Thought for Today

We fed the heart on fantasy, the heart grew brutal on the fare.
--- William Butler Yeats

Swami's Blood Pressure: 120/80, and Holding

The oddest thing has happened. Last Friday, Swami consulted with a woman who, for shorthand purposes, we'll call a "psychic," and, ever since, he's been in an odd state of calm. Not uninterested or uncaring --- Swami still devours more news and analysis than is probably good for him, or anyone. More like....calm. Like: Something big is working itself out, and it's better just to watch it than to get all riled and nutty. Do something? Of course. But not in some flailing, agitated, sure-to-be-useless way.

One reason for Swami's it's-all-okay-at-30,000-feet mood may well be that, out in the Real World, things have turn a big turn for the worse --- indeed, Reality is getting so ugly it's hard to know what one person can do about it. In Swami's city, about 16,000 kids sleep in shelters every night, but that's not even a conversational topic in the salons and restaurants Swami passes through. In politics, Republican officials in some states seem to be sending the message that cheating is the only way they know how to win. (Jon Stewart suggested a new slogan for the Republicans: "If we're evil, it's news to us.") And in Iraq... but let's polish off America first.

What If They Knew What Bush Actually Believed?

Longtime readers may recall that Swami has divided Americans into four categories.

There are the Smarties (people of whatever persuasion who Pay Attention and have a handle on The Facts).

There are the Stupids (people dumb enough to believe what their government tells them, no matter what their government tells them)

There are the True Believers, who can muster facts and statistics galore to support the view that their president, who has mastered none of these facts and statistics, is a Leader for the Ages.

And there are the Denyers (people who know better but cast their lot with the Stupids because the Smarties make them feel guilty about their I've-got-mine-so-who-cares attitude and, anyway, the Smarties are Volvo-driving, latte-drinking blah blah blahs).

The Smarties? God bless you, whatever your views; we, at least, can talk. Stupids? No need to figure out how to talk to them --- they're watching reality TV and, for brain food, Fox. But maybe the Denyers, who still read (and who, most definitely, like to think of themselves as Model Citizens) might be interested in this dispatch from Program on International Policy Attitudes:

A new PIPA-Knowledge Networks poll finds that Americans who plan to vote for President Bush have many incorrect assumptions about his foreign policy positions...

Majorities of Bush supporters incorrectly assumed that Bush favors including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements (84%), and the U.S. being part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (69%), the International Criminal Court (66%), the treaty banning land mines (72%), and the Kyoto Treaty on global warming (51%). They were divided between those who knew that Bush favors building a new missile defense system now (44%) and those who incorrectly believe he wishes to do more research until its capabilities are proven (41%). However, majorities were correct that Bush favors increased defense spending (57%) and wants the US, not the UN, to take the stronger role in developing Iraq's new government (70%).

Tower to Denyers: You knew better, didn't you? So why do you vote with the Stupids? Swami can't figure it out.

Maybe This Will Help the Denyers: Iraq Today

A highly respected Wall Street Journal reporter sent an email from Baghdad. Not the same story Bush tells. Farnaz Fassihi writes:

Iraqis like to call this mess "the situation." When asked "how are things?" they reply: "the situation is very bad."

What they mean by "situation" is this: the Iraqi government doesn't control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation, basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health -- which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers -- has now stopped disclosing them.

Insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day.

A friend drove thru the Shiite slum of Sadr City yesterday. He said young men were openly placing improvised explosive devices into the ground. They melt a shallow hole into the asphalt, dig the explosive, cover it with dirt and put an old tire or plastic can over it to signal to the locals this is booby-trapped. He said on the main roads of Sadr City, there were a dozen landmines per every ten yards. His car snaked and swirled to avoid driving over them. Behind the walls sits an angry Iraqi ready to detonate them as soon as an American convoy gets near. This is in Shiite land, the population that was supposed to love America for liberating Iraq...

I went to an emergency meeting for foreign correspondents with the military and embassy to discuss the kidnappings. We were somberly told our fate would largely depend on where we were in the kidnapping chain once it was determined we were missing. Here is how it goes: criminal gangs grab you and sell you up to Baathists in Fallujah, who will in turn sell you to Al Qaeda. In turn, cash and weapons flow the other way from Al Qaeda to the Baathists to the criminals....

What comes next? Here's Christopher Dickey, the Newsweek bureau chief in Paris and a far-too-frequent visitor to Baghdad:

The most likely course of events in the years to come will be a rapid disintegration of Iraq, with the Kurdish north ever more independent, the center of the country -- including much of Baghdad -- a virtual no-go zone and the mullahs in the south, by design or default, positioning it as a new Shiite Islamic Republic. All those trends are well advanced already, and partial elections in the north and the south will probably hasten the outcome. But many more Americans will die before the administration declares "parts of former Iraq are winning freedom."

Change in American policy? No matter who the next President is, Swami fears a new direction won't come until Reservists refuse to report for duty, soldiers in Iraq refuse direct orders and --- shades of Vietnam --- gung-ho American officers suddenly start dying from bullets in the back. Yes, it looks as if our soldiers just might have to find a way to end this crazy war all by themselves --- by refusing to fight it.

Keeping the Stupids in the Dark

There's authorized media. And then there is Michael Moore. And if Big Media has its way, the twain shall never meet.

Case in point: TV ads for the DVD of Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11." You won't see them on any network TV news show. As Nikki Finke reports:

...the three networks said explicitly they were reluctant because of the closeness of the release to the election... At least Viacom's Sumner Redstone this weekend had the balls to say what other moguls aren't: "I do believe that a Republican administration is better for media companies than a Democratic one."

Yet Another Victory for the Internet

So MSNBC was going to use Frank Luntz, Republican pollster and White House insider, to conduct nationally televised focus groups. Bloggers pounced, especially David Brock's Media Matters. An e-mail campaign ensued. And, suddenly, the MSNBC story changed. From Eschaton:

Looks like the letter had an impact. Although MSNBC did not respond to Brock, a spokeswoman for the network told HOH late Wednesday that the network has decided "not to go with Frank for the debate." In fact, MSNBC won't conduct polling at all now, she said.

Brock was delighted to hear the news. "It is encouraging that MSNBC responded to criticism in a constructive way. Clearly they realized that employing a partisan pollster does not reflect well on them as a responsible media outlet."

As Swami has said before: It's going to be hard to crush dissent so long as the Web is free.

The Beauty Part

Not beautiful today. Unless you're among those who find something moving about a mother's love for her child. A dead child. A son, killed in Iraq. And now, instead of accepting a folded flag, she decides to speak out. To make a commercial. Pleading for change. In tears.

If you have tears left to shed, you'll watch Cindy Sheehan's powerful commercial.

And, perhaps, you'll make a donation to get this commercial on their air in swing states.

Thought for Today

it's these sandpaper eyes
it's the way they rub the luster from what is seen
it's the way we tell ourselves that all these things are normal
till we can't remember what we mean
it's the flicker of our flames
it's the friction born of living
it's the way we beat a hot retreat
and heave our smoking guns into the river
--Buddy Miller, "Worry Too Much," from Universal United House of Prayer

Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom

Two new websites inspire hope:

Church Folks for a Better America

Whosoever Magazine, for religious gays

(Yes. Amazing: religious sites Swami actually likes.)

And the Hits Just Keep on Coming!

Another victory for citizen outrage! Another notch on the belt for bloggers! From the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch:

Under fire from voting-rights advocates, Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell retreated yesterday from a directive that critics said would slow voter-registration efforts and even block some people from casting a ballot Nov. 2.

At issue is a reminder Blackwell issued this month to county boards of election that voter-registration forms must be printed on "white, uncoated paper of not less than 80-pound text weight," a heavy, cardlike stock."

Last night, a spokesman for Blackwell denied that the GOP officeholder was trying to prevent people from voting and said county boards should accept voter registration forms on paper of any weight as long as they are otherwise valid.

"We're not the paper police. We're not going to go to county election boards and review voter registration forms," said Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo. "We want them to process the forms."

Swami's Crystal Ball

If the New York Police had done their job correctly, you wouldn't be seeing these Photos and Videos From Inside New York's Pier 57 Detention Center. But a digital camera is so small. And in a crowd, a memory chip can be so easily passed to a prisoner who's already been searched.

The point? This election won't be a re-enactment of Florida 2000, when many voters with the wrong color skin were denied the right to vote. This time around, election monitors (and citizens with attitude) who have camera-equipped cell phones can take pictures of wrongdoing and, seconds later, shoot them off to TV networks and bloggers.

Yeah, Jeb's milita and Karl Rove's rangers can pull some stunts--but they're going to have a much harder time getting away with it. (Random query: Why do we never hear about Democratic dirty tricks?)

Swami's prediction: we'll see more "home-made" media on Election Day than you'd have dreamed possible. If not on the networks, at least on blogs. Which become more and more important every day the Mainstream Media somehow fails to tell us what we want to know (though it's doing a great job of telling Some People what they want to hear).

The First Debate: Questions from the Pros

Editor and Publisher polled veteran journalists: What would you ask?

Swami's favorites?

For Bush: "You and/or members of your administration now concede there was a problem of reliable intelligence analysis on weapons of mass destruction and postwar issues. How can you trust what your analysts are telling you now about the war in Iraq?"

For Kerry: "Why don't you stop talking like a U.S. senator and tell me what you are going to do about the war?"

John Ashcroft? Oh, John Ashcroft? Hey, John, Where Are You?

Our Attorney General has been uncommonly quiet of late. Have you seen him? Swami hasn't either. Maybe it's because his personal war on terror has turned out to be a dud.

The Nation reports:

...the Detroit case had marked the only terrorist conviction obtained from the Justice Department's detention of more than 5,000 foreign nationals in anti-terrorism sweeps since 9/11. So Ashcroft's record is 0 for 5,000. When the attorney general was locking these men up in the immediate wake of the attacks, he held almost daily press conferences to announce how many "suspected terrorists" had been detained. No press conference has been forthcoming to announce that exactly none of them have turned out to be actual terrorists.
Oh, wait. Cat Stevens. 0 for 5,001.

Thought for Today

it's the quick-step march of history
the vanity of nations
it's the way there'll be no muffled drums
to mark the passage of my generation
it's the children of my children
it's the lambs born in innocence
it's wondering if the good i know
will last to be seen by the eyes of the little ones
--Buddy Miller, "Worry Too Much," from Universal United House of Prayer

Today's Fun: "The Billionaires Are in the House!"

A rap video: "Billionaires for Bush," made by a group that outdoes 50 Cent by a lot--it's called Fifty Billion.

"Funny" (Bush is "G Dog") doesn't begin to describe this sucker. Sample rap: "Bush is our President/You know we're not kidding/He's takin' our money/He's doin' our bidding."

Crank those speakers up! Forward this sucker on!

More Fun: The Florida Ballot

Just try to cast a vote for Kerry. Just try.

Iraqi Math, Part II

A thoughtful reader shows Swami another way to look at 39 combat-related deaths in Iraq (in January) and 35 murders in Detroit:

You need a little ammo to deal with the math-challenged equation comparing 39 combat deaths to 35 murders in Detroit. In order for it to be an accurate comparison, you have to have the same population number in the denominator. We have roughly 135,000 troops in Iraq. Detroit has roughly 950,000 people, and the region is about 4.7 million. Depending on whether those murders occurred only in Detroit or in the whole region, the same rate of soldiers dying in Iraq would give you 274 in the city and 1,357 in the whole region.
Either way, a lot of dying in Iraq, doncha think? And that's excluding the civilian deaths, which, as we know, matter only to the Iraqis.

Five People You Won't Meet in Heaven (They're Not Going)

Paul Crouch. His wife Jan. Their sons, Paul Jr. and Matthew. Paul's sister Ruth Brown. You know this quintet, perhaps, as the heads of Trinity Broadcasting, creator of "Praise the Lord," a show with as many prime-time viewers as Chris Matthews' "Hardball."

The Los Angeles Times tells a different story--an old-fashioned tale of hustlers who use religion to extort money from those least able to give it. And, of course, there's some sex involved: Crouch reportedly "paid a former employee $425,000 to keep silent about an alleged homosexual tryst."

But let's not get caught up in a little sexual hypocrisy when there's so much money to track:

Though it carries no advertising, the network generates more than $170 million a year in revenue, tax filings show. Viewer contributions account for two-thirds of that money.

Lower-income, rural Americans in the South are among TBN's most faithful donors. The network says that 70% of its contributions are in amounts less than $50.

Those small gifts underwrite a lifestyle that most of the ministry's supporters can only dream about.

Paul, 70, collects a $403,700 salary as TBN's chairman and president. Jan, 67, is paid $361,000 as vice president and director of programming. Those are the highest salaries paid by any of the 12 major religious nonprofits whose finances are tracked by the Chronicle of Philanthropy...

The Crouches travel the world in a $7.2-million, 19-seat Canadair Turbojet owned by TBN.....Thirty ministry-owned homes are at their disposal - including a pair of Newport Beach mansions, a mountain retreat near Lake Arrowhead and a ranch in Texas.

The Crouches' family members share in the benefits. Their oldest son, Paul Jr., earns $90,800 a year as TBN's vice president for administration. Another son, Matthew, has received $32 million from the network since 1999 to produce Christian-themed movies such as "The Omega Code."

Overseeing these expenditures is a board of directors that consists of Paul Crouch, Jan Crouch and Paul's 74-year-old sister, Ruth Brown. Control resides primarily with Paul. In a 2001 legal deposition, Jan said she did not know she was a corporate officer and could not recall the last board meeting she attended. Swami knows what you're thinking: Oh, to have a non-profit.

World Hunger: When We Can Make Money Off It, Maybe the United States Will Care About It

A hundred countries want to raise $50 billion to combat global hunger. The United States isn't one of them. Why not?

According to a report in The Scotsman, the money is to be raised in a number of creative ways, including....

...a global tax on financial transactions, a tax on the sale of heavy arms, an international borrowing facility and a scheme for marketing credit cards whose users would donate a small percentage of their charges to the cause.

But the US poured cold water on the project, with the leader of the American delegation, agriculture secretary Ann Veneman, dismissing it.

"Economic growth is the long-term solution to hunger and poverty," she told the meeting. "Global taxes are inherently undemocratic. Implementation is impossible." Ms. Veneman misspoke. We have no objection to taxes so long as the rich don't pay them.

The Beauty Part

The Eye of Hurricane Ivan, as seen from the International Space Station.

Thought for Today

A year from now, I'd be surprised if there's not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush.
--Richard Perle, member of the Defense Policy Board (a collection of experts and former government officials who have access to classified information and are unpaid advisers to the Secretary of Defense on military issues), September 22, 2003

Keeping the Slate Clean

Thanks to all who wrote Swami over the weekend or posted on the boards. A little affirmation goes a long way. Ditto a little faith.

On that subject, a friend arranged for Swami to dialogue with a wise woman at week's end. A humbling moment to be told you have a destiny. And what it is. Tougher to be told: "The more faith you have, the more you can use it. The more faith you have, the more it's tested."

Alas for you, it all gets recorded here.

The Numbers Game in Iraq

The Venerable Mother Uptown gets much more e-mail than her son. Andy Rooney's latest ravings. Lots of jokes. Stories proving, yet again, that kids say the darndest things. And, this season, Reasons to Vote Republican.

Last week, Mother U got a much-forwarded e-mail explaining how our casualties in Iraq weren't nothing at all. The key quote:

There were 39 combat related killings in Iraq during the month of January. In the fair city of Detroit, there were 35 murders in the month of January.
Interesting statistic, but the comparison is bogus.

Yes, there were 35 murders in Detroit in January. But those 39 American soldiers were not the only ones killed in Iraq in January.

"We don't do body counts," Tommy Franks has said, but others do, and the number of civilian casualties in Iraq over the past 18 months is estimated between 12,000 and 15,000.

For ease of math--Swami was an English major--let's say 900 a month, every month. (Again, that's far from exact, but bear with me, okay?)

One more calculation needs to be made so we can appreciate what 900 deaths might mean to the Iraqis.

Iraq has 1/11th the population of the United States. English major me bumps that down to 1/10th.

Thus those 900 civilian deaths in Iraq are the equivalent of 9,000 civilian deaths in America.

That's three times America's death toll on 9/11--each month.

Bottom line #1: Mathematically, Iraqi civilians were much more likely to survive Saddam than they are to survive our "liberation."

Bottom line #2: It's not what we think about the war that matters. It's what the Iraqis think.

From the Mailbag: Let's Try Visualization

Swami knows little about visualization. He suspects it works, because Alice Mason, a noted real estate broker in Manhattan, uses it. Uses it so well, in fact, that this story just had to be the start of a piece Swami wrote in 2003 about her:

Alice and Jack Kaplan were a perfectly nice, perfectly rich couple, but the board of 760 Park Avenue was not, in those days, eager to--how shall we say this?--let Jews into their building. Indeed, the phrase "WASP bastion" was pretty much invented for snootball boards like this. And in that era--we're talking about the 1970s--it looked as if Jews were forever destined to live in "their own" co-op buildings.

What were the Kaplans thinking?

For that matter, what was their real estate agent thinking when she phoned the president of the board of 760 Park Avenue and told him the Kaplans had placed a satisfactory bid on an apartment in his building?

In fact, Alice Mason, the Kaplans' broker, was thinking about... yoga.

And on the night the board of 760 Park met to discuss the Kaplans, she wasn't the only one--for Alice Mason had engaged a yoga class to send positive vibrations about the Kaplans to the co-op board.

"You want the Kaplans," they chanted. "You want the Kaplans. You want the Kaplans."

As they chanted, a woman on the board unaccountably went into a kind of trance. "We want the Kaplans," she murmured.

"We will never take the Kaplans," she was told.

"We want the Kaplans," she repeated, with escalating passion. "We want the Kaplans!"

And the board, to calm her down, accepted the Kaplans.

The only unsurprised person in this transaction?

Alice Mason.

"Yoga helped me achieve my goals without revealing my objectives," she explains. "If you are in astral contact--if you have planets within one degree, especially in conjunction--you can use the airwaves to send people your thoughts. I had a lot of deals where I had the yoga class do things like that. And there was no other broker who could compete with that." Okay, if Alice Mason can sell mega-million-dollar apartments this way, maybe we can stop a war and elect a President. So here, courtesy of a Reader:

Become quiet, and still your thoughts. Release from your mind the idea of any unsettling or disturbing matters that may have been troubling your heart, even moments ago. Sit in the calm--slowly and deeply breathing in and out a sense of well-being and peace-of-mind.

In this peaceful space, we are free to visualize and create our future, right here and right now.

Take this time to visualize a perfect Election Day morning. Smile as you witness millions upon millions of American citizens waking up on November 2nd, having decided this is the day to begin restoring America's integrity and compassion. Feel their empowerment. Sense the pride, as they--as We the People--line up at our polling places across the nation. Then hear the reporters giving the exit poll tallies. Watch the networks deliver the final results. Bear witness in joyous celebration as the President concedes gracefully. Smile again to yourself, and, perhaps, for the first time in a long time, breathe a grateful sigh of relief.

Finally. take a moment to express your gratitude for divine right action as it is made manifest in all creations. And so it is. Debate Contest: What would you ask George Bush?

Swami's main man The Rude Pundit is having a little fun with a debate contest: What's the one question Bush should be asked?

RP's suggestion: "Mr. President, do you believe Jews, Muslims, and others who die without accepting Jesus Christ as their savior will be allowed into Heaven?"

What's yours? Send your entry to rudepundit@yahoo.com before Wednesday morning.

More Fun: "This Week in God"

One of the funniest features of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "This Week in God" is Stephen Colbert's star turn. This week, "brought to you by The Jevohah's Witnesses ('your best chance to talk to old Jamaican women')." This week, Colbert looks at Catholicism...evangelical Christianity....celebrity....Jews for Jesus. Easily offended? Then you definitely don't want to miss these blissfullly offensive five minutes.

The Beauty Part

Music lovers who are familiar with Buddy Miller--which is to say, each and every fan of the music known as "alternative country"--will tell you he can do anything. He can go "high lonesome" like a backwoods wailer from the hollow. He can sing rugged and soulful as Otis Redding. He can write classics. His guitar solos have the ring of inevitability, whether he is cutting like Led Zeppelin, swamp-rocking like John Fogerty or delivering a solo so brilliantly understated it can go right by you unnoticed. His duets with his wife, Julie Miller, are precise and delicate as cut crystal. For almost a decade now, he's been the guitarist in Emmylou Harris's band--yes, he's good enough to stand up there every night and do "Love Hurts" with her. And, in a home studio that's more living room than not, he produces CD after CD that listeners cherish for their integrity, depth and what Steve Earle calls "the best voice in country."

But few, if any, of his fans would have predicted that Miller--who was born white and Jewish in New Jersey--would make the greatest gospel recording since the Staples Singers.

Universal United House of Prayer is so amazingly good it can make the lost believe, the blind see and the lame walk. It could just be Record of the Year.

Thought for Today

I don't know if someone is going to run to the front of the stage and shout, "I'm saved" or "I'm switching," but I'm going to try. I will be calling anyone in a bow tie to come to the front of the stage, and I'll see what I can do.
--Bruce Springsteen, talking about the upcoming Vote For Change concerts

Blog of Atonement

The analogy is inexact--no, I don't equate George Bush with Hitler--but I feel a bit like Oskar Schindler: "I didn't do enough."

I know I tried. I stripped the charm from my prose, suppressed my natural wit, looked to find one more link rather than hide behind a glossy quip. I read more. Thought harder. Cared more. Saw that beneath this thin veneer was something more than another thin veneer.

All this was of great benefit to me. For your willingness to bear witness to my spiritual education, my gratitude.

But--and maybe the teacher always feels he learns more than the students--I don't feel I've done enough for you.

I know I created a place where Americans who have been made to feel as lonely as Eleanor Rigby could discover, day by day, that someone else was experiencing a reality something like their own.

I know I found the occasional fact that illuminated an issue, or a joke that made the point better than a harrangue, or a piece of art or music that lifted the spirit.

But in this dreadful election, I've found my spiritual center isn't strong enough to bear witness to the lies without my blood pressure spiking. Provoked, I respond. Attacked, I kick back. Facing what looks like stupidity--facing what surely is stupidity--I lack compassion. Maybe this is the correct response--maybe the association of "spiritual" and "non-violent" is overrated--but I sense I should think more of my immortal soul and less about the latest outrage. There will be plenty of outrages ahead. Where is it written they're all mine to fix? What does it do for you to hear me howl? Isn't howling, at some level, a kind of preening, a form of self-congratulation?

I can do better. I can be better. Here's a modest, guarded hope I will.

Clearing the Slate with Loose Canon

Loose Canon chastised me the other day for equating her with Alabama Judge Roy Moore, who saw it as his Christian duty to set a statue of the Ten Commandments in his courthouse. She writes:

There is a difference between passing out optional book covers and erecting a several-ton monument to the Commandments on public property, as former Alabama Judge Roy Moore did. Though I have repeatedly criticized Moore in this space, Swami tars me with a false association with him, asking...

"...Is LC's religion so desperately in need of promotion that--in addition to its symbol on jewelry, houses, bumper stickers, lawns, movies, books, churches and billboards--it must be on public property as well?"

Check the archives--I'm very much on record as thinking Moore has no right to unilaterally decorate public spaces. Swami was about to prostrate himself in apology when Mrs. Uptown wandered by and reminded Swami that he reads too quickly for his own good. "Unilaterally," she said, tapping the screen at the offending word. "Her objection is that he did it on his own. But if, say, a Constitutional Amendment told Judge Moore it was okay for religion to be promoted in a public space...I bet she'd have no problem. You know: 'What's wrong with the Ten Commandments?'"

Does Mrs. U have that right, LC? If so, you get a partial apology--and a promise to read more slowly, on the assumption that there's probably some weasely stuff going on in your writing Swami might overlook. As Ronald Reagan liked to say: "Trust--but verify." The Gipper knew.

What Swami Believes

Loose Canon went on:

Since Swami has commented in some depth (and with some animosity) on my religious views, I feel I have the right to do the same. Swami raised the issue of the presence of God in his private life. What does he mean by this? I'd like to know more about Swami's God. Please, tell us about Him or Her. Of course, you don't have to--my license from the Inquisition has just expired.
In May, when we began these blogs, Swami described his beliefs. They haven't changed much. For LC--and for those who have joined us along the way--here you go:

I reject the "God" who seems to be so popular in our country today--the vengeful God who loves to play "gotcha" and ship sinners off to Hell, the God who decides that once you're "saved" you can never be "unsaved" no matter what you do, the God who only seems to speak to right-wing Republicans. I'm with John Lee Hooker: "Ain't no Heaven/Ain't no burnin' hell." My God created only one paradise that can be confirmed--this holy planet--and, as I see it, all we need to do is remember we're already in Heaven and live accordingly.

Alas, unlike those who claim to have a monopoly on God, I can't offer a "roadmap" to happiness. Some days I don't feel I know much at all. But I'm continually inspired by this: Thanks to the Internet and a handful of spiritual experiences, I've had a glimpse of the world as a series of caring communities. On message boards and in chat rooms, in emails and in relationships that move from the virtual world to the real one, I have been privileged to witness love and concern at the intensity Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed describe. (I'm sure that regular visitors to Beliefnet can tell me stories of friendships forged, faith strengthened, through chance meetings here.)

And so, rather than hate those who surely hate me, I want to use this space for a better purpose: to look at what happens every day and try to see the Big Picture, to understand that, if the worst comes, it will also go. And, above all, to remind myself--and you--of the opportunities for joy in even the darkest times.

For guidance in these days of pointless bloodshed, I read a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh--indeed, since the war started, he's almost the only thinker my wife and I can consistently stand to read. No mystery why: this Vietnamese Buddhist has been through a war worse than any I've known. His brand of Buddhism is equally about meditation and action; he spent most of those years trying to negotiate peace in his native Vietnam. For his troubles, he was expelled from the country. So when I need to be talked off the ledge, I turn to his Essential Writings, or, these days, to Fragrant Palm Leaves, his diary from the '60s.

In his final diary entry, he looks back on what he's lost--friends killed, monasteries burned, death on every side. But he refuses bitterness:

"Love remains despite impermanence and emptiness of self, despite so much cruelty and blind ambition. Tomorrow, if we are burned to ashes, those ashes will be love and will nestle in the heart of the earth to nourish the flowers. Flowers don't know how to hate. We will return to the circle of life as flowers, grasses, birds or clouds to bring people the message of eternal love. Like the village children who, even in this time of war, sing: We will love others forever and ever; hand holding hand. We will love others forever."
That's it. Swami believes in love. Until something better comes along, that is....

Victory for Fairness! It Can Happen!

Maybe bloggers can't take all the credit. But the fury on the Internet after the International Herald Tribune reported that the government was making it exceedingly difficult for Americans living abroad to vote surely was a factor in the government's turn-around. The Tribune reports:
The U.S. Defense Department changed its explanation Wednesday for problems faced by certain overseas Americans attempting to access the government Web site for voters abroad, saying that an Internet security block imposed several years ago had been left in place inadvertently.

The block, which had prevented some U.S. citizens abroad from accessing www.fvap.gov, the site of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, as the Nov. 2 election nears, has now been lifted, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Tim Madden, spokesman for the Defense Department task force that oversees the Pentagon's computer networks, declined to specify the reason for the block.

Earlier, a Pentagon official indicated that the block had been imposed to thwart hackers, but Madden would not comment on this.

He insisted, however, that the Pentagon had not been not blocking the Federal Voting Assistance Program's site.

Earlier Wednesday, three members of Congress wrote to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warning that the block could result in "the potential disenfranchisement of millions of overseas Americans" and urging him to restore access to the site. The Beauty Part

A message board post:

My partner is the best ever. He has been donating his call center and long distance lines to the Democrats on evenings and weekends so that about 15 or more people can spend time calling swing state voters.

And he is flying from here in California to Ohio for the election so he can drive senior citizens to the polls.

I am so in love with this guy.

Tom P. Is this a great country or what?

Thought for Today

Blind man running through the light of the night
With an answer in his hand,
Come on down to the river of sight
And you can really understand,
Red lights flashing through the window in the rain,
Can you hear the sirens moan?
White cane lying in a gutter in the lane,
If you're walking home alone.
--Neil Young, "Don't Let It Bring You Down," from the beyond-great After the Gold Rush

Can't Anybody Get Ann Coulter a Date?

You'd think a leggy blonde would have something better to do in her off hours than mourn for a love who died before she was born. But here's Ann Coulter swanning at the grave of Joseph McCarthy (second row, left), the disgraced Senator who was apparently her Dream Man. Sheesh! Say what you will about Swami, you don't see him mooning at the gravesite of Marcel Proust.

"Is Toby Keith Gonna Sing a Song about U.S. Military Cutting Off the Water and Electricity in Tall Afar?"

Yes, it's time for another installment of Get Your War On.

One, Two, Three, Four! Dr Laura's Boy Is Going to War

Just when you thought there wasn't a rich kid dumb enough--oops, patriotic enough--to enlist, Dr. Laura Schlesinger's kid shows he's willing to bleed for his country.

We Busted Cat Stevens. Next We'll Get Raffi

So the former Cat Stevens was hauled off a plane because he's on a terrorist "watch list." (As Jon Stewart pointed out, they couldn't figure this out before he boarded?) His probable sin: His foundation gives money to schools attended by Muslims, where, for all we know, they learn how to become suicide bombers.

Roger Friedman has looked into this charity:

Interestingly, Stevens/Islam recently brought a charitable foundation to the U.S. that he'd already started in Great Britain. Called Small Kindness, the charity is endorsed by the United Nations. It's designed to help children suffering in Kosovo, Iraq, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Albania. Its website is one of the most specific I've ever seen, showing exactly where the money is going and what it's being used for.
But take a look for yourself: Small Kindness.

If You Live Abroad, Your President Would Prefer That You Come Home to Vote--or Maybe Just Not Vote

The International Herald Tribune has the gloomy story of the government's latest effort to block--oops, rock--the vote:

....the Pentagon has begun restricting international access to the official Web site intended to help overseas absentee voters cast ballots.

According to overseas-voter advocates who have been monitoring the situation, Internet service providers in at least 25 countries--including Yahoo Broadband in Japan, Wanadoo in France, BT Yahoo Broadband in Britain and Telefónica in Spain--have been denied access to the site of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, apparently to protect it from hackers.

In an e-mail addressed to a person in France who had tried to access the Web site, the Federal Voting Assistance Program's Web manager, Susan Leader, wrote: "We are sorry you cannot access www.fvap.gov. Unfortunately, Wanadoo France has had its access blocked to U.S. government Web sites due to Wanadoo users constantly attempting to hack these sites. We do not expect the block to be lifted."

...Although voter registration forms are available from other sources, being unable to download the forms from the site has frustrated expatriates in many countries. That frustration is growing with the approach of the Oct. 2 deadline for registration in most U.S. states.

Brett Rierson, co-founder of OverseasVote.com, a Hong Kong-based, pro-Democratic Web site that provides voting instructions as well as a link to the Federal Voting Assistance Program, said he had been bombarded with complaints from users who cannot enter the government site.

...Rierson's organization, which has been monitoring the Pentagon restrictions, found that at least 25 Internet service providers had been blocked.

Those who cannot access the voting assistance program site can go to a new site, www.overseasvote2004.com, which promises to help absentee voters complete registration "in five minutes." It features state-specific registration forms that voters can print out and fax and mail back to their states.

Alternately, voters can go to their U.S. embassies or contact their local representatives of Democrats Abroad or Republicans Abroad for a registration form. The Beauty Part

It's Bruce Springsteen's 55th birthday. (Color Swami agog.)

Swami's alter ego Head Butler has high praise for one Springsteen release in particular: "This is a record of screaming guitars and thundering bass and a drummer determined to beat clear through those skins. And it's a record of whispers and regrets, promises in the night, last-chance romance and the desperation underneath that longing. Anger wrestles with hope at every turn--this record couldn't be more serious."

Can you guess? For the answer, go to Head Butler.

Thought for Today

The president we get is the country we get. With each president the nation is conformed spiritually. He is the artificer of our malleable national soul....He becomes the face of our sky, the conditions that prevail. How can we sustain ourselves as the United States of America given the stupid and ineffective warmaking, the constitutionally insensitive lawgiving, and the monarchal economics of this president? He cannot mourn but is a figure of such moral vacancy as to make us mourn for ourselves.

--E.L. Doctorow, author of "Ragtime," in a must-read, there-will-be-a-quiz piece The Unfeeling President

The Speech Swami Wrote for George Bush

Depending on the poll you read, this election is too close to call or George Bush has a lead in the single-digits.

But Bush could win by 15 points, maybe 20. And Kerry would go into the dark night where McGovern and Dukakis dwell.

All Bush has to do is give the speech Swami has written for him. Will it infuriate his Conservative supporters? Oh, it will drive them crazy! But hey, where are they gonna go? In what universe do they defect and vote for Kerry? On the other hand, America is the planetary home of the Second Chance. Any woman who's ever forgiven her husband, any man who's made a mistake will understand what it takes to say these words. And even Kerry supporters will be swayed--because this kind of speech, the speech of a lifetime, is given so rarely it becomes Instant History.

Odds that Bush will ever say anything like this? Slim to none. But maybe you'd like to send this speech to him and suggest he think about it. You can write him at President@Whitehouse.gov

George Bush: "I come before you to beg for your forgiveness"

My dear friends...my worthy opponents...my fellow Americans...

I come before you tonight to apologize to each and every one of you.

And to say three words that some of you believe can never come out of my mouth: I was wrong.

Yes, I was wrong. Wrong about the war in Iraq. And wrong about it in every possible way. Wrong about the weapons, wrong about the planning, wrong about the cost in money and equipment, and, most of all, wrong about the lives we would lose, the lives we would take, the men and women and children on both sides who will be damaged for life because of this war.

I got bad advice--but I can't hide behind that. The truth is, I got bad advice because I asked for it. I committed the worst mistake you can commit in business or in government or in life--I started with a point-of-view and then I considered only the evidence that supported it. I took a big, complicated picture, and I shoved it into a small frame, until it was as simple as a cartoon.

I didn't lie to you. I lied to myself, and I told myself the lie so often it became my truth, and then I sold you the lie I believed in.

Why did I do it? I wish I could tell you, I wish I knew. My best guess is that I was--like many of you--very badly shaken by 9/11. But when you are a man from Texas and the President of the United States, you have to be strong. No one wants to see you hurting and numb and not knowing what to do. Americans are tough, decisive, resilient people--that's our myth, anyway--and they want action. So I gave them action.

Osama bin Laden. I haven't said his name in a year, have I? Well, I'm saying it now. And I'm saying now we should have tracked him harder and brought him down and put him on trial for murder. But the mountains of Afghanistan are the worst place in the world to fight--as the English and the Russians learned the hard way before us. And there is so much corruption in that part of the world we couldn't really count on the Pakistanis--our so-called allies--to help us.

And we needed to win something. America needed to put some points on the board. And there was Iraq.

There were military people who warned me of the dangers--I ended their careers. A budget director told me the cost of an invasion would be many times higher than I believed--he lost his job. And there were others, patriots all. Gentlemen, you have my apologies.

My apologies, too, to the press. Soon after I became President, my advisers and I created an "us" and "them" climate that forced people in the media to decide if they were for us or against us. If they were for us, we gave them access. If they insisted on the traditional standard on neutrality, we called them "biased." People have mortgages, people have children--for the worst of reasons, most of the press knuckled under and cast their lot with me and stopped asking the tough questions that are the right and obligation of journalists in this great country. Ladies and gentlemen of the media, that ends tonight.

My apologies, most of all, to the families of the 1,100 men and women who gave their lives in Iraq. I am not an eloquent man, but even if I were, words would fall short in the face of your loss. As your President, I must find some positive and life-affirming way to acknowledge your loved ones, and I swear to you tonight, I will. As an individual--as a Christian who has reason to fear a Final Judgment--I have private business with you. And I will get to that, I swear it.

Many more have been injured in Iraq, often because we didn't do enough to protect their personal safety. Some are inadequately insured. Some will never be able to return to the jobs they left behind. Well, we're going to care for you and make sure you are never in want of medical care or vocational training or anything else you may need. Whatever it costs, whatever it takes: I pledge to you tonight that I will get the funds we need to do this right, if I have to confront every heartless, budget-minded bureaucrat and politician to do it.

Where do I go from here? To clean up the mess we have made--the mess I have made--in Iraq. If we could, at this late date, bring about democracy in that country, I would say that this war, however wrongly conceived and fought, was worth it. But I no longer can predict a happy outcome. I do know that there are honorable people in Iraq who deserve a chance to build a government of their own, and we owe them the time to start that process before we leave. But we must leave. And then we must repair the damage that we have inflicted on ourselves.

America is a remarkable nation in all kinds of ways, but in none more than this--we don't write people off, we give them a second chance. Our history is full of stories of people who have tried and failed, only to try again and succeed. We understand, as no nation ever has, that we are fallible creatures. It is, after all, only in our national sport that the greatest home-run hitters are also the strike-out kings.

I know something about second chances. Until I was 40, I was a lost soul. Directionless. Pleasure was my only motivator, and it took me down avenues that were bad for me--into drinking and, yes, into drugs. And then I found Jesus. And I was reborn. Can you imagine what that meant to a wretch like me? "I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see."

There are those who believe "once saved, always saved." I'm not so sure. I feel sorely in need of redemption tonight--but I also feel that redemption is possible for me. And more: I believe that my redemption can help our country redeem itself in the world.

Do you remember the first few days after 9/11? I was a prisoner in the White House in those days, but I have heard over and over how special they were. The care and consideration people gave to friends and neighbors and strangers alike. The lines at the blood banks. The parents who walked with an arm around their kids' shoulder. The amazing sense of national unity.

As I say, I missed those days. And I treated you like children--I did nothing to build on that spirit, I just waved the flag and talked tough. But now I'd like to be a part of the healing process. I can't start over. I can ask you to remember how you felt in those days and work with me to re-invent America--to make America the beacon of freedom it has always been for a world that's desperate for light. We don't need to be feared to be respected. We can be strong--and still be loved. The trick is simply to be human.

I stand before you tonight a chastened man, asking for a second chance. If you will give it to me, you will see--at last--a uniter, not a divider. If this is too little too late, I'll look for some other avenue to repair the damage I've done. Either way, God bless America--all of America.

The Beauty Part

Swami wrote his Bush speech, as he writes so much these days, with Annie Lennox's Bare CD in his ears. Especially:

Oh God...
Where are you now?
And what you gonna do
About the mess I've made
If there was ever a soul to save
It must be me
It must be me

Dear god...
Oh how can I survive?
Will I make this drop this dive?
When it all comes to this
I'm looking down at the abyss
Where you don't exist
You don't exist

but if you hear me
If you can see me...
I know I can't be that strong
'Cause everything I ever did went wrong
Everything I ever did went wrong

Oh god
Now where do I come in?
Gone and broken everything
So I hope you'll understand
if someone needed a helping hand
It must be now
It must be now

Thought for Today

The outcry over the truth about the Killian memos by anyone in the general public is sheer projection of their frustration with George Bush. It is easier to say Dan Rather has lied than to say the President has. It is easier to direct anger at someone like him, who is one man, than at Bush, whose lies brought death to so many. The rage screaming out at him now is the rage a helpless citizenry wants to bring to Bush, but they have no means to articulate it.
--The Rude Pundit

Your Own Personal President

In case he isn't already, you can make the President look like the man of your dreams. Just use Build a Better Bush.

"Have You Had Your Bible Today?"

On the message boards of progressive websites, when bozos start to post the Right Wing slogans that pass for conversation in their circles, someone quickly slaps up a warning: "Don't feed the trolls." And then everyone ignores the crasher who's posting drivel.

Swami has been generally good these last few weeks about not addressing Loose Canon directly. The audience doesn't like it, for one thing; Swami suspects the message board posters generally think they should be blogging and collecting the big bucks. For another, the message board posters--when they can be bothered to read either of us--have been pretty tough on LC.

But some provocation--even with Mrs. Uptown giving Swami a come-hither look--can't be ignored. One paragraph of LC's blog yesterday--in which, God love her, she found Good Clean Fun in political advertising built on a lie--requires a response. Forgive me in advance, O Lord, if all Swami is doing here is feeding the trolls.

Loose Canon writes:

...the literature points to an anti-religious bias among liberals that can't be denied. Nope, they don't want to ban the Bible--nor do they want school children reading aloud from the Bible on school campuses. Which might be construed as a form of banning it.
Okay, let's go back to 9th grade civics, a class that millions of conservatives seem to have skipped. In the Constitution, Americans are protected from the establishment of the State Religion that LC so transparently craves. It's not a Liberal vs. Conservative issue. Or a God-fearing Christian vs. Liberal Atheist debate. For the record: Like many other Liberals--indeed, like sensible Americans of most political persuasions--Swami finds the presence of God an important part of his life. His private life.

Keeping the Bible out of schools is hardly banning it. Really! LC sounds like Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, with his ridiculous insistence on thumbing his nose at our laws and our history by installing the 10 Commandments in his courthouse. Is LC's religion so desperately in need of promotion that--in addition to its symbol on jewelry, houses, bumper stickers, lawns, movies, books, churches and billboards--it must be on public property as well?

Swami has never quite understood why we are even having this conversation. The framers were clear: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ... ." No established religion, no forbidden religion. James Madison said it even more bluntly: "Religion & Governmentt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."

And yet LC--who's so much smarter than Roy Moore--reads Our Founders' simple words and comes to what is, in essence, an un-American conclusion.

Oops. Silly Swami. He forgets that LC--like so many others on her side--is no longer an independent intellect. Four years ago (maybe more, for all Swami knows), they knelt to receive the Bush Gospel, from which, as the White House has made quite clear, there is to be no deviation. Now their skill is a crazy kind of debate in which a "correct" opinion trumps a real fact every time. Imagine what they'll be saying if the twin precepts of the Bush Doctrine--the Big Lie and Presidential Infallibility--are given a four-year contract extension!

As the liberal bloggers keep asking: Why do these people hate America?

Hey, Tom Brokaw, You Miserable Old Geezer, Why Don't You and Your "Greatest Generation" Just Die Already?

Here's Grover Norquist, of the Americans for Tax Reform, a Far Right organization that opposes all tax increases--to say nothing of social programs funded by government. Always good for a chuckle, today he's praying that those "anti-Americans" who defeated the Nazis and built most prosperous nation the world has ever known will...drop dead faster:

Each year, 2 million people who fought in the Second World War and lived through the Great Depression die. This generation has been an exeception in American history, because it has defended anti-American policies. They voted for the creation of the welfare state and obligatory military service. They are the base of the Democratic Party. And they are dying.
You know how you can tell a seriously flawed idea? Ann Coulter endorses it:

And of course there are the 39 million greedy geezers collecting Social Security. The greatest generation rewarded itself with a pretty big meal.
Swami gathers that Coulter's far-from-poor parents, of Picket Fence, Ct., proudly return their Social Security checks to the government.

Bush to Soldiers: Kevlar Is Optional

An Iraq war veteran writes:

When my company landed in theatre in May, I was one of the few soldiers equipped with body armor effective at stopping powerful AK-47 ammunition. My mother, an elementary school art teacher, shipped the bullet-proof ceramic plates to me from the States. Other soldiers weren't so lucky, having to raid buildings and patrol dangerous streets while wearing inferior Vietnam-era flak jackets. Later I learned that 40,000 troops had been sent into Iraq without effective body armor. We rode in 'soft shell' Humvees, equipped with flimsy fiber-glass doors. A Volvo has more protection. I saw the blood of American soldiers spilled because of the lack of 'up-armored' Humvees.
And why were 40,000 soldiers lack body armor? Because The President didn't like the legislation that would have protected them.

Every GOP Senator save one voted against legislation sending body armor to our troops, and George Bush threatened to veto the body armor legislation twice.

How did that happen? It happened when John Kerry voted for the legislation but the Republicans almost unanimously voted against it, and Bush threatened to veto it twice. The legislation (Biden amendment #1796 to S. 1689) had everything President Bush and the military wanted for Iraq, but on October 2, 2003 the Senate Republicans opposed it and President Bush threatened to veto it because it gave new federal employees union rights, something that has nothing to do with the body armor our troops dearly needed.

Oh, but it gets better than that. Bush also threatened to veto the final legislation even after the Biden amendment was defeated. Yes, Bush threatened to deny body armor to our troops simply because he disagreed with some arcane loan mechanism in the bill - see for yourself, from the administration's own letter threatening the veto:

The Administration strongly opposes the Senate provision that would convert a portion of this assistance to a loan mechanism. If this provision is not removed, the President's senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

So Bush threatened to veto the same bill he's now criticizing Kerry for not supporting. Thought for Today

I'm trying to find the correct name for it... this utter absolute, asinine, idiotic stupidity of men marrying men. ...I've never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I'm gonna be blunt and plain; if one ever looks at me like that, I'm gonna kill him and tell God he died.
--Jimmy Swaggart

Gays, Guns, God--and George Bush

When Swami's family lived in North Carolina in the mid-1950s, people would sometimes ask Mother Uptown, "Where are your horns?" Mother U didn't need to have the question explained--everybody knows Jews have horns, so where had hers gone? "Oh, we molt this time of year," Mother U would say. "But don't worry. They'll grow back."

That was a half-century ago. Much progress was made in the South since then--maybe more than in the North. Swami's family lived in the South again from 1972 to 2001, and on his many visits home, Swami found the South to have made great strides; that is, it was no more intolerant than the North. And there are other kinds of progress. You can now buy arugula and portobello mushrooms in Southern groceries.

Still, there are pockets of the South that have been forgotten by time. Parts of North Carolina where a domestic terrorist like Eric Robert Rudolph, "the Atlanta bomber," can hide out for years. Backwoods communities where snake-handlers still flourish. Dark places, where ignorance is always a bumper crop and televangelists flourish and a Jew, with or without horns, is not welcome.

The Republican Party, not satisfied with the Swift Boat slander and the Dan Rather debacle, has now apparently decided to leave no idiot behind. "Gays, Guns and God" is a winning ticket when you're courting a low IQ crowd that believes there's no problem that can't be solved by kicking a little ass or slurring liberals. And so, last week, with a Republican National Committee return address on the envelope, mail went out that proclaims "the Bible will be prohibited and men will marry men if liberals win in November."

According to the AP article,

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said Friday that he wasn't aware of the mailing, but said it could be the work of the RNC. "It wouldn't surprise me if we were mailing voters on the issue of same-sex marriage," Gillespie said.
You expect Swami to get up on a soapbox and rant? Sorry to disappoint. Swami's view: This is so cool.


Swami will explain. When Max Cleland was slimed, the RNC swore it had nothing to do with that smear campaign. Ditto the get-McCain effort in South Carolina in 2000. But here we are--three days after this AP article appeared--and if the RNC has issued a correction or a denial, it is nowhere recorded.

As Swami looks into his Crystal Ball and sees what a Second Term might look like, he doesn't picture the triumph of Personal Responsibility that the President does--a kind of Second Athens where everyone does the right thing and neighbors look out for one another and government just withers away. Nope, Swami sees a tanking economy and world scorn and all the nastiness that accompanies failure and bad choices--anti-Semitism, racism, immigrant-baiting, and, of course, bashing liberals senseless with the Bibles they tried to ban.

That jolly future is too far away for the Stupids to care about and their smarter cousins, the Deniers, to believe. So let's stay stay in the present and enjoy our wallow in the moronic conversations now occurring in West Virginia--according to the census, "the most undereducated state in the nation."

But don't kid yourself: If it works in West Virginia, this campaign might yet make it to your state before Election Day. Tailored, of course, to appeal to whatever pisses you off.

And Now, for the Smart and Sensitive Among You

Swami has a pal who wants to turn Iraq into a "parking lot." (Two things about that. #1: In the weeks after our election, he'll probably get his wish. #2: Never let it be said Swami only hangs out with people who share his views.) Swami's pal's wife is pregnant. "A year from now," Swami told his friend, "imagine Apache helicopters over your nice little house on Long Island, machine guns firing, 500-pound bombs dropping....maybe you'll have a little more feeling for Iraqi parents--and their kids..."

But a picture's worth a lot of words here. And time's tight. So here are some photos of Iraqi civilian casualties. Warning: They're disgusting. But then "disgusting" and "civillian casualties" kinda go together, don't they?

Dr. Tariq Ramadan

Loose Canon introduced the topic of this Islamic scholar who has been denied a visa to teach at Notre Dame. Swami saw lots of quotes in LC's post, but not LC's opinion. (Note to self: New reading glasses? Eye check? Or just ignore LC?). Swami has a position. He stands with the folks who wrote this: Let the guy in.

From the Mailbox

So let me get this straight. Now doctors and other healthcare professionals can tell a woman who requests an abortion or emergency contraception that she can't have it because they don't think it's right?

These are the people who are supposed to take care of us, whose jobs are to fix you when you're broken and make you well when you're sick. What if they decide they don't want to treat a woman who's been beaten because she's a prostitute and that's "immoral behavior"? Or they don't want to treat an overdosing drug addict, or even a first time user, because it's "immoral" to use illegal substances? Or they don't want to perform an abortion on a little girl who's been raped, because abortions are more "immoral" than raping a child? Are they just going to let people die because they don't like how they live their lives?

What happened to the Hippocratic Oath?

This country is getting scarier and scarier. The government is toying with the rights of women as though women aren't real people. I'm more afraid of what the government will do to me than any possible terrorist threat.

Thought for Today

Q. "What do you call CBS News after it loses all its credibility?"
A. "Fox News."
--Jay Leno

Women: Would You Marry Him Again?

Swami's misplaced his metaphysical mood. While awaiting its return, he's messing around with reality again. And thinking about the "swing" vote --- allegedly more female than not.

Larry David says he's not fooled by the undecideds:

You may be fooling everyone else with your little "undecided" act, but you're not fooling me. You know perfectly well whom you're voting for. The only reason you say you're undecided is that it's a cheap ploy to get attention.

On the Bill Maher show, Jason Alexander also doubted there really is a big "swing" vote: "Undecided? C'mon. How much more do you need to know?"

But assuming women really are undecided between Bush and Kerry, maybe it will help to frame the question in a way everyone understands --- and at a level that's no more challenging than anything the campaign has presented so far.

Namely: If you were married to George Bush, would you do it again?

Or, in terms even more banal: It is said that Husband Americanus is stubborn, non-communicative, etc. Never wrong (until confronted with overwhelming proof). Never asks directions (that would be an admission of weakness). Prefers the company of men. Likes to make the big decisions (or think he does). Denies all accusations, lies whenever necessary. Never levels with you. Goes to bed by 9.

Swami would love to hear from women married to men with some (or all) of these qualities. Ladies, would you marry him again? Does he remind you of President Bush? If so, are you likely to vote for Bush? (All responses confidential, of course.)

Sign of the Times?

From a reader: One of my friends turned me on to smileycentral.com, which gives me lots of little emoticons to play with. Recently, the site offered a host of new choices... and many of them are peace symbols, meditating smileys and even one dove. Hmmm...

Lie of the Day

From The Rocky Mountain News:

Soldiers from a Fort Carson combat unit say they have been issued an ultimatum --- re-enlist for three more years or be transferred to other units expected to deploy to Iraq.

Hundreds of soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team were presented with that message and a re-enlistment form in a series of assemblies last Thursday, said two soldiers who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Lie: An Army spokesmen denied that soldiers who don't re-enlist with the brigade were threatened.

Testimony of soldiers: "They said if you refuse to re-enlist with the 3rd Brigade, we'll send you down to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which is going to Iraq for a year, and you can stay with them, or we'll send you to Korea, or to Fort Riley (in Kansas) where they're going to Iraq," said one of the soldiers, a sergeant.

The second soldier, an enlisted man who was interviewed separately, essentially echoed that view.

"They told us if we don't re-enlist, then we'd have to be reassigned. And where we're most needed is in units that are going back to Iraq in the next couple of months. So if you think you're getting out, you're not," he said.

The Fact (what the form said): "Elect not to extend or re-enlist and understand that the soldier will be reassigned IAW (in accordance with) the needs of the Army by Department of the Army HRC (Human Resources Command) ...or Fort Carson G1 (Personnel Office)."

Lose a Loved One at Lockerbie? Guess Who Benefits? LIBYA!

From The Independent:

The families of people killed in the Lockerbie bombing are poised to lose millions of dollars in compensation because of the Bush administration's refusal to accept that Libya is no longer involved in terrorism.

The US has until midnight on Tuesday to remove Libya from the State Department's "state sponsors of terror" list and lift a number of trade sanctions. If not, more than $1.5 billion of outstanding compensation currently held in a special bank account in Switzerland, will be returned to Libya.

All signs point to Tuesday coming and going. Guess no one close to Bush or Cheney died at Lockerbie.

Abortion May Be Legal. You Just Won't Be Able to Find Anyone to Do One

Good news for the "pro-life" cause from ABC News:

In Congress and states nationwide, anti-abortion activists are broadening efforts to support hospitals, doctors and pharmacists who, citing moral grounds, want to opt out of services linked to abortion and emergency contraception.

A little-noticed provision cleared the House of Representatives last week that would prohibit local, state or federal authorities from requiring any institution or health care professional to provide abortions, pay for them, or make abortion-related referrals, even in cases of rape or medical emergency.

In Mississippi, a bill became law in July that admirers and critics consider the nation's most sweeping "conscience clause." It allows all types of health care workers and facilities to refuse performing virtually any service they object to on moral or religious grounds.

Just for Fun

It's going around. Don't be the last on your block to hear "Frank Sinatra."

The Beauty Part

Their first American release had sweet seduction songs. And songs that evoked Jamaica's colonial past. And angry political songs: "No chains around my feet/But I'm not free/I know I am bound here in captivity..." And the spooky Rasta dreamscape, "Midnight Ravers," with its devastating opening condemnation ("You can't tell the women from the men/ 'cause they're dressed in the same pollution") and its Book of Revelations vision: "I see ten thousand chariots/And they coming without horses/The riders --- they cover their face/So you couldn't make them out in smoky place."

Yes, you have their greatest hits. But don't deny yourself the pleasure of The Wailers' greatest album.

Thought for Today

The plane that took the Pentagon by surprise could not be stopped despite a one hour and twenty-one-minute warning that multiple planes had been hijacked, despite a fifty-eight-minute warning that the hijackers intended to maximize the number of casualties, despite a fifty-five-minute warning that Flight 77 might possibly be a hijacked flight, and despite a twenty-minute warning that Flight 77 was certainly a hijacked flight. Yet so confident are we of our ability to get information, of our power to decipher complex lines of responsibility, of the existence of evil and of the transparency of that evil, that we are still today talking about the two or three minutes to send cruise missiles and even nuclear genocide to foreign populations.
--Elaine Scarry, Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of value at Harvard

Lie of the Day

Sorry in advance for the politics. But it looks like, from now to 11/2, the White House will roll out a whopper a day (and, in October, bomb a nuke plant in Iran in lieu of capturing Osama). Many blogs will track these lies in greater detail. But Swami feels he'd be remiss if he looked at this election as a spiritual crisis and avoided the Factual. So...first in a short series: Job loss after 9/11, as reported by AMERICAblog (scoll down to: "Two lies from the White House in one day"):

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me address a couple of things. We've overcome many challenges in this country over the last three years. A number of them go back to what occurred on September 11th. When it comes to the economy, let's look at the strains that were placed on our economy. We were in an economic downturn and the President inherited a recession when he came into office. Then you had the September 11th attacks. In the aftermath of September 11th, in the three months after September 11th, we lost a million jobs right there." --White House Daily Briefing, September 15, 2004

Let's look at Official Government Figures. Specially, a document called Impact of the Events of September 11, 2001, on the Mass Layoff Statistics Data Series:

In the 18 weeks following the September 11 attacks (the weeks ending September 15 through January 12), employers reported 430 events involving 125,637 workers separated as a direct or indirect effect of the attacks. A majority of the layoff events took place in the weeks immediately following the attacks, and the number of new events has tapered off since then.

Were that million-job figure true --- and good luck finding anyone not milking on the White House teat who thinks so --- then it's logically impossible for Bush to have inherited a "Clinton recession." But why put "logic" and "Bush" in one sentence? Before 11/2, we'll surely hear both versions. Maybe even on the same day.

Iraq: Unable to Wash Away Our Sins

Either we feed our soldiers two hot meals a day, or the people we "liberated" get to bathe. What would you choose? For the answer: AMERICAblog (scroll down to "We're f----d."):

"In Washington today there was some depressing news for Iraqis. A State Department official said there that the United States cannot guarantee that Iraqis will have essential services in the next three years, including clean water. That's because the Bush administration wants to shift the bulk of billions of dollars earmarked for reconstruction to military operations." [Source: ABCNews, World News Tonight, 9/15/04]

Maybe His God Wasn't Bigger than Their God

From The Guardian:

The three-star U.S. general who made church speeches casting the war on terrorism in religious terms said Wednesday he did not mean to denigrate Islam.

"I'm not anti-Islam, I'm not anti-Allah," Lt. Gen. William Boykin said in an interview broadcast on CBS' "60 Minutes."

Boykin told CBS he had been misunderstood for saying of a Somali warlord he interrogated in 1993, "I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." The general said the Somali warlord was "not a good Muslim."

"He's a man who worshipped graft, corruption, power and money," Boykin said. "My reference to his God being an idol was not to Allah. My reference was to his worship of corruption, of power, of money."

The general declined to answer when CBS reporter David Martin asked if he believes Allah is a lesser God than the Christian God.

"I'm not going to go into that, David," Boykin said. "I'm a Christian. That speaks for itself."

Can't help but still be curious. If our God isn't bigger than their God, is our God the same size God as their God? Or (God forbid) smaller? If our God and their God went into a celestial men's room together and stood next to one another at a holy urinal...

Arnold for President?

It's all about the children, right? So let's leave every teacher behind:

Because of a budget crunch, California has suspended a tax credit that reimbursed teachers up to $1,500 for classroom supplies. Meanwhile, a $250 federal tax deduction for teachers that helped defray out-of-pocket spending expired this year.

Thought for Today

And I'm going down the street, and a fireman who just lost five in his unit was up against a wall in this mess, we didn't talk, we didn't say anything, he just said, 'I have a daughter in college in Baltimore, and I love her.' To me, that's a religion. There's no other religion.
--Jimmy Breslin, remembering 9/11

So.....DID God Talk to George Bush? (And If He Did, Why Didn't He Give Him a Better War Plan?)

The story thus far: Loose Canon made two statements that Swami --- against his better judgment but in the interest of Truth --- had to examine.

One: "Loose Canon has tried until she's blue in the face to explain to her liberal friends that the President doesn't believe that God told him to invade Iraq."

Two: "It is always dangerous when somebody claims to receive bulletins directly from God. Bush has never claimed this."

Swami googled Statement #2 and produced some evidence that might convince a reasonable person (or not). LC responded with commentary that Swami --- a humble meat-and-potatoes guy of the subject-verb-object school of writing --- cannot parse.

But Swami can Google and now, at the risk of being a bore, a few more more citations....

Statement One: Did God tell George Bush to invade Iraq?

From The Washington Post of June 27, 2003:

Imagine our surprise Wednesday to read in the Israeli paper Haaretz (online), that Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Abu Mazen, meeting recently with militants to enlist their support for a truce with Israel, said that, when they met in Aqaba, President Bush had told him this: " God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam [ Hussein], which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."

So who needs to find WMD or a link with al Qaeda when the orders come from The Highest Authority?

Two calls to the White House for clarification went unreturned, but colleague Glenn Kessler did some digging. The Haaretz reporter, Arnon Regular, read what the paper said were minutes of the Palestinians' meeting to Kessler and another colleague, who is an Arabic speaker.

The Arabic-speaking colleague's translation, was this: "God inspired me to hit al Qaeda, and so I hit it. And I had the inspiration to hit Saddam, and so I hit him. Now I am determined to solve the Middle East problem if you help. Otherwise the elections will come and I will be wrapped up with them."

The Post notes that this is, to a degree, a game of Telephone:

This is Abu Mazen's account in Arabic of what Bush said in English, written down by a note-taker in Arabic, then back into English.

But note also that the White House twice declined comment --- surely not to avoid offending the Palestinians.

Statement Two: Does God talk to George Bush?

One more citation, to buttress those presented yesterday. Here, in mid-July, is George Bush asking the Amish to vote for him:

At the end of the session, Bush reportedly told the group, "I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job.''

Okay: "reportedly." A reasonable person will be convinced (or not). But then a reasonable person might recall the time Bush appeared at a Dallas Christian youth center with two banners behind. "King of Kings," proclaimed one. "Lord of Lords," said the other. Gee, what conclusion would you draw? Being a reasonable person, that is.

Swami now turns the page.

Bush and the Jews

Our President is not exactly a "burning Bush" when it comes to having Jews around. Oh, there's Wolfowitz, who never met a disagreement he didn't think couldn't be resolved by force. And Richard Perle, a gonif (non-Jews: Ask a Jew for a translation.) And, in the background, the dark shadow of Henry Kissinger, who can't travel to a number of countries without fear of arrest.

A survey of American Presidents reveals:

John F. Kennedy named two Jews to his cabinet - Abraham Ribicoff as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, and Arthur Goldberg as Secretary of Labor. Kennedy was the only President for whom a national Jewish Award was named.

Jimmy Carter in a number of speeches stated his concern for human rights and stressed the right of Russian Jews to emigrate. He is credited with being the person responsible for the Camp David Accords.

George H. Bush in 1985 as Vice President had played a personal role in "Operation Joshua," the airlift which brought 10,000 Jews out of Ethiopia directly to resettlement in Israel. Bush got the United Nations to revoke its 1975 "Zionism is Racism" resolution.

Bill Clinton appointed more Jews to his cabinet than all of the previous Presidents put together.

George W. Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover who has no Jews in his cabinet at all.

But, my fellow Jews, console yourselves with this proclamation for 5765: "Laura joins me in sending our best wishes for a blessed Rosh Hashanah and a sweet New Year."

Required Reading

James Fallows, in the Atlantic Monthly, on the year 2002 and the opportunities America squandered. Exhaustively reported (Fallows seems to have talked to everyone, in and out of government), richly detailed, and sadly credible (to reasonable people). And not at all cheery:

"Let me tell you my gut feeling," a senior figure at one of America's military-sponsored think tanks told me recently, after we had talked for twenty minutes about details of the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. "If I can be blunt, the Administration is full of s---. In my view we are much, much worse off now than when we went into Iraq. That is not a partisan position. I voted for these guys. But I think they are incompetent, and I have had a very close perspective on what is happening. Certainly in the long run we have harmed ourselves. We are playing to the enemy's political advantage. Whatever tactical victories we may gain along the way, this will prove to be a strategic blunder."
But how can that be? Aren't we winning?

Old Business: A Shocker About the Republican Convention

You will recall that the New York Police put detained protestors in a facility known as "Little Gitmo." What no one seems to have known: the lease-holder of "Little Gitmo" was....the Republican National Committee.

If you have blood-pressure issues, better self-medicate before reading a mother's account of searching for her arrested daughter:

My heart was in my throat when I got a call from one of my daughter's friends on Oahu who told me she had been arrested and taken to Little Guantanamo. I looked it up on the internet and fear crept into me. I called my daughter's cell phone over and over ("it's mom, where ARE you, call me"). She didn't answer..... My husband called the NYPD to ask who had issued a Certificate of Occupancy or Fire Safety Inspection Certificate and who was managing Pier 57. He was given the number for the Republican National Committee. Yes. My husband and I looked at each other in silent, cold horror.

In America? The Republicans have set up a private detention camp for their political prisoners that can hold 1000 under inhumane and unsafe conditions!? My husband slowly dialed that number, got the RNC, and the Republican rep who answered the phone said, in answer to my husbands' inquiries about safety: "Those protesters don't deserve a Holiday Inn, and they're all criminals anyway!"

The Beauty Part

Two French policemen, acting on the orders of their Nazi masters, came to the little village of Le Chambon on a February evening in 1943. Their purpose: arrest the minister, Andre Trocme, who was known to be doing something to save Jews.

That arrest proved a more difficult task than they imagined.

First, the minister invited them in to dinner. The chief of police said he did not have the heart to eat. Then Trocme's parishoners started arriving, each carrying something Trocme might need in prison. The chief of police sat over his untouched food, weeping. "I have never seen such a farewell," he said.

The book is "Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed." It's the story of a French village that saved more than 2,500 Jews in WW II. And why? "Because it was the right thing to do." Imagine! No. Read.

Thought for Today

The wisest were the poor and simple people. They knew the war to be a misfortune, whereas those who were better off, and should have been able to see more clearly what the consequences would be, were beside themselves with joy.
--Erich Maria Remarque, "All Quiet on the Western Front," the greatest novel of World War I

Did God Talk to George Bush? (And What Did He Say?)

Loose Canon's blog began yesterday with a note denying President Bush ever said, "God told me to invade Iraq." Swami quickly Googled this. Can't find anyone who's ever made this claim. Perhaps LC would share a citation?

LC goes on to say: "It is always dangerous when somebody claims to receive bulletins directly from God. Bush has never claimed this."

Thirty seconds of Googling might have saved LC some embarrassment. Some sourcing:

First, from the Guardian, in 2003, citing a book called "The Faith of George W. Bush," written by Christian author Stephen Mansfield. (He hardly sounds like a crackpot or partisan--here's his bio).

....in the lead-up to announcing his candidacy for the presidency, Bush told a Texan evangelist that he had had a premonition of some form of national disaster happening.

Bush said to James Robinson: 'I feel like God wants me to run for President. I can't explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me. Something is going to happen... I know it won't be easy on me or my family, but God wants me to do it.' Then there is Deborah Caldwell's 2003 piece on Beliefnet, which Swami takes to be a reliable source:

A month after the World Trade Center attack, World Magazine, a conservative Christian publication, quoted Tim Goeglein, deputy director of White House public liaison, saying, "I think President Bush is God's man at this hour, and I say this with a great sense of humility." Time magazine reported that "Privately, Bush even talked of being chosen by the grace of God to lead at that moment." The net effect is a theology that seems to imply that God is intervening in events, is on America's side, and has chosen Bush to be in the White House at this critical moment....

Richard Land recalls being part of a group of about a dozen people who met after Bush's second inauguration as Texas governor in 1999. At the time, everyone in Texas was talking about Bush's potential to become the next President. During the meeting, Land says, Bush said, "I believe God wants me to be President, but if that doesn't happen, it's OK." Land points out that Bush didn't say that God actually wanted him to be President. He merely said he believed God wanted him to be President. Finally, from an exhaustive 2003 story in USA Today:

Bush believes he was called by God to lead the nation at this time, says Commerce Secretary Don Evans, a close friend who talks with Bush every day.
Swami was, admittedly, rushed. Entirely possible that a full-tilt Google search will refute all of this. Swami turns the microphone back to LC and awaits the links she can provide to settle this.

Swami's Dilemma: Your Turn

How do you defeat evil without turning evil? Without using evil? With 50-odd days to go until the election, this is the question that has bedeviled Swami for days.

Happily, you have no lack of ideas. Here's the first batch. From Reader #1:

The lesson I am learning is the Divine value of Truth. From Swift Boats to Weapons of Mass Destruction, from assult weapons to economics, there is no consequence to telling lies...I feel as if the whole Religious/Political/Conservative movement is actually trying to destroy my soul. Their religious and social agenda, largely concealed and hidden by dishonesty, seems to be aimed at remaking America in an image that is frightening to me. So I must take my stand upon Truth--but not in a completely spiritual sense--just in the sense of what are real facts...
From Reader #2:

It is the Tao that both Yin and Yang co-depend on each other. The survival of both ensures that everything alive is dying and everything dead is seeking life. The dot at the heart of its opposite ensures that perfection will never be achieved. Only in balance does the bio-matrix close the mind-body gap and nurture awareness....We are dealing with a global society out of balance to the negative pole. It only takes that 10% of the dot to change the polarity. For good to recover control of the planet only ten per cent must see the light. This is doable on the Internet. You have the power. Ten per cent ain't much.
And from Reader #3:

Compassion is not the only attitude/approach that works. It is one of several. Righteous anger is legitimate. Defending ourselves from those who would hurt us is legitimate.

It is complete BS to assume that you can 'love' a psychopath enough to prevent said psycho from harming you. When it comes at you in the dark, you'd better be prepared to raise the most effective available weapon and use it without mercy.

Ugly? Of course. Dark night of the soul? No way out of that. Absolutely, morally, necessary? Written in stone.

In dealing with the political character assassination that is going on, one must use similar weapons or else end up like the American Indians. Because the people doing it are soulless; compassion is wasted. All they know is who is stronger. And they revel in bullying and winning by any means they can get away with. Having subscribed to those tenets, they have relinquished claim to not only the higher moral ground, but to any kind of compassionate consideration from people who DO occupy a higher moral ground.

I know you favor a "Buddhistic" approach. Let me remind you that Buddhism, like any other ism, has only part of the story. The Buddhist monks relied on others to defend their borders. Where do you stand? With readers 1, 2 or 3? Or would you like the response behind the curtain?

Thought for Today

"News is what somebody wants to suppress. Everything else is advertising."
--Lord Northcliffe, legendary English newspaper publisher (1865-1922)

Assault Weapons: They're Baaack!

It's official: You now can buy that AK-47 you've always dreamed of.

The last chance the ban on assault weapons might be extended evaporated on Friday, when President Bush refused to meet with police chiefs who wanted the ban renewed:

On Friday morning, the White House officially refused to meet with law enforcement leaders about saving the assault weapons ban. The International Association of Chiefs of Police had requested a meeting, offering to send police chiefs to meet with the President on any date that the White House chose. The White House response said the President would not meet with the police due to a "scheduling conflict." (Again, the IACP had not requested any specific date or time for the meeting.)
The end of the ban produces an astounding question-and-answer.....

QUESTION: What Do President Bush and Al-Qaeda Have in Common?

ANSWER: They both support AK-47s on the streets of America.

Think Swami jests? Here's a passage from an Islamist site How Can I Train Myself for Jihad:

In other countries, e.g. some states of USA, South Africa, it is perfectly legal for members of the public to own certain types of firearms. If you live in such a country, obtain an assault rifle legally, preferably AK-47 or variations, learn how to use it properly and go and practice in the areas allowed for such training.
9/11 and What Al-Qaeda Wants (Hint: They Don't "Hate Our Freedom")

Every once in a while, the ever-reading Middle East expert (and no fan of the war) Juan Cole hits a home run that rises as it clears the fence. (Read "Saturday, September 11: September 11 and Its Aftermath" for one of the most briliant, impossible-to-forget analyses of the Iraq war you will ever read. Seriously. You want to be an educated citizen? Read this.)

Or you could read the punchline, as interpreted by Kevin Drum in Washington Monthly. (Scroll wayyy down to September 11th.)

....the bottom line is pretty simple: if we stay in Iraq and fight a long, grinding, unwinnable guerrilla war against Islamic militants, bin Laden is delighted. If we give up and leave Iraq, bin Laden is delighted.

It didn't have to be this way, of course. We could have spent our military energies on smashing al-Qaeda and our diplomatic energies on gaining allies in the Middle East--demonstrating that Osama bin Laden's murderous vision was neither the best nor the only path for the Muslim world. Instead, thanks to George Bush's obsession with Iraq, America is the Great Satan, bin Laden is the most popular public figure in every Arab country in the world, al-Qaeda is bigger and more broad-based than ever, a thousand American soldiers are dead, and Iran and North Korea pursue their nuclear plans with impunity. As a wise message board poster wrote last week, "al-Qaeda is playing chess, America is playing solitaire."

David Brooks Watch

David Brooks writes so much he must think very fast. Consider his analysis of political affiliation by occupation in his most recent column:

If you look at the big Kerry donors, you realize that the days of the starving intellectual are over. University of California employees make up the single biggest block of Kerry donors and Harvard employees are second, topping folks from Goldman Sachs and others in the supposedly sell-out/big-money professions.

Academics have had such an impact on the Democratic donor base because there is less intellectual diversity in academia than in any other profession. All but 1 percent of the campaign donations made by employees of William & Mary College went to Democrats. In the Harvard crowd, Democrats got 96 percent of the dollars. At M.I.T., it was 94 percent. Yale is a beacon of freethinking by comparison; 8 percent of its employee donations went to Republicans. "Less intellectual diversity in academia than in any other profession"? How about another explanation: Academics, long-noted to be freethinkers and non-conformists, represent the intellectual cream of our nation. Which might, of course, explain why they give money to Kerry--they're too smart to give to Bush.

The David Brooks explanation? Doesn't meet the reality test. Ever been on an academic committee? Swami has. Like herding cats. Brooks? According to his bio, nope.

This Is How It Starts

There's an old song: "Everything's Up To Date in Kansas City." And it is! From The Kansas City Star:

President Bush and several other Republican politicians spoke at Lee's Summit High School on Tuesday morning. The by-ticket-only event was attended by 15,000 people; 2,000 were students and school staff. Only students with parental permission could opt out of attending. Nine chose not to go.

Board president Patti Buie and Superintendent Tony Stansberry defended the district, saying they felt that having a president speak at the high school posed a once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunity.

Swami's Dilemma (and Maybe Yours)

A brutal weekend of introspection, leavened only by long walks with Little Uptown and a delightful viewing of "The Best Man," the movie about a Presidential convention with Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson as the candidate. Written by Gore Vidal, back when he still had his marbles. Talk about sophisticated.

Swami's dilemma is equally sophisticated. He wants the Religious Wrong purged from the White House. But how? Most of the country seems to have dialed its brains into cable TV news--assuming those voters can be reached, Kerry (and his supporters) will have to jump into the trough and mudwrestle with these anything-goes Republicans.

Then there is the not-so-small matter of karma and the care of the soul. Mrs. Uptown buried her nose in "Living Buddha, Living Christ" all weekend, looking to find a road to victory through compassion. Meanwhile, Swami was having earnest email exchanges with his Brain Trust--old friends and some newcomers who are, like Swami, trying to think their way to the other side of this koan.

Jean took the Interim Wisdom Prize: "What we resist... persists. We are to affirm and pray for peace, not resist war. As the present haven for duality, the World always will have war."

Swami needs to get some balance here, to write from his Better Nature, to find the appeal that unlocks the rusted spiritual lock on this nation's heart. Maybe it's hubris, but Swami thinks there's just enough time before November 2nd for a sea change--a wave of energy that starts on a site as out-of-the-mainsteam as this and spreads like wildfire to rock the country.

Maybe Swami has been listening to too much Steve Earle (and can you believe Steve's at #24 on Amazon.com?):

The revolution starts now
When you rise above your fear
And tear the walls around you down
The revolution starts here

But it's pretty clear to Swami that this election has been sent to us as a kind of karma-cleaning. For sure, Swami's been scrubbed raw. So, he knows, have some of you. But maybe, in the process, we've been scrubbed clean. In which case, we have some walls to tear down--our own. And then.....but Swami needs to think this out a bit more....

The Beauty Part

The greatest kid's film ever made. Thirty-four minutes that will restore the kid in you. Of course: "The Red Balloon."

Thought for Today

I think I'm going back
To the things I learnt so well in my youth
I think I'm returning to
Those days when I was young enough to know the truth
Now there are no games
To only pass the time
No more colouring books
No Christmas bells to chime
But thinking young and growing older is no sin
And I can't play the game of life to win

I can recall a time
When I wasn't ashamed to reach out to a friend
And now I think I've got
A lot more than just my toys to lend
Now there's more to do

Than watch my sailboat glide
And every day can be
My magic carpet ride
And I can play hide and seek with my fears
And live my days instead of counting my years

While everyone debates
The true reality
I'd rather see the world
The way it used to be
A little bit of freedom's all we lack
So catch me if you can
I'm going back
--Gerry Goffin and Carole King, "Going Back" (When The Byrds sing it, "freedom" becomes "courage" in the third-to-last line)


I feel an obligation to say something, but I just can't.

Saw the smoke. Hosted a vast AOL chatroom that morning and helped tens of thousands of members make it through. Edited a book of remembrances.

But I never went down there. And I don't think I ever will. Sacred space.

Here's a virtual arm around the virtual shoulders of Those They Left Behind.

Smart talk? Punditry? I leave that to the inestimable, NC-17-for-language Rude Pundit.

As for me, I'm with Wittgenstein: "Of that which cannot be spoken, nothing should be said."

What If George Bush Were Running Against Jesus?

Mad Magazine cuts through the rhetoric to make sense of a Bush vs. Jesus campaign.

The Ban on Assault Weapons Expires Monday

On Wednesday, reporters asked President Bush's spokesman, Scott McClellan, what the White House was doing to renew the Assault Weapons Ban. Which prompted the following discussion:

Q: The assault weapons ban expires in just a few days. Can you list for us the many things the President might be doing to encourage Congress to send him the bill that he said he would sign?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President's views have been made very clear, and the best way we can reduce crimes committed with guns is to strictly enforce our laws. And prosecutions under this administration are up. I think it's--well, it's more than 60 percent--I think 68 percent over the previous administration. That's the best way to crack down on crimes committed with guns. That's an important issue here in terms of the assault weapons ban. He's made his views very well-known.

Q: And his view is he'll sign it if--

MR. McCLELLAN: He's made his views known as recently as this week.

Q: His view is he'll sign it if it comes to him. Is he doing anything to make sure he--

MR. McCLELLAN: The President supports the reauthorization of current law.

Q: What is he doing to actively make sure is he doing anything to make sure he--

MR. McCLELLAN: The President doesn't set the congressional timetable.

Q: No, but he can lobby for it.

MR. McCLELLAN: Congress sets the timetable. And the President's views are very clear.

Q: Has he made any calls or anything to encourage this to happen?

MR. McCLELLAN: What we've continued to do--because this issue does go to the issue of crimes committed with guns, as well--and what we've continued to do is step up our efforts to prosecute crimes committed with guns and strictly enforce our laws. And that's the best way we can deter violence committed with guns.

Q: But he's not doing anything to make sure this doesn't lapse on the 13th?

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll continue to make our views known.

Q: You said he had done something this week.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I said we've continued to make our views known. This week, as well.

Q: To who?

MR. McCLELLAN: Publicly.

Q: Did he speak about it publicly?

MR. McCLELLAN: We have, the White House has.

Sometimes Humor Makes the Point Best

A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost. She lowered her altitude and spotted a man in a boat below. She shouted to him, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The man consulted his portable GPS and replied, "You're in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above a ground elevation of 2346 feet above sea level. You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude.

She rolled her eyes and said, "You must be a Democrat."

"I am," replied the man. "How did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to do with your information, and I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help to me."

The man smiled and responded, "You must be a Republican."

"I am," replied the balloonist. "How did you know?"

"Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are or where you're going. You've risen to where you are, due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise that you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. You're in exactly the same position you were in before we met but, somehow, now it's my fault."

The Beauty Part

In the weeks after 9/11--as he did when the Iraq War started, as he does more and more--Swami turned to the writings of the venerable Vietnamese Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh.

These have special meaning:

The Buddha confirmed that it is possible to live happily in the here and the now--even if you still have lots of pain and sorrow within yourself. Mindful breathing helps you become fully alive. And when you are really there, you can touch all the wonders of life that are available in this very moment for your enjoyment...for your nourishment...and for your healing.
If you are seeking some peace and quiet amidst the hate and noise, here is more about Thich Nhat Hanh.

Thought for Today

As soon as you see that the person you call your enemy is also suffering, you will be ready to love and accept him. The idea of "enemy" vanishes and is replaced by the reality of someone who is suffering and needs our love and compassion.
--Thich Nhat Hanh, Essential Writings

Casualty of War

Yesterday's Swami was--with the exception of an item that heralded the right of Catholics to vote for Kerry without going straight to hell--all war, all the time. The subject line of Swami's newsletter: "some soldiers you should meet." Swami didn't say they were all dead--if he had, who would have opened the mail? Who would have clicked?

This morning, one of Swami's best friends wrote to say she was opting out of Swami's daily e-mail. She wrote: "I respect you and admire the strength of your convictions. I also recognize that the campaign has become about lies vs. lies. It's just not for me."

Swami understands. (Hey, if he could unsubscribe, he would!) But the apparent transformation of this spiritual blog into a "political" forum was not of Swami's doing. Indeed, Swami would argue that the "politics" he is presenting is "spiritual" in the deepest sense.

Swami's obsessions have not changed since Day One: What is truth? How do we recognize it? What does truth call upon us to do? Which way lies salvation--through belief or deeds? (From the beginning, Swami has argued that faith is not enough, that, as some wise man has said, "it is the actions of men and not their sentiments that make history.")

If the Bush White House were as mendacious as the usual gang of pols, Swami would be presenting a more balanced diet. But Swami--who railed against LBJ and Nixon in his youth--has never seen lying this massive. From the Swift Boats to terrorism to the President's National Guard service, these folks regard facts as "one side of the story."

That is, in essence, an assault on language. When facts don't matter--when, as Alice in Wonderland has it, "words mean exactly what I want them to mean, nothing more and nothing less"--we are on the verge of a seismic shift. And not a pleasant one.

Yes, Swami needs to get a life. Needs to get out more with Little Uptown. Hear more music. Laugh with friends. Re-connect with a Practice. Finish his book.

And Swami will. For his own sake. But for all our sakes, he's gotta do this other work. And as he does, he keeps in mind what George Orwell wrote about Charles Dickens:

When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page. It is not necessarily the actual face of the writer. I feel this very strongly with Swift, with Defoe, with Fielding, Stendhal, Thackeray, Flaubert, though in several cases I do not know what these people looked like and do not want to know. What one sees is the face that the writer ought to have. Well, in the case of Dickens I see a face that is not quite the face of Dickens's photographs, though it resembles it. It is the face of a man of about forty, with a small beard and a high colour. He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry--in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.
Swami wants that face. Sadly for you, here is one place he's got the freedom to write the words that might earn it.

So, Who, Exactly, Is In Favor of Assault Weapons?

From The New York Times:

A poll released this week by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania found that 68 percent of Americans--and 32 percent of N.R.A. members--support renewing the ban. The findings, drawn from interviews with 4,959 adults, had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus one percentage point.

A separate national survey, conducted by Doug Schoen, a Democratic pollster, on behalf of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, found that 74 percent of voters support renewing the ban, but that support is highest--79 percent--among independent voters who are being courted by President Bush and Senator Kerry. That survey of 800 voters had a margin of error of three percentage points.

A Soldier's Last Request

A letter from the sister of a soldier killed in Iraq (click on the link for a picture of Ryan Campbell, in Iraq):

I found out that my brother, Sergeant Ryan M. Campbell, was dead during a graduate seminar at Emory University on April 29, 2004. Immediately after a uniformed officer knocked at my mother's door to deliver the message that broke her heart, she called me on my cell phone. She could say nothing but "He's gone." I could say nothing but "No." Over and over again we chanted this refrain to each other over the phone as I made my way across the country to hold her as she wept.

I had made the very same trip in February, cutting classes to spend my brother's two weeks' leave from Baghdad with him. Little did I know then that the next time I saw him would be at Arlington National Cemetery. During those days in February, my brother shared with me his fear, his disillusionment, and his anger. "We had all been led to believe that Iraq posed a serious threat to America as well as its surrounding nations," he said. "We invaded expecting to find weapons of mass destruction and a much more prepared and well-trained Republican Guard waiting for us. It is now a year later, and alas, no weapons of mass destruction or any other real threat, for that matter."

Ryan was scheduled to complete his one-year assignment to Iraq on April 25. But on April 11, he emailed me to let me know not to expect him in Atlanta for a May visit, because his tour of duty had been involuntarily extended. "Just do me one big favor, ok?" he wrote. "Don't vote for Bush. No. Just don't do it. I would not be happy with you."

Last night, I listened to George W. Bush's live, televised speech at the Republican National Convention. He spoke to me and my family when he announced, "I have met with parents and wives and husbands who have received a folded flag, and said a final goodbye to a soldier they loved. I am awed that so many have used those meetings to say that I am in their prayers and to offer encouragement to me. Where does strength like that come from? How can people so burdened with sorrow also feel such pride? It is because they know their loved one was last seen doing good. Because they know that liberty was precious to the one they lost. And in those military families, I have seen the character of a great nation: decent, and idealistic, and strong."

This is my reply: Mr. President, I know that you probably still "don't do body counts," so you may not know that almost one thousand U.S. troops have died doing what you told them they had to do to protect America. Ryan was Number 832. Liberty was, indeed, precious to the one I lost--so precious that he would rather have gone to prison than back to Iraq in February. Like you, I don't know where the strength for "such pride" on the part of people "so burdened with sorrow" comes from; maybe I spent it all holding my mother as she wept.

I last saw my loved one at the Kansas City airport, staring after me as I walked away. I could see April 29 written on his sad, sand-chapped and sunburned face. I could see that he desperately wanted to believe that if he died, it would be while "doing good," as you put it. He wanted us to be able to be proud of him.

Mr. President, you gave me and my mother a folded flag instead of the beautiful boy who called us "Moms" and "Brookster." But worse than that, you sold my little brother a bill of goods. Not only did you cheat him of a long meaningful life, but you cheated him of a meaningful death. You are in my prayers, Mr. President, because I think that you need them more than anyone on the face of the planet. But you will never get my vote.

So to whom it may concern: Don't vote for Bush. No. Just don't do it. I would not be happy with you.

Brooke M. Campbell
Atlanta, Georgia

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Don't just bitch and moan. Volunteer. For information and to sign up.

The Beauty Part

Life, love and the blues. Goin' the wrong way down a one-way street. Feeling like breakin' up somebody's home. Yes, it could only be the soul-satisfying, lust-inducing, hurts-so-good Etta James.

Thought for Today

You don't count the dead
When God's on your side.
--from ""With God on Our Side," by Bob Dylan

As They Say in New Hampshire, "Live Free or Die"

On on AOL message board: "One thousand soldiers is a small price for liberating Iraq. We are winning the war; we have killed probably 10,000 of them."

Acceptable ratio, thought Swami.

Then Swami said: "Wait! '10,000 of them''--who is this 'them'?"

Oh. The people of the country we liberated. Right. Of course. "Them."

Dead Soldiers: How Many Can You Stand to Meet?

Here they are. Get to know the soldiers who died in Iraq for.....because....uh...

Five Days and Counting

Cops hate them. Parents fear them. Only the NRA loves them. And so, on September 13th, Assault Weapons become legal again--thanks to President Bush's refusal to signal his support for a continued ban to Congress. What can you do? Start here.

"God Sent 9/11 to Test Us"

Linguist George Lakoff analyzed the Republican Convention. (Seems like a year ago, doesn't it? To Bush as well, Swami would bet.) Here's Lakoff on Bush:

The code words from conservative Christianity are easy to decipher: 9/11 was God's test of our mettle. Did we have enough inner strength? The response in New York (led by Mayor Giuliani) and the courage of our military shows that we have so far. Our Nation is like every good person, every disciplined individual: it too can pull itself up by its bootstraps, "can achieve anything." The Resurrection of New York City signals the Resurrection of America in this election. God is calling to us "from beyond the stars to stand for freedom." To meet God's call, we must show our inner strength and resoluteness by voting for a leader with that character--not the flip-flopper, but George W. Bush!
But wait! America hates New York, it's the home of [fill in the expletives]! And New Yorkers don't much like America either, seeing as how politicians have diverted 9/11 money to terrorist-free zones like Utah and Wyoming. Ooops--gotta remember Lakoff's Second Law: A frame is important as much for what it leaves out as for what it includes.

So If We Re-elect Them, We Get a Guarantee We'll Never Be Attacked Again By Terrorists?

Vice President Dick Cheney, shooting from the hip:

"It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States."

No, Wait, Tom Ridge Says They're Gonna Hit Us Anyway

Around the same time Cheney was frothing at the mouth about terrorists who are holding off attacking us until Kerry is President, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge was talking about more immediate threats:

Threat reporting over the last several months has been "consistent, general and credible" and indicated the al-Qaida network is trying to push ahead with its plans, Ridge said.

Although large events this summer were not attacked, he said, "that in no way diminishes the level of vigilance, awareness and concern that we have during this entire process." Who Said This: "Military action is the last resort in the fight against terrorism."

Wrong. Not George Bush. Russian General Yuri Baluyevsky.

Russia is prepared to make pre-emptive strikes on "terrorist bases" anywhere in the world, the Interfax news agency cited the country's chief of staff as saying.

"With regard to preventive strikes on terrorist bases, we will take any action to eliminate terrorist bases in any region of the world. But this does not mean we will carry out nuclear strikes," General Yuri Baluyevsky said. Good for the goose, good for the gander, right? Guess we should be grateful he's ruled out nukes.

Good News for Catholics: You Can Vote for Kerry and NOT Go to Hell

The Detroit Free Press reports:

Anti-abortion Catholics can support pro-choice candidates, as long as they agree with the candidate on a range of other issues.

That pronouncement in an Italian magazine from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's top spokesman on Catholic teachings, went unnoticed in the din of presidential election-year politics.

In essence, a vote for a pro-choice politician is not necessarily sinful if a Catholic, who is also against abortion, believes the candidate's other positions outweigh the politician's support for abortion rights, Ratzinger said. He heads the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Beauty Part: Bill Maher's New Rules (And There Will be a Test)

At the end of his incendiary shows on HBO, Bill Maher issues a weekly set of New Rules. These are the latest:

You can't run on a mistake. Franklin Roosevelt didn't run for re-election claiming Pearl Harbor was his finest hour. Abe Lincoln was a great president, but the high point of his second term wasn't theater security. 9/11 wasn't a triumph of the human spirit. It was a f----up by a guy on vacation.

Now, don't get me wrong, Mr. President. I'm not blaming you for 9/11. We have blue-ribbon commissions to do that. And I'm not saying there was anything improper about your immediate response to the attacks. Someone had to stay in that classroom and protect those kids from Chechen rebels.

But by the looks of your convention, you'd think that the worst thing that ever happened to us was the best thing that ever happened to you. You just can't keep celebrating the deadliest attack ever as if it's your personal rendezvous with greatness. You don't see old men who were shot down during World War II jumping out of a plane every year. I mean, other than your dad.

But even your dad didn't run for re-election based on a recession and his propensity to barf on the Japanese. Now, I know you'd like us all to get swept away with emotionalism and stop sweating the small stuff like the deficit and the environment, and focus on what's really important: how you look in a fireman's hat....There's a name for people who exploit their participation in historical events for political gain. They're called the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

So I say, if you absolutely must win an election on the backs of dead people, do it like they do in Chicago, and have them actually vote for you. Thought for Today

Citizens of the United States are a decent, fair-minded people....War is an abstraction in the American imagination. It lives there, cloaked in glory, as an emblem of patriotism. We show our love for our country by sending our troops abroad and then "supporting" them, no matter what...Thinking of ourselves as only motivated by good intentions, we cannot fathom the possibility that we have demonized an innocent people, that what we are doing is murder on a vast scale.
--James Carroll, in The Boston Globe

Keep Your Eye on the Ball: Iraq Casualties

Casualties in Iraq
998 American casualties
20 in just the first 7 days of this month
Foxnews.com weekend headline (fiction): "Massive car bomb explodes north of Fallujah; kills 7, injures several U.S. soldiers"
Fact (and a fact known at the time): Massive car bomb explodes north of Fallujah; kills 7 U.S. soldiers
Note: You'll notice that the CENTCOM website did not update the casualty numbers during the Republican Convention.... though there were casualties.

Oh, and for those who care: Iraq civilian casualties: 11,792 - 13,802 (estimated)

Old Business

  • Swami wondered if the President had ever been to The Wall"--the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Thanks to a helpful reader for this picture. Alas, it was raining. He carried an umbrella. In this photo, at least, he was looking away. Let us hope he returns on a sunny day, when he can have the experience--the very unsettling experience to Swami--of seeing his face mirrored in the marble and government buildings behind him.
  • Swami spoke too soon about Chris Matthews and his renewed courage. The very next night, he interviewed Rudy Guiliani and allowed "America's Mayor" to slander Kerry and distort the facts at will. Which leaves Jon Stewart as the only credible guy on cable.
  • Swami quoted Willie Nelson's insistence on a literal interpretation of "Thou shalt not kill." A scholar writes Swami: "People (even the great Willie Nelson) often divorce the ten commandments from their original legal context. The most widely accepted translation of the original Hebrew is 'Thou shalt not murder.' Even fundamentalists must admit the difference between 'murder' and 'kill.' For example, killing in self defense is not murder. Killing somebody who is trying to rape your daughter is not murder. Killing an animal is not murder. Killing a plant is not murder."

    Six Days and Counting

    On September 13th, Assault Weapons become legal again--thanks to President Bush's refusal to signal his support for a continued ban to Congress. What can you do? Start here.

    A Sermon for the President

    Before the war started, Brian McLaren, senior pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, MD, thought he felt God saying to him "Write a sermon for President George Bush." Here's an excerpt from that sermon:
  • I grew up, as you did, Mr. President, hearing Walter Cronkite's weekly reports on the death toll in Viet Nam, first hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands. I remember the first time I heard Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young sing, "Four dead in Ohio, four dead in Ohio, four dead in Ohio," showing a different kind of casualty of the war, smaller in number but closer to home. However, something I never heard, and still have never heard, is the death toll of the North Vietnamese. A decade ago, in the Gulf War, I never heard the death toll even estimated of the Iraqis. Perhaps these numbers were never released, or never counted....

    In this war, Mr. President, if war must happen, I wonder if you would make history by being the first president to share the death toll of our enemy, not as a score of victory, but as another tragic cost of war? I wonder if you could teach the American people to mourn the death of Iraqi mothers' sons along with our own? I wonder if you could, in this way, deepen our dread and hatred of war, so that if this war happens, it will bring us one war closer to the end of the nightmare, and the beginning of God's dream for us? When Jesus said, "Blessed are they who mourn." (Matthew 5:4) I think it is this sort of situation he had in mind. Why You Feel Nuts When You Talk Politics: We Don't Speak the Same Language

    You may notice that, just as you have stopped arguing with your political opposites, Swami has ceased to debate Loose Canon. There's no point. We are simply not speaking the same language.

    Why is that? Credit conservative Republicans who realized--thirty years ago--that language is a crucial element in politics. It's not what you say that matters most. It's how you "frame" your argument.

    We are now going to have a little lesson, kids. Trust Swami, you'll be glad you waded through it--once you understand "framing," you'll never listen to a political speech the Old Way.

    The "liberal" expert on framing is George Lakoff professor of linguistics and cognitive science at the University of California at Berkeley. Let's hopscotch through his thinking. First, a definition, from Lakoff:

    Language always comes with what is called "framing." Every word is defined relative to a conceptual framework. If you have something like "revolt," that implies a population that is being ruled unfairly, or assumes it is being ruled unfairly, and that they are throwing off their rulers, which would be considered a good thing. That's a frame.

    If you then add the word "voter" in front of "revolt," you get a metaphorical meaning saying that the voters are the oppressed people, the governor is the oppressive ruler, that they have ousted him and this is a good thing. Frames are ultimately philosophical constructs. This is oversimplified, but American liberals are nurturers--they come from a positive view of mankind, they believe people are inherently good and just need some occasional help. Conservatives have a darker view: Man is a sinner who requires discipline. The leader is thus a strict father; citizens are child-like. (Remember Andrew Card saying, just last week, that Bush sees us as a nation of 10-year-olds?) Lakoff explains:

    The conservative worldview, the strict father model, assumes that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong. The only way to do that is through painful discipline--physical punishment that by adulthood will become internal discipline. The good people are the disciplined people. Once grown, the self-reliant, disciplined children are on their own. Those children who remain dependent (who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant) should be forced to undergo further discipline or be cut free with no support to face the discipline of the outside world.

    So, project this onto the nation and you see that to the right wing, the good citizens are the disciplined ones--those who have already become wealthy or at least self-reliant--and those who are on the way. Social programs, meanwhile, "spoil" people by giving them things they haven't earned and keeping them dependent. The government is there only to protect the nation, maintain order, administer justice (punishment), and to provide for the promotion and orderly conduct of business. In this way, disciplined people become self-reliant. Wealth is a measure of discipline. Taxes beyond the minimum needed for such government take away from the good, disciplined people rewards that they have earned and spend it on those who have not earned it.

    The phrase "Tax relief" began coming out of the White House starting on the very day of Bush's inauguration. It got picked up by the newspapers as if it were a neutral term, which it is not. First, you have the frame for "relief." For there to be relief, there has to be an affliction, an afflicted party, somebody who administers the relief, and an act in which you are relieved of the affliction. The reliever is the hero, and anybody who tries to stop them is the bad guy intent on keeping the affliction going. So, add "tax" to "relief" and you get a metaphor that taxation is an affliction, and anybody against relieving this affliction is a villain.
    Aha! That's why Loose Canon never mentions taxes without a frown. One suspects she'd really like to pay none--or, at least, direct her taxes to programs she likes. That's not because she's a mingy person. She just "frames" taxes as a burden. Others--including people who surely pay a lot more than LC--would call taxes "dues," the price we pay for all we get in this great country. (And others might ask: Who's really looking for the "free ride"--the "welfare mothers" the Republicans always talk about or the LCs?) Back to Lakoff, in a conversation after the Democratic Convention, on Democrats as "the elite":

    The funny thing is that conservatives are the elite. The whole idea of conservative doctrine is that some people are better than others, that some people deserve more. To conservatives, if you're poor it's because you deserve it, you're not disciplined enough to get ahead. Conservative doctrine requires that there be an elite: the people who thrive in the free market have more money, and they should. Progressives say, "No, that's not fair. Maybe some should have more money, but no one should live in poverty. Everybody who works deserves to have a reasonable standard of living for their work." These are ideas that are progressive or liberal ideas, and progressives aren't getting them out there enough.

    What progressives are promoting is not elite at all. Progressives ought to be talking about the conservative elite. They shouldn't be complaining about "tax cuts for the rich," they should be complaining about "tax cuts for the conservative elite," because that's who's getting them.

    They [Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft et al.] are radicals. They're not trying to conserve anything. They're trying to impose a strict father model taken from a terrible, disastrous parenting method - one ruled by the use of abusive power and force - on America and the world. If you're disciplined enough to make enough money to buy good health care, you deserve it, and to buy a good education for your children, you deserve it. Otherwise you don't deserve it and you won't get it. Tomorrow: Lakoff dissects Republican framing at their convention.

    Just for Fun

    A new edition of Get Your War On--commemorating the Republican Convention. NC-17 for language, as ever.

    Thought for Today

    The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.

    --H.L. Mencken

    Convention Report

    Over. Whew. Not that Swami watched (That's a job for Rude Pundit and Washington Monthly.) He knew what it would be--blue skies, nothing but blue skies--so he read another book (it's connected to 9/11, so he'll hold that discussion for next week).

    But after reading the speech and the commentary and looking back over the last few weeks, Swami realizes he doesn't frame this election as most of his colleagues do. For Swami, the issue is language. Specifically, the meaning of words.

    Mark Twain famously said, "The British and the Americans are one people separated by a common language." Make that a domestic separation, and it's updated--America is one nation divided over language. That is, divided over the question of whether words have a common meaning or whether they can be redefined at will.

    The issue of this election is whether we will ever agree again that there are "facts" and there is "truth"--that words will ever again have common meanings. Will a Ruling Party make (to cite an extreme example) words like "war" and "peace" interchangeable for the true believers--and will a Resistance form to defend, in essence, traditional definitions of important words?

    The Republican approach to language--at least recently--is to make assertions without regard to facts and repeat them, over and over, until people believe they are true. This is why, although the White House pretends not to be involved in the deception, half of the American people still think Saddam had something to do with 9/11. It is why the President talks about Iraq as if it were a great success--instead of a mess that will, says John McCain, mean American soldiers must occupy Iraq for 10-15 years. It means, after all the reasons we used to justify war against Saddam have been exposed as lies, the President pretends he enjoys popular support for this war--although, as The New York Times reports, "only about one in five Americans now think he is telling the entire truth when he talks about Iraq."

    This war on language has several effects, and they all go far beyond politics:

    1) Unilateral Redefinitions create dissonance. When I utter a sentence you understand--"Please get me a glass of water"--and we both agree on the words, we're in harmony. But if I unilaterally insist that "water" is "Diet Coke," I knock your sense of reality off its foundations. If I'm powerful and I yell, you will bring me a Diet Coke. But we'll both know that I'm screwing with you, and that the only reason I get away with it is because I'm rich and you're a waitress.

    2) Unilateral Redefinitions create anger. The waitress who brings you Diet Coke when you said you wanted "water" is angry because she needs the job and the money and can't tell you to get lost. You are angry because you feel guilty--"winning" doesn't bring the satisfaction you thought.

    3) Unilateral Redefinitions create division. On one side, we find The Stupids, the "my country, right or wrong" crowd: If their President says "water" means "Diet Coke," it must mean that's true. (And more: It's always been true. And what's your problem, anyway?) On the other side, The Smarties. But it's not that simple, really--there is a huge population in the middle. These are People Who See What's Happening But Don't Really Care because they don't think any of this stuff touches their lives. They get very angry when a Smartie calls them on their apathy. And, because they hate to make public, moral choices and are conflict-averse, they fall in line behind the Stupids.

    This division is more than dangerous--it's gasoline waiting for a match.

    On the bright side: Only pessimists make straight-line projections. Life is full of surprises. Look at Chris Matthews. In the past week, he suddenly found his courage--he stood up to the Swift Boat Liars and the Zell Millers and asked real questions. They were shocked. But Matthews seems determined to keep practicing Actual Journalism. Why? Because he seems to have realized that, in a press pack populated by cowards, a Talking Head with a spine might just come out of this election looking like.....Edward R. Murrow.

    Example of the Language War: What Does "Compassion" Mean?

    News report: The Bush administration is locked in a rare election-year fight with fellow Republicans in the Senate over a troubled program for tens of thousands of weapons plant workers who got sick building nuclear bombs.

    Let's repeat that: You work in a weapons factory. You get sick. And the White House doesn't want to help you--even though you live in such battleground states as Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, Ohio and Washington.

    "These people are sick and dying," said Terrie Barrie of Craig, Colo., whose husband was sickened while working at the former Rocky Flats plant near Denver. "The administration, the Department of Energy is just refusing to listen."

    The workers were exposed to toxic substances such as radiation, heavy metals, asbestos and harsh solvents and acids while employed by Energy Department contractors. They often were not told what they were working with and did not have adequate protections.

    Why Do They Talk Down to You?

    It's just this simple: He's Dad and you're not. From The Boston Globe:

    White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said yesterday [Sept. 1] that President Bush views America as a "10-year-old child" in need of the sort of protection provided by a parent.

    Card's remark, criticized later by Democrat John F. Kerry's campaign as "condescending," came in a speech to Republican delegates from Maine and Massachusetts that was threaded with references to Bush's role as protector of the country...

    "It struck me as I was speaking to people in Bangor, Maine, that this president sees America as we think about a 10-year-old child," Card said. "I know as a parent I would sacrifice all for my children." A Shout-out to the Protesters--and the Cops

    In 1966, the Vietnam war was hitting industrial strength. Swami was a 20-year-old at Harvard. The campus was in turmoil--but that didn't stop Harvard from inaugurating the JFK School of Government with an appearance by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Talk about a slap in the face!

    Swami went to protest meetings. He heard the rhetoric. It sounded a lot like...rhetoric. Meanwhile, B-52s were carpet-bombing children.

    Swami and his roommate decided something dramatic needed to happen: McNamara should be pelted with human limbs. They called a medical student of their acquaintance--the world now knows him as Andrew Weil, the great natural healer--and learned that removing body parts from the dissection room was a felony. Swami and his roommate dropped the idea.

    On the day of McNamara's visit to Cambridge, with a demonstration planned, Swami put on his best suit. He wore the shirt with a collar-pin under the tie. His buckle shoes. His chesterfield overcoat--you know, with the black velvet collar. His theory: If you're going to be on TV, look good.

    Swami and his pals succeeded in surrounding McNamara's car. The Mad Bomber got out and stood on top. "I went to Berkeley, and I was tougher than you are then, and I'm tougher that you are now." Truly. McNamara said that. The Dick Cheney of his era.

    Our side tried to rough him up. (Hey, he said he was tough.) Cameras got it all. Swami was very briefly on TV. And, if you look closely, in the New York Times. But mostly, the crowd looked like a bunch of hippie Commies.

    Exciting day for Swami and the gang. But Lyndon Johnson was totally pissed by this confrontation--and intensified the bombing of Vietnam. People died because of our protest. (Rationalization: LBJ just needed an excuse to amp up the bombing. If not this, something else would have agitated him just as much.)

    Jump ahead a year. The steps of the Pentagon. No one wearing suits or preppy overcoats. Protesters below, the 82nd Airborne above. Around l0 pm, the TV crews have had enough. A few moments after they leave, two guys with red beards and orange rain slickers--Swami will go to his grave believing they were government agents--appear behind us. They have rocks and bottles. They throw them. And, thus provoked, the soldiers move forward to clobber the protesters.

    Cut to a year later. Chicago, the Democratic convention. A police riot ensues. Nixon is elected.

    See where Swami is going? Protest starts off feeling good--to the protesters--but it can be so easily manipulated by the pols and the press that--in the short-term, anyway--it seems counter-productive.

    All this week, Swami held his breath, remembering how the press--and the Party of Nixon--turned protest into votes. In New York, though, no frenzy, no police riot. Lots of drama, sure. And ugliness. And police overreaction. But little violence. The unhappiest man in America today? Bush's adviser, Karl Rove. What he could have done with a cadre of snarling hippies!

    In Case The Swift Boats Vets Come Up As a Topic At the Barbeque

    Print this out: a guide to the charges of the Swift Boat Vets--and the truth.

    The Beauty Part

    A scary, unsettling, heart-pounding novel about terrorism: Christopher Dickey, "The Sleeper".

    Soothing music that will make you tap your feet: The Very Best of J.J. Cale

    A movie the whole family will enjoy: "The Castle"

    Thought for Today

    Jimmy joined the army 'cause he had no place to go
    There ain't nobody hirin'
    'round here since all the jobs went
    down to Mexico
    Reckoned that he'd learn himself a trade maybe see the world
    Move to the city someday and marry a black haired girl
    Somebody somewhere had another plan
    Now he's got a rifle in his hand
    Rollin' into Baghdad wonderin' how he got this far
    Just another poor boy off to fight a rich man's war

    Bobby had an eagle and a flag tattooed on his arm
    Red white and blue to the bone when he landed in Kandahar
    Left behind a pretty young wife and a baby girl
    A stack of overdue bills and went off to save the world
    Been a year now and he's still there
    Chasin' ghosts in the thin dry air
    Meanwhile back at home the finance company took his car
    Just another poor boy off to fight a rich man's war

    When will we ever learn
    When will we ever see
    We stand up and take our turn
    And keep tellin' ourselves we're free

    Ali was the second son of a second son
    Grew up in Gaza throwing bottles and rocks when the tanks would come
    Ain't nothin' else to do around here just a game children play
    Somethin' 'bout livin' in fear all your life makes you hard that way

    He answered when he got the call
    Wrapped himself in death and praised Allah
    A fat man in a new Mercedes drove him to the door
    Just another poor boy off to fight a rich man's war
    --Steve Earle, "Rich Man's War," from Revolution Starts Now

    Keep Your Eye on the Ball: Casualties in Iraq

    From Iraq Coalition Casualty Count

    Americans killed in August: 66
    Total U.S. casualties: 978
    Note on the August death toll: Higher than in the first month of the war (when combat was at its highest level).

    Meanwhile, Back in Guantanamo

    Would you take your chances in the kind of court the Los Angeles Times describes at Gitmo?

    In a criminal court, the lay jury decides the facts and the judge rules on questions of law. Here, however, tribunal members decide on both. Yet the five nonlawyers were clearly befuddled last week when asked to define concepts such as due process and reasonable doubt.

    The cards are stacked against detainees in other ways too. Government prosecutors got spacious quarters and their own staff to prepare for the hearings. Military defense lawyers were crowded into one room. Midway through the week, the conference table they all shared was removed. The Arab interpreters were so incompetent that the proceedings resembled a game of "telephone," in which the message veered closer to gibberish with each repetition. Yet this game is about men's futures. Convention Music

    Swami asked: What can you listen to if you want to watch the Republican Convention but don't wan't want to hear the speeches?

    Thanks to all of you who responded. Here's your list--and what an awesome mix it would make:

    "Darth Vader March" from "Star Wars"
    "Nixon in China" (Philip Glass can numb you with this one.)
    Neil Young
    Any "Loony Tunes" soundtrack
    Pixies, "Trompe le Monde," particularly "U Mass"
    Waylon Jennings, "I've Always Been Crazy But It's Kept Me From Going Insane"
    Buffalo Springfield, "For What It's Worth"
    Radiohead, "Hail to the Thief"
    The Clash
    Public Enemy, "Fear of a Black Planet"
    Cat Power, "Rockets"
    Ani DiFranco, "Roll With It"
    Black Eyed Peas: "Where Is The Love?"
    "Monster Mash"
    Ray Stevens, "Mississippi Squirrel Revival"
    "Dropkick Me, Jesus, Through the Goalposts of Life"
    Jethro Tull, "Queen and Country"
    Napoleon the Fourteenth, "They're Coming to Take me Away, Ha-Ha"
    "Dance Macabre"
    Beatles, "Revolution #9"
    Guns 'n' Roses, "Appetite for Destruction"
    Rage Against the Machine
    The Doors, "The End"
    Judy Collins, "Leavin' On a Jet Plane"

    And--thanks for the reminder--a mix of songs by Springsteen, Dixie Chicks and the rest of the Vote For Change crew.

    Convention Report

    Swami didn't watch. [Didn't need to. Rude Pundit watches for Swami. Rude Pundit sees all.] So Swami was free to do that un-American thing: read a book. (More on that below.) Heard that AIDS activists made a fuss inside the Garden. (A reader noted: "They stand up there and promise to make us all safe and secure, but they can't stop a bunch of kids from evading their 'security' and demonstrating? What a joke.")

    Speaking of protest: Did you see the Salon piece about the grieving father at the Convention?

    Fernando Suarez del Solar wasn't very political before his son, a 20-year-old marine named Jesus, was killed in Iraq last year. Since then, though, the 48-year-old has left his job to spend all his time agitating against the war, and last night, he took his message to Madison Square Garden.

    A friend lent him a media pass, and at around 9 p.m., as Arnold Schwarzenegger began speaking, he unfurled a three-foot-wide sign with his son's picture and the words "Bush lied, my son died."

    A group of delegates immediately called security, which ushered him into Madison Square Garden's lobby. There, he says, he gave a few interviews while some passing Republicans jeered, saying, "Get out of here. You're unpatriotic." More security showed up, including members of the FBI and the Secret Service. "I say to them, 'I pay with my son's life for my freedom of speech, but you can arrest me, it's OK.' The police said, 'no sir.'" Swami gathers the Republicans hammered away last night on their defense of liberty. Here's a letter from a retired Sergeant-Major and a Vietnam vet:

    As a military family with a combined total of 57 years of active service in the U. S. Army, myself, son, and daughter-in-law have accumulated over 80 combat medals, one or more of us have served in Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, El Salvador, Kosovo, Bosnia, and three of us served together during Desert Storm. My son recently returned from the Iraq War, his third war, and, being fed up with Bush lies and back-to-back deployments, applied to be discharged from his "indefinite enlistment" status.

    Six days later he was under investigation for making "disloyal comments" about George Bush...which amounted to saying in general conversation with other soldiers that "Bush should have never started the war" and "Bush is no military leader." He was charged under Article-15 and was denied an attorney and could not cross-examine the case against him. His 14 years of military service up to this point was flawless, he was an excellent soldier, and in spite of numerous superiors who testified in his favor, he was demoted and sentenced to 45 days of extra duty.

    His crime involved nothing more than expressing his personal political opinion as guaranteed under the Bill of Rights, the very document that he had risked his life defending. Our government claims to be fighting for democracy, however those who risk their lives for democracy are being denied their basic rights of freedom of speech and opinion. My friends, the Bill of Rights and democracy are dead under the Bush Administration. This is only a sampling of what will happen if this administration is re-elected. ...

    Charlie C. Carlson II
    Command Sergeant-Major USA Ret.
    Dot Diehl-Carlson
    [Ex-Major USA Vietnam Vet] Read the full letter here.

    The Book Swami Read

    It's a quick 170-pager called Imperial America: The Bush Assault on the World Order, by John Newhouse.

    Newhouse's credentials: Covered foreign policy for The New Yorker in the '80s, was senior policy advisor for European Affairs in the State Department in Clinton's second term, is now a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information.

    The premise: The world was with the United States on 9/12/01. But no more. What opportunities did Bush squander and how did he squander them?

    Why it's important: the reporting. This is not some lefty Coulter blowing off.

    What he deals with: Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia.

    The writing: Vivid. (Sample: "Saddam always showed a fondness for going to the brink and an inability to recognize it when he got there.")

    Bush's fatal error: "Regime change is an attitude, not a policy."

    The takeaway: We missed a chance to support the progressives in Iran. Missed a chance to contain North Korea. Missed a chance to contain nukes in Pakistan. Seriously blew what a bipartisan task force described as "the most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States"--locking down Russian nuclear stockpiles.

    Most interesting anecdote: In 1975, Donald Rumsfeld--remember him?--was President Gerald Ford's chief of staff. He masterminded a "Halloween Massacre" that elevated Dick Cheney--remember him?--and damaged Henry Kissinger and caused Nelson Rockefeller to be told, a year in advance, that he would not be returning as Vice President and caused Defense Secretary James Schlesinger to be fired and elevated George Herbert Bush to CIA chief. When it was over, Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense. He was, he thought, poised to be Vice-President in a second Ford Administration. And then he'd run for President himself. So, as he settled in at Defense, he adopted hard-line policies against the Russians (who were, for their part, willing to limit nuclear weapons).

    Upshot: In the election campaign, Ford "couldn't lay claim to a winner on either the domestic or the foreign policy side." And without Rockefeller on the ticket, Ford didn't carry a state he needed--New York. Conclusion: "Carter owed his election to the aggressive maneuvering of Donald Rumsfeld."

    Rumsfeld: Genius then, genius now. When was the last time anyone you watch on TV read a book? Aren't you glad Swami read one?

    The Beauty Part

    No matter which side you're on, you're going to want to decompress after this convention. No one better to do that for you than the greatest living guitarist and songwriter from Oklahoma. Yeah, that one--J.J. Cale

    Thought for Today

    This is a great country, and it wasn't made so by angry people.
    --Garrison Keillor, from a remarkable (you'll want to read every word) essay called We're Not in Lake Wobegon Anymore

    Convention Report: "Crasstacular"

    Swami didn't watch. Didn't want to encourage the super-snarky side of his character by hooting at the Bush girls (who were, afterward, pretty much hooted at by--of all things--Fox News), and Laura, who hates all medical research without a "cure by" date, and Arnold, who breathed freer the first time he heard Nixon.

    Instead, Swami watched "Queer Eye" and misted over when the straight guy saw his new apartment and sobbed, "This is so great. It's like a new life. I can never thank you enough," and Swami wished there could be a "Queer Eye" army to bring style--and joy, and hope--to Americans who, night after night, sit alone in their Barcaloungers glued to "reality" TV.

    And then (of course) Swami watched "The Daily Show" and laughed himself silly as Stephen Colbert called the convention "crasstacular" and just generally ripped the Republicans a new one for--well, "chutzpah" really doersn't begin to describe it. Colbert: "To call this convention 'a little manipulative' is like calling Marcel Marceau 'a little quiet.'"

    Tonight it's Cheney, the real Terminator, offering his fealty as Bush watches from a firehouse. Tomorrow's the Coronation. Swami feels he must watch.

    Watch--but NOT listen. One, because Swami's blood-pressure medicine isn't industrial-strength. Two, because what are they gonna say that wouldn't break a lie-detector machine? Still, the experience doesn't work as a silent movie. Something's needed. Ah! Got it!

    "Wind Beneath My Wings" Or "Dark Side of the Moon"

    When LBJ and Nixon were carpet-bombing Vietnam, Swami and his pals never missed a Presidential address. (Hey, they wanted to kill US next!) Callow youth that we were, the first order of the evening was to impair our judgment. Then we'd turn the TV on, turn the sound off, and cue up the music.

    There was a lot of great music being made back then--Hendrix, the Stones, Cream, Love, 13th Floor Elevators--and the contrast between what we were seeing and hearing often made the experience almost enjoyable. (One night a friend brought Eric Clapton over. He seemed quite familiar with this way of watching TV.)

    What worked then might make Cheney and Bush bearable. But what's the right soundtrack? Steve Earle's too easy. Pink Floyd keeps coming up: "Welcome to the Machine" and "The Wall." The first Wailers CD, "Catch a Fire," especially "Concrete Jungle," "Slave Driver" and "Midnight Ravers."

    What else? All suggestions welcome. Please write or post. But hurry!

    Win Swami's Money

    Here's $10 that says the Convention will end without a single speaker mentioning Osama bin Laden. Any takers? Write me.

    Here's a Scary Thought: Dennis Hastert Is the Third Highest-Ranking Government Official

    On TV--Fox, of course --the Speaker of the House suggested to Chris Wallace that bigtime Democratic backer George Soros ain't legit:

    HASTERT: You know, I don't know where George Soros gets his money. I don't know where--if it comes overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from. And I...

    WALLACE: Excuse me?

    HASTERT: Well, that's what he's been for a number years--George Soros has been for legalizing drugs in this country. So, I mean, he's got a lot of ancillary interests out there.

    WALLACE: You think he may be getting money from the drug cartel?

    HASTERT: I'm saying I don't know where groups - could be people who support this type of thing. I'm saying we don't know. The fact is we don't know where this money comes from. George Soros has called for an apology:

    Your recent comments implying that I am receiving funds from drug cartels are not only untrue, but also deeply offensive. You do a discredit to yourself and to the dignity of your office by engaging in these dishonest smear tactics. You should be ashamed.

    I must respectfully insist that you either substantiate these claims--which you cannot do because they are false--or publicly apologize for attempting to defame my character and damage my reputation. For several days, this has had no effect on Hastert, who has repeated his charges at the Convention.

    Hastert's smear dovetails neatly with other Republican kicks at Soros, a foreign-born Jew.

    "No other single person represents the symbol and the substance of globalism more than this Hungarian-born descendant of Shylock. He is the embodiment of the Merchant from Venice," wrote GOPAC, an organization that helps elect GOP candidates, on its website last year.
    Forgive Swami--a once-born Jew--if he gets a little prickly here. Because usually, when people start this kind of talk, they've got a white sheet or a brown uniform in the closet. Or they wish they did. Or hope others do.

    Oops, this just in:

    "Of course the Speaker doesn't think he [Soros] gets money from drug cartels," says Hastert's press secretary, John Feehery.
    But no apology is forthcoming.

    Swami is still holding to his pledge of Rising Above It, whenever possible, but punks like Hastert make him think that's counterproductive. So Swami gives himself this one exemption: Every time he spots racism or anti-Semitism, he's going to come out swinging.

    Jews don't fight back? Let's put an end to that bit of received wisdom.

    As for those Jews who are voting for Bush because "he supports Israel," Swami suggests you adjust your focus and look closer to home. Think: continued high levels of joblessness, domestic unrest, the perception that Jews own the "liberal" media. But let Chris Rock lay it out for you: "After 9/11, when they started talking ugly about 'terrorists,' I was okay with that. It was when they started talking about 'immigrants' that I had to pay attention. Because next comes the Jews and the blacks--and that train ain't never late."

    Soldier, Say Goodbye to the Secret Ballot (But Wasn't That What You're in Iraq to Defend?)

    From yesterday's New York Times editorial page:

    Barely two months before the presidential vote, Missouri's secretary of state has suddenly announced that he will allow military voters from his state--one of the most pivotal in the election--to e-mail ballots from combat zones to the Defense Department. E-mail is far too insecure to be used for voting. Missouri and North Dakota, which announced a similar rule yesterday, should rescind these orders right away. Missouri's action also sheds light on the Defense Department's role in administering federal elections, a troubling situation that needs far more scrutiny.

    [...]Earlier this year the Defense Department scrapped a pilot program to allow the military to vote over the Internet, after concluding that it could not "assure the legitimacy of votes" cast online.

    There is more cause for concern after the ballots arrive at the Pentagon. E-mail voters will be required to sign a release acknowledging that their votes may not be kept secret. When the people handling ballots know who they are cast for, it is not hard to imagine that ballots for disfavored candidates could accidentally be "lost." And because the e-mailed ballots arrive as computer documents, it is possible to cut off the voter's digitized signature, attach it to a ballot supporting another candidate, and send that ballot on to the state to be counted.

    It is unclear how good the protections are to guard against tampering. The e-mailed ballots will be handled by a contractor, Omega Technologies, hired for this purpose, at the company's offices and without the election observers who are present at normal polling places.

    [...]The Missouri and North Dakota announcements call attention to the larger issue of why the Pentagon is directly handling so many presidential ballots. ...it is a fundamental aspect of the American election system that handling and counting of votes is supposed to occur at the local level. The Defense Department should stop handling actual ballots, and instead help military and other overseas voters send them directly to local elections officials. The Beauty Part

    How do you convince people that black is white?

    One way is the White House Method, 2000-2004--say what you want, never let the facts get in the way, repeat yourself until the listener surrenders.

    But it can be done ever-so-more-artfully, which is why Swami, in his Head Butler persona, recently rented a 1994 classic film, Gaslight. Plot: A slicker-than-snail-snot villain tries to convince his wife she's going mad. Brilliant writing. Great sets. Direction by George Cukor. Starring Ingrid Bergman (who got an Academy Award) and Charles Boyer.

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