Archive for December, 2006

Free Speech Addendum

December 23, 2006

Just a quickie. I mentioned Flynt Leverett in the discussion of unicorn’s free speech post, the other day. The New York Times decided yesterday to go ahead and run Leverett’s editorial, with the bits the White House objected to blacked out. It’s kind of interesting to sort of read.

Posted on Whitney’s behalf: Because I’m not a "re…

December 22, 2006

Posted on Whitney’s behalf:

Because I’m not a “real” contributor to DH, I was hoping to start a conversation on a link I just saw on MSNBC about disabled couples who are trying to genetically engineer (?) their babies to have their same disability.

I don’t know how to link to articles, or I would. (But Joe knows: Linky.)

Basically, what caught my eye the most was a couple, both of whom have dwarfism, who are pushing for this type of embryonic manipulation.

This particular quote seemed, um, ironic…to me: Gibson and Cara Reynolds of Collingswood, N.J., are outraged by opposition to using embryo screening to allow dwarf people to have dwarf children. “You cannot tell me that I cannot have a child who’s going to look like me,” Cara Reynolds said. “It’s just unbelievably presumptuous and they’re playing God.”

Isn’t that exactly what she is wanting to do? Play God?

If someone is willing to post a whole new topic, that would be great. Maybe no one is interested. That’s OK, too. 🙂

Merry Merry Merry Christmas to you all. New and old friends alike. I pray for you all peace and happiness.


And Your Little Dog, Too

December 21, 2006

This year, one congressman is sending out a very special Christmas greeting to one of his new colleagues. Something to the effect of:

At this joyous time of year,
my heartfelt wish for Christmas cheer.
To you from Jesus, and I quote,
‘Get bent, sand nigger! I hate you folks!’

I need a drink.


December 20, 2006

Now that it appears the discussion of Sandi’s excellent post has died down, I’m posting a link to a post by a blogger-pal of Al’s, which Al sent me from his plague-infested deathbed earlier today. (Funeral arrangements will be announced when available. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you make donations to the Juvenal Urbino Advancement Fund, because a juvenal is a terrible thing to waste. Queue video of Native American with tear running down one cheek.)

It’s a brief discussion of the Christian doctrine of atonement — of how we should think of what Jesus did, exactly. There’s the view pretty much everybody in Western Christendom holds (the sacrificial view, technically known as “penal substitutionary atonement”), but that’s not the only possible view. In fact, it’s not the dominant view in Eastern Christendom. The biblical materials themselves sometimes seem to reflect one view of atonement, sometimes another.

Anyway, read the post and discuss away!

The Challenges of Poverty

December 19, 2006

Salon has posted a couple of articles recently that might surprise you. They surprised me. And being the good little bleeding heart that I am, I don’t know how to think about or respond to them. I thought I would ask you all for your thoughts.

The most recent of the two is by Debra Dickerson, an African American writer who grew up in the inner city and managed to escape poverty and attend Harvard. Honestly, I don’t think she’s a very good writer, but she always writes on topics that interest me so I end up reading her stuff anyway. Some readers feel that she’s too hard on her people, so to speak. Anyway, the article is about some Katrina evacuees who were placed in the house next door to hers for a little over a year. It’s a parade of horribles at the center of which is a vacuous, slack-jawed mother and the seven kids she doesn’t bother to parent and four absent fathers (who aren’t mentioned in the story, but I thought I’d mention them here). I read the story with shock and horror, trying to imagine what I would do if I was in Dickerson’s situation.

The other article was written by a heartbroken mother who adopted a nine-year-old boy from poverty, gave him a solid middle-class life with all the opportunities that entails, and for her efforts has had to watch him throw his life away without meaningful employment, siring children with a woman just as unmotivated as he is, and is now wondering what her role should be in his life and the lives of her grandchildren.

Now, not that I have to say this with this crowd, but this is decidedly not about race. I have some trailer-dwelling relatives of relatives in backwoods Mississippi that could probably put some of the folks in these stories to shame. But I thought I’d stick in the disclaimer since the main characters in these two particular stories are people of color. Nor is completely about class — we have all known people of limited means who are clean, courteous, and responsible.

But the fact remains that what’s described in these stories is what is so challenging about poverty. That there are people who perhaps can’t be helped, that it can be too late to make changes. It makes you understand, for a split second, why conservatives have such a negative view of human nature, why they think the poor are scum who deserve their lot. It’s a helpless feeling to read about this, and recognize the tendencies being described, and to have no understanding at all of that level of dysfunction. And to see myself, as I prepare to have my own family, sneer at and disapprove of (internally, of course) those I see every day who don’t “deserve” to have children, who can’t do as good a job as I can and therefore should be somehow prevented from reproducing. This level of judgment disturbs me, but at the same time everything I read supports the view that children of people like me are better off in every conceivable way, while those of others languish in squalor with poor nutrition and parental neglect. It seems criminal, sometimes. Is there anything to be done about it, or is it the price of living in a democracy? (I was going to link to a NY Times Magazine article from a few weeks ago that was about schools that help disadvantaged kids succeed, but it’s too old and is now in the archives — anyway, it was interesting because it concluded that disparities start very early and cascade over time, and have much to do with parenting styles and parents’ vocabularies).

The scene that stood out to me in the Dickerson article was when the youngest two children demanded to be mothered, begging with their eyes for her to put sunscreen on them. It reminded me what a goddamn shame it is that so many kids never have a chance because of their crappy parents (who were once the children of crappy parents themselves, most likely), and made me wonder when exactly is the point at which those children become the adults of which I (internally) disapprove. And if is there any way for society to intervene.

It is taboo to say these things, especially for someone whose values are what mine are. And I know that to notice the dynamics that the writers above discuss in their essays does not inexorably lead to the conclusion that everyone gets what they deserve and all of the policy preferences that go along with that. The question is, though, where do these observations lead for people whose first impulse is to have compassion? How can we sit idly by and let the cycle continue? The charter schools described in the NY Times Magazine article seem like a good place to start, but as the writer of that article pointed out, the kids whose parents sign them up for a charter school with a rigorous program are already way ahead of the game. What do we do about parents like “Mary Smith” in the Dickerson essay except try to keep them and their children far away from us?

A Gag on Free Speech

December 18, 2006

This could be called “crying wolf”, but I think not. It is a pattern of abuse practiced by this administration. What think you?

N Y TIMES Editorial
A Gag on Free Speech
Published: December 15, 2006
The Bush administration is trampling on the First Amendment and well-established criminal law by trying to use a subpoena to force the American Civil Liberties Union to hand over a classified document in its possession. The dispute is shrouded in secrecy, and very little has been made public about the document, but we do not need to know what’s in it to know what’s at stake: if the government prevails, it will have engaged in prior restraint — almost always a serious infringement on free speech — and it could start using subpoenas to block reporting on matters of vital public concern.
Justice Department lawyers have issued a grand jury subpoena to the A.C.L.U. demanding that it hand over “any and all copies” of the three-and-a-half-page government document, which was recently leaked to the group. The A.C.L.U. is asking a Federal District Court judge in Manhattan to quash the subpoena.
There are at least two serious problems with the government’s action. It goes far beyond what the law recognizes as the legitimate purpose of a subpoena. Subpoenas are supposed to assist an investigation, but the government does not need access to the A.C.L.U.’s document for an investigation since it already has its own copy. It is instead trying to confiscate every available copy of the document to keep its contents secret. The A.C.L.U. says it knows of no other case in which a grand jury subpoena has been used this way.
The subpoena is also a prior restraint because the government is trying to stop the A.C.L.U. in advance from speaking about the document’s contents. The Supreme Court has held that prior restraints are almost always unconstitutional. The danger is too great that the government will overreach and use them to ban protected speech or interfere with free expression by forcing the media, and other speakers, to wait for their words to be cleared in advance. The correct way to deal with speech is to evaluate its legality after it has occurred.
The Supreme Court affirmed these vital principles in the Pentagon Papers case, when it rejected the Nixon administration’s attempts to stop The Times and The Washington Post from publishing government documents that reflected badly on its prosecution of the Vietnam War. If the Nixon administration had been able to use the technique that the Bush administration is trying now, it could have blocked publication simply by ordering the newspapers to hand over every copy they had of the papers.
If the A.C.L.U.’s description of its secret document is correct, there is no legitimate national defense issue. The document does not contain anything like intelligence sources or troop movements, the group says. It is merely a general statement of policy whose release “might perhaps be mildly embarrassing to the government.” Given this administration’s abysmal record on these issues, this case could set a disturbing and dangerous precedent. If the subpoena is enforced, the administration will have gained a powerful new tool for rolling back free-speech rights — one that could be used to deprive Americans of information they need to make informed judgments about their elected leaders’ policies and actions.

Diana Worship

December 14, 2006

I noticed in the news this morning that Princess Diana’s death has officially been ruled an accident. So, after nine-plus years of breathless anticipation, we may now return to our regularly scheduled lives.

Seriously, seeing her name in the headlines again reminded me of a section of The Unnecessary Pastor that I read recently. In it, Eugene Peterson shares his observations on Princess Di.

I’ll share it with you now, but I’m most interested in your thoughts in response:


At the end of August 1997 and for weeks following, the attention of the whole world, quite literally the whole world, was captured by the death of Princess Diana. I was in Ireland and Scotland at the time and got the entire drama served up to me blow by blow. I must confess that I knew next to nothing about Diana at the time, can’t ever remember seeing a picture of her, and I knew nothing of her trials with the royal family. But in three weeks, I got a crash course in Diana religion – for the thing that struck me most forcibly was that it was a course in religion. This was totally a religious event. There were political implications and family dynamics, but mostly, overwhelmingly, it was religious. Diana was treated with the veneration and adoration of a goddess. At her death, the world fell down and worshiped.

As I observed all of this, and reflected on it in conversation with friends, I realized that Diana was the perfect goddess for a world religion that didn’t want anything to do with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but was desperate to worship someone or something that would provide a sense of beauty and transcendence to their lives. It turned out that Princess Diana was absolutely perfect for the role. This supposedly godless world of ours is not godless at all – the capacity for worship is as strong as in any religious fundamentalist camp meeting. At her death, the world worshiped her.

At first, I noticed the parallels to the ancient Canaanite sex/fertility goddess Astarte and Asherah. She was a perfect fit for the role: that fragile beauty, tinged with sadness; that poignant innocence, with suggestive hints and guesses of slightly corrupt sexuality in the shadows. Her popular identification with the poor and oppressed, her photo with Mother Teresa of Calcutta, her compassion for people with AIDS, her campaign against the land mines that had destroyed the bodies of so many children, and her own victimization by the heartless royal family and rejection by her husband. She summed up the spiritual aspirations of a sexually indulgent culture that was at the same time filled with misunderstanding and loss and hurt and rejection.

Every day for a week in Edinburgh I watched long lines of men and women and children carrying bouquets of flowers, placing them on appointed shrines throughout the city – silent and weeping, unutterably moved by the death of their goddess. All week long, I read the meditations, religious meditations, on Diana in the daily newspapers. And then one day, I remembered that the Roman name for Artemis was Diana, Diana of the Ephesians. Now, Diana the sex goddess, who provided the mythology and set the moral tone of the city, was back – the fertility goddess of the ancient world taking over the imaginations of the modern world.

I’m not suggesting that the Diana cult of Ephesus and the Diana cult that we all witnessed since September 1997 have the same content, but the effect is the same. The Ephesian Diana cult was a pastiche of stories and superstitions and systems of thought endemic to the ancient east that served the religious needs of the city. (Much of it is accountable in general under what we in broad terms label gnosticism.) The recent Diana cult is also a pastiche of stories and longings and public relations that serve the religious needs of an astounding number of people who are nominally Christians and Jews, Buddhists and Muslims. Her death brought out into the open just how worldwide her influence extended, the untold millions who worshiped at the shrine of Diana.

Diana evoked the best in people – but it is the best of what they want for themselves, not of what God wants. She offered “good” without morality and transcendence without any God but herself. Diana epitomizes our world religion of today…

Diana/Artemis worship is in the air: it is on television, in the magazines, in church pulpits, and in school classrooms; it dominates business marketing, the entertainment industry, recreational addictions, and political arenas. Leaders acquire a following by evoking longings in us that are unfulfilled, and then either explicitly claiming or implicitly suggesting that their program or automobile or lifestyle or church can make us complete. Diana religion. Diana worship.

Strange Bedfellows

December 8, 2006

I see that Rush Limbaugh has started calling for America to treat the Iraq War like World War II. Why do I suddenly feel so . . . dirty?

Actually, Limbaugh’s position and mine are quite different. Rush is laboring under the illusion that if we treat this like WWII, we can still win. As I’ve said, I don’t think victory (in any very meaningful sense) is possible. I think we should treat this like WWII simply to demonstrate to our enemies that we’re still capable of that kind of commitment. (And to bring home to the voters what it means to go to war.) My argument is: do that long enough to prove our mettle, then get the heck out.

Also, Limbaugh seems to have seized on the WWII argument simply as an excuse to fulminate; as a weapon for bashing the Iraq Study Group because they put a crimp in the dream world he lives in. I have my doubts about their recommendations, but I don’t think they’re cowards, defeatists, or “surrender monkeys,” as the New York Post labeled them. Unlike Limbaugh, they are at least realists.

Q: How far out in right field do you have to be in order to consider Alan Simpson too soft, and Ed Meese too liberal?

The Un-Hitch

December 7, 2006

Will Smith as Hitch was adept at endearing himself to the chicas. Alfred Hitchcock as Hitch preferred blondes. Christopher Hitchens as Hitch prefers . . . the company of men, I suppose. But then, as the great Homer Simpson once said, who doesn’t?

Hitchens does have a point, though. I mean, really, when was the last time Queen Elizabeth said something funny? Genuinely funny. You know, funny enough to make men in bars elbow each other and say, “She’s hot.”

Baby Steps

December 7, 2006

Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church recently held a conference on AIDS. Among the invited speakers were Senators Sam Brownback and Barack Obama. Brownback’s name was familiar and unremarkable. Obama’s, however, raised the hackles of some Religious Right groups, who told Warren it was wrong — that is, immoral — for Christians to work cooperatively on any issue with anyone who supported abortion rights.

In other words, “He that biddeth him God speed is a partaker of his evil deeds.”

Take a biiiiiig whiff of that one and let it out slowly. Ahhhhhhhhh. Smells like home.

Anyway, Obama offered to bow out, saying he didn’t want his presence to obscure the purpose of the conference. Much to Warren’s credit, however, he told the hackled (behackled? hackle-risen? hackle-berisen? hisle-beracken?) groups to buzz off. AIDS was too big a problem, he said, to turn down help from others who wanted to save lives.

It’s progress.