Thought for Today

Everything solid melts into air.
--Karl Marx

Where's Swami?

Later in December, feeling the need to do some uninterrupted work on my book and sensing the onset of burnout, I asked for a month-long sabbatical. Fittingly, this will begin on Monday--the day after the Iraqi election. Will the guest bloggers who will be doing weeklong stints here comment on this event and connect it to larger questions of morality and Right Conduct? Fine if they do, fine if they don't--after almost nine months of me, you deserve a fresh voice.

One of those bloggers--she'll show up for the last week in February, so as to make a less jarring transition to my return--is Mrs. Uptown (Karen Collins). It's almost worth sitting on my hands for a month to watch her cheer the Good and prosecute Evil.

February, I need not say, is the shortest month of the year. I'll be back to annoy you before you know it.

Is It Patriotic for Soldiers to Mutiny?

A reader writes from around the globe--an ashram in India--about yesterday's blog and my question (Will soldiers have to refuse to fight to make Bush understand that this war must end? Is mutiny now...patriotic?):

My question is: How can the millions of us who are disgusted with the war mutiny in an effective way? There has to be a way that millions of us can make resistance real. There must be an economic trump card we can play and possibly even get "mutineers" in other countries to use globalization against this juggernaut of insanity. I have not been able to come up with it, but I feel it must be sitting there, to be discovered.
Me too. I spoke in London this morning. The speaker after me was Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric--a gentleman of some influence, doncha think? I wanted to ask him: What's your obligation as a corporate officer to influence national policy? But I was a guest of the company that sponsored this conference, and he might not have realized that, and then I might have made a problem for my very gracious hosts.

I sure miss that CEOs Against the War group that formed during Vietnam.

Election Day in Iraq

Watching American reporters on English TV--and then watching British TV--gives you a sense of how thick a layer of propaganda we endure.

(Okay, maybe we don't. Maybe the Brits hate freedom. Got to consider that, just out of fairness to the Administration. Have you finished considering that? Good. Now we can move on.)

Here's an unvarnished report on pre-election reality in Iraq from Dahr Jemail, an American who went to Baghdad as an independent reporter:

With the "elections" just three days away, people are terrified. Families are fleeing Baghdad much as they did prior to the invasion of the country. Seeking refuge from what everyone fears to be a massive onslaught of violence in the capital city, huge lines of cars are stacked up at checkpoints on the outer edges of the city.

Policemen and Iraqi soldiers are trying to convince people to stay in the city and vote. Nobody is listening to them.

Here in Baghdad, although the High Commission for Elections in Iraq has yet to announce their locations, schools which are being converted into polling stations are already being attacked.

Iraqis who live near these schools are terrorized at the prospect.

"They can block the whole city and people cannot move," says a man speaking to me on condition of anonymity, "The city is dead, the people are dead. For what? For these forced elections!"

At least 90 streets in Baghdad are now closed down by huge sand and/or concrete barriers and razor wire. The number is growing daily.

"Now I'm afraid mortars will hit my home if the polling station is attacked," he adds. He'll be moving across town to stay at a relative's house, which is not near one of the dreaded polling stations.

An owner of a small grocery shop nearby is just as concerned. He had to negotiate with soldiers to have them leave an opening on the end of the barrier so people could access his place of business.

"I'm already living off my food ration, and have little business," he says while pointing at the deserted street, "Now who wants to come near my shop? All of us are afraid, and all of us are suffering now."

A tired looking guard standing nearby named Salman chimes in on the conversation. "I would be crazy to vote, it's so dangerous now," he says with a cigarette dangling from his hand, "Besides, why vote? Of course Allawi will stay in. The Americans will make it so." If so, you read it here first.

Americans Bring "Freedom" to Iraqi Women (Not)

Here's an Iraqi woman, writing in the Independent:

These elections are, for Iraq's women, little more than a cruel joke. Amid the suicide attacks, kidnappings and US-led military assaults of the 20-odd months since Saddam's fall, the little-reported phenomenon is the sharp increase in the persecution of Iraqi women. Women are the new victims of Islamic groups intent on restoring a medieval barbarity and of a political establishment that cares little for women's empowerment.

Having for years enjoyed greater rights than other women in the Middle East, women in Iraq are now losing even their basic freedoms. The right to choose their clothes, the right to love or marry whom they want. Of course women suffered under Saddam. I fled his cruel regime. I personally witnessed much brutality, but the subjugation of women was never a goal of the Baath party. What we are seeing now is deeply worrying: a reviled occupation and an openly reactionary Islamic armed insurrection combining to take Iraq into a new dark age.

Every day, leaflets are distributed across the country warning women against going out unveiled, wearing make-up, or mixing with men. Many female university students have given up their studies to protect themselves against the Islamists.

The new norm -- enforced at the barrel of a gun by Islamic extremists -- is to see women as the repository of honour and shame, not only on behalf of family and tribe but the nation...Since when did Islamic groups -- the very people doing the hostage-taking, torturing and killing -- start caring about the rights of Iraqi women?

Take the case of Anaheed. She was suspended to a tree in the New Baghdad area of the capital and then first shot by her father (a solicitor no less) and then by each member of her tribe. She was then was cut into pieces. This to clear the shame on the tribe's honour for having wanted to marry a man she was in love with. This happened in late 2003, months after the "liberation." How depressing is this? But then it's hard to think of much the Bush team does in Iraq that doesn't make the 12th Century look like a better alternative to some....

Bill O'Reilly: Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Michael Grant, a Professor of Biology at the University of Colorado, made the mistake of going on "The O'Reilly Factor" and trying to have an intelligent conversation on Intelligent Design--the theory that there's a Higher Power behind evolution and other scientific phenomena. Revolutionblog serves up the transcript, including:

GRANT: In the biology class we deal with science, with the natural world and what fits our conventional concepts of science.

O'REILLY: But what if it turns out there is a God and He did create the universe and you die and then you figure that out? Aren't you gonna feel bad that you didn't address that in your biology class? `Cause then it would be science, wouldn't it? You know, if tomorrow the deity came down and proved himself, then it would be science, wouldn't it, sir? There's more. Much more. Not for the faint of heart.

The Beauty Part

It's not exactly pretty--machine-gun drums, Ramones chords, angry lyrics ("Sieg Heil to the President Gasbag")--but it's definitely great music, the first #1 CD in memory that really deserves huge sales. I burn 300 calories every time I step on the elliptical trainer and punch it up on my iPod. It's a rock opera, with echoes of The Who. It's punk. It's rock. It's exciting as hell, brimming over with life-affirming sedition, leavened by the occasional ballad. I mean, of course, Green Day's American Idiot. Crank it up --- it's therapy.

Thought for Today

Humanity cannot bear too much truth.
--T.S. Eliot

Mea Culpa

I grasped that yesterday's piece about the temperature of hell was humorous, but I missed the fact that it was intended as such--not as a college exam paper. A sharp-eyed reader went to Snopes.com--a site I know well--and came up with the real story. I stand corrected.

The President's Soul Is Missing in Action

I have been moving fast, running around London on a business mission, and preparing to give a talk that has to be just right. So I didn't watch the President's out-of-the-blue press conference. I did read it, and could just picture the President having a damn fine time showing that he was both in command and in a noncombative mood--even when a reporter or two wondered aloud about the neverending stream of lies that cascades from the lips of everyone associated with this Administration.

I thought it was odd that the President didn't lead with the 31 Marines who died in the Iraqi desert, but I didn't realize how odd until I read James Wolcott this morning:

Ponder that a moment. The White House announces a press conference in the morning. After the announcement comes the news that 31 Americans died in a chopper crash in Iraq (6 others died today in separate incidents). The president takes the podium fresh with the knowledge of that tragedy--and radiates a cheerful disposition bantering with the press about senior citizens and their faulty memories....Imagine if Bill Clinton had been chirpy and chipper having just received the news of 31 soldiers dying in the theater of combat--Rush Limbaugh would have devoted three hours to it, and Fox News would have dragged Dick Morris out of the all-you-can-eat buffet for his "expert analysis."

When Bush did address the soldiers' deaths, he said that we "weep and mourn" when Americans die, but as he was saying it his hand was flatly smacking downwards for emphasis, as if he were pounding the table during the business meeting, refusing to pay a lot for a muffler. The steady beat of his hand was at odds with the sentiments he was expressing--he didn't look or sound the least bit mournful or sombre. And why should he? Death doesn't seem to be a bringdown for him. There isn't the slightest evidence that he experiences the anguish LBJ did as casualties mounted in Vietnam. As I noted a few weeks go, this inappropriate affect runs through Bush's career--his sneer at fellow born-again Karla Faye Tucker comes to mind. And in his groundbreaking book "Bush on the Couch," psychoanalyst Justin Frank takes us on a guided tour of Bush's childhood pleasure in administering small cruelties.

But 31 Marines (and six others killed in Iraq yesterday)! It's one thing to be a Big Picture Guy--it's another to lack all human feeling. We know that Bush is insulated from all criticism and negativity. We know he much prefers to swagger and bully than listen and compromise--indeed, he's so universally hated for these traits abroad that, in his column today, eternal Pollyanna Thomas Friedman suggests he keep his mouth shut when he jets off to Europe:

There is nothing that the Europeans want to hear from George Bush, there is nothing that they will listen to from George Bush that will change their minds about him or the Iraq war or U.S. foreign policy. Mr. Bush is more widely and deeply disliked in Europe than any U.S. president in history. Some people here must have a good thing to say about him, but I haven't met them yet.

In such an environment, the only thing that Mr. Bush could do to change people's minds about him would be to travel across Europe and not say a single word - but just listen. If he did that, Mr. Bush would bowl the Europeans over. He would absolutely disarm and flummox people here--and improve his own image markedly. All it would take for him would be just a few words: "Read my ears. I have come to Europe to listen, not to speak. I will give my Europe speech when I come home--after I've heard what you have to say." Dream on, Tom. This guy thrives on the hatred of our allies and the pleas of cooler thinkers who want this war to end--that stuff is vitamins for him. It's perplexing, isn't it? Like you, I spend a lot of thinking wondering how to reach this guy (or his advisers). And I come up with ... nothing.

This morning a Swami regular sent me a month-old Seymour Hersh speech. As he pointed out, Hersh sounded scattered and scared:

We're nowhere. The press is nowhere. The congress is nowhere. The military is nowhere. Every four-star General I know is saying, "Who is going to tell them we have no clothes?" Nobody is going to do it. Everybody is afraid to tell Rumsfeld anything. That's just the way it is. It's a system built on fear. It's not lack of integrity, it's more profound than that. Because there is individual integrity. It's a system that's completely been taken over--by cultists.
And what can stop this madness? Hersh says:

We're going to see a bottom swelling from inside the ranks.. What happened with the soldiers asking those questions, you may see more of that. I'm not suggesting we're going to have mutinies, but I'm going to suggest you're going to see more dissatisfaction being expressed. Maybe that will do it.
Has it come to that? Have we reached a point where the only way to get this President's attention is for the men and women who volunteered to die for him tell him they'd rather spend years in the brig than report for duty? When did mutiny become the highest expression of patriotism?

The Beauty Part

They're extinct. They're beautiful. In the dead of winter, they're a shot of warm weather. They're The Rarest of the Rare.

Thought for Today

A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
--George Bernard Shaw

London Calling: Yankee, Wake Up!

Greetings from London. Refreshing to be here. Coming in from the airport, the driver slagged Tony Blair. In the papers, Blair has revealed that he doesn't press President Bush on the environment, as he thinks that's the role of American business readers. Editorial reaction: The bloke's naive.

The 31 Marines killed in the helicopter crash in Iraq--I'll believe mechanical trouble; I have a hard time with the theory that it hit a power line; really? in the desert?--take second place here. The bigger news: four Brits released from Guantanamo--after three years without charges being brought--were grabbed by English police when they got home.

In short: no enthusiasm for the war here. And our Embassy has so many traffic barriers--and soldiers armed with machine guns--it's hard to find much enthusiasm for the US either. No wonder the papers tend to mock Blair and remind him that, in the US/Brit relationship, one side only gives and the other side only takes.

Why Is This?

Okay, so you risk your life to cast a ballot in Iraq. But an absentee ballot in the United States? What's the risk? CBS reports:

Registration for overseas absentee voting in Iraq's national election has been extended by two days because the turnout so far in the weeklong campaign has run far behind expectations, organizers said Saturday.

As of Thursday, fewer than one in 10 of the estimated 1.2 million eligible Iraqis living abroad in 14 countries had registered. Logical conclusion: None of these Iraqis are in any hurry to go home.

Looking Out for the Security Guard: A Hearwarming Story

From The New Yorker:

At Packer Collegiate, in Brooklyn Heights, for instance, the fifth-grade bake sale, which had originally been intended to benefit a less fortunate school in Tanzania, was jointly dedicated to Tanzania and relief for tsunami victims. And when Marco Sylla, the Packer school's security guard, or "hall master," and an Army reservist, was called up for active duty in December, it seemed only natural that the school would offer him the continued use of his Packer laptop, for keeping in touch, and that the Parent Association would buy him a going-away present--an iPod. One upper schooler loaded the device with classic rock, and several dozen students presented Sylla with farewell cards. At a school assembly, he received a two-minute standing ovation.
They decided what he needed in the event he found himself in Iraq was body-armour. That's a $1,500 commitment.

After one day, the parents had raised twenty-three hundred dollars. A hundred and thirty families have now contributed. And students, too, have chipped in. "Whatever I have left tomorrow after lunch, I'm not going to be spending it this weekend--I've got a busy weekend--so I'm just going to drop it in the folder," a tenth grader named Matt said the other day.

Now comes the hard part: shopping. "The particular kind of armor that's actually being given out by the Army right now is called the Interceptor," Glant explained. The Interceptor Multi-Threat Body Armor System, made of Kevlar, is capable of stopping 7.62-mm. rounds. "They're only selling it to the Army," Glant said. "But there are several different types of body armor that you can get either over the Web or at police-supply stores. You know, pretty high-level bulletproof vests. And then there are various inserts and attachments you can get."

For now, the parents are still awaiting Sylla's measurements, and news of whether he will in fact be stationed in Iraq. If there's any money left over, they plan to provide Sylla with various sundries: phone cards, deodorant, scorpion powder. Lucky Sylla. Lucky kids. Damned good school.

How Hot Is Hell?

The following is supposedly an actual question given on a University of Washington chemistry mid-term. The answer by one student was so "profound" that the professor shared it with colleagues, via the Internet, which is, of course, why we now have the pleasure of enjoying it as well.

Bonus Question: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?

Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law (gas cools when it expands and heats when it is compressed) or some variant. One student, however, wrote the following:

First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving.

As for how many souls are entering Hell, let's look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Most of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there is more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell.

With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.

This gives two possibilities:

1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.

2. If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

So which is it?

If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my Freshman year that "it will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you, and take into account the fact that I slept with her last night, then number 2 must be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and has already frozen over.

The corollary of this theory is that since Hell has frozen over, it follows that it is not accepting any more souls and is therefore, extinct...leaving only Heaven, thereby proving the existence of a divine being which explains why, last night, Teresa kept shouting "Oh my God."

Note: This student received the only "A."

Thought for Today

"You know, somebody asked me, 'Do you think the war on poverty is over?' I said, 'Yes, the poor lost.'"
--Rich Little, comedian, imitating Ronald Reagan at the Constitution Ball, an inaugural party in Washington

This Is How It Ends ("War Is Over If You Want It")

One person stands up. Then another. Like at this Illinois high school on Inauguration Day:
Several hundred Evanston Township High School students walked out of classes Thursday to protest President Bush's policies.

"Bush went to Iraq for no reason. There are no weapons of mass destruction. He lied," said Katlen Castillo, a 16-year-old sophomore.

Miriam Mondragon, a 15-year-old freshman, agreed, noting, "The walkout is important because Bush doesn't control everything in the United States. We have a right to say what we want. He's acting like a dictator, sending too many troops to Iraq and hurting too many families."

The New York Times reports--and I note with interest:

The Army's current plan is to keep about 120,000 soldiers in Iraq through 2006, roughly the same number that are fighting there now, a senior operations officer said Monday.

"We're planning for what is the most probable case," Lt. General James Lovelace [the director of Army operations] , said in an introductory interview with Pentagon reporters, his first since taking over his new job a short while ago. He added that as Iraqi forces "stand up and become more and more capable, the logical outcome of that would be less need for U.S. forces." They were dreaming when they picked this fight. And they're dreaming now. But the soldiers on the ground aren't dreaming. And it's a safe bet we'll be hearing from them long before '06 rolls around.

I find the prospect of non-violent protest absolutely thrilling.

And on the Other End of the Spectrum

Suddenly it seems as if the President can't please anyone. Here's the disappointment from the pro-life faction:

The week of inaugural celebrations in Washington, DC, turned to deep disappointment for many pro-lifers with the news that the Republican National Committee chose a pro-abortionist for its co-chair. Greg Quinlan, executive director of the Pro-Family Network of Ohio, had stated in mid-week that the selection of Joann Davidson was the "wrong choice" because the former speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives "does not represent the values of the rank and file of the GOP."

And although Davidson has now promised not to promote her pro-abortion views while in the leadership position, Bush supporters such as Gary Bauer of American Values regard the GOP's decision as a slap in the face. "I guess after all these years here [in the nation's capital] I've come to expect that this is what both the party establishment and RINO -- Republican In Name Only -- elected officials do," Bauer says."It doesn't make me happy. I wish we could stop it. But it's not surprising." Other pro-life supporters are also expressing outrage and disappointment over the Davidson decision. Awww. They lost one. Now they'll feel "persecuted" all over again.

SpongeBob Finds a Church (And So Does Tinky-Winky

Terrible to be a little guy roaming around with no spiritual home. So let's hear it for the 1.3 million-member United Church of Christ:

The United Church of Christ said that Jesus' message of extravagant welcome extends to all, including SpongeBob Squarepants--the cartoon character that has come under fire for allegedly holding hands with a starfish.

"Absolutely, the UCC extends an unequivocal welcome to SpongeBob," the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, said, only partly in jest. "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we."

For that matter, Thomas explained, the church, if given the opportunity, would warmly receive Barney, Big Bird, Tinky-Winky, Clifford the Big Red Dog or, for that matter, any who have experienced the Christian message as a harsh word of judgment rather than Jesus' offering of grace. If you're shopping for a church even your kids might like, here's a reason to stop in at the UCC.

The Beauty Part

Stuck in traffic? Road trip ahead? Here's a double-barreled treat: Bob Dylan's memoirs, read by Sean Penn.

Thought for Today

Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore [individual citizens] have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.
-- Nuremberg War Crime Tribunal, 1950

Iraq: Something You Can Do

Last week, I published pictures of a murder at a checkpoint in Iraq--a frightened couple in a small sedan didn't recognize warning gestures from American soldiers, our soldiers didn't seem to know how to stop the car without shooting the driver and his wife, and when it was over, four kids were orphans.

Unless you are a complete jerk, you had to have paused for a moment to think about these kids--and about all the Iraqi children hurt in this war.

I'm not laying blame here. There's plenty to go around, on every side. I'm just saying that--without question--our troops have killed and maimed a lot of kids who did nothing but be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

May I introduce you to one of them--Israa Abdul Amir.

She got help. More need it. Want to get involved with kids like Israa? This site starts you on that path.

This is tough stuff. Bless you just for clicking and looking.

The Inaugural Address: Same Old Same Old

Did you pay attention to the President's speech on Thursday? Later, did you hear any of the derision from Other Countries [translation: foreigners]? Did you think, "This madman is looking to pick a fight with the world?" (Or, sucker that you are for inspiration, did you think, "This brave man, with no army to help him, will--like Arnold--singlehandedly stride into oppressed nations and liberate them?")

Well, whatever you thought, forget it. The White House now tells us that the President's Inaugural Speech was nothing new. The New York Times reports:

A day after President Bush's inaugural speech vowing to spread freedom in the world, administration officials said Friday that Mr. Bush was setting a long-term goal that did not portend dramatic changes in American foreign policy but rather an expansion of existing approaches.
If that's what he meant, why didn't he say that? Or did he mean what we thought he meant and the world's hostile reaction made the White House decide those remarks were inoperative? Or is all of this 'just words," and meaningless, because when have this President's words been his bond anyway?

If SpongeBob Is Gay...

....then Bush and Powell are, too. So says Chuck Currie, and he's a seminarian--he must know.

If holding hands with other men and bad taste in music is all the evidence we need for determining who is and isn't gay there are a couple of people I'd like to out. George W. Bush is perhaps the most gay man in America. Do you remember how he likes to hold hands with that one Saudi prince? I bet they know what the meaning of "is" is.

And what about Colin Powell? No man has ever been gayer. Do you remember when he took to the stage as one of the Village People (America's biggest gay band ever)? The guy is a fruitcake. I think we all know where this is leading. Bush kicked Powell out of the cabinet over some lovers spat concerning the prince.

It all makes sense. That is why Powell is leaving and why Bush appointed an openly lesbian woman to take his place (what single woman with a PhD isn't a lesbian?). But--seriously, now--why stop there? James Wolcott goes gay-hunting and finds homosexuals all over classic American TV Westerns of the '50s and '60's:

Bronco, starring Ty Hardin. Bronco. Ty. You tell me those aren't gay-sounding names. Then there's Sugarfoot, starring Will Hutchins. Sugarfoot--another name that sounds awfully fey to me. In the title song, he's described as "easy lopin'" (the sagebrush version of crusing), and joggin' along "with a heart full of song." Show tunes, no doubt. Cheyenne, starring Clint Walker, whose title tune asks the haunting musical question, "Cheyenne, Cheyenne where will you be camping tonight?" Camping, indeed! The song has him dreaming "of a girl you may never love," and I think I know why he may never love her, and why he needs to go "camping."

But no Warner Brothers Western promotes the gay lifestyle more than Lawman, starring John Russell and Peter Brown. "John Russell, a 6'4" ramrod straight, ex-Marine with the most compelling steely gaze on television, embodied the courageous, no-nonsense Marshal Dan Troop," says a Lawman fan site. Peter Brown played his young deputy, and theirs was a stern daddy relationship seething with subtext. "The series generally avoided sentimentality, but for those who looked for it, the bond between the two characters was even stronger than the words exchanged would suggest." The nature of that bond is indicated in the opening credits, where sheriff would toss his rifle to his handsome deputy, who "hefted it with approval." Oh I just bet he hefted it with approval. Someday we will discover just what it is about gays that so inflames the Christian Right. I know it's a cliche, but every once in a while, doncha think the men and women who lash out most passionately with gays have a bit too much fascination with gay sex--that these wingnuts have gay fantasies (or gay pasts) that upset them no end?

Hate the Death Penalty? Live in New York?

Last year, the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional in New York. But enlightened law is often bad politics--Governor Pataki and Majority Leader Joseph Bruno want to enact a new death penalty statute. The state Assembly is holding a series of public hearings to determine what the people of New York want. If you're a New York resident and your oppose the death penalty, here's a quick and easy way to make your views known--sign this petition.

Arabs and Jews at Each Other's Throats--in Berkeley?

It was supposed to be a Magic Bus. Purpose: make people see what hate does. But then it all went wrong. From zombie.com:

On January 29, 2004, a Palestinian suicide bomber climbed aboard Bus 19 in Jerusalem and detonated his explosives. The explosion killed 11 people, injured 50, and destroyed the interior of the bus.

The mangled shell of the bus was subsequently sent to The Hague, in the Netherlands, where it was displayed outside the International Court of Justice to protest the court's ruling against Israel's separation barrier--which is intended to prevent attacks exactly like the one that destroyed Bus 19. A Christian humanitarian group now called The Jerusalem Connection subsequently bought the bus and had it shipped to the United States, where, loaded on the back of a flatbed trailer, it has since made stops at anti-terror rallies across the country.

At none of its previous appearances did the bus stir much controversy. Everything was going smoothly until a group called Israel Action Committee of the East Bay decided to bring the bus for a three-hour exhibit in Berkeley, California on January 16, 2005. Word of the upcoming anti-terror rally quickly spread to pro-Palestinian activist groups in the Bay Area, and a counter-demonstration was planned--based on the complaint that the bus exhibit was "out of context" and failed to illuminate the real "complexities" of the sources of terrorism. Meanwhile, Israel boosters planned to show up in support of the exhibit, and to express their condemnation of terrorism in general.

Do click to read--and see--what happened next. Very sad. Very.

The Beauty Part

Cold where I am. Probably where you are, too. Easy to get sad. And lazy--dinner is something you microwave and then eat standing up, leaning on the sink. Don't go there. Here's a recipe--and a cookbook--that gives you a gourmet meal using just six common ingredients.

Thought for Today

It's what's in the grooves that counts.
-- Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records

Freedom 27, Liberty 15

"The Daily Show" kept score of the President's two favorite words in his Inaugural Address, and Freedom won going away --- although, as Jon Stewart pointed out, "Liberty's been playing with injuries since the Patriot Act."

I spend Thursday afternoons at CNBC helping to write "Topic A," Tina Brown's Sunday night "views magazine," and as I was in transit I didn't get to hear the speech. [Don't worry, I've read it, every breathtaking, awe-inspiring word.] I also didn't get to see who sat where, which is often the Real News. But Andrew Tobias, the sharp-eyed writer who is also the Treasurer of the Democratic Party, noticed:

Did Trent Lott really need to be the emcee of the whole deal? With Rick Santorum carefully framed as if cheek to cheek with the President during the swearing in? Funny that we didn't see Messrs. Schwarzenegger, McCain and Giuliani prominently placed as we did at the Convention.

I had the television on --- with the sound off; always the best way to deal with Pageants --- for the afternoon ceremonies. Who knew there were so many marching bands in America! That our musical taste was stuck in the past! Honestly, if Ed Sullivan had showed up in front of the June Taylor Dancers, I wouldn't have been surprised.

But the safer-than-milk entertainment couldn't compete with the Shock and Awe militarism. As ever, James Wolcott nails it:

Despite the fact that there was no specific terrorist threat, the security was unprecedented....The commentators noted this clampdown with a sigh of regret, and mentioned the "irony" of President Bush using the words "freedom" and "liberty" dozens of times in his address while the city was under such tight constriction. But this has gone way past irony now into total cognitive dissonant breakdown. Commentators refuse to recognize the ominous import of the stepped-up militarization of the parade and pageantry, and increasingly of civilian life in this country under a president who likes to wear neat little uniforms that say, "Me commander-in-chief." It's ridiculous for Judy Woodruff and Doris Kearns Goodwin (I think it was her I heard nattering) and Jeff Greenfield to wax patriotic about presidents and inaugurals past as if there were some heartening continuum at work when there are snipers perched on the roof of the White House and enough riot police to protect a Latin American dictator.

My image was a bit different. Think Red Square on May Day --- and if you watch, do note the terrific pictures of Stalin they're holding. But that was before every stick was a possible terrorist tool.

The Speech Itself

Well, it was brilliant, wasn't it --- and, at the same time, as empty as the suit that delivered it. I like Freedom. You like Freedom. Who doesn't like Freedom? (And don't forget Liberty.)

Harmless bloviation. So idealistic that even Peggy Noonan thought it was wayyyyy over-the-top. The President knows damn well we don't have the troops to force the world to submit to freedom. (Interesting, isn't it, that liberty elsewhere seems to involve a surrender.) But it sure sounded good. And for those empty-headed enough to feel "inspired".....well, these things have a half-life.

But Is Terry Fitzpatrick Free?

Terry Kitzpatrick did his duty. Now Uncle Sam wants him to do it again. And if he does, his family suffers serious harm. The New York Times reports:

Small, frail but rambunctious, 16-month-old Will Fitzpatrick suffers from multiple birth defects. He'll need a second open-heart operation within six months and a transplant if he makes it into his teens.

His parents, Terry and Susan Fitzpatrick, have juggled their work schedules to provide the constant care Will needs -- daily medication, supplemental feedings through a gastric tube and regular sessions with his doctors and physical therapists.

Now the Fitzpatricks are facing a new crisis: The Army has ordered Terry, who was honorably discharged in 2000, back into uniform for duty in Iraq.

Terry, a 26-year-old carpenter who was an Army mechanic, is appealing for a hardship exemption but so far all he has received is an extension of his reporting date from Nov. 18 until Jan. 30.

The Fitzpatricks take turns caring for Will, with Terry working days and Susan mostly nights. Susan works up to 60 hours a week, meaning Terry is Will's primary caregiver.

``We would be at risk to lose some things,'' Terry said at the couple's home in the Florida Panhandle. ``It would be a huge hardship. You'd lose your house, your vehicles and your livelihood, your lifestyle.''

There's more, much more. Read it and then ask yourself again: Is this man free? Or must he wait for George Bush to --- what? --- invade America and liberate him?

The Beauty Part

I went looking for real men earlier in the week. I found them at the movies. If you can, see Hotel Rwanda immediately --- there is a hero. And Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby --- there's a guy grappling with a Real Problem.

Thought for Today

Glory consists of being regarded with affection by one's country, earning praise and respect and love; whereas to be feared and disliked, on the other hand, is unpleasant and hateful and debilitating and precarious.
--- Cicero, "The First Philippic Against Marcus Antonius," shortly before Mark Antony had him murdered and beheaded

The View from the Bridge

Polls tell us that 66% of the American public would have liked this Inauguration scaled down. But this government listened to the public once, on November 2nd, and has no plan to do so again.

Readers of this blog are surely in that 66%, so you don't need to be pounded with rhetoric. (You can get that just by turning on your TV.) Better to deal with reality, which is always in short supply in Washington and is likely to be completely ignored today.

Let's start with some praise for one government staffer who's hanging it up today --- Richard Armitage, the outgoing Deputy Secretary of State. He is said to be a decent, honorable guy. He proves it in his honest assessment of the war in Iraq:

"I'm disappointed that Iraq hasn't turned out better. And that we weren't able to move forward more meaningfully in the Middle East peace process. The biggest regret is that we didn't stop 9/11. And then in the wake of 9/11, instead of redoubling what is our traditional export of hope and optimism we exported our fear and our anger. And presented a very intense and angry face to the world. I regret that a lot."

Almost makes you think better of Colin Powell, doesn't it? On to....

The Army You Have

Let them eat shrimp --- in Washington. But when it comes to our troops, we break out 65-year-old training manuals. The New York Times reports:

Proposals being considered to improve the security situation in Iraq also show signs of desperation. For the first time, regular soldiers are being offered training to fight insurgents. Until now, such special training was reserved for members of the elite forces and for marine infantry troops. Part of the training includes a marines' training manual written in 1940. Some is helpful, but parts are completely antiquated. For instance, there is a section labeled "working with animals," (mules, mostly) and another on "mixed-race" companies. According to the manual, such companies are unusually "unmanageable due to a lack of strong character."

"Unmanageable!" In 1940! And that was when African-Americans only had marijuana and jazz for comfort. Now they have bling and blunts. Amazing we can get these people to show up at all....

The "Meaning" of the Iraqi Elections

In that same New York Times piece, we get yet another gloomy assessment of next week's elections:

Retired general D. Brent Scowcraft, national security advisor under the first President Bush, sees the election as providing nothing but "substantial potential for expanding the conflict." Last week, Lieutenant General Thomas Metz, commander of US ground forces in Iraq, openly admitted that regular elections are no longer a likely scenario in four of Iraq's 18 provinces. Because a quarter of the Iraqi population lives in these provinces, the question arises as to how meaningful this election, now called into jeopardy by increasingly violent attacks, can be.

And Scowcraft isn't the only one to see unending storms ahead. Knight Ridder reports:

All major U.S. intelligence agencies share a pessimistic prognosis for Iraq's future, according to a senior administration official. The assessment of the State Department's intelligence bureau is so grim that it's referred to as the "I agree with Scowcroft's analysis" report.

Bush and his national security team took issue with Scowcroft's remarks, but the pessimistic indicators have led a growing number of senior U.S. military and intelligence officials to say they worry that the mission in Iraq is becoming untenable for the American military.

But Don't Be Fooled: We're Not Leaving

Colin Powell has talked about a pullout of American troops from Iraq, starting later this year. If this report is true, we may scale the numbers down --- our commitment remains constant :

As the Bush administration drops hints about withdrawing troops from Iraq as early as this year, the Pentagon is building a permanent military communications system that suggests American soldiers will be in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

The new network, known as Central Iraq Microwave System, will eventually consist of up to 12 communications towers throughout Iraq and fiber-optic cables connecting Camp Victory, located outside of Baghdad, to other coalition bases in the country, according to three sources familiar with the project. The land-based system will replace the tactical communications network the Army and Marines have been using in Iraq. That network relied primarily on satellites and is much easier to dismantle. The contract for the new communications system covering central Iraq, won by Galaxy Scientific Corporation, is worth about $10 million.

At the End of the Day

The point of war is death. And we are certainly pounding that lesson home to the poor people of Iraq. Look --- if you dare; the pictures are bloody and beyond sad --- at the "freedom" we brought the other day to a family innocently driving past a checkpoint.

That's war as we currently know it. Murder. Legalized murder. How lucky we are that no superpower exists to conquer us --- or George Bush and his gang would be in the dock for war crimes.

The Beauty Part

Mrs. Uptown and I attended a tea for parents of prospective students at the Convent of the Sacred Heart this morning. Third-graders sang. Administrators spoke of The Mission. And three seniors talked about the decade-and-then-some they've spent at the school.

The message was that it's not enough to get an education. You need a reason. One is to figure out your connection to God. The other is to change the world.

I'll spare you the anecdotal stuff, it would just sound dog-and-pony show. But the idea of an all-girls school pushing Service on its charges --- that was powerful. Mrs. U wept throughout. And I, brokenhearted though I am by my inability to stop the slaughter of innocents in the name of freedom, felt modest stirrings of hope. For Little Uptown, if not for us....

Thought for Today

For the benefit of Doctor Rice,
There will be a show tonight
On spin machine.
The Democrats will all be there,
Late of losing seats of fare.
What a scene!
Dying men and morals, smirks of power,
Saddam Hussein was worse than mortar fire,
Pay the price, Doctor Rice will clean up the world!

The celebrated Doctor Rice
Performs her feat of playing nice
Republicans will dance and sing
As Doctor Rice flies through the ring
Until they're done.
Doctor Rice and Bush assure the public
Their dominion will be second to none.

And of course Kerry the lost
Dances the waltz!

The show is on from ten to six
See Doctor Rice perform her tricks
Of bending facts!
While Barbara Boxer remonstrates,
Ten somersaults Rice undertakes
With righteous cracks.

Having been some days in preparation
A splendid spin is guaranteed for all.

And tonight Doctor Rice is being confirmed
--Posted by Media Girl (with apologies to The Beatles) on Daily Kos

Are There Real Men in the Senate (Or Even the House)?

I sometimes look at couples and wonder how the women can take their clothes off for those men. I understand "making do" and "doing the best you can"--but in the marital moment, how do women fake passion for guys who exude jerkdom from every pore?

I thought about the plight of women again as I watched snippets of the Senate hearings that led to Condi Rice's confirmation. What gutless wimps those guys were--and that includes Biden and Kennedy. [Kerry was great. Where was that greatness during the campaign?]

But Barbara Boxer! Can we sing a chorus of "I Am Woman" for the Senator from California--the state that has contributed more than a fifth of our dead soldiers in Iraq?

What Boxer did was worthy of a shout-out because she didn't amp up the rhetoric--she used this liar's own words. The Bush team and the right-wingers in the press hate this sort of thing; it jars their programming. In their world, all that matters is to win--and baby, they are the champions at winning. So what if they lie along the way. What does a fact matter? Why even bother to go to the work of looking the damn things up? Why did Google and broadband have to come together in a perfect storm--a boon to fact-checkers, a pain in the ass to True Believers?

So here was Boxer, way off-message, putting some wood to Rice:

So I want to show you some statements that you made regarding the nuclear threat and the ability of Saddam to attack us. Now, September 5th -- let me get to the right package here. On July 30th, 2003, you were asked by PBS NewsHour's Gwen Ifill if you continued to stand by the claims you made about Saddam's nuclear program in the days and months leading up to the war.

In what appears to be an effort to downplay the nuclear-weapons scare tactics you used before the war, your answer was, and I quote, "It was a case that said he was trying to reconstitute. He's trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Nobody ever said that it was going to be the next year." So that's what you said to the American people on television -- "Nobody ever said it was going to be the next year."

Well, that wasn't true, because nine months before you said this to the American people, what had George Bush said, President Bush, at his speech at the Cincinnati Museum Center? "If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy or steal an amount of highly-enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year."

So the president tells the people there could be a weapon. Nine months later you said no one ever said he could have a weapon in a year, when in fact the president said it.

And here's the real kicker. On October 10th, '04, on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, three months ago, you were asked about CIA Director Tenet's remark that prior to the war he had, quote, "made it clear to the White House that he thought the nuclear-weapons program was much weaker than the program to develop other WMDs. Your response was this: "The intelligence assessment was that he was reconstituting his nuclear program; that, left unchecked, he would have a nuclear weapon by the end of the year."

So here you are, first contradicting the president and then contradicting yourself. So it's hard to even ask you a question about this, because you are on the record basically taking two sides of an issue. And this does not serve the American people.

If it served your purpose to downplay the threat of nuclear weapons, you said, "No one said he's going to have it in a year." But then later, when you thought that perhaps you were on more solid ground with the American people because at the time the war was probably popular, or more popular, you'd say, "We thought he was going to have a weapon within a year...."

You don't seem to be willing to, A, admit a mistake, or give any indication of what you're going to do to forcefully involve others. As a matter of fact, you've said more misstatements; that the territory of the terrorists has been shrinking when your own administration says it's now expanded to 60 countries. So I am deeply troubled... Me too. By the fact that there's now only one or two voices in the Senate willing to stand up to Bush.

So Where are the Male Heroes?

Ok, not in Congress. Let's look at the military. And not to guys whose response to brown people is to spray them with machine-gun fire. But to guys who have the spine to make their own decisions. [Iraq-bound Marines are now given talking points printed on a card, so they don't have to think up their own answers if they happen to meet up with The Media].

Here are a collection of war resisters and a profile of one of them, Jimmy Massey, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Marines:

A self-described "good old boy" born in Texas, Massey was honorably discharged from the Corps in December 2003 after 12 years of active duty. Diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, he came home to live in Waynesville, North Carolina.

He describes the U.S. invading force invading Iraq like "a bunch of pit bulls loose on a cage full of rabbits" right from the very beginning, and that is what turned the Iraqi people against the U.S. occupiers, the killing of innocent civilians. For example he tells of receiving orders from higher command to open fire on a non-violent demonstration of Iraqis with M-16s and 50-cal. machine guns.

When he went to his superiors about his changing feelings regarding the war, he was offered a desk job away from combat, he responded to this offer by saying "Thank you sergeant major, I don't want your money anymore. I don't want your benefits. You killed some civilians, and you're gonna have to live with it partner, and I'm gonna tell the truth." Massey hired a good lawyer which meant that he was discharged rather than court-martialed. Since his discharge, he has been telling the truth. Needless to say, Massey wasn't invited to any Inaugural Festivities.

The Prime Minister Is a Straight Shooter

Old story:

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

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

They say Dr Allawi told onlookers the victims had each killed as many as 50 Iraqis and they "deserved worse than death." Naturally, the Prime Minister's office has said this story is a vicious lie. Allawi was never there, he doesn't carry a gun, etc.

Now The Sydney Morning Herald [registration required] has tracked down some of the witnesses to the shooting-that-never-happened:

One of the witnesses claimed that before killing the prisoners Dr Allawi had told those around him that he wanted to send a clear message to the police on how to deal with insurgents.

"The prisoners were against the wall and we were standing in the courtyard when the Interior Minister said that he would like to kill them all on the spot. Allawi said that they deserved worse than death - but then he pulled the pistol from his belt and started shooting them."

Re-enacting the killings, one witness stood three to four metres in front of a wall and swung his outstretched arm in an even arc, left to right, jerking his wrist to mimic the recoil as each bullet was fired. Then he raised a hand to his brow, saying: "He was very close. Each was shot in the head..."

In a sharp reminder of the Iraqi hunger for security above all else, the witnesses did not perceive themselves as whistle-blowers. In interviews with the Herald they were enthusiastic about such killings, with one of them arguing: "These criminals were terrorists. They are the ones who plant the bombs."

Before the shootings, the 58-year-old Prime Minister is said to have told the policemen they must have courage in their work and that he would shield them from any repercussions if they killed insurgents in the course of their duty.

The witnesses said the Iraqi police observers were "shocked and surprised". But asked what message they might take from such an act, one said: "Any terrorists in Iraq should have the same destiny. This is the new Iraq."

[...] US officials in Iraq have not made an outright denial of the allegations. An emailed response to questions from the Herald to the US ambassador, John Negroponte, said: "If we attempted to refute each [rumour], we would have no time for other business. As far as this embassy's press office is concerned, this case is closed." Right. He's got our vote. Tough guy. No wonder Bush likes him.

The Beauty Part

Got out of the house and saw a play. No, not the revival of "The Mickey Mouse Club" or "Rags the Singing Dog" or whatever they call the fare that passes for live drama on Broadway. A real play, one that makes you think. Bush and his posse ought to be forced to see it--it's about the high price of certainty and is, therefore, called Doubt .

Thought for Today

We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections. The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me.
--President George W. Bush, January 15, 2005

The Next War: Can You Stand to Wait a Month?

I would not have thought it possible that at some soon point--as early as February, perhaps--President Bush and his band of cowboys would find yet another Middle East country to invade.

But if you read the new Seymour Hersh piece in The New Yorker, the Administration just can't wait to take out Iran's nuclear capability. The theory, according to a former high-level intelligence officer:

"This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone. Next, we're going to have the Iranian campaign. We've declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah--we've got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism."
The Administration's underlying assumption: the Presidential election was a referendum on Iraq. Like just about everything this White House says, that's pretty much a total lie--unless you lump the Swift Boats, John Kerry's "French" look and a heap of other whoppers into the issue called "Iraq."

Even if you bought the White House's line, you'd be hard pressed to find that support today. Clinton and Nixon began their second terms with approval ratings at 60%. George W.Bush is a comparative dud:

Bush's approval rating is at 49 percent in the AP poll, with 49 percent disapproving. His job approval is in the high 40s in several other recent polls - as low as any job approval rating for a re-elected president at the start of the second term in more than 50 years.
And on the Iraq issue? AOL polls are notorious for attracting mostly conservatives, but last weekend, when AOL News put up a poll about Iraq, 68% of the 128,000 respondents said they didn't support the President's Iraq policy.

But none of that penetrates the bubble built around the President. He heard us once; he never needs to listen to us again. So this gloomy report of Bush's disengagement from reality seems sadly accurate:

According to Charles Freeman, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and head of the independent Middle East Policy Council, Mr. Bush recently asked [Secretary of State Colin] Powell for his view on the progress of the war. 'We're losing,' Mr. Powell was quoted as saying. Mr. Freeman said Mr. Bush then asked the secretary of state to leave.
Kind of perfect, isn't it. Condi Rice is testifying today about her plans to use diplomacy more in the second term. But she's just a diversion, a mouthpiece, a cover story. In other parts of Washington, where the carnivores hang out, the events are lining up like planets: Inauguration....Iraq elections....the next invasion.

Never a dull moment! On to Iran!

Tsunami Survivors: They Hear Dead People

From a The Wall Street Journal piece on the spiritual aftermath of the tsunami:

For many Thais, steeped in Buddhist teachings of rebirth and even older animistic beliefs in spirits, ghosts are very real. When people die suddenly and violently, as they did in the December waves, spirits cling to their bodies and to familiar places, unsure of how to cross from the world of the living to the world of the dead, many here believe.

Psychologists say the ghosts are likely a manifestation of the mental trauma suffered by the tsunami survivors, a way for people to face their fears and come to terms with what happened. But for many, the ghosts are a problem that requires a practical solution, not therapy.

"If we don't send them off, the spirits will stay around where they died," says Saengthong Suwanjan, the 60-year-old keeper of a Chinese temple overlooking the sea. "If they can't go anywhere, they will stay here and haunt us. And if they don't know how to get to the next life, they might try to take some of us with them."

Ghost stories abound. Prasert Tamnakla, a 37-year-old dive-shop owner on the devastated island of Phi Phi, says that for days after the waves hit, he could hear the spirits of the dead wailing in the night. "Mostly, it was women's voices. They were calling for help," says Mr. Prasert. Thought for Today

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
-- Martin Luther King, Letter from Birmingham Jail

Michael Chertoff, Jew

A colleague points out that many of the articles about Michael Chertoff --- the Homeland Security nominee who's already making me nostalgic for Bernard Kerik --- include the seemingly obligatory biographical line "son of a rabbi." She wonders: "What is the package of associations the press wishes to convey to the reader with these little epithets? Integrity? Wisdom? Religious piety?"

In Ye Olde Days, those might have been challenging questions. But not now. Ever since 9/11, our press corps is determined to kiss up to this President. Did any reporter of stature ask a single tough question of a White House official before we invaded Iraq? Has any major reporter asked a single tough question about Social Security? "Son of a rabbi" is part of the government press release --- the press laps it up with the same zeal it chowed on lies about weapons of mass destruction.

To me, "son of a rabbi" says "Jew." And in the Bush White House, that's a good thing. Bush has an African-American in his Cabinet. A Mexican-American. He only lacks a Jewish-American --- and now he's got one. See, he has more unlikely people on his executive team than any President before him. And that means...wait, I'll get it in any second...It means...

Got it: With George Bush, it's what you are and how that can be spun, not who you are, that matters.

And Speaking of Jews

From the Republican Jewish Coalition:

The Republican Jewish Coalition announces the launch of an advertising campaign in support of President Bush's proposal to reform Social Security. Beginning the week of January 17th, the RJC will run full-page ads in major Jewish newspapers around the country as well as in Roll Call, a Washington, DC newspaper widely read by the White House, member of Congress, their staffs, and other leading policy-makers and opinion leaders.

The ads support the President's proposal for allowing young families to voluntarily invest part of their Social Security contribution, while maintaining the current benefits for those on Social Security or nearing retirement.

These people had better stay away from my mother. She'll grab a cane from one of her chums in the assisted living facility and beat them silly. I can hear her now: "You call yourselves Jews? Shame on you! Shame!"

A Heartwarming Story

What would be really heartwarming is if we had a government that made this doctor's gesture unnecessary. But we don't, so read on:

During his family practice residency at University of New Mexico Hospital, Dr. Andru Ziwasimon said he became aware of the profound barriers and inflated costs of medical care for low-income and uninsured people, and he decided the best way to do his part to fix the problem was start a health clinic that offers primary care to uninsured patients.

"In a lot of ways our system of medicine is so corrupt ...[it values] money instead of taking care of patients," said Ziwasimon. "So I decided I wanted to practice medicine in a way that was respectful to my community and met the needs of the most vulnerable people."

After months of planning and while their humble stone and stucco office in a South Valley neighborhood was still undergoing renovations, Ziwasimon, along with Sylvia Ledesma, Alma Olivas and with the help of countless volunteers, opened the Just Healthcare clinic in September.

Nobody pays up front. After being seen, people are asked for a $25 visit fee, and additional small fees for labs or medication. The average visit costs around $35, compared to comparable service at an emergency room for $400 or more, which is the only option for the growing stream of uninsured residents in Albuquerque. Lab costs and pharmaceuticals are priced at cost, without profit motive. To meet his own financial demands (medical school loans aren't cheap), Ziwasimon moonlights on the weekends as an emergency doctor in rural New Mexico.

"There's so much inflated cost in health care: supplies, drugs, visit charges, inflation built in to pay salaries of administrators and insurance billers," he says. "At this clinic we don't deal with the hassle and it saves us a huge amount of money. There's a belief out there that poor people don't pay their bills. But 80 percent pay us because it's a fair and affordable service."

Surya Das: On Bad Karma

Our comrade Surya Das has dispatched an e-mail our way:

I am disappointed with the pontifications about karma that pundits have recently subjected us to in the media. December's tsunami is no one's fault and blame should not be ascribed to peoples or individuals, either individually or collectively. It seems uncompassionate to me to use on the victims of a natural disaster the whip of theories such as the law of karma-- a profound concept that is in any case mostly misunderstood, and often misapplied.

Nor does God need to get a bad rap for it. These things happen. What we learn from it seems to me to be the main thing.

It is extremely is difficult for us to grok the complex workings either of God, if you like the theistic view, or of karma -- conditioning, interdependence and causation -- if you subscribe to Eastern thought. The historical teacher named Buddha himself said one would have to be omniscient to understand all the interwoven causes, circumstances and conditions at play in any single event. God's acts are also said by sages and saints to be unknowable and mysterious.

The main thing, I think, is that we learn from experience, and this helps us to wisen up and to open our hearts and minds ... which changes everything, at least for us and those around us. Conscious inner work and spiritual practice does transform things, and does so on many levels.

We can work for a better world from outside inside out. We must do what we can. We can learn to both act and understand better, and we must.

Roger that.

The Beauty Part

A balanced media diet: that's all we want on the weekend. A football game or two. Balanced by a movie that's as Important as it is Thrilling. Here's a review of Hotel Rwanda barely scratches the surface of its greatness. Regardless of your beliefs or your politics, you will be glad you saw this.

Thought for Today

Michael Moore and I actually have a lot in common--we both appreciate living in a country where there's free expression. But Michael, if you ever show up at my front door with a camera--I'll kill you.
--Clint Eastwood, at the National Board of Review awards dinner

A Modern Convenience: The Rod of Correction

Two-thirds of American parents approve of spanking. With bare hands? According to a Gallup Poll, a third of those parents use "a belt, hairbrush, stick, or some other hard object."

That is soooo 1880.

The Bible doesn't dictate how recalcitrant children are to have demons beaten out of them, so a thoughtful entrepreneur has devised The Rod..

It's a flexible 22-inch-long nylon whipping stick, described as the "ideal tool for child training." Costs just $5. Naturally, it has generated controversy:

Susan Lawrence began a national campaign to stop what she sees as the misuse of the Bible as a justification for striking children. She also asked the federal government to deem The Rod hazardous to children, and ban the sale of all products designed for spanking. Lawrence says striking children violates the Golden Rule from the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament: "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you."

She's had considerable success:

Lawrence's campaign has reached Clyde Bullock of Eufaula, Okla., the creator of The Rod. Bullock told the Globe last week that he has decided to voluntarily halt production for now, in part because of pressure from Lawrence and her supporters.

"I feel it's run its course," said Bullock, an auto mechanic who said he had sold hundreds of rods through his small-business venture, Slide's Manufacturing Co.

Another reason he is halting production, he said, is that the company that makes the cushioned grips for the rods has pulled out of the venture.

But Bullock, a Southern Baptist, said he stands by the virtue of The Rod, which, he said, is safer than a belt or paddle. He said he believes his product is in keeping with biblical teachings that rods be used only as a "last resort" to train children. He opposes its use on babies. He said he sold the device at a rate of "a few a week" over the last six years or so. Many of his customers returned for more rods, and cited the Scriptures when they made their purchases, he said.

"I'm one of these simple people," Bullock said. "The Bible is what it is--I'm not trying to change it. God is right. We have to have faith in that." Yes, and once we revise Social Security and start symbolically to whip our elders, why stop there. Some old people smell. Some are boring. We need to get these people in line. Twenty-two inches of nylon rod might do the trick.

You Don't Have to Believe in God, But The President Does

I don't explicate yesterday's Thought for Today (scroll down). Andrew Sullivan does:

Notice that Bush is explicitly qualifying his defense of religious freedom (or the freedom to have no religion at all) by saying that the presidency, in his view, should nevertheless be reserved for people with a relationship of a personal nature with "the Lord." He isn't simply saying that he doesn't see how he could have endured the presidency without faith; he is asserting that he cannot see how anyone could be president without a "relationship with the Lord."

Now I can see how this might be simply a slip of the tongue: just a projection of his own experience with nothing more to be inferred from it. But given how this administration has consciously eroded the distinction between church and state - fusing the two with federal funds, using religious groups as its political base, incorporating religious leaders into policy-making, and defending public policy decisions on purely religious grounds (calling civil marriage licenses "sacred," for example) - this is worrying.

To put it bluntly, on the separation of church and state, I don't trust these guys. The Placekicker Knows

Love it when spirituality infuses sports. Like this:

As the big moment neared and Doug Brien was called upon to kick the game-winning field goal in overtime for the Jets last Saturday, he disappeared into his bubble.

With nearly 70,000 spectators roaring at the wild-card playoff game against San Diego, he walked to one end of the sideline as his teammates moved aside like the parting of the Red Sea. Standing alone, he began breathing deeply. His face went blank as he tried to empty every thought from his brain.

Suddenly, the objects and people in front of him became a blur. Then the deafening noise in the stadium cut out with the quickness of a snapped finger.

From then on, Brien cannot remember what happened. But millions of people who watched him can.

Brien walked onto the field and calmly and instinctually kicked two 28-yard field goals - the Chargers called a timeout before the first one - giving the Jets a 20-17 victory.

"I can't tell you anything about it because my mind was completely blank," Brien said. "Thinking is always a problem when you're a kicker. I know that makes me sound a little crazy, but it's true.

"There is a Zen saying: If a centipede thought about what step it would take next, it would trip all over itself. So I knew if I thought about the kick, I would miss it." First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is. Here's a Zen bet on the Jets. Now someone needs to cure Chad Pennington's flu.

The Beauty Part

The premier voice in soul music--yeah, we knew that. What we overlook is that she's one of the most gifted pianists in blues. The combination is a spiritual/R&B masterpiece: Aretha Franklin's Spirit in the Dark.

Thought for Today

I fully understand that the job of the president is and must always be protecting the great right of people to worship or not worship as they see fit. That's what distinguishes us from the Taliban. The greatest freedom we have or one of the greatest freedoms is the right to worship the way you see fit. On the other hand, I don't see how you can be president at least from my perspective, how you can be president, without a relationship with the Lord.
--President Bush, in a conversation with the Washington Times

Bush, Deconstructed

The President makes himself available to the press? Well, to a newspaper owned by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the Korean zealot we like to laugh at--remember the mass weddings? But the giddy Rev. Moon sure has the gift of prophesy. Here he is Moon on December 20, 2000:

I have reached the top of the world. Soon, the American president will have to visit me to seek advice.
Now we must await Bush's recognition that Moon is the Messiah.

Iraq Election Results: Anonymous 1, Unknown 0

A New York Times editorial offers a dozen good reasons why the Iraq elections ought to be postponed. But George Bush wants them held on January 30, and so they will be. But what will they prove?

Here's Juan Cole on that small issue:

Jordan's ambassador to the US, Karim Kawar, is among the few officials in the region or in Washington to admit the truth: The January 30 elections in Iraq have no real validity. He estimates that 40% of the country won't be able to vote.

An election in which the names of the candidates in the various lists are still not known 18 days before the polls open is a sick joke, not an election. What could it possibly mean, to vote for anonymous politicians? And note that they are anonymous because otherwise the guerrillas would kill them. Again, I think the election has to go forward, but I just don't expect much from it.

An unreleased State Department study of last month summarized by AFP last Thursday found that: Only 32 percent of Sunni Muslims are "very likely" to vote. Among Shiites, 87 percent said they are "very likely" to vote. Only 12 percent of Sunni Arabs consider the elections "legitimate." Only 12 percent of Sunni Arabs think the elections will be completely fair. 52 percent of Shiites think the elections will be completely fair. 61% of Sunni Arabs are very concerned about their family's safety. 24% of Shiites are very concerned about their family's safety...38% of Shiites say they would stay home if their are threats of violence against polling stations. Great alternatives these people have--getting killed by the insurgents or getting shot by our increasingly trigger-happy troops.

Don't You Wish We Could Roll Back the Clock?

With perfect timing, we now have definitive word that there were NO weapons of mass destruction in Iraq:

The hunt for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in Iraq has come to an end nearly two years after President Bush ordered U.S. troops to disarm Saddam Hussein. The top CIA weapons hunter is home, and analysts are back at Langley.

Four months after Charles A. Duelfer, who led the weapons hunt in 2004, submitted an interim report to Congress that contradicted nearly every prewar assertion about Iraq made by top Bush administration officials, a senior intelligence official said the findings will stand as the ISG's final conclusions and will be published.

The ISG has interviewed every person it could find connected to programs that ended more than 10 years ago, and every suspected site within Iraq has been fully searched, or stripped bare by insurgents and thieves, according to several people involved in the weapons hunt.

Satellite photos show that entire facilities have been dismantled, possibly by scrap dealers who sold off parts and equipment to buyers around the world.

None of the scientists has been involved in weapons programs since the 1991 Gulf War, the ISG determined more than a year ago, and all have cooperated with investigators despite nearly two years of jail time without charges. U.S. officials previously said they were being held because their denials of ongoing weapons programs were presumed to be lies; now, they say the scientists are being held in connection with the possible war crimes trials of Iraqis. No comment necessary.

Good News about Soap Shavings

Andrew Tobias bravely addresses a moral issue: what to do about bars of soap that have become too small to use. Sample:

For some time now, I have been working my way through a bar of some kind of soap I can't identify, its logo having long since washed away ... thinking good thoughts - I like this soap, whatever it is - yet hoping for its demise. Once a satisfying handful, this bar of soap has become, as they all do, a sharp-edged sliver, best suited for greasing skids (but I have no skids).

I want this soap gone.

Not least so I can engage the enticing new bar, filched from a four-star hotel, on deck in the soap bull pen.

But what to do? When is one morally justified in killing a bar of soap? You really don't want to miss this.

Could Someone Just Give the Mormons Britney's Address?

Talk about lost! Britney Spears is consorting with just about every religion she bumps into. The Daily News reports:

When it comes to Britney Spears' spiritual relationship with her higher power, it's all in the baubles. In recent days, according to In Touch magazine, Mrs. Kevin Federline paid a merchant $680 for a Buddha made of moonstone and chalcedony and a Star of David necklace in pearl and quartz.

When she visited the Articles store in Brentwood Village, Calif., she was wearing a cross around her neck and a red kabbala string on her wrist (to go with the kabbala tattoo on the back of her neck).

The Baptist-born Spears has also been spotted reading "An Invitation to Practice Zen for Beginners" and "Conversations With God." The mag notes that the 23-year-old Spears "is just keeping her options open." The Beauty Part

Is "Million Dollar Baby" the film of the year? Will Hillary Swank win her second Oscar for her performance in it? Our alter ego Head Butler didn't care to ponder awards or rankings. He was too busy weeping--for sadness and joy--and pondering the issues of Clint Eastwood's film.

Thought for Today

I feel a strange kinship with Michael. They're trying to pit us against each other in the press, but it's a hologram. They really have got nothing to do with one another. It's just some kind of device, some left-right. He makes some salient points. There was some very expert, elliptical editing going on. However, what the hell are we doing in Iraq? No one can explain to me in a reasonable manner that I can accept why we're there, why we went there, and why we're still there.
--Mel Gibson, talking about Michael Moore

"Medium"--How I Wish It Were Rare

You look at a screen all day, the last thing you want to do is watch a screen at night. And one afternoon a week, I work on a TV show. I know the mantra: "TV is not to watch, it is to appear on."

But something was off in my life yesterday. I fulfilled every obligation, but without much spark. By late afternoon, when I was finishing up the blog, I took a look at the links and commentary, saw the absence of inspiration in chilly black-and-white, and sighed. And hit send and let it go, because some days that's all you can do.

I didn't really wake up until 10 PM, when I thought I'd waste the hour before "The Daily Show" with the new NBC hit, "Medium." And there goes any chance of going out on Monday nights--this show is hot, I'm completely hooked.

I'm also disturbed. If you've watched Patricia Arquette "see" dead people, you are too. How could you not? The show is totally jarring, the crimes disgusting almost beyond description--the villain in this episode was a whack job who kills women, keeps the corpses around and only then rapes them. One image was particularly arresting: a young woman in a bikini on a chaise in a backyard. You only saw her bikini bottom and her flat stomach. Then the killer walked away and the camera panned up--to the head of an attractive blonde wrapped in a clear cellophane bag to keep her "fresh."

Later, the sicko lures a drunken young woman back to his place for a threesome. Just as she sees "the beauty" who awaits her--a rotting corpse--he crushes her skull with a baseball bat.

Then there was a commercial for this Thursday's episode of "ER." Maybe you've seen it. Abby's been kidnapped--randomly, it appears. On a deserted street, the two punks who grabbed her pull her out of the car. "You don't have to do this," she begs. They lead her away. Force her down. And then--holding their guns like they're starring in a rap video--they shoot her.

Box score: In one hour of network TV, 20-odd million people watched at least three disgusting crimes against women. Unprovoked attacks, all of them (unless you believe that women who are even remotely curious about threesomes deserve to die).

Hey, there's a little girl in our house. This stuff hits home--literally.

And so, toward the end of "Medium," when it was clear there would be a happy ending, I let myself draft--and I began to "see" things.

I could build this up, but what I saw was banal in the extreme--I saw money shortages.

I started by seeing more and more freaks--not serial killers, just garden-variety sickos who don't get treated--on the street because we don't care about mental health (unless it's to enrich Big Pharma) and would rather pay a fortune to jail criminals than prevent crimes.

I moved on to see a government hell-bent on gutting Social Security for the benefit of a heartless ideology that's more about cold dollars than the welfare of old people who, for whatever reason, just can't make it on their own.

I saw graft and corruption legitimized because the "right people" were getting the spoils.

And then I went to bed. And woke up to....to the very world I dreamed about. Like:

Veterans Deserve Nothing: "Tell Them Enough Is Enough"

Nothing's too good for our soldiers? Read this:

House Republican leaders last night voted to oust Rep. Christopher Smith as chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, a move prompted by the New Jersey lawmaker's failure to follow the party line and his insistence on increasing spending for veterans.

The decision to replace Smith (R-4th Dist.) with Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), a Persian Gulf War veteran, was made behind closed doors by the House Republican Steering Committee under the direction of Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

The change, which was quickly denounced by leaders of several veterans' groups, is expected to be ratified today by the entire Republican caucus as part of a package of committee assignments. Smith also is expected to lose his seat on the veterans panel, which he has held for 24 years.

"It all came down to the fact I wanted to spend too much on veterans," Smith said following a 90-minute meeting in which he detailed the 22 laws he authored to help veterans in his four years as chairman.

"For me, it's about principles, about doing right regardless of the consequences," said Smith. "You help your team by helping the country, and the most worthy individuals on the planet, in my view, are the veterans because they have made the sacrifice."

Republican Whip Roy Blunt (R- Mo.), talking to reporters after the vote, cited what he called Smith's unwillingness to accept even those budgets backed by the Veterans Affairs Department. Blunt said Buyer, who is a colonel in the Army Reserve, had presented a more forward-looking vision...

A Republican leadership aide, who asked not to be identified, said veterans spending has been "going up and up well beyond the rest of the budget." He said the GOP leaders wanted someone like Buyer who could "tell the veterans groups, 'Enough is enough.'" I'm no fan of torture, but maybe there are some candidates here....

Homeland Security? It's Money for Parades

Here's how money will be spent in Washington on Inauguration Day:

D.C. officials said yesterday that the Bush administration is refusing to reimburse the District for most of the costs associated with next week's inauguration, breaking with precedent and forcing the city to divert $11.9 million from homeland security projects.

Federal officials have told the District that it should cover the expenses by using some of the $240 million in federal homeland security grants it has received in the past three years--money awarded to the city because it is among the places at highest risk of a terrorist attack.

But that grant money is earmarked for other security needs, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said... What did Williams expect? DC has no political power. It has lots of poor and African-American residents. Protect them--or have a parade? No brainer.

Bad Moon Rising

Meanwhile, here's the new depressing rumor:

Bush has ordered US Iraq commander Gen. Casey to prepare February attack on Syria. Assad sends Syria's chief of staff Gen. Habib to establish command post on Iraqi border. Israel braces for Hizballah backlash.
It figures. They're Baathists. Maybe they're behind the Iraqi insurgents. And one of the geniuses who cooked up our invasion of Iraq surely doesn't want to stop at just one success--after all, we haven't bankrupted ourselves yet.

The Beauty Part

Said to be the funniest show ever cancelled. Now on DVD. From 1999. Can you guess? Click here.

Thought for Today

Don't want to be an American idiot.
One nation controlled by the media.
Information age of hysteria.
It's going out to idiot America.
--from "American Idiot," the title track of the great Green Day CD

Pregnant Women: Might You Miscarry? Stay Out of Virginia!

Alberto "The only torture I've seen is this Senate hearing" Gonzales may not like a hypothetical, but you might. Try this:

You are at home alone at 8:00 on a Friday night. You are 8 weeks pregnant. All of a sudden, you begin to experience heavy cramping and bleeding. You realize with shock and sadness that you are probably experiencing a miscarriage. You are overwhelmed with grief and surprised by the intensity of physical pain involved. When your partner comes home, you break the sad news to him. Over the next few hours, you suffer pain, cramping, and intermittent bleeding. Exhausted, you finally fall asleep in your partner's arms around 4 AM. You sleep until noon.

Guess what? You just earned yourself up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. Why? Because you failed to call the cops and report your miscarriage within 12 hours.

Yes, as Daily Kos notes, John A. Cosgrove (R) of Chesapeake, Virginia has introduced a bill that will criminalize "fetal death" with no doctor's involvement unless it's reported--to the police!--within 12 hours.

What's really going on here? Clearly, this wingnut can't wait for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, so, in his conservative state, he wants legislation on the books that gets the State into women's bedrooms.

Several of you have, since the election, mentioned how the extremist wing of the Republican party longs for the world that Margaret Atwood describes in "The Handmaid's Tale"--a world in which infertility has become the norm and in which women who do get pregnant are forced to have the child.

There are, apparently, stark parallels between this novel--published in the 1980s--and our more paranoid fantasies. Not that the world needs Swami's Book Club, but if enough of you tell me you're reading this novel, I'll read along so we can talk about it.

Iraq: Worser and Worser

When The New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson was interviewed in Baghdad by Tina Brown over the weekend, he said that pretty much every sane reporter working in Iraq expected "a bloodbath" before or during the election late this month. Considering the ever-escalating violence, this is sad. Hopelessly sad.

I'm told that the country is now pretty much a free-fire zone, and that American troops just spray bullets wantonly when they're riled. And as for "torture" being a hideous crime committed by only a few, and then only at one prison, even a random news report suggests that it doesn't take long in Iraq before a soldier is likely to suffer a moral breakdown.

Consider Army Sgt Tracy Perkins, 33, convicted at a court-martial of ordering--at gunpoint--two Iraqis to jump into a river.

These were innocent guys, transporting plumbing supplies. Their bad luck: the truck broke down shortly before curfew. The next thing they knew, Americans were ordering them to jump into the water. They begged. The Americans laughed. One Iraqi drowned.

Perkins was sentenced to six months in jail. He gets to keep his job.

This is apparently not the only case of "getting Iraqis wet."

So why was it prosecuted? Because one of the victims was related to a well-known Iraqi blogger, Zeyad, who runs Healing Iraq. He used to be pro-American. Keep watching his blog to see if that will continue.

Condi's Cheat Sheet

We keep being told how brilliant Condi Rice is. (As Jon Stewart notes, she's great at everything except her job.) So why does she need tutoring? The Washington Post reports:

Condoleezza Rice should expect few surprises when she faces the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jan. 18 and 19 for confirmation hearings on her nomination to be secretary of state. Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and other GOP members have agreed to submit in advance the questions they plan to ask her, a decision some Democrats find surprising.

Lugar will give Rice the questions he plans to ask orally because he feels she should be fully prepared to answer without delay, said Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher said. "This is not a pop quiz," he said. Or even an old-fashioned test.

Public Service Announcement: Fox No More

Shilling for products in an editorial environment is so Armstrong Williams, but this is one I can't resist: the FoxBlocker. Just screw it into your TV set, and that's it--no one can watch Fox in your home any more. A bargain at $8.95.

And there are bonuses. Buy a FoxBlocker, and, as the ad copy promises:

With every order placed, FOXBlocker.com will send an e-mail in your name to the TOP 10 advertisers at FOX News letting them know that yet another subscriber has opted out of FOX News.
CBS 4, White House 0

CBS has decided that someone was actually responsible for the faulty reporting in Dan Rather's report on George Bush's National Guard "service." One person was fired, three were asked to resign.

A good example for the White House, which has thus far fired no one.

The Beauty Part

Will you be in New York City between February 12th and 27th? Here's why you want to be.

Thought for Today

Killing a man to defend an idea isn't defending an idea. It's killing a man.
--Jean-Luc Godard, Notre Musique

Torture Does Work; Just Ask Gonzales

You thought John Ashcroft was a disgrace as Attorney General? If the President has his way, the next Attorney General will make us nostalgic for the loon who annointed himself with Crisco, wrote (and sang) patriotic songs, and had such a nose for identifying and prosecuting terrorists that his Justice Department produced not a single conviction.

Alberto Gonzales has a flawless resume--on paper.

One of 7 kids. Air Force Academy. Harvard Law. White House Counsel. First Hispanic ever nominated for Attorney General. If confirmed, a likely candidate to be the first Hispanic nominated to the Supreme Court.

There are two ways for a man from a modest background to rise so meteorically.

One way is through sheer intellectual brilliance--the once-in-a-generation kid who's arguing cases before the Supreme Court at 25.

The other is through relationships--finding a powerful mentor and doing his intellectual heavy-lifting and cover his back as he rises.

This is the way of Alberto Gonzales. And, once again, we find an entire nation held hostage to the psychological profile of a few powerful men. Bush's post-alcoholic need for certainty, his competitiveness with his father, his curious passion for depersonalizing and humiliating his adversaries and his spectacular lack of interest in anything but ideological purity now find a partner in the kid from Houston whose intelligence is only exceeded by his ambition.

The reason Gonzales should be rejected is that--in pursuit of an All-American career--he has trashed American ideals and American law. Specifically, because on January 25, 2002, he advised the President that the war on terror "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners." Later that year, Gonzales ordered up a legal opinion from Jay Bybee, then the assistant attorney general, who conveniently agreed that the president could suspend the Geneva Conventions at will--and that, on occasion, torture "may be justified."

(Just last week, the Justice Department changed its mind and rejected the definition of torture that has led to the revelations of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib--and the endangerment of any American soldier who has the misfortune of being captured by an enemy who decides to operate by "American rules." Gee, what took them so long? Did they finally read the law? Or did they discover, as every army that tries torture invariably does, that it produces so little useful information it's really a waste of time?)

Let others look ahead to the kind of kiss-ass, go-along-at-all-costs Attorney General this man might be--Swami's crystal ball doesn't allow him to make predictions. Instead, I want to look back and see if Gonzales has a history of disregard for life and liberty.

Sadly, he does. Much blood on his hands--not that he has expressed any regret. Listen to Sister Helen Prejean (author of "Dead Man Walking"):

George W. Bush during his six years as governor of Texas presided over 152 executions, more than any other governor in the recent history of the United States. Bush has said: "I take every death penalty case seriously and review each case carefully.... Each case is major because each case is life or death."
The man responsible for briefing Bush? His General Counsel, Alberto Gonzales. Consider the case of Terry Washington, a mentally retarded man of thirty-three with the communication skills of a seven-year-old. Prejean writes:

Washington's plea for clemency came before Governor Bush on the morning of May 6, 1997. After a thirty-minute briefing by Gonzales, Bush checked "Deny"- just as he had denied twenty-nine other pleas for clemency in his first twenty-eight months as governor.

But Washington's plea for clemency raised substantial issues, which called for thoughtful, fair-minded consideration, not the least of which was the fact that Washington's mental handicap had never been presented to the jury that condemned him to death. Gonzales's legal summary, however, omitted any mention of Washington's mental limitations as well as the fact that his trial lawyer had failed to enlist the help of a mental health expert to testify on his client's behalf. When Washington's postconviction lawyers took on his defense, they researched deeply into his childhood and came up with horrifying evidence of abuse. Terry Washington, along with his ten siblings, had been beaten regularly with whips, water hoses, extension cords, wire hangers, and fan belts. This was mitigation of the strongest kind, but Washington's jury never heard it. Nor is there any evidence that Gonzales told Bush about it. There are other egregious cases that merited more than a half-hour "review." And then there was Karla Faye Tucker--the first woman executed in Texas in more than a century. Here was a killer, for sure. But she had repented so completely that her face shone with love for Christ as she went to her death. Indeed, as she climbed on the gurney, she whispered, "Lord Jesus, help them to find my vein." It's hard not to wonder: Would George Bush--who has made much of his Salvation--have climbed on that gurney with as much faith? Would Gonzalez--who's an evangelical Christian? What does "rehabilitation" mean if a total and sincere character change doesn't meet the test?

Was anyone spared during the Bush/Gonzalez killing spree? Again, from Prejean:

When Bush left the governor's office, he had denied clemency in all cases and refused to commute from death to life imprisonment a single death sentence but one-that of Henry Lee Lucas-and that because knowledge of Lucas's innocence of the murder for which he was about to be killed had become the subject of such national scrutiny that Bush could not afford politically to ignore it. Besides, the Lucas case became public during the 2000 presidential campaign, when Bush had begun to portray himself as a "compassionate conservative."
Translation: The death penalty was a political tool for Bush (and Gonzales). The law came second. "Justice" wasn't even in the conversation.

But Americans like justice. They say they do, anyway, every time they're asked. According to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll:

Nearly three-quarters of Americans say the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers depicted in widely broadcast photographs was unjustified under any circumstances....

Of those surveyed, 73 percent said they believed the abuse documented in an Army report was unjustified, and only 23 percent said it could be justified under some circumstances.

And 71 percent said the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners should be considered a serious offense rather than a harmless prank. And if you put the torture question to just about anyone, you'll find that no one wants American soldiers tortured--if that's the price of torture, we'll do without whatever "information" these so-called "terrorists" might give us.

But here we are, about to see the enabler of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib become the nation's highest ranking legal official.

My pal the Rude Pundit explains the general silence on this and other White House embarrassments:

Something interesting...happens whenever you engage anyone who believes these things [The President is tough on terror, etc.] in a conversation: they get really, really defensive about Bush. And not in a coherent way. And not even in the knee-jerk-"I-support-my-President" kind of way. No, it's more of an "I don't wanna talk about it-shutupshutupshutup" kind of way, with ears covered and eyes clenched shut. In other words, they know. They know it's all been a huge failure. But they don't wanna know. And it's just easier to pretend that everything's fantabulous than face that horror, that abyss, of mistrust, of awareness of one's own complicity in the voting booth.
You and I, of course, did not vote for this. Our seminarian comrade Chuck Currie clearly didn't either--he sends along a letter to Gonzales co-signed by many ministers, urging him to "reject the use of torture, embrace and advance standards of international law, and honor the dignity of all of God's creation." Maybe your spiritual leader will also speak up.

It is typical of this President to judge his staff by a single criterion: loyalty. It's a low, deadly way of operating a government, and it has always led to ruin. We say--because we always say this, because what else can we say?--"We'll survive this." But each day our leaders take us lower and lower, until we find ourselves surrounded by thugs and torturers.

No matter. There will be Alberto Gonzales, grinning, as the President calls him the embodiment of the American Dream. And the cameras will flash, and the people who are fooled by this mendacity will be fooled yet again. But on that day, there may be such a dark stain of blood and dishonor on us all that no penance will wash it off.

Thought for Today

If you want to learn wisdom, learn about money.
--The Talmud

Spiritual Wallet: Blowback

Wow! What happened? I've been writing this blog five days a week since May, and I've never seen such email response or reaction--even praise--on the message board.

Is it something I said? Or--here's my guess--is it that I wrote what you've been thinking? That I tapped into your frustration not just with our President but with the consciousness he personifies? That you want to get on with Better Things in this New Year without getting bogged down in negativity, on one hand, or living in denial, on the other?

Let me share some reader responses.

First--just to get this out of the way--some welcome support for a "spiritual" blog that can't seem to keep away from what is usually called politics:

Politics and religion were "married" in the recent Presidential campaign anyway, so what's the beef? I agree that "religion" is the opiate of the masses, whereas "spirituality" is much more; it implies (demands) action, a total life change. Spirituality, for me, doesn't come with a name (my Creator answers to many names) but does come with an obligation to be the person the Creator made me to be. It's said in the rooms and around the tables where I go that "Religion is for those who are afraid of going to Hell; Spirituality is for those who have been there and don't want to go back."
Next, another Biblical reference (I just knew Jesus was on the side of the poor!), this one from Matthew 23:27:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside are full of dead men's bones...
Moving on, to a Canadian who hopes she's not paranoid but senses a credit-grab ahead:

I predict that we'll see an announcement coming out in which George Bush takes personal credit for every nickel that can be attributed to individual and corporate donors in the U.S. and Canada and every nickel contributed by a Coalition Partner.
And then, from my friend S., a story of goodness (some of you will want Kleenex handy):

My eight-year-old nephew has a rare form of cancer. When he was barely four, a large, invasive brain-and-ear tumor was removed -- with those magic words "clean margins." But the price was also large: complete loss of hearing in one ear, missing one carotid artery, no balance (inner and middle ear also removed), neurological deficits, MRI's every 3 months because recurrence is not rare.

He worries about people who aren't as lucky as he is. At the moment, he's very concerned about all the people affected by the tsunami. After all, he has a mom and dad and sister, plus grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who all love him, and he's alive to enjoy his life.

My nephew and his family live in a town where, every New Year's Eve, the community gets together on the beach for a big celebration, including "midnight at 8pm" fireworks for the kids. This year the weather was warm, and my nephew was inspired to take advantage of such a festive audience. He and his six year old sister set up a lemonade stand. He made a sign that said "FOR TSUNAMI TSUPPORT"--not a spelling error, he's very bright. They raised $225. Which reminds me: If you've got stories of Goodness in Action, hey--send them on.

And then, this 30,000-foot view from Louis Borgenicht:

In a world in which nations have relegated themselves to their own narcissistic and hubristic needs, a new view of humanitarian commonality has suddenly arisen, dwarfing some of the narrower political concerns of 2004. It is even less important to feel that President Bush has felt this upsurge in global conectedness. He has become irrelevant.

What has replaced our vague and general hopes for a better new year is a more concrete and radical hope. Simply put it is the belief that as human beings we are all interwoven by our lives and deaths. We are driven to understand our plight, our joy, our tragedies and our successes because of our common humanity which transcends all national, religious, ethnic or social differences. Everything else pales in light of the repercussions of the wave. The disaster has permitted us all to reconnect with ourselves; it is a radical hope that ironically this can lead us to a future of comon concern. Exactly where I was going. Yes, we will move on from this tragedy--as Le Rochefecauld wisely noted, "No man can look long at the sun or death"--but we do so knowing we have done what we can. And knowing something else: that we are now "different" in a way we recognize. And in a way recognizable to others who are "different."

I don't want to get all sci-fi about this. Or mystical like Hermann Hesse. But I do see the reaction to the tsunami as another point of embarkation--leaving narrow definitions of identity (country, religion, job) and embracing a global sense of self. And as we stumble forward, I'm eager to hear your experiences, to test if this is one of those periods like just after 9/11, when many people shone with goodness for weeks and weeks.

And, more immediately, I wonder: Where is Condi Rice? I mean, isn't she like Secretary of State-in-training? Why was Colin Powell--who's counting down the days--sent to Asia with Jeb Bush? Did someone perhaps think Powell was...more comptetent? Or is Ms. Rice on some secret mission that precludes her saying Word One about the tsunami? For that matter, where is Dick Cheney?

I must confess that I've been remiss about the Deep Meaning of the tsunami. I would have thought everyone would be silent on the topic, but some felt no shame in revealing their intimate knowledge of God's Plan for Us--I'm waiting for the transcript of one interview in particular, because it's so monumentally stupid it deserves the widest possible audience. At the New York Times, David Brooks--a conservative pundit--took a crack at The Big Picture. (If you missed it, you ought to read it; it's a quick trip back to late-night bull sessions in college.) Anyway, the media blog Gawker invited readers to "crack the Brooks Code." They did their best. If you're in the mood for nasty humor about Serious Topics, this one's for you.

Finally, in what I hoped would be a response to yesterday's Swami, Loose Canon chastises me today for "moral preening" and then quotes an all-time favorite example of hers, when, as Private Kornbluth, I reported for duty on a mission to make sure that our troops drive armored Humvees. Her point is that this was a very fashionable idea to wear last fall, when this blog entry appeared. But let's go back--way back--to the very first day of Swami Uptown:

Maybe Protecting the Troops Is a Faith-Based Initiative
May 13, 2004 | 12:24 p.m.

This was a war of choice. It wasn't like Pearl Harbor, when we were attacked and had to respond before we were ready. We picked the timing. And, according to just about every reputable writer on the topic, we'd been plotting this sorry adventure for almost eighteen months before we actually went in to Iraq.

So why are our troops begging for the most basic protective gear? When God "spoke" to President Bush, did He hang up too fast? Or is the care of our soldiers--for the first time in our history--somehow the responsibility of the people who know and love them?

Two examples of our woefully under-resourced troops, just from today's media: The Ocala Star-Banner in Florida reports that reserve units are now sending urgent requests to the folks back home to send body armor. Members of a New York Army National Guard unit are furious that they have to travel around Iraq in a "slow-moving five-ton truck"--perfect ambush targets--instead of the armored vehicles they'd been promised. Preening? On Day One? I don't recall everyone in my zip code was chattering about badly-equipped soldiers that day. Or was that just after I had that meaningful late-night chat with Susan Sontag at Elaine's? Maybe conversation with LC should be reduced to direct questions. Like this: Is there any lowball commitment to Tsunami aid that Bush could have made that would have embarrassed you as an American? Or would you have cheered if he'd tossed out a... tenspot?

Social Security Reform: The Next Fraud

Tomorrow I want to take a look at Bush's next crime against humanity --- his campaign to "fix" a Society Security system that's not broken by inventing a "crisis" that doesn't exist. (Sound familiar?) I'm no economist, but then, I don't see this as an economic issue. It's about the elderly, and the contempt for the aged and the weak that runs through everything the President and his supporters say.

To prepare the ground, let me share a sound file that my stepson sent me a few weeks ago. The voice you'll hear is Robert F. Kennedy, talking about the Gross National Product, in l967. "Isn't this just about the most exciting stuff you've ever heard?" my stepson asked. And as I listened, tears came to my eyes, because it is, it really is.

An except follows, from the end of RFK's remarks, but you don't get the flavor and the passion unless you listen to the full 90 second passage:

The gross national product includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and jails for the people who break them.

The gross national product includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missiles with nuclear warheads....

And if the gross national product includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials....

The gross national product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile; and it can tell us everything about America except whether we are proud to be Americans. Thought for Today

And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the multitude were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. And calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, 'Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.
--Mark 12:41-44

What's in Your Spiritual Wallet?

My thoughts on the tsunami and America's response have struck a nerve and inspired a fresh batch of email. My correspondents make two points: 1) Swami Uptown is a political blog that really doesn't belong on Beliefnet and 2) I'm exploiting tragedy to bash George Bush.

To which I say: Do you guys know how to color outside the lines--I mean, even a little?

The priorities of this blogger can be a surprise only to the Recently Arrived. From the beginning, I have been clear that I regard most doctrinal questions as cute parlor games--riveting to the players, but of no more than anecdotal interest to the billions outside the drawing room. To me, God's wish for us is pretty simple: Be kind to others, help where you can, quiet the mind, spread the love. The rest, as Hillel would say, is commentary.

The good news is that these aren't imperatives I dreamed up--they're the core of every religion and spiritual group worth talking about. Which means--for me, anyway--that I can dispense with most theological issues and get on to gritty, practical, challenging spiritual questions: What kinds of prayers and rituals most effectively help us to Live Right? What opportunities do we see to be most useful today? And--because only praising the good gets pretty vanilla--who talks the talk but never walks the walk?

Having read their emails and message board comments for eight months now, I can identify three groupings of readers who find this way of thinking annoying, wrong-headed or dangerous. Some are people who genuinely think doctrinal differences matter; I respect their beliefs. Others are in the Religion Business and have a vested interest--for reasons of doctrine, but also for reasons of cold hard cash--in maintaining clear lines between what they and their parishioners believe and what Others profess. And still others have found that religion is a brilliant way to divide people for worldly (i.e., political) gain. And they like everything about that. Although they're on top, they love that Early Christian sense of being persecuted for their beliefs. (Could someone explain that schizy psychology to me?) And because "saved" is the key word in their theology, they don't hesitate to support cruel policies that annoint the rich and punish the poor, who are, apparently, poorer for being un-saved.

It's this third group that gets kicked regularly in this space--specifically on the issue of deeds. What is the point, I ask over and over, of being good if you aren't doing good? If God talks to the President, why does He sound so little like Jesus? And why do some American Christians have so much in common with Islamic Fundamenalists--how did tolerance and diversity become un-American values?

I ask these questions repeatedly of Loose Canon, not because she's a good tennis partner--with rare exceptions, she feels no need to respond--but because she's linked to this space and might feel a greater inclination to be in a dialogue than her pals Ann Coulter and the National Review crowd. But for Loose Canon, "faith" seems to matter more than "deeds." The haters who would pit brother against brother if they could profit by it are liberals, not a handful of evangelicals. And as for the President, he's a Good Man whose only aim is to Spread Freedom.

I wish with all my heart to live in the same world as Loose Canon, but I can't locate it--because it doesn't exist. Or rather, it exists only in that etheric world where Bush and Rove rule supreme: the world of fanciful rhetoric, unsubstantiated by facts. Indeed, contradicted by facts.

Let's take the government's statements on aid to the tsunami victims as an example.

If you've watched Fox or read the conservative press or the right-wing pundits, you believe that President Bush first authorized $35 million in aid, realized that the devastation was greater than was first reported and quickly bumped the U.S. commitment to $350 million.

But that is a lie--and the professionals who reported that had to know better. Why? Because the truth was available for all to see--on the White House website.

The initial US commitment: a measly $400,000, followed by $4 million. Total: $4.4 million.

Think I'm kidding?

Here, on 12/27, is Trent Duffy, a deputy White House spokesman, at a press conference in Crawford Texas (note: I'm linking to the White House website, not some blogger who has it in for Bush):

....the first thing that needs to be done is there needs to be an assessment of what can be done. There are some initial United States funds that are already flowing through the embassies. I think the dollar amounts are $400,000 at the early outgoing, and then $4 million in the next few days. But I would refer you to the State Department for more on the actual dollars.
And here, the next day, is Duffy again:

As I indicated yesterday, the President has authorized and directed the United States to play a leading role in the rescue, relief and recovery effort which is underway. And I would just say, of course, that the United States and the American people are the single largest contributors to international aid efforts across the globe. We have been for the past few years and I have every expectation that that will continue. Those contributions take the form of official government assistance, as well as individual charitable contributions to the Red Cross and to other international and non-governmental organizations.

I think the State Department has briefed recently about some of the efforts underway. I'll quickly summarize them. There has been an initial commitment of $15 million to support the relief efforts. USAID has just recently added $20 million to that... Just for reference, donations from the British government were considerably larger than ours:

The UK government initially offered £15 million ($29m) but upped this to £50 million ($96m) within a couple of days.
Yes, in the end, the President did the right thing--we're now the biggest (at $350 million) donor, our ships are rushing toward Asia, our soldiers and aid-workers are already on the ground. And surely there are many who would join the right-wingers to chant: "Not happy if you can't blame George Bush? What's your problem, Swami?"

The problem is this: We blew a golden opportunity to show the world that we are the nation we claim to be. After the tsunami, the President sat on his hands and/or cleared brush for two days. Then he sent out a third-string assistant to offer Asia some crumbs from our table. Did no one in Washington or Crawford know that Indonesia is home to more Muslims than any other country? And that Al Qaeda loves to recruit there?

But instead of a slam dunk, we got Business as Usual. An Administration that cannot see beyond its supporters forgot that this was a global tragedy, that the whole world was watching, and that the world is not nearly so credulous as Americans seem to be. Funny thing about money--even people who can't read know how to count. So the world, from top to bottom, caught Bush in the act of being Bush: big talk, no follow-through.

By New Year's weekend, the leader of the free world was holed up in Crawford like Don Corleone in "Godfather 3"--unable to leave the compound:

Traditionally, Mr. Bush appears around New Year's at the one coffee shop in this one-stoplight town a few miles from his ranch, sometimes holding an impromptu news conference by the gas pumps outside. But to do so today would have invited questions about the American response, and Mr. Bush never left the ranch. His spokesman said he was entertaining friends.
But but but, you say: Obsessing about money on a spiritual website--how vulgar!

I don't think so. I'm with Emerson: "Business is divine activity." And with the New Agers who see money as "green energy" that we can direct for good or ill. And with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said, "You can learn a great deal about a man by seeing who he writes his checks to."

So I'm moved to tears by my friend R, who beat cervical cancer and writes me, "This event has been too much for me. And as often as I go to donate it doesn't seem enough."

I'm in awe of my friend Steve, who's finally the lead in a hit play and tells me, "This is so great. Now I can write a bigger check."

And the kids in our building! "We are very concerned about the victims of the Tsunami," they write, in a note slipped under the door. "We have put a tin box in the lobby. Please put your spare change in it."

I'm crazed about those kids. Proud of my friends. And thrilled for all of you who--whether you gave or not--recognized that those broken people on the other side of the world are us.

Yes, I get that there is a division in this country, but not one of Red and Blue. It's bigger than that. It's a division of consciousness--Awake and Asleep, Caring and Cold, Planetary and Solitary.

What's in your spiritual wallet? Gold, and thanks for sharing it.

What's in Bush's spiritual wallet? Nothing. And spin it all you want, but it is what it is.

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