Sunday, September 30, 2007
In order to be one of the current crop of neo-fascists who style themselves as "Conservatives" one must have no shame and no sense of irony. The Republicans who were appalled at the MoveOn ad most vociferously were not terribly disturbed by the farrago of John McCain's black baby at the time of South Carolina's 2000 Republican Primary. They actively participated in an advertisement in 2004 that morphed decorated Vietnam Veteran Max Cleland into Osama bin Laden and actively supported or, at least never condemned, the Swift Boat Veterans scurrilous attack on John Kerry. And subsequently they have been utterly silent as their favorite drug addict, Rush Limbaugh, has attacked John Murtha. No shame and no sense of irony.
Dubya has to have no sense of irony or else he couldn't get through any given day. And, like his father and grandfather before him, he has no sense of shame. That gene has been bred out of the Bush family for a number of generations and carefully kept from creeping in through marriage.
But the accusation that Congress or anyone has failed in their most basic responsibilities has a special stench coming from Dubya's mouth. You see, on the same day that Dubya was castigating Congress - meaning Democrats - for being unable to pass vital legislation in the face of Republican opposition and his own veto threats the Topps Meat company was notifying the public that tons of hamburger from its plant were tainted with e. coli bacteria and unsafe to eat. What has that to do with failing to fulfill basic responsibilities, you ask? Well the Food and Drug Administration is an Executive Branch agency that oversees the purity of the things that go into our bodies. Leaving aside the issues of lax testing of drugs for the moment, during the last 26 years we have had an ever increasing number of instances of contaminated food. During that same 26 years under Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, the Republican Congresses of 1995 through 2006 and Dubya the FDA has had an ever shrinking budget. Sure we can throw away a trillion or two dollars on a unjustified war that has no foreseeable ending but meat inspectors...they're one example of "big government" and "unnecessary regulation" and "interference in the private sector". Surely meat inspectors aren't necessary since the food industry can adequately police itself, right?
A century ago we had an unregulated meat packing industry that Upton Sinclair exposed in The Jungle. The wholesale violation of sanitary conditions was such an outrage that that notable lefty and closet communist, Theodore Roosevelt, with the support of a Republican Congress passed legislation to regulate an industry that was killing and sickening U. S. citizens at an alarming rate. But that was a century ago. Surely the blind pursuit of profit and negligence couldn't let it happen again!
Topps Meat is not "the canary in the coal mine". It is the latest example of a system that has been intentionally dismantled by ideologues no less criminally deluded than the Soviet planners who killed millions through forced collectivization in the 1920s and 1930s. It is of a piece with the appallingly inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina that more than 2 years later has not properly housed thousands of families. It is of a piece with sending men into battle without proper equipment. It is of a piece with sitting in a Florida classroom inactive while fanatical ideologues flew airliners into buildings. It is of a piece with all of the Republican's other failures to fulfill their most basic responsibilities to protect the people of this nation. It is also of a piece with the actions of this group of neo-fascist ideologues in violating their oaths to "protect and defend the Constitution of these United States" by suspending habeus corpus, spying on American citizens without cause or warrant and other extra-legal measures.
Dubya hasn't any right to outrage over anyone's advertising and certainly hasn't any right to accuse anyone or any institution of failing to live up to their responsibilities. Without either a sense of shame or a sense of irony he will continue to to make such statements. Those of us ashamed of his shamelessness and understanding of the irony in his statements can only hope that enough of the electorate will understand and also be ashamed so that we can have a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress to begin undoing the damage.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
There was a young woman, most likely in that 25 to 35 age demographic. She'd temporarily parked her bicycle there to take a call on her cell phone. She was all in a spandex biking outfit, black with red and yellow accents/reflectors that fit her like a glove. And she certainly had a glovely body entirely appropriate to spandex.
Like most people talking on cell phones she had no awareness of her voice volume. She was, in her own mind, alone with her phone conversation. Thus I would have had to have been deaf not to overhear her conversation. She was answering with a series of "yeses" and "I understands" and "umm-hmms" until she concluded the conversation with, "I understand. You need a quote on up-grading your coverage to an umbrella policy for 3 or 5 million. I'll get you that quote and call you back. You too. Good-bye."
With that she closed her cell phone. Took her bike from the rack, flashed me a sunny smile and rode off. I'm sure that her other bike is a Beemer.
Now I'm not about to say that this is an "only in Bellingham" moment. I'm sure that such things happen even more frequently around Stamford or Darien, Connecticut and in some sections of Los Angeles as well as elsewhere. But the organic grocer, the young woman bicycler in spandex and the 7-figure money amounts...that's a Bellingham moment if ever there was one.
Today we see no coffins. The horrors of war are little in evidence on the television. The buglers are on tape. The salutes go unfired. Even at their home bases the memorial services are collective rather than separate for each individual loss. And those "boys" are now simply wrapped up in the impersonal plural of "troops". I've even heard those who should know better use the plural, collective noun "troop" to refer to a single person.
Proverbially we are what we eat. I would suggest that most people think what they hear and speak as they think. Or don't think more likely.
It is in the interest of those who perpetrated this obscene, unjustified war in Iraq that we not see the consequences of their hubris and blunders. It is also in the interest of these same war criminals that we think of the human beings whose murder they abet of impersonal, faceless troops rather than individual soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines and certainly never consider them as "our boys".
Unfortunately for Dubya and his fellow neo-fascists who have perpetrated the crime that is the Iraq War, too many troops have gone to the Middle Eastern desert for too long. Too many have come home in pieces for the impersonalization to retain its initial force. As the hollowness of their rhetorical ploys has become as apparent as the open graves into which more and more are laid, Dubya's popularity has plummeted. More people than the neo-fascists thought understand that the rhetoric about "cut and run", "stay the course" and "timetables for surrender" really mean, "We don't care that your child or loved one may die or be maimed as long as we can claim to have remained strong. None of our children stand in harms way so we can safely persist in a policy that never made sense in the first place." Then they can hop into their limousines bedecked with a magnetic "Support Our Troops" yellow ribbon without any pangs over the horrid irony.
We know from countless television and movie crime dramas that murderers, particularly the psychopaths, impersonalize their victims. They refuse to name them individually. I would suggest that Dubya and his co-conspirators are murderers and entirely psychopathic but then did we really need to analyze their rhetoric to understand that?.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
The cable Television channel, AMC, is currently running an Alfred Hitchcock series that picks up with his films for Universal from Vertigo on through his last, Family Plot. Some women friends have watched some of the movies and come away appalled at the Barbie Doll-like quality of Hitchcock's female leads from this period. They were bothered by the helplessness and passivity of Kim Novak in Vertigo and Tippi Hedren in The Birds. Indeed, those women aren't exactly the perfect examples of women from the period. They are the suspense movie versions of Doris Day in those gawdawful Rock Hudson romatic comedies like Pillow Talk. They are also why, when I was a boy, I instinctively preferred Judy Holiday to Doris Day. But I was also probably reacting to the fact that I never saw any women who were, paradoxically (oxymoronically?) as coldly sensual. Not that I didn't look. They just didn't exist in real life. Not only that but they were a recent male fantasy invention. In fact, none of the women who played those roles were actually like that in real life. Nor had they been like that before World War II ended.
The role of the cold woman, repressed sexually, passive, subservient was a specific image born, I think, innocently enough in the fantasies of men away at war and transmitted into the movie scripts that those men directed and wrote. Consider the most famous female icon of the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe. She was sexy, anything but cold and repressed and not taken seriously at all by anyone but Arthur Miller. Not until her last major movie, that incredible confluence of Miller, John Houston, Monroe, Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift in The Misfits (revealing title, no?), did she get a serious role. But compare Kim Novak and Eva Marie Saint who always had serious roles as the unattainable ideal woman.
This Stepford Wife paradigm was entirely a fiction superbly illustrated by comparing the private and public lives of that television icon of the glamorous homemaker, Loretta Young. Most people who lived it knew that the fictional image and the reality were greatly at odds. In fairly short order the blond ice queen we see in Tippi Hedren became a parody of itself that was supplanted by far more earthy women like Sophia Loren and Melina Mercouri. They were totally eclipsed by even more earthy women like Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Jane Fonda and Sally Kellerman.
It seems to me that the middle aged and older women behind the idiocy of Future Christian Homemakers is that, much as Dan Quayle couldn't distinguish between real women and the fictional Murphy Brown, they can't distinguish between the fictional image of a non-existent woman and the reality. Those women, as I did, grew up with those television and movie images and seem incapable of understanding that the Doris Days and Tippi Hedrens on screen were never real. In similar fashion Ronald Reagan famously couldn't distinguish between the movies he was in and actual events of World War II thinking that he'd actually been in combat when he'd never been even close.
The most superb satire of Star Trek is a delightful movie with a magnificent cast called Galaxy Quest. In the movie the cast of a long-cancelled sci-fi television series, Galaxy Quest, is grudgingly earning a living by doing fan conventions and the occasional big box store opening. Their leader, Tim Allen doing a parody of William Shatner that is only exceeded by the parodies that Shatner does of himself, is approached by a group of weird people who call themselves Thermians for help as the great commander of the Galaxy Quest starship. Since these weirdos fit right in with the run-of-the-mill fans Allen agrees to help them and find himself in command of an actual starship. You see the Thermians have been recieving the old Galaxy Quest television shows and, being excessively, nay, terminally literal, they view them as "historic documents" of the exploits of the great starship commander. I recommend the movie as a very good time and would suggest that the women behind Future Christian Homemakers are Thermians.
On September 10, 2007 the Los Angeles Times reported on a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. New York University and UCLA jointly carried out the study. The researchers identified students who had a range of political views ranging from "very liberal" to "very conservative". They were then put to a test which required the students to distinguish between the letter "M" and "W" when they appeared on a computer monitor. The researchers measured activity in the anterior cingulate cortex of the brain, the area that analyzes conflicts between that which we expect to see and that actually seen. The data revealed that those who described their views a liberal were 4.9 times as likely to show brain activity (that's 490%) than those who described themselves a conservative. Liberals were 2.2 times (that's 220%) more likely to score higher in accuracy.
The researchers concluded that, in general, liberals would be more accepting of new ideas in areas such as social values, science and religion. Perhaps they would also be better equipped to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Still it's rather horrible that girls or anyone will have to suffer for the mental failings of their right-wing lunatic elders.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
A very dear friend sent me a link the other night to the most frightening thing I’ve seen since the movie Jesus Camp. The link was to the web site of – I am not making this up – Future Christian Homemakers™ - whose subtitle is “Teaching Girls To Become Successful Homemakers”. As one might expect the predominant colors of the site are white, green and a pink that any Mary Kay sales executive would be proud of. The mission statement of this organization dedicated to turning perfectly normal girls into Stepford Wives reads as follows:
“Future Christian Homemakers teaches girls how to become successful homemakers.
We believe that a successful homemaker is a Godly woman equipped with the Biblical knowledge and practical skills to manage her home well. The Bible is God's word instructing us how to live now, and for eternity. A woman will find true joy and success in her life when she lives according to God's word.
Along with Biblical knowledge, women need to know how to cook, sew, and keep their home. This instruction should begin at a young age in the home. Future Christian Homemakers seeks to provide materials to help girls learn these skills at home, or through groups in churches, homeschool co-ops, or other settings.
Future Christian Homemakers encourages women to teach the younger women to love their husbands, love their children, and be "keepers at home." Titus 2:3-5 We have much to learn from each other, whatever our age! FCH helps women share their knowledge and skills with the next generation and build strong Christian families.”
Of course, after first being appalled by the very concept it occurred to me that there’s a great deal of absurdity here. Can’t you see the Home Ec class:
Sister Faith: And we will now read from the Gospel according to Betty Crocker, Chapter 14, verses 4 through 10.
And, Lo. It was revealed unto me that first thou shalt preheat thy oven to the temperature of three hundred and seventy-five degrees, for this is the temperature that the Lord hath ordained, that thy oven may bake for thee as is meet and right. Thou shalt, as thy oven heateth, take thy sticks of butter unto three quarters of a pound, no more and no less, and soften it according to the laws of our fathers with thy spatula for it is better to cream thy butter than to leave it whole. And when thou hast thy butter creamed thou must add to it a measure of two cups of the sweetener men know as sugar. And the Lord hath ordained that thou must cream it now also until the mixture is, as the Lord saith, fluffy. And unto that fluffiness of butter and sugar thou shalt beat in 2 eggs (for the Lord careth not for the unborn chicken) and but half a cup’s measure of molasses. And when thou hast created a good and fitting batter, thou shalt lay aside thy beater and arm thyself with thy sifter and sift together with one another in good fellowship four cup measures of fine flour and two teaspoons’ measures each of baking soda and the powder of cinnamon, of cloves and of ginger. And into thy batter shalt thou mix these dry siftings little by little with strong and measured beating until thou hast a soft dough. And so saith the Lord, thou shalt break off a piece of dough and roll it between thy hands into a ball that is nigh unto one inch in diameter. Thou shouldst then flatten thy ball of dough placing each on thy cookie sheet which thou hast heretofore coated with grease as is pleasing unto the Lord leaving a finger’s span between each piece. And the Lord said place thou thy cookie sheet in thy preheated oven and leave it there for twelve to fifteen minutes of the clock for in this way has the Lord ordained that thou shouldst make thy ginger snap cookies.
Satire is always a great way to emphasize the absurdity of a con like “Christian Homemaking” but it begs the larger question of why are these self-professed CHRISTIANS so interested in promoting a traditional, subservient model of womanhood. Tradition is not, in itself, a bad thing but so why does this emphasis on tradition seem so perverse?
I am an atheist. I do not accept the idea of a big, imaginary friend in the sky especially since to do so, in my estimation, requires ignoring obvious empirical facts that no amount of faith or belief can overcome. But I must say that I admire many people who do not share my complete skepticism. I was brought up in the Christian tradition and found in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth a prescription for how to behave in the world whose keynotes are love and forgiveness. Yet it seems to me that those CHRISTIANS who express their shallow religiosity through the fundamentalism espoused in the site at hand live by fear and hate, very un-Christian vales indeed.
We are not facing a tradition here. We are not facing a necessary building block of human society. We are facing fear of change and intolerance of diversity which is self-denying. The women who provide this web site and its teachings can’t possibly be the silent, compliant “keepers at home” that the writer posing as
What we have here is the fundamentalist CHRISTIAN intellectual equivalent of female circumcision. When one reads accounts of women who have been subjected to that barbarity in every instance the account says that the children are led to the place and time of their mutilation by their mothers, aunts and or grandmothers. These elder women dutifully subject their own children to a horror that they too must vividly remember. I don’t know what goes through their minds as they subject a girl to pain and a bizarre ceremony but we know that they are willingly complicit in the mutilation because they have been brainwashed into believing that their traditions and faith require it.
We understand that an unwarranted disfigurement of a child is the result of brainwashing and barbarity. I suggest that the intellectual brainwashing and barbarity of Future Christian Homemakers™ is no less disfiguring, no less an attempt to brainwash and no less a barbarity.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Gen. Patraeus pulled the Ollie North stunt of appearing in uniform with all the fruit salad he could fit on his chest in evidence as if that made him an honest man. It doesn't. We heard much about his doctorate from Princeton as if education, persistence and a sufficient level of intelligence to carry off the defense of a thesis meant that he wasn't an ass-kissing suck-up with a permanent pucker. It doesn't. I don't dispute that the General has put his life on the line for this nation. I admire his courage and service in the military but do service and courage automatically mean that every word out of his mouth is honest or even, despite protestations to the contrary, his own? They do not. All of that hype is simply an effort to muddle the minds of people who don't often think all that clearly by mixing unrelated facets of the General's character and pretending that those disjunct facts prove that pigs do fly.
I spent nearly 14 years working for the Federal government in the civilian bureaucracy. I did not work for the military but the agency for which I worked was modeled closely on the military as is, indeed, all bureaucracy. One does not rise in the ranks, civilian or military, without a good, stout pucker, forceful inhaling, a tongue that goes anywhere its sent and callused knees. Gen. Patraeus wouldn't have those 4 stars were he not possessed of those attributes. We have only to look at his September 26, 2004 Washington Post op-ed piece to understand that the General knows on which side his butt is K-Y'ed.
Do you have any idea how many levels of review a piece like that op-ed from a government employee would have had to have passed through before appearing in print? Given that he is a general officer, at a minimum that op-ed had to have the personal approval of then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. More likely, and just like the General's Congressional testimony, it was written in whole or in part by the White House no matter what the General proclaims under oath.
Gen. Patraeus saw how Colin Powell got promoted and extolled for his subservience to Poppy Bush. We also know that, despite his efforts at backpeddling ever since leaving the Cabinet, Powell marched up to the United Nations and smeared lipstick all over the WMD pig in an effort to justify an unjustifiable war. Patraeus, almost certainly figures that he too will find himself invited into some lucrative corporate directorships once he passes the Iraq quagmire to the next would-be member of the Joint Suck-ups of Staff. There is far more of selfish sycophancy than selfless service in Patraeus' plea that he be allowed to have more of the men and women under his command killed and maimed for the greater glory of Dubya, Cheney and Halliburton.
As for Ambassador Crocker, his experience in the region is unquestionable. His integrity when it comes to his current job and his future prospects is just as fungible as the General's. Both men delivered the testimony that they were/will be paid to deliver.
I mentioned the Ollie North-ness of Gen. Patraeus' appearance before Congress which brings up his also mentioned oath. Both Col. North and, I believe, Gen. Patraeus are a bit confused about their oaths of office. North's overwhelming commitment to fascism led him to think that his oath to support and defend the Constitution of these United States meant he'd sworn an oath to Ronald Reagan. It didn't then and doesn't now. By undermining the duly enacted laws of this country Oliver North betrayed his oath and his country. He may have carried out the orders he was given but by doing so he acted as a traitor and should have been prosecuted as such. Gen. Patraeus has similarly confused his oath to the Constitution and before the House and Senate Committees with loyalty to his Commander in Chief and in doing so has betrayed his oath to support and defend our Constitution and perjured himself before Congress. So, though I think that the ad in the New York Times was ill-advised I also think that it was both accurate and prescient.
Monday, September 3, 2007
A lot of air time and forests of paper and rivers of ink have been devoted to noting this idiocy, but there's very little discussion of why revelation needs to reign over empiricism. Perhaps one way of getting at that problem is in asking why it is so important to publicly support such nonsense for people who don't actually believe it themselves?
I think that the attack on science is identical in origin and purpose to the attack on "the media." For 40 years at least the right-wing has been attacking the amorphous, indistinct strawman "the media." Of course what goes unsaid most of the time is the modifier "the Liberal media." The right-wing fanatics found it expedient to convince a large segment of the public that the information they receive through newspapers, radio and television is biased and, therefore, untrustworthy. It's rather like the old joke about the wife whose husband catches her in bed with another man. The punch line is, "Who are you going to believe? Me or your eyes?" The first step in getting people to believe something other than their actual experience is to convince them that what they are seeing is a lie.
We should note that the media outlets most ideologically skewed, Rupert Murdock's newspapers and Fox News, and Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times, present themselves as "fair and balanced" though they are anything but. Meanwhile probably the most fair and balanced media outlet, Public Broadcasting, is vilified and under constant attack. The term "the media" may be shorthand for any reporting that displeases the right-wing fanatics but, in the minds of those fanatics, it never includes the media outlets spouting their bias and outright lies.
Yet there's a weakness in the narrow focus on "the media." The weakness is that sometimes something happens that is so outrageous that claiming that it's a construction of "media bias" just won't wash. In those cases, even some of the fanatics themselves are forced to accept the truth of what they see or hear. The senses are a powerful contradictor of ideology.
So how does a fanatic convince people that even their senses can't be trusted? Well there is a way...Praise the Lord!
God is the ultimate paradigm for contradicting one's senses. If you can get people to believe in god, you can get them to believe in any absurdity. The "big imaginary friend in the sky" not only doesn't require sensory confirmation, god continues to be a delusion for millions world-wide specifically because there is no sensory confirmation for its existence. Further, since almost no one actually reads the Bible as a book very few have any sense of what it actually says. The majority of those who do read the Bible do so in a controlled environment of belief. They read passages seeing the book only as a fragmentary work. The basic assumption is that it is the word of that mythical Judeo-Christian god and the reading consists only of interpretation within the context of belief. In fact, the discussion tends to be about which of several interpretations that differ from one another very little is actually the "correct" interpretation and those discussions are usually guided by someone with a particular viewpoint. Thus, even the secondary, indirect experience of god is limited and perverted.
Enter religion. Fundamentalist religion's entire existence is based on the false premise that the Bible is the "revealed truth and inerrant word of god." Even more absurdly, most of the Christian fundamentalists overcome by their shallow religiosity insist that the "inerrant" text is the King James Bible. That gives rise to the satire that holds that if god hadn't wanted Moses and Jesus to speak Jacobean English he wouldn't have revealed himself in those words. So a lovely but a corrupt translation made somewhere between 1,600 and 5,000 years after the alleged events described is the sole source of "truth" and "inerrant."
Still the alleged inerrance of the Bible is only the starting point. You see, if the Bible is "inerrant" then Darwinian evolution and all subsequent modifications of that hypothesis must be errors. If the prevailing view of how life evolved, the age of the earth and the development of species over time are in error, then all science and all knowledge derived from scientific examination must also be wrong. If that is true then all empirical observations of anything from social behavior to nuclear physics must be wrong.
True enough that the right-wing fanatics won't go quite that far. After all, they are funded by corporations and individuals whose very lucrative livelihood would be threatened if we were to question nuclear physics, the solar centric planetary system, and even the chemistry that goes into the increasing number of drugs that we take. They won't even go whole hog on evolution. Where evolution can be directly observed, as in laboratory mice, insects and other animals, they claim that all of nature may evolve along Darwinian lines but human beings, alone in all the universe, are the exception. By stomping on empirical science via evolution the right-wing fanatics achieve the goal of establishing that not only can we not believe our media, we can't even believe our senses. Confusion and doubt result and into that state of disorientation comes a "preacher" - he or she may be a purveyor of religiose or political ideology - who offers soothing, simple reassurances, bumper-sticker length ideas and the promise that this person who's been disoriented, confused and frustrated can know the ultimate truth if only he or she will surrender all thought to the direction of the "preacher".
And we accept all this madness simply because in America the right-wing fanatics have changed "Sieg Heil!" to "Praise the Lord!"