Thought for Today

I just about went through the roof when I heard them bragging about $35 million--we spend $35 million before breakfast in Iraq.
--Senator Patrick J. Leahy, (Vermont, Democrat), a persistent critic of the American rebuilding operation in Iraq

Why George Bush Can't Catch This Wave

Loose Canon, channeling the Washington Times as usual, kicks a hapless Norwegian around, because he-- correctly, as it turned out--dared to mention that rich Western countries give humanitarian aid well below their capabilities. Just a few weeks ago, when you and I were riled up about unarmored Humvees in Iraq, LC followed Rev. Moon's paper's lead and kicked a reporter because he allegedly helped a soldier ask Rummy a real question. It's nice to know, in a soul-searching moment of global proportion, that someone can still focus on fractional issues--like how big a drag it is that the United Nations is at the center of the relief effort.

LC will, no doubt, continue to wave the flag for the least generous administration since Louis XVI. If she would supplement her beloved hometown rag for a Manhattan paper--and it's not local arrogance which makes me suggest that the New York Times, for all its jaw-dropping flaws, is still America's "paper of record"--she might have to adjust her views. From today's Times editorial:

$35 million remains a miserly drop in the bucket, and is in keeping with the pitiful amount of the United States budget that we allocate for nonmilitary foreign aid. According to a poll, most Americans believe the United States spends 24 percent of its budget on aid to poor countries; it actually spends well under a quarter of 1 percent.

Bush administration officials help create that perception gap. Fuming at the charge of stinginess, Mr. Powell pointed to disaster relief and said the United States "has given more aid in the last four years than any other nation or combination of nations in the world." But for development aid, America gave $16.2 billion in 2003; the European Union gave $37.1 billion. In 2002, those numbers were $13.2 billion for America, and $29.9 billion for Europe.

Making things worse, we often pledge more money than we actually deliver. Victims of the earthquake in Bam, Iran, a year ago are still living in tents because aid, including ours, has not materialized in the amounts pledged. And back in 2002, Mr. Bush announced his Millennium Challenge account to give African countries development assistance of up to $5 billion a year, but the account has yet to disperse a single dollar. As I write, 71,000 people have donated $4,260,000 to the Red Cross via Amazon.com. A reader comments on that outpouring:

I'm consistently amazed at how generous people (and I assume that the Amazon donors are primarily American) can be as individuals yet our government obscures these individual efforts. How is it that in a matter of a few days private citizens can donate 10% of the total the U.S. Government has pledged so far? The stunning disconnect between our own indvidual actions and the decisions made by the people we choose to represent us continues to grow. But hasn't this been the strategy in this country all along: "privatize" relief efforts by encouraging charities, faith-based and otherwise, to do the hard work of raising money and helping the needy? In many ways, our being hard-wired to help takes our own government off the hook.
My thoughts?

Dear Reader: These are pitiless men who, long ago, lost the roadmap to love and connection. While I'm the first to say that you don't know anything about relationships unless you're in the room, I would venture to say that their marriages are bound by "loyalty" and "habit" and by that lowest of reasons, "shared values"--not passion and joy and, yes, a hearty lust. Their children are accessories. Their friendships are photo ops.

You would hope that these men--Christians, all, as far as I can tell--would be mortally afraid of the judgment of their Christian god. Why aren't they? Because since they've been "saved," they don't believe their sins will matter. What's the difference between authorizing $10 million--or $100 million?

Some--Cheney, Rumsfeld and the like--just wrap themselves in faith because they know it's the smart thing to do. Their real god is the corporation, the teat that, for the annointed, never stops giving. For these guys, a giant flood is something for Human Resources to deal with.

James Wolcott noted as much in his comment on the President's remarks yesterday:

I was pleased to see the President of the United States put down the frigging rake long enough to put on his best Sunday-go-to-meetin' suit and issue a public statement regarding the catastrophic tsunami. "Earlier yesterday," reported The Washington Post, "White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the president was confident he could monitor events effectively without returning to Washington or making public statements in Crawford, where he spent part of the day clearing brush and bicycling. Explaining the about-face, a White House official said: 'The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts. He didn't want to make a symbolic statement about "We feel your pain."'" Clearing brush? What is he, Luke on The Real McCoys, Eb on Green Acres, or the cardboard cut-out figurehead leader of the free world?

Given the sedated performance he put on today, which resembled a clinical demonstration of "lack of affect" for beginning interns, Bush needn't worry that anyone will confuse him with Huggy-Bear Bill or accuse him of overdoing the empathy. Exhibit A: The final question of yesterday's press conference:

Q New Year's resolutions?

THE PRESIDENT: I'll let you know. Already gave you a hint on one, which is my waistline. I'm trying to set an example.

My reaction. I'm with The Rude Pundit:

A compassionate man at that point might have said something about resolving to help the countries through this crisis. A wise man may have said he was going to reach out more to others who are across the political aisle. There's a million things he could have said. Instead, he decided to take a giant sh-- on the statement of sympathy he had just given...

Confession: I was one of those people who thought the President took too much vacation time. That he was checked out--especially on Auigust 6, 2001, when he was warned about a terror attack and went back to clearing brush. But if you think about it, isn't it better when The Leader of the Free World is away from Washington? When he's not flapping his gums and and failing what The Washington Times likes to dismiss as a "global test"?

Final thoughts:

Most disgusting reponse so far? Saudi Arabia. Yes, that oil-rich country has pledged just $7 million. But many of the afflicted are Muslim? Yes, but not the right kind of Muslims. And then here are the Hindus. So much for Arab generosity--the French pledged more. The French!

Most important fact to keep in mind: Halliburton overcharged American taxpayers 61 million dollars for gasoline in Iraq. This was followed with overcharging for meals by 67 million dollars. And let's not forget Halliburton's total score in Iraq: contracts worth EIGHT BILLION DOLLARS.

Now THAT is money.

Abe Lincoln and George Bush: Inaugural Style

Several of you have written to suggest that the $40 million--much of it raised from "the private sector"--for Bush's Inaugural might be better spent.

One letter will stand for many:

Don't spend the money on the Pomp & Circumstance on January 20. He's not a King. It's always been ridiculous - but especially seem so now. How many people could the cost of one plate of hors d'oeuvres feed? Or the light bill for that night at the White House? It's obscene to spend the money. Have the Chief Justice make W put his hand on the Bible in public if we must--we did it 4 years ago, not sure why we have to do it again for an incumbent--and go on with business. If they don't want to share with "those people," perhaps they could send armor to Iraq (don't let me see Rumsfeld in a Tux with that Grin while troops are dying).
This put me in mind of another second-term inauguration. Also a war President. Here is Walt Whitman's account of the second swearing-in of Abraham Lincoln, on March 4, 1864:

The President very quietly rode down to the Capitol in his own carriage, by himself, on a sharp trot, about noon, either because he wished to be on hand to sign bills, or to get rid of marching in line with the absurd procession--the muslin temple of liberty and pasteboard monitor.

I saw him on his return, at three o'clock, after the performance was over. He was in his plain two-horse barouche, and looked very much worn and tired; the lines, indeed, of vast responsibilities, intricate questions, and demands of life and death cut deeper than ever upon his dark brown face; yet all the old goodness, tenderness, sadness, and canny shrewdness underneath the furrows. (I never see that man without feeling that he is one to become personally attached to for his combination of purest, heartiest tenderness, and native Western form of manliness.)

By his side sat his little boy of ten years. There were no soldiers, only a lot of civilians on horseback, with huge yellow scarves over their shoulders, riding around the carriage. (At the inauguration four years ago he rode down and back again surrounded by a dense mass of armed cavalrymen eight deep, with drawn sabres; and there were sharpshooters stationed at every corner on the route.)

I ought to make mention of the closing levee of Saturday night last. Never before was a such a compact jam in front of the White House--all the grounds filled, and away out to the spacious sidewalks. I was there, as I took in a notion to go; was in the rush inside with the crowd; surged along the passageways, the blue and other rooms, and through the great east room. Crowds of country people, some very funny. Fine music from the Marine Band, off in a side place.

I saw Mr. Lincoln, dressed all in black, with white kid gloves and a clawhammer coat, receiving, as in duty bound, shaking hands, looking very disconsolate and as if he would give anything to be somewhere else. And Lincoln was a Republican, wasn't he?

Reasons to be Cheerful: Two Stories

Their sons and daughters died in Iraq. But that didn't stop a group of Americans from wanting to help the Iraqi people:

Families of US troops killed in the offensive on the Iraqi city of Fallujah are to travel to Jordan with $600,000 worth of humanitarian aid for refugees of the attack.

The November assault on Fallujah left 71 US military dead, according to the families, and the Iraqi government said more than 2,000 Iraqis were killed.

"This delegation is a way for me to express my sympathy and support for the Iraqi people," said Rosa Suarez of Escondido in California. "The Iraq war took away my son's life, and it has taken away the lives of so many innocent Iraqis. It is time to stop the killing and to help the children of Iraq." Randy Johnson, the fearsome left-handed pitcher, is about to become a Yankee. Like most stars, he has a charity--in his case, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Unlike many stars, he's active in it. Fact to note: none of his kids have this disease. From The New York Times:

"At first, I was terrified of him," said Jan Lee Sproat, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the foundation. "But he is such a delight and the children just love him. He sits down and talks to them. If we're doing an event, I say, 'Let's get 130 balls and you can sign them so people won't come up to you the whole time.' He says, 'No, that's what they expect, for me to sign balls and take pictures, and that's O.K.' "

Sproat remembers how Lauren Creswell, a girl who has cystic fibrosis and has rooted for Johnson most of her life, was at home last Christmas in Tucson. As she opened her presents, the phone rang. Johnson was on the other line, calling to wish her a happy holiday. As this week's events have proved, there are a lot of people out there who know what's right and get it done. Thank you for being part of that crew--it makes a very big difference to the mood of this blogger. And a safe, healthy New Year to all.

Thought for Today

This is the joy that I have, the world didn't give it to me.
--Mavis Staples, liner notes for Have a Little Faith

George Bush and the Wave

You may not believe this, but I'd really hoped to write something positive about the President's response to the tsunami. But you know how it is, girls--once a guy sets out to disappoint you, he rarely fails to succeed.

Of course the President spent Tuesday--the first global day of mourning--clearing brush in Crawford, Texas. Yes, he watched some news: Fox, I guess. But he kept silent, we're told, less he sound too much like Bill Clinton.

So we had to wait today for the announcement that a) the US will pony up more than the previously announced $40 million, though how much more no one is saying and 2) we're part of a four-nation team--whatever you do, don't call it a "coalition"--to help.

You know, the proper response to an event like this should not be hard for the world's only superpower to figure out--especially when that superpower is sitting in the global Dunce Chair. We're killing brown people in Iraq? Let's save brown people in Asia. That's right: let's put as much energy in helping the innocent as we do in hunting the "insurgents."

Alas, there are two flaws in this simple equation.

One is that it seems the only time our "Christian" leaders grasp that we are connected to the rest of the planet is when someone pisses us off--though the fabled "American people" are hard-wired to help, this particular set of white male leaders believes that relief work is not its job. Well, at least they're consistent; they're not rushing to help the poor and troubled at home either. And then there's the question of Getting The Work Done. One reason Bush had to spend a day playing Range Rider is that Halliburton was trying to figure out how to make a dime off the earthquake--and came up empty.

The other problem is that we can't really afford to step out front and do the right thing in Asia. Our larder is bare. The war, the tax cuts, the battered dollar --- every reduction in our ability to be a good planetary citizen turns us more and more inward. Anyway, it's cold. And the football playoffs are around the corner. And did you get a new video game for Christmas? Right: there goes the adult male population.

The genuine surprise of the earthquake is not that it happened, but that it might not go away. It's not just a disaster, it's a mega-disaster. Not just the usual two-or-three-day story, but a kind of global Laci Peterson case--the rest of the world may be involved in this event and its aftermath for some time. Too bad we don't have the attention span for it--or a President who understands that the first definition of compassion is how you feel about people with whom you have nothing in common.

Getting It Right: Volunteer America Day

Beliefnet readers are, by now, not waiting for Our Spiritual Father--that's George W. Bush, for those who have slept through the first term--to act. They come up with plans that we can execute all on our own. Here's one that arrived via email:

In the spirit of volunteerism that this catastrophe has ignited, I would like to suggest a "Volunteer America Day"--to coincide with the inauguration of this president who would not hesitate to cut the grants and federal funding of many of the very same organizations that are hurrying to southeast Asia to help. Why don't the 56 million of us who didn't vote for him get together and clean a park, or volunteer our time to help the elderly or the infirm - or work at the local VA to tend to the soldiers he keeps sending to the Middle East as so much cannon foder! Or just to irritate Dubya, why don't all 56 million of us donate one dollar each to Planned Parenthood or the World Health Organization or any of the myriad charities that the pious White House finds cringe-worthy?
Not One Damn Dime Day

This has been making the email rounds. I was saving it for later, but later seems to have come early.

Don't spend a dime on January 20, 2005.

It doesn't really matter that everyone will be out spending what they didn't the next day--a point or two will have been made: Since our religious leaders will not speak out against the war in Iraq, since our political leaders don't have the moral courage to oppose it, Inauguration Day, Thursday, January 20th, 2005 is "Not One Damn Dime Day" in America.

On "Not One Damn Dime Day" those who oppose what is happening in our name in Iraq can speak up with a 24-hour national boycott of all forms of consumer spending.

During "Not One Damn Dime Day," please don't spend money. Not one damn dime for gasoline. Not one damn dime for necessities or for impulse purchases. Not one damn dime for anything for 24 hours.

On "Not One Damn Dime Day," please boycott Walmart, KMart and Target. Please don't go to the mall or the local convenience store. Please don't buy any fast food (or any groceries at all for that matter). For 24 hours, please do what you can to shut the retail economy down.

The object is simple. Remind the people in power that the war in Iraq is immoral and illegal; that they are responsible for starting it and that it is their responsibility to stop it. "Not One Damn Dime Day" is to remind them, too, that they work for the people of the United States of America, not for the international corporations and K Street lobbyists who represent the corporations and funnel cash into American politics.

Not One Damn Dime Day" is about supporting the troops. The politicians put the troops in harm's way. Now 1,200 brave young Americans and (some estimate) 100,000 Iraqis have died. The politicians owe our troops a plan -- a way to come home.

There's no rally to attend. No marching to do. No left or right wing agenda to rant about. On "Not One Damn Dime Day" you take action by doing nothing. You open your mouth by keeping your wallet closed. For 24 hours, nothing gets spent, not one damn dime, to remind our religious leaders and our politicians of their moral responsibility to end the war in Iraq and give America back to the people. Thought for Today

Even one child I could not save.
-- Mani Natrajan, father of three, in Cuddalore, India

Mass Grief

My stepdaughter is safe. Airlifted from Phuket, Thailand on an Army transport, and now, I think, heading home. (Thank you to all who sent wishes and prayers in her direction.)

I write occasionally about Mrs. Uptown and Little Uptown, but almost never about the two kids I lived with for a dozen years when I was married to their mother--my insanely wonderful stepchildren are very smart New Yorkers who have spent their young lives around media, and they understand better than most that the only time you want press is when you have something to sell. So I mentioned my stepdaughter yesterday simply as a way to get a handle on this disaster. If it has a face and a name, I think, maybe I can grasp it.

But I can't. I close my eyes and watch the movie inside. Then I slow it down and watch the photo gallery--the bodies in trees, the rows of corpses, the mass graves. And I am defeated, both by the numbers of the dead and the rapidity of their dying.

As someone struggling with the most basic concepts of Buddhism, I never really get past the first fact of life: The ground is not solid. Things change. Without any apparent reason.

[This is one of the reasons I so loathe George W. Bush and his inner circle-- their absolute certainty. And then they cover their smug sense of rightness with religion, which only makes them more ridiculous. Where in the New Testament is it written that Christ confers unerring confidence to those who believe?]

This morning, just to get myself out of the house, I took Little Uptown to the Metropolitan Museum. I showed her how to throw paint like Jackson Pollock and draw loops like Cy Twomley. We looked at the two little girls in Renoir's famous portrait. We tried to move a Calder mobile with our breath. She loved it all--and the people around us loved that this not-yet-three-year-old-kid so obviously was adoring the museum.

And what I thought--about every other second--was: Roaring waters could knock these walls down like toy blocks. Forget about me. I could lose her--like that.

Obviously, you cannot have a life if you are in such a constant state of astonishment and agitation that you can't put one foot in front of the other. We have to believe that the world works: computers hum, cars run, planes don't crash. But then you imagine, say, Yankee Stadium filled with children--and, in a flash, disappear it.

What's up with that? Where do you begin to understand it?

In the absence of understanding, there is still the opportunity to act. Here are ways you can help.

Where Does the Flood Rank on the Rapture Index?

They call it "the speedometer of end-time activity." Today it's up 2, to 155. And, yeah, it's no joke--it's The Rapture Index.

And Then There's Good News

Thanks to Military.com --and a sharp-eyed Beliefnet reader--for this lovely story:

14-year-old Brittany Bergquist is surprised that the U.S. military doesn't do what she and her little brother are doing: helping soldiers phone home free.

"I'm kind of happy that they didn't supply them," she said, "because we've always wanted to do something for the soldiers."

With $14 from their piggy banks, she and 12-year-old brother Robbie started Cell Phones for Soldiers. In less than nine months, the organization has provided $250,000 worth of prepaid calling cards to American soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.

They raise money by collecting old cellular phones and selling them to companies that refurbish them for resale.

It all started in April, when the family heard about a Massachusetts soldier who ran up $7,600 in cell phone charges calling home from Iraq. T-Mobile forgave much of the bill. But Brittany and Robbie figured there must be other soldiers - including a cousin of theirs - who are stationed in Iraq and want to call home more often but cannot afford it.

You'll want to click and see what happened next.

Thought for Today

I had total tunnel vision. I kept seeing my wife and my baby's face in front of my eyes. That's what drove me.
--Sgt. Michael S. Posner, 34, Farmingville, N.Y., explaining how he got out of the mess hall after the attack at the U.S. army base in Mosul, Iraq

Oh, The Flood Is Threatening My Very Life Today

When I read the quote (above) from the soldier in Mosul, I thought immediately of a fireman Jimmy Breslin met at the World Trade Center, shortly after the towers fell. Breslin writes:

He lost several of his people and was left against a shaky wall, dazed at being alive. A thick coating of dust make him a gray mummy. He did not say hello or recognize me with any motion. He just said:

"I have a daughter in college in Baltimore. And I love her."

He said this with tears.
I thought of that equation--your family is your world--again this week, when I learned that my 24-year-old stepdaughter, who has been working in a Vietnmese orphanage for the last few months, was not, as I thought, safely on her way home. In fact, she was on a beach in Thailand when the water began rising. I'm told that she and her boyfriend outran the water; the last I heard, her sole possession was the bikini she was wearing. I haven't talked to her, but I won't be surprised if she tells me the images that passed through her mind as she ran were of her mother and father and brother.

It is the operating thesis of this blog and all religions with a claim to respectability that we are brothers and sisters here. If you feel that way--if the soldier clawing through the dust in Mosul and the firefighter at the World Trade Center and the young woman in the bikini and the wretched parent mourning a child in Sumatra are people you recognize as your own--you may want to help. Here are some reputable agencies.

What Was Donald Rumsfeld Saying?

Ok, he was in Iraq. He was tired. But what did what Rummy mean by this reference to Flight 93?

I think all of us have a sense if we imagine the kind of world we would face if the people who bombed the mess hall in Mosul, or the people who did the bombing in Spain, or the people who attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania and attacked the Pentagon, the people who cut off peoples' heads on television to intimidate, to frighten --- indeed the word 'terrorized' is just that. Its purpose is to terrorize, to alter behavior, to make people be something other than that which they want to be.

Now he cannot be saying that some Muslim shot down Flight 93 on 9/11. But is he accidentally admitting what some people say they saw and many believe--that a US military plane shot Flight 93 out of the sky that morning in Pennsylvania? If you can figure it out, please share.

Andrew Greeley Also Thinks The War Is "Our" Fault

Father Greeley on our collective guilt:

Each extra day of the war makes it more unjust, more criminal. The guilty people are not only the Vulcans but those Americans who in the November election endorsed the war.

They are also responsible for the Iraqi deaths, especially the men who join the police or the army because they need the money to support their families--their jobs eaten up in the maw of the American "liberation." Iraqi deaths don't trouble many Americans. Their attitude is not unlike the email writer who said he rejoices every time a Muslim kills another Muslim. "Let Allah sort them out."

This time of the year we celebrate "peace on Earth to men of good will." Americans must face the fact that they can no longer claim to be men and women of good will, not as long as they support an unnecessary, foolish, ill-conceived, badly executed and, finally, unwinnable war. One Happy Story for the Season

E-mail from a valued reader:

For the last few years a fella in Egypt and I have been corresponding. Our correspondence began by accident. There isn't much to it. Just a note and a joke now and again.

It was very difficult at first. He harbored a great hatred for Jews and westerners in general. I kept trying to take a high road; writing about spirituality and caring for all people, questioning why he would despise later generations for the perceived ugly deeds of the forefathers.

We laid bare our souls about the King David Hotel (he lost a relative in the bombing in 1939). I researched and we discussed the history and circumstance surrounding the event. We discussed the British for several letters.

Israel was next. There was no way I would or could defend Sharon but I sent him tales of individuals bridging the political gaps between them. I begged him not to send me photos of mutilated children.

We commiserated over the horrible falling American bombs in Iraq. We took opposite views on Afghanistan. We wrote honestly. Often I wondered why and how I would continue to explain that all people are related and, underneath it all, brothers; that the deeds of government and pulpit do not necessarily represent the wishes, desires, and hopes of the populace. I wrote that he and I were not so different in spite of our differences.

He sent me a Christmas card this year. I thanked him for thinking of me, wished him happy holidays and reminded him that I am not a Christian. His reply is worth everything. I quote it below.

"got u. i send xmas greetings to all my friends around the globe and i dont care if they are Christians or non Christians; it's you who taught me so! xmas is the most Celebrated thing in the world! Tough luck for non like you and I; I still love it. Have funnnn>>"

The world is, it seems, enlightened one soul at a time. I feel more gratified and pleased than I have in, at least, a long time. I feel very humble but very proud. Thought for Today

I had a health issue a few years back, and it really made my faith real," he said, referring to a bout with cancer. "It made me think, the things that the Lord would want done, let's do. His heart is with the downtrodden, so let's help them."
--Sam Brownback, the very conservative senator from Kansas who is actively involved in humanitarian causes abroad, cited in a very positive piece by Nicholas Kristof, liberal op-ed columnist for The New York Times.

Jesse the Jew

I have a legal problem, so I hired a litigator. Ours was a phone/fax/e-mail relationship, so it wasn't until our first court date that I learned he wears a yarmulke and is Orthodox.

He is also a Republican. (You can guess why: Bush writes Israel a blank check.) Stupidly, I made a bet on the election. And lost. And forgot all about it.

Last week, I had to go to his office. And he reminded me. What could I say? I put on the yarmulke and the tallis and tefilin and repeated the prayers--I was, for a few minutes, the Jew that my lawyer wanted me to be.

Once upon a time, I went to see--and be seen by--Rebbe Schneerson. Nothing happened. But this simple act--the putting-on of the apparatus of prayer--had a power I couldn't quite parse. "Interesting, but I'm still really a Buddhist," I told my lawyer.

"That just makes you a better Jew," he said.

A reasonable place for me to be in this season. And a realistic place from which to wish all of you "the holy or the broken Hallelujah."


The Uptowns are snowbound in an exurb of Cincinnati. Happily, I adore Mrs. Uptown's sister and husband and their kids. And I was thrilled to spend the pre-snow day in the rented Ford Taurus, driving from Starbucks to Blockbuster, listening to local FM radio.

My habit in Strange Cities is to listen with one finger on the SCAN button. That is, I hear one complete sentence, hit SCAN, see what they're saying on the next station. It's a way of co-creating the programming. And it often produces a giggle.

Not here, kids. Is it just Ohio, or has America been captured--even on FM--- by Christian radio? It's not just the sermons on every other channel ("Everyone hates sin, except when they're sinning"). It's the music. My favorites: the one about the mother of Christ ("Oh, Mary, did you know your son would walk on water?") and the woman who has "a sticker for the U.S. Marines on the bumper of my SUV."

Hope the snow clears soon. I'm ready for more stuff that's too good for us in the Blue States.

A Liberal Guide for Surviving Christmas When Your Folks Are Not

Some of Kerry Madden's suggestions:

When your mother tells you the thing she really admires and finds so clever about Bill O'Reilly is that you can't tell what he is--a Democrat, a Republican, a Liberal--keep the chopping knife steady, focus on the onions and garlic or the gentle rolling of pie dough. Do not make eye contact.

When buzzwords like "vouchers," "accountability" and "all that wasted, dead talent from aborted babies" zing through the air, go check your e-mail. Or fantasize about Benicio Del Toro and wonder what he is doing for the holidays.

When the talk turns to politics during dinner, say, "How about that Boston Babe Ruth curse lifting?" or "Anyone see Ray yet?" If that fails, turn up Frank Sinatra CD. Loud.

When the talk turns to politics over dessert, do not threaten to leave early if it doesn't stop. Don't have a breakdown and scream, "WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN?!!" Just don't. After all, it's the holidays. Fine, Mr. Giuliani, Now Tell Us How You Define 'Bravery'

Bernard Kerik resigned yesterday from his mentor's firm so his problems don't further damage Rudy Giuliani's reputation. The comment from America's Mayor:

I think he made the right decision for himself and his family. No one or anyone can take away from him the incredible bravery.
No. Consider Joseph Darby, the Abu Ghraib whistleblower who (say I) should have been Beliefnet's Most Inspiring Person of the Year--now that's bravery. [Pat Tillman? Sorry. Tillman was a peculiarly American hero--unlike all the other soldiers in our volunteer army, he alone gave up money--who had the bad luck in the final seconds of his life to discover how chaotic war can be. Before you get all bothered, please remember: I'm the guy who mourned the life of every soldier a long, long time before Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush got around to feeling bad for the grunts.] But don't worry, Beliefnet readers, you voted with the great majority--in the AOL poll featuring Beliefnet's Most Inspiring candidates, only 2% voted for Darby.

"Kerik" and "bravery" in the same sentence? Let's Google the guy and see what comes up.

Here's Les Payne, in Newsday:

It was the then Lord Mayor in 1993 who first took Kerik on as bodyguard and chauffeur. The undercover detective had an uncanny nose for whose head to knock and whose rear to kiss. The troubled, high-school drop-out and martial arts expert attached himself to the law-and-order mayor as only a chauffeur could.
But then, when you look into America's Mayor, you see that "Giuliani" and "bravery" also don't belong in the same sentence. Here's Jimmy Breslin:

As the mayor, he had a detective driving one of his girl friends out of the Gracie Mansion driveway while another detective was arriving with another girl friend and was waved off to prevent a domestic riot.

All the while upstairs there were his wife and children.

Giuliani then showed appropriate behavior by walking in a parade on Fifth Avenue with his girl friend and all the while his children could sit and watch him on television. Sorry, fans of 9/11 myth, but our worst tragedy was the best thing ever to happen to three people: Bush, Giuliani, and Kerik. Suddenly you didn't have to be tough--you just needed a big mouth.

One thing we know about heroes: they are the last to tell you about it. Not to sound like an O'Henry Christmas story, but "bravery" is the guy who used to work one job and now works three--and sticks it out because he loves his wife and kids. It's the woman who leaves her abusive husband, the drunk determined to get sober, the gay kid who feels good about him/herself. It's the believer who ignores dogma and has a personal relationship with his/her God. And it's the seeker who doesn't know but presses on. And, most probably, in a way only you know, you.

But not Kerik. As far as I can tell, he did one brave thing--he resigned from Giuliani's firm without telling the boss, "Hey, Rudy, I know the worst about you--I could bury you with the stories. You really want to keep me on the payroll." Or maybe he did say that, and he's being paid off. But in the spirit of the season, let's forgive this frail bully. And, then, because we're human, hope he unloads on Rudy.

The Beauty Part

Delicious, easy, affordable: Holiday Ham.

Thought for Today

And Mary said,
'My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God's servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is God's name.
God's mercy is for those who fear God
from generation to generation.
God has shown strength with God's arm;
and has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.'
--Luke 1:46-53

The Ultimate Holiday Gift

Find out how you can become an organ and/or tissue donor. When, of course, you no longer have need of your body.

Fool's Paradise

I am waiting for the Solstice to bring the light to my soul.

Not to be a grinch, but I am having a hard time feeling good about Getting and Spending when our troops in Iraq are dying--and killing. And, of course, when our government paints a smiley face on the whole shameful operation.

I cannot imagine the Holiday Sermons this year. A child was born so that the rich could get richer? So that only those who accepted Him could know eternal happiness? So that He could pit neighbor against neighbor? Nope. Doubt you'll hear a word about the Real World.

I made the mistake of reading the new issue of The New York Review of Books the other day.

Big mistake. Because once you know, you can't pretend you don't.

Want to know? (Of course, you already know--that's why you're reading this and not the Good News Bloggers.) But can you stand to hear the down-and-dirty?

Okay, you were warned.

Here's Jon Lee Anderson, from his book, The Fall of Baghdad. He's in an Iraqi hospital, looking at the body of a small child killed by American bombs. (This is from Chris Hedges' review.)

Before the cloth covered her, I saw that the girl was covered in blood. Her brother looked as though he were sleeping. But they both were dead. Their mother was there, beside herself with grief. She was the woman I had heard wailing and hitting the walls. Then almost all the onlookers around the mother, including the doctors and nurses, broke down and cried. I was overcome and went outside and sat down. I wept. The children's father was sitting a few feet away from me, disconsolately sobbing into his arms.
I moved on to Michael Massing's piece, Iraq, the Press and the Election:

Most of the soldiers in Iraq are young men who can't speak Arabic and who have rarely traveled outside the United States, and they have suddenly been set down in a hostile environment in which they face constant attack. They are equipped with powerful weapons and have authority over a dark-skinned people with alien customs. The result is constant friction, often leading to chronic abuses that, while not as glaring as those associated with Abu Ghraib, are no less corrosive in their effect on local sentiment.

One journalist who has seen this firsthand is Nir Rosen. A twenty-seven-year-old American freelance reporter, Rosen speaks Arabic (a rare skill among Western reporters in Iraq), has a dark complexion (allowing him to mix more easily with Iraqis), and prefers when in Iraq to hang out with locals rather than with other journalists. (In the late spring, he managed to get inside Falluja at a time when it was a death trap for Western reporters; he described his chilling findings in the July 5 issue of The New Yorker.) Seeing Iraq from the perspective of the Iraqis, Rosen got a glimpse of how persistently and routinely American actions alienated them. "People have to wait three hours in a traffic jam because a US army convoy is going by," he notes. "Guns are pointed at you wherever you go. People are constantly shouting at you. Concrete walls are everywhere. Violence is everywhere."

In October 2003, Rosen spent two weeks embedded with a US Army unit near the Syrian border. In sweeps through neighborhoods, he said, the Americans used Israeli-style tactics- making mass arrests in the hope that one or two of those scooped up will have something useful for them. "They'll hold them for ten hours in a truck without food or water," he told me. "And 90 percent of them are innocent." Writing of his experience in Reason magazine, Rosen described how a unit he accompanied on a raid broke down the door of a house of a man they suspected of dealing in arms. When the man, named Ayoub, did not immediately respond to their orders, they shot him with nonlethal bullets. "The floor of the house was covered with his blood," Rosen wrote. "He was dragged into a room and interrogated forcefully as his family was pushed back against their garden's fence."

Ayoub's frail mother, he continued, pleaded with the interrogating soldier to spare her son's life, protesting his innocence:

He pushed her to the grass along with Ayoub's four girls and two boys, all small, and his wife. They squatted barefoot, screaming, their eyes wide open in terror, clutching one another as soldiers emerged with bags full of documents, photo albums and two compact discs with Saddam Hussein and his cronies on the cover. These CDs, called The Crimes of Saddam, are common on every Iraqi street and, as their title suggests, they were not made by Saddam supporters. But the soldiers couldn't read Arabic and saw only the picture of Saddam, which was proof enough of guilt. Ayoub was brought out and pushed on to the truck.

After holding Ayoub for several hours in a detention center, the soldiers determined that he was innocent, and they later let him go. I finished the day's Iraq reading with this column by Christopher Dickey:

There will be many more terrorist attacks in the months to come, and some of them probably will take place in the United States. Attacks in Europe are even more likely. Will any of them be on the scale of 9/11? Probably not. The train bombings in Madrid last 3/11 are a more plausible model.
Most Americans know none of this. The government doesn't want us to. And we're too busy, anyway, to dig in to the news. But there's an easy way to catch up. Rent--or buy--Control Room, the documentary about Al-Jazeera, the Arab news agency. See war footage you'll never find on American TV...to say nothing of interviews with Donald Rumsfeld that history will not be kind to.

Off to pray for the light. Back tomorrow with seasonal good cheer. I'm sure of it--it's just a matter of fitting on these blinders.

Thought for Today

Blessings are not just for the ones who kneel...luckily.
--"City of Blinding Lights," on U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

Rumsfeld and the Armor (One Last Time)

Loose Canon noted--via that monument to great reporting, the National Review--that the soldiers cheered Donald Rumseld after his like-it-or-lump-it response to the question about unarmored Humvees. I have googled myself blind, and I see no record of cheering--except for the soldier.

LC also recycles the dull Fox charge that the question is somehow damaged because a reporter allegedly helped frame it.

It now turns out he didn't:

After his convoy arrived at Camp Arijan in Kuwait, Wilson [the soldier] found hundreds of fully armored vehicles promised to another unit months down the road. Wilson says he asked if the 278th could use them in the meantime, and was told no. That inspired his question about the shortage of armor, which he showed to Pitts [the reporter].

The reporter, far from being the protagonist, suggested that he find "a less brash way of asking the question," but Wilson "told him no, that I wanted to make my point very clear." But say a reporter had helped the soldier? I don't recall LC criticizing the Bush campaign for trucking in loads of pre-interviewed Republicans primed with softball questions at the President's "town meetings" during the campaign.

The point: The soldier asked a serious question, and it merited a serious answer. Rumsfeld didn't provide it, which is why he's had to act human for a week and even announce he'll hand-sign letters to the families of dead soldiers. [But really, wouldn't it be more...honest for a machine to sign those form letters?]

As for Rumsfeld being blindsided by the question, nonsense. The care and feeding of the troops is his First Responsibility--he's supposed to be on top of this information. And it wasn't like he'd never heard the question before. He had--twice.

Here's one account, in some detail:

More than a year before Thomas Wilson asked his now famous question of Rummy, Brandon Sandrell asked him the same damn question. Only then, no cameras were around and Rummy wasn't going to be held accountable for his negligence or his false assurances. He told Sandrell the same thing he said this week, that "he was working on it." Had he not been embarrassed in front of the world, it's a good bet he would be "working on it" for years. He didn't care then, and there's little reason to believe he cares now accept to save himself and the administration some embarrassment.
The good news? Is there any? Sure. Just ask The White House. The President has just declared Rummy "a caring fellow." But then, Bush --a great judge of character who also loves Vladimir Putin--also said today, "I was disappointed that the nomination of Bernard Kerik did not go forward." Me too, Mr. President. And so are a lot of guys I know--we'd have loved to see Congress call for testimony from both Kerik's mistresses as well as his wife. I mean, how does a guy pull that off?

While We're at It

I noted last week that conservatives--who sure control a lot of media--are sore winners, like when they criticize Time and Newsweek--which they do not yet control--for running cover stories on Jesus written by "skeptics." And I asked: By that logic, should only Muslims write about Islam?

Today, Loose Canon ducks that question, but responds thusly:

If you don't work for some magazine in Swami's milieu, you're too stupid to have opinions that matter. My passive aggressive holiday wish for Swami this year is that he will come to recognize that there are people who don't work for Time and Newsweek who might nevertheless have something to say. In other words, I'm asking for a miracle.
Not at all, LC. Lots of people who don't work for Big Media have Important Things to say. But what they have in common is a search for truth, not ideological purity. As for Time and Newsweek, who but a Religious Nutcase would try and power-wedge the ultimate meaning of Christ into some seasonal filler of an article about religion in a weekly newsmagazine? Let's have a little sense of proportion, please! Or do you want articles like "Jesus is My Pit Crew" in Car & Driver?

Now We Know: There Are Two Classes of U.S. Citizens

It was in USA TODAY, so it must be true:

Nearly half of all Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim-Americans, according to a nationwide poll.

The survey conducted by Cornell University also found that Republicans and people who described themselves as highly religious were more apt to support curtailing Muslims' civil liberties than Democrats or people who are less religious.

Researchers also found that respondents who paid more attention to television news were more likely to fear terrorist attacks and support limiting the rights of Muslim-Americans.

The survey found 44% favored at least some restrictions on the civil liberties of Muslim Americans. Forty-eight percent said liberties should not be restricted in any way.

The survey showed that 27% of respondents supported requiring all Muslim-Americans to register where they lived with the federal government. Twenty-two percent favored racial profiling to identify potential terrorist threats. And 29% thought undercover agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations to keep tabs on their activities and fund-raising. Guess this is more "confirmation" of what LC and her ilk keep saying: Christians and Republicans care more about America's security than Democrats.

Why Politics Really Is Spiritual

George Lakoff, the master linguist, who has spent decades studying how Republicans "frame" political issues to their advantage:

They [Strict Father Republicans] see themselves in an all out war of good versus evil and you can use the devils own tricks against him, so that there is a no-holds-barred situation. Anything goes in confronting evil. The Democrats have assumed that the election process is not war, that it replaces war. That's why you hold elections instead of having war.
Good and evil, huh? And here you thought it was just about who's going to get the contract to fix the potholes.

Christmas at AOL

Want proof that a godless society has taken Christ out of Christmas? If you're on AOL, go to Keyword: Christmas. There's a tip of the day which might have spiritual content--though today it's about eggnog--but the other 99% is Shopping. (Make that 98%. You can follow Santa on his route with the NORAD tracker.)

Why is this? Jews control Shopping at AOL? (In fact, they don't.) Oh, now I remember: because we don't allow the 10 Commandments in Federal courthouses.

Thought for Today

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.
--Upton Sinclair

End of Week Meditation

Dear Lord, I watched some television last night. And I found myself saying to my wife, "I want to buy a new car before Chistmas." Which is nuts--we live in Manhattan and already own a car that is way too good for us. I guess, in the end, I desperately want to be an American--I mean, I would even have bought an American car. An SUV probably. The kind that starts at $22,000 except that at the bottom of the screen you learn that the car in the commercial is $36,000. But zero-percent financing! A built-in DVD! A free year of satellite radio! Here's my question: Is this your bounty, O Lord--or Satan's temptation?

Weekend Movie Suggestion

Finally saw Kinsey. Thrilling. Ignore what the wingnuts say--I'd lay any amount of money on the proposition that they're projecting their own sexual distress. (To make it even simpler: If they hate it, it almost has to be good.) Consider the intellectual excitement of a film that has its main character announce, five minutes into the movie, "I've yet to find a single gall wasp that's the same as another...The implication: If every single living thing is different from every other living thing, then diversity becomes life's one irreducible act. Only variations are real."

Rumsfeld Does One Thing Right (Finally)

First the additional Humvee armor, now this. Seasonable sentimentality? Or perhaps the government can be shamed into acting better. As Stars & Stripes reports:

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will begin personally signing condolence letters sent to families of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, after receiving criticism over his use of mechanical signatures.

Rumsfeld tacitly admitted that in the past he has not personally signed the letters, but said he was responsible for writing and approving each of the 1,000-plus messages sent to the fallen soldiers' families.

"I have directed that in the future I sign each letter," he said in the statement.

Several families of troops killed overseas said they were sure the notes they received had not been signed by hand, and said they were angry that Rumsfeld was not paying attention to their loss.

Retired Army Col. David Hackworth, an author and frequent critic of the Department of Defense, publicly criticized Rumsfeld in a syndicated column earlier this month for not reviewing each KIA letter personally.

He called the fake signatures "like having it signed by a monkey."

"Using those machines is pretty common, but it shouldn't be in cases of those who have died in action," he said. "How can [DOD officials] feel the emotional impact of that loss if they're not even looking at the letters?" If Only Christians Can Write About Jesus, Shouldn't Newsweek Hire Muslims to Write About Bin Laden?

Loose Canon has written several times about the recent--and simultaneous--Time and Newsweek cover stories about Christianity. She claims they weren't very popular among what might be called their "target audience."

Yesterday she ventured an opinion as to why that might be. That is, she quotes Hugh Hewitt, a Weekly Standard writer, who notes:

...magazine editors and book publishers have come to understand the size of the market for stories on faith, but find themselves staffed almost exclusively with skeptics of one degree or another--usually extreme skeptics.
LC doesn't add anything of her own. This leads me to think she agrees with Hewitt, who is, most recently, the author of an elegantly titled book called "If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends on It."

There is no point debating a guy whose argument is--as an Amazon reader notes approvingly--"your life as an American depends on Democrats not getting elected to public office." The last thing Hewitt is interested in is an America where tolerance rules; he's a classic case who loathes all media he and his kind don't control. And so one must ask, yet again: Why do these people hate America?

In fact, it makes absolutely no difference what a reporter "believes." Talent matters. Fairness matters. A passion for knowledge and understanding matters. An interest in learning and writing the truth--that matters a whole lot. Hit all those notes, and I'll read you on any subject.

LC and her pals want nice, tidy, second-rate newspapers and magazines that have all the certainty of Fox News. In recent years, they've had great success in getting their way. But I have to wonder: Why are they always complaining? If they're so incredibly talented, why don't they try to get jobs at Time and Newsweek? I can't believe, if their talents are superior, that their beliefs will get in the way.

But what Hewitt wants isn't better journalism, it's public relations. A perfectly legit field. Just let's not confuse it with the work done by Edward R. Murrow, Bernstein & Woodward or...

Media Person of the Year: Helen Thomas

This Sunday night on Topic A with Tina Brown (CNBC, 8 and 11 PM ET), you can learn who won Iwantmedia.com's poll for "media person of the year." I work on this show, but I have no idea who the winner is. I am, however, fairly confident it's not Helen Thomas, who is known as the "First Lady of the Press"-- though not by the Bush press representatives.

Most of the journalists who cover the White House can't get the ball over the net, much less serve aces--they're a disgrace to their profession. But then there's Helen, with nearly six decades of reporting behind her, not at all interested in retiring--or kissing ass. Here's a sample of Helen taking on Ari Fleischer, early in 2003:

HELEN THOMAS: At the earlier briefing, Ari, you said that the President deplored the taking of innocent lives. Does that apply to all innocent lives in the world? And I have a follow-up.

MR. FLEISCHER: I refer specifically to a horrible terrorist attack on Tel Aviv that killed scores and wounded hundreds. And the President, as he said in his statement yesterday, deplores in the strongest terms the taking of those lives and the wounding of those people, innocents in Israel.

MS. THOMAS: My follow-up is, why does he want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the question is how to protect Americans, and our allies and friends--

MS. THOMAS: They're not attacking you.

MR. FLEISCHER:--from a country--

MS. THOMAS: Have they laid the glove on you or on the United States, the Iraqis, in 11 years?

MR. FLEISCHER: I guess you have forgotten about the Americans who were killed in the first Gulf War as a result of Saddam Hussein's aggression then.

MS. THOMAS: Is this revenge, 11 years of revenge?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I think you know very well that the President's position is that he wants to avert war, and that the President has asked the United Nations to go into Iraq to help with the purpose of averting war.

MS. THOMAS: Would the President attack innocent Iraqi lives? There's more. But you get the idea: National Treasure.

Thought for Today

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.
--Andy Warhol

Be a Presidential Speechwriter!

No home should be without one--the Internet equivalent of magnetic poetry that you write youself. Only in this version, you can write a speech for George Bush.

What's Up with God?

It's the most consistently hilarious segment of "The Daily Show"--Stephen Colbert's This Week in God. Here you get a handful of episodes. Great for a boring winter afternoon at the office.

Bernard Kerik: Who's Your Nanny?

Bloggers have wondered for days about the identity of Bernard Kerik's nanny, who is--according to Kerik and the White House--the reason he withdrew his nomination to head Homeland Security. Soon after government and Kerik sources gave different dates for her employment, cynics started asking: Was there ever a nanny?

No definitive answers, but The New York Times makes you think the cynics have a point:

A neighbor who lives next door to the Keriks in Franklin Lakes, N.J., said that until a few weeks ago she would see a woman she believed to be the nanny playing ball with the two Kerik children in a side yard. But even that neighbor, who described the children's playmate as a young, olive-skinned woman who did not drive, had never met the woman or learned where she came from. The neighbor spoke on the condition of anonymity.

But many others have either been reluctant or unable to talk about her, including other nannies in the neighborhood, relatives of Mr. Kerik's wife, Hala, even Mr. Kerik's lawyer, Joseph Tacopina.

Mr. Tacopina, who has also been fielding calls from the press on Mr. Kerik's behalf, said he knows nothing about the nanny's identity, the length of her employment or even her nationality, despite news reports that she was Mexican that were mistakenly attributed to him.

"I never met her," he said. "I don't know what country she came from. I don't know her nationality. I don't know her name." Pressed, he added, "I know she's not a phantom, because a document was applied for and received."

The document to which Mr. Tacopina referred is itself secret, however. A registration form that New Jersey requires of employers of household workers, state officials said, it was issued to Mr. Kerik on Nov. 17, shortly before President Bush announced his nomination, and its contents are private - including the name and Social Security number listed for the employee in question.

Mr. Tacopina said that he had not prepared or seen the documents - withholding-tax forms and a report on wages paid - but that he believed they had been filed "in conjunction with the paying of the taxes."

Last night, Mr. Kerik was told that skeptics in city government circles were questioning the very existence of the nanny, and he was pressed to provide any kind of evidence to document that she was real. But after taking time to consider the request, Mr. Kerik again decided to remain silent on the subject. There's much more, all of it juicy reading (or maybe it's just refreshing to read a story about Rudy Giuliani's sidekick that isn't about sex or the Mafia). And, assuming the worst, it raises a question:

Did the White House put out the nanny story because--considering all the nanny stories we recall from the Clinton years--we'll instinctively believe it and let the Kerik story die?

Put it more bluntly: In addition to Kerik, did the White House and even "America's Mayor" (but you can call him "Saint Rudy")...lie? Oh, please, say it isn't so!

Another Homeland Security Story: Why Isn't He the Chief?

Kiss the ring, and--like Tenet, Franks and Bremer--you get the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (The joke goes that Bernard Kerik is just one monumental screw-up away from his medal.) But do your job? Tell the truth? ABC News has the story of a patriot who lost his job:

Clark Ervin made himself very unpopular by issuing a series of stinging reports on security programs that he said had failed, officials he called inept, and fraud that he suspected. His year-end report alleges that millions of dollars have been wasted or are unaccounted for by Homeland Security.

"There isn't a concern about the importance of spending every single dollar to the maximum effect of the core mission of the department," Ervin told ABC News.

The White House appointed Ervin as inspector general for the Homeland Security Department only for the term of Congress. He wanted to stay on, but was informed Wednesday night that he would be replaced. "His term expired and that's that," said a White House spokesperson....

Among the investigations being conducted by Ervin was what he called an illegal contract with the Boeing company for the installation of explosive detection machines at airports. "At least $49 million, almost $50 million, in excessive profit was paid to Boeing," according to Ervin.

Ervin also investigated the half-million-dollar awards reception held at a Washington hotel for airport screeners from the Transportation Security Administration. "It was rather lavish, no question," said Ervin.

And just this year he discovered the problem of huge gaps in screening for nuclear materials at U.S. ports continues. Jeez, what part of "loyalty" did this guy not understand?

What's Up with Alabama?

Is it something in the water? Or do they just have no defense in Alabama against aggressive Christianity? In the latest episode of belief run amok, a judge made a stunning fashion statement:

A south Alabama judge refused to delay a trial Tuesday when an attorney objected to the judge wearing a judicial robe with the Ten Commandments embroidered in gold on the front of the garment.

Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan showed up Monday at his Covington County courtroom in Andalusia wearing the robe at the start of a week of jury trials of cases that were being appealed from lower courts...

Andalusia attorney Riley Powell said he was defending a client charged with DUI and filed a motion objecting to the judicial robe and asking that the case be continued. He said McKathan denied both motions.

"I am all for the Ten Commandments for me personally and for my family," Powell said. "But I feel this creates a distraction that affects my client." Why We're In Iraq: This Week's Reason

Lance Corporal Matt McClellan, serving in Iraq with Charlie Company of the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance battalion, shares his motivation:

"Before [Burns] was killed, I thought we were here to kill the bad ones and save the good ones.... Now I think: 'Is he the one who shot Kyle?' It's a revenge thing. Every time I see an Iraqi, I could be face-to-face with the guy who killed my best friend."
The Beauty Part

My wife's version of Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies.

Thought for Today

The drinking dens are spilling out
There's staggering in the square
There's lads and lasses falling about
And a crackling in the air
Down around the dungeon doors
The shelters in the queues
Everybody's looking for
Somebody's arms to fall into
And it's what it is
--Mark Knopfler, from Sailing to Philadelphia

Bernard Kerik: A Morality Tale

Someone with ties to the Republican party told me that some Republicans see l'affaire Kerik as a Democratic set-up designed to embarrass the President and hurt Rudy Giuliani. What--the Dems pushed Kerik on an unsuspecting White House? And the White House listened? If so, that would mark the first time the White House listened to the Democrats in years. Sorry, guys, all signs point to self-inflicted damage. As The New York Times reports:

....everyone at the White House knew that Mr. Bush liked Mr. Kerik, placing him in the special category of "this guy's our guy."

Republican close to the White House who has participated in background reviews of presidential nominees said the fault lay both with Mr. Kerik and with "whoever's job it was to check him out."
The lingering question: Why did Kerik accept the nomination? Did he really think his sordid personal life, his two-degrees-of-separation from Mafia figures, and professional failures would go undiscovered by the White House? (The Times notes that Kerik never filled out his FBI questionaire before he went to Iraq last year--he says he never got it--which might explain why he thought he could fool this year's investigators.)

Here's what bugs me the most. Again, The Times:

An apartment in Battery Park City that former Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik secured for his personal use after Sept. 11 was originally donated for the use of weary police and rescue workers who were helping at ground zero...
Indeed, one bedroom in that apartment looked right into The Pit --- the site of the destroyed World Trade Center. Now, there are many things I've done I'm not proud of, but it would not occur to me to use a room with a view of a sacred shrine where 3,000 of my fellow citizens perished as a lovenest. No matter your politics...would you?

Yes, this Kerik is a guy that George Bush could love--a manly man, a bold talker, and, as the Times reports, so very much like Bush:

"He was terrific about inspiring people and creating a goal, but he was often not very good about following up and getting it done," one former American official who spent time in Baghdad said this month.
Those Armored Humvees

Sometimes pictures really are worth 1,000 words. Note the guys rolling on the ground laughing at the end. (When you figure out the joke, let me know.)

The Ohio Recount

Many of you have written to ask why I don't write about the "stolen" election. My response: When I see some proof, I'll deal with it. Ok... is this proof?

This, just in, also isn't encouraging.

The Movie Sucks. What Shall We Do? I Know: Market It to the Christians

What won't these Hollywood liberals--translation: Jews--think of next?

As The New York Times reports:

In a move that appears to break new ground for Hollywood, Revolution Studios and its partner, Sony Pictures Entertainment, helped turn their "Christmas With the Kranks," starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, from a potential loser into a modest hit by using newspaper ads to highlight endorsements drawn almost entirely from the conservative televangelist Pat Robertson's "700 Club"; religious-based broadcasters Good News TV and Family Net; and the Film Advisory Board, whose aim is to promote family-oriented and children's entertainment...

The Rottentomatoes.com Web site, which tracks film reviews, found that "Christmas With the Kranks," about a family that outrages the neighbors by trying to ignore Christmas, scored a positive reaction from just 4 percent of the critics it monitors. "Lockstep suburban conformism enforced with fascist severity is the ugly (but admittedly sometimes funny) joke driving Joe Roth's family comedy," Stephen Holden wrote in The New York Times.

Even before the picture's release, however, Revolution and Sony had already begun plugging it in a print campaign built almost entirely on endorsements from religious broadcasters and family advocates. In one heavily reproduced quote, Gorman Woodfin of the "700 Club" says: "Tim Allen has never been funnier! An instant family classic!" The real joke about all this is not that a crappy film has grossed about $60 million--that's an everyday event in Hollywood--but that the plot is, at bottom, an insult to Christianity. A plot summary:

The Kranks' troubles begin when Blair, their only child, leaves for Peru to work in the Peace Corps, and Luther decides to save money by ignoring Christmas (including charities and party giving) and taking Nora on a luxury Caribbean cruise. At first she is aghast at his heresy, but soon she warms to the idea....The Kranks' plans abruptly change when Blair telephones from Miami to announce that she's on her way home for Christmas and with her fiancé, Enrique. Once Vic is convinced of Luther's change of heart, he mobilizes the neighborhood to pitch in and give the young couple the perfect holiday welcome-home party.
In other words: Christmas is a commercial spactacle that we skip at our peril. Jesus would weep....

The Beauty Part

The CD of the year--for Swami and his alter-ego Head Butler--is a country/gospel hybrid. Butler's 24 year-end favorites are teed up for those who like to put some personality into holiday giving.

Thought for Today

It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on
--Joni Mitchell, "River," from the exquisite Blue

Should We Kill Scott Peterson?

Half a million AOL members have voted in a poll about Scott Peterson's death sentence. Seventy-five percent called it the right punishment. That's about what you'd expect in a hard-of-thinking country that has reverted to body counts as a way of measuring "progress" in a war that increasingly looks like Vietnam--only, as a reader points out, without the protesters.

You may imagine my thoughts. But why listen to me; let's move right on to a Nobel Prize-winner--Albert Camus, whose great essay "Reflections on the Guillotine" appears in Resistance, Rebellion and Death. Camus writes:

Shortly before the war of 1914, an assassin whose crime was particularly repulsive--he had slaughtered a family of farmers, including the children--was condemned to death in Algiers. He was a farm worker who had killed in a sort of bloodthirsty frenzy but had aggravated his case by robbing his victims. The affair created a great stir. It was generally thought that decapitation was too mild a punishment for such a monster.

That was the opinion, I have been told, of my father, who was especially aroused by the murder of the children. One of the few things I know about him, in any case, is that he wanted to witness the execution, for the first time in his life. He got up in the dark to go to the place of execution at the other end of town amid a great crowd of people.

What he saw that morning he never told anyone. My mother relates merely that he came rushing home, his face distorted, refused to talk, lay down for a moment on the bed, and suddenly began to vomit. He had just discovered the reality hidden under the noble phrases with which it was masked. Instead of thinking of the slaughtered children, he could think of nothing but that quivering body that had just been dropped onto a board to have its head cut off.

When the extreme penalty simply causes vomiting on the part of the respectable citizen it is supposed to protect, how can anyone maintain that it is likely, as it ought to be, to bring more peace and order into the community? Rather, it is obviously no less repulsive than the crime, and this new murder, far from making amends for the harm done to the social body, adds a new blot to the first one. The Armored Humvees

Last week, I wrote to Michael Fox, the communications executive at Armor Holdings, the company that builds kits to protect Humvees. My purpose was to let him know that he shouldn't worry that the government wasn't commissioning more armor kits because Beliefnet readers would be writing him to volunteer to pay for at least a few of them.

Yesterday, Mr. Fox wrote back: "Very kind of you guys. As I am sure you heard, we have been asked to build 100 more per month and are moving ASAP to get it done."

Mr. Fox's note comes just a week or so after Beliefnet readers were thanked by "Cornbread," the St. Louis disc jockey who had organized a campaign to send blankets, socks and other necessities to solders in Iraq.

I am pleased about both efforts, because the ultimate value of this blog is not anything I write--it's the community that forms here. "Swami Uptown" is about an idea of mine that you pick up on--and ideas of yours that I can broadcast on your behalf. And then, because I so passionately believe that one good deed is worth a hundred protestations of faith, it's about what we do in the world to diminish misery and expand joy.

The only negative note in what we've done together this holiday season comes from Loose Canon, who questions my assertion that I--your basic war-hater--seem to care more about our troops than the Commander-in-Chief:

I sincerely doubt if Swami cares more about soldiers sent to war than the president who had to make the agonizing decision to send them to war.
Yes, LC, presidents "agonize" about such decisions--that's on page 3 of the Washington Times "why we fight" guide for pundits--but not George Bush. And I don't think this is a matter of opinion. Consider Bush's extremely inappropriate behavior the night he announced the start of the war:

According to a report from the London Mirror, just seconds before Bush went on TV to tell the world war had started, he vigorously pumped his fist and declared: "I feel good!", a la soul legend James Brown. The extraordinary gesture was in stark contrast to the furrowed brow and look of grave concern he adopted for the subsequent broadcast, and came as television screens were already showing flashes of explosions in Baghdad.
But it's even simpler than that peek behind the media curtain. Just look at the record--if Bush cares about our soldiers, why are civilians at home organizing clothing-and-equipment drives for them? Why did it take a soldier confronting Rumsfeld to get the government to fast-track the armoring of Humvees?

No. The evidence is so glaring you have to put on very dark sunglasses to miss it: Bush's war is all about Bush. About the flight suit and the Commander-in-Chief jacket and the bold words that apparently frighten only his countrymen. It's like the fake turkey Bush pretended to serve when he made his Thanksgiving visit to Baghdad last year--it's one giant photo op.

Every casualty report I see makes me ill: more dead for no reason. So don't give me the "big picture" crap and argue that our fearless leader can't care about a few soldiers--this leader can't even bring himself to sign letters of condolence to parents and wives of the dead. That's right. In yet another precedent, Bush and Rumsfeld's signatures are machine-inked.

Enough. Once again, thanks to all of you who showed up to do something more than blah blah blah.

Google Declares War on Book-burners

Just yesterday President Bush met with an Alabama state senator (Scroll down to December 10: Why is Bush meeting with this man?) who's crazed to ban books. (Wouldn't you love to know what the First Librarian had to say about this? On second thought, she probably had nothing to say--she runs the Stepford branch.).

But then we wake up today to front-page news about Google. The New York Times reports:

Google, the operator of the world's most popular Internet search service, plans to announce an agreement today with some of the nation's leading research libraries and Oxford University to begin converting their holdings into digital files that would be freely searchable over the Web...

The goal is to expand the Web beyond its current valuable, if eclectic, body of material and create a digital card catalog and searchable library for the world's books, scholarly papers and special collections. Couldn't be a clearer division of values. On one hand, here's an effort to preserve all human knowledge and make it instantly accessible around the planet. On the other, there's a crusade to put on blinkers and--who knows?--punish those who refuse to consign state-designated "filth" to the basement.

What, I wonder, will the Forces of Darkness make of the Google threat? It's an easy enough matter to burn a library. But this Internet thing--I hear it's big, and growing bigger.

The "Natalists"--One More Scary Story David Brooks Missed

Apparently, these people aren't limited to one uptopia in Colorado. A friend in North California writes:

They're here too. They are the creatures in my neighborhood. They all left San Francisco, where they sold their tract homes for a million. Came here and bought 5,000 sq. foot "Monster Homes" for a half a million. Wife and mother gets to stay home and have kids. It is not as interesting as "Desperate Housewives" and there is nothing else to do here. The new franchised steakhouse, Black Angus, had a line out front with a 2-hour wait over the weekend.
Anti-materialism? Hmmm. From here, this quasi-religious "movement" to create large families looks more like a real-estate scam in which the Grail is a Great Room with a plasma TV.

The Beauty Part

The greatest concern for charity ever. The kings and queens of rock, celebrating their music, their fans, their power to heal. Now out on DVD. Four discs, 600 minutes of music, just $28. You know what I'm talking about--Live Aid.

Thoughts for Today

If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.
--Deuteronomy 24:5, which could be useful for just-married Christians and Jews who are called to serve in Iraq

'Who Cares If We Screw Up the World? It's Only, Like, 800 Years Old, Right?'

Yes, it's time for a Holiday Episode of 'Get Your War On.'

Adopt a Humvee (Part 2)

So no sooner did you start writing to Armor Holdings and the Department of Defense--and thanks again to all of you who took the time--than the government suddenly "heard" the soldier who asked Rumsfeld about unarmored Humvees. Go back to sleep, America--your government will take care of this.

Well, no, your government won't. But in the end, you will. Or your kids will. As The Washington Post reports:

The Pentagon has prepared an unprecedented emergency spending plan totaling nearly $100 billion-as much as $30 billion more than expected as recently as October--say senior defense officials and congressional budget aides. About $14 billion of that would go to repairing, replacing and upgrading an increasingly frayed arsenal.
This is, of course, "new" money, on top of the $80 billion already spent. Meanwhile, seven Marines died yesterday--a number that would have raised an eyebrow a year ago. We have all but given up looking for Osama bin Laden. Afghani opium crops are at record levels. And if the "wrong" kind of Muslims win the Iraqi election next month--if it is, indeed, next month--Iraqi women can expect the new Spring fashion to start with the burka.

Before we leave this topic, a shout-out to the patriots at Armor Holdings, who unblinkingly told reporters they would happily increase production of armor kits for Humvees if the government would ask. Guaranteed these guys are going to take a hit for opening their mouths. I fully expect to read--and quite soon--that other companies have stepped forward to manufacture these kits.

And a giant raspberry for Fox News, which had only one interest in this story-- attacking the reporter who encouraged the soldier to confront Rumsfeld.

Homeland Security: The Meaning of Bernie Kerik

Most of you don't live in New York City, so you may be forgiven for thinking that Rudy Giuliani is some kind of hero--"America's Mayor." Too bad I can't turn the calendar back to 9/10, so you could see him as we did: a loser, liar and a philanderer. As Jimmy Breslin recalled:

As the mayor, he had a detective driving one of his girlfriends out of the Gracie Mansion driveway while another detective was arriving with another girlfriend and was waved off to prevent a domestic riot. All the while upstairs there were his wife and children.
Bernie Kerik, who last week withdrew his name from consideration for Homeland Security Secretary, did not escape Breslin's attention:

Giuliani also had a flunky, Bernard Kerik...Kerik was a Giuliani campaign chauffeur who became police commissioner. How marvelous! At the World Trade Center, Kerik was in the back of his car dictating the last part of a book that was going to appear under his name. It had him writhing with delicious excitement. It was about his mother being a prostitute.

"That's what's going to make me all the money," he told a friend of mine. Kerik and Giuliani used public service to bully underlings and--just for the hell of it--abuse the privilege of office. Once in the private sector, they set about lining their pockets, their reward for decades of government-grade pay. Kerik made millions in a stock deal in which he put up no money. He is alleged to have taken cash from a pal who is described in some circles as "mobbed-up." And, like Giuliani, he found one--or even two--women insufficient. From The New York Daily News:

Former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik conducted two extramarital affairs simultaneously, using a secret Battery Park City apartment for the passionate liaisons, the Daily News has learned.

The first relationship, spanning nearly a decade, was with city Correction Officer Jeanette Pinero; the second, and more startling, was with famed publishing titan Judith Regan. As for his "patriotism"--Kerik went to Iraq to train police last year--Newsweek reports:

On his screen saver, Kerik had a photo of a big house he had just bought in New Jersey that he said was across the street from former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms's. Kerik told his colleagues he planned to be in Baghdad for three months while the house was undergoing renovations. "So," the official says he told Kerik, "you're here because you needed a place to go while they're doing renovations on your house." Kerik grinned and cocked a finger as if to say, "You got it." A spokesman for Kerik said that story was "absurd."
Now, what is the point of discussing this on a spiritual site?

One, because morality and spirituality are first cousins, if not brother-and-sister. We want our public officials to be like our clergy: models of probity. They're role models, we look up to them. Yes, we know they're human, but for the period they hold office, we expect them to be governed by their higher angels.

Two, because the guys at the White House and the Religious Right hold themselves up as pillars of respectability. The most common argument for Bush's superiority I've heard over the years is that he's no Clinton--he doesn't fool around on Laura, he really follows the Christian path. (This is "morality" of the most shallow variety--give me a serial masturbator and oral sex connoisseur like Clinton to a "Christian" who signs execution orders without really reading them and violates the Geneva Convention without a thought.)

Finally, because I'm not so much better than anyone else when it comes to scandals like this--it gives me a certain satisfaction to see the White House embarrassed by sinful behavior. This could even turn out to be a minor historical moment for Beliefnet--if, that is, Loose Canon abandons canonical issues for a few minutes and smacks the White House around.

And now let's get really serious about this Kerik mess and What It Means. The New York Times reports that the White House knew about Kerik's troubles early on, and that the only issue that bothered his supporters was his employment of an illegal alien as a nanny. Maybe. I say the nomination of Kerik suggests how little the White House cares about Homeland Security. To them it's a patronage job. And Kerik was surely good at dispensing goodies to loyalists.

But actually protecting America? Stopping a terrorist attack? Those goals were way beyond Bernie Kerik. And beyond the Administration's hopes for Kerik. No, the sad truth about the Kerik Scandal is the same truth we learned (or re-learned) last week in the Humvee Scandal--this government just doesn't give a damn about us.

We're on our own.

David Brooks and "Natalists"

I've already commented on the David Brooks column in praise of people who want to have large families more than they want large incomes and worldly success--and his portrayal of Castle Rock, Colorado as a model city for these people. But now a reader who knows Castle Rock well suggests that Brooks may have missed a key fact: You can't live there if you're not rich. He writes:

As one who grew up in Castle Rock in the 70's, I can verify that the place now is truly messed up. Castle was a good place to grow up. Now, it is a place filled with multi-million dollar trophy homes. My parents' home was worth approximately $150,000 in 2000--it is now worth approximately. $400,000.

Douglas County High School was the only high school in the county when I lived there and I knew almost half the kids there. Now they have 3 very overcrowded high schools and many kids try to get transferred from one of these because of a group of kids from thoroughly advantaged homes who have formed some sort of neo-skinhead gang.

There was a very interesting mix of social backgrounds at school--you could find kids from working ranches, working class kids, middle class kids, and the "rich kids" from Perry Park or Perry Pines. Now, I don't think there are many kids from the first two groups and the ones from the third group are getting squeezed out as well. Castle Rock was a small Colorado town. Now it has become a sort of tacky western Greenwich, Connecticut.

Brooks paints a picture of an area in which people are more interested in raising kids than their careers. If there truly are a lot of people like this in Castle Rock, they must be that way because they have already made their fortunes and can afford to buy an early 70's tract home for more than $400,000. Gee, doesn't it sound a bit like Columbine--in the "before" picture?

Thoughts for Today

Well, take me back down where cool water flows.
Let me remember things I love,
Stoppin' at the log where catfish bite,
Walkin' along the river road at night,
Barefoot girls dancin' in the moonlight
--John Fogerty (Credence Clearwater Rivival), "Green River," because a gray, grim day calls for an image lovely as "barefoot girls dancin' in the moonlight"

Riddle Me This: I Hate the War, But I Care More About the Troops Than the President

Only one company seems to know how to add armor to Humvees. And, guess what, it says it's never been asked to work faster or increase productivity:

Jacksonville, Florida-based Armor Holdings last month told the Army it could add armor to as many as 550 of the trucks a month, up from 450 vehicles now, Robert Mecredy, president of the company's aerospace and defense group, said in an interview today.

"We're prepared to build 50 to 100 vehicles more per month," Mecredy said in the telephone interview. "I've told the customer that and I stand ready to do that."
So what's the problem? The client--the government--has never asked for more.

Huh? Why not?

One explanation: Until that soldier put the question to Rumsfeld, the government didn't know there was a problem.

What that would mean: The government doesn't read the papers or watch TV or, presumably, read reports from Iraq. (Requests for more supplies--and more troops--from commanders in Iraq? Like voting machines in the black neighborhoods of Ohio's cities on November 2nd, they can't be found.) Maybe it comes down to this: If it's not on Fox News, the government doesn't know what's happening. How scary is that?

Another explanation: The government knows, but can't find the money. And if you weigh competing interests--tax cuts for the rich vs. death and dismemberment for blue-collar soldiers--well, the people recently voted on that. The rich win. The poor lose.

What that would mean: Pork rules. At Homeland Security, Bernard Kerik has $7 billion to bestow on companies that he has already done business with. And Wyoming must be protected from terrorists at all costs. Out of sight, out of mind. Literally: "America First."

A third explanation: The government knows. The government could find the money. But the government just doesn't care about anyone who's not a CEO and/or didn't donate $100,000 or more to the campaign.

What that would mean: We're on our own. Call it "the privatization of America" if you want to make it sound pretty, but it comes down to the same thing--the government is no longer the friend-of-last-resort. You want help? Find a faith-based benefactor in the private sector.

I buy the third explanation. And that gave me an idea....

Adopt a Humvee

Army of One. That's me. Private Kornbluth, reporting for duty.

My mission: make sure our troops have armored Humvees.

My goal: Write a check to Armor Holdings, Inc. And get others to do so.

My first task: find out how much it costs to armor a Humvee. And, of course, whether Armor Holdings will accept my donation.

What I did: I called Michael Fox, President, Corporate Communications, at Armor Holdings in Jacksonville.

Outcome: He was "on another line." He will call me back. Maybe.

What you can do to help: Call or e-mail Armor Holding in Jacksonville, Florida. Robert R. Schiller, President & Chief Operating Office or Michael Fox, Corporate Communications. Phone: 904-741-5400. E-mail: MFox@icrnc.com. You might also cc the Department of Defense. And please cc me: SwamiUptown@AOL.com.

What you might say: "I care about our soldiers. I want more Humvees armored, and I want you to accelerate the delivery dates. May I write you a check to help this cause?"

Thanks for doing this. If you have some spare time--what!!! in this holiday season!!!--you might send me some explanation of the question that's been bugging me for days: Why do people who hate the war seem to care more about the soldiers than the people who "support" the war?

Another Money-Saving Idea

A regular reader has put on her thinking cap and figured out another wat the government could save money--and then, maybe, spend it on armored Humvees:

Bush will be inaugurated again soon and who knows how much money will be spent on that. Why can't he forget all the parades, bands, set ups of stages and balls, not to mention the food, wine, etc., security measures and use that money to supply better armored vehicles for the troops? Seems to me that would be a better way to support his war and our soldiers. His inauguration could just be a news conference on TV so everyone could witness his swearing in. We don't really need all the celebration but maybe he does.
Does he? I mean: we all know he's President, don't we?

Why is George Bush Meeting with This Man?

Count on The Guardian--a foreign paper--to tell you that the President will be meeting with Gerald Allen, a State Senator from Alabama who wants to ban books:

What should we do with US classics like 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' or 'The Color Purple'? "Dig a hole," Gerald Allen recommends, "and dump them in it." Don't laugh. Gerald Allen's book-burying opinions are not a joke.

Earlier this week, Allen got a call from Washington. He will be meeting with President Bush on Monday. I asked him if this was his first invitation to the White House. "Oh no," he laughs. "It's my fifth meeting with Mr Bush."

Bush is interested in Allen's opinions because Allen is an elected Republican representative in the Alabama state legislature. He is Bush's base. Last week, Bush's base introduced a bill that would ban the use of state funds to purchase any books or other materials that "promote homosexuality". Allen does not want taxpayers' money to support "positive depictions of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle". That's why Tennessee Williams and Alice Walker have got to go. Ok, Allen is "the base." He's also a lowly State legislator. So why is Bush meeting with him--to find out at what temperature books burn?

She Locked Me Out of the House. She Screamed, 'Jezebel!'

Our fearless pal The Rude Pundit is collecting horror stories from those raised in Fundamentalist homes. Among the accounts:

My mom was "born-again" when I was about 5 or 6. From then until I managed to escape, my life was a living hell. I've been dragged to every wacko denomination out there in her quest for the meaning of it all. The worst was by far the Southern Baptist phase, which coincidentally hit at puberty for me. I guess the best memory is of her locking me out of the house and screaming "Jezebel!" at me over and over in hysterical fashion until one of the neighbors took pity and brought me over to sleep on their couch. Reason? I was late getting home from work. Of course, it wouldn't surprise you to know that I got pregnant at 18, and had two kids by the time I was 20.

When my teacher explained that only the saved go to heaven, I asked what would happen to people who had never heard of Jesus, like isolated Amazon Indians or Africans or something like that. "EVERYONE has had a chance to hear of Jesus," she said. The Beauty Part

At 8, he went blind. At 17, he became a leader of the Resistance. In 1943, along with 3,000 other Frenchmen, he was sent to a concentration camp. Thirty lived to be liberated. He was one of them. Feel like being inspired? Read more about And There Was Light, by Jacques Lusseyran.

Thought for Today

You can find things in the traditional religions which are very benign and decent and wonderful and so on, but I mean, the Bible is probably the most genocidal book in the literary canon. The God of the Bible -- not only did he order His chosen people to carry out literal genocide -- but He was ready to destroy every living creature on earth because humans irritated Him. That's the story of Noah. I mean, that's beyond genocide -- you don't know how to describe this creature. Somebody offended Him, and He was going to destroy every living being on earth? And then He was talked into allowing two of each species to stay alive -- that's supposed to be gentle and wonderful.
--Noam Chomsky

Why Iraq Matters to You In the Holiday Season

It may seem stupid to write so much about Iraq in this space.

Most of you agree with me that this is an unwarranted, illegal, bordering-on-genocidal war that needs to end ASAP.

Those who don't--and in this group I include Loose Canon, who hasn't addressed the war directly since returning from her hiatus--won't be convinced by anything I write.

So why bang on?

I've just read a book called At Hell's Gate: A Soldier's Journey from War to Peace. It's a memoir by Claude Anshin Thomas. At 17, he enlisted in the Amy and volunteered for service in Vietnam. His commanders told him he was bringing peace, but what he mostly did is kill:

...nearly every day that I was in Vietnam I was in combat. One of the many decorations I received was the Air Medal. To get an air medal, you must fly 25 combat missions and 25 combat hours. By the end of my tour, I had been awarded more than 25 air medals. That amounts to somewhere in the neighborhood of 625 combat hours and combat missions. All of those combat missions killed people....by the time I was first injured in combat (two or three months into my tour), I had already been responsible for the deaths of several hundred people.
When he came home, Thomas was still driven by rage. He joined the anti-war movement. He took drugs. He drank. He wanted to die. Then he cleaned up. But he was still tormented. Fortunately, he was invited to a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. Odd, he thought--my countrymen reject me, and yet this Vietnamese accepts me.

When Thich Nhat Hanh entered the room, Claude Thomas began to cry. "I realized for the first time that I didn't know the Vietnamese in any way than as my enemy, and this man wasn't my enemy."

The first great lesson of this book is something Thich Nhat Hanh tells the veterans: "You are the light at the tip of the candle. You burn hot and bright. You understand deeply the nature of suffering."

And then--and this is the part that has had me reeling for weeks--Thich Nhat Hanh goes on:

He told us that the nonveterans were more responsible for the war than the veterans. That because of the interconnectedness of all things, there is no escape from responsibility. That those who think they aren't responsible are the most responsible.

Consider that: "Those who think they aren't responsible are the MOST responsible."

That's every minister who presides over a service without mentioning Iraq. Every shopper who's "in the holiday spirit" and doesn't want to be brought down by death and dying. Every parent who fails to talk about Iraq with the kids.

That's you. And you. And you. And, sometimes, me. And that is why--even if I'm just touching base with the choir--I need to talk about this stinking war until, finally, we get it to stop.

A Guardsman's Request

Lloyd Omdahl wrote this column for a North Dakota newspaper. I'm reprinting as much of it as I can. When you read it, you'll understand why.

In February, I wrote a column upbraiding the national planners for exploiting the National Guard in conducting the war in Iraq. I argued that continuous life-threatening duty was not in the deal made by all of the Guard men and women but that many of them joined up as a means of financing their higher education. They had bargained for weekend training and emergency duty, such as fighting floods, policing events, and serving as a community resource, but not extended months of combat.

For choosing Guard service as the price for their higher education, I noted, young people were being exposed daily to roadside bombs, rocket attacks and sniper fire. And even though they were being exploited, they heroically answered the call in the face of an unjust assignment.

This February column found its way to Iraq and several months later I received a lengthy letter from one of the Guardsmen confirming the comments I had made.

"I hope you don't forget about us because your writing can help people realize the reality of the situation," he wrote in his first paragraph. Then he went on to explain that he had a dream of going to college and was enticed to join the Guard because of its promise to help finance his education.

When he enlisted, he explained, the major emphasis of the recruiter was on the college education. Nothing was said about the possibility of war, let alone deployment in an optional pre-emptive action halfway around the world.

He was assigned to traveling up and down the highways to locate roadside bombs. It was a dangerous mission and the equipment was inadequate. Instead of an armored vehicle, he was assigned a heavy gravel truck insulated with boxes of sand. Not only was he in constant danger of running over bombs but he was a ready target for snipers along the road.

With Guardsmen facing a prolonged threat to life and limb and a denial of certain benefits, it is little wonder that his July letter reflected a sense of betrayal and abandonment. There was no question that he felt the Guard was being exploited during these months of constant danger, inadequate equipment, extended tours of duty and logistical miscalculations.

As for my July correspondent, he will not be taking advantage of that college education he was promised. Spc. Cody Wentz of Williston, N.D., was killed in Iraq a few weeks ago. This column is being written to honor his request that we not forget the Guard and to help people understand the reality of the situation. Read the complete article.

Gifts for Soldiers

You may recall that Swami joined forces with "Cornbread," a St. Louis disc jockey, to get holiday packages to our soldiers in Iraq.

A reader decided to go one better--to consecrate her gifts. In an e-mail, she shared what she experienced:

I was blessing and Reiki'ing my soldier gifts this morning. Oh... what an experience... and what a blessing that turned out to be for me.

Picture this: I'm sitting on my kitchen floor, in the midst of all this "stuff" I'm going to pack in the boxes. Because metal supposedly interrupts the flow of energy, I take off my jewelry. In each of the three tins I'd put mini peanut butter cups (holiday colors of course) Hershey's kisses... many packs of gum... and assorted little necessities like sliced salami and a tube of toothpaste. Lastly... and most importantly, it turned out... one of those little plastic cases with a few bandaids inside.

I picked up the band-aids, held them, and as I Reiki'd them... my hands got as hot as when I work on someone who is in extreme need of relief. The intention and prayer I found myself placing in them was that the soldier receiving the band-aids would need nothing more serious in the way of first aid. My hands were so hot, it surprised me. Then one of my cats came into the room and would not stop rubbing back and forth against me as I blessed the band-aids and all the contents of the tins. The tears started... and just would not stop. In the O'Henry version, our reader hears from her soldier. His news: he was injured and--miraculously--needed only band-aids.

The Beauty Part

Forty years ago today, John Coltrane entered a darkened studio with his legendary band: McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums).

That night, in one session, they recorded A Love Supreme, a 32-minute suite that is less music directed to God than music that's coming from God to his faithful messengers. If you're interested in music that Takes You Somewhere, this just might be The Ultimate.

Thoughts for Today

Any time we put our troops into harm's way, you must have the best training, the best equipment, the best possible pay.
--President Bush, October 8, 2003

Iraq: The Beginning of the End of the Affair

You know we're moving slowly, slowly toward the endgame--just 10,000 more deaths and maybe we can leave Iraq--when a soldier confronts the Secretary of Defense--"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?"--and, according to the press, "a big cheer arose from the approximately 2,300 soldiers in the cavernous hangar."

Donald Rumsfeld's answer, for those who missed this exchange: "You go to war with the Army you have."

Makes you wonder: In the face of such obvious lack of concern for our troops, how many soldiers have deserted--put down their guns, torn off their uniforms and, in some cases, fled the country--since the war started?

Shocking statistic: 5,500 soldiers.

Gee, why would they do that?

Maybe because it's sorta sickening to commit war crimes day after day.

From a Canadian news report:

A former United States marine told a refugee hearing for an American war dodger Tuesday that trigger-happy U.S. soldiers in Iraq routinely killed unarmed women and children, and murdered other Iraqis in violation of international law.

In chilling testimony intended to bolster the asylum claim of compatriot Jeremy Hinzman, former staff sergeant Jimmy Massey recounted how nervous soldiers trained to believe that all Iraqis were potential terrorists often opened fire indiscriminately.

"I was never clear on who the enemy was," Massey, 33, told the hearing. "If you have no enemy or you do not know who the enemy is, what are you doing there?"

On several occasions, his soldiers pumped hundreds of bullets into cars that failed to stop at U.S. military checkpoints, killing all occupants - who were later found to be unarmed, Massey said.

On another occasion, marines reacted to a stray bullet by killing a small group of unarmed protesters and bystanders, said Massey, who said he suffers from nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder. Can you stand one more account?

On June 15, 2003, Sgt. Frank "Greg" Ford, a counterintelligence agent in the California National Guard's 223rd Military Intelligence (M.I.) Battalion stationed in Samarra, Iraq, told his commanding officer, Capt. Victor Artiga, that he had witnessed five incidents of torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees at his base, and requested a formal investigation. Thirty-six hours later, Ford, a 49-year-old with over 30 years of military service in the Coast Guard, Army and Navy, was ordered by U.S. Army medical personnel to lie down on a gurney, was then strapped down, loaded onto a military plane and medevac'd to a military medical center outside the country.

His commander tried to have Ford declared delusional due to combat stress to cover up the allegations of prisoner abuse.

Col. C. Tsai, a military doctor who examined Ford in Germany and found nothing wrong with him, told a film crew for Spiegel Television that he was "not surprised" at Ford's diagnosis. Tsai told Spiegel that he had treated "three or four" other U.S. soldiers from Iraq that were also sent to Landstuhl for psychological evaluations or "combat stress counseling" after they reported incidents of detainee abuse or other wrongdoing by American soldiers. And nobody much cares. Not our fault, really. We have war fatigue. If you're really interested in knowing about the war, you've got to seek out the Foreign Press. Rather like the "secret bombing" of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Clearly, it wasn't a secret for the Cambodians, who looked up daily to see the sky raining death. The "secret" was that the American people didn't know.

Liars then, liars now: Our government bats a perfect .000 when it comes to the truth about Vietnam and Iraq.

Maybe when the war comes home?

Ah, but that seems to be happening already. As The United Press reports:

U.S. veterans from the war in Iraq are beginning to show up at homeless shelters around the country, and advocates fear they are the leading edge of a new generation of homeless vets not seen since the Vietnam era.

[One soldier] said he felt pushed out of the military too quickly after getting back from Iraq without medical attention he needed for his hand -- and as he would later learn, his mind.

"It was more of a rush. They put us in a warehouse for a while. They treated us like cattle," he said about how the military treated him on his return to the United States.

"It is all about numbers. Instead of getting quality care, they were trying to get everybody demobilized during a certain time frame. If you had a problem, they said, 'Let the (Department of Veterans Affairs) take care of it.'" But of course no one's taking care of it. As Stephen Colbert explained on 'The Daily Show" last night, the way you keep your job in Bush's Cabinet isn't to fail--it's to engineer a catastrophic failure. No wonder Rumsfeld's job is secure.

Trouble in River City

David Brooks, wide-eyed conservative pundit for the New York Times, did a column yesterday about parents who want nothing more than a McMansion filled with kids.

He omits the fact that many of these parents are Religious Right zealots committed to having more kids than black and Hispanic families. Instead, he sees Utopia:

Young families move away from what they perceive as disorder, vulgarity and danger and move to places like Douglas County in Colorado (which is the fastest-growing county in the country and has one of the highest concentrations of kids)...

What they cherish, like most Americans, is the self-sacrificial love shown by parents. People who have enough kids for a basketball team are too busy to fight a culture war. Bad choice of location, Dave! Hegemon.com reports on that white-bread paradise:

For the second time in two months, a Douglas County judge has denied a request to lower the $500,000 bond holding Rick Lopez, former coach of the Colorado Hoopsters girls' basketball team. Lopez is facing more than 50 charges of alleged sexual assault of three of his former players...

Lopez, 36, formerly of Castle Rock, faces 55 felony counts of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust or pattern of abuse, three counts of misdemeanor third-degree assault and one count of misdemeanor child abuse. He was arrested July 30 on a sealed warrant in Syracuse, N.Y., where he was allegedly stalking a former player. Bumper Sticker of the Week

A friend notes that he saw a Mercedes-Benz E320 wagon in Santa Monica, California with this bumper sticker: "I Bet Jesus Would Have Used HIS Turn Signals."

Thoughts for Today

You've got to kill the terrorists before the killing stops. And I'm for the president to chase them all over the world. If it takes 10 years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord.
--Jerry Falwell, on CNN

You have a predominantly Christian nation. You have a federal holiday based on the philosopher Jesus. And you don't wanna hear about it? Come on, [caller] -- if you are really offended, you gotta go to Israel then. I mean because we live in a country founded on Judeo -- and that's your guys' -- Christian, that's my guys' philosophy. But overwhelmingly, America is Christian. And the holiday is a federal holiday honoring the philosopher Jesus. So, you don't wanna hear about it? Impossible.
--- Bill O'Reilly, dealing with a Jewish caller who was under the impression that America was a secular nation.

The First Night of Hanukkah

On "The Daily Show" last night, Samatha Bee was going through the December calendar--and almost forgot Hanukkah. Her explanation: "The date changes every year and, anyway, what's it about? A lamp that didn't burn out?" But let us celebrate with a special song. Alas, not by Adam Sandler, but funny enough. My favorite line: "'Oy' is 'yo' spelled backwards."

A Free Hanukkah Gift

You say Swami is such a Jew-Bu that he's forgotten his people? Well, don't say I never did anything for the Jews. Here, just in time for Hanukkah, Larry ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") David wallpaper and screensavers.

Why Gays Should Leave Churches That Don't Want Them (Part 2)

So the elders of your church insist you must surrender to their values--that is, you've gotta change. Well, why don't you? Maybe because "gay" is not just another consumer decision, Audi vs. BMW, a "lifestyle choice."

Sure, it's possible that your presence and good example and exemplary logic will, in the end, carry the day. Meanwhile, you and your enlightened straight brothers and sisters are giving time and energy--and dollars--to an institution that--why be polite?--hates everything you represent.

I say: consider the church solely as an economic institution. If it has no "customers," it's out of business. This gives gays and their supporters incredible leverage. Let's say a third of your church is gay and/or enlightened. Let's say gays and their supporters at this church pinned a note on the door--gee, this sounds like Martin Luther, doesn't it?--announcing their intention to terminate their membership and launch a new, competing church on a date, oh, two months hence unless certain demands are met. Dollars to donuts, the dissidents will get more serious attention than they do now.

Why do I think this? Because, in l968, just before my class was to graduate, I was one of the organizers of a group that--very publicly--declared its intent to give no money to the college until the administration took a position on the Vietnam war. Until then, anti-war protest was an annoyance to the college. But this was of another magnitude--within a day, we had a meeting with the dean.

Yes, God is powerful. But too often silent. On the other hand, money talks. Quite loudly, in my experience.

Want to Join the Paperclip Protest?

Valued reader Cait Ramshaw writes:

This weekend I was reading film reviews, and came across one for a documentary called Paperclips. It is about a group of middle school students in Whitwell, Tennessee, who begin to study the Holocaust. To make the number of people slaughtered by the Nazis real, they decide to collect paperclips. They decide on them firstly because they are common, and secondly, because the Norwegians wore them as a national symbol (the traditional buttons with the King's initials on them were banned), as a protest against the occupation of their country, and as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish people.

This inspired me to try something.

I have today begun to invite friends to adopt wearing a paperclip as a sign of protest and solidarity in these times. To protest the unjust invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US (and the unjust invasion and occupation of other countries by other countries), to protest the erosion of human and civil rights, to protest the oppression of ethnic and other minorities here in the US, and around the world. I invite them to wear it as a symbol that we stand for peace, and for justice....justice that is not merely a remedy when things go wrong and reparations are in order, but justice as part of the platform of society, those "Christian" values that so many are afraid of, or unconcernced with....feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick, standing up for those who can't stand up for themselves, helping those who CAN take care of themselves do so.....all those Biblical (and Qur'anic, etc. etc.) values that are trampled on in this time of "me first". And then, I invite them to ACT!

I have had some takers....and have had many who didn't want to be.

I would like to see how far this can go. It's easy. No one needs to spend a penny. They don't need to send away for something. All they need to do is reach into their desk drawer, and grab a paperclip. And then act in solidarity for what that stands for. Money Lenders: Bush Is Good for Business

The New York Times reports:

There are more than 200 quick-loan outlets around the Navy bases of Norfolk and Hampton in Virginia; almost two dozen around the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton in California; and three dozen within three miles of the Army's Fort Lewis in Washington State.

So the young Navy petty officer and her husband in the Puget Sound area had no trouble finding a willing lender when they wanted to borrow money between paychecks to show visiting relatives a good time.

Getting the loan was fast and convenient, too. To borrow $500, they wrote a $575 check to the lender, to be cashed on their next payday, less than two weeks away. But in accepting that instant loan, the couple, who would talk about their experience only if their identities were not disclosed, were also agreeing to pay a staggering annual interest rate of more than 390 percent. By contrast, a loan from a credit union would have taken several days or longer but cost no more than 18 percent.

Repaying their fast-money loan took a big bite out of the couple's next paycheck, leaving them short when other bills fell due. So they borrowed again, and again, until they had raised about $4,000 through more instant loans, some of them with official-sounding names like Military Financial Network.

The cost of this new money also mounted, ranging as high as 650 percent when expressed as an annual percentage rate, as the law requires. And as the couple continued to fall behind, they borrowed even more, from other kinds of expensive lenders.

By October, just days before the petty officer had to ship out for duty in the Persian Gulf, the debts had grown so large that the couple and their young children were about to lose their home to foreclosure....

At least 26 percent of military households have done business with high-cost instant lenders..... I know. It's churlish. But how many of these money lenders do you think voted--if they voted at all--for John Kerry? My bet: Damn few. The smart money--and these guys are nothing if not smart--knew that Bush was good for their business. Which makes me wonder: What would a poll of funeral home owners reveal? Again, I suspect, more Bush supporters.

My Prayer: Mr. Businessman, Save Us

You may recall I have been much cheered by my new idea: that business will sit the President down and explain to him how the world really works. Now I read even better news--business isn't waiting for that come-to-Jesus meeting. In fact, business hasn't been fooled by the stupid blue/red state, "cultural divide" conversation we've been hearing since the election. No, as The San Francisco Chronicle reports, Business is moving toward what used to be called "liberal"--or what I call "smart."

Much of America has been grumpy or depressed since election day. Some are even said to be in mourning. But people who dread four more years of George W. Bush might cheer up if they take the long view beyond Washington to the corporate world. They'd find that even as America is supposedly turning conservative, big business is moving to the left.

Of course, persuading anyone, let alone a liberal, that America's most powerful companies are becoming more socially responsible is no easy task. In the wake of Enron and other scandals, cynicism about big business is rampant. But the truth is that corporate America is gradually becoming more compassionate, more green, more diverse, more transparent and more committed to serving the common good -- as well as the bottom line.

For example: Hewlett-Packard, Dell and IBM recently agreed on a far-reaching code of conduct to protect the health, safety, labor and human rights of people who work for their suppliers in the developing world.... Social activists praised the computer-makers, ordinarily arch-rivals, for joining together to protect workers' rights. No law requires them to do so.

... While the federal government becomes more secretive, leading companies are becoming more open. Gap Inc. issued a warts-and-all report this year, acknowledging that some overseas workers who make its clothes have been mistreated; the company vowed to do better.

Notice that we are not talking here about Hollywood elites or Ben and Jerry's. These companies are mainstays of the Fortune 500, many based in the red states.
Thought for Today

I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.
--Susan B Anthony, reformer and suffragist (1820-1906)

Loose Canon Returns with Bad News for Gays

The completion of the book is said to be akin to giving birth--a life-changing event--but not so in the case of Loose Canon.

I didn't have to read her column to know she was back from her literary labors--the wavelet of exclusion and negativity beat against my door as a kind of early warning system. I ambled over to her blog to see what was up, and quickly gathered that some branch of Christianity--this time, I think it was the Methodists--was beating up on a lesbian minister. And LC was, as far as I could tell, standing with the Church, waiting for her turn with the whip.

LC may not have changed, but I have. Maybe it was the election. Or maybe it was the "Groundhog Day" aspect of these controversies. But I want to say, here and now, that I'm with Loose Canon--homosexuals should not be church leaders.

I'll go further: They should not be in these churches at all. They're not wanted. They make at least some of the other congregants nervous. Out with them, I say. (Obviously, none of this applies to churches that welcome all of God's children.)

What has happened to me? Well, I haven't turned into a bigot, if that's what you're wondering. I have turned into a free-market thinker--I believe you should put your money where your affinities lie.

So Mrs. Uptown and I do not, if we can help it, give one penny to people who voted for Bush.

In like manner, I believe homosexuals should totally withdraw support from churches that obviously are rejecting them. Like-minded sympathizers should also leave those churches. Gays and their allies can start new churches, where they can practice exactly as they please.

And the churches that sent them packing?

Sink or swim, baby.

Attention, Al Qaeda

When Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson resigned Friday, he took the opportunity to warn us against yet another kind of terrorist attack.

"For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do," he said.

Close your eyes. Imagine John Kerry or Michael Moore saying those words. Red Staters would be leaping out of their chairs, screaming "Treason!" And rightly so--unless Thompson was luring terrorists into a trap, he was giving them a Hot Tip.

But he was a Bush Cabinet member, and there the bar is apparently set so low we should be grateful he didn't say anything even dumber.

Bob Dylan on '60 Minutes'

If you missed Bob Dylan being interviewed by Ed Bradley, weep no more.

South Carolina: Watch Out For Your Jews!

Yes, they're back...those Jews who want to take over the world. Oh, they seem happy running dry goods stores now, but just give them a chance; one dark night, they'll buy up everything in sight and make you kneel and talk in Hebrew.

That fear--or something like it--is said to agitate one Ron Wilson, a South Carolinian who has just been appointed to the state board of education. The South Carolina State reports:

The appointment to the state Board of Education of a high-ranking member of a Confederate heritage group who once sold anti-Semitic books is causing an uproar with civil rights groups and education officials.

Ron Wilson, a former commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, was selected by a 4-3 vote of the Anderson County delegation to the General Assembly.

"This should send chills down the spine of all South Carolinians," said Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, which tracks racist groups.

Wilson, who ran unsuccessfully for state Senate this year, declined comment when reached at his home in Easley.

Wilson once sold textbooks to parents who home-school their children. The books included "Barbarians Inside the Gates," which touted a discredited theory that Jews are working toward world domination.

He praised the book - which the SPLC called "a viciously anti-Semitic tome" - on his personal Web site...

Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, was one of four lawmakers who voted for Wilson over Harris Wilks, a former member of the Anderson County Board of Education.

White, also a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said he was not aware of the concerns watchdog groups have about Wilson.

"Personally, I haven't seen any of that from Mr. Wilson," White said. "I'm not one to judge him. I can't just judge somebody on somebody else says this is something he's done. Thought for Today

Music begins where words end.

Robert DeNiro: 60 Seconds of Art

Robert DeNiro doesn't do TV commercials. (In America, anyway.) But he's just done his first, and if you haven't seen it--he endorses the American Express card--don't be so quick to jump up for a drink at the next commercial break. (Or watch it here.)

Directed by Martin Scorcese, it's a beautiful piece of film, an artistic tour of Lower Manhattan. Toward the end, it shows the New York neighborhood of Tribeca (where DeNiro lives and has a film company and restaurant). "My heart," he says. The next shot is through the chain-link fence at The Pit--what was the World Trade Center. "My heartbreak," he says. Maybe because it's DeNiro, maybe it's because it's been so long since anyone with any credibility has spoken of 9/11, but I misted up. Over an Amex commercial.

What John Kerry Did Today

Our President never goes to military funerals. But someone else did. Speaks volumes.

Nathan Wood, Marine LCpl, Age 19

And another. Because the war's receding, becoming unreal. If this keeps up, no one will care. And then They'll think--if They don't already--that They can do anything They want.

Iraq War Grief Daily Witness

An Iraqi father mourns his children. Yes, that's plural. You think I enjoy running these pictures? Think again.

Doing Time with the Talibangelicals

The Rude Pundit [By now you know there's potty language in your face if you click] asked readers to share their experiences of Christian fundamentalism. Among the responses:

  • I had an awful first experience with those right wing nuts. When I was 10, my little brother started going to Sunday school with the neighborhood kids. A bus would pick them up and take them to church. I didn't want to go, even though these kids' parents would always encourage me to attend. Then one Sunday, I realized my brother was coming home with candy. He had received it for answering questions on the day's lessons on the bus ride back. Being a sweet tooth fanatic, and just an overall know-it-all kid, I thought it was a sweet deal. So that next Sunday I went to Sunday school with them....
  • I was a doctoral student hanging out at the student union eating some food and this young guy comes up to me and asks if I could spare some time to answer some questions. He remarked that he was a graduate student collecting data for his master's thesis and he had a brief survey he wanted me to fill out. Although I thought it odd, I said yes and he sat down with me. He handed this very short, 10 item survey and asked me to respond honestly and all that stuff. Being a doctoral student, I knew a little about survey research and I noticed right away what this was about. The first question read, "Do you believe in God?"....
  • Shall I tell you about being packed off to evangelical high school, where our ninth-grade history teacher told us the only reason to educate women was so that they could raise good sons? Where "lying horizontally" on campus was against the rules for girls (as was whorish clothing like jeans)? Where the instructor of the compulsory New Testament Bible class took us on field trips to his church so that we could watch him and our headmaster sway back and forth, arms raised and eyes shut, while another congregant babbled in tongues (oh, the satisfaction I later took losing my virginity behind that church)......
  • Read more responses.

    The Beauty Part

    Adult talk. Adult problems: fidelity, truth, enduring love. A smart director: Mike Nichols. Compelling actors: Jude Law, Clive Owen, Natalie Portman, even an almost-bearable Julia Roberts. The movie --"Closer"--opens this weekend. Try not to have anything to do after; you'll want to stick around and talk about it.

    You Can't Do That on Television

    What's the fuss is about? A 30-second television commercial for tolerance, sponsored by the United Church of Christ. Here's how controversial--how much beyond Nicollette Sheridan and Janet Jackson and the Viagra ads--this spot is: It shows two beefy guys outside a church. Like bouncers at a disco, they decide who goes in--and who stays out. They reject a gay male couple. The text: "Jesus didn't turn people away, neither do we."

    As some prime media has reported:

    The CBS and NBC networks have refused to run an ad by a liberal church promoting the acceptance of people regardless of sexual orientation because the networks believe the ad is advocacy advertising.
    Naturally, they have their reasons:

    "Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples...and the fact that the executive branch has recently proposed a Constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast," the church quoted CBS as saying.

    A CBS spokesman confirmed that the ad was banned, but would not comment directly about the above statement.

    "It was against our policy of accepting advocacy advertising," said the spokesman.

    An NBC spokeswoman said the problem with the ad was not its depiction of same sex couples at church, but its implication that other religions are not open to all people.

    "It went against our long-standing policy of not accepting ads that deal with issues of public controversy," said the NBC spokeswoman. Chuck Currie--a UCC seminarian--dug deeper, and got a quote from the UCC:

    The Rev. John Thomas, UCC general minister and president, remarked, "It is ironic that after a political season awash in commercials based on fear and deception by both parties seen on all major networks, an ad with a message of welcome and inclusion would be deemed too controversial. We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies or titillating dramas, but when it comes to the church's loving welcome of committed gay couples, that's where they draw the line."
    And then Chuck did the thing that did the trick when we had that little dust-up with Sinclair Broadcasting before the election, and may have caused NBC to rethink its invitation to Rush Limbaugh as an election-night commentator--he provided a link to network e-mail addresses: http://www.ucctakeaction.org/action/index.asp?step=2&item=23254.

    So...what are you waiting for?

    Thought for Today

    In a society where warfare and violence becomes endemic, religion gets sucked into that. Religion comes from where our dreams come from, and our dreams become disturbed, everything about us becomes disturbed in times of war and destruction.
    --Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam

    Another Way to Send Holiday Gifts to Soldiers

    Only a fraction of our soldierss are in Iraq. Many others will find themselves far from home this holiday season. Want to send a care package to soldiers stationed in Uzbekistan, Diego Garcia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Kosovo and Turkey? Visit CarePackages.com

    Is There a....Gay in That Book?

    Would this be happening if Kerry had won? Oh...probably. But now it seems....sanctioned, doesn't it? From The Birmingham News:

    An Alabama lawmaker who sought to ban gay marriages now wants to ban novels with gay characters from public libraries, including university libraries.

    A bill by Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, would prohibit the use of public funds for "the purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle." Allen said he filed the bill to protect children from the "homosexual agenda."

    "Our culture, how we know it today, is under attack from every angle," Allen said in a press conference Tuesday...

    If the bill became law, public school textbooks could not present homosexuality as a genetic trait and public libraries couldn't offer books with gay or bisexual characters.

    When asked about Tennessee Williams' southern classic "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," Allen said the play probably couldn't be performed by university theater groups.

    Allen said no state funds should be used to pay for materials that foster homosexuality. He said that would include nonfiction books that suggest homosexuality is acceptable and fiction novels with gay characters. While that would ban books like "Heather has Two Mommies," it could also include classic and popular novels with gay characters such as "The Color Purple," "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and "Brideshead Revisted." Caution: This Textbook Could Be Harmful to Your Brain

    Yes, there are real. Textbook disclaimers.

    Filthy Fun of the Day

    The South Park creators have a new song. It's mad fun. The refrain is profane-- consider yourselves warned. If you must listen, crank the volume up.

    The Beauty Part

    "Finding Neverland" has just been named best film of 2004 by the National Board of Review in the first major award of the Oscar season. Bring your heart. And Kleenex.

    Thought for Today

    Flying planes into buildings was a faith-based initiative.
    --Bill Maher

    Deja Vu All Over Again

    Just in case there are still folks out there who don't think Iraq=Vietnam, a headline and sub-head from this morning's online edition of the New York Times say it all:

    Challenge in Falluja is Trust
    Military officials must figure out how to win back the confidence of the people whose city they have destroyed.
    Do you hear what I hear? "Hearts and minds." And "we had to destroy the village in order to save it."


    E-mail from a reader:

    Most of the time I don't mind the stuff you say because 1) I also hate the war and 2) I can see (by taking a broader look) that you're a good-hearted person. But lately, when you talk about Southerners, you cross the line into meanness. You can criticize Southern conservatives, you know, without all the vicious and superfluous insults about culture, education, and genetics. I know your fan base on the web likes to hear that stuff (not too many Southerners there, as far as I can see), but I personally find you the most convincing when you speak respectfully...anyway, one religious principle I imagine we agree on is "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you."
    I'm vague on the specifics here, but I have no doubt that my correspondent could cite them. Apologies to her--not for the sentiments, but for my failure to make myself clear.

    Fact is, I love the South. Lived in Winston-Salem from age six to ten. My parents lived in Nashville for 25 years. Some of the best stories I ever did were set in the South--especially a New York Times Magazine cover story about Beulah Mae Donald, whose 18-year-old son was lynched by the Klan in Mobile, Alabama. Mrs. Donald was the first Christian whose faith dazzled and humbled me. I also enjoyed--for a very different reason: she told me about T.J. Maxx--my afternoon with Tammy Faye Bakker. If I were on Death Row and had to choose a Last Meal? Barbeque, no question.

    So my problem isn't with Southerners. It's with Crackers. And the two are not necessarily the same. A Southerner is defined by geography. A Cracker is defined by attitude.

    Crackers may, to you, evoke images of the rural South. But I have met more Crackers--people whose vulgarity is found in their souls, not in their decor--in the rich neighborhoods of the North than I ever did down South. A lot of people who voted for Bush strike me as Crackers. Not the folks I call The Stupids--they don't know better, and they'll die ignorant, and let us hope in their next lives God gives them brains and a good education. I mean The Deniers, people who shut out inconvenient facts so they can sleepwalk through life.

    Jerry Falwell? You got me. There's a Southerner and a Cracker. It happens.

    Jerry Falwell and Anderson Cooper

    And speaking of Falwell, what do you think Anderson Cooper meant when he said "we" in this week's interview with the Reverend?

    COOPER: But there are a lot of gay families out there, Reverend Falwell, there are a lot of gay families out there. I think there are like a million kids being raised by gay parents who say that if you want to protect families, you know, civil unions will give inheritance rights, will give Social Security, survivor benefits rights to...

    FALWELL: Anderson, that's all a red herring. If you want to leave something to your cat, you can do that in your will...

    COOPER: It's not a red herring. That's simply not true. It's not true. You know we pay taxes. What Cooper Politely Did Not Say about Falwell

    It falls to our old pal The Rude Pundit [Caution: disgraceful language in RP's broadside] to put the matter bluntly:

    Goddamn, what we've had to endure over the years since Falwell decided to weave politics and "religion" with the Moral Majority in the late 1970s. Falwell supported apartheid in South Africa, called Desmond Tutu "a phony," and urged his followers to buy Kruggerands back in the mid 1980s. In 1984, after Reagan let Falwell through the White House gates to pray with him, the good, loving preacher said, "The Democratic Party is largely controlled by the radical ideas of a dangerous minority - homosexuals, militant feminists, socialists, 'freeze-niks' and the like," while the Republican Party was devoted "to the liberation of the unborn" and its leaders were "God's instruments in rebuilding America." He said AIDS "could be God's judgement against a nation that chooses to live immorally." (And this leaves out so, so much hatred spewed by the Moral Majority and Falwell's other efforts.) We thought we had lost Falwell in the 90s. His influence over politics was waning. He was reduced to hawking tapes that alleged Bill Clinton was a murderer. Liberty University was almost bankrupt. And the 2000 campaign of George W. Bush shoved the evangelicals to the sidelines. But, lo and behold, one 9/11, and Falwell is back in the full-fledged spotlight, with his remark that abortion, feminism and homosexuality caused the attack.
    Is There a Gay Message in "Shark Tale"?

    Breaking news about "Shark Tale" from the American Family Association:

    It is when Shark Tale turns its attention to Lenny that it veers toward an undercurrent of approval for homosexuality. While it is difficult to prove intent when a film does not explicitly make a character "gay," the story and dialogue demonstrate an implicit approval of homosexuality...

    But Lenny is more than just a vegetarian. He turns out to enjoy dressing as a dolphin, an obvious allusion to cross-dressing, as noted in a review of Shark Tale by Ed Park in The Village Voice...

    "What is your problem?" Oscar demands of Lino. "So your son likes kelp. So his best friend's a fish. So he likes to dress like a dolphin. So what? Everybody loves him, just the way he is. Why can't you?"

    Lino's heart softens, and he tells Lenny, "I love you son, no matter what you eat or how you dress." Darn glad we didn't take Little Uptown to see this movie. Because--smart kid that she is--she would, at age two-and-a-half, have gotten this joke. And her life would have been changed...forever.

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