Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Pale Horse On Basin Street

eRobin asked in comments at the last post:

" was about the diseases the survivors are going to have to deal with from the water and what's running through it. Have you heard that they're worrying about cholera?"
The answer is here:

"4:03 P.M. - (AP) Michael Leavitt, secretary of Health and Human Services, announced he had declared a public health emergency in the area stretching from Louisiana to Florida. "We are gravely concerned about the potential for cholera, typhoid and dehydrating diseases that could come as a result of the stagnant water and the conditions," he said."
Later, there was a tad of backpedalling:

"However, officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health experts said cholera and typhoid are not considered to be high risks in the area. CDC officials suggested Leavitt was simply mentioning examples of diseases that could arise from contaminated food and water."
Thousands are becoming ill or developing complications from untreated pre-existing conditions, and are unable to get to hospitals or health facilities. ABC's Elizabeth Vargas is reporting that FEMA and other federal responders are nowhere to be seen. FEMA's head, Michael Brown, is weaseling out of it by saying no one expected anything this bad (remember those weather forecasts? The predictions that Katrina would be a Cat 5? No broadcast access in DC, Mike?).

Scumbag cost-benefit analysis wonks are explaining that precautions beyond a Cat 3 storm were considered unnecessary due to the diminishing expected returns of number of greenbacks per human life. And George Bush is already lowering expectations by telling the country "This recovery will take a long time. This recovery will take years." More on Bush's hand in this mess later.

This is the age of the the CEO approach to government: cut loose what doesn't make a buck, and if it all falls apart around you, cover your ass and keep a golden parachute under the desk. Too bad the folks in the Gulf didn't have any.

Let Them Eat Water

As I said over at Corrente:

...nothing I have to say is as important as what Lambert and farmer have highlighted previously on the gutting the Bush administration gave to Louisiana's flood control and hurricane protection research in the last 2 years, here, here, and here. And it's getting worse. Maybe this will be the tragedy that will open the country's eyes to just how dangerous Bush is. Because drowning his own people isn't enough for him: his plans also include suffocating them, too.

UPDATE: The report from the BBC is that 80% of New Orleans in underwater. The Times-Picayune has outlined a nightmare scenario of things to come.

The Case Against Evolution

Is here:

"Even though nearly half of Americans believe that humans evolved over time, this poll and many others have shown that substantial majorities of the public favor adding creationism to the public school curriculum. In the current survey, 64% support teaching creationism along with evolution in the public schools, while only 26% oppose this idea. But significantly fewer people say creationism should supplant evolution in the curriculum: 38% say creationism should be taught instead of evolution (49% disagree)."
---From the Pew Survey "Public Divided on Origins of Life RELIGION A STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS FOR BOTH PARTIES"

Not much evolving going on there.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Soothing Thoughts That Spring Out Of Human Suffering

picture1 Let them eat cake:

"The nation's poverty rate rose to 12.7 percent of the population last year, the fourth consecutive annual increase, the Census Bureau said Tuesday."
Great job, George! Put more people in poverty again, did you? Let's see how the nation's tradeable labor pawns played out on the White House gameboard:

"Overall, there were 37 million people living in poverty, up 1.1 million people from 2003...

The last decline in overall poverty was in 2000, when 31.1 million people lived under the threshold -- 11.3 percent of the population. Since then, the poverty rate has increased steadily from 11.7 percent in 2001, when the economy slipped into recession, to 12.5 percent in 2003...

The increase in poverty came despite strong economic growth, which helped create 2.2 million jobs last year...

Tim Smeeding, an economics professor at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, says
the nation has experienced a shift from earnings income to capital income and capital gains, which aren't reflected in the Census Bureau's latest numbers.
''Most of that growth in the economy over the last couple of years has gone to higher income people and has taken the form of capital income -- interest, rents, dividends,'' Smeeding said."
And how low does a family's income have to be for them to be considered "living in poverty? I dare you to live on it:

"For instance, a family of four with two children was considered living in poverty if income was $19,157 or less. For a family of two with no children, it was $12,649. For a person 65 and over living alone, it was 9,060."
Nice, eh? And remember, these numbers are only about people who slipped below the thresholds, not the many who exist in that fiscal twilight just above them. What is $9000? How much do you think Jack Welch throws away on a night on the town since he retired in luxury?

This is pretty good progress for you George, even accounting for your usual slothful approach to work. Why, it was only just last year we saw the same upward trend, though I have to say, it probably wasn't nearly steep enough to suit your constituency, of whom Jack Welch was one of the most avid.

It's not everyone in your position who's been able to stuff the maw of the ravenous rich with the bodies of the poor; sent the excess and expendable cannon fodder of the trailer parks and tenements to the flesh shredders of a trumped-up war courtesy of a deadwagon load of transparent lies anyone could have seen through except a nation in love with its own victimhood; broken the national budget to enrich the wealthiest while passing laws to entrap the unfortunate in endless, hopeless debt; hid with one's yellow tail between one's legs inside the comfort of some faux auxiliary assignment during one's youth while others died, then pulled the same abracadabra routine in middle age as an incompetent schmutzbag in "president's" clothing; and systematically proceeded to dismantle every existing Constitutional safeguard for its citizens except for the one allowing rampant deadly weapons to metastasize throughout the country.

And all while posturing as a paragon of morality and Christianity, spouting shibboleths and saber-rattling in the best Old Testament tradition, none of which would the bovine American public think to contrast to the institutionalized torture mandated by the "few bad apples" whose tree's branches twine upward into the highlest levels of the Pentagon and West Wing. No, as your usual dumb luck would have it, no lie or rampant contradiction that falls regurgitated from your mouth is ever deemed too absurd for my fellow citizenry to swallow like starved fledglings.

These are indeed accomplishments for which you can be proud, George. And after having worked this hard to fashion hell on earth for so many others, maybe one day you'll be able to enjoy the fruits of that labor yourself.

Crude But Effective, Part II

I've pretty much said my piece over at Corrente this a.m.

See you at The American Street later.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Men Who Reuel The World

Reuel Marc Gerecht, sufragette:

"PAUL GIGOT: Reuel, you've written that,Americans of a feminist disposition should realize that equal rights between the sexes is not a pre-condition for the growth of democracy."

REUEL MARC GERECHT: Well, historically, it should be easy to see that in the west. If it were a precondition, then western democracy certainly wouldn't have started -- wouldn't have succeeded -- because we didn't give women the right to vote until 1920. It's important to remember in Iraq -- you are not going to have democracy take root, and have the traditional communities -- the Shiite and the Sunni communities -- support it. And there is definitely a greater Islamic identify in those communities.

However, I have heard no one in Iraq say that women shouldn't have the right to vote. I think people have to realize is what you want is to begin a public debate. You want the democratic process to move forward. Then, later then can start having these debates about where the red lines are, where in fact women's rights begin. It's a moving line, but the most important thing is to get the traditional communities on board so they support the democratic process, and then let the great debates begin.

PAUL GIGOT: Of course, women played a very prominent role in the elections in January, turning out in really big numbers. Was that a one-time event, they're likely to say, "From now on, we won't vote," or "We won't participate?"

REUEL MARC GERECHT: No, I suspect you will see it over and over and over again, and I suspect many of those women who actually turned out to vote are not necessarily incredibly hostile to the notion of having Islamic law have some part to play in family law."
Or there's this, from his book, The Islamic Paradox:

"Advancing democracy and women’s rights may actually be at odds in much of the Muslim world, especially in Egypt where Islamic fundamentalists and religiously oriented associations dominate social life...

But democracy can obviously start and survive in societies where women are second-class political citizens and in their personal relationships with men, to brutalize Balzac a bit, are instruments de plaisir et l’honneur et la vertu de la maison. If this were not the case, Anglo-American, German, French, and Japanese democracies could never have developed."
So if they want to institute Islamic laws allowing slavery into their constitution, that's jake with us, too, eh, Marc? Here he is on Russert's Beat the Meat, with more of that hard-nosed realpolitik:

"I mean, one hopes that the Iraqis protect women's social rights as much as possible. It certainly seems clear that in protecting the political rights, there's no discussion of women not having the right to vote. I think it's important to remember that in the year 1900, for example, in the United States, it was a democracy then. In 1900, women did not have the right to vote. If Iraqis could develop a democracy that resembled America in the 1900s, I think we'd all be thrilled. I mean, women's social rights are not critical to the evolution of democracy. We hope they're there. I think they will be there. But I think we need to put this into perspective."
Gerecht is a former CIA somethingorother, one of those people who so easily wave their hands and pronounce godlike verities about the lives of people he will never know and whose lives are nothing more real to him than movie scripts. Today he was in yet another sideshow, this time on NPR, blatting the same rehash about how the founding fathers blah blah blah until I wanted to pick up the nearest hard object and put it through the radio. I'll bet he has some trenchant analysis on abortion and birth control, too.

How dare he sit there on his multiple media toilets and shit out this bloated, self-important scat about how half the human beings in a country really don't need rights, they can wait, it will all work out in the long run, but right now they are expendable because they're powerless and can't do much about it anyway, and we won't let their inconvenient needs get in the way of some neo-con jerk-off fantasy.

Fuck you.

Like Cornish Pilchards

HURRICANE KATRINA This is where about 8,000+ of New Orleans' poorest residents have taken shelter, in the Superdome. The NYTimes reports now even that imposing structure is taking damage from Katrina:
"Strips of metal were peeled away, creating two holes that were visible from the floor of the huge arena. Water dripped in and people were moved away from about five sections of seats directly below.
Others watched as sheets of metal flapped visibly and noisily. From the floor, more than 19 stories below the dome, the openings appeared to be 6 feet long."
They're stuck sitting in the stadium seats because the authorities don't want to risk the possibility that the field may flood, which will start to get damned old in about 24 hours. I thought it odd that they closed the dome at 11 p.m. last night for "curfew"---what happens if someone didn't make it there in time? Did they just leave them stuck outside?

God help these folks, and all the rest down there.

Brit's Tip Of The Day

When Katrina roared ashore way down yonder in New Orleans, do you think old "Bleeding Heart Brit" checked his Exxon/Mobil stocks and said to himself, "Hmmm, time to sell"? logo_esso_klein

A Sad Realization.

Been out in the hinterlands of the old home town, breathing the once-clean air and taking in the previously-open spaces. What used to be a lovely area of rolling hills, moutain creeks, and farmland, has been hardened into a writhing coating of roads and highways, and inexorably overtaken by developers with obstreporous half million dollar "houses" and strip malls, until the only way to get from one township to the next is sometimes through a Byzantine wormway of mall roads, and the main economic base for the county appears to have become big box stores and McMansion support services.

From one kind of Appalachian poverty (after the loss of mining, steel and factory jobs in the 80s) to another (the burgeoning job market in part-time, benefitless retail and fast-food work). And for as far as the eye can see, nothing but lookalike housing tracts whose poverty of the imagination simply has to be seen to be believed, being built for wealthy communters who move into the area to enjoy "country life", and then travel miles to work at jobs the locals can only dream about.

More about that later. I'm back in the big city, and realizing that the old life I used to long for so when I first moved here is no more, and except for visiting with friends and family, there's really nothing left for me to return to.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Planting A Seed

Last Wednesday's ad hoc coalition of Cindy Sheehan supporters came together with only 2 days' notice to create over 1600 candlelight vigils across the country, which were attended by numbers in the "tens of thousands".

Last week's vigil in Chestnut Hill brought out over 100 people.

In the hope that this energy can be stoked to build enough momentum to evolve into a truly powerful national peace movement, some of the original organizers are continuing the vigils, including a small group in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, of which I have made myself a part. I don't know that it has a name yet, but 20 of us showed up last night at 7:30 to keep vigil on the sidewalk in front of Borders and across the streets, holding candles and signs, and waving at the cars that honked in support (the SEPTA bus driver came through the intersection again, honking like mad and giving the thumbs up).

It's a small thing, but it makes people think when they pass by, and in a country where avoiding thought is what got us into this mess (and so many others) in the first place, it isn't too small a thing. Anyone can do it, just about anywhere. All it takes is a candle, a sign, and the willingness to set aside 1 hour a week to stand up and be seen. Not much of a sacrifice, compared to those being made in Iraq.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Mavis Beacon Is Not Amused

In times like these, the pearl of a decent satire is beyond price. The Onion just hasn't been the same since their move to the big city, Monty Python is no more, and even though The National Lampoon is still out there somewhere, its last decent year was 1975. So thanks to commenter shpx.ohfu who left a link on a post of mine over at Corrente to a Wikipedia parody called The Uncyclopedia, with gems like this:

"Stereotype Reassignment Surgery

Stereotype Reassignment Surgery is a newly invented technique allowing national, ethnic and social groups who are fed up with their current stereotypes to trade them with another group. To date, only a few groups have made use of this procedure, as extensive sociological testing is required before the operation can begin."
Followed by "case studies" from customers both satisfied and disgruntled. (Actually, Mavis Beacon for real is staring at me atop the computer shelf right now, and she is not amused.)

In the wondrous pages of the Uncyclopedia you can also explore the joys of kitten huffing,, learn the secret to the ascendancy of the Right ("A popular right-wing game, called "beat the odds," involves reproducing so much that you become the majority in a two party system. Then, at least eight identical brothers should enter politics to stay away from habit forming all night liquor/crack binges. Afterwards, run for president. Keep using crack"), or enjoy a shot of Her Majesty's Royal Flying Rat's Ass.

Like Wikipedia, it's open for editing to anyone with the nerve and the talent. Personally, I figure I might as well give it a shot.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Merge Left

I'm over at
The American Street today,
raving the good rave.
It'll be cross-posting
because my life is just so full, you know.

The Ninth Circle Of Education

Who goes to war? Who gets sent to fight bullshit battles in bullshit places by the lies of cowardly blowhards and braggarts who loll in the seats of power given to them by accidents of birth? Who gets carried into the field hospitals, appendages dangling by threads of skin, brains scrambled by blast-induced concussions, and who gets forgotten and left to fend for themselves the moment they make it home, turned out of the military that betrayed them as useless for further cannon-fodder?

The children of the poor, that's who. Children of the poor and ghettoized, forgotten, thrown away, then suddenly remembered when the recruiters need warm bodies. Children who grow up in a nation that has abdicated its responsibility to educate and integrate its people, that has used every downturn in the economy as an excuse to fracture the public school system, and failed to restore funding cuts when times got good again. Children in a country that increasingly sees them, if it sees them at all, as widgets to plug into the cheap labor market, or in the case of the military, the cheap life department, and whose schooling options seldom include paths to creative, well-paying opportunities, but more likely offer "sewing", or "hairdressing".

In the most recent edition of Harper's, Jonathan Kozol, a former teacher and ongoing observer of the nation's schools, writes the cover story, "Still Separate, Still Unequal". Kozol is the author of two of the most powerful books ever written on the American education system: Savage Inequalities, and Amazing Grace: Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation. And his latest foray shows that not only has nothing changed, but despite Bush's much ballyhooed "Texas miracle", the situation seems to have been exacerbated by the kind of apartheid not seen in this country since 1965.

Anyone who lives or works in a big city made up of a diverse racial population can see it. The city schools have become darker and darker, while the suburbs and private schools fill up with white children. I live next door to Chestnut Hill, the richest neighborhood in Philadelphia, and I would defy anyone to find me a single family there who sends its kids to the only available public high school: hulking, deteriorated Germantown High, with its overflow of students, its dark, smelly hallways, and its regular flareups of violence. You won't even find it listed under Ch. Hill's website's list of schools, because it's a forgone conclusion that those who can afford to live there wouldn't think of sending their kids to GHS.

And while Bush's experiments in education as governor of Texas were part of his "Education President" election platform that gave rise to the current testing craze fueling his NCLB program, it's worth recalling that the result of the Texas experiment was a tapestry of lies and hokum that relied on cooked data whose underlying fabrications were all too readily overlooked by an administration eager to crow about its success. And it's also worth recalling that the majority of these wasted efforts were aimed at poor and minority schools, whose students remain about as badly off as they were when compassionate George stalked the Austin mansion.

Kozol begins by laying out the numbers: big city public schools range anywhere from 75% to more than 97% non-white (my example above, GHS, currently shows 98.1% black and .8% white). In spite of the lip service given to the advance of civil rights issues over the last decades, the demographics of our schools give the lie to our insistence that equal opportunity is a done deal. As a nation we have ignored how schools and neighborhoods have slipped back into the Jim Crow look of the early 20th century, and we pretend that the inequalities between them have no basis in race. As Kozol notes, the word “diversity” becomes a euphemism for the absence of whites, and thus the vocabulary of civil rights is turned against itself in the service of guilt-free segregation.

In what are the most heart-rending passages of the article, Kozol relates the conversations of the kids sentenced to do time in these literal hellholes. Think of your own school memories. Do you recall being squeezed, 5 classes of different grades, into a single windowless room? Watching rainwater flowing down the stairwells when it rained? Barrels collecting water as it came through the ceiling? Collapsing ceilings, rats in the classrooms and eating the food off the shelves before the kids could get to it, nowhere to play or exercise, no toilet paper in the restrooms, no restrooms at all? These kids want to know why they have to try to learn under these conditions, and why they can’t have a little of what other children and their parents not only get, but fully expect as their rightful due:
“Dear Mr. Kozol,” wrote the eight-year old,”we do not have the things you have. You have Clean things. We do not have. You have Parks and we do not have Parks. You have all the thing and we do not have all the thing. Can you help us?”
Libraries. Art. Music. School doctors. All gone with the wind at the first sign of budget crunches, and never to be seen again when the economy got better. Kozol relays the current per-pupil spending rate in New York City--$11,700—which may sound like a princely sum until you read that only a few miles away in the wealthy suburb of Manhassett the level exceeds $22,000. He notes how this inequality begins before kindergarten, when well-off parents jockey for their kids’ positions in the most expensive pre-school programs, some of which can cost as much as $24,000, compared to the children of the inner city whose school preparatory class often consists of a television in a slum apartment. These children are the ones who will suffer when George Bush’s budget slashes the Head Start programs across the country.

But after all, you can't fix the problem by throwing money at it. Isn't that what we hear over and over, from the very same people who throw plenty of money at the educational well-being of their own kids? Somehow the irony of it never makes it into those well-fed, well-educated frontal lobes:
"Other factors"--a term of overall reprieve one often hears--"have got to be considered, too." These latter points are obviously true but always seem to have the odd effect of substituting things we know we cannot change in the short run for obvious solutions like cutting class size and constructing new school buildings or providing universal preschool that we actually could put in place right now if we were so inclined."
No, these would be too much like the solutions the rest of us would expect for our own neighborhoods. For the poor and the non-white, we turn instead to the strict regimen of the boot camp and the Skinner boxes of the laboratory, and through programs like SUCCESS FOR ALL, the disadvantaged are groomed for a future of docility and low wages. Above the desk of one teacher hangs a "Mission Statement" for her 4th grade students, which reads, in part: "to develop productive citizens" who will have the skills for "successful global competition". Another sign over some children's heads read: "Best Workers of 2002". Napoleon the pig couldn't have put it better. Kozol says of programs like these:

"White children made up 'only about 1% of students in the New York City schools in which this scripted teaching system (SFA) was imposed'...'the prepackaged lessons' were intended 'to ensure that all teachers--even novices or the most inept'--would be able to teach reading. As seemingly pragmatic and hardheaded as such arguments may be, they are desperation strategies that come out of the acceptance of inequity. If we did not have a deeply segregated system in which more experienced instructors teach the children of the privileged and the least experienced are sent to teach the children of minorities, these practices would not be needed and could not be so convincingly defended. They are confections of apartheid, and no matter by what argument of urgency or practicality they have been justified, they cannot fail to further deepen the divisions of society."
In Arnold Schwarzenegger's California, a lawsuit was filed citing gross filth and inadequacies at Fremont High School, including that it has 15 fewer restrooms than required by law. Only 1 or 2 were unlocked and open for girls to use, and of those, most had no toilet paper or other basic necessities. Vermin ran free throughout the kitchen and eating areas, as well as classrooms. And to the humiliated kids who tried against such odds to learn something, Schwarzenegger sent this message in February: that he would suspend the $2.3 billion dollars that he promised to give California schools this year. Do you think Schwarzenegger's children do without restrooms in their schools?

Kozel's piece ends with the discouraging news that, for all the hoo-hah over the testing craze and the periodic rise in test scores, children who are taught only how to take tests learn only to take tests. Is it surprising, then, that when they are called on to put into action the skills those tests supposedly measure, they can't? Or that the gains they appear to make turn out to be only temporary? As he says, taking play time away from 8-year olds and turning 6-year olds into testing machines and destroying children's critical thinking skills with Pavlovian approaches will not rectify the inequities in our educational system that are at the root of the problem. Only a clear, brave recognition of the wrongness of that system, and the courage to change it whatever the cost, will make the difference. Kozol closes with this:

"We do not have the things you have," Alliyah told me when she wrote to ask if I would come and visit her school in the South Bronx. "Can you help us?" America owes that little girl and millions like her a more honorable answer than they have received."

Sunday, August 21, 2005

If Thinking Is The Best Way To Travel, We Are Nation Of Stay-At-Homes

Animal%20021%20-%20turkeys According to the most recent on-line edition of The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, Sheila Simmons writes:

”The Philadelphia School District’s unexpected decision to award a major contract for curriculum materials to K12 Inc., a company chaired by a former U.S. education secretary, has some science educators wondering why this controversial but politically influential firm got the deal...

K12 board chair William J. (“Bill”) Bennett, now a conservative talk show host, served as Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan. The company’s senior vice president of education and policy is former Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Charles Zogby, a key architect of the state takeover of Philadelphia schools.”
As usual when something like this gets forcefed into a school system, the district's science teachers were the last to know, let alone have their opinions considered. Furthermore, for most of them it was an unknown quantity with little national recognition, which seemed to fly in the face of one of the guidelines for acceptance, that “materials selected have received national recognition and approval for their excellence.” Very few people in the field contacted by Simmons had even heard of the company: experts in the field seemed baffled at best, damning at worst. Said David L. Smith, director of professional development at the Da Vinci Discovery Center of Science and Technology in Bethlehem:

“The portion of a sample earth science lesson that I looked (at) on their web site was of very low cognitive demand, contained no inquiry at all, was oriented toward shallow factual content rather than deep conceptual understanding, and contained numerous errors of fact.”
Of course, I would never suggest that District CEO Paul Vallas' history with Bill Bennett, and Bennett's recommendation of Vallas for Secretary of Education that positioned him as runner-up to successful candidate Rod "Teachers are Terrorists" Paige both in 2001 and again when Paige stepped down last year, had anything to do with the choice of Bennett's company. And the sudden stealth appearance of creationism and intelligent design in the district's classrooms, brought to you by a company whose forte has been home-schoolers and virtual classrooms, shouldn't worry us:

"K12 has received criticism for the receipt of public funds for its services to private, often religion-oriented home-schoolers; for its “anti-scientific” approach to evolution; and for the political influence K12 wields with its use of aggressive, high-priced lobbyists who were active in the Bush campaign."
That's right...ties to the Bushies (check out the back-scratching that went on with Jeb down in Florida), and a religious agenda. In the words of the old High Roller himself:

"Bennett says, "We're centered in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we do not ignore faith and religion, we do not ignore the arguments against evolution, because there are some...I think what we'll say is, Here's evolution, this is a definition, this is what other people think, this is what a lot of the scientific community thinks, this is what a lot of the criticisms are. You decide, parent and child, working your way through this how you want to evaluate this."

[A]ccording to Bennett, the science curriculum presents evolution, creationism, and intelligent design as equally tenable explanations for the existence of life"
Now, according to the article, the religious instruction doesn't begin until K12's 7th grade level, and the contract in question is for K through 3rd grade, but it doesn't matter; the integrity of the entire program is brought into question by this. And the fact that schools will be expected to answer via testing to Bush's No Rich White Child Left Behind mandate starting in 2007, combined with Bennett's cozy relationship to his administration and the religious right, should have taxpayers putting this entire transaction under the microscope.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Friday, August 19, 2005

A Respite From The Jungle

I'm out of town for a brief trip. Back in a couple days.


Averting Our Eyes, Holding Our Noses

9 While America shops, Iraq continues to crumble into a chaotic purgatory of murder, kidnapping, crime, torture, and sectarian violence. Just this morning on NPR's All Things Considered, Phillip Reeves interviewed the relative of a Sunni recently murdered by Shiites who guiltily noted that when he hears of Shias narrowly escaping assassination attacks, he wishes they had "got him". He admits he would have joined in anti-Shiite attacks himself except that he is married and waiting on the birth of his son. Then, later, there is the description of the smell of the city morgue, stifling in the high heat of the Iraqi summer with a record number of bodies, many of them bearing the mutilations of torture.

In an August 17 story, Robert Fisk of The Independent, stated that last July was the bloodiest month on record for Baghdad Iraqis since the start of the war: 1,100 Iraqi bodies were brought into the city morgue during that month. (The NPR report has raised that to 1,700.) As Fisk states, it's impossible to assign reasons for all of the deaths; some were simply criminal acts, some were misogynistic honor killings, some involved no foul play at all. But as both his report and the NPR story point up, the deaths by violence, and by sectarian violence in particular, are skyrocketing, and we would know more, if only our own government, in collusion with our media, was not so intent on hiding the truth from us. Nothing brings this home more clearly than this paragraph, reproduced here from the Fisk article thanks to Kevin at PA For Democracy:
"Doctors have been told that bodies brought to the mortuary by US forces should not be given post-mortem examinations (on the odd ground that the Americans will have already performed this function)."
This means that verifications of causes of death are often ommitted. Not that the fools responsible for this abbatoir care enough to keep track.

We are witnessing a deliberate and concerted effort to hide the costs of this illegal war by a criminal element that has wholly overtaken the government of our nation and is ensuring the same criminality will thrive in the puppet government of the new Iraq.

Go to D.C. on September 24 and make your voice heard over their lies.

Enough Already!

perfume Once again, I got off the train this morning trying to see through watering eyes. It's bad enough living and working in a big city where it seems more than half the people are drenching themselves in the foulest scents imagineable under the delusion that it makes them somehow more appealing. What's worse is that these are always the people with whom you find yourself trapped in close quarters, unable to escape or even gulp a lungful of untainted air. Elevators, waiting lines, restaurants (nothing more appetizing when you are about to take a bite of lunch than a good whiff of "Opium" or "Incest" or whatever the fuck they are calling their alcohol-soaked oils of dead glands these days)---all of them become mantraps, holding you at the mercy of these damned olfactory-challenged fools.

But nothing is worse than having one of them sit next to you for a half an hour on the train, where you are unable to even stand up and go to the bar or restroom. You sit there, gasping like a dying fish, assailed by fumes that any normal human being would only endure after donning a hazmat suit, and what can you say? "Please move elsewhere"? Even if there was somewhere else to move to, once the air has been contaminated, it doesn't matter where you are in the car...there it is. This morning a woman got on who sat fully 3 rows ahead of me, yet from the way my trachea closed up and my nasal passages constricted once her vile potions reached my respiratory system, she may as well have poured a liter of the stuff down my throat. And this is not an occasional thing. Everyday I wonder whether the person sitting near me will be slathered up for an evening out at 7:00 in the freaking morning, and how long the effects will linger.

And it's not just a female phenomenon. Men are increasingly dousing themselves in rotgut that promises to turn women into leopardesses in heat, perfumes with matching deodorants with ridiculous names like "Arctic Force", "Ionic", and "Tsunami" (bet they love that one in Aceh). One handshake and I'm stuck back in 1968, smelling like my 15 year old stepbrother at his first dance.

I once thought employee dress codes prohibiting the wearing of scents were facsist, but that was before I began having these chemically-sensitive moments I used to associate with whiny little canary-in-a-coalmine types. It's not that I hate perfume. I hate the way it's used, indiscriminately, with no sense of appropriate place, time or amount. I hate trying to eat and being assailed with odors so completely out of place that they ruin my ability to taste the food. I hate trying to work and getting headaches from the huge clouds of noxious fumes that waft from my coworkers into my office, where ventilation is only an urban legend. And I hate being unable to sit on the train and read because I can't see through the tears brought on by the irritants in the emblaming fluid worn by my fellow commuter. Whether I've just become sensitive from a daily onslaught of chemicals, or whether people have become so desperate to avoid smelling human that they've grown increasingly immune to the amount of scent they use, the effect is just the same. Please, people, I'm begging here...just stop the madness. Use a good soap and a nice Thai crystal, and if you really want women to fall all over you, let your pheromones have a fighting chance.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Vigil--More Results

Based on the number of events that were filled or almost filled to capacity last night in my local area, the candlelight vigils seemed a success. The one we went to was aiming for 100, but registration and participation exceeded that.


The one I attended was full of folks from all walks of life, but one contingent was noticeably lacking: the youngest adults, the very people whose lives are most at risk thanks to this cannon fodder-happy administration.

Cindy_vigil 012
We had an opportunity to get the word out about the upcoming D.C. anti-war mobilization the weekend of September 24, and meet some folks who have been participating in activist events since the Vietnam era. Here was the sign I wore, an old Vietnam era anti-war poster:


We had only a few hecklers, one being a car flying past whose driver yelled "Go to hell"! (Hah! You're already there, buddy.) It was heartening that many other people who drove by honked in solidarity, including a city ambulancea and a SEPTA bus driver who banged away merrily at his horn all the way through the intersection.

The upshot was that we will continue to meet each Wednesday and maybe pull more local folks into it. I want to especially thank the Borders store that graciously allowed us to take up their sidewalk space and utilize their much-needed restroom facilities.

More stories to come.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Put Your Body Where Your Mouth Is

email_vigils Cindy Sheehan has asked that those who support her cause start candlelight vigils in their own communities across the country. Tonight is your chance to stand up and be counted. Helping coordinate this event (as if you couldn't tell from the graphic) are, Democracy For America, and True Majority. As MoveOn's site says:
"Our vigils will be simple and dignified. Together, we'll acknowledge the sacrifices made by Cindy Sheehan, her son, Casey and the more than 1,800 brave American men and women who have given their lives in Iraq—and their moms and families."
Simply click this link, enter your zip code and the distance you're willing to travel, and a page of events will appear. (It's already set to show Philly events, but you can personalize it for your area by just entering your own zip.) To sign up, just click on the event you want to take part in.

I'm going.

UPDATE: Problems with the site link for the event list. Try this instead. If you keep having problems, keep trying. It seems become accessible and then not by alternate seconds.

SECOND UPDATE: For those in the Philly area, a vigil at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown will be attended by Celeste Zappala, who also lost her son in Iraq last year. Celeste is from Philadelphia, and spoke at a event here last October along with Al Franken and Jessica Lange. She was a moving and powerful speaker, and had us all in tears. She has joined in support with Cindy Sheehan. If I hadn't already registered with a different vigil, I would definitely be there.
To get there, follow this link.

Riding While Not-White

So as reported this morning on BBC, and by ITV, who came into possession of the leaked documents via the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and later in CNN, we see that the boy shot by London police for a terrorist was actually a commuter with the bad luck to be non-Anglo. And not only was he not wearing a big heavy coat, he was not running, didn't jump over anything, took a slow escalator to the subway, and was sitting down when they repeatedly shot him to death. The description of the video paints a picture nothing like the "ticking bomb" that supposedly led to an unfortunate, frantic split-second decision to kill him. In fact, it looks as thought there had been plenty of time to verify his identity, or at least apprehend him without gunplay:
"ITV News, citing documents and photographs, reported that de Menezes was not carrying any bags when he entered the Stockwell Tube station and was wearing a denim jacket, rather than a bulky coat as police had previously said.
De Menezes walked at a normal pace, did not vault any barriers and even stopped to pick up a newspaper, ITV News reported.
He descended to the train slowly on an escalator, then ran toward the open subway car and took a seat, according to ITV, which based its account on a document outlining what was captured on surveillance footage.
At about the same time, armed officers were provided with positive identification that de Menezes was either Hamdi Issac, also known as Osman Hussain, one of the suspected bombers from the day before, or another suspect, at which point he was shot, ITV News reported."
And when did this fatal misidentification occur?
"According to the network, the crucial mistake that led to de Menezes' death may have occurred that morning as he left his apartment, when surveillance officers spotted him and he was misidentified as a possible terrorist.
London police were authorized to shoot and kill suspects they believed might try to set off more subway bombs. Shortly after de Menezes' death, police justified their actions by saying he was acting suspiciously and tried to run from officers, forcing detectives to make a split-second decision to shoot him."
So they had a considerable amount of time to verify their identification, but didn't, then covered their fuck-up over with a thin layer of fine bobbie manure. Well done, lads. Worthy of L.A. and New York's finest. And to the defense that was raised earlier, that the cops risked the possibility that he could have been carrying a bomb and would have had time to blow up himself and those around him if they had confronted him, I'd say, if he was carrying a bomb, how likely would it have been that shooting at him could have set off that bomb? I mean. Please.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A Jury Of Her Peers

Sometimes there is nothing you can write that could point up the stupidity, ignorance, racism and utter hard-heartedness of the average American cracker as well as simply reproducing the facts themselves:

"The only woman ever executed in Georgia's electric chair, Lena Baker, is being granted a posthumous pardon, 60 years after she was put to death for killing a man she said had held her in slavery and threatened her life.
The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles plans to make the pardon official by presenting a proclamation to Ms. Baker's descendants at a meeting on Aug. 30 in Atlanta, a board spokeswoman, Scheree Lipscomb, said Monday.
The board did not find that Ms. Baker was not guilty of the crime, but it did find that the decision to deny her clemency in 1945 "was a grievous error, as this case called out for mercy," Ms. Lipscomb said.
In her one-day trial, Ms. Baker, who was black, testified that E. B. Knight, a white man she had been hired to care for, had held her against her will and threatened to shoot her. She said she grabbed a gun and shot him when he raised a metal bar to strike her. She was convicted by an all-white, all-male jury.
Ms. Baker's grandnephew, Roosevelt Curry, has led the family's effort to clear her name."
Tell me again, when is Ken Lay's trial?

Monday, August 15, 2005

What's My Motivation?

John Wooden, getting under the rotting possum hide of the presidential persona, gives voice to the real motives underlying Bush's incomprehensible babble and inactions as only Wooden can.

In the meantime, the Japanese offer hope that a breakthrough in human skin-substitute technology (you didn't know there was such a thing, did you?) may one day be able to provide Bush with the feeling he has so sorely lacked for the past, oh, 59 years.

If you can't wait that long, but would be happy with a fake president who was at least amusing, you could try Christopher Walken, still waiting for his big break courtesy of some jokers at General Mayhem. An actor for president--what a concept!

No, wait...we have one already.

In Case You Think He Forgot

Yesterday, as we celebrated the most successful and important public program ever created in the US, many other folks no longer interested in the issue thought Bush's campaign against it was dead in the water and was pretty much over. But in Reuters' report this morning there's this:
"Social Security, the New Deal-era program credited with keeping millions of elderly people out of poverty, turned 70 on Sunday with Americans rallying around it and President George W. Bush as determined as ever to give it a makeover."
Deep in the bowels of Crawford, the Dauphin dozes, while waiting for his henchman to reconstruct the attack:
"Republican lawmakers have put off any action on Social Security until the fall.
Bush has scaled back the number of his Social Security speeches as he tried to give room to House of Representatives Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas to work on a broad proposal to include such ideas as retirement savings incentives.
Charlie Black, a Republican political strategist, said Bush's lower profile should not be mistaken for waning interest.
"I don't think he's lost any of his zeal for Social Security reform," Black said. "The action has sort of shifted to the Hill now and the Ways and Means Committee so we'll have to kind of see what they can come up with."
Be forewarned. This is a battle we can't afford to lose, because once changes are made, it will never be restored.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


Today's the day. Be there!


Well, it's over. It was great fun, and a surprising number of folks showed up--maybe 150, give or take. The musicians were great, and the Host Committee (of which my husband was a major player) were generous with their time, money, and musclepower. I cooked corn and hot dogs (and kosher dogs and--ugh!--tofu dogs) all day in the steamy heat, sweating like two whores in church. And I got to meet my blogsister, eRobin, and her lovely family while dripping wet in some of my most unflattering but politically trenchant duds. People stood up and talked about Social Security and how it had made a difference in their lives, and Joe Hoeffel was a mensch as always. Games, speeches, music, and tales of the days before SS.

Exhausted and heading for the couch and a cold drink. Thanks, Robin, for your help in publicizing, and to Mithras and Susie Madrak and anyone I may have missed for putting it on your blogs, and thanks to my blogsibs at Corrente for their support on this, too. Although you all may have less traffic than the biggest boys, you have something better: heart and soul and decency.

Back to the old kvetchmongering tomorrow.

The Gray Lady or The Tiger?

Hmmm. Video game/comic book-inspired graphics come to the Times front page. As a graphic and newspaper layout artist in a former life, I'm on the fence about this one. The right side of my brain likes the sensuality. The analytical, "just the facts, ma'am" side wants more gravitas.

Luckily, it's the Times, so we probably won't get much of either.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

If God Had Wanted You To Think, He Wouldn't Have Given You The Washington Press Corps

Things are starting to converge: the war, the criminality of everyday business on the Hill and in the Oval Office, the rape and pillage of our labor laws and environmental and public health regulations, the theft of votes, the force-feeding of poisonous presidential appointments aimed at bringing down the very systems that have protected us, however imperfectly, from boardroom sharks and wealthy conscienceless thugs. It's putting me into an activist state of mind I haven't felt since the protests of 1969 and 1970, remembering the fearlessness of those days. And to watch Cindy Sheehan taking a stand down south recalls those days, as she attracts others to her vigil by the sheer determination and bravery of her stance. The old poster on the left sidebar is a reminder of those days; it came straight out of the Vietnam anti-war movement, and it's a horror and a shame that it's still relevant today. So the Social Security Birthday Party tomorrow is on the agenda for me, and the March on Washington against the Iraq war the weekend of September 24. I don't know if participating will make a difference, but it surely won't if I sit on my ass and keep my mouth shut. liberals Which is more like what the wordpimps running The Washington Post have in mind for their own people, as Editor & Publisher notes:
"The Washington Post has no plans to withdraw its co-sponsorship of a controversial Sept. 11 memorial walk being organized by the Department of Defense, according to Publisher Bo Jones. But, he said the paper would pull out if the event turns out to be some kind of pro-war or political march."
Bo knows political:
"This has nothing to do with politics or the war or support of any political position."
So just to be sure the White House-organized event was not seen as supporting the war, they got this clown for the big finale:
"The gathering will culminate in a concert by country star Clint Black, known for a pro-war song "Iraq and I Roll," which declares, "We can't ignore the devil, he'll keep coming back for more."
You mean like, a third term in office? More about Black in a minute. The problem is, as usual, those who got shall get, and those who don't get to sit down and shut up:
"But Rick Weiss, a Post science reporter and co-chair of the Washington Post unit of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, noted the hypocrisy of the paper's involvement, since it bars reporters from participating in partisan events. "It is dismaying, to say the least, that I can be fired for participating in a peace march while my employer feels free to co-sponsor an event that so blatantly beats the drum of war," Weiss stated."
Dismaying. Indeed. We really are on our way to besting the Brits at understatement these days, especially since braying our "dismay" too loudly can get us canned or hauled off for a body cavity search.

Not political? Please, people. Since when did this administration ever do anything that wasn't calculated to advance its agenda and "catapult the propaganda"? And right now, with support for the war at an all-time low, what better time to try to re-capture the high-androgenic pre-war excitement once stirred up so successfully by Clear Channel and its herd-intoxicant whupass rallies? (I once watched the faithful stream past in the hundreds for one held in Valley Forge National Park. A stench of anger and belligerence hung over them as they marched their paunchy bodies over the gentle hills, waving flags and celebrating the impending deathfest--of which, from the look of them, most would never have to take part.) But just to make it interesting, E&P points this out:
"Post spokesman Eric Grant echoed the publisher's view, claiming the paper's interest was strictly non-partisan...
"The walk was never presented to us as a rally to support the war and we would be very disappointed if it took that approach."
Whew! That's enough for me. They never told us it was political, so it's not. Mind you, these are supposed to be people whose careers are based on winnowing truth from lies, so how could the wool be pulled over their ever-vigilant eyes? If the President says it, well, then, by God, that's good enough for the millions of readers who trust them to get to the bottom of any funny business, right?

Sad. Grown people taking paychecks to make decisions that would be as easily made in the sandbox of any progressive kindergarten. Not a pro-war rally, no way! Oh, and remember Clint? He validates the wistful trust of WaPo with this verse of his crowd-pleasin' pulp fiction, soon to mark the crescendo of the rally:
Speak out against criminality, murder, and lies, and now you're just like Saddam Hussein. And if that's not enough to shut you up, just remember:
Are you going to let these moral insects determine what kind of country you will live in?

Riding The Wave

From the United For Peace & Justice website:

Sept. 24-26 D.C. Anti-war Mobilization
Three Days of Action for Peace and Justice in Washington, D.C.

Saturday, September 24
Massive March, Rally & Anti-war Fair
Gather 11:00 the Washington Monument

fallmobe_sticker_english_smSat., Sept. 24 -
Operation Ceasefire Concert

Sun., Sept. 25 -
Interfaith Service,
Grassroots Training

Mon., Sept. 26 -
Grassroots Lobby Day and
Mass Nonviolent Direct Action and
Civil Disobedience

UFPJ approach to 9/24: Unity in the Streets
Receive email updates
Latest details
Download leaflets and outreach materials
Order buttons and stickers
Download website banners
Endorse the mobilization
View list of endorsers
DC mobilizing
Volunteer Form for DC-area residents
NYC mobilizing
Offer or find a ride on our rideboard
Offer or find housing in DC and affordable hotels

Here's a partial list of groups and folks who also plan to be there:
Code Pink
Vietnam Veterans Against The War
U.S. Labor Against The War
DC Anti-War Network (DAWN)
Many of UFPJ's member groups (massive list)
---and many more to be announced when I can get the time.

And in Great Britain, a show of solidarity on the 24th in Central London:

Military Families Against The War

Stop The War Coalition
Campaign For Nulear Disarmament
Muslim Association of Britain

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, said back in June:
"The peace movement, demoralized after the unsuccessful efforts to both stop the war and get George Bush out of office, must lift itself out of the doldrums and into the streets and the corridors of power. We must push our representatives to sign on to the new legislation, keep demanding an investigation into the Downing Street Memo, and pressure the media to cover these new developments in a serious, respectful way. We should march in July 4 parades with the "Bring the Troops Home" message, reinvigorate our local vigils, step up the counter-recruitment efforts that are making it so difficult for the military to get enough new soldiers for this war. And the next big anti-war mobilization scheduled for September 24 in Washington DC, coupled with lobbying on September 26, must be huge.
We've got new momentum. Now let's ride the wave. "
This is one of the most important events you may ever be able to join--be there!

Friday, August 12, 2005

A Gentle Reminder

As eRobin at Fact-esque says,
"This is the party that the DNC/DCCC/DSCC should have organized to happen on the National Mall and across the country. When people talk about the Dems being dinosaurs, it is partly because of massive, embarrassing failures of imagination like this.
So you know what will get the press on August 14th? This."
She's right. Don't let "Justice Sunday--The Retread" get all the publicity. Bloggers and citizens! Let us eat cake! It's our solemn duty:

An Invite From Your Local DFA & Philly For Change

If you live in the Philadelphia area, and you care about what your government is trying to do to Social Security, come out and join with others who are working to save it---meet great people, stuff your face with good eats, and talk with some of your local candidates and representatives to exchange ideas on how to do it.

Join us at an old-fashioned
Sunday picnic in the park to say "Happy 70th Birthday, Social Security!"

Sponsored by
Montco DFA
Philly for Change,
the party will be held at Fort Washington State Park in Flourtown, PA on August 14.

We'll have food, fun, and good company.



• BIRTHDAY CAKE • Grilled Hot Dogs • Corn-on-the-Cob • Soft Drinks •


• Former U.S. Rep. Joe Hoeffel • PA Sen. LeAnna Washington • Billionaires for Bush •
• County Commissioner Ruth Damsker •
• Marty Berger, PA President, Alliance of Retired Americans •
Congressional candidates • Lois Murphy • Pat Murphy • Ginny Schrader Lois Herr • Paul Scoles


• The Ellis Reed Band • Old time country/folk/rock/singer-songwriter 5-piece acoustic band •
• Marti Rogers • Songs from Social Security’s 1935 start: the Depression and union roots •
• Rusty & Jan + Terry • Country meets Rock and Classical Flute, with a dash of renegade Cowboy •
• The Song Sheets Plus • Folk Songs of the 60s and 70s •


• Socially Secure Three-Legged Races • Yer on Yer Own Sack Races • 50/50 Raffle •

• Pin the TALE on the Politician • Lotsa Luck Horseshoe Pitching • Privitization Pig PiƱata •

Please RSVP here.

$5 per person suggested donation. Please note that alcoholic beverages are prohibited in Pennsylvania State Parks and that pets must be leashed at all times. Sorry.

Please RSVP here.

The Flourtown Day Use Area is located on West Mill Road between Stenton Ave and Bethlehem Pike in Flourtown. Click here for a map.

A special thank you to Our Host Committee for helping to make this event possible

Sen. Leanna Washington • Josh Shapiro Lee Nelson • Mary Clark Thompson • Frank and Maggie Moya • Ben Burrows • Kevin Shaw • Ruth Damsker • Ginny Schrader • Joe Hoeffel • Patrick Murphy • Lois Herr • Paul Scoles

Thank you!

For those interested in using SEPTA, it's a piece of cake (!) Take the R7 Chestnut Hill East (30 mins.) to the end of the line and pick up the 94 bus. Hop off at Mill Rd (Flourtown Shopping Center, 6 mins on the bus) and walk west on Mill Rd ~0.2 mile (5 mins.) to the picnic area. Both the R7 from Center City stations and buses from Chestnut Hill run hourly on the half-hour (10:30, 11:30, 12:30, etc.) all day Sunday.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Devolution In The Heartland

im006048.devolution.large What's the matter with Kansas? Who cares anymore?
"The Kansas Board of Education has voted six-to-four to include greater criticism of evolution in its school science standards, but will submit the standards to an outside review before taking a final vote.
The language favored by the board comes from advocates of intelligent design, who say life and the universe are too complex to have evolved by accident."
It's plain these people are more interested in teaching Sunday School than science, so why don't they just close down the schools and start sending students to their neighborhood church basements for 5 days a week of hymn-singing and Bible study?

Everytime you think things couldn't get more backward, whoomp! there it is. At this rate I expect "Creation Myths of the Levant" to soon become a requirement for any future high school or GED diplomas handed out within the borders of the United States.

We're a humorless, ignorant bunch. And if the unfolding educational debacle above fails to prove my point, lets return to the those glorious days of yesteryear (that is, 2 months ago):

Dan Hicks And His Tepid Licks

Can someone, anyone, explain to the good people of the heartland what difference exists between art, anthropology, and religious worship? Let us follow the terrible, irresistable force of these philosophically immovable objects:

The Gauntlet Is Flapped--
June 7, 2005: Over at Freepland, from the think tank known as Crackingham:
"A couple of displays at the Tulsa Zoo have angered some critics. And another that's been suggested is controversial too... Over by the elephants at the Tulsa Zoo, there is a statue of an elephant called "Ganesha". For Hindu's (sic), Ganesha is a revered deity, one of the most important in the religion. But the curator of the exhibit at the Tulsa Zoo says it's not religious, in this setting. Brett Fidler: "We exhibit it out of the religious context, strictly as a museum piece."
For Dan Hicks..., that's unbelievable...
Hicks wants his religion included or the Hindu icon removed. He's suggested a biblical account of creation that zoo staff has so far, rejected. The Tulsa Zoo says the belief that God created the animals has no scientific merit and that's why it's not mentioned at the zoo. Brett Fidler: “we display things that have been proven through the scientific method and intelligent design has not been proven, to the point that it belongs at an institution like the Tulsa Zoo.”
The critics also think one of the zoo's most visible symbols, the big globe by the entrance, evokes religion through the saying "the earth is our mother, the sky is our father". Zoo staff says it's there to add a Native American flair, but Hicks believe it's another example of openness to anything but the Christian view. The Tulsa Parks Board, which oversees the zoo, takes up the controversy at a meeting Tuesday. It will vote on whether or not to allow a display on the biblical view of creation."
Well, God bless Brett Fidler! Let us continue our adventure.

Art & Science Are Gelded--
June 14, 2005: From the horse’s ass--er--mouth, Charisma Now, fighting the good fight toward (as Jon Stewart put it) that glorious day when Christians will be free to worship openly:
"In "a big victory" for creationists, the Tulsa Zoo has acquiesced to add a display featuring the biblical account of creation following complaints about other displays with religious significance in the Oklahoma facility, including a Hindu elephant statue.
...said Dan Hicks, the Tulsa resident who approached the zoo with the idea. "It's a matter of fairness. To not include the creationist view would be discrimination."
Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis (AiG), which claims to be the world's largest creation organization, praised Hicks, vice president of the Southern Plains Creation Society.
"We need more people like Dan Hicks who are willing to boldly lead the battle (yes, and even to endure some ridicule) to tell people the truth concerning the creation of the universe..."
Yes, even to endure some ridicule. Is there no limit to the martyrdom of some for the sake of their faith? Is there no limit to the cluelessness of mindless acolytes? Evidence would indicate not. We push on.

The Intelligently Created Worm Begins To Turn--
June 24, 2005: Can’t tell difference between an art display and a religious display? Over at The Pluralism Project they’ve been keeping track:
On June 8, 2005 The Associated Press reported, "...those who favored the creationist exhibit, including Mayor Bill LaFortune, argued that the zoo already displayed religious items, including the statue of the Hindu god, Ganesh, outside the elephant exhibit and a marble globe inscribed with an American Indian saying: 'The earth is our mother. The sky is our father.'"
On June 24, 2005 the Associated Press reported, "A recently formed group has started circulating a petition asking [Tulsa's] Park and Recreation Board to reverse its June 7 decision authorizing a biblical creation story exhibit at the Tulsa zoo... [Supporters of the petition] said the park board, by ordering creation story exhibits at the zoo, put public officials in the position of making decisions about theology... Mayor Bill LaFortune and his chief of staff, Clay Bird, came in for most of the group's criticism. 'If the mayor hadn't been behind this, we don't think it would have happened,' [Brian Cross, an Oklahoma State University graduate student and supporter of the petition] said. LaFortune said he had no intention of changing his mind."
Assuming, that is, he had a mind to change. And the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter.

July 7, 2005: The Washington Post weighed in with a report on the sudden sanity which gripped the Tulsa city board and resulted in the rejection of a "creation display" being pushed by the Genesists:
"Board members voted 3-1 against installing an exhibit on the origin of life from the Bible. The vote, made at a special meeting of the board, reversed a June 7 decision to add a Genesis story to the zoo.
As one of only nine "living museums" in the country, the Tulsa Zoo should develop displays that explain the cultural significance of animals, (Board member Dale) McNamara said. She said an elephant-like stone statue near the elephant exhibit fit within that mission."
Who was the single holdout vote? Mayor LaFortune, of course. His further utterances were forgettable, but the brain trust behind this whole bright idea was making "never-say-die" noises:
"In the meantime, the zoo continues to have a representation of a Hindu god, a globe sculpture that promotes pantheism and a Maasai display that contains the equivalent of posting Scripture, Hicks said. Presenting this material represented an affront to the majority Christian population of Tulsa, he said.
"There must be something very special about the Genesis account for opponents to fight so hard to suppress those words," Hicks said."
In the old days we had a slightly different interpretation of the euphemism "special".

Oh, Backwater, Keep On Rolling--
July 10, 2005: The NYTimes op-ed puts the recent unpleasantness to bed:
"Christian creationists won too much of a victory for their own good in Tulsa, where the local zoo was ordered to balance its evolution science exhibit with a display extolling the Genesis account of God's creating the universe from nothing in six days. A determined creationist somehow talked three of the four zoo directors, including Mayor Bill LaFortune, into the addition by arguing that a statue of the elephant-headed god Ganesh at the elephant house amounted to an anti-Christian bias toward Hinduism.
After the inevitable backlash from bewildered taxpayers warning that Tulsa would be dismissed as a science backwater, the directors "clarified" their vote to say they intended no monopoly for the Adam and Eve tale but rather wanted "six or seven" creation myths afforded equal time."
That damned Ganesh! Why does he always have to stick his trunk into it?

I can lay odds the this won't be the last rough beast of its kind to raise its misshapen snout into the public arena.

UPDATE: And as the latest heralds from Kansas proclaim, it wasn't.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Lesser Evil

"The first casualty, when war comes, is truth."
---Senator Hiram Johnson, 1917

Hiroshima My father fought in the Pacific Theatre of World War II as an Army sergeant in the Philippines, and then beyond. He was not far from Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped, and right after the peace treaty was signed, he was stationed in Japan itself for a brief period. He never spoke about it, never volunteered information, but if pressed he would tell me some thing fairly innocuous, like how a Zero suddenly appeared above their camp and sent everyone flying for cover, including the driver of a jeep, whose sudden abandonment of the vehicle sent it careening over him. Thereafter he always carried a scar on his shin from where the tires ran over his leg, and the scar, like the jungle rot in his feet that never quite went away, or his revulsion toward seafood, which had come from a steady diet of fish heads and rice, remained a constant reminder of where he'd been and what he'd done. But when he and his friends got together, or the other veterans in my family, none of them ever exchanged war stories. None of them could even be coaxed into talking about it.

He had been back from the war for almost 8 years by the time I came along. I was still a very young child when I first remember poring over the old photos he brought back, of himself and his friends posing in front of some monument with a nameless Japanese woman who smiled pleasantly for the camera. I remember thinking, even as a child, how unlikely that smile seemed. I remember running my hands over the hilt of the samurai sword he brought back as a souvenir, fascinated by that tangible link to an impossibly alien place, and how, despite all entreaties, he refused to tell me how he'd come by it. He once showed me the helmet he wore in the jungle, with the bullet hole through the gap above the webbing that had held the helmet away from his head, and I thought more than once on how close he had been to never coming home.

destroy-brute The popular take on those days, the post-war 50's and the early 60's, is that they were ones of halcyon innocence and peace, and endless prosperity and opportunity, and in many ways, for many people, they were. But they were also days of incredible paranoia, of enemies under every rock, and if it wasn't the Communists it was the fallout in the icicles dangling from your house, or the Conelrad alerts and Civil Defense drills. My uncle, a classic sailor with fascinating tattoos on his muscular forearms, had by then become a career Navy man, and went from World War II to Korea hardly missing a beat, while Joe McCarthy was hard at work creating the seige mentality that would enable our governments to justify sending us to war for decades to come. By then the phrase used so hopefully during the First World War, that "war to end all wars", was beginning to look a little threadbare. Still, after being fed a steady diet of nationalist propaganda, cover-ups, and re-written history, we were psyched to shrug our collective shoulders with a sigh, accept that this was just the way it would have to be, and ready to embark on the brave new world of industrial slaughter those in power had in mind for us.

Never have a nation's demurs against war rung so blatantly false or for so long. Even now we delude ourselves into thinking that we are never aggressive, never looking for a fight, always being pushed into situations where war is our only option and therefore justified. woman_bomb Here we are, always just minding our own business, and along comes some pushy country just spoiling for a fight. The fact that for the last 60 years those pushy countries have happened to be small, powerless, backward, irrelevant, or all four, has somehow failed to make an impression on a people whose national myth includes standing up for the underdog and playing the part of the hero. That was the story we told ourselves in World War II, and that is the story we continue to tell throughout the subsequent years of evidence to the contrary.
It was in 1975 that in "Home to Roost", her speech on the state of the union immediately after Watergate, Hannah Arendt lamented the desperate lengths to which we went to make ourselves feel good after the humiliation of Vietnam:

"What comes home to roost now is this long education in imagery (i.e., the retreat from uncomfortable truths and quest for lies from which to create positive images), which seems no less habit-forming than drugs. Nothing in my opinion told us more about this addiction than the public reaction, on the street as well as in Congress, to our 'victory' in Cambodia, in the opinion of many 'just what the doctor ordered' (Sulzberger) to heal the wounds of the Vietnam defeat. Indeed, 'Twas a famous victory!' as James Reston aptly quoted in the New York Times, and let us hope that this was finally the nadir of the erosion of self-confidence when victory over one of the tiniest and most helpless countries could cheer the inhabitants of what only a few decades ago really was the 'mightiest power on earth."
Mushroom%20_Cloud So the anniversary of the use of the atomic bomb against human beings is being noted this weekend, and as it inevitably will, the discussion has arisen as to whether it was justified. The usual arguments are made for it: that a million servicemen's lives were saved, that Japan would have never surrendered otherwise, that an example had to be made to ensure their will was broken and they never became a threat again, that Truman warned them and they wouldn't listen. That something good came out of it after all. That like the war itself, it was a moral action justified in the cause of eradicating evil. That it was a lesser evil chosen for a greater good.

My head, much like Hiroshima, wants to explode.

There are plenty of sites on the internet and at the library where you can immerse yourself in the facts and fantasies that surrounded the event, and although I believe the bombings were the greatest atrocities my nation ever committed (and I do not believe they saved my father's life), I'm more interested in the idea of a "moral" war. Chris Hedges, in his wonderful book, Losing Moses on the Freeway, calls on his many years as a war reporter, and interview with a Vietnam vet who went on to become a Bishop in the Episcopal church, to answer those who posit the existence of a moral war. After recounting incidents from the war in which the bishop committed acts he would have never thought himself capable, Hedges says this:

"Bishop Packard discovered in the war the capacity we all have for evil. He discovered the darkness that allows us, when the restraints are cut, to commit acts of brutality against the weak and the defenseless, including children. He discovered the ghoulish delight soldiers can take in killing"
And to answer the suggestion that war can be moral, he says this:

amp5 "Wars come wrapped in patriotic slogans, call for self-sacrifice and glory. They come wrapped in the claims of divine providence... It is what is right and just. War is always make the nation and the world a better place, to cleanse evil...
But up close war is a soulless void. War quickly descends to raw barbarity, perversion, pain and an unchecked orgy of death. It is a state where human decency and tenderness are crushed, where those who make war work overtime to destroy love, where all human beings become objects to use or kill. The noise, the stench, the fear, the eviscerated bodies and bloated corpses, the crying wounded spin us into another universe. In this moral void, blessed by institutions at home, the hypocrisy of our social conventions are laid bare. We call for strict adherence to some commandments and laud the purposeful violation of others. Hypocrisy rules. War, for all its horror, has the power to strip away the trivial and the banal, the empty chatter and foolish obsessions. It lets us see."
War is evil. It is the industrial slaughter of human beings we do not know, and when our weapons hit their marks, we can't possibly know whether one of them lays low a deserving victim or not. We cannot help but kill non-combatants, many of whom are children, old people, pregnant women, mothers, fathers, sisters, people who were loved as much as we ourselves are loved, and whose claim to the right to life is as strong and legitimate as any of our own. When we engage in it, for whatever reason, we do evil, and commit sin. bushg1 Yet, with few exceptions, you seldom hear the institutionalized religions speak out against government when war is waged. How often did you hear the voices of the churches of the land raised in protest and condemnation as Bush pushed the country inexorably toward Iraq? How often do your hear churches, so eager to shut off communion for politicians in favor of choice, threaten the same for those who support and fight the war? The most self-righteous and judgmental of them actually praise it as a just retribution, and support those who engineered and maintain it. Their religion is actually a civic one, and as Hedges states:

"These institutions have little or nothing to say in wartime because the god they worship is often a false god, one that promises victory to those who obey the law and believe in the manifest destiny of the nation. The god of war takes over the pulpits and airwaves. Religious leaders line up to bless the enterprise of war."
When religion and the state become one, they enable one another, and the combined force of their authority can push a nation into committing any conceivable horror.

Robert Jay Lifton told Hedges:

""Ordinary men can all too readily be socialized to atrocity. These killing projects are never described as such. They are put in terms of the necessity of improving the world, of political and spiritual renewal. You cannot kill large numbers of people without a claim to virtue. Our own campaign to rid the world of terror is expressed this way, as if once we destroy all terrorists we destroy evil."
This is the lesson of Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo, and Bagram: when we choose torture because we are "forced to by desperate circumstances", when we drop a nuclear bomb because we must "eliminate the danger posed by Japan for all time", we bargain with demons. The bargain says: "We know we do evil but it's a lesser evil, and we hope we won't have to do this again, but if we do, we hope you forget that we promised you our soul". Hannah Arendt said this about lesser evils:

"Politically, the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they choose evil... Acceptance of lesser evils is consciously used in conditioning the government officials and the population at large to the acceptance of evil as such."
We have already chosen far too much of the lesser evil, and have been doing so for decades. How much more can we choose before it becomes indistinguishable from the very evil we thought we were running away from?