Thought for Today

If you're a business guy, no one tells you to "shut up and do business [and] stay out of public policy." If you're in a big corporation, you influence the government your way, right?
--Bruce Springsteen in the Wall Street Journal, talking about the double standard that comes into play when entertainers venture into politics

A Favor for Little Uptown

That I want John Kerry to be President is not news.

That most of you who come here regularly also want Kerry elected--again, no surprise.

I don't need to ask you to vote--you will. [Do be especially nice to those older people--Mother Uptown among them--working the polls. It's a long day, with strange equipment.]

I do need to ask you--especially if you live in a swing state, or who have friends and relatives in a swing state--to do that hard thing: talk politics to friends and family.

How can you reach them this late in the game?

My thought: make it personal.

The Uptowns have, as you may know, a two-and-a-half year-old daughter. We're old; she's it. Our hope for her is that she'll be a good citizen of the planet, that she'll relieve a bit of misery and add a bit of knowledge and joy. Our responsibility is to protect and guide her and educate her until she's old enough, strong enough and educated enough to flap her wings and go it alone.

We take this responsibility seriously. Because we work at home, we spend outrageous time with her. We take her pretty much everywhere; she's visited even more museums than zoos. And it's largely because of her that I go to a gym three mornings a week and, under the prodding of a rugby player who's way too smart to be charmed by the likes of me, lift steel until my muscles scream and my eyes are about to pop--damned if I'm gonna croak before I dance with Little Uptown at her wedding.

But the Bush crowd--they don't care about Little Uptown. The wind blows West to East, picking up crap from ever-less-regulated smokestacks, and that crap ends up in our kid's lungs. She can't eat much fish, or she'll get mercury poisoning. And don't get us started on what global warming could do to make her world politically unstable and environmentally dangerous.

The environment. That's our issue. Even more than Iraq--Iraq will end, and soon, no matter who's President. But damage to the planet persists. Even if you vote Bush out and change the regulations and put a gun to the heads of corporate polluters, it's going to take years to turn the environment around.

Americans don't like to think long-term. Unless it's for their kids. Maybe, beyond their blessed tax breaks and their "I've got mine" smugness, you can get friends and family to understand why so much is at stake in this election. Why there clearly is a difference between the candidates. Why, at some level, you're begging for your kid's--and their kid's--life.

What Can You Do?

Voting Tueday? Got a video camera? Would you take it with you when you go to vote? And if you see anything funky, alert the Video Vigil crew, who will post your video on the web as fast as those pixels can fly.

What Can You Do? (2)

First, take Tuesday off. Then get on your bike and make like Paul Revere--meet at coffee houses and bike shops in your community every hour on the hour, to either bike with bells on, or support those who are.

What Can You Do? (3)

Re Rush Limbaugh appearing on NBC on Election Night, you can write to the head of NBC News (scroll down to "Today's Action Item: Rush Limbaugh on NBC" for more details). The best e-mail I've seen so far is from my ultra-articulate friend Robert S:

I am frankly stunned by your decision to have Rush Limbaugh appear on NBC. His callous, cruel and patently incendiary commentary, his racist, anti-democratic, xenophobic point of view, his denigration and attempted erosion of the principles that keep America free, call for a response above the norm: not only will I not watch NBC, but I will TIVO NBC, speed through the programming later, but make note of every national advertiser. I will email them individually of my intention to boycott their products and place the blame squarely on NBC. If I am able to find out who will be advertising prior to his appearance, I'll do it then.
Can you top that? Please CC me when you write neal.shapior@nbcuni.com.

Will Brett Favre Throw a Touchdown Pass to John Kerry?

By e-mail, our faithful reader Renee makes an intriguing argument:

In election years with an incumbent running, when the Sox win their division, the incumbent is re-elected. But the last time the Sox won the World Series, the incumbent was defeated.

What about football?

In election years with an incumbent running, when the Washington Redskins win their last home game before the election, the incumbent wins the election. In the last home game before this election, the 'Skins will be playing the Green Bay Packers.

It's up to Bret Favre to save the world.

Lending credence to this scenario is the fact that Bret Favre, in the past calendar year, has endured far too much--the death of his father, his brother-in-law's tragic fatal ATV accident, and now his wife's diagnosis with breast cancer. Does this not lead one to believe that the Minions of the Evil War Mongering Neo-Fascist Regime (Cheney, Ashcroft, Wolfowitz and Co.) are calling in help from the Realms of Darkness to lay traps in the path of the Leader of the Cheese Nation?

Bret, we're counting on you. The Terror Tape: Wasn't That Ali G?

So the CIA can't authenticate the tape. The spy boys aren't the only ones who are raising eyebrows over this 90-minute video. On the right wing blogs, the Freepers are asking, "Isn't this guy too...gay to be a terrorist?" Others wonder if this is an Ali G prank. Closer to home, Mrs. Uptown remarked that "Little Uptown's Halloween costume is scarier."

Of course the tape might be real. And we might be too jaded to appreciate that. But after a couple of years of Bush/Cheney threatening us with nuclear extinction if we don't let them keep us safe, you can understand how we'd be a little skeptical by any "al Qaeda" threat delivered in Engish.

Iraq: So What Are You Gonna Believe? What I Tell You or Your Lying Eyes?

Nah-nah-nah-boo-boo, Loose Canon and all the other knee-jerk naysayers of wingnut negativity--those Iraqi explosives, secured by UN inspectors, were still secure when American troops arrived, nine days after Saddam was toppled. Our guys broke the seals in at least one bunker. And left. Three weeks later, those explosives were gone. (You can read the New York Times account--or if, like LC, you have secret knowledge that the Times is just Pravda-in-drag, the Minneapolis TV station whose crew made the decisive tape.

Oh, there are surely details we don't know--like how much of that cache was used to make the devices used against us. And how much American soldiers (and others, whose lives are of equal value, just not to us) died as a result. But as for the main points, the story holds. Today--Friday--the Pentagon produced a major who spoke of removing 200 tons of explosives, but he turned out to talking about an ammunition removal mission near all QaQaa, not explosives, and, honorable fellow that he was, he wouldn't say more than he knew.

A few hours later, Josh Marshall pointed us to a more meaningful military official, who reports:

An Iraqi working for U.S. intelligence alerted U.S. troops stationed near the al Qaqaa weapons facility that the installation was being looted shortly after the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003.

But, they said, the troops took no apparent action to halt the pillaging.

"That was one of numerous times when Iraqis warned us that ammo dumps and other places were being looted and we weren't able to respond because we didn't have anyone to send," said a senior U.S. military officer who served in Iraq. Poor Bush. He can run, but he can't hide--not from his own Army, anyway.

The Fun Part: "How Painful Was It When the Doctor Removed Your Sense of Shame?"

Triumph, the insult comedy dog, visits Spin Alley. [Warning: This dog has a potty mouth.]

Thought for Today

"I'm just going to delicatessens and having fun. We're on a tour bus going from deli to deli. There's a lot of bad breath on the bus."
--Larry David, star of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and co-creator of "Seinfeld," as he campaigns for John Kerry in Boca Raton and South Florida

The Red Sox: Thanks, Guys

The great conservative thinker--yes, there are some--James Q. Wilson says America doesn't really concentrate on a Presidential election until the World Series ends.

A 7-game series would have ended Sunday....around midnight.

Leaving one day for America to get serious about politics.

Now, thanks to the Sox sweep, baseball is over.

Leaving five days for politics.

Who thinks this is good for Bush?

390 Tons: Mr. President, We Can Handle the Truth

For those who want to examine the controversy over 390 tons of missing explosives in excruciating detail, Andrew Sullivan (usually to be found on the right) and Josh Marshall (always to be found on the left) track the complicated chronology.

I'd like to focus on something else: what the military knows and what the military has said.

Look at this account:

The first U.S. military unit to reach the site in Iraq where U.N. officials say 377 tons of high explosives are missing did not carry out a hunt for such material, the unit's commander said on Wednesday.

Col. Dave Perkins, then the commander of the 2nd Brigade of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, said the immediate concern when his troops reached the Al Qaqaa site on April 3, 2003, was to defeat a couple of hundred Iraqi troops who were firing from the compound as the Americans surged toward Baghdad.

Perkins also said it was "very highly improbable" that enemy forces could have trucked out such a huge amount of explosives in the weeks after U.S. forces first arrived there, considering the high level of U.S. military presence and how clogged the roads around the site were with U.S. convoys. And it's not just Col. Perkins. From The New York Times:

The commander of the troops that went into the Al Qaqaa facility on the way to Baghdad in early April, Col. Joseph Anderson, of the Second Brigade of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, has said he was never told the site was considered sensitive, or that international inspectors had visited it before the war began.
My question for Loose Canon: Why is the Pentagon persistently knifing the President? Is it possible the military wants Kerry to win? (Or is the military essentially neutral, and its leaders just represent the best of America?)

Bush finally addressed the missing explosives yesterday (mostly to criticize Kerry for jumping to conclusions--like he didn't!). Again, from The New York Times:

But Mr. Bush on Thursday did not address a critical issue raised by the discovery of the missed explosives: why American forces were not alerted to the existence of a huge cache of explosives, even though the atomic energy agency and American officials had publicly discussed the threat it posed, and knew its exact location.
But wait--the "weapons of mass destruction" were the reason (one of many, changing all the time) we were hell-bent on toppling Saddam (or, at least, his statue).

You would have thought we'd secure any and all weapons dumps--we knew where they were, thanks to the U.N. inspectors---at the same time we secured the oil fields. Maybe even before we secured the oil fields.

But we didn't.

Only two reasons make sense:

One, they weren't really important.

Two, however important they were, we just didn't have enough soldiers to fight Saddam's troops and, at the same time, protect Iraq's most troublesome assets.

Loose Canon tells us it's not a disaster. Two-day old, completely discredited news reports and hot air from conservative pundits are all the proof she needs to blow off the whole affair as liberal propaganda (oh, for the days of the Swift Boat Veterans, when LC wanted us to read the book and consider the possibility that there were two sides to the accounts of Kerry's heroism)

. During the Monica Lewinsky scandal--and it was a scandal, though hardly on the order of this wretched war--people joked about "Presidential kneepads." One might ask: How tall are LC and her cronies standing?

The Missing Explosives: An Easy Solution

There is a way to resolve this controversy--let's look at the satellite images we took of Iraq. Did the Russians spirit these explosives out of Iraq? Did a ragtag convoy of looters take the stuff as souvenirs? The Pentagon knows. Colin Powell knows. Bush knows.

But they're silent on this point. All of them. And their silence convicts them.

So Where Are All The Troops?

Look at this Bush rally. There are your troops. Lots of them. Well, maybe not. Looks like the Repubs used Photoshop to turn an Army of one into a crowd of many. Maybe they could figure out a way to use Photoshop to create a Potemkin army in Iraq.

Query to LC: Does this count as cheating? Would it count as cheating if Kerry did it?

Rudy Giuliani Just Lost the Military Vote

"America's Mayor"--just ask him--was on the "Today" Show this morning and, when asked about the missing explosives, reportedly said:

The actual responsibility for it really would be for the troops that were there. Did they search carefully enough? Didn't they search carefully enough?
Hey, isn't that criticizing the troops? Undermining their morale? Isn't that what Bush says Kerry does? If case you didn't think he was a jerk...file this away. (You can bet Hillary Clinton is laughing at Rudy's gigundo gaffe.)

When Johnny Comes Marching Home: Some Truth About the Troops

In his documentary, "Soldiers Pay"--to be aired Monday night on IFC, the Independent Film Channel--David O. Russell (he directed "Three Kings") interviews soldiers (pro and anti-war), Iraqis, Democrats and Republicans. His takeaway:

The soldiers uniformly report how ill-equipped American forces are, not even having proper gas masks or water supply or flak vests - while private Halliburton contractors, former soldiers doing exactly what our troops are doing - earn huge salaries and enjoy vast privileges and the best equipment available.
Why Kerry Doesn't Have a 10-Point Lead

Here's an explanation from Seymour Hersh, New Yorker writer and author of Chain of Command:

I think one thing you have to face up to is the fact there are roughly 70 million people in America who do not believe in evolution--and those are Bush supporters.
Today's Action Item: Rush Limbaugh on NBC

So NBC seems to have hired Rush to bloviate on Election Night. Media Matters makes the case against him:

Limbaugh has a track record of using extreme, hateful speech that has no place in civil discourse. To pick just a few examples from this year, as documented by Media Matters for America: Limbaugh compared the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib to a fraternity prank, telling America and an international audience on the taxpayer-funded American Forces Radio and Television Service that the torture was a "brilliant maneuver" and that the photos were "good old American pornography." Limbaugh further claimed that "the reaction to the stupid torture is an example of the feminization of this country." He has also labeled Senator John Kerry a "stupid S.O.B." and a "gigolo."

Limbaugh's racist commentary also makes him unsuitable for an appearance on your network. Just last month, Limbaugh, commenting on Reverend Jesse Jackson joining the Kerry campaign, stated: "The Kerry campaign has finally gotten a chocolate chip," sparking outrage in the African American community. On March 26, Limbaugh said: "Hugo, Cesar -- whatever. A Chavez is a Chavez. We've always had problems with them." The talk show host also claimed: "[T]ruce is an old Arabic word. Goes way, way back in Islamic-Arabic culture, and it means, 'We will get you later.'"

Limbaugh's sexist commentary is beyond the pale as well. Last spring, Limbaugh said that women "actually wish" for sexual harassment. Limbaugh shared with listeners his "pet name" for the National Organization for Women (NOW): "National Association of Gals" (his acronym: "NAG"), claiming that the "militant feminists" who make up the "NAGs" "aren't determining who wins elections. White men are." What can we do? Just what we did to Sinclair Broadcasting. In this case, write to Neil Shapiro, head of NBC News--neal.shapior@nbcuni.com

Here's a draft of a message you might want to send:

Surely there is a genuine, thoughtful conservative you could hire to "balance" your Election Night coverage.

If you hire Rush Limbaugh to do commentary for Election Night 2004, I won't watch NBC. I will, however, endeavor to learn who your advertisers are that night, and then I will boycott them--and tell them the reason why. Halloween Fun

The Monster Slash. Yes, a parody of that song. With the political angle you expect. (That liberal media!) But short. And--some would say--amusing.

Thought for Today

Come along, follow me, as I lead through the darkness.
As I provide just enough spark that we need, to proceed.
Carry on, give me hope, give me strength, come with me, and I won't steer you wrong.
Give your faith and your trust, as I guide us through the fog, to the light at the end of the tunnel
--Eminem, from "Mosh"

Eminem: The October Surprise

Americans of a certain age--boomers who lived through the Civil Rights years--feel a nostalgia for the music of that period that can't be easily shaken. Dylan, Baez, and their crew filled our hearts with commitment and hope and the promise of community; no one's come along since to write a new generation's "Masters of War" or "With God on Our Side."

Well, the new Dylan is here--and he's none other than Eminem.

Yeah, that guy. The potty-mouth rapper. Who just happens to have made some scorching CDs and one of 2002's better movies. And who, a week before the election, has released a new song ("Mosh") and a video. "Mosh" is making its way around the Internet as quickly as kids can hit the FORWARD button.

It should be. It's beyond exciting--I'm more turned on by this video than by any film I've seen this year. The graphics are chilly as old Fritz Lang movies, and the steady pounding of Eminem's music is just as Germanic. But then Eminem makes a thrilling turn--he bends fear of the evil Bush government into hope. How? Youth on the march. Kids taking to the steets. And ending up.....in the voting line.

A blogger's take:

Mosh lets the world know that there is an army of us out there, and we're not going to be intimidated or silenced, and we're not going away.

Mosh puts the thugs at the highest levels on notice: Not this time will you divide and conquer. Not this time will you have us knocking each other instead of knocking you out of power.

There's an undercurrent of resolve. You've felt it. Some people want to call it rage, and yes, there is some of that. But do you know what it really is? It's a fierce hope.

A fierce hope that the people still have it in them to take power back from those who've stolen it. A fierce hope that the people still care enough about each other to take up the arms of voter registration cards and ballots and fight. A fierce hope that the determination of millions will not... cannot be thwarted by the money and lies of a few. Over the top? Not at all. "Mosh" is just that exciting. Listen for yourself-- right here--with your speakers cranked high.

And then, if you will, forward it to every kid who's registered to vote but might...you know....forget.

Laugh of the Day

From the corrections column of the Wall Street Journal:

NEWS CORP.'S Fox News was incorrectly described in a page-one article Monday as being sympathetic to the Bush cause.

"The Jewish Vote"

You'd think it's a monolithic force--a closed-ranks cadre that asks only "Who's good for the Jews?" and always answers "The Democrats."

But wait, hasn't Bush given Israel more support than any President in history? Shouldn't he be the beneficiary of many Jewish votes--indeed, of "the Jewish vote"?

Apparently not, says Peter Beinart in the Washington Post:

Early this year some Republicans boasted that Bush would realign Jewish American politics -- ending the community's 80-year love affair with the Democratic Party. In recent weeks, however, with polls showing most Jews planning to vote for John Kerry, the brash predictions have stopped. Jewish Democrats are poised to declare victory, to announce that Bush's overtures have come to naught.

But that won't be true. Because while President Bush hasn't realigned the Jewish vote, he has done something even more intriguing: He has ended it. History Disappears

Here's the opening page of Milan Kundera's "Book of Laughter and Forgetting":

In February 1948, the Communist leader Klement Gottwald stepped out on the balcony of a Baroque palace in Prague to harangue hundreds of thousands of citizens massed in Old Town Square. That was a great turning point in the history of Bohemia. A fateful moment of the kind that occurs only once or twice a millennium.

Gottwald was flanked by his comrades, with Clementis standing close to him. It was snowing and cold, and Gottwald was bareheaded. Bursting with solicitude, Clementis took off his fur hat and set it on Gottwald's head.

The propaganda section made hundreds of thousands of copies of the photograph taken on the balcony where Gottwald, in a fur hat and surrounded by his comrades, spoke to the people. On that balcony the history of Communist Bohemia began. Every child knew that photograph, from seeing it on posters and in schoolbooks and museums.

Four years later, Clementis was charged with treason and hanged. The propaganda section immediately made him vanish from history and, of course, from all photographs. Ever since, Gottwald has been alone on the balcony. Where Clementis stood, there is only the bare palace wall. Nothing remains of Clementis but the fur hat on Gottwald's head. I thought of that passsage as I read about the "scrubbing" of the White House website on Bradblog:

On Nov. 1, 2001 George W. Bush issued Executive Order #13233 which modified some of the measures of the "Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978", instituted in the wake of the Nixon Administration's legal imbroglio over which Presidential documents were private and which were public. The PRA, according to the National Archives, "changed the legal ownership of the official records of the President from private to public."

In a bit of Orwellian irony that has now become all too recognizable for the Bush Administration, their Executive Order #13233 which modified that PRA, is not listed at all on the White House website page entitled "Executive Orders Issued by President Bush". And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Brad's piece tells how how many "inconvenient" events and comments have--like Clementis--"disappeared."

Visualize Winning

Here's another pick-me-upper going around in the best e-mail circles. It's called Visualize Winning. Damned if it doesn't pack a wallop.

The Beauty Part

Mortally wounded, King Arthur was brought to the enchanted island of Avalon and placed on a golden bed. Enchanted, indeed--the island was always ruled by a woman, and all her followers were women.

On the cover photo of this CD, we see the back of a knight's helmet. Resting on his hand is a falcon. They look out over clouds and what seems like the rising sun to a strip of land in the distance--a goal so prized it might as well be Avalon, the paradise where the knight might find rest. And comfort. Even, perhaps, love.

Dreamy music. Sexy and soul-stirring all at once. The CD? Of course --- Avalon, by Roxy Music.

Thought for Today

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.
--Milan Kundera, from "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting"

"I Can't Take It Any More"

So spoke Little Uptown (now two-and-a-half) this morning. She wasn't complaining about anything in particular--or anything at all. She was just quoting her mother, who is so fraught about the election it might become necessary to sedate her.

Mrs. Uptown's morning distress was, of course, the Republican reaction to the Big Story, the Only Story, the October Surprise (in reverse). I mean the 390 tons of gone-missing explosives that have hit the White House....no, I'm not going to say: like a bomb. Let's be kind: like a karmic ha-ha.

Here's the guy who says we're safer. But it's all words with this President (until it comes to tax cuts for the upper crust or forest cuts for big lumber-- then he's Action Man). For not only is he creating terrorists as surely as if he were running a terrorist factory, he's given them the weapons to use against us. Inspired by my Humvee metaphor of yesterday, a reader gives us some other ways to think about these 390 tons of death--"enough to sink 1,000 USS Coles, blow up 10,000 small buildings or make 20,000 to 40,000 roadside bombs."

Drudge and, briefly, CNN tried to whitewash Bush with a claim that these explosives disappeared before we toppled Saddam. But the very sources they cited punctured that story before the news cycle ended. This reduces Bush to calling Kerry a liberal and Cheney, now very much out of his crypt, describing Iraq as "a remarkable success story to date when you look at what's been accomplished overall."

Loose Canon, who I prayed would duck this one, has outdone herself today. For her, the explosives are a liberal media plot to torpedo Bush--a plot as misguided as the failed CBS exposure of Bush's National Guard service. Reading LC, I really can't be sure if she thinks there were ever any explosives at al Qaaqaa.

Not to bash a defenseless colleague, but LC's position reveals a psychological construct that's worth pointing out--the total denial that is the hallmark of this President and his most passionate supporters. There's no such thing as a fact with these people; for them, journalism is just opinion with the qualfiers left out. Unless the President or Bob Novak or David Brooks or Hannity or Coulter or Peggy Noonan says it. Then it's gospel truth.

The collision of fact and fantasy is never a happy one. That is why The Consumer Confidence Index dropped 3.9 points to 92.8. (No President seeking re-election has ever won when this number dips below 99.) The influential conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan has just endorsed Kerry. And The Cleveland Plain Dealer endorses no one--which is almost as good as an endorsement for Kerry.

All of this is bad, bad news for George Bush.

Am I wrong to be guardedly optimistic--to think that those people who have left their homes and jobs to knock on doors in battleground states really might make the difference? That the Constitution will be preserved? That women who choose to have abortions won't have to take boats out to hospital ships anchored beyond the three-mile limit? Is it just possible that people who cling to minority doctrine and manufacture fear will discover that we've had enough of cant and government-generated terror?

Yes, it's possible. It didn't seem so all summer. But now it does. Which is, I suspect, why Mrs. Uptown can't take it any more--nothing makes you tremble like unaccustomed hope.

"Hello, Is This the Military Strategy Hall of Fame? Are You Accepting Nominations for 2004 Yet?"

Yes, David Rees--the best topical humorist we've got--has put out a new edition of Get Your War On.

"War! What Is It Good For?"

Wrong question. Better to ask: Who is it good for? Some New York kids with attitude have made a telling video. (Warning: R-rated language at the end.)

Who are these kids? The same crew that made a video this summer featuring Bush & Co. as "a posse of rich white prep school kids who think they're gangsta."

Faith of Our Fathers

What does George Bush really believe? Whatever his (rare) visitor seems to believe. The New York Times reports:

In interviews with more than two dozen religious leaders who have met with the president, the startling thing that emerges is that Mr. Bush has managed to convince the most traditionalist believers of almost every stripe--Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and even Sikhs--that his beliefs are just like theirs. He charmed a group of Muslims when he said he could understand their concern about shutdowns of Islamic charities, because Christians are also required to tithe. He gave a bear hug to a visiting rabbi who had told the president in a meeting earlier that day that Israel was the Holy Land given to the Jews by God.

"The only Jews he doesn't seem to like," said another rabbi, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, "are the ones who aren't religious, because he can't understand them." Above all, Mr. Bush appears to have faith in faith. "I Believe in President Bush"

Thomas F. Schaller explains what "believing" in the President really means:

I believe we have enough troops on the ground in Iraq to ensure stability. I believe the rising American fatality rates, the rising casualty rates, and the rising American share of those coalition fatalities and casualties testify to the undeniable progress we're making there. I believe it is inappropriate and traitorous, however, for the media to broadcast pictures of American flag-draped caskets returning from Iraq....

I believe the best response against an Islamic fundamentalist network operating from a South Asian cave which used boxcutters to attack us is to invade a secular Arab dictator living in 11 palaces in a Middle Eastern country whose (supposed) weapon of choice was nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Domestically, I believe income tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans are the solution to budget surpluses or deficits, high or low inflation, stable or unstable interest rates, expanding or shrinking trade deficits, widening or narrowing wealth gaps, increasing or decreasing poverty rates, rising or falling unemployment, prosperity or recession, wartime or peace... The Beauty Part

Bruce Springsteen, cutting up at the Vote for Change concert in Washington, D.C. Makes you dream of seeing him play at the Inaugural Ball in January. Or would you prefer Toby Keith?

Thought for Today

Let the President answer on high anarchy
Strap him with AK-47, let him go
Fight his own war, let him impress daddy that way
No more blood for oil, we got our own battles to fight on our soil
No more psychological warfare to trick us to think that we ain't loyal
If we don't serve our own country we're patronizing a hero
Look in his eyes, it's all lies, the stars and stripes
They've been swiped, washed out and wiped,
And Replaced with his own face, mosh now or die
If I get sniped tonight you'll know why, because I told you to fight
--just some of "Mosh," the new song by Eminem Download it here.

"How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Boy, Mister Death?"

380 tons of ultra-deadly explosives goes missing in Iraq, and the official reaction from the White House is to slough this disaster--which occurred well over a year ago--onto the new Iraqi government, which didn't exist until late this spring and cannot possibly be responsible for it.

Oh, and the President--who really is concerned about your safety--"wants to find out what went wrong."

This is what happens when you don't read the papers--what went wrong was in The New York Times this morning. What was in danger of going wrong was in International Atomic Energy Agency reports before the war. What was on the verge of going wrong was communicated to our government by the Iraqis shortly after the liberation.

So all that remains, really, is to give you some sense of the disaster that now afflicts us--and our children.

It took less than one pound of RDX explosives to blow up Pan Am 103 over Scotland. Stolen from a once-secure facility in Iraq was 380 tons--that is 760,000 pounds--of this stuff. That's more than 20 standard tractor trailers packed with explosives.

Let's try a home-grown analogy. The Cadillac Escalade weighs about 6,000 pounds. Imagine 160 Escalades made out of explosives. And then remember that it only takes a pound to bring down a jumbo jet--think how much damage an artful terrorist could do.....

This is the gift our government--the government once obsessed with WMDs--has given to Iraqi insurgents and foreign terrorists. (Much of it may have left Iraq, for all we know; we haven't bothered to secure the border.) And make no mistake--these explosives have been used against our soldiers. As Juan Cole reports:

A lot of the roadside bombs that have killed hundreds of US troops and maimed thousands have been made of HMX and RDX, as suggested by how infrequently the guerrillas have blown themselves up in planting them. HMX and RDX are favored by terrorists because they are stable and will only explode via a blasting cap.
A monumental screw-up. Short of giving the insurgents nuclear weapons, it's hard to imagine what we could have done to top this. It obliterates all that comes before it.

It is a disaster of such magnitude that the mind resists it. No matter your politics, you think: "Okay, it's true, but it doesn't matter" or "We'll get this stuff back somehow." You do not think: Our swaggering empire, gorged on its own rhetoric, is now in greater danger than it's been since 9/11--and it's our fault. 100% our fault.

How anyone can now say he/she will vote for Bush because he's better equipped to make America "safer" boggles the mind. But you can be sure that pundits of small imagination and boundless ideological loyalty--pundits who preach faith over common sense--will do all they can to throw pixie dust in our eyes this week.

Kerry's slurping salsa before Communion and his odd belief that women should be in charge of their bodies--expect those really important issues to dominate the commentary of Loose Canon and her ilk. Bet this gang won't even mention Iraq this week (unless it's to cheer our "progress" and slag the "liberal" press for undermining the troops). But one Catholic will--Jimmy Breslin:

The Catholic bishops have a national issue, abortion. And this is what they want of a nation that has itself in a war that we appear to be losing. That is some commander in chief, this Bush. It looks like we're losing to Iraq. We come with unlimited bravery and planes and tanks and artillery and the people in Iraq run around in rags and sandals and they are winning. Nobody does well in the other guy's neighborhood. But we are against abortions.
Other pundits will, this week, have their own one-note trumpets. They all play the same tune: fear, hate, divisiveness, self-interest.

We can fault Kerry, if we must, for not raising the standard higher, for not sounding a battle cry so inspiring that we greet each other on the street with pumped fists and high fives and the sense that we will soon have America back. We can fault him for caution, for choosing the wrong wife, for all the silly and petty "flaws" that this gutter campaign has "revealed."

But if we're going to fault Kerry for "sins" so small they're not even misdemeanors, then we really ought--in the much-abused name of "fairness"--to pump up the rhetoric on the other side. What Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, and Powell have done in Iraq isn't a "mistake." It's not "deliberate deception." It's incompetence on crucial matters of national security on a scale so grand--so threatening to the safety of Americans in Iraq and at home--that we ought to call it what it has now, finally, been shown to be.

Criminal negligence. Dereliction of duty. And, just possibly, treason.

"We're All Wearing the Blue Dress Now"

You want to influence lots of your fellow Americans in this last week before the election? Consider freeway blogging.

Who Does Your Favorite Celeb Support?

Can't be serious all the time. Who does Christie Brinkley want to be President? And Pierce Brosnan? And Charlize Theron? Check the political celebrity register.

Film Fun

For whatever reason, I'm seeing a sudden burst of online creativity. Check out two clever commercials: Threats to Marriage and Permission.

And for those who like their politics spicy (that's code for "sexy"), these flag-waving, Bible-thumping girls are waiting for you....

That Wolf Commercial

You just knew this was coming: Wolf Packs for Truth.

Thought for Today

The Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Homeland Security are not going to be involved in the campaign.
--Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, on August 10, 2004. (He is currently touring the country, appearing at "public events" in the 17 most hotly contested states.)

Weekends are for...Movies

Admit it. If the election were held today, you'd be thrilled. You've had enough. The last thing you want is one more person talking at you.

Swami would love to indulge you. If he could, he'd bug out now and start phoning voters in Pennsylvania. But his editors at Beliefnet pay him the Big Bucks to Preach to the Choir and Confront the Unconverted. So he has to fill this space. What to do?

Got it! Remember in elementary school, when the teacher didn't want to teach? The King of the Nerds would wheel the AV cart in and you'd watch a 30-minute movie--usually "The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," if memory serves.

So...let's watch some film, shall we?

"My Brother Died Looking for Those Weapons"

A few weeks ago, Swami published a letter from Brooke Campbell, whose brother was killed in Iraq. She urged Americans not to vote for George Bush. "My brother," she said, "would not be pleased."

You may recall, at a black-tie dinner in Washington, the President made a joke about the hunt for weapons of mass destruction.

The President now shares the stage with Ms. Campbell in a new commercial.

Dances with Wolves

In the Bush campaign's latest commercial, we're in the forest. But these woods aren't "lovely, dark and deep."

Born in the USA

Bruce Springsteen delivers what he calls "my public service announcement."

The Amazing Disappearing Website

So the President didn't really spend much time thinking about Osama. Once you could see him saying that on the White House website. But...now you see it, now you don't. Here are interesting Bush moments that have been "scrubbed" from the White House website.

Don't Worry About a Draft--Unless You Need a Doctor

No draft. Read his lips. Or, for the truth, read The New York Times:

The Selective Service has been updating its contingency plans for a draft of doctors, nurses and other health care workers in case of a national emergency that overwhelms the military's medical corps.

In a confidential report this summer, a contractor hired by the agency described how such a draft might work, how to secure compliance and how to mold public opinion and communicate with health care professionals, whose lives could be disrupted. Don't Forget to Say "Merci"

Guess who made the flu vaccine that you'll be getting? France.

A French pharmaceutical company will supply 2.6 million extra anti-flu shots to help the United States cope with a vaccine shortage that has sparked public concern, a top U.S. health official said.

Tommy Thompson, Health and Human Services Secretary for the United States, said Aventis-Pasteur, a division of French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventis, will raise the number of vaccines available in the US to 58 million in January.

The doses represent more than half of what the United States needs. The Beauty Part

Swami never does the bait-and-switch, substituting pain for pleasure. But Swami has been thinking all day about Brooke Campbell and her brother, and the way she has chosen to honor his memory. (Some days Swami can't find a stand-up guy to save his soul; Swami never has trouble finding a stand-up woman.)

Did you click on Brooke Campbell's commercial (above)? If not, would you now? As a favor to Swami? Better: as a favor to your soul. Here you go.

Thought for Today

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.
--Saul Bellow

The Fun Stuff

  • Clothes from "Banana Republican," as worn by some of your favorite White House models.

  • The Bradley ("West Wing") Whitcomb commercial: "Support the Hollywood Elite. Re-elect George Bush."

    The Yankees and the Red Sox

    My city is reeling. How did this happen? Of the first-draft explanations, Swami was most receptive to the one offered by Yankee manager Joe Torre, moments after last night's game: "A few years ago, I kept asking myself, 'How did I get so lucky?' And now the bounces go the other way."

    Luck. Not a topic you hear about much these days, and there's a reason--The Haves see their success as proof of their virture. To hear them tell it, they inherited nothing, gained no advantage from the schools they attended, never got a leg up in the workplace because they were white or male. Nope, they just had Superior Brains and Champion Work Ethics and Good Personalities. Next thing they knew, they were Leaders of Men.

    Luck has been a huge factor, plus and minus, in Swami's life. Although there's no direct link, it's one of the reasons he likes Buddhism. For the Buddhists know that the ground is not solid, that things change, that "empire" is a man-made conceit.

    The series Swami watched was not a metaphor for Kerry vs. Bush. It was just great baseball. One team didn't choke. The other team just had better pitching and, when it counted, better hitting. Looking for larger meanings? Swami is sadly unhelpful. But he'd welcome, on the message boards or by e-mail, your Deep Thoughts.

  • The Dark Ages: How They Begin

    Swami read a message board post: "A co-worker's third-grader son [in Ohio] called him this afternoon in tears because someone at his school had said that his school (which the poor kid loves) will have to close if Kerry wins the election."

    As in all rumors in this season of "Bush = troops" and "Bush = no terrorists," you have to invert it in order for it to make any sense.

    Kerry's not going to close schools. That's a Bush play--metaphorically.

    Swami knows some kids who go to public school in Ohio. Five days a week, one period a day, they prepare to take the "No Child Left Behind" test that will tell the Secretary of Education how good their school is. They learn nothing in this period--except how to take the test. These kids are, in essence, unpaid workers for their local school system; for about five hours a week; they're pro bono government employees. As a parent, Swami would scream. But then, what can parents do? The Government has spoken: It will Leave No Child Alone.

    In a Bush second term, government-employed wingnuts and other forces that have worked behind the scenes would become bolder. They're organized, they know what they want, and given the lack of backbone of local authorities, we could see the start of a seismic change in the way we deal with knowledge. We used to trust science and reason; soon, there may be two sides to the history of the world.

    Which means that textbooks will change. Creationism will be taught alongside evolution. "Faith-based science"--a way of knowledge that was discredited soon after the heresy trial of Galileo (1633)--will change the way schools teach health (contraception bad, abstinence good) and geology (fossils were put here by Satan).

    This self-imposed blinding is how the Dark Ages return.

    We already see it encroaching. Small example: The gift shop at the Grand Canyon. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported:

    How old is the Grand Canyon? Most scientists agree with the version that rangers at Grand Canyon National Park tell visitors: that the 217-mile-long chasm in northern Arizona was carved by the Colorado River 5 million to 6 million years ago.

    ...On sale since last summer, "Grand Canyon: A Different View," by veteran Colorado River guide Tom Vail, asserts that the Grand Canyon was formed by the Old Testament flood, the one Noah's Ark survived, and can be no older than a few thousand years. In days to come: more signals that the Republicans, if elected, would turn knowledge into a loyalty test. Do you see any signals on your local horizon? Send them on to Swami.

    Iraq: Not With a Bang, but With a Whimper

    Jon Stewart's guest last night was Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria, who minced no words--elections in Iraq aren't to bolster democracy, they're our exit strategy. Once the votes are counted, we're outta there, ASAP. Anyway, Zaharia said, we've got a bigger problem in that region: Iran. Atomic weapons are high on the Iranian agenda; for us to eliminate that threat would mean another war, and would produce another high-water mark of Arab hatred for the United States.

    Swami had a dark fantasy: When our troops are ready to leave Iraq, they're going to have to fight their way to the airport. Remember the choppers lifting our people off the top of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon? This could be worse. As much as Swami believes the best way to support our troops is to bring them home, this would be a horrible scenario--but you can bet the Administration that hates planning hasn't planned for our withdrawal either.

    "Freedom is on the march." As ever, the only way to convert that to reality-based speech is to invert it--"Freedom is not on the march," or, maybe, "Freedom is in retreat," or, to make it really simple, "Isn't this an even better slogan than 'He can run but he can't hide?'"

    What Disney Forgot to Tell Us about "Fahrenheit 9/11"

    First, we heard that Disney hated Michael Moore's film even before he made it. Then they dropped it because they didn't want to annoy Jeb Bush. Now Roger Friedman offers an even better explanation for Disney's refusal to distribute Moore's film:

    On July 1, just a week after "Fahrenheit 911" opened, the [New York] Times reported "Disney Gives Details of Plan to Aid European Parks." The story detailed the financial history of EuroDisney including this one important fact that has somehow been overlooked: In 1994, two years after the theme park opened and was already plunged into financial chaos, one man saved it. That was Prince Walid bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. His investment, valued at above $24 million, literally saved EuroDisney from closing and created a bond between the Saudi royal family and Disney's Michael Eisner that lasts until this day.

    Of course, one of the major subjects of "Fahrenheit 911" is the connections between the Saudi Royal family and the Bush Administration, in which the prince is perhaps the most visible international businessman. According to my sources, Eisner was keenly aware of this when he banned Miramax from releasing the movie. Disney was also trying to get the prince to take part in the financial restructuring of EuroDisney this summer, according to my sources, which would have been severely hindered by the company's release of the Moore film. Ah, so it's just money talking. For a few months there, Disney had me worried.

    So You Want to Volunteer But Don't Like MoveOn?

    A few of you have written to chide Swami for sending 11th hour activists to MoveOn, a Commie group that hates the soldiers and loves Osama, or something like that. Swami's defense: MoveOn had the easiest volunteer form.

    Now Swami has seen the TrueMajority volunteer form. Perhaps this group is less offensive. Swami's view: It's an easy sign-up, and it allows you to do a good thing--get out the vote.

    Interested? Click on True Majority.

    Thought for Today

    We have art so we shall not die of the truth.
    --J.M. Coetzee, Nobel Prize winner and author of "Waiting for the Barbarians"

    My Bad

    Yesterday Swami put words in Loose Canon's mouth. The subject was the program about John Kerry that Sinclair Broadcasting plans to air just before the election. Swami called it a "mockumentary" and then, channeling LC's predictable outrage, had her saying: "Mockumentary??? It's based on definitive, authoritative interviews with 200 guys who weren't there!"

    Well, the secret's out of the bag now: Swami's astonishingly fallible. He's responsible, of course. But he has an explanation. With Republican fibs crashing on the shores at ever-accelerating frequency--did Dick ("The Bunker") Cheney really say the war hero running against the President would wimp out in the face of a nuclear threat?--it's impossible to keep the lies straight.

    So: The Sinclair mockumentary is not Swift Boat Vets propaganda. It's Vietnam Prisoner of War propaganda which makes the wild claim that Kerry's 1971 opposition to the war singlehandedly kept them in Vietnamese prisons for several more years.

    In the interest of accuracy, Swami should have put the following words in LC's mouth: "Mockumentary??? It's based on definitive, authoritative interviews with POWs who would have been released from Vietnamese jails years earlier if two American Presidents hadn't been so committed to continuing an immoral, illegal war."

    Swami regrets the error and will, in future, aim for the infallibility that has, for too long, been the exclusive territory of the President and his faith-based followers.

    What If Kerry Loses?

    Yesterday LC began her blog:

    Loose Canon believes that George W. Bush will be the next president of the United States. Still, she has been trying to prepare for the worst. She does not want to be a bitter person who is the mirror image of Michael Moore.
    Then she promptly lost her nerve and declined to ponder--in her own words, anyway--what "the worst" would look like.

    Swami has, like many of you on the reality-based side, been thinking for weeks what a Bush second term would be like. But then, it's not like they haven't given us clues: the end of choice for women, "partially privatized" Social Security, health care for those who can afford it, loyalty checks at universities, just enough stem cell research to put our scientists dead last in the race for cures, a draft-by-another-name.

    In days to come, Swami will be considering the psychological and moral costs of a Bush second term. Preview of coming attractions: The buzzwords are "Corporate Feudalism" and "New Dark Ages." But that's an incomplete picture. Swami also sees a much more heated culture war between what someone has called "lamestream media" and the unregulated media you're consuming right now: the blogosphere, progressive radio, etc. And Swami sees a coming together of Sensitives and Smarties--an electronic sangha that holds a candle aloft to guide us through the darkness of a second term.

    To prepare for a Kerry defeat is not defeatism; it's just another reality-based strategy. It's Plan B. A novel notion, given that we have an administration that operates more on intuition than planning. But one that's good to have in your pocket, should Plan A fail.

    Plan A seems to be doing quite well this week. Kerry's numbers are up. The President's approval ratings are holding in the low 40s, never a good sign. And Swami is off to work a phone bank. But not before looking into some faith-based stories...

    Is George Bush Really a Christian?

    Ayelish McGarvey wonders whether the President is a Christian. Sample quotation:

    ....when judged by his deeds, an entirely different picture emerges: Bush does not demonstrate a life of faith by his actions, and neither Methodists, evangelicals, nor fundamentalists can rightly call him brother. In fact, the available evidence raises serious questions about whether Bush is really a Christian at all.

    Ironically for a man who once famously named Jesus as his favorite political philosopher during a campaign debate, it is remarkably difficult to pinpoint a single instance wherein Christian teaching has won out over partisan politics in the Bush White House. Though Bush easily weaves Christian language and themes into his political communication, empty religious jargon is no substitute for a bedrock faith. Even little children in Sunday school know that Jesus taught his disciples to live according to his commandments, not simply to talk about them a lot. In Bush's case, faith without works is not just dead faith--it's evangelical agitprop. Has God Turned Against George Bush?

    A religious progressive at The Village Gate examines Pat Robertson's story about meeting George Bush:

    "You remember Mark Twain said, 'He looks like a contented Christian with four aces.' I mean he was just sitting there like, 'I'm on top of the world,'" Robertson said on the CNN show, "Paula Zahn Now."

    "And I warned him about this war. I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, 'Mr. President, you had better prepare the American people for casualties.'"

    Robertson said the president then told him, "Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties."

    Robertson, the televangelist who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, said he wishes Bush would admit to mistakes made.

    "I mean, the Lord told me it was going to be A, a disaster, and B, messy," Robertson said. "I warned him about casualties." The progressive Christian analysis:

    Robertson is cutting Bush loose as Samuel cut loose Saul.

    Bible aficianados will remember that at the end of the period of the "judges," Israel demanded a king despite Samuel's warnings. Samuel anointed Saul as king as commanded by the Lord, but Saul repeatedly failed to follow Samuel's -- and thus the Lord's instructions. After Saul grew impatient waiting for Samuel's arrival and performed pre-battle sacrifices himself, Samuel informed him that he had lost the Lord's favor...

    "You acted foolishly," Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established you kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord's command." (I Samuel 13:13-14) "Blood Is Thinner Than Oil"

    The latest in political websites: Bush Relatives for Kerry.

    Thought for Today

    Please let Bush win this election. If for no other reason than for once in his life, he should have to clean up his own mess!
    --Bill Maher, New Rules, on HBO, 10/15

    Two Weeks

    An e-mail from a battleground state tells me that one way the Republicans inflate "support" for the President is to "put two Bush signs in each yard, on the property lines, so it looks like the neighbors support him!"

    Smacks of a high school election. Swami sees the cheerleader conspiring with the captain of the football team to make sure the kid who writes for the newspaper doesn't become president of the student council.

    But the metaphor of good clean fun only goes so far in this election. "Voter suppression" is the phrase of the season--by which we mean: the not-always-legit Republican effort to keep the vote down. Why? Because it is just not logical that the millions of new voters across the country are registering to vote for the guy in charge. The bigger the vote, the more likely Kerry wins--it's that simple.

    As Swami has written, you can watch this from your Barcalounger, as if this were a movie, or you can Do Something. Swami has volunteered to call voters in Pennsylvania. If you have some time to volunteer, fill out the MoveOn volunteer form. They'll be in touch.

    Or, if want to do something resolutely non-partisan, donate your frequent flyer miles so, when our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq get leave, they can come home.

    So What the F--- Was That All About?

    Now it's pure altruism. If Mullah Towelhead is the new ruler of Iraq, that's cool with us.

    Says who? President Bush:

    "I think the Iraqi people want us to leave once we've helped them get on the path of stability and democracy and once we have trained their troops to do their own hard work," Bush said Monday in a wide-ranging interview...

    If free and open Iraqi elections lead to the seating of a fundamentalist Islamic government, "I will be disappointed. But democracy is democracy," Bush said. "If that's what the people choose, that's what the people choose." No air bases. No oil. Just the satisfaction of getting rid of the neighborhood bully. Makes you think we could have cut out of Iraq a year ago.

    Shh. Don't tell the families of the 1,100 dead. They wouldn't understand.

    Sinclair Broadcasting: When Bad Things Happen to Bad People

    The price of "patriotism" is getting higher.

    Sinclair Broadcasting came into public prominence last spring, when it refused to air a Ted Koppel show in which he read the names of our soldiers killed in Iraq. (Sinclair's explanation: We don't do "partisan.")

    Now Sinclair has decided to air--as "news," thus not "partisan"--a mockumentary about John Kerry's Vietnam heroics. (Swami can hear Loose Canon's protest even now: "Mockumentary??? It's based on definitive, authoritative interviews with 200 guys who weren't there!" )

    Since Sinclair decided to use its license to broadcast propaganda on the eve of the election, the stock market has sheared $100 million off its value, almost 80 advertisers have pulled out, and lawsuits are zooming. And, of course, the blogosphere--which spearheaded this anti-Sinclair campaign after it became clear that Michael Powell (son of Colin) and his colleagues were going to say nothing about this crazy violation of FCC regulations--has been spectacular.

    It's so easy for you to make a difference here. Here's the basic information . And here is a list of Sinclair's biggest advertisers and their e-mail addresses.

    Interactivity: the best way we have to make sure capitalism colors inside the lines. Or pays the price.

    "Drive Through" Mastectomies

    Health care being what it is, insurance companies like to get you out of the hospital fast. Especially if you're female.

    Last year, Lifetime Television delivered more than 5 million petition signatures to Congress. The goal: to ban "drive-through" mastectomies--the practice that has women go home from the hospital sometimes only hours after breast cancer surgery.

    The legislation would require insurance companies to cover a 48-hour minimum stay for mastectomy patients and a 24-hour stay for a woman undergoing a lymph node dissection. The legislation ensures that a doctor and a patient will make a decision together about staying at a hospital after a mastectomy.

    In 20 seconds, you can sign a pro-legislation petition that Lifetime will deliver to Congress.

    You Make the Call

    "M.L.B.," a poor mother of two from Mississippi, lost her parental rights. She wanted to appeal--but Mississippi would not let her because she could not afford a court fee of $2,352.36.

    Question: Did she have a constitutional right to an appeal, even if she couldn't afford it?

    The New York Times tells us that Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented. Their view: "If M.L.B. didn't have the money, her children would have to be put up for adoption."

    The piece--which considers Scalia and Thomas as examples of the kind of judges a second-term President Bush might appoint--is a grim read:

    If Justices Scalia and Thomas become the Constitution's final arbiters, the rights of racial minorities, gay people and the poor will be rolled back considerably. Both men dissented from the Supreme Court's narrow ruling upholding the University of Michigan's affirmative-action program, and appear eager to dismantle a wide array of diversity programs. When the court struck down Texas' "Homosexual Conduct" law last year, holding that the police violated John Lawrence's right to liberty when they raided his home and arrested him for having sex there, Justices Scalia and Thomas sided with the police.

    That sort of cruelty is a theme running through many Scalia-Thomas opinions. A Louisiana inmate sued after he was shackled and then punched and kicked by two prison guards while a supervisor looked on. The court ruled that the beating, which left the inmate with a swollen face, loosened teeth and a cracked dental plate, violated the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. But Justices Scalia and Thomas insisted that the Eighth Amendment was not violated by the "insignificant" harm the inmate suffered. The Beauty Part: Musical Interlude

    In two weeks, these songs will be brown with age. For now, they're a welcome giggle.

    John Wesley Harding. Click on "Live MP3s/Rare Singles" and click again on "Ace in the Spiderhole Rag."

    And a country song, "Takin' My Country Back."

    Thought for Today

    19th-century Paraguay...simultaneously declared war on Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay and fought ferociously until 90% of the male population was dead.
    --from an essay on the President and the Iraq war by Hal Crowther

    Do Republicans Have Better Sex?

    With two weeks until Election Day, here's the question that could decide it for...oh....swing voters: which...uh...party has better sex?

    According to ABC, Republicans rule.

    Then you get down to the methodology:

    Among the factors that impact the survey results is that more men identify themselves as Republicans and men are more likely to say they are sexually satisfied and enjoy sex 'a great deal.' Also, Democrats are more likely to be women....
    Which kinda submarines the whole survey. Or at least turns it into a different question: Who's more credible--a Republican man--or a Democratic woman?

    The Reading Room: Believing in Bush

    Everyone and his uncle is talking about Ron Suskind's New York Times Magazine piece about George Bush's faith. The must-read article states its theme right at the start, when veteran Republican official Bruce Bartlett analyzes The President:

    "Just in the past few months," Bartlett said, "I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do...This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them....

    "This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts," Bartlett went on to say. "He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence." Bartlett paused, then said, "But you can't run the world on faith." These 10,000 words will not be as exciting for regular Swami readers as it will be for those who are still trapped in "Nice Guy" Bush. This is "Burning" Bush: down from the mountain carrying the tablets God gave him and fully prepared to smite any fool who dares to question him. Bush not as God's messenger--Bush as God.

    Rather more interesting, Swami feels, is Our Magical President, by "Revealer" editor Jeff Sharlet:

    Believing, it seems, is more important to the President than the substance of his belief. Jesus Christ's particular teachings--well, those are good, too. But what really matters is that if you believe you can do something, you can.

    What Suskind misses, and what Bush's more orthodox Christian supporters seem to dodge, is that this is not Christian doctrine by any definition. It is, in fact, a key element of the broad, heterodox movement known as New Age religion.

    The President, we've been told, begins his days not with the Bible but with a pocket-sized book called My Utmost for His Highest, a remarkably opaque collection of daily devotionals published by Oswald Chambers in 1935.

    How Wars End

    The Portland (New Hampshire) Herald tells the story of Jeff Lucey, a 23-year old kid who went off to Iraq and, soon after his return, hanged himself. Why?

    [He told a story] about a small Iraqi boy he saw, riddled with bullets and lying dead in the street with an American flag clutched in his hand. Jeff said his truck was being shot at while he was driving by the boy, but he jumped out and brought the boy's body into an alley--sparing it from more bullet holes.
    And, on Christmas Eve, he told his sister Debbie of his great shame:

    The way he told the story, Jeff was about five feet away from two Iraqis--each about his own age--when he was ordered to shoot them. He said he looked them in their eyes before closing his own, then pulled the trigger.

    "He took off two dog tags around his neck, threw them at me and said, 'Don't you understand? Your brother is a murderer,'" Debbie said. Add Jeff Lucey to the 1,101 casualties we've sustained in Iraq. History is precedent; as a highway blogger's sign proclaims, "'Iraq' is Arabic for 'Vietnam.'" But most Americans still don't seem to get this. They "support the President"--the President who sent them to fight without proper equipment. It will take another 40-50,000 American dead before these people will start thinking about a way out.

    But maybe the war isn't in Bush's hands (or Kerry's, either). Maybe our soldiers in Iraq just aren't as trusting or gung-ho as the soldiers who served and died in Vietnam. Maybe they will end the war all by themselves--by refusing to serve. That is the story of the 18 men and women who refused to deliver a supply of fuel because they said their trucks were unsafe and lacked a proper armed escort.

    Swami used to say of "the secret bombing" of Cambodia that it was no secret to the Cambodians. In the same way, it's no big newsflash to our soldiers that this war is fatally screwed up =--they live with the equipment shortages, the kids we shoot dead and then decribe as "insurgents." They can, with the help of savvy leaders, arrange to have their equipment inspected--and declared "unsafe." Whole divisions could be idled in this way.

    Mutiny? Not at all. Just soldiers who believe the President wants them to be properly outfitted--and who will happily wait until they're correctly equipped before they take a step closer to the action. Meanwhile, they ain't marchin' anymore.

    Swami supports those soldiers.

    Thelma Drake, You Suck

    David Ashe, a two-time Iraq war vet, is no patriot, according to his opponent. The Hampton Roads (Virginia) paper reports:

    Ashe, a candidate in the 2nd Congressional District, called the flier [that called him weak on terrorism] an attack on his military service. His opponent, Republican Thelma Drake, called it a legitimate attack on Ashe's support for the foreign policy of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry.

    The pea-green mailer links Ashe and Kerry on such issues as taxes, abortion and national security. "Weakening the war on terror," the glossy reads. "Kerry and Ashe are like two peas in a pod!"

    Ashe spent much of the past two years in the Middle East, wearing 25 pounds of body armor, toting an M-16 and a stack of legal books as a Marine Corps lawyer.

    Ashe served in Kuwait during Operation Enduring Freedom and in Iraq during the ongoing war. He served seven years in active duty and remains in the Reserves. "I've demonstrated my resolve," he said. Thought for Today

    Hersh talked about a call he had gotten from a first lieutenant in charge of a unit stationed halfway between Baghdad and the Syrian border. His group was bivouacking outside of town in an agricultural area, and had hired 30 or so Iraqis to guard a local granary. A few weeks passed. They got to know the men they hired, and to like them. Then orders came down from Baghdad that the village would be "cleared." Another platoon from the soldier's company came and executed the Iraqi granary guards. All of them.

    "He said they just shot them one by one. And his people, and he, and the villagers of course, went nuts," Hersh said quietly. "He was hysterical, totally hysterical. He went to the company captain, who said, 'No, you don't understand, that's a kill. We got 36 insurgents. Don't you read those stories when the Americans say we had a combat maneuver and 15 insurgents were killed?'

    "It's shades of Vietnam again, folks: body counts," Hersh continued. "You know what I told him? I said, 'Fella, you blamed the captain, he knows that you think he committed murder, your troops know that their fellow soldiers committed murder. Shut up. Complete your tour. Just shut up! You're going to get a bullet in the back.' And that's where we are in this war."
    --Seymour Hersh, speaking at the University of California at Berkeley, October 11, 2004

    Swami Is Steamed

    Yeah, Swami is still mostly calm and cruising at 30,000 feet, doing his Thich Nhat Hanh breathing, but not even TNH could keep his blood pressure down if he watched last night's ABC report on Army Spc. Tyson Johnson III of Mobile, Alabama.

    Johnson got shot up in Iraq: lost a kidney, sustained shrapnel damage to his lung and heart, metal in the back of his head. First diagnosis: not expected to live more than 72 hours.

    This is how the Pentagon repaid this soldier:

    Johnson...was still recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center when he received notice from the Pentagon's own collection agency that he owed more than $2,700 because he could not fulfill his full 36-month tour of duty.

    Johnson said the Pentagon listed the bonus on his credit report as an unpaid government loan, making it impossible for him to rent an apartment or obtain credit cards. When ABC found him, he was living in his car. Now, thanks to the media attention, the Pentagon says this is one giant mistake. Oh, really? From here, it looks like "mistake" is spelled p-o-l-i-cy.

    Sex: O'Reilly, Bentley, Cheney

    Let's move on to the Republican-generated "outrage" over John Kerry's debate remark about Mary Cheney, the Vice President's gay daughter.

    But let's have a bit of context first.

    Let's start with Bill O'Reilly's sexual harassment lawsuit. You will note that O'Reilly is screaming foul, but he's not denying that he masturbated with a vibrator while he talked to a (female) employee. (Still thinking you'll buy The O'Reilly Factor for Kids: A Survival Guide for America's Families for your little ones?)

    Now let's move on to ballet dancer Toni Bentley, who's getting lots of press for a book that calls (heterosexual) anal sex a "direct path . . . to God."

    No one is really horrified by the O'Reilly news (except dear Bill and the Mrs.).

    And Ms. Bentley's sexual practices mostly provoke amusement.

    But mention that Mary Cheney is gay--and that her parents are proud of her--and you touch a nerve.

    Which nerve, exactly? The one that reaches the part of the brain that holds views like "homosexuality is a choice" and "gay sex is a sin." This part of the brain is only found only in right-wing Republicans and other sexually-threatened life forms--in New York and other cities where citizens live cheek-to-jowl with all kinds of people, we know better than to reduce anyone to his/her sexuality.

    But what Mary Cheney and her life partner do when the lights are out--hey, that's disgusting.

    Of course, it's not disgusting for Coors Beers, where Mary Cheney is the poster girl for gay marketing. And it's not disgusting for Dick Cheney, who found recognizable human feelings long enough in his debate with John Edwards to speak quite tenderly about his daughter.

    But Lynne Cheney? Despite the steamy lesbian novel she wrote in her youth ("How well her words describe our love--or the way it would be if we could remove all impediments, leave this place, and join together ... Then our union would be complete. Our lives would flow together, twin streams merging into a single river"), she seems ashamed of her daughter's "choice." In any event, she finds Kerry's remark "a cheap and tawdry political trick."

    Tawdry? Here's what's tawdry: Bush and Cheney cooing over this one lesbian while they seek to deny legal rights to all gays. Here's what's tawdry: the Republican base cluck-clucking over gays, as if any number of them aren't secretly homosexual or screaming in the closet. And here's what's tawdry: the usual suspects in the media whose lives run so beautifully they have nothing better to do than arch an eyebrow about men and women who don't put Tab A in Slot B in the missionary position.

    Kerry crossed a line? Really? And the consequence was...? Compare Kerry's dangerously kind remark to the damage Bush and his enablers do every day--like to Tyson Johnson. Pales, doesn't it?

    Skull & Bones

    Message board posters may think Swami doesn't read their posts. For his part, Swami seriously doubts that the posters ever glance left to his musings.

    In fact, Swami does read your posts. As a matter of policy, he doesn't think it's his place to jump in to your conversation. But your recent obsession with this Yale secret society forces a comment. Alas, like Kerry on Mary Cheney, there's no way someone won't get mad. Oh, well...

    Dear friends, you do not know what you are talking about. Oh, you've read books. And you're up on your conspiracy theories (though you disappoint Swami by your failure to drag the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderbergers into the plot). But the thing is, you have clearly never met a Yalie who was in S&B, or you'd drop this dull topic.

    How does Swami say this without sounding like a snootball? Try bluntly: At Harvard, Swami was in a club much like Skull & Bones. Mostly, the members were rich WASPs who drank too much and, like Bush and Kerry, were a little weak on the academics. No one conspired to rule the world, no one carved up the fortunes of the future. And neither did the S&B guys we knew at Yale.

    In case you haven't noticed, dear friends, the world is on fire. Can't you find a better conversation than whether Bush and Kerry are involved in some conspiracy so convoluted that they're the same person? They're not. And as for Yalies ruling the world--hey, no way.

    More Things to do Before November 2

  • Listen to your Mom
    Moms for Kerry-Edwards. There are ll0 million mothers in America. Can you reach them all?
  • Gimme Shelter
    Live in a battleground state? House a volunteer.
  • Create an Online Team
    Spread the Kerry-Edwards word online.

    Thought for Today

    The oceanlike immensity of joy
    Arising when all beings will be freed,
    Will this not be enough? Will this not satisfy?
    The wish for my own freedom, what is that to me?
    --from Shantideva's Bodhicaryavatara, one of the Dalai Lama's favorite texts

    The Three Faces of Bush

    We had snarly. We had agitated. And, last night, smiley.

    Who won? Honorable Americans will think whatever they think. (For the record, no one in the Uptown Extended Family or at the Debate Watching Party thought the President scored big. Instant message from the First Time Voter in the Uptown clan: "Bush was mad dumb on Social Security and minimum wage.")

    Swami, for his part, was obsessed with that--what was it? a fleck of spittle?--something in the right corner of Bush's mouth.
  • This morning, on bloggers' message boards, there were posts that suggested what Swami had started to think last night: The President has a Medical Condition, the President has had a Medical Event.

    Some posters thought: a small stroke. Another suggested that Bell's Palsy might explain the drooping face, slurred speech, white stuff on his mouth and drooling. And that lump in the back of his suit--a medical device???

    The point of almost every post that saw the debate in medical terms: This is the result of horrible stress Then again, it might be the physical expression of the stunning realization that he might...just...lose....

    If a medical event...very very sad. This guy had the drive to be President--Take that, Jeb! Up yours, Dad!--but he never had the chops. And that kind of disconnect is impossible to resolve; it's a joyless koan. Although Swami is skeptical about one-to-one correlations between Body and Soul--he has seen some evil, evil dudes outlive Great Spirits by decades and decades--maybe there is some kind of Instant Karma at work here.

    But enough of Bush. Enough of the debates. Enough of Iraq--yeah, they've bombed the Green Zone, Americans aren't safe anywhere, you knew that already, turn the page. For the next two weeks, the machinery takes over, and as we discussed yesterday, the Republican machinery makes Darth Vader look like a wimp. This is the moment when we stop the internal chatter, forget about the wingnuts and see what contribution we can make to the preservation of the best democracy man ever created.

    The Fat Lady

    Ever read J.D. Salinger's "Franny and Zooey"? For those who have, donkey's years ago, as well as for those who haven't, there's a passage at the end that seems very relevant in the coming weeks.

    The situation: a phone call between Zooey and his sister Franny, who is having the kind of spiritual crisis that borders on breakdown. Decades earlier, they and their siblings had been stars on "Wise Child," a radio program. Once, as they were about to go on the show, their older brother Seymour told Zooey to shine his shoes. He refused. What was the point? On radio, no one could see your feet. Zooey recalls what happened next:

    He said to shine them anyway. He said to shine them for the Fat Lady. I didn't know what he was talking about, but he had a very Seymour look on his face, and I did it. He never did tell me who the Fat Lady was, but I shined my shoes for the Fat Lady every time I ever went on the air again...This terribly clear, clear picture of the Fat Lady formed in my mind. I had her sitting on this porch all day, swatting flies, with her radio going full-blast from morning until night. I figured the heat was terrible, and she probably had cancer, and--I don't know. Anyway, it seemed goddamn clear why Seymour wanted me to shine my shoes when I went on the air. It made sense.
    And then Zooey unlocks the story for Franny--and lights her up like a stadium.

    I'll tell you a terrible secret--are you listening to me? There isn't anyone out there who isn't Seymour's Fat Lady...There isn't anyone anywhere that isn't Seymour's Fat Lady. Don't you know that? Don't you know that goddamn secret yet? And don't you know--listen to me, now--don't you know who that Fat Lady really is? ...Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It's Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy.
    My point: It's going to be very ugly from here to the end. Terrible things will be said, awful things will be done. Let's make sure we don't become like Them. Let's represent The Better Choice. And let's not forget to shine our shoes....

    What You Can Do

    There's so much. A partial list (suggestions welcome):

  • Help get people to the polls. America Coming Together tells you how.
  • Volunteer for a day in Pennsylvania
    This is designed for volunteers who can provide their own transportation and want to help for a day or two. There is an excellent website that sets up volunteers who want to help the Kerry campaign in PA. To volunteer follow these 4 simple steps. Go to the website. Click on: Door Knocking In PA. Click on: Find Canvasses in PA. Click on the event you want to volunteer for and fill out the RSVP form so the PA campaign field staff knows you are coming. Many events also give an email address to send your name and phone number to the field organizer.
  • Volunteer for a week or more in Pennsylvania
    If you are willing to travel to Pennsylvania for a week or more send an email with your name and phone number to roadtrip@PAdems.com, they will get back to you within two days. Guidelines: A car is very helpful. You will be responsible for your own accommodations unless you are going to Pittsburgh which currently has places to house volunteers.
  • Volunteer for a week or more in Ohio
    To Volunteer for a week or more go to: Kerry Road Trip. This site is for Ohio only. Fill out the form and a field organizer will be contacting you in a week or less to discuss the specifics. Guidelines: You will be required to arrange for your own accommodations and a car is extremely helpful.
  • Other States Extended Stay Travel
    If you want to travel to swing states for longer periods of time go to Kerry Traveler. There is a form to fill out asking where you can travel to and for how long.
  • Lawyers Volunteering For Kerry
    If you are an attorney and want to volunteer in New York or any other state, send an email with your name, phone number & the state you want to travel to: nylawyers@americansforkerry.com. They will contact you and set you up with the place you are most needed. If you can only travel to a specific state they can accommodate you as well.
  • Florida Trip - Work NON STOP the weekend prior to the election
    EMILY's List is offering all-expense trips paid to Florida Oct. 29-Nov 2. This is for volunteers who will commit to doing Get Out the Vote work non-stop while they're there. To learn more or sign up, visit: Team Emily.
  • Swing the State
    Swing the State can organize an individual trip
    Any day, to any swing state: visit Swing the State and fill out the "get involved" page.
  • MoveOn Phone Banking
    MoveOn phone bank volunteers call thousands of voters in battleground states to find those who want to win this election for Kerry but don't know how. These calls are made between Thursday evening and Sunday evening. To join: MoveOn phones.
  • Call from home - West Virginia Women to Vote
    Phone website set up: Party for America. This site gives all the information you need to phone these women and help them decide to vote in 2004. Please note that any cost of the calls you make for this project will not be reimbursed.
  • Letter writing with Mainstream Moms
    Few of us can go to a swing state every day. But something you can do every day is work with an organization called Mainstream Moms. They purchased lists of single women in swing states. Single women and single moms tend to be progressive voters. Six million of them did not vote in 2000. Mainstream Moms then cross references the women's names in Democratic areas with lists of registered voters. They make a list of those women who aren't registered. Then volunteers in other states write a personal letter to that woman, urging her to vote Democratic. It's an interesting way to reach out to voters. is the website.
  • Volunteer to be a poll monitor or a bill of rights canvasser
    Go to Election Protection.
  • Thought for Today

    Bush is my shepherd,
    I shall be in want.
    He maketh me to lie down on park benches,
    He leadeth me beside the still factories.
    He restoreth my doubts about the Republican Party.
    He leadeth me onto the paths of unemployment for His cronies' sake.

    Yea, though no weapons of mass destruction have been found,
    He makest me continue to fear Evil.
    His tax cuts for the rich and His deficit spending discomfort me.
    He anointest me with never-ending debt:
    Verily my days of savings and assets are kaput.

    Surely poverty and hard living shall follow me all the days of His administration,
    And my jobless child shall dwell in my basement forever.
    --The 23rd Psalm (revised), with thanks to a friend in Florida

    Bill O'Reilly Sued for Sexual Harassment

    Well, he screwed a million guests. Did he also try to screw an attractive female assistant--who just happened to be a former White House intern (for Bush, not Clinton)?

    Ah, but what goes around, etc. From her complaint--yes, she filed a suit--she seems to have taped O'Reilly's calls. (Warning: steamy reading here).

    The Smoking Gun has all 22 jaw-dropping pages.

    Let Swami say what the Righties never do in moments like this: Innocent until proven guilty.

    Lie, Kick, Gouge, Steal: The New Republican Way

    Swami went to one of those New England boarding schools where--back in the day--the guys looked as if they stepped out of Ralph Lauren ads. The students had names like Chatsworth. They wore old rep ties for belts. Swami did not yet know Balzac's maxim ("Behind every great fortune lies a crime"), so he thought these kids were Rectitude Incarnate.

    The wrestling coach was a Greek who had posed for the statue of the Gloucester fisherman. He'd been at the school for decades. Even if you didn't wrestle, you knew his coaching maxims. The best of them: "He has you down? He is going to pin? Then you reach up and kiss him--and you flip him, and you pin, you pin!"

    When we told that story, it always got a laugh. For a good reason: Way back then, no one was gay, and about the last thing you'd do, on a Saturday afternoon, with girls and moms and your friends in attendance, was kiss another guy. Victory was important. But not that important.

    Swami still believes stolen victories are not worth it. He is, clearly, not With the Program. The Bush program, that is, because for the Republican Party, at least at the national level, winning is all that matters. How is unimportant. We got a glimpse of that in 2000. We're seeing the movie in wide-screen super-color this year, as voter fraud is exposed in state after state. And who knows what Election Day--and those paperless voting machines--will bring?

    The company that has brought this issue into sharp focus in the last few days is Voters Outreach of America, also known as America Votes.

    A report from Nevada:

    Two former workers say they personally witnessed company supervisors rip up and trash registration forms signed by Democrats.

    "We caught her taking Democrats out of my pile, handed them to her assistant and he ripped them up right in front of us. I grabbed some of them out of the garbage and she tells her assisatnt to get those from me," said Eric Russell, former Voters Outreach employee.

    Eric Russell managed to retrieve a pile of shredded paperwork including signed voter registration forms, all from Democrats. We took them to the Clark County Election Department and confirmed that they had not, in fact, been filed with the county as required by law. This company has, apparently, moved on to Oregon, with the same method of operations.

    Maybe the government (yawn) will get interested. These are, after all, Federal crimes.

    On the web: Instapundit, a site to which Loose Canon genuflects, mentions not a word of this un-American activity. Don't wait for any outrage from LC or other conservatives; they love this nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw stuff. It's....manly. Fairness? They spit on it.

    (Do Democrats do these things too? If so, Swami wants to hear every immoral detail. He thanks the reader who sent him a campaign smear allegedly masterminded by Dems--"your party, Swami!"--in Tennessee.

    For those whose blood pressure can take it, here are more electoral oddities:

  • FLORIDA: The Lakeland Ledger reports:
  • Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho told the Tallahassee Democrat that he became suspicious when he noticed the forms turned in to his office were overwhelmingly registered Republicans. Since they were mostly from Florida A&M University and surrounding black neighborhoods--precincts that are normally Democratic--he began to wonder. Sancho said voters between the ages of 18 to 24--which a majority of these were--often register with no party affiliation.

    "When we saw that all of these individuals were registered as Republicans, a buzzer went off," Sancho said.

    His staff contacted three dozen voters. They said they signed forms that were color registration forms. The ones submitted to Sancho's office were black-and-gray photocopies, he told Tallahassee Democrat Political Editor Bill Cotterell.

    "Once it became clear that their information did not jibe with the information on the application forms, that's when we decided to act," Sancho said. "The overwhelming majority of them had not selected the Republican Party as the party they wanted to be registered in." The registration campaigners were careless--they did it to Sancho's family as well.

    [Sancho] said his stepdaughter in Orlando signed a petition for a ballot initiative. She later discovered her voter registration had been changed to another county.
  • CALIFORNIA: And then there's the Florida guy who moved West--and got a letter from Jeb Bush. Its stirring conclusion:
  • I am writing to urge you to use the form below to request a Vote by Mail Ballot to cast your vote for our Republican team.
    California Guy's thoughts on this letter:

    I Don't Live In Florida. I haven't lived in Florida since 1999. I'm a resident of the state of California. Why did I get this if I don't even have a Florida drivers license anymore?

    I'm A Registered Voter In The State Of California. So why would the Florida GOP think I could still vote? I know someone there knows--I haven't received a voter's registration card from Florida in over two years.

    The Mail Was Addressed To My New Place Of Residence (In California). I moved to a new place in May of this year. Any correspondence I had with the state of Florida was at a previous address, which is my registered address as a resident of California. How did the Republican Party Of Florida get my new address to send this to me directly? Agitated? Good! Swami will wait until after the debate to suggest what you might want to do with your distress. Hey, when you're apoplectic, you might actually make that call, write that email, volunteer.

    "Fahrenheit 9/11" Revisited

    Reader Review: "I just bought and watched the DVD of Fahrenheit 9/11. It's sad... really sad. The extra scenes show us that Condoleeza Rice is a manipulative weasel-y liar... and that the Iraqi people don't all hate all Americans (surprise!). They're beautiful people who smile in the face of tremendous adversity. They live like we do--but a lot simpler. They just hate Dubya and his Dad. (I guess they ARE a lot like us!) The children... oh, the children playing--that made me cry. Michael Moore really knows how to manipulate, I guess."

    E-mail report: "The Blockbuster store in Cedar Park, Texas (one of our lovely suburbs in the Austin area), is keeping copies of F 9/11 behind the counter as if it were porn. You have to go up to the counter and ask for it, rather than find it on the shelf."

    The Beauty Part

    It's just fall here, and although New York is arguably the most exciting city in the world, we're citizens of the planet--we know that in this season it's beautiful everywhere.

    Oh, to be in Italy right now, to drive through tiny towns on sunny days, enjoy simple meals in tourist-free restaurants, to walk home at night with the smell of wood smoke in the air.

    Or Paris. Yes, Paris would do--the fashion people have left, the city lives more for itself, the day hums with the dual motors of culture and commerce.

    A friend called this morning, just back from Paris. He was raving. The light, the excitement, the pleasure to be found on every street, the luxury of a long coffee at a sidewalk café. And that took me back to a favorite book. Like to read about food? Well, here's "Between Meals."

    Thought for Today

    Please understand that therapeutic cloning involves the use of an unfertilized egg that will never leave the laboratory, never be implanted in a womb and never become a human being. And yet when combined with the DNA of a patient, it might be the best hope for relieving the suffering of millions of people around the world. Let your representatives in Washington know that you support all safe and reasonable scientific research.
    --Christopher Reeve, in a Q&A for America Online, September, 2002

    Christopher Reeve

    Met him in the early '80s, when he was about to do a film about journalists and wanted to interview a few. Impressed by his diligence. After that, saw him and Dana around town at charity events. We were, I guess, "friends" in the shallow, New York way--glad to see one another when we did, but neither of us ever picked up the phone.

    All that changed after his accident and my appointment as Editorial Director of America Online. One of my better ideas was to match AOL's community with worthy charities--and with a celebrity like Christopher as the poster child, it was natural to lead with his cause. In 1998, AOL hosted his first online chat ("Let us welcome you to the first interview you've had in which we are all somewhat disembodied") and promoted his excellent memoir and gave him lots of time to tell everyone whom to write in Washington and what to say. Did it again two years later. And in 2002, when Christopher turned 50, we showcased a "Happy Birthday" card that saw an anonymous donor contribute a buck to Christopher's cause for everyone who clicked. Raised a bunch of money.

    Saw Christopher around town in his new life. More often than not, waved across a room or just said hi. It just felt...silly to blurt out the obvious: "I don't have heroes--except you." But that was the truth of it: Christopher Reeve, in a wheelchair, stood taller than almost anyone I know.

    In our first conversation, I asked: "In the book, your spirit leaves your body at one point and looks down on it from the corner of the hospital room. Do you draw any spiritual conclusion from that?"

    Christopher's response: "I feel strongly that we are not our bodies. In fact, if a person says 'my body,' who is the 'me' that is being referred to? Clearly, the spirit and body are two different things. Beyond that, I'm still searching for the meaning of it all."

    Thinking about that exchange today, I bet Christopher would be amused that his death might help bring regime change, the renaissance of science and the end of faith-based "research." Bittersweet--and then some--to hear John Edwards say: "When John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk. Get up out of that wheelchair and walk again..." And I couldn't help but mist up when I saw a cartoon of Christopher meeting God at the Gates of Heaven and, rejecting his wings, saying "Thanks, I'll walk."

    Weekend Update

    Thanks to those who wrote to say that three days without Swami is painful. That's true here as well. Usually. But the Uptowns had a rare chance to go to a warm and secluded place with friends we cherish but who, like us, are too busy to just...hang out. So we fled New York on Friday like a C-student ditching Introductory German.

    Little Uptown walked out of our room the first morning, looked around and said, "This is great! I live here." Which might as well have been the case for those few days. As much as possible, Swami sat six inches from his daughter in a warm pool and played every goofy water-based game we could think up. Lunch lasted a leisurely two hours, and we talked into the night as we never get a chance to do at home, and Swami even downed his yearly quota of tequila--two shots--without making a fool of himself.

    The debate? Guys were watching baseball in the TV room, so we only got to watch the last half. It seems so long ago, and the next one's almost upon us; why care what Swami thought?

    Well, let's take a minute. Swami felt...vindicated. Since Friday, the pundits have been saying: It's gonna be gutterball from here to to the end, which is pretty much what was said here last week: The Republicans will cheat, lie, steal, gouge and maim in order to win.

    So it was a Good Thing that Swami kicked back and let his Spirit heal. Hope you rested up too. Because, if you are not among the Deniers or the Stupids or those who, unnacountably, Don't Give a Damn, you need to have all your wits about you these next few weeks.

    Sinclair Broadcasting

    In direct violation of FCC regulations, this powerful right-wing broadcaster is making all its local TV stations run a Swift Boat-like film smearing John Kerry.

    But you know the great thing about America? It worships money even more than it salutes the flag. And if advertisers start pulling out, we'll all be amazed how little they really care about the Swift Boaters.

    Again, the blogs rule. Eschaton and Daily Kos have done splendid work here, and there is already a report that Sylvan Learning Center has pulled its ads from Sinclair.

    The website with a list of Sinclair's advertisers is a hit-or-miss proposition, but here's a list of cities with Sinclair TV stations.

    If you're feeling in the mood to make some calls...well, don't hold back.

    The Video Moving Fast Around the Net Today

    Don't try and fool Grandma Bubbie.

    When The Bishop Talks about Politics, Is That the Word of God?

    The New York Times reports:

    Galvanized by battles against same-sex marriage and stem cell research and alarmed at the prospect of a President Kerry--who is Catholic but supports abortion rights--these bishops and like-minded Catholic groups are blanketing churches with guides identifying abortion, gay marriage and the stem cell debate as among a handful of "non-negotiable issues."
    Defeaning silence from Loose Canon and the rest of the hey-it's-a-Christian-nation-so-what's-the-big-deal crowd.

    If I Die in a Combat Zone

    A soldier in Iraq writes the President:

    ....terrorists aren't just bad people with bad ideas, and even if they were--killing the people will not kill the ideas. These ideas, this disdain for US soldiers, exists for a reason, and we must erase that reason to erase the problem. Until that tension is erased, until our foreign policies have strengthened our relationship with the near East, any soldiers who lose their lives in the line of fire will die in vain. I believe that strongly.

    If you see my name on your casualty report, if my photograph ends up on your wall of heros and heroines who died in uniform, please do not say it was in defending Americans. I do not want my death used as an example of a brave soldier who died for her country. My death will be at the hands of a poor man in a poor country who did not have weapons of mass destruction. It would be a great dishonor to myself and my family, and to those soldiers who have died in defending America. My last sacrifice to my country as a soldier is my life, and if I give my life in a vain pursuit, then let it be stated as such. How un-American! She should be court-martialed! People like this shouldn't be allowed to die for this country! No wonder the President hasn't answered her letter...

    The Beauty Part

    When he was away, Swami put on the headphones and listened, over and over, to "5:15 AM", the first song on Mark Knopfler's new CD, "Shangri La." In his mini-essay for his sister site, Head Butler, he writes:

    ...halfway through the song, you notice the tapping of your foot, pumping smooth and regular as an e-type Jag. You feel the power surge of this great band, as Knopfler applies the gentlest of touches to the accelerator. No flashy solos here, just the most lyrical guitar in all of rock. Other guitarists peal, chime, gleam; Knopfler's guitar is a choir unto itself.

    You can't help it. You want to be on your feet, you must dance. Because this is music that gets inside you and lifts you up --- this is sailing through clouds at 30,000 feet music, riding a gentle Caribbean wave music, taking a long bike ride on a summer night music...It's the music of glory, the sound you'd send out into the cosmos along with the Mozart. How can you not let go? How can you not let it free you? Not yet convinced? Read more.

    Thought for Today

    tonight your beauty burns
    into my memory
    the wheel of heaven turns
    above us endlessly
    this is all the heaven we've got
    right here where we are
    in our shangri-la
    --Mark Knopfler, from his exquisite new CD, "Shangri-La"

    Meet a New American Hero: Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan

    Remember this name: Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, the youngest Democratic member of the 108th Congress. A firebrand. Obama with anger and passion.

    Click to watch him talk about the draft in the House of Representatives.

    The draft? But there won't be one--our President says so.

    Say what? Say who? Our President and his team? The same people who....the same people who....the same people who...

    The cadences roll on, like Ciceronian oratory. And at the end, after the inevitable question about what is true: "NOT ONE THING! NOT ONE THING! NOT ONE THING THAT HAS BEEN TOLD TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE IS TRUE...."

    It's chilling and stirring--Tim Ryan literally rocks the House.

    Know a kid who might be drafted--if there were a draft? FORWARD THIS.

    Know a parent of a kid old enough to be drafted? FORWARD THIS.

    And if you were ever going to send a bit of Swami to those friends who, out of politeness, you don't talk politics with...hey, this is it.

    And, of course, watch it yourself. Turn your speakers up. Get ready to be excited. Right here. Right now.

    Is "Follow the Leader" Our Destiny?

    It's complete now. Bush and Cheney tell us the report that says there never were weapons and there never would be is proof that we needed to invade Iraq.

    And then there's that thing Paul Bremer said the other day about not enough troops, then and now. Today Bremer tells us he didn't say it. Well, maybe he did. But he meant only then, not now. No, wait: He meant...

    What Bremer meant and what Bush/Cheney are telling you to think is familiar to every kid who did the assigned reading in English: "I love Big Brother."

    They all do. McCain. Giuliani. And every white guy in a good suit who likes to pay less taxes than a grunt on the ground in Iraq. And you, too, if you play Follow the Leader.

    Follow the Leader is the theme of the Republican campaign now. Nothing more complicated. Do what we say no matter what we say. Blind obedience. See these fingers--watch how they never leave my hands.

    Swami has banked his fire of late. This election is all about the last two to three weeks--one week, if reality shows and cable news have successfully bludgeoned our attention spans--so there seemed no point getting riled up before it matters. But it matters now.

    No need to listen to what the Republicans say from here to the end, except as a matter of anecdotal interest. You know what they'll say--anything. It's like est, for those old enough to remember Werner Erhard's marathon weekend "trainings" in hotel ballrooms: What they told you wasn't nearly as important as that you listened and listened and slowly, slowly, fell into a trance and, eventually, believed. Same deal here. Repeat a lie often enough, most people will buy it.

    You never bought it. But, like Swami, you watched it as a spectator sport. Well, that has to end.

    C'mon, now. Rub the sleep from your eyes. Haul yourself out of the Barcalounger. Take the iPod plugs out of your ears.

    For the next three weeks, shall we play a new game?

    It's called Active Citizen.

    How do you play?

    Look below.....

    Protect the Election

    Volunteer to guarantee an honest election. They need volunteers from all walks of life, but especially lawyers, law students, clergy and Spanish-speakers.

    Do You Feel a Trip to Florida Would Do You Good?

    You don't have to be Jewish to love Operation Bubbe.

    Thought for Today

    One day I seemed to shut the door between me and all publishers' addresses and book lists. I said to myself: Now I can write. Now I can make myself a vase like that which the old Roman kept at his bedside and wore the rim slowly away with kissing it. So I, who never had a sister and was fated to lose my daughter in infancy, set out to make myself a beautiful and tragic little girl.

    --William Faulkner, on "The Sound and the Fury," published this day in 1929

    Women in Iraq: Why Would They Act This Way? They're Free!

    Nothing like the power of Oprah to bring reality home. An Iraqi woman was on Oprah's show yesterday, and the jaws of soccer moms dropped across America. From Daily Kos:

    The woman spoke of things being worse since the Occupation. She said there was no electricity, no water and women were being raped left and right and lived in constant fear for their lives. Oprah said, "I thought things were much better," and was surprised to learn that it is much worse than when Saddam was in power (the woman's brother and father were killed under Saddam). She now owns a rifle and said women now stay home for days at a time out of fear for their lives.

    Then came the kicker. She said women in Iraq are now becoming terribly addicted to Valium. She said Valium costs about 20 cents a bottle--and no prescription is required, and women now get a bottle of Valium when they go out to get a bottle of water. She said you now see women and they are in a total daze as they can't deal with the extreme heat and the extreme and unrelenting fear. Oprah (and the audience) were absolutely shocked at what they were hearing.
    Of course Al Qaeda provided these drugs. And smart Iraqi women order them over the Internet--from Canada.

    The Only Weapons There Were: Why Didn't We Care?

    Andrew Sullivan, who loves the smell of warfare in the morning, asks a stunningly simple question:

    One of his [Bremer's] early complaints was insufficient troop numbers to stop looting, restore order and protect unguarded weapon sites. Leave everything aside and focus on the latter. The war was launched because we feared Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. The main fear was that these weapons might be transferred to terrorists who could use them against us. And yet in the invasion, there was little or no effort to secure these sites! And there was no effort to seal the borders to prevent their being exported, or purloined by terrorists. Why? I've long pondered this, but Bremer's gaffe brings it back into focus. Why would you launch a war that failed in its very planning to avoid the disaster that you went to war to prevent? I don't understand. We were lucky in retrospect that Saddam didn't have any WMDs. The way this war has been run, it would have actually increased the chances of such weapons getting to America via terrorists rather than reduced them. At least, that seems to me to be the logical inference. Am I somehow wrong? Why did the administration leave weapons sites unguarded for so long? Why did they not send enough troops to secure the borders? I'm still baffled. And rattled. Can anyone explain?
    Newsflash: George W. Hates Being Compared to George H.W.(More Evidence)

    A new book claims that a little birdie was listening in on Jacques Chirac's phone calls--and picked up an opinion that soured French-American relations.

    So says Expatica:

    A new book examining the antagonistic relationship between presidents Jacques Chirac and George W. Bush claims the United States bugged the French leader's phone to find out his moves in opposition to the Iraq war.

    American surveillance listened to what happened "in the privacy of the Elysee palace according to several French sources in the military and intelligence fields," claims the book, titled "Chirac contre Bush: L'Autre Guerre (Chirac against Bush: The Other War)."

    Eavesdropping on him was made easy because the French leader regularly spoke on non-secure mobile telephones, the book said.

    Chirac contributed to an early chill soon after Bush took office in January 2001 by constantly referring to Bush's father, whom he had got to know well when the latter was US president.

    During President Bush's first visit to Europe in June 2001, Chirac even telephoned Bush senior to say "I found your son impressive" after a well-received speech by the new US leader...

    "W. hates it when he is compared to his father," a source close to the White House who knew both Bushes was quoted as saying in the book. Bill Maher: New Rules for Hurricanes

    Bill Maher's newest "rule" suggests he's probably not a regular churchgoer.

    Spiritual messages spray-painted on plywood don't stop hurricanes. Hurricanes can't read. This one says, "Jesus walks walks walks with us." No, he doesn't doesn't doesn't. You're living in a gymnasium.

    George Bush Sings!

    He's Lou Reed! He's John Lennon! He's the most fun you'll have on the Web all day.

    So crank it up!!!

    Thought for Today

    If we recognized the horror and the gravity of lying, we would persecute it with fire more justly than other crimes.

    Cheney/Edwards: Memento Mori

    Dead man walking. No way, if elected, will he live to serve four more years. Shakespeare: "I 'gin to be aweary of the sun..."

    The realization that Dick Cheney is mortal--that he is sick and tired, a man soon to go to that place where power doesn't matter--took my breath away. Oh, he was still the snide, mendacious Cheney--such an accomplished liar that, just to be on the safe side, you question every word that slides out of the corner of his mouth, even the pronouns--but the big news of the evening wasn't about anything he said. It was about how he looked.

    It's the latest strain in punditry to care more about body language than language itself. I didn't want to fall into that swamp here. I just want to ask: Was I the only one who saw the cloud of sadness over Cheney's head?

    A real cloud. Not symbolic. Almost from the start, my heart was in my mouth. I have watched someone die in front of me, and it made quite the impression. I was reminded of that death last night; I felt Cheney might not make it alive to the end of the debate, and the thought of seeing him expire on TV drove all other considerations from my head.

    From time to time, I reconsidered: "He's being boring on purpose," I said, "so people will change the channel." But then I'd look again, and I'd see that cloud, dark and brooding, heavy with a lifetime of sins. And in his body, I saw the fatigue and the stress and the high cost of denial. And with each moment, I saw his batteries run further down--to put it in spiritual terms, I saw his chi falling, falling.

    Then came the tragic moment. If you watched, you know what it is before I say it: Edwards talking about Cheney's gay daughter, about how Cheney surely loved her and wanted every good thing for her, including a few legal rights. And Cheney having to say--for the first time ever--that maybe he and the President had different views of this, and it was his duty to support the President.

    I felt for him then. Felt for him as I never have before. Understood what it must be like to babysit for the spoiled child who is our President, hunkered over the desk, hour after hour, doing the work of two men--hunched like an accountant wearing arm garters and a visor as he goes over the ledger. A cold man, a hated figure.

    Who won the debate? Edwards. Because he was young and sharp and looked at the camera and made sense. But also because Cheney needs a rest. If there's a merciful God, he'll get one on Election Day. If not, I fear, he dies in office.

    Liar Liar

    The Rude Pundit does the heavy lifting today:

    Many of the lies have already been dealt with, like the fact that, despite the Devil's line, "The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight," he has met Edwards on two occasions, at least. (And the Devil's minions have called the Prayer Breakfast meeting "inconsequential." Well, of course such an event has no consequence--he's the Devil.) Or the fact that when the Devil said, "A great many of our small businesses pay taxes under the personal income taxes rather than the corporate rate. And about 900,000 small businesses will be hit if you do, in fact, do what they want to do with the top bracket," what is true is that only half that number would be affected, and those are mostly people who work alone, maybe selling on E-Bay, and not really producing any, say, jobs. And let's not even get into the Devil's lies about Iraq. Instead, let's deal with this bright, shiny lie: that El Salvador was a beacon of democracy the Devil adored back during the Reagan adminstration. The Reagan-backed Jose Napoleon Duarte was "elected" in 1984 after years of left-wing guerilla action and right-wing government-backed death squads killed tens of thousands of people. The United States provided El Salvador with the largest Air Force in Central America, which in the first quarter of 1985, made more than a hundred bomb attacks of civilian opposition areas. Thousands were killed and hundreds of thousands were turned into refugees. One can be sure that the vast majority of those people didn't give a happy rat's ass about democracy. But the Devil was there, he assured us last night, the Devil was there to make sure it happened just the way it did...
    To See the Wounded Is to Know the Truth

    Newsday has the story of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, which has become "the American military's museum of pain and maiming, doubt and anger." That's not over-writing:

    Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 18,000 military personnel have passed through the hospital from what staff refer to as "down range": Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those, nearly 16,000 have come from Iraq.

    Last month, 23 percent of those were casualties from combat, slightly higher than most months; the rest had either accidental or disease-related complaints.

    Thirteen have died at the hospital.

    Each day, an average of 30 to 35 patients arrive on flights from Iraq. The most on a single day was 168.

    More than 200 personnel have come in with either lost eyes or eye injuries that could result in sight loss or blindness.

    About 160 soldiers have had limbs amputated, most of them passing through the hospital on their way home to more surgery.

    And it's not just their bodies that come in needing fixing. More than 1,400 physically fit personnel have been admitted with mental health problems. The people who treat them turn out to have opinions. Like Col. Earl Hecker, a 70-year-old surgeon who had retired from the Reserves, only to rejoin.

    Maybe it was the stress, maybe it's because Hecker has no military career to mess up by speaking out of line, but it just came out: "George Bush is an idiot," he said, quickly saying he regretted the comment. But then he continued, criticizing Bush as a rich kid who hasn't seen enough of the world. "He's very rich, you'd think he'd get some education," Hecker said.

    "He's my president. I'll follow him in what he wants to do," he continued, "but I'm here for him." Hecker leaned forward and pointed through the glass at the unconscious soldier fighting for his life 2 yards away. "It's just not right." This Is How Bad These Guys Are

    Thanks to a reader, eagle-eyed Lizett, for this piece about the White House's choice for Secretary of the Army. His name is Francis Harvey. His military experience: zero. But he sure has the kind of qualifications that make a Bushie swoon:

    Harvey currently serves on the boards of three companies backed by the Carlyle Groups, a private equity firm with ties to influential Republicans, including George H.W. Bush. Prior to that, he was at Westinghouse where he filled a number of senior executive positions. Observers say the nomination is resented by many service officials and some members of Congress who wonder why the White House would consider installing a new secretary a month prior to the presidential election and in the middle of a war.
    Oh, but there's a reason. The logical candidate is Acting Secretary Les Brownlee, a "decorated Vietnam veteran with years of experience working in defense issues on Capitol Hill [who is] widely respected by members and staff of both parties."

    But Brownlee "served for several years on the staff of Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee." And Warner was tough on the White House's role in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. So anyone connected to him is tainted.

    You know, these Republicans talk about how they're really committed to winning the war, taking good care of the troops, blah, blah, blah--and then you read something like this and you have to think, "These guys don't give a damn. About anything."

    Thought for Today

    You can't talk to the ignorant about lies, since they have no criteria.
    --Ezra Pound

    What's Love Got to Do with It? (Part 2)

    Yesterday Dr. Jeffrey Rubin weighed in on President Bush's odd use of "love" in last week's debate. Today, Dr. Justin Frank, author of the widely-quoted book "Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President," offers his take on that weird locution. From an email to Swami:

    What disturbs me is the grandiosity and near-psychosis in Bush at those moments. He has to work hard to feel empathy--because of the absence of guilt. But a deeper level there is a psychotic fantasy that he is Christ putting the golden eyes of love on people in need of his (or should I write His?) special kind of love. He conflates the presidency, America and Jesus.

    The leash comment [The President, on his daughters: "I'm trying to put a leash on them"] also bears examination, not only because his daughters in fact do need controls and limits and fathering, but because unconsciously he is reflecting his attitude toward people who defy him- as in Abu Ghraib. Clearly, when he gets anxious, his unconscious starts rearing its ugly head.

    Swami's Deep Thoughts

    Swami's thinking about that terror attack before the election--you know, the one "everybody" says is coming.

    And you know why: "Osama wants Kerry elected." Which is, of course, nonsense. An attack would reflect the Bush Administration's second failure to prevent terrorism and thus would make a reasonable person conclude: Give Kerry a chance. But the psychology of fear makes children huddle close to Daddy--once again, Osama would be a huge boost to Bush.

    Swami isn't saying Bush craves an attack. Or that Bush "knows" it's gonna happen and will look the other way while Americans die. But don't you think, rattling around in his head, is an unformed prayer, "Dear Lord, if there is to be an attack, can't it be on Thursday night? Because I'm just not ready to face John Kerry again on Friday."

    Reality Check

    LIAR LIAR: In a speech yesterday, former U.S. Administrator for Iraq Paul Bremer said more troops were needed to prevent chaos. The government cried foul:

    A senior Defense Department official said that Bremer never asked for more troops and expressed annoyance the ambassador appeared to be second-guessing the advice of military officials.
    The truth, from Knight Ridder, July 1, 2003:

    The top American administrator in Iraq, confronting growing anti-U.S. anger and guerrilla-style attacks, is asking for more American troops and dozens of U.S. officials to help speed up the restoration of order and public services.

    Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld was reviewing the request from L. Paul Bremer, U.S. officials said... ANN COULTER: How do you know the tide is turning? When Ann Coulter's new "book" "How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must): The World According to Ann Coulter" opens at Amazon ranked #4--but just about every reader review pegs her as a hate-filled loon with unresolved "issues" that make her the least attractive leather-clad blonde in America.

    THE ISSUE OF POVERTY: Loose Canon tells us the poor are no different from the rest of us. In Heaven, maybe. Here on earth, as Jimmy Breslin has pointed out, "the poor can never be made to suffer enough." The American way--in Bush's America--is simply to ignore them. But as Chuck Currie notes, some Christians are more Christian than that--they want the presidential candidates to disuss poverty during Friday night's debate:

    "As representatives of communities of faith, we are deeply troubled by the recent Census Bureau report that details the increasing number of people in poverty and the increasing number of people without health insurance," stated the letter which was signed by the National Council of Churches USA, Call to Renewal, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Church Women United, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Presbyterian Church (USA), NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, Union for Reform Judaism and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, among others.

    Neither candidate has yet responded to the September 8, 2004 letter. Bush's web site offers no specific proposals to address poverty. However, Kerry's web site does offer a plan for addressing poverty. COLLATERAL DAMAGE: It's not just Iraqi mothers who suffer. In Tuscon, Arizona:

    A 45-year-old woman collapsed and died days after learning her son had been killed in Iraq, and just hours after seeing his body. Results of an autopsy were not immediately released, but friends of Karen Unruh-Wahrer said she couldn't stop crying over losing her 25-year-old son, Army Spc. Robert Oliver Unruh, who was killed by enemy fire near Baghdad on Sept. 25.

    "Her grief was so intense--it seemed it could have harmed her, could have caused a heart attack. Her husband described it as a broken heart," said Cheryl Hamilton, manager of respiratory care services at University Medical Center, where Unruh-Wahrer worked as a respiratory therapist. MUSLIMS ARE ALSO FAITHFUL: Scoff all you like, but Iraqi "insurgents" believe God helps them:

    Today, volunteers for the Mahdi Army, the Shia militia following of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, returned to Baghdad from three weeks of fighting in Najaf with their own stories of divine intervention, ranging from ghostly machine-gunners to great birds that deflected falling bombs.

    Volunteer Sayf Adnan, 25, told how he was fighting with a group of comrades near to Najaf's Imam Ali shrine, the tomb of one of the most venerated figures in Shia Islam and the centre-piece of the Mahdi Army's defence, when United States warplanes began bombing them.

    "It went on for half an hour," he said. "Bombs struck every metre, but 80 per cent of them did not blow up. Not one of us was hurt. We knew we were under the protection of the Imam Ali... and that nothing would happen to us."

    The bird would reportedly brush the bombs with its wings, so that they did not explode.

    "It's a sign from God--that He has soldiers of all kinds," claimed the youth. "That bird was a soldier of God."

    Others spoke of mysterious shadows flitting around US tanks, which they believed to be angels stepping in to disable the cannon or tracks of the vehicles.

    "Those tanks could not move--something had fixed them to the ground," said a Mahdi Army fighter. The Beauty Part

    Do you know "Waiting for the Barbarians," a poem by Constantine Cavafy? It describes a great expectation of a visit from the "barbarians." The Emperor awakes early, Senators gather, military men put on plumage. The day passes. Finally...

    ...night is here but the barbarians have not come.
    And some people arrived from the borders,
    and said that there are no longer any barbarians.

    And now what shall become of us without any barbarians?
    Those people were some kind of solution.

    J.M. Coetzee wrote a novel that was inspired by that poem. It asks: Who are the barbarians? And who are they to us? Questions he asked in 1980. Questions still relevant. In "Waiting for the Barbarians."

    Thought for Today

    I'm not saying that John Kerry has all the answers, but Bush has none, and he's cheating off of Dick Cheney's paper.
    --Bill Maher

    What's 'Love' Got to Do with It?

    You'll recall that President Bush offered an unexpected reason for cracking down on frivolous medical lawsuits: "Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country."

    And you wondered: love?

    And you thought--oh, but you're a spiritual being, you didn't "go there."

    But then, during the Presidential debate, Bush did it again:

    The hardest part of the job is to know that I committed the troops in harm's way and then do the best I can to provide comfort for the loved ones who lost a son or a daughter or a husband or wife.

    You know, I think about Missy Johnson. She's a fantastic lady I met in Charlotte, North Carolina. She and her son Bryan, they came to see me. Her husband PJ got killed. He'd been in Afghanistan, went to Iraq.

    You know, it's hard work to try to love her as best as I can, knowing full well that the decision I made caused her loved one to be in harm's way. And this time, you thought--admit it, it was sorta graphic and made you ashamed of yourself, right?

    Seriously: Something's going on here. And it's not the old chestnut about the President being "inarticulate but sincere." So Swami asked his pal, Jeffrey Rubin, a psychoanalyst and author of The Good Life: Psychoanalytic Reflection On Love, Ethics, Creativity, And Spirituality, to explicate Bush's word choice. Dr. Rubin's response:

    Nothing George Bush has done in nearly four years in office has demonstrated a love of anyone or anything except the power that he wields with a profound lack of compassion. Bush's actual behavior--the way he treats people--as opposed to his patently disingenuous Christian religious rhetoric (which has no demonstrated relation to Christ's teachings in the Gospels) evinces sadism, not love. I am thinking, for example, of the delight he often expresses when speaking of the harm he has inflicted on others--the pleasure he had in putting Texas criminals to death or his callous declaration to the National Security Agency in 2002: "I'd rather have them [American troops] sacrificing on behalf of our nation than, you know, endless hours of testimony on congressional hill."

    Bush's statement during the debate about loving Missy Johnson is suggestive for two reasons: 1) Bush had to work so hard to try to love her because he didn't actually feel any connection with or empathy for her or her son, Bryan and 2) Bush not only does not feel love, but also experiences no guilt about the death of PJ Johnson and the anguish of his son and wife. And you thought the good doctor would talk about sex!

    Swami's Deep Thoughts

    A friend recently told Swami a smart remark she'd heard about the election: "What I don't understand about it is that I don't understand it."

    Swami knew exactly what that meant: It's like one of those days when you "get out of bed on the wrong side" or "start out on the wrong foot"--and the day never gets back on-course. Swami understands this because he was (don't break your elbow patting yourself on the back here, Swami) among the first to grasp the importance of the Swift Boat Vets. They weren't a "sideshow." They weren't some wingnut "diversion." They were the Republican campaign.

    The Republican campaign is not about issues, because that's not Bush's strength. Neither is his record. Where he stands or falls is on image--a square-jawed, principled, easy-to-understand carnivore. If enough mud gets slung at the other guy, if the other guy can be portrayed as a quiche-eating, Volvo-driving metrosexual...Bush wins.

    And it is mud that gets slung. Yeah, Democrats can get down and dirty, but they're amateurs compared to these guys. It's not clear to Swami if the Republican brain trust believes it must cheat to win or if it just likes to play dirty--either way, there's a zest for the low blow that you don't see in the Dems. Maybe the Dems just don't know how to have fun.

    Meditations on Republican strategy lead, invariably, to Karl Rove, the President's chief political adviser, better known as "Bush's brain." It has recently occurred to Swami that Rove is in the Wrong Job. Right now, he's waging "asymmetrical war"--in military terms, the kind of war that violates all of our conventions. Taking hostages and beheading them. Killing children. Terrorizing civilians.

    The thing is, Rove is waging this war on John Kerry, who was slow to figure out what was happening. Too bad. He's wasted in that gig. Put him in Iraq, and we'd be "winning" (whatever that means).

    Reality Check

    The disconnect between the Administration widens in direct proportion to the proximity of the election. By Election Day, Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and that bunch should be walking around with their skin splitting. For now, let's just try to keep track of the disconnects...

    SO WHAT WAR ARE WE WINNING? From the Los Angeles Times:

    Afghanistan's opium poppy crop this year is set to break all records, surging past the peak levels reported under the Taliban regime, top American and international counter-narcotics officials said.

    At the same time, U.N. and U.S. officials are increasingly worried by signs of a nascent drug trade developing in Iraq, where smugglers are taking advantage of the continuing chaos and unguarded borders. THIS IS HOW HE THANKS THE TROOPS: From the Boston Herald:

    When Marine Lance Cpl. James Crosby left Iraq, he was unconscious, strapped to a gurney, his legs paralyzed and his guts lacerated by shrapnel. That's when the military cut his pay in half.

    "Before you leave the combat zone, they swipe your ID card through a computer, and you go back to your base pay," said Crosby, who is now undergoing rehabilitation at the West Roxbury Veterans Administration...

    Crosby's pay had been cut from $2,500 a month to $1,200. NOT GOING TO FUNERALS ISN'T ALL HE DOESN'T DO: From The Minneapolis Star Tribune:

    Relatives of [Levi Angell,] a Minnesota Marine who was killed in Iraq, lashed out against the war and the Bush administration's conduct in waging it....

    His father, Gordon, said he never received a condolence call from any member of the administration. "Bush was giving a speech 20 miles away [from Cloquet] and he never bothered to pick up the damned telephone and say 'I'm sorry about your son,'" he said. "From now on, I'm a Democrat after the way they treated us."

    He said he got just such a call from John Kerry. "The only ones who seem to care about this whole terrible tragedy are Democrats," he said at the news conference arranged by the Kerry campaign. I READ THE NEWS TODAY, OH BOY: From today's electronic edition of The New Tork Times:

    Three powerful car bombs exploded across Iraq this morning, killing at least 26 people and injuring more than 100 others in a horrific day of carnage that demonstrated the effortlessness with which insurgents are striking in the hearts of major cities...

    This is a particularly crucial month for the American military here, as it struggles to support an Iraqi security force that so far has proven incapable of holding its own against the insurgency. The real test will come as the Americans try seizing cities controlled by guerilla fighters and placing Iraqi policemen and soldiers in charge of security. Over the weekend, the First Infantry Division chased insurgents from the streets of Samarra in a relatively quick battle, but the bombings today showed that the guerillas can readily mount their the own offensive, and in the heart of the capital. LIAR LIAR: IRAQ SECURITY FORCES: In the debate, the President was bullish on Iraq's ability to police itself:

    Iraqi security forces are taking increasing responsibility for their country's security. Nearly 100,000 fully trained and equipped Iraqi soldiers, police officers, and other security personnel are working today. And that total will rise to 125,000 by the end of this year. The Iraqi government is on track to build a force of over 200,000 security personnel by the end of next year. With the help of the American military, the training of the Iraqi army is almost halfway complete.
    Now for some truth.

    Reuters examines U.S. government documents:

    The documents show that of the nearly 90,000 currently in the police force, only 8,169 have had the full eight-week academy training. Another 46,176 are listed as "untrained," and it will be July 2006 before the administration reaches its new goal of a 135,000-strong, fully trained police force.

    Six Army battalions have had "initial training," while 57 National Guard battalions, 896 soldiers in each, are still being recruited or "awaiting equipment." Just eight Guard battalions have reached "initial (operating) capability," and the Pentagon acknowledged the Guard's performance has been "uneven."

    Training has yet to begin for the 4,800-man civil intervention force, which will help counter a deadly insurgency. And none of the 18,000 border enforcement guards have received any centralised training to date, despite earlier claims they had, according to Democrats on the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. The Beauty Part

    A real man. An impossible situation. Bravery beyond measure (sample: he amputates almost all of his toes with a dull knife). A stirring testimony to one man's will to live. A book you can't put down.

    Thought for Today

    Never allow the enemy to block you. Get around them, run over the top of them, destroy them--whatever you need to do so that God's word is the word that is being practiced in Congress, town halls and state legislatures.
    --Christian Coalition of America national field coordinator Bill Thomson, a former Marine, using military imagery to fire up the Christian Coalition activists to get out the vote.

    Debate Round-Up: Wrong war, wrong place, wrong time, you can't send mixed messages, you know where I stand, it's hard work, we're making progress

    They kept him in a bubble for so long he didn't know what it was like to hear-- really hear--someone telling him he was wrong. And so, when he finally had to stand at a lectern, in a public forum he didn't control, George Bush came off like the school gym coach who had somehow become principal--of Columbine High. And then the Bad Thing happened, and he had to face the parents.

    George Bush does not have 90 minutes in him. In a debate or as a person. Americans might prefer to have a beer with him rather than Kerry, but even over an O'Doul's, he just doesn't have the mental inventory to go 90.

    Oh, they're using the excuse that he was "tired," having spent part of the day in an "emotionally draining" visit with Florida's hurricane victims. Maybe. But in an alternate version of that tale, Swami would guess that Bush, sick of cramming, bolted from his debate prep and played Presidential-level hookey, the way Collegiate Swami used to shoot pool for hours in the days leading up to his exams.

    As for Kerry: He wasn't orange. He didn't sweat. He didn't cross the line and say "liar." He didn't talk French. He was respectful to Bush. In other words, Kerry gave the Republicans no quick, easy line they could use as a dismissal of his performance. Thus, the debate really was about issues. Automatic advantage: Kerry.

    And no need to consider this an elitist, liberal view. For once, there was stunning agreement on the outcome. Washington Post Associate Managing Editor Robert Kaiser, quoted in Romanesko: "I am still looking for a newspaper editorial or talking head who declared that Bush won the debate. This represents a rare degree of unanimity among the chattering and commenting classes, in my experience." (Memo to Loose Canon: There's your homework assignment for the weekend.)

    NOTE TO SELF: Do not gloat. One debate does not an election make. It's doubtful that many minds were changed last night. Maybe the biggest effect: Kerry re-invigorated his base. As Jon Stewart said, "This was the first time you could imagine people saying, 'It isn't that I don't want to vote for Bush' but 'I want to vote for Kerry.'"

    COMIC MOMENT: The Daily Show had a (joke) shot of the notes Kerry was taking: "I AM SO CRUSHING HIM." The Talent Show has Bush's notes.

    LIAR LIAR: The President assure us that we're doing so well in Iraq that elections will occur as scheduled. (But then he assures us that more Afghanis have registered to vote than there are eligible voters in Afghanistan.) Kroll Inc--a highly respected security firm that regularly consults for our government--has a darker assessment:

    Doubts continued to grow this week over whether elections can take place in January as planned against the current backdrop of relentless violence...It is likely that the current U.S. firmness is tied to the November presidential elections, and that its stance could change after the U.S. vote, if George Bush is re-elected. A revised and perhaps more realistic timetable could then be adopted...
    The Daily Kos comments:

    You read that last part right. Kroll is telling its clients worldwide that one of its clients, Bush, is misleading the world about the prospects for holding an Iraqi election in January, and is doing it to win the U.S. election in November. Kroll won't keep its business around the world if it doesn't call these shots straight. So they didn't out and out call their client, the President of the U.S., an out-of-touch liar willing to do anything to be re-elected. But they came damn close.
    DANCES WITH WOLVES: Charles Warner points out: GB twice referred to Afghanistan leaders as "moolas." Did he mean mullahs? You'd think he could pronounce this word. But he did pronounce Putin's first name properly; however, calling him "Vladamir" to seem to be on close personal terms with this dictator who has the press, especially television, under his control and his putting his opponents in jail (as Kerry pointed out) seemed inappropriately chummy.

    YOU FORGOT POLAND: So said the President when Kerry denigrated the coalition of the bribed. Which inspired bloggers to Google the Poles' support for the President's war. Said Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski: "They deceived us about the weapons of mass destruction, that's true. We were taken for a ride."

    THE CRYSTAL BALL: As P.J. O'Rourke has pointed out, Americans hate foreign policy because they hate foreigners. That works in Bush's favor. Unpopular, stupid war? No matter--on that issue, most Americans will stand with the President until we rack up casualties on the scale of Vietnam. So for Kerry to trounce Bush last night, the President really had to stink up the joint. Next week's Town Hall debate is half about domestic issues: taxes, medical care, etc. Again, Bush will have to defend his record--his dreadful, accomplishment-free record--on topics of greater interest to voters. If there's ever a night when Bush might snap in public, next Friday's debate could be it. And then--who knows?--we just might be looking at Regime Change.

    Two More Religious Blogs You Can Read Without Feeling Queasy

    Swami loves spirit and soul, gets jittery in the presence of organized religion. But he beamed at:

  • Chuck Currie

    From a recent Religion News Service story about Currie and other religious bloggers:
  • Though his wife thinks his devotion to blogging is "semi-insane," Currie said that he will continue to blog, if only "to show that there is a difference" between liberal and conservative Christians.
  • Becky Klemme
  • Sample:

    And I'm beginning, once again, to enjoy my Bible and theological reading. To enjoy wrestling with it, at least--if not finding myself in complete (or sometimes any!) agreement with what is being said. The dialogue is what is important.
    The Beauty Part

    Every two weeks, for more than a decade, Rosemary Breslin would go to the Adult Day Hospital at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and get pumped up with two pints of red blood cells. As she wrote:

    Without the blood, I could probably last a month at the most. The last two weeks I would not be able to get out of bed and would only be able to breathe with the help of an oxygen mask. And then that would be it. Gone, like Ali McGraw in "Love Story."

    With the blood transfusions, I've got this life I really dig. I work, go to the gym, hang with my friends, have the greatest marriage in the entire world. And all because of two pints of red blood cells every two weeks, four pints a month, forty eight pints a year. That's what gives me my life. Forty eight pints of blood.

    Doctors say my condition is not fatal and if it doesn't go away or nothing else works I could live for the rest of my life this way... It turned out to be fatal. She died last summer. But "Not Exactly What I Had in Mind" her book about living with illness, is far from a downer. To read it is to get a taste of a rich life, great good humor and a big love story--and to appreciate again that the importance of love is that it happens, not that it goes.

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