Friday, March 30, 2007

Political Amnesia Watch

We stand united in saying loud and clear that when we've got a troop in harm's way, we expect that troop to be fully funded, and [when] we've got commanders making tough decisions on the ground, we expect there to be no strings on our commanders.
Not quite parallel structure there, but hey, it was English. That's President Bush's mealy-mouthed attempt to come down on Democrats for their Iraq war timetable.

It's strange, but Bush makes no mention of all those troops sent out in unarmored humvees or the soldiers who had to have body armor shipped to them from home because the military refused to provide it. He also fails to bring up the small point that he and Rumsfeld spent years refusing to send the commanders the number of troops they had requested. It's almost as if our president lives in a fantasy world...

Still, the message is clear. It's only bad if the Democrats do it. Otherwise, it's strategery.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sharia Watch

James Dobson of Focus on the Family, one of the nation's most influential evangelical Christians who has yet to be exposed as a reckless homosexual meth-head with a penchant for body-building male prostitutes, called up US News to weigh in on the 2008 presidential race.

His most headline-grabbing statement was that Fred Thompson is unfit for the nation's highest office. Why is that? "I don't think he's a Christian," said Dobson, "at least that's my impression." Dobson is one of those extra-special patriots who loves America but hates that pesky Constitution of ours. Allow me to quote from Article VI, if I may: religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
Seems pretty clear cut. It doesn't say anything about the United States of Jesus, I suppose.

Never mind that Thompson actually is a Christian. He was, according to his spokesman, "baptized into the Church of Christ."

UCC? Nice try.

Focus on the Family spokesman Gary Schneeberger clarified everything in a follow-up call:
We use that word—Christian—to refer to people who are evangelical Christians.
The rest are all going to hell with the Democrats, so who cares what you call 'em, right? This would be a shocking claim had we not already been conditioned to see the evangelical leadership in this country as a braying pack of cynical, partisan, irreligious bigots. Orwell would be impressed, anyway.

If not Thompson in 2008, then who? Of course Giuliani and McCain are out, and Dobson still can't wrap his tiny brain around the fact that Romney is a Mormon. But there is one guy that Dobson likes: Newt Gingrich.

Yes, that lover of family values who abandoned his cancerous wife and carried on an extra-marital affair with a younger woman at the very same time he was leading the witch hunt against Bill Clinton for, you guessed it, carrying on an extra-marital affair with a younger woman.

Great choice, Dobson! And who knew you still had any soul left to sell? Just try to ignore that smell of sulfur and, whatever you do, do not ask "what would Jesus do".

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Shitty Way to Die

This would really stink, literally.
At least four Palestinians drowned in a tsunami of raw sewage on Tuesday when a water treatment reservoir burst, flooding a village in the northern Gaza Strip.

The deluge, triggered by the collapse of a septic system aid organisations had long warned was dangerously overburdened, submerged dozens of homes in the Bedouin farming village of Umm al-Nasr beneath a cesspool of foul-smelling effluent.
Sounds like a pretty good metaphor for the plight of the Palestinian people, trapped as they are between the competing interests of Israel, Hamas and Fatah.

The fact that it's not a metaphor is too gross for words.

The 'Humane' Society

Uh-oh. The AP is reporting that Iran claims to be treating the 15 captive British soldiers "humanely".

Let's just hope they mean something different by that term than the U.S. does.

A Whiff of Bigotry

Towards the end of last week, one of Andrew Sullivan's little two-line posts caught my eye. Money quote:
Meanwhile, the insurgents are using children as decoys for car-bombs. What a lovely moral code they live by over there.
While Sullivan's stand against child murder is admittedly brave, there's a certain casual bigotry to his parting shot. His breezy, condescending take on how things are "over there" implicates both the victims and the perpetrators in the same moral failure.

A moment's thought would reveal that this couldn't possibly be true. If the poor bastards "over there" all lived by the same moral code (and that's the code of the Islamic monolith, don't ya know), then the terrorists would have no targets. In fact, terrorism by its very nature violates the generally accepted moral code and in so doing terrorizes the public into accepting the terrorists' demands. Not because they now believe in the terrorists' goals, but because it means they can return to "life as normal"—to the moral code.

Iraqis embrace the moral code

The vast majority of Iraqis don't live by the moral code of the insurgents. If they did, there wouldn't be so damn many of them getting blown up. The terrorists in Iraq (or anywhere, for that matter) require two things: first, a cabal of murderous bastards; second, a general public whose misery they can exploit. Sadly, in Iraq, they've got plenty of both.

I'd like to say I'm surprised that a guy as thoughtful as Andrew Sullivan wrote something so dumb, but I'm not. When it comes to his own faith, Sullivan is thoughtful, patient and eloquent (witness the long and erudite back and forth he's having now with Sam Harris about atheism). When the subject is Islam, however, Sullivan's critical faculties abandon him, and he slips into a kind of intellectual laziness that he would never tolerate in his own thinking on virtually any other subject.

I've pointed this tendency out so many times that it would be pointless to list, but you can browse some examples here. I have a great deal of respect for Sullivan's probity, and I fear that he's too smart not to be doing this on purpose.

That sentiment was bolstered by a post Sullivan wrote on Monday called 'This Is a Religious War'. In it, Sullivan details an interview with a former Qaeda operative in which the latter argues that the impulse to terrorism is intrinsic to Islam in general—not just to "extremist" Islam.

There's no question that there are problems in the Muslim world. But, as outside observers, we in the West risk seeing these problems as monolithic and the attitudes that cause them as universal. Andrew Sullivan's writings on Islam are a case in point.

When it comes to Islam, Sullivan's preferred experts are people like Salman Rushdie, Irshad Manji and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. They certainly know a lot about Islam, but they all have one thing in common: they are not practicing Muslims. Would Sullivan similarly get his information about Methodism from a triumvirate of apostates? Wouldn't he be concerned that they might be biased observers? Certainly he would balance their view with those of believers. Such journalistic standards are not necessary for Islam, apparently.

Sullivan gives no indication that he's aware of Sufism or the Ismailis—or, for that matter, any form of Islam that is not reactionary Wahhabism or the Iranian Shiite theocracy. One gets the impression that he feels in-depth knowledge is unnecessary for commenting upon Islam because it is, after all, just Islam. It's not worthy of serious study.

Why else would he take his ex-Qaeda operative at his word when he says that terrorism is mainstream Islam? It would occur to even the most incompetent of journalists that Mr. Hassan Butt has a vested interest in portraying his behavior as normal since it absolves him of the responsibility of being associated with a bunch of abhorrent and aberrant murderers. If his story is true, then he's not a betrayer of his people and his religion; he's just doing what's natural. A freshman Psych major could see through this.

As always, there is a whiff of bigotry hanging over Sullivan's writing on Islam. His is a fascinating mixture of ignorance and condescension and it's a strange and jarring stance coming from such a defender of the Enlightenment.

Monday, March 26, 2007

For the Birds

This guy had beautiful blue plumage when he took off seconds after I snapped this. Also of note: the Grand Canyon in the background. It's quite the impressive hole in the ground.

Santa Fe Scenes

I really liked this Southwestern wreath which I found on a church door in Santa Fe. Much more heat than holly.

This marriage of adobe and bleached bone was across the street from the San Miguel Mission, the oldest continually-used house of worship in the country, dating from 1610. Local Native Americans used the site for religious rites since the 13th Century.

I'll post something on my superficial observations about religion in the bible belt versus the Southwest this week. (Scroll down for a nice example of bible belt religious statuary.)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Mad Max Erupts Again

I'm shocked. Shocked.

But hey, at least he wasn't being anti-Semitic...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Obnoxious Hypocritical Quote of the Day

We will not go along with a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants.
That's the Rt. Hon. President George W. Bush, railing against Democrats who are investigating the Alberto Gonzales Justice Department's brazen partisan purge aimed at honorable public servants.

I'm unprincipled and I'm pissed off. Consider yourselves warned.

The aforementioned servants would be the US Attorneys canned because they wouldn't go along with a Rovian scheme to selectively prosecute Democrats in advance of the 2006 elections and otherwise serve as exclusive bootlicks to the Bush White House. The "servants" Bush refers to would be more appropriately described as "henchmen".

Far be it from Bush to totally ignore the other side, though. He has offered to allow Congress to question a couple of aides provided they are not under oath, it happens behind closed doors and no notes of any kind are taken.

Not that they have anything to hide.

Quote of the Day

To describe the resulting shambles as a disappointment or a failure or even a defeat would be the weakest statement I could possibly make: it feels more like a sick, choking nightmare of betrayal from which there can be no awakening.
That's Christopher Hitchens on the Iraq War, the rationale for which he continues to support—in theory at least. His less rosy summation of the debacle as it stands now, quoted above, is from his current Vanity Fair article on Kurdistan—the only place left in Iraq where there's any hope.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Along God's Highway

We're back from our road trip and holier than ever. Not one, but two sets of praying hands stood guard over our route, protecting us from some amorphous kind of evil or other.

The first praying hands sculpture (above l.) stands proudly next to a bunch of American flags in Webb City, Missouri. And what could be more important than sending your American prayers to an almighty American god?

The second set of praying hands (above r.) are not too far down the road in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where they stand at the gates of Oral Roberts University. Not pictured are the other whackjob monuments and Jetsons-era futuristic buildings that make the campus look eerily like Turkmenistan (where the recently deceased dictator built a gold statue of himself that rotated to always face the sun).

Also not pictured is the grotesque 190-foot cross that 'adorns' the side of I-40 in Groom, Texas. It was, after its completion in 1995, the largest cross in the western hemisphere. Hooray.

"Screw those Groom bastards," some very holy person said in 2001, and built another monstrous cross in Effingham, Illinois along I-70 that stands 8 feet higher than the Groom cross. Take that, you heathens! Have none of these people read the story of the tower of Babel? The funny thing is that the Effingham and Groom crosses look exactly the same, as if they were built from the same tacky industrial siding. They probably were.

Trust Americans to turn even religion into a pissing contest.

Anyhow, pray for me—preferably in sculpture form.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Call of the Road

Starting today, I'm heeding the call of the open road. I'll be back with some photoblogging next week.


Friday, March 09, 2007

The World Turned Upside Down

Backwards, these days, is the new forward. It's usually the provenance of right-wing radio nuts and FOX News anchors, accusing liberals and vegetarians of "hating America". But a new study came out recently with a shocking conclusion: most Americans hate America.

A February USA Today/Gallup poll asked Americans about what kind of person they'd vote into the Oval Office.

The good news is that Catholics, Blacks and Jews all did fairly well, with over 90% of respondents saying they would vote for a qualified member of these groups for president. Women and Hispanics fared slightly worse, with positive ratings in the upper 80s. Still, both groups had negative responses in the double digits.

The wheels really fall off when it comes to Mormons. Fully a quarter of respondents said they would not vote for a qualified Mormon presidential candidate based upon religion. Now, I understand that lots of folks think a religion based on Jesus' road trip to America and predicated on some sacred texts allegedly dug up near Rochester is a bit fruity. Not more so than any other religion, others might say. Regardless, this is supposed to be irrelevant. There is to be no religious litmus test for any government office in the country. Period.

Doing far worse than Mormons but still eking in over the 50% mark are homosexuals. That number was 26% just back in 1978 (they didn't even bother to ask such a preposterous question in 1937, when the poll was originated), which is progress of a sort.

Worse than all the people who chose the wrong god or the wrong skin color; worse than philanderers and septuagenarians; worse even than that John Edwardsian cabal of limp-wristed nancy-boys: the dreaded atheists. 53% of Americans would not vote for a qualified atheist, while only 43% would.

Remember, America was settled by people who believed in religious freedom (including the freedom not to be a certain religion) and our nation was founded as a secular republic where the vagaries of religious difference held no sway in the matters of state. Most Americans today hate that idea and, through the transitive property of my own righteous indignation, they hate America, too. For shame.

More Adventures in Ass-Backwardness: Right wingers blanched a whiter shade of pale this past week as the Walter Reed Army Hospital scandal blossomed into a full-blown shitstorm.

Why? Because the Army was exposed as being objectively anti-troop while the Washington Post reporters who broke the story look like (and in fact are) genuine patriots looking out for the well-being of American soldiers. That's gotta sting.

Just wait until Attorney General Gonzalez is forced to resign in the next week or two...

(The photo ain't what you think, by the way. It's an American flag getting a proper send-off thanks to some elderly members of the American Legion. And you thought it was dirty hippies. Who hates America now?)

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Rudy Myth

What I was saying. Only more so—straight from the Horse's Mouth.

Coulter in Eclipse

Ann Coulter thinks she understands funny. She thinks she understands American politics, too. She's horribly wrong on both counts.

As I'm sure you're aware, Ms. Coulter's latest of many, many nadirs came during her speech at the American Conservative Union's Political Action Conference on Friday in which she referred to Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards as a 'faggot'. It was a huge applause line for the cretins at CPAC, of course, but it got a far less sympathetic hearing from more sentient beings including, importantly, all four GOP presidential candidates.

Coulter has 'laughed' the whole incident off as a joke, which it couldn't possibly be by any definition of the word I'm familiar with. It's not funny; it's just mean-spirited and hopelessly, preposterously wrong. As such, it's a perfect snapshot of what Coulter actually is. This is not an anomaly—it's her bread and hateful butter.

The main difference here is that Coulter is finally coming under the disapproving glare of her erstwhile enablers—and it's her own fault. The weak-willed pundits and bloggers in the employ (both real and figurative) of the Republican Party are required to suckle at the teats of the current stable of GOP presumptives. By making her bigoted remark at an event attended by some if not all of these candidates, she forced these candidates into commenting upon her stunning incivility. And they did to predictable results. Their entourage of scribblers and water-carriers had no choice but follow along.

It wasn't so long ago that Ann Coulter could freely prattle on about converting all Muslim countries to Christianity (by the sword, even—how ironic), claiming all liberals are literally godless sodomites and abortion enthusiasts or suggesting that 9/11 widows were reveling in their husbands' deaths without sustaining too much damage to her 'credibility'. People criticized her, sure, but she still sold a bajillion books and had the tacit support of many right-wing bloggers and pundits.

All that's changing, it seems, and it's not because she's finally gone 'beyond the pale'—she lives out there, for crying out loud. It's because she's forced people to choose between her and the future of the Republican Party. Not too smart.

But again, that's Ann in a nutshell. As I mentioned above, Coulter tried to pass her remark (which managed to be simultaneously homophobic and slanderous) off as humor. True humor requires a tincture of intelligence, so it's no wonder that she's so often wide of the mark.

Calling a married man with four children who happens not to be a rabidly anti-gay evangelical preacher a 'faggot' isn't funny. It's just a weird non sequitur. No, real humor needs to be mixed with at least a dash or truth or, barring that, at least a whiff of plausibility.

Like, say, starting a rumor that a certain statuesque blonde far-right pundit is actually a drag queen and performance artist from Key West by the name of Pudenda Shenanigans. Now that's funny.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Magna Carta

I'm a map junkie. I can stare at the things for hours on end. New-fangled, old-fangled; topographic or political—heck, even relief. I love it all.

I think I just found my crack.

Strange Maps is a fantastic blog that's been around for about six months that deals in, well, strange maps. Like, for instance, the map shown above of the proud and independent nation of West Florida, a republic that obtained on our southern shores until the year of our lord, 1810. Who knew?

The guy/gal who writes Strange Maps, that's who. For more detail on this and many, many other oddball maps, check out Strange Maps.

A world map published by a Turk in 1072 was a particular highlight for me. You can chart your own course.
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