains of "The Manchurian Candidate" ....

Factual Support for Kerry

The Associated Press delivers the lamentable news:

The Air Force has spent $2.6 billion to buy 50 planes which do not meet the military's requirements and cannot be flown in combat zones, Pentagon investigators reported Friday.

The Air Force has continued to order more C-130J planes despite the fact that contractor Lockheed Martin hasn't delivered one that met requirements in the eight years since the program began, the report said.

Problems with the propeller-driven cargo planes include faulty computer and diagnostic systems and inadequate defense measures, the Pentagon's Office of Inspector General concluded. So far, none of the planes has been cleared for some of their primary missions: Dropping troops and cargo into war zones and flying in conditions requiring the crew to wear night-vision goggles.

The inspector general's report concluded that Air Force and Defense Department officials mismanaged the program, requiring millions of dollars in upgrades and thousands of hours of work to make the planes capable of performing as well as the aging models they're supposed to replace....

The military is buying the planes as a commercial item--a process designed to allow the military to purchase goods on the open market that need few modifications for military use.

That process gives the Air Force less oversight and fewer cost controls, the inspector general's report says. For example, the commercial contract means Lockheed Martin doesn't have to give the Air Force data on how much the planes actually cost, so the Air Force has no way to check the company's profit margins. Wanna Bet The Bushettes Said Nothing of the Kind?

"We decided to work on this campaign mainly because we love our Dad so much," the Bush girls said in their first online chat. Maybe. But on the Web, the general reaction was: Like, so, NOT!

Who Loves Ralph Nader?

"Naderites" don't exist. But that doesn't mean Nader lacks supporters. ABC reports (with thanks to Eschaton):

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader's quixotic presidential campaign says it submitted about 5,400 signatures to get on the Michigan ballot, far short of the required number of 30,000. Luckily for him, approximately 43,000 signatures were filed by Michigan Republicans on his behalf, more than meeting the requirement.
Black Like Me

The Gadflyer takes us inside George Bush's "African-American" squad:
"Black Conservative to Rebut NAACP Leader's Remarks in C-SPAN Interview," read the press release from Project 21, an organization of conservative African-Americans.

I had read in Reuters that Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, had called groups like Project 21 "make-believe black organizations," and a "collection of black hustlers" who have adopted a conservative agenda in return for "a few bucks a head." So I tuned into C-SPAN with interest to hear what a leading voice in the black conservative movement had to say. But then a funny thing happened: the African-American spokesperson for Project 21 caught a flat on the way to the studio, and the group's director had to fill in. And he was white.

As the segment began, there was an awkward Wizard of Oz moment as C-SPAN's Robb Harlston--himself black--turned to Project 21's Caucasian director, David Almasi, and said, "Um...Project 21... a program for conservative African Americans...you're not African American."

Project 21 is a subsidiary of the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), which, according to the liberal watchdog Mediatransparency.org, was formed in the 1980s to support Reagan's military interventions in Central America. NCPPR's leadership--president, vice president, executive director--are all white. Amy Ridenour, former Deputy Director of the College Republican National Committee and the organization's president, also sits on the board of Black America's PAC, an organization that claims to be nonpartisan but whose IRS filings state that its mission is to elect Republicans.

NCPPR's directors are also all white. In fact, one of them--Jack Abramoff--is so white that he's actually a high-powered GOP lobbyist and Bush `Pioneer' who, according to the Washington Post, is the target of multiple investigations into alleged funny-money payments from Indian gambling concerns.... Thought for Today

Talk about food doesn't fill you up,
Discussions about clothes won't keep out the cold.
A bowl of rice is what fills the stomach,
And it takes real clothes to make you warm.
But without thinking much about this,
You say it's so hard to realize the Buddha.
Turn your mind within, and he's right there!
Why do you look for him outside?

--Han Shan

Bush's AIDS Policy: So Sorry, You Must Die

Just in case anyone missed the irony--or was it bitterness?--in Swami's discussion yesterday of the Bush position on helping women around the world avoid AIDS, here's a report from the Bangkok conference. According to The Nation:

At a plenary session, epidemiologist Karen Stanecki noted that the accelerating epidemic in Asia is fueled largely by drug injection with dirty needles and by condomless commercial sex--yet Bush's plan refuses to fund needle exchange or prevention efforts among sex workers. Joia Mukherjee, the medical director of a successful HIV-treatment program in Haiti, said she nearly rejected US dollars outright because they can only be used to buy brand-name drugs, which would quintuple her costs.

Mozambique's health commissioner, the director of Malawi's National AIDS Commission and countless other representatives of "recipient" nations complained that Bush's restrictions force them to design funding requests that don't relate to national needs or follow scientifically proven approaches. And everyone from a World Bank official to an Indian woman with HIV excoriated Bush's "ABC" policy, which emphasizes abstinence and being faithful over condoms, as brutally irrelevant to the millions of faithful women infected by their husbands. The General Accounting Office, a US oversight agency (which has just changed its name to Government Accountability Office), released a report at Bangkok on Bush's initiative that echoed these concerns. In interviews with twenty-eight USAID officials involved in implementing the plan, twenty-five identified US program constraints--especially limits on the purchase of generic drugs--as primary obstacles to the program's success.
Swami imagines that this is yet another Bush "faith-based" initiative--women must pray that God will save them, because these white men sure won't.

Music That Reduces Stress

What movie is more popular with French kids than "Harry Potter"? It's called "Les Choristes" ("The Choirboys"), and it's the story of a French school in 1949 with a wretched principal and a wonderful music teacher. Naturally, the Music Man reinvigorates the school chorus. Naturally, that music is the basis for a soundtrack album--with 500,000 copies sold in France.

Come the winter, when the movie comes to America, Swami bets we'll see a revival of choral music here. Meanwhile, there's no reason not to be soothed and inspired by the soundtrack. It's an import, not widely available, but click here to order it from Amazon.

Thought for Today

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
--Max Planck, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918

AIDS in Africa: Just One More Time

Loose Canon's response to Swami-rant doesn't advance her argument so much as repeat it. But although it's much easier to hit a target that refuses to move than hit one that jitterbugs, Swami will open fire...

First, LC repeats: "I stand by my contention that you don't fight AIDS by going to conferences with the Beautiful People."

Well, duh. We've already established that celebrities are the sizzle, not the steak. Does anyone seriously think Sharon Stone goes to AMFAR conferences to debate the latest findings? Or that Swami's brother the AIDS reasearcher travels around the world for face time with Sharon Stone? No, conferences are where scientists share information and compare notes--where scientists "fight" AIDS with other scientists--and the stars pose for pictures. As for the meetings themselves, the stars are way out of their league. Consider:

Integration is essential to the life cycle of HIV, enabling the virus to reproduce and spread throughout the body. HIV inserts or "integrates" its own genetic material into the genetic material of human cells using the integrase enzyme. Once integration occurs, the cell can produce more virus particles which, in turn, infect other cells in the body.

After integration occurs, the only way to eradicate HIV is to destroy the cell. Integrase acts as both "scissors and the glue" in the integration process. First, the enzyme "cuts" open the cell's genetic material in order to enable HIV's genetic material to insert and "integrate" itself, becoming part of the cell it infects. Then, integrase acts as "glue" by repairing the newly-cut genetic material with the virus intact. Do you understand that, LC? Swami has spent many an evening listening to his brother talk science, but even this watered-down explanation of Dr. Kornbluth's findings eludes him. Swami's turn to repeat: celebrities do not a conference make. As LC well knows.

So what are you saying, LC? That conferences are a waste of time if stars are within a mile of the meetings? Or is it conferences in general that fail to meet your test of societal utility? That is, pretty much, the Bush position when the participants don't toe the government line, but is it yours as well? Is there some way of exchanging up-to-the-minute information and generating peer discussion you've found that's superior to conferences? If so, please share--Swami knows his brother's kids would like to see more of him. And Swami's mother would chew many fewer Tums if Dr. K. flew less.

As for actually fighting AIDS, LC repeats: "The cheapest--and most humane--way to fight AIDS is to promote fidelity to one's mate."

Very noble, LC. But forget sub-Saharan Africa--wives around the globe would love for you to unlock that koan. As Newsweek reported earlier this month:

Couples therapists estimate that among their clientele, the number [of unfaithful wives] is close to 30 to 40 percent, compared with 50 percent of men, and the gap is almost certainly closing. In 1991, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago asked married women if they'd ever had sex outside their marriage, and 10 percent said yes. When the same pollsters asked the same question in 2002, the "yes" responses rose to 15 percent, while the number of men stayed flat at about 22 percent.

The best interpretation of the data: the cheating rate for women is approaching that of men, says Tom Smith, author of the NORC's reports on sexual behavior. When Michele Weiner-Davis, a marriage counselor and founder of the Divorce Busting Center in Woodstock, Ill., started practicing 20 years ago, just 10 percent of the infidelity she knew of was committed by women. Now, she believes, it's closer to 50 percent. Why does this happen? Is there a wild gene hurtling American women toward Motel 6? Or is infidelity situational--to paraphrase Chris Rock, is a woman now like a man: "only as faithful as his options"? Or is it, perhaps, that a culture which blasts a single pro-sex message 24/7 will give even Christian women--yes, even church organists and docents and mousy librarians--the idea they can stray?

That is Swami's view. For Swami, culture is a huge influence. Ask parents of teenagers. They'll tell you, in weary unison, that it's very hard to fight the fashion/music/movie/TV imagery that barrages their kids--especially if the kids have (God forbid) a compelling peer group.

Over time, Swami would add, culture becomes ingrained; it becomes Culture.

Dr. Frann, a Beliefnetter who treats chemical dependency, writes to Swami on just this point:

Many of us think that all that gets passed on are physical traits like hair, skin color, eyes, disease disposition and so on. We forget that value systems, albeit not genetic, have deep roots. So things like domestic violence, chemical use, bigotry of all types--and even how we love one another--are what we offer up, consciously or unconsciously to our next generations.

These belief systems can take a long time to change. We first have to realize they are there. And letting go of them is even harder. Otherwise Dr. Frann's gig would be a cakewalk and she'd have written "The One Minute Manager on How To Change" and she'd be retired now, living in the lap of luxury. But Dr. Frann sadly reports she can't even find the legs or waist of luxury, let alone the lap. Yes, LC, Swami is aware of the Ugandan program. He also notes that its lead agent, President Yoweri Museveni, came to power almost two decades ago--in 1986. That Uganda, though poor, enjoys unusual political stability. And that Uganda's anti-AIDS campaign includes HIV-testing and condoms, as well as calls for abstinence.

So Uganda's program has a huge head-start. Swami wonders, LC, how long you think it will take a) for other, less stable sub-Saharan countries to find political will and funding for similar programs and b) hire and train instructors and health workers who can deliver this message and c) actually get results?

And while that's happening, our government will be putting pressure on a dozen African nations to improve the status of women--better pay, more rights. That would be the Bush White House leading the charge, LC? Yes? Do pass the joint this-a-way.

Swami's point: If you can somehow convince male-dominated cultures with long histories of subjugating women to change their ways in a lifetime or two, fabulous. Meanwhile, mind if the rest of us do something to keep the bottom half of Africa from becoming a continent of orphans?

Bush to Cop-Killers: I Want Your Vote

The ban on assault weapons, as Swami has noted before, expires in September. The President says he'd like the ban renewed. He has a funny way of expressing that. Reports The Naples Daily News:

You would think that supporting, at the minimum, a simple extension of the ban would be the ultimate political no-brainer. But House Republican leader Tom DeLay of Texas says he won't push the vote because Bush hasn't told him to. Bush is trying hard to say nothing. Even though, in 1999, candidate Bush said: "It makes no sense for assault weapons to be around our society." But now all you get is this June 24 report in The Boston Globe: "Ken Lisaius, a White House spokesman, said Bush still supports the ban but is waiting for the House to act."
And after the ban expires? Former Senator Howard Metzenbaum writes:

The gun industry is licking its chops waiting for the ban to expire. In an upcoming report from the Consumer Federation of America, "Back in Business," one assault weapon manufacturer's sales and marketing director told us, "When the AWB sunsets, which I fully expect it to do, we will be manufacturing pre-ban style weapons and shipping them to the general public through distribution systems and dealers the very next day without doubt ... We look forward to Sept. 14th with great enthusiasm."

Just in case you were "undecided" about the candidates: your police want the ban renewed.

Religious Imagery in "Spider-Man 2"

Have you seen "Spider-Man 2?" Swami and Mrs. Uptown finally experienced it last night, and we're still reeling. You've read the reviews or seen the film, you know why: the literate script, the complex characters, the tricky emotions and the universal conflict (responsibilities vs. dreams).

There was one moment that stands out for Swami, inasmuch as it looks like a cinematic reference to one of his favorite paintings. Remember when Spidey saves the subway train from rushing off the tracks into the river? It's an exhausting effort; afterward, he's completely drained. The people he's rescued gently lift him and carry him--horizontal--to the middle of the subway car, where they lovingly set him down.

The way he's filmed has religious symbolism--it's exactly the way Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) portrayed Christ in his revolutionary 1490 painting, "The Lamentation over the Dead Christ." This was, Swami believes, the first representation of the crucified Christ from this perspective. You don't see a transcendent savior; you see a dead man. Take a look at The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, and see if it doesn't remind you of the shot in "Spider-Man."

Thought for Today

"I think it was like this; some shrewd people invented all the differences in order to divide people, to be able to rule over them. So they created castes, their aim being to divide and rule. Differences were created for selfish motives. There are people in the world who, when they see someone else's house burning, are happy.There are people who want to live in comfort at the expense of the labor of others. There is only ONE God, who created ALL people in Divine image. This is why we have to re-establish 'humanity.'"

--Sri Haidakhan Babaji

AIDS in Africa: The Conversation Continues

Swami ignited a firestorm yesterday with his rant about AIDs in Africa. Good! Swami's "religion" is belief in action--not our Good Thoughts (though they matter a great deal) but our Good Deeds.

Several of you wrote Swami--and others posted on the message boards--to ask: "What can I do?"

Below, Swami offers suggestions. First, a correction and some dialogue.

CORRECTION: Bobby Shriver--Bono's left-and-right-hand-man in the African crusade--writes: "Although only $600 million of the Bush money has been spent, another $1.8 BILLION will be spent this year. Right: $2.4 BILLION. Yes, it is late. Yes, it calls too much for abstinence: BUT IT IS $2.4 BILLION MORE THAN CLINTON SPENT."

DIALOGUE: Reading the message boards, Swami is amazed at how much Beliefnetters live in their heads. You kids really like to chew and mull and make distinctions, don't you? Like the 11th Commandment is "Talk amongst yourselves."

For example, by e-mail, Swami had the following exchange.

Beliefnetter: "No one could have made a more eloquent case than you just did that culture is one of the things that has to change in sub-Saharan Africa if AIDS is ever to be brought under control. You exemplify the Left's blind spot: If it's sexual, it's good, or at least beyond judgment or reproach. (When it comes to deadly sins, the Left gives a free pass to Lust, the Right gives a free pass to Greed.)"

Swami: "Do you really think I endorse dry, unprotected anal sex?"

Beliefnetter: "Hell no, I don't think you believe that! But your point is: 'Sex is different there.' Grotesquely so. You write as if we're not supposed to think that's part of the problem, that we're supposed to accept it as a however regrettable given, as 'different values,' that somehow it would be arrogant and ethnocentric of us to say that this too needs to change. We're supposed to go in there with money and medicine and condoms and eyes averted from the conduct. I saw an article--in The NY Times Magazine?--that talked about the 'zero grazing' campaign in (I think) Uganda? A campaign for yes, sexual fidelity, which is successfully reducing the AIDS infection rate."

Swami: "EVERYTHING that can be done to help is a GOOD. Why cherry-pick for moral reasons? Yes, we must accept that they are different, because we are not Superbeings who get to make the rules for Others. For the record: Yes, I'd like them to change. But while we're waiting, why don't we do what we can to stop the epidemic?"

And more: Swami comes from the school of the German playwright Bertolt Brecht (yes, he was a Commie, but so what?), who said: "First feed the face, then talk right and wrong." Translated into AIDS-speak, that would mean: "Deal with the problem, then debate the morality."

Swami's approach not only gets supplies and dollars and energy flowing, it removes "moral superiority" from the debate. You should listen to yourselves, people--some of you don't quite use the words "natives" or "savages," but you sure as hell imply that these Africans are...primitive. At the very least, morally inferior.

On Western moral superiority: Consider this news report from London:

"Private Stars," which has been inspired by Channel 4's hugely successful "Big Brother" series, centres on the experiences of five female porn models who are locked in a house with five male members of the public.

The contestants will be screened 24 hours a day as they produce their own X-rated porn film. The five men in the show, including one Briton, will be judged on their abilities to perform sexually with the women. Those judged to have done most poorly will be voted out, one by one, until a winner emerges. He will be awarded a full-time contract with a porn film producer. On a moral scale, how would you rate this against "cleansing sex" or "transactional sex" or the other sex customs in sub-Saharan Africa? How would you judge that African sex against an American pornography industry that generates $10 billion a year? Or look at the $124 BILLION we have spent on the war in Iraq--instead of, say, fully funding AIDS programs worldwide for 12 years? How do you make those moral comparisons? Swami, for one, wouldn't know where to begin. But no way would he puff up his chest and say, "We're better."

What You Can Do About AIDS in Africa

Swami's brother, Richard Kornbluth, is one of America's leading AIDS researchers. (Here's just one project he's working on: New Class of AIDS Drugs. Got a chunk of money? To Swami, he's the best investment on the planet.)

So Swami went right to the expert. And Dr. Kornbluth suggests:

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has raised about $5 billion from donor countries, but also accepts individual contributions: The Global Fund.

Doctors Without Borders/Medicins san Frontieres has AIDS treatment demonstration projects going on in Africa and elsewhere. They can always use volunteer time or a donation: Doctors without Borders.

Partners In Health runs an effective AIDS treatment program in Haiti, which continued to function even during the military coup there. Tracy Kidder wrote a glowing book about its founder, Paul Farmer. They are mainly looking for medically trained volunteers, but you can also find the word 'donate' on their webpage: Partners in Health.

And then there's Saint Mary's Hospital Lacor in Uganda, where Dr. Matthew Lukwiya died in a heroic fight against an outbreak of Ebola, as chronicled in a terrific piece in The New York Times Sunday Magazine a few years ago. His goodness has been noticed by some Christian groups that work in Africa. Saint Mary's Hospital Lacor also accepts donations for its 450 bed hospital: Saint Mary's Hospital.

More to say? Let's hear from you...

New Topic: The Sudan

As long as we're in Activist Mode, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has some suggestions for those who'd like to do something to help the Sudan.

Just for Fun: God Lied to Bush

From The Humor Gazette:

A Senate panel not only determined the U.S. used bad information to justify the war in Iraq, it also weighed in on a report that President Bush may have received faulty intelligence from God.

The Senate panel investigating pre-war intelligence said that, even though the president talks about religion a lot and ends every speech with the words "God Bless America," it could find no direct link between President Bush and the Lord.

However, Vice President Dick Cheney defended a possible White House-Heaven link, saying the absence of documentation that Bush talked directly to God does not mean such a meeting did not take place. And there's more....

Thought for Today

"I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job."
--President Bush, during a private meeting with an Amish group

AIDS in Africa: What Loose Canon Needs to Know. And You, Too

Last week, Swami noted that the United States was under-represented at the AIDS conference in Bangkok. And he explained why: Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson was heckled at the last conference. And our leaders are so astonishingly thin-skinned that to criticize them is to invite retaliation.

In Loose Canon's response, she said two things that disturbed Swami to no end.

One is her confusion of supporters with the mission they support.

O, Swami, Swami, AIDS is not fought by sending people to conferences to rub shoulders with Rupert Everett, Oprah, Richard Gere, and Ashley Judd, all of whom were making the scene--I mean fighting AIDS--in Bangkok.
As some of you have noticed, Swami prefers not to descend to personal attacks. He cannot help but point out, however, that in another life LC was a gossip columnist--and not a bad one. It's hard to believe she doesn't understand the dynamics of celebrities and causes. But on the off-chance she was home from school that day, Swami will now educate her--and those of you who like to know how the world works.

There's an age-old truth: "Beautiful women want to be appreciated for their minds, smart women want to be admired for their beauty." So it is with celebrities--some of these pretty faces want to be taken seriously. And why not? One, it's their right as citizens. Two, if they're reasonably well-informed, they can help their causes get some coverage.

Swami can think of some Serious Jerks who'd like nothing better than to make the scene--I mean discuss policy--at any conference sponsored by the White House: David Duke, James Dobson, Willis Carto (the millionaire behind Liberty Lobby, the country's largest anti-Semitic group), Fred Phelps (the anti-gay minister who is so far gone that his church produced flyers claiming the seven Columbia astronauts were in hell), Todd Blodgett (a White House staff assistant in the Reagan administration, an advisor to George Bush's election committee, and a friend of a wide circle of neo-Nazis), Gary Bauer--the list of haters and extremists cloaking themselves as strategists and defenders of freedom is long.

These people are Republican celebrities--or, as they're known in Republican circles, "the base." Actual celebrities are harder to find. Off the top of his head, Swami can only think of two: Dennis Miller (Arianna Huffington told him: "You are this administration's Sammy Davis Jr.") and Kid Rock.

Okay, let's play a really stupid game: Who's more thoughtful, Dennis Miller and Kid Rock--or Rupert Everett, Oprah, Richard Gere and Ashley Judd?

Just so you know, in his Real Media life, Swami traveled across the freezing plains of the midwest on buses two years ago with Bono, Ashley Judd, and other celebs. Their purpose: to promote AIDS awareness, so President Bush and Congress would cough up some much-needed money to fight the AIDS pandemic in Africa. [There was much fanfare. An announcement. But very little of the money has been allocated.]

May Swami--uh, Jesse Kornbluth--quote from his profile of Ashley Judd?

The idea of the Bus Brigade was to remind Americans of a conflagration in Africa: 6,500 people dying each day of AIDS, another 9,000 infected daily. The message was brutal--and so was the trip. Think: windy and cold, no meals to speak of, a stream of appearances in drafty theaters and over-heated newspaper conference rooms. Think: Bono, gray as your cat from overwork and lack of sleep, and Ashley, incessantly drinking herb tea.

And then, hold one image: backstage in an Indianapolis theater, Bono, Ashley, her husband Dario, Bobby Shriver and Agnes, an African woman who's been living with AIDS for a decade, stand in a circle. And who's the one who leads them in prayer? Not the Irish bard or the Kennedy-clan activist, but, stunningly, the Hollywood actress. And not for a few seconds, as a showy gesture--this woman testifies. And then goes onstage and asks the crowd to "pray for Bono, and cover him, for he is anointed." Yeah, Swami would take Ashley Judd and Rupert Everett (who, Jesse can report, is as well-informed as he is amusing) and Oprah (Jesse knows her not, but since when is she a know-nothing?) and Richard Gere (Jesse's been reading Buddhism for three decades, but Richard knew so much more) over Kid Rock and Dennis Miller and a bunch of Republican players to be named.

But this is a stupid, subjective game. Let's talk about AIDS.

LC writes: "And what about the least expensive way to fight AIDS--sexual fidelity?"

Let us assume--almost twenty years after AIDS became a fact of modern life--that LC knows zip about sexual practices in Africa. Here's a primer:

l) Sex is different there. In the sub-Sahara, sexual fidelity matters less than sexual customs. Unlike sex in LC's nice, civilized Washington, some African men place a high premium on dryness and friction--and there's no better way to tear a membrane and spread disease than unlubricated anal sex. As Salon reports:

Many men and women regard the smell of vaginal secretions as repulsive, the report says, plus they're embarrassed by the noise of wet sex. Dry vaginas that are swollen with friction are also tighter; this pleases the men because it makes them feel larger. One common belief holds that loose, slippery vaginas are evidence of infidelity.

Dry sex promulgates HIV/AIDS in three ways: The lack of lubricant results in lacerations in the delicate membrane tissue, making it easier for the lethal virus to enter. In addition, the natural antiseptic lactobacilli that vaginal moisture contains aren't available to combat sexually transmitted diseases. Finally, condoms break far more easily due to the increased friction. 2) To "cleanse" themselves of AIDS, some HIV-positive African men like to have sex with young virgins:

Many see the vaginal passage into the body as being 'sealed off' by an intact hymen. The intact hymen is viewed as a barrier, which prevents the HIV 'germ' from getting into and settling in the girl's blood.

The belief is that a man will somehow get an infusion of 'clean blood' through this method.

Another view offered by respondents as to why a virgin girl is believed to have special immunity against sexually transmitted afflictions in general has to do with her 'dry' vaginal tract.

Generally speaking, a prepubescent girl is not seen as having the vaginal secretions of an adult woman.

Her vaginal tract, yet undeveloped, is perceived as 'clean', 'dry' and 'uncontaminated' as she herself is considered morally clean. 3) Lecturing people on fidelity is pointless when there's a crisis. The Copenhagen Consensus of economists has said that the world's # 1 problem is AIDS. Not health problem. Problem. From a detail in the report:

The panel assigned the highest priority to new measures to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. Spending assigned to this purpose would yield extraordinarily high benefits, averting nearly 30,000,000 new infections by 2010. Costs are substantial, estimated at $27 billion. Even so, these costs are small in relation to what stands to be gained. Moreover, the scale and urgency of the problem--especially in Africa, where AIDS threatens the collapse of entire societies--are extreme.
4) Finally, LC--and those of you who want to understand that not everyone in the world lives as we do or thinks as we think--would do well to read the piece on the women of sub-Saharan Lesotho in today's New York Times:

"One woman will go out with four or five men," said Bolelwa Falten, a 26-year-old former seamstress. "One will help with the rent. One, maybe, will drive a taxi and take her to and from work. One will help with food. One will help her pay her installments."

Experts refer to such desperate arrangements by the dry term "transactional sex." This is one reason, though hardly the only one, that in Lesotho H.I.V. infects one in four men aged 15 to 24--and one in two women.

The situation in Lesotho, a tiny, mountainous kingdom with the world's fourth highest H.I.V. infection rate, mirrors the catastrophe barreling through sub-Saharan Africa. A confluence of factors--including culture and the destitution that turns sex into currency--has transformed AIDS here from an indiscriminate killer into a plague against women.

At the recent international AIDS conference in Bangkok [Swami's note: the conference that started this dust-up between LC and Swami], United Nations officials said young African women are three times as likely as young men to become infected with H.I.V, the virus that causes AIDS. Worldwide, 48 percent of those with H.I.V. are women, up nearly a third in 20 years. But in sub-Saharan Africa, including Lesotho, women are 57 percent of the infected.

That has ominous implications. It portends a collapse in African farming, much of it conducted by women. It suggests that millions of AIDS orphans --- there are 100,000 in Lesotho, up 32,000 in two years --- will have no women to care for them. There you have it. Single women as prey. Married women as property. Little sex education (and you know George Bush's America won't finance any program that isn't abstinence-and-fidelity-based). Prognosis: a part of the world so decimated by AIDS that women will be scarce. And yet the LCs in the media lecture. The world is on fire, and they lecture. Shameful. And unnecessarily ignorant--researchers and health professionals have been screaming for years about this pandemic.

There's more information out there, but this should suffice. LC, you're on notice. Next time you dismiss AIDS conferences and public health warnings because celebrities are involved or the oppressed don't "just say no," Swami's going to call you out as a heartless, un-Christian racist. Because, once you know the facts, willful ignorance is no longer a defense for ugly moralizing from afar.

Other than that (oh, and a few other things), LC, Swami still adores you.

Thought for Today

"The more opinions you have, the less you see."
--Wim Wenders, from Quote-a-Rama, a source of quotations you don't see on every quotes site

Wouldn't Jesus Just Hate the 'Left Behind' Books?

"Should we really give intolerance a pass if it is rooted in religious faith?" Nicholas Kristof asks in his most recent op-ed column.

At last someone on a prominent perch has dared to ask the key question about the "Left Behind" series of novels. As Kristof summarizes:

If the latest in the "Left Behind" series of evangelical thrillers is to be believed, Jesus will return to Earth, gather non-Christians to his left and toss them into everlasting fire:

"Jesus merely raised one hand a few inches and a yawning chasm opened in the earth, stretching far and wide enough to swallow all of them. They tumbled in, howling and screeching, but their wailing was soon quashed and all was silent when the earth closed itself again."

These are the best-selling novels for adults in the United States, and they have sold more than 60 million copies worldwide. The latest is "Glorious Appearing," which has Jesus returning to Earth to wipe all non-Christians from the planet. It's disconcerting to find ethnic cleansing celebrated as the height of piety.
Kristof correctly points out that if there were an Arab version of this series--with a Muslim "Second Coming" leading to the total destruction of all who don't bow to the East--Americans would be extremely distressed. But we don't seem at all agitated that these bestsellers revel in the total destruction of all who aren't committed Christians.

Who dies in this holocaust? Among many others, Jews. The American Jewish community doesn't want to think about this, but it should be asking: Why is the Bush White House--with the hearty support of the Evangelicals--writing Israel one blank check after another? It's not because they really love Jews. It's because--from what Swami has read--the Jews must have control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where Christ will reappear in order for the End Times to begin.

See what Swami means? The Jews are just placeholders for these Christians. Once they've fulfilled their mission, they die. All of them. Regrettable, but necessary.

Swami waits for someone--in his dreams, it's John Kerry, in Debate 1--to ask President Bush if he believes in this End Times scenario. And, as a followup question, what he'd tell the Jews he hopes will vote for him.

How Many Bodies in Saddam's Mass Graves?

Click here for a big--or should Swami say "small"--surprise. (Thanks to Eschaton.)

How Kerry Wins

Swami's spiritual brothers and sisters are many: Thich Nhat Hanh, Johnny Cash, Albert Camus, Milarepa--and the Rude Pundit. Message board posters, go wild-- here's Rude Pundit's advice to John Kerry:

Homeland security is about making the homeland more secure, right? How do you make the country more secure? It's obvious that it's not by going to war in Iraq. You do it by giving people hope here, in America. How do you do that? Through strong public education, health care, environmental, and jobs programs (including support for unions). Take those traditional liberal ideas-- and they are liberal, you know--and put them under the label of "homeland security." Steal that Orwellian label back from Bush. Make it mean something different. Make it mean more than "our borders are secure." Make it mean our homes are secure. The domestic front needs its care, you know? That's what'll make the people in those homes more secure. It is almost Zen simplicity, you know? Take the meat and potatoes issues that the Left has been pushing for decades and do what Bush does with every attempt to devastate the country: it's for security. Steal the language and make it mean something new.

This is a huge leap in rhetoric, but if you get people agreeing with you, then you've achieved an ideological shift. If someone, say a certain Vice-President, disagrees with you, then you can simply imply that the critic doesn't want a safer nation. Again, it's a stark, implicit contrast: you can vote for the man who thinks that children having health care makes the country stronger or you can vote for the man who thinks sending kids to war is the only way to make the country stronger. You can vote for the man who believes a billion dollars spent at home is more valuable than a billion dollars given to Halliburton in a no-bid contract. Remember: Bush no longer has the Republican cover of "fiscal responsibility." The money's gettin' spent, baby. It's a question of where. You think?

Why the Catholic Church Protects Child Abusers: Pedophiles Don't Steal

Jimmy Breslin writes about Msgr. John G. Woolsey, 66, who is accused of stealing about $500,000 from an 88-year-old parish woman, Rose Cale, before she died last year. And he makes an interesting contrast between Woolsey's treatment and the treatment of any priest accused of child molestation:

There is one thing that can make a person seriously unpopular in the Roman Catholic church, it is playing with the gate receipts.

The pastor, Woolsey, isn't in the papers and on television for more than a day or two when he was thrown out into the secular air. His archdiocese also called the Manhattan district attorney, who immediately talked of other money good and missing.

The church openly hates it when you touch the money. A priest in Forest Hills, in Our Lady Queen of Martyrs church, the Rev. Thomas Gradilone, was busting the place out for $2 million. He was publicized and hustled out of the place fast, and called to answer questions from the Queens district attorney.

But as many sex cases as possible were shuffled silently to another parish and the victims and families asked to keep secrets and thus prevent open scandal. Often years went by before anybody heard anything. In Forest Hills, priests who molested young boys were moved out of the parish without a sound. When it came to their money, the church authorities howled as if stabbed. Breslin's brilliant, dare-you-to-say-it-ain't-so conclusion: "Obviously, it comes down to the fact that pedophiles don't steal."

Did Jerry Falwell Cross the Line?

He says he doesn't even own the Web site. His opponents--and some tax experts-- say Jerry Falwell has violated the requirements of his tax-exempt status by urging his flock to vote for George Bush. Depending on where you sit, this New York Times story will annoy or delight.

Thought for Today

"I made a pledge with God: If you ever give me the financial wherewithal to make a difference, I would do something about education and have a high degree of caring and personal involvement."
--George Weiss, a businessman who is donating $20 million to pay higher education costs for 400 Harlem kindergarten students (more in an article in The New York Times)

And Some Commentary on That Thought

Yesterday, Swami quoted the reader who suggested children today have to wonder if they "could have been on the end of a vacuum or scalpel."

A friend writes:

Swami will learn that children never wonder whether or not they might have been aborted, but only--during the angst of adolescence or under the obscene yoke of violence and deprivation--whether they should have been born at all. I add my voice to those who plead with militants on either side of the abortion issue: Can we PLEASE refocus our time, money and energy on the millions of suffering children who have already been born. That, surely, in an enlightened society, is EVERYONE'S responsibility.

Democracy in Iraq: "Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss"

Nice to know that the names change, but the brutality doesn't. From The Sydney Morning Herald (registration required):

Iyad Allawi, the new Prime Minister of Iraq, pulled a pistol and executed as many as six suspected insurgents at a Baghdad police station, just days before Washington handed control of the country to his interim government, according to two people who allege they witnessed the killings.

They say the prisoners--handcuffed and blindfolded--were lined up against a wall in a courtyard adjacent to the maximum-security cell block in which they were held at the Al-Amariyah security centre, in the city's south-western suburbs.

They say Dr Allawi told onlookers the victims had each killed as many as 50 Iraqis and they "deserved worse than death."

...The Herald has established that as many as 30 people, including the victims, may have been in the courtyard. One of the witnesses said there were five or six civilian-clad American security men in a convoy of five or six late model four-wheel-drive vehicles that was shepherding Dr Allawi's entourage on the day. The US military and Dr Allawi's office refused to respond to questions about the composition of his security team. It is understood that the core of his protection unit is drawn from the US Special Forces units. Too bad our President has Saddam's pistol. This story would have been so much more satisfying if Allawi was packing it, doncha think? But how cool--if this story has it right--that some of our Special Forces guys were there to "protect" Allawi and got to see what a strong leader does when he's trying to bring "freedom" and "democracy" to his long-oppressed people.

The AIDS Conference

Loose Canon is so busy chronicling the world's dislike of our flawless and blameless country that she misses the bigger story. First is that the conference is a sad joke--the peerless journalist Laurie Garrett has that story. But if LC really wanted to know why that is--and why other countries mock the world's biggest donor of AIDS money and medicine--she'd look beyond conservative columnists for answers.

The real skinny is that the global increase in HIV infection rates has been cited as one of the greatest threats to U.S. and global security. And yet the United States is under-represented at this conference--the Bush administration has cut the number of U.S. representatives to the international AIDS conference in Bangkok Sunday by 75%. Why? Because Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson was heckled at the last conference. And our leaders are so astonishingly thin-skinned that to criticize them is to invite retaliation.

Here's the story, from LC's hometown newspaper:

The U.S. government will send only one-quarter as many people to the huge international AIDS conference starting Sunday in Bangkok as it sent to the last one in Barcelona.

The decision to cut attendance, which comes as the Bush administration is rolling out its five-year, $15 billion global AIDS treatment plan, was reached long after many government scientists had made plans to attend the conference, which is held every two years. Dozens of scientific presentations were withdrawn, about 50 will be published only as summaries and not presented publicly, and dozens of meetings--many designed to train Third World AIDS researchers and foster international collaboration--were canceled.

The move, which officials say is to save money, is interpreted by many AIDS experts as payback for the heckling of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson at the last AIDS conference and further evidence of a "go-it-alone" attitude in the administration's global AIDS program.

The U.S. government's diminished presence is being greeted in some quarters with chagrin, amazement and disgust.

..."The largest group in the world in terms of AIDS expertise comes from the U.S., so it's important this expertise is at the conference," said Peter Piot, head of UNAIDS, the program run by the United Nations and the World Bank. The reduced attendance "is a big deal for the quality of the conference," he said... Consumer warning: When Loose Canon--or any reporter--tells you how the United States isn't being treated right after all we do for an ungrateful world, that's an invitation for you to dig deeper.

Consumer request: LC, why are our leaders so thin-skinned?

Even Shorter Than "My Pet Goat"

We all know that reading is for Laura, but is it possible (answer: very) that we went to war in Iraq after the President made his way through a....one-page briefing?

As the The New York Times reports:

The White House and the Central Intelligence Agency have refused to give the Senate Intelligence Committee a one-page summary of prewar intelligence in Iraq prepared for President Bush that contains few of the qualifiers and none of the dissents spelled out in longer intelligence reviews, according to Congressional officials.

Let us end the week on some good news: a movement to Draft Bruce Springsteen --- not for President, but for a September 1 "concert for change." More than 45,000 fans have signed the petition since June 1. Will he sing if l00,000 beg? Probably not. But doesn't the mere thought....thrill you?

Thought for Today

"Forced worship stinks in God's nostrils."
--Roger Williams, Governor of the Plymouth Colony (1654-1658)

Like the President Says, "Americans Can Feel Safer"

A friend from Washington, DC, writes:
"There are two Patriot missiles with radar, manned 24/7, within 200 yards of my front door. Apparently they're in place to shoot down any plane that dares to come close to the Capitol, White House or Pentagon."
Abe Lincoln on Postponing Elections

In 1864, when Confederate General Jubal Early's troops were just five miles from Washington, President Lincoln had some thoughts about the possible postponement of the 1864 elections.
"We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us..."

Write Jane@1stcorinthians13.com

Swami finds this press release inspiring:

Tired of having your inbox overflowing with e-mails from people you don't even know? Worse yet, are you tired of getting x-rated e-mail and trying to keep your kids safe from the unbelievable Spam? Wouldn't it be nice to control who can send you e-mail? Now you can with the "Trusted E-mail List" available from ScriptureMail. This unique feature gives users the solution to this new modern-age problem by letting them create a list of "trusted" friends and then only receiving e-mails from folks on the list.

In addition to "100 percent peace of mind," ScriptureMail offers:

....a high-tech twist on modern-day discipleship. At ScriptureMail.com, Christians can create a personal e-mail account with a Bible verse in the address. More than 500 of the most well-known scriptural references are available for selection.

For example, if your name is Jane Smith and your favorite scripture passage is the New Testament's oft-quoted chapter about love, your e-mail address could be jane@1stcorinthians13.com. Or if you find comfort in Matthew 7:7 (The Ask, Seek, Knock passage), you might opt for jane@matthew7-7.com.

In addition to having a biblical e-mail address, every e-mail sent has a link at the bottom that immediately displays the sender's selected Bible verse, creating a unique opportunity for senders to silently witness via this electronic emissary. And One More Thought about Abortion

A reader who has had an abortion writes:

All of us have growing to do. First we--myself included--kill children for convenience. We don't learn from it (despite a cornucopia of contraceptives), because responsibility on the male part isn't there.

Why should children feel like they count or feel wanted? Children now are survivors and they know they could have been on the end of a vacuum or scalpel. Where I live, there are many single parent homes; we are in the second generation of young men who have no idea what it means to be a man, much less a husband or father. There are no role models and if single mothers are all kids see, why should they strive for something different? Even if they wanted to, how to start?

I see very young kids taking responsibility for their siblings--feeding them, taking them to school, making sure they do their homework, etc.--while Mom is working two jobs. Is that fair to them? Of course they think they're adults at an early age, and the cycle continues. I see 12-year-olds talking about having a baby to love them; they never knew paternal love from a man or the difference and this, they feel, is the closest thing.

We really have to think about what we do in a moment of heat, alcohol, true love for the moment or what have you, or at least learn from what has gone before. There are consequences one way or another. I wonder: are we as women dense, or what? Why don't we expect more? We are seriously mistaken if we think that abortion doesn't have an effect on our bodies, our children or society. We have to give ourselves more value and self-esteem...and in turn give the other the same.

Swami, please give me a male point of view on responsibility. This is not meant to call all men irresponsible; forgive me, male counterparts, if it seems so...I love you all. "A male view of responsibility." Whew! Fortunately, Swami has learned not to generalize. And not to presume to speak for his gender (for which his gender is very grateful). So Swami is speaking here just for himself.

Swami has been the father of two unborn children. A girlfriend got pregnant when she was in her mid-20s. She was an enormously ambitious woman, and Swami was, at the end of the day, not Mr. Right. Having the child was never discussed.

A few years later, a woman Swami thought was the One True Love broke up with him. As these things happen, there was one more sexual encounter--and bingo. The woman didn't tell Swami she was having an abortion until after the procedure. Swami suspects that she feared he might have proposed marriage. Which would have been a dreadful idea, for she was anything but the One True Love.

Swami regrets both abortions. But not as much as he regrets the pregnancies; in each case, he was under the impression that the woman was using birth control. That doesn't take him off the hook; mistakes happen. The question is: How do you deal with them?

Swami's response: the best you know how. Woman #1 had a career to build and a dream man to find. Woman #2 was not interested in Swami or a Baby Uptown. Five or six years later--in your 20s, that's a lifetime later--both women married and had children. God bless them.

Swami was 56 when Baby Uptown came along. There's no bigger emotional slob than an Aging Father, so let's leave it at this: Swami will be shocked if our daughter ever wonders if she "could have been on the end of a vacuum or scalpel."

As Swami says: no generalizations. And no one's judgment but your own. In a free country, that is.

Thought for Today

The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on.

--Joseph Heller, author of "Catch-22"

Where Has God Gone?

Regular readers may wonder: Nothing about religion in Swami's blog? Swami wonders why himself. Maybe God--or just His ministry--takes the summer off. Maybe religion and spirit have been struck dumb by the crap being flung in their name by politicians on every side. (Got that, kids? On EVERY side).

Even Loose Canon has been silent on Swami's no-brainer theological question: Should soldiers in Iraq (and their friends and loved ones at home) be required to show their dedication to the One True Faith by providing their own rifle scopes?

So don't blame Swami for focusing on how believers live their faith in the real world. There ain't nothing else to look at.

Bastille Day: Voulez Vous Coucher avec Moi?

Let's see. John McLaughlin, deputy director of the CIA, says: "This is about as serious a threat environment as I have seen since 9/11." And what is the President's priority today? Defending marriage against gays. Conclusion: Osama is kinda sorta dangerous, but Adam-and-Steve are bigtime terrorists.

But why waste time on the insane priorities of the folks in Washington? Let's jet East to France, where they're celebrating Bastille Day today--a celebration of the triumph of the "lower" classes over the titled aristocrats. (They cut their heads off and everything! It was wicked ugly! Thank God no one here in America has any reason to hate fat-cat CEOs and the leaders they've leased!)

Bastille Day is a great excuse for a picnic (French wine and all). Swami's pals at Bonjour Paris (yes, it's written and published in English) have some good ideas for one. And a nice piece of historical trivia:

Napoleon I, who--besides becoming Emperor of France--spent years in the artillery leading many an army through the foothills of France and elsewhere, had a major concern: Too much room in his soldiers' haversacks was being taken up by their provisions. He realized that the round loaf of country bread that they each put at the bottom of their bags was much to blame. So he approached the army baker and commanded him to come up with a solution in order to make room for ammunition. This is when the baguette was born. With the bread now slim enough to be placed in each leg of their trousers, the sack was left empty for more necessary equipment.
Are You a Tenor? Try "Oh Kenny Boy"

Roger Ailes (no, not the King of Fox), has rewritten the Irish classic as a song our President might sing (in the shower):

Oh Kenny Boy, the Feds, the Feds are calling
Put on the cuffs, you're goin' for a ride
The summer's come, the grand jury is indicting
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and stay inside.

Once you were my favorite Pioneer, oh Kenny
I hired Tommy White, I rolled upon your dirty dough
You were my fav'rite on Dick's Energy Task Force
Oh Kenny boy, oh Kenny boy, I loved you so.

But if you call, I must pretend not to know you
You are dead; your cash is no longer good to me
That White House, where I do all my lyin'
Is no longer ope' for you to bide a wee

And I shall hear, if thou shalt implicate me
If you cross me, prison hell on earth shall be
If you'll not take the Fifth Amendment
And keep your trap shut, so that I can pardon thee.

You'll have no peace on earth, Lay-Boy, if you screw me.

Would You Do a Favor for Robert Redford?

Bob--Redford and Swami are that close--writes to ask for help:

The Bush administration is using the recent rise in gasoline prices as a pretext to sacrifice one of America's greatest natural treasures--the Western Arctic Reserve of Alaska--to massive oil development.

We have a very narrow window in which to block this corporate-sponsored raid on our natural heritage. Over the next 30 days, the Bush administration is taking public comments on its plan to put 96 percent of the reserve's wildlife-filled northeast region on the auction block.

I am asking you and hundreds of thousands of others to join me in flooding the Bush administration with messages of protest over the next critical weeks.

...Our government kept oil rigs out of the Western Arctic Reserve even during the darkest days of World War II and the oil embargo of the 1970s. As a result, most of the reserve has remained pristine--its primeval beauty unmarred by roads, oil rigs or other signs of human interference.

Interior secretaries since the 1970s have recognized the need for special protection in the Teshekpuk Lake area. But if the Bush administration gets its way, Teshekpuk Lake will soon be stripped of most of those protections and sold to the highest bidder.

And for what? Drilling in the Western Arctic would have no effect on gas prices at the pump. Its oil would take years to get to market and would never equal more than one or two percent of America's oil supply--a tiny drop in the bucket of our nation's oil consumption. Only one group would benefit from destroying the Western Arctic: the oil giants. Meanwhile, they would turn one of the planet's most fragile homes for Arctic wildlife into an industrial zone of pipelines, producing wells and contaminated waste sites.

Please do your part by going to Take Action and sending an electronic message telling the Bureau of Land Management to withdraw its destructive plan and to permanently protect the reserve's world-class wildlife habitats. Everything You Need to Know about the Iraq War in Six Paragraphs

Sometimes Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly makes simple facts just as simple as they are (it takes Condi Rice to confuse you with their non-existent complexity):

UN inspectors re-entered Iraq three months before the invasion and found nothing there except a handful of missiles that violated UN limits by a few miles. Saddam destroyed them.

The United States provided the inspectors with detailed intel on where to find Iraq's WMD stockpiles. No dice: every single followup turned out to be a wild goose chase.

Hans Blix's team searched everywhere, including Saddam's palaces. Nothing.

Before the invasion, France and several other countries made proposals for even more intrusive inspections: thousand of inspectors backed up by military units. George Bush turned them all down.

The fact is that by March 2003 we didn't have to rely on CIA estimates or on the estimates of any other intelligence agency. We had been on the ground in Iraq for months and there was nothing there. There was nothing there and we knew it.

Did the CIA screw up? Probably. Did it matter? No. George Bush invaded Iraq in March 2003 not because he was convinced Iraq had WMD, but because he was becoming scared that Iraq didn't have WMD and that further inspections would prove it beyond any doubt. Facts on the ground have never been allowed to interfere with George Bush's worldview, and he wasn't about to take the chance that they might interfere with his war. Thought for Today

"When will people see this war in Iraq and Afghanistan for what it really is-- i.e., a Christian Crusade, full of the indiscriminate murder, rape, and carnage just like, if not worse, than the Christian Crusades of 'Richard the Lion-heart' and his own band of thugs in the past? Surely this is a wake up call for all Muslims around the world who have any dignity left. ...It is too late to stop the atrocities which have already taken place but it is not too late to drive these nasty infidels out of Muslim land once and for all."
--Omar Bakri Muhammad, the London-based cleric who leads the radical Islamist movement al-Muhajiroun and is an open admirer of bin Laden

Bush on Gay Marriage

President Bush was asked on July 9 about gay marriage. The core of his response:

And I repeat to you--my own view is, is that if a state--if people decide to--what they do in the privacy of their house, consenting adults should be able to do. This is America. It's a free society. But it doesn't mean we have to redefine traditional marriage.
The syntax is a little tortured (what else is new?), but Swami takes this to mean that Bush doesn't believe that gays should be arrested, made to watch straight porn until they see the light, or outright killed. It means Bush is-- compared to many of his supporters--a kind of moderate. For Bush, it's fine for gays to make mad jiggy sex--sex with toys, sex with multiple partners, sex so down and dirty we cannot dream people really do such things--in a bedroom they jointly own. They just can't register at Williams-Sonoma, get hitched, and have their nuptials announced in the local paper.

Sounds great. And, like so much mass behavior that starts in the gay subculture, maybe it's the start of a trend. Swami can think of a great many Married Heterosexual Men who would flip for this deal.

All kidding aside, you may want to express yourself on the proposed consitutional amendment to limit "marriage" to heteros. If you believe this--"Everyone has the same rights. There is no place in America for a Constitutional amendment denying marriage equality to anyone"--you may want to add your name to the MoveOn petition.

Terror Alerts: What the Colors Really Mean

Some smart alecks have read John Ashcroft's mind--and how scary is that?--and redefined the terror alerts.

The Truth about the Grand Canyon (It's Not Very Old

From a book by Creationists sold in the gift shop at the Grand Canyon:

....the Canyon has "God" written all over it. Not only is the Canyon a testimony to creation but it also presents evidence of God's judgment of a world broken by the sin of man, known as "the Fall," as told in the book of Genesis.

Based on the lineages laid out in the Bible, God created the heavens and earth and everything in them in six literal days about 6,000 years ago. Contrary to what is widely believed, radioactive dating has not proven the rocks of the Grand Canyon to be millions of years old. The vast majority of the sedimentary layers in the Grand Canyon were deposited as the result of a global flood that occurred after and as a result of the initial sin that took place in the Garden of Eden. Do click on the link. If you had a liberal arts "education," there's soooo much more you didn't know......

Why We Don't Go to War with North Korea

No, it's not because they have nukes. It's because they're like us. Their leader may be a madman (and that's not the only way they're like us), but they believe in the gospel of cheeseburgers.

Says North Korea's Kim Jong II: "I've made up my mind to feed quality bread and French Fries to university students, professors and researchers even if we are in (economic) hardship."

Hated in Hungary

President Bush is disliked by more Hungarian secondary school children than former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, according to a recent opinion poll.

Bush also topped the list of most-liked foreigners with eight percent of the vote, ahead of Pope John Paul with six percent.

The survey of 34,000 students, aged 16-18, from 655 high schools showed Adolf Hitler was the most disliked foreign personality with 25 percent of the vote, followed by Bush with 23 percent and Bin Laden with 16 percent. Hey, who even knew they had polling in Hungary?

One More Take on Abortion

Another reader responds--this time, to the reader who wrote: "And I'll say to anyone who isn't [pro-choice] what I always say when someone asks me where I stand: 'You want me to have this child? Then be here in nine months to raise it. You want to save it? Put your money and your heart where you say it is.'"

This is a very disengenuous argument. There are far, far more people waiting to adopt a baby than there are available babies. A woman who is not ready to raise a child certainly is not the best candidate to have a child, but by the time she is pregnant, it is a bit late to think of such things.

I speak as a woman who made just that mistake, so it's not my intention to throw stones or judge. However, arguing that a person should have an abortion because they can't provide for the child reminds me of people who rob a bank and then go on the lam because "I just can't face going back to prison." Well then, why are they robbing banks?

The fact of the matter is that sometimes in order to be responsible, decent human beings we have to do things we are ill prepared to do and endure hardships we would rather avoid. Sometimes it is even necessary to subvert one's own wants and needs for a greater good. It's a shame that we each think we're so important that it's better to dispose of a human life than suffer (and hopefully triumph over) the results of our own actions.

One last thing: when I had my son, I ended up spending a year and a half in a half-way house for homeless single mothers. During my time there, I was surprised to find that the vast majority of young women in the program had had at least one abortion prior to delivering. I do not believe for a minute that abortions are actually reducing the number of unplanned children being born in the aggregate. Thought for Today

"Be wary, be on your guard, regarding the government because it does not come near to a person except for its own needs. The government appears like a friend when it is to its advantage, but it does not stand by persons in their hour of need."
--Unknown Jewish sages in the Mishnah (some time between the third century B.C.E. and the third century C.E.)

George Bush Will Say What You Want

Fun for the whole family! Make the President give the speech you want him to deliver--and you don't even have to give the Republicans a single dollar!

No Comment

Ron Reagan will speak in prime time at the Democratic National Convention on the importance of stem cell research.

The Senate report released Friday made it quite clear: Iraq is the biggest failure of U.S. intelligence since Pearl Harbor. On Saturday, in his radio address, the President talked about the sanctity of heterosexual marriage.

Andrew Sullivan: "So if we had had accurate intelligence, the war would not have taken place. I reiterate: I'm still glad we fought it."

Postpone the Election?

If there's a terror attack in late October or early November, the election might have to be postponed. Perhaps a follow-up article will address the bigger question: Can we still go shopping?

Do the Government's Job: Equip a Soldier in Iraq

From the Salt Lake Tribune:

One of the many Fillmore residents who bought raffle tickets from Krista Iverson at Fillmore's July Fourth celebration could win a .22-caliber rifle, but Krista's husband will get much more. Lt. Robert Iverson, a Fillmore native, is in Iraq with Marine Artillery Unit 511 out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. Although the unit is on the front lines, the military has not equipped its AR16 rifles with scopes--which obviously could better enable the soldiers to see their targets.

The Tapco company has donated 30 scopes, but Iverson's battalion needs 124, at a cost of $70 each. Krista has raised $1,200, but considering Fillmore probably won't have another festival until July 24, the mother of two is hopeful people will donate funds in her husband's name at any Zions bank.

The government can't find $12,000 for scopes, but it can pay you-know-what company millions in padded profits in Iraq. No one cares, of course, because our gallant soldiers--none of whom live in our neighborhoods--still get up in the morning and obey orders. (Amazing that they haven't gone "on strike" until proper equipment shows up.)

This sort of report makes Swami crazy. He wonders: If you read this and still support this war, how do you do the mental gynnastics? Do you say: "Well, I'm for Bush because he's a "War President." (Pretty easy to achieve that--just start a war.)

Tell me, Loose Canon, where are you with an "equipment malfunction" that puts Janet Jackson back in the minor leagues? Or is your Sainted President--like his non-pal, Ken Lay--so far above these petty details that he can't be faulted? (Except, of course, by those who think the care of the soldiers who risk their lives on his orders is his very first responsibility. Funny how those people tend to be liberals who "hate America.") What is it about "compassionate conservatism" that Swami doesn't get? That is, beside the part about conservatives not giving a flying f---- about any individual human (except maybe Saint Reagan) not in one's immediate family?

Sigh. Swami must assume the position and do some deep breathing. He is sooooo on the verge of saying, like some of his blogger pals, "I really hate these guys." Tempting as those words are, they achieve nothing positive.

Churches, Politics, the IRS--and Jerry Falwell

Swami kind of hopes that some churches will do as Jerry Falwell recommends. We need many millions in fines to make up for the deficit.

No Rx for You: Is Birth Control Murder?

Go to the local pharmacy. Present a prescription for birth control. Will you get those pills? Not if some pharmacists have their way.

The members of the anti-abortion group Pharmacists for Life International say they have every right to make that kind of decision [that is: refuse to fill prescriptions]. "Our job is to enhance life," explains the organization's president, pharmacist Karen Brauer, RPh, who first refused to fill prescriptions for some types of birth control pills in 1989. "We shouldn't have to dispense a medication that we think takes lives."
More Reader Talkback on Abortion

A reader tells Swami:

When a man enters has sex with a woman, at that moment if not hopefully before, he takes responsibility for the unborn child in that he promises to shelter, feed and clothe the mother and care for her children and he does so is public before family, friends, community and Gd. So the response to "I am pregnant." is never "what are you going to do?" it is "what am I going to do? Is what I am doing now adequate?" Perhaps the man who asks "what are you going to do?" might well ask himself "when am I going to grow up?"

I myself was very saddened to choose to abort in my early twenties when 2 weeks late. I ought to have thought BEFORE sex about whether the father would have been a suitable one. I KNEW that I could not go it alone in raising a child at THAT point in my life and in the context in which I lived then. That fetus died so that I would grow up. We think in our youth culture that life is long and we can tarry and dally outside of our calling. Turn around twice and you are middle-aged. Each choice precludes another choice. And, from another reader:

I can see how the argument that the baby is a body unto itself can seem to work. But as a baby literally feeds off the body of the mother, and without the mother woudn't survive, I think it's fair to say the baby is part of her body. If it could survive on its own you could separate the two, but as the baby can't, we can't make that argument stick.

Same thing with the burden idea. One doesn't necessarily have to 'raise' one's wife or husband or mother-in-law or whoever the burdensome person is. There aren't 18 years (or more) of dependence ahead when one marries or invites someone emotionally into her life. One can divorce! There isn't the breastfeeding of that person. There isn't the cost of diapers, clothes, doctor's visits, food or education to name a few. That person doesn't depend as deeply in terms of his emotional, mental and physical well being as a child does. That argument doesn't stick either.

As you can guess, I'm pro-choice. And I'll say to anyone who isn't what I always say when someone asks me where I stand: 'You want me to have this child? Then be here in nine months to raise it. You want to save it? Put your money and your heart where you say it is.' It's so easy to tell others what to do. I'd like to see all these women (and men!) who judge and tell the rest of us what to do about this issue line up to take all the babies that have already been abandoned or given up for adoption because women were prevented from having an abortion or didn't have access to the services. Thought for Today

This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled but there are moments when we can transcend the dualistic system and reconcile and embrace the whole mess and that's what I mean by "Hallelujah."

Regardless of what the impossibility of the situation is, there is a moment when you open your mouth and you throw open your arms and you embrace the thing and you just say "Hallelujah! Blessed is the name." And you can't reconcile it in any other way except in that position of total surrender, total affirmation."
--Leonard Cohen

This Week in America: Things that Make You Go "Whaaa"

So now we hear that the government is putting pressure on Pakistan to capture some "high-value" Al-Qaeda leaders--ideally around the time of the Democratic convention. And if they do, are we so stupid we'll applaud our government's diligence? Are we so addled we won't wonder why this had to wait until now?

And how about "Kenny Boy" Lay? Our President seemed to be his bosom bud in Texas. The Republicans never returned his campaign contributions. And for all we know--and if Dick Cheney has his way, we never will--he was on the secret council that helped the Administration devise its energy policy. Now it turns out Bush knows him no better than he knew Chalabi. And the President does not--repeat: NOT--want to be asked about Lay. Here's a picture worth a thousand words: Bush stalks out of a press briefing after one too many questions about Kenny Boy.

Last night on "The Daily Show"--it's must viewing, people; read Swami and watch Jon Stewart and you'll have a well-balanced media diet--we learned that one reason the government is calling up former soldiers is because we need more musicians. Why? For the funerals, of course. Stewart suggested maybe a better solution is to have fewer deaths. You know: "think outside the coffin."

Read It and Weep: The Script of "Fahrenheit 9/11"

There's no soundtrack CD. No t-shirt. Just a lot of stupid commentary by pundits who hate Michael Moore for exposing the lies more than they hate the guys who told the lies. (Really! You can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year peddling this kind of crap--that is, as long as you're willing to peddle exactly this kind of crap). But now we have a document that's a weapon of mass instruction --- the script for "Fahrenheit 9/11."

Halliburton in Iraq: "Nobody's going to care"

Swami has already written about Marie deYoung, a former Army chaplain who worked for Halliburton. A woman of principle, she has blown the whistle on Dick Cheney's former company. Now MSNBC tells us more about her charges:

DeYoung audited accounts for Halliburton's subsidiary KBR. She claims there was no effort to hold down costs because all costs were passed on directly to taxpayers. She repeatedly complained to superiors of waste and fraud. The company's response, according to deYoung was: "We can be as dumb and stupid as we want in the first year of a war, nobody's going to care."

DeYoung produced documents detailing alleged waste even on routine services: $50,000 a month for soda, at $45 a case; $1 million a month to clean clothes--or $100 for each 15-pound bag of laundry.

"That money could have been used to take care of soldiers," she said.

DeYoung also claims people were paid to do nothing. Mike West says he was one of them. Paid $82,000 a year to be a labor foreman in Iraq, West claims he never had any laborers to supervise. "They said just log 12 hours a day and walk around and look busy," he said. "OK, so we did." A Minister Judges Bush and Blair

At last! A minister who's actually angry about the war! At a funeral in Glasgow for a l9-year-old Scottish boy--Swami dares you to call him a man--Rev. Dr. John Mann torched Tony Blair and George Bush.

"I want to believe that if there's a God in heaven then there will be justice because I want someone to pay for Gordon's death," Dr. Mann told a hushed congregation.

"But only God may judge who is ultimately responsible and I can only admonish-- I'm just a preacher. And if I were to point them out, I would say to president George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, I have only three words of admonishment.

"I pray that they may some day be inscribed on the tablets of your hearts--and those three words are 'shame on you'." Well, he's a foreigner, you say. Wrong! The minister is American. Now what about the rest of the American clergy?

Are Kerry and Edwards Gay?

John and John, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g. That's the notion Matt Drudge has been pushing in photograph after photograph all week. Every shot shows John and John heads close, arms around one another. Today he makes it explicit with a headline: CAN'T KEEP HANDS OFF ONE ANOTHER. Swami understands why Drudge is shocked at such behavior from a Presidential candidate and his would-be VP--when was the last time you saw Bush embrace Dick Cheney? For that matter, can you recall even one photograph of Mrs. Cheney giving her husband a "come hither" look or playing mouth hockey with him?

Weekend Reading: The Creative Habit

Swami has never read a self-help book that helped anyone but the writer and the publisher. Then he read Twyla Tharp's "The Creative Habit." It tells you that you don't have to be an "artist" to be "creative"--you just have to be willing to work hard. If you have something you want to express or if you just want to make more money and get promoted, this is a book you need. Want to read more about it? Thought you'd never ask. Well, it just happens that Swami is--in the very few minutes he doesn't devote to Beliefnet--a cultural concierge operating under the name Head Butler. (Check it out, if you're so inclined: HeadButler.com.) Or just jump directly to The Creative Habit.

Thought for Today

"I could turn on just about any television channel in Europe and see full nudity. And their crime rate is a lot lower than ours. So go figure."
--Rap star Nelly

From Swami's Mailbag

A friend's 13-year-old daughter, on her return from an exchange program in England: "You know, I think the rest of the world will forgive us for having elected George Bush the first time. They'll just chalk it up to a mistake. But if we elect him a second time, they'll think we're all stupid."

Your Tax Dollars at Work: Children in Iraqi Prisons

Only one article so far--shame on you, New York Times! shame on you, Washington Post!--but it's a devastating piece:

A military intelligence analyst who recently completed duty at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq said Wednesday that the 16-year-old son of a detainee there was abused by U.S. soldiers in order to break his father's resistance to interrogators.

The analyst said the teenager was stripped naked, thrown in the back of an open truck, driven around in the cold night air, splattered with mud and then presented to his father at Abu Ghraib, the prison at the center of the ongoing scandal over abuse of Iraqi detainees.

Upon seeing his frail and frightened son, the prisoner broke down and cried and told interrogators he would tell them whatever they wanted, the analyst said.

Sgt. Samuel Provance, who maintained the 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion's top secret computer system at Abu Ghraib prison, gave the account of abuse of the teenager in a telephone interview from Germany, where he is now stationed. He said he also has described the incident to army investigators. Sometimes, dear friends, there just aren't any words. Children. Naked. In Abu Ghraib. Used as pawns, then discarded. Man, it's a good thing George Bush is "saved," because by Swami's code, this sort of criminality condemns a soul to hell.

Ooops, forgot. Saddam did worse. If you don't say that, people confuse you with Michael Moore, who spent two whole hours telling us what we did wrong, never realizing he was supposed to recycle a decade of network news as well. And, of course, once you do say it, you feel so much better. Don't you feel better, right now?

"The Most Listened-To Presbyterian Minister"

Dr. D. James Kennedy is--according to the bio on his website--"the most listened-to Presbyterian minister in the world today." And so we must pay attention when his Center for Reclaiming America offers us a Fast Facts page "packed with valuable information and statistics to help you handle any of the hot issues of today." Click on the link for Homosexuality, and, among other statistics, you'll find:

  • 57% report they have had sex with more than 30 partners, and 35% claim to have sex with over 100 partners.
  • 52% report they have had sex in a public park, 46% report they have had sex in a public bathroom.
  • 48% of homosexuals admit to having participated in a "three-way" sexual encounter within the past five years.
  • Dazzling statistics, yes. Then you look closer. Two are from 1994, one from 1996. The sources are gay magazines, but Swami cannot find confirmation of these stats on those websites. But as Swami ponders these numbers, he would bet that this kind of sex--which sounds very much like reckless, casual, "unprotected" sex--has diminished over the past decade. Why? The decline in rates of HIV infection since the height of the epidemic. What do you think, people? Do you think the good Dr. is to be believed?

    One other thing. In its Fast Facts, the Center for Reclaiming America deals with abortion and tolerance (a bad thing--who knew?), among others. Not a word about Childhood Hunger. Or Health Care. Or Equal Pay for Equal Work. Guess America's hitting home runs on those topics.

    A Reader Talks Back on Abortion

    Swami thanks a thoughtful Beliefnet reader for this:

    "Swami says: A man doesn't have the right to tell a woman what to do with her body.

    "The fatal flaw with this argument is that it ignores the arguments used by pro-life men, no matter how thoughtful they may be. As Francis Beckwith puts it, arguments don't have genders. Since pro-life women use the same arguments as pro-life men, then pro-choice advocates must listen and respond to the arguments of pro-life supporters, be they men or women.

    "Furthermore, pro-choice advocates who use this argument must follow this argument to its logical conclusion and reject the Roe v. Wade decision since it was arrived at by nine men (7-2).

    "In addition, it is not just a women's rights issue. Men have a vested interest in this issue as well: their taxpayer dollars are used to fund abortions, and the unborn children are conceived in part by men.

    "Finally, arguing that men aren't personally involved is a two-edged sword. A counterpoint, for example, could be that since men indeed are not personally involved, the opinion of men are more objective.

    "So decide for yourself: are a man's arguments on the issue not valid?

    "Swami writes: It's her body.

    "This argument says that since the unborn baby, unlike the 3-year-old child, is inside her body, the woman has the right to do with her body as she pleases, including abortion if she so desires. Indeed, no one has the legal right to keep someone from cutting off their own arm if that's what s/he wants.

    "But the fatal flaw with this argument is that the unborn baby is not actually part of the woman's own body. The unborn baby is attached to the woman's body, but is not part of the woman's body. The unborn baby is its own entity, with its own gender, its own body, its own skeletal structure, its own nervous system, its own brain and most importantly, its own genetic code. Consider that you can achieve conception in a petri dish between black parents, transfer the conceptus to a white woman and the child will be born black. Furthermore, if the unborn baby was really part of the woman's own body, why doesn't the medical community acknowledge pregnant women as having four legs, four arms, two heads, and (in the case of a male fetus) a penis and two testicles?

    "In addition, what other body part do you know is "temporary"? Does the arm drop off from the body after 9 months? Does the eye decide to expel itself from the body after a while? Clearly, the baby uses the woman's body but is not part of her body.

    "Furthermore, while a woman has the right to control her own body, she does not have the right to kill someone else's body (i.e., the baby). In every other instance besides unborn babies, killing someone else's living body is murder. So decide for yourself: while a woman indeed has a right to control her own body, is the unborn baby really part of the woman's own body?

    "Now we come to the question of disabilities and the unborn.

    T"his argument allows women to have an abortion if they don't want the burden of caring for such a child. It also argues that it's better for the child to not have lived than to live a challenged life.

    "The fatal flaw with this argument is (surprise) that it forgets that the unborn child is fully human. Since the unborn child is indeed fully human, then murder is wrong whether the child has a deformity/handicap or not. After all, it is hypocritical to declare killing a handicapped 1-year-old as unlawful but then say it's perfectly fine to kill an handicapped unborn baby.

    "Besides, like the argument for cases of rape and incest, this argument is irrelevant to the issue of abortion on demand. Pro-choice people want the right to have abortion for whatever reason they want (or even no reason at all)...not just for cases of deformed or handicapped babies. As mentioned in the argument for cases of rape and incest, arguing to allow all abortions because you'll have to allow abortions in certain, specific instances is like arguing to allow all traffic violations because you'll have to violate traffic laws in certain, specific instances.

    "Furthermore, it is presumptuous to assume that we know every deformed/handicapped child is better off not living. If that is the pro-choice advocates' belief, then why don't they also advocate killing all the existing deformed/handicapped people (not just children)? The fact is, there are many deformed/handicapped children who are happy, and there are many physically/mentally sound children who are extremely unhappy. Handicaps and unhappiness in life are not a 1:1 correlation.

    "In addition, some children diagnosed as having some problem while in the womb are actually born defect-free. If you could talk to an aborted child who was not really afflicted with some ailment, could you look at him/her face-to-face? What would you say? "Oops... the doctor told me you had a medical problem"?

    "Finally, like the argument for cases of rape and incest, it is never right to kill another person to relieve your own burden. Is it acceptable to kill your spouse because s/he is a burden on you? The day we believe that we can improve our own lives by snuffing out others' lives will be the beginning of the end of civilized society."

    Thought for Today

    The more unnatural anything is, the more it is capable of being the object of dismal admiration.

    --Thomas Paine, "The Age of Reason"

    Web Sites of the Week

    How much is Iraq costing us? Get the up-to-the-second answer at Cost of the War.

    Don't want to help John Kerry, even indirectly? Buy "W" Ketchup.

    Blogging: everybody's doing it. Even Michael Moore. Michael Moore's blog.

    You Oughta Be in Pictures

    Committed to change? Well, you can tell the world how you feel in a television commercial to be produced for MoveOn by Errol Morris, director of "Fog of War." How do you audition? Right here.

    Message from God

    If this is authentic, He/She is pissed.

    Jesus Talks to Jimmy Breslin

    Hey, if God can talk to George Bush, Jesus can certainly reach out to Jimmy Breslin.

    "The public wants to hear politicians talk about their religion," the Republican message went out to all members.

    Straight off, here was George Bush in West Virginia:

    "God bless you. And God bless America."

    Here was Cheney in someplace, I don't know where he was and he didn't seem to know, either:

    "God bless the United States of America."

    That was just the start. They are going to go right through to November. From every podium will be heard:

    "This nation is under Jesus Christ!!!"

    [...]In an effort to save their jobs, Bush and Cheney are calling on Christ to walk with them all through the Low IQ states, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana. That is where Bush half smiles or smirks, it is hard to tell which, and he says Christ and waves his arm and the crowd screams: "Jeeee-zus!"

    [...] And Christ is saying, "They go in all these churches, but do they ever look up once and see a crucifix? That's how the religion was started. It was an execution. Now they use my name to call for more executions? Bush never looks up at a cross. Would he know what he is looking at?"

    Bush says that Christ is on his side on abortion, late-term abortions, same-sex marriages, stem cell research. "Do they think any of this is as important as a mother who can't feed and clothe her children? I don't know where he gets it all from," Christ said. "I never said anything like that in the Scriptures." Thought for Today

    "'I feel like God wants me to run for President. I can't explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me. Something is going to happen... I know it won't be easy on me or my family, but God wants me to do it.'"

    --George W. Bush, to evangelist James Robinson, reported in The Guardian

    The John Kerry/Bruce Springsteen Ticket

    This morning Swami went back into the New York Times files to read about John Edwards.

    "Well, I don't know it [what it is to struggle] anymore, but I did know it growing up," he says. "You don't forget where you come from. You never forget."
    Swami then moved right on to Paul Krugman's column about employment figures. The key lines:

    If you want a single number that tells the story, it's the percentage of adults who have jobs. When Mr. Bush took office, that number stood at 64.4. By last August it had fallen to 62.2 percent. In June, the number was 62.3. That is, during Mr. Bush's first 30 months, the job situation deteriorated drastically. Last summer it stabilized, and since then it may have improved slightly. But jobs are still very scarce, with little relief in sight.

    Bush campaign ads boast that 1.5 million jobs were added in the last 10 months, as if that were a remarkable achievement. It isn't. During the Clinton years, the economy added 236,000 jobs in an average month. Those 1.5 million jobs were barely enough to keep up with a growing working-age population.
    This gave Swami fresh hope. If all those unemployed people vote--and why shouldn't they? it's not like they have to work overtime--Kerry benefits big-time.

    Then came the spiritual moment: Swami turned on his television to watch the official announcement of Kerry's running mate. The music seemed familiar. And thrilling. Swami thought it was the stirring guitar whine that opens Steve Earle's "Transcendental Blues." But the singer never came in, and as the music faded, an announcer said it was Bruce Springsteen's "Land of Hope and Dreams." Swami was less certain--Springsteen generally keeps out of politics at this level, and his willingness to let Kerry use his song would be Big News in some circles--but Swami surely would have liked to hear some of Bruce's words blasting over the crowd in Pittsburgh:

    Leave behind your sorrows
    Let this day be the last
    Tomorrow there'll be sunshine
    And all this darkness past
    Big wheels roll through fields
    Where sunlight streams
    Meet me in a land of hope and dreams

    "Hope and dreams." Kind of...uplifting, isn't it? What is the Bush theme song-- "My Way"? "First I Look at the Purse"? "Money"? Oh, wait, Swami knows: that country-western hit about 9/11 and kicking ass.

    For the Swamster, a very bracing morning. And for you?

    Weekend Highlights

    Colin Powell opposed gays in the military, but he sure looked as if he was having a great time singing the hardcore gay disco hit, "YMCA," at the end of Asia's largest security meeting.

    The Baltimore Sun reports that American soldiers in Iraq received virtually none of the critical spare parts they needed to keep their tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles running. They ran chronically short of food, water and ammunition. Their radios often failed them. Their medics had to forage for medical supplies, artillery gunners had to cannibalize parts from captured Iraqi guns, and intelligence units provided little useful information about the enemy.

    The New York Post reports that at July 4th ceremonies at Ground Zero "members of the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kan., carried placards denouncing homosexuals and insisting 'American sin' was responsible for 9/11. When the group began singing 'God Hates America,' a police officer assigned to protect them turned his back in disgust, while a pack of Hells Angels bikers revved their engines and made obscene gestures." Why do these Christians hate our freedom?

    President Bush was speaking, which means that protestors were far out of sight. But at this rally in Charleston, West Virginia, something was different--two protestors, taken out of the crowd in restraints by police, "said they were told they couldn't be there because they were wearing shirts that said they opposed the president." And why do these police hate our freedom?

    John Kerry on Abortion

    The Washington Post quotes John Kerry's view of abortion: "I oppose abortion, personally. I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception."

    Spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said that although Kerry has often said abortion should be "safe, legal and rare," and that his religion shapes that view, she could not recall him ever publicly discussing when life begins.

    "I can't take my Catholic belief, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist," he continued in the interview. "We have separation of church and state in the United States of America."

    Swami on Abortion

    The Kerry news inspired a reader to ask: "Where do you stand on abortion (mainly partial-birth)?"

    Swami likes questions even better than he likes answers (it's his Talmudic heritage). But this is not a hard one, for Swami has just watched Chris Rock's "Never Scared" HBO special for like the third or fourth time (hey, funny is funny). And Chris has a lot to say about abortion.

    On tours past, he'd say:

    Abortion [is] a women's issue. We should have separate Supreme Courts: one for men, one for women. It's bad enough that a bunch of men get to vote on abortion. I wouldn't want a bunch of women voting on what I could do with my balls.
    On his recent tour concert--filmed for HBO--he was more personal.

    Your girlfrend tells you she's pregnant. If you mention the a-word--if you even say 'a'--you're a dead man. There is only one thing--just one--you can say: 'Whatcha gonna do?' Because the fate of that baby will be decided by a tribunal of your woman and her girl friends....
    Which is pretty much what Swami feels. It's not for men to say, it's completely a woman's decision. As soon as a guy butts in with an opinion, he's over the line.

    Swami frowns on male intrusions into women's rights, but he finds men mouthing off on late-term abortion especially inappropriate. Late term abortion is almost always a medical issue. The key participants are a woman, her doctor, her husband/partner, and her defective fetus. This is a family tragedy--not my business, not yours, and certainly not the government's.

    Swami could almost argue that late-term abortion is more justified than first trimester abortion, given that early abortions are less about the health of the fetus or the mother than the woman's social situation.

    Your thoughts?

    Thought for Today

    I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.

    --Dwight D. Eisenhower

    One Nation, Indivisible

    Swami will leave it to Loose Canon to tell you about the great fireworks celebrations the Anglican bishops have planned for the weekend. And, for the old-fashioned patriots among you, there's the White House July 4th celebration, at which President Bush paints a flag (between the lines--nice!) and throws some football passes. Oops, that was Independence Day, 2001. Ages ago. Makes Swami nostalgic.

    Which is not to say Swami derides our country. Swami has to say this more often than he'd like, but we are blessed to live in the most amazing nation on the planet. Not because of the government--we deserve better than this--but because of our people. What a resilient bunch we are! Make health care unaffordable, raise prices of prescription drugs, cut after-school programs, decimate the environment, under-fund AIDS, gut scientific research--and still we find reasons to be cheerful.

    That spirit--that radiant optimism in the face of national decline and an ever-darkening future--is what Swami celebrates this weekend. So give yourselves a big hand. You deserve it. As for our elected leaders, let them be condemned to memorize the Declaration of Independence--and then spend the rest of the day reading Thomas Paine.

    Cruel and unusual punishment? Swami stands with the irascible Jimmy Breslin:

    ....this is no time to be kind or, the absolute worst, even-handed in the face of people who thrilled at the first day's invasion notices and then never wanted to look or hear about the casualty lists that followed.
    Michael Moore Trivia

    Did you know...

    ...that the biggest part of the profits of "Fahrenheit 9/11" will go to...charity? In a little-noticed MSN dispatch in late May, we learned that "Disney does not benefit from the movie it turned its back on. Any profits from the film's distribution that go to Miramax or Disney will be donated to charity." The Wall Street Journal (no link available) reports today that the charities will be selected by Disney, and that the recipients will probably be "noncontroversial organizations benefitting children, education and the like." Gee, a faith-based--because isn't Disney like a religion?--effort. Just like the President would have wanted.

    ...someone at a major publication finally wrote a sane piece on the movie. See Paul Krugman, in the New York Times:

    There has been much tut-tutting by pundits who complain that the movie, though it has yet to be caught in any major factual errors, uses association and innuendo to create false impressions. Many of these same pundits consider it bad form to make a big fuss about the Bush administration's use of association and innuendo to link the Iraq war to 9/11. Why hold a self-proclaimed polemicist to a higher standard than you hold the president of the United States?
    ...that James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, has a great idea for his followers who might want to express their opinion of Moore's movie (which they presumably haven't--and won't--seen).

    Filmmaker Michael Moore, writer/director of the new Bush-bashing documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," has made quite a career out of marketing himself as a man of the people, a populist everyman who fights passionately for the little guy.

    That's why we wanted to make sure "little guys" could let Moore know exactly what they think about his new movie.

    So if you have an opinion about the film--in which Moore plays fast and loose with the facts to build a case that President Bush is an idiot and the war in Iraq is all about oil profits--we suggest you send it to the following address:

    [MM's Address removed]

    That's his home--a condominium this man of the people, so critical of capitalism, spent $4.5 million on seven years ago. And please don't worry that it's wrong to use this address; it's public record, obtained through New York State mortgage records... Nice guy, that Dobson.

    Swami's Kind of Protest

    What's a silent, beautiful way for New Yorkers to protest the Bush re-nomination at the Republican Convention? Light Up the Sky.

    For God and Country

    You know the White House has gone too far when even the Southern Baptists howl. Why? Because the Bush-Cheney team wants religious volunteers to fork over church directories, hand out issue guides in their churches, and get their pastors to sponsor voter registration drives.

    Naturally, the campaign believes this religious outreach program is within the framework of the law. Naturally, tax experts are less sure of that. But it's the Baptists who may have the final word. As Reuters notes:

    The Rev. Richard Land, who deals with ethics and religious liberty issues for the Southern Baptist Convention, a key Bush constituency, said he was "appalled."

    "First of all, I would not want my church directories being used that way," he said, predicting failure for the Bush plan. Call to Action: Rush Must Go

    Rush Limbaugh gets to spout his hateful, bilious monologues to our troops abroad. Al Franken doesn't get a word in. Bet if the troops could choose, they'd love to see Rush gone. But they can't choose, so it's your turn to speak out: online petition to force Rush off the military airwaves:

    We request that Secretary Rumsfeld remove talk radio host Rush Limbaugh from the American Forces Radio and Television Service (formerly known as Armed Forces Radio). Mr. Limbaugh, whose program is broadcast for one hour per day to U.S. troops overseas, has spent the past four weeks condoning and trivializing the abuse, torture, rape and possible murder of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. guards at the Abu Ghraib prison-gross misconduct that you have described as "fundamentally un-American."
    Is There a Geek in the House?

    Just when you think these guys can't be more full of it, Washington Monthly blows your mind once again:

    The Bush administration is offering a novel reason for denying a request seeking the Justice Department's database on foreign lobbyists: Copying the information would bring down the computer system.

    "Implementing such a request risks a crash that cannot be fixed and could result in a major loss of data, which would be devastating," wrote Thomas J. McIntyre, chief in the Justice Department's office for information requests.

    ..."This was a new one on us. We weren't aware there were databases that could be destroyed just by copying them," Bob Williams of the Center for Public Integrity said Tuesday. And as for the "Education President," scroll down to:

    A U.S. Census Bureau study shows that Texas again ranks last in the percentage of high school graduates.

    The study released Tuesday shows that 77 percent of Texans age 25 and older had a high school degree in 2003, the same percentage as a decade earlier, when Texas ranked 39th in the country. Meanwhile, graduation rates in other states have improved and a record 85 percent of Americans have high school degrees. Reward him with another term, your state can give Texas some competition.

    Book for the Weekend: The Doctor's Wife

    She's a writing teacher. Her husband is a doctor who gets dragged by an old girlfriend into donating his services to a besieged abortion clinic.

    She's having an affair with an artist. Her husband's too busy to notice.

    The artist's wife is a religious zealot. It doesn't take much to mobilize her.

    Violence. Adultery. Abortion. These are the elements of a great thriller, and Elizabeth Brundage has written one in her first novel, The Doctor's Wife. It may annoy you, it may have you cheering, but it will make you think about these people--and these issues--intensely along the way. And you won't go to bed until you finish.

    A good weekend to you all.

    Thought for Today

    "If anybody wishes to understand me, they must listen to my music; if anybody wishes to know my 'philosophy', then they can read any of the Church Fathers; if anybody wishes to know about my private life, there are things that I wish to keep closed."

    --Arvo Part, composer

    "Put the Words of God in the Hands of Children"

    After wading through the spam mail from penny stock scammers, porn sites, and African trillionaires who want Swami to hold their money, Swami is ready for a website with a religious purpose. Today he features My Kingdom Pals, a site that celebrates eight Old and New Testament heroes.

    Swami, as ever, wishes these folks would hire him to punch up the writing. "The soft and gentle lyrics of Jesus." Soft? Gentle? Help Swami here, people.

    Father Joe: Not a Full Confession

    Regular readers will recall that Swami flipped over Tony Hendra's book, "Father Joe," an account of the comedy writer's salvation through a long, long friendship with a modest priest. So Swami was stunned to open the New York Times this morning and read " Daughter Says Father's Confessional Book Didn't Confess His Molestation of Her," in which Hendra's 39-year-old daughter accuses him of sexual abusing her. Hendra denies it...sort of.

    What does Swami think? Hard to know in any "he said/she said" dispute, though the "evidence" seems to favor the daughter. But looking at the larger point, Swami cannot help but wonder how Hendra wrote this warts-and-all book without discussing his relationship with his daughter. Did he seriously think he could claim to confess all without mentioning these troubles? Did he not see that his silence might fuel her anger--and that rage might lead her to the press?

    It's stretching only a bit to say that George W. Bush has somewhat the same problem. He swears he's telling us the truth--and then we catch him in one lie after another. Swami doesn't understand: Why insist you're 100% truthful in the first place? It's not realistic...for any of us. And that blanket insistence on probity only makes you look foolish and hypocritical when flaws and misstatements are revealed. As they always are. Always.

    Read the article. See what you think.

    Fahrenheit 9/11

    Swami has discussed Michael Moore's film, but not reviewed it. That is because Swami and the Moores go way back, and Swami is just scrupulous enough to know that his friendship with the filmmakers might influence his take on the film.

    But Swami has spent the better part of the last two days listening to the Arvo Part music that Moore uses in the 9/11 segment. And that got Swami to thinking about the imagery Moore uses there. And that pushed Swami to ask you--as a favor to yourself--to go see this one part of "Fahrenheit 9/11."

    That's right. Go for fifteen minutes. It takes ten minutes to get to the 9/11 sequence. And then comes the five minute segment Swami wants you to see. Over the remarkable music, you won't be tortured with a single clichéd shot of a plane cutting across the New York skyline or a building collapsing. It's just abstraction, paper floating against dust and smoke. And faces, stark with shock and horror. Those images, those people...they will rip the scabs from your memories of 9/11 and make everything fresh again--you will know tragedy for what it is.

    Then, if you want, get up and leave.

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