Friday, December 31, 2004

Well, that about wraps it up for "Blog of the Year."


The end of the year is a time to bury the hatchet, so congratulations to Powerline, the Twin Cities blog that last week was named Time magazine's "Blog of the Year!"...

These guys pretend to be family watchdogs but they are Rottweilers in sheep's clothing. They attack the Mainstream Media for not being fair while pursuing a right-wing agenda cooked up in conservative think tanks funded by millionaire power brokers.

They should call themselves "Powertool." They don't speak truth to power. They just speak for power.

The lads behind Powerline are a bank vice president named Scott Johnson and a lawyer named John Hinderaker. If you read Powerline, you know them better by their fantasy names, Big Trunk (that's Johnson) and Hind Rocket (Hinderaker). I will leave it to the appropriate professionals to determine what they are compensating for, but they have received enormous attention from the despised Mainstream Media and deserve more...

If Extreme bloggers, who know nothing that happened before last Tuesday, had the same commitment to serving the public, I wouldn't have a problem. But like talk radio, they are dominated by the right and are only interested in being a megaphone without oversight, disclosure of conflicts of interest, or professional standards.

Powerline is run by Ivy League lawyers, one of whom (Johnson) is a vice president at TCF Bank in Minneapolis and works for Bill Cooper, an ex-state Republican Party chairman. Johnson and Hinderaker are fellows at the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank that seems to be obsessed ...

I keep wishing the Ivy League boys had told me I was rich before I took my first job cleaning bathrooms in a factory at night, or my next job driving a school bus, or my first newspaper job at the old Tribune for $147 a week.

But Extreme bloggers don't tell truths. They tell talking points. Powerline is the biggest link in a daisy chain of right-wing blogs that is assaulting the Mainstream Media while they toot their horns in the service of ... what? The downtrodden? No, that was yesterday's idea of the purpose of journalism. Extreme bloggers are so hip and cool they can make fun of the poor and the disadvantaged while working out of paneled bank offices...

One oddly comforting thing about this week...

and the disastrous tsunami, is that it's shredded to bits the obligatory "year in retrospect" recycled news we are bombarded with at this time of year.

So, too, has a time honored tradition of the NY Times been shredded- "The Lives They Led."

Between the untimely death of Jerry Orbach (who will what's his name get to replace Lenny Briscoe as a partner?), Artie Shaw, and the aforementioned Susan Sontag (arguably less influential than Hunter S. Thompson - for good or ill) it's clear that when the media ignores 2% of the year to focus on the rest of the year (or, more properly, when the media focuses on 2% of what happens 98% of the time and 2% of the time ignores everything else, since in the US, the media ignores pretty much everything), every so often the Law of Large Numbers makes the media creators look like asses.

Happy New Year...

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Susan Sontag is dead...


Unfortunately, it's people like Sontag who - thanks to the NY Times- tended to define NY intellectual circles.

I've never read a damned thing she wrote.

I don't know if I'm better or worse, but frankly, I haven't noticed a difference.

About the only thing I can say is I've know extremely pretentious people who knew her who sang her praises. That ain't an endorsement, and I'm sorry to say, I can't form an opinion either way. But I hope when I'm dead my legacy isn't pretentious people who vex others at parties singing my praises.

On update, though, I should say, that certainly in this case, the enemy of our enemy is our friend.

What the fascists -there's no other word for it- tried to do in silencing this woman, despite her obscurity- is reprehensible, and she was right to speak out against the enemies of freedom running this country.

My day at the movies...

One of the nice things that happens, sometimes, when on vacation is one gets to go to the my wife and I (thankfully someone baby-sat) saw "Meet the Fockers."

What's also interesting to me, as entertaining as the movie was (though great art it's not), was the inevitable trashing of the picture by the "critics" at Focus on the Family.

Now movie reviews are usually somewhat unreliable in terms of being an exact predictor of whether a movie will be good or bad. The New York Times' review of the movie highlights the "Jewishness" of the Fockers. Ho Hum. Yeah, a bit self-absorbed for my taste.

But Focus on the Family's "reviews" are consistently bizarre to say the least. Take this bit:

A major theme is deception. The plot turns on how Greg tells one lie after another to prevent embarrassing information from being revealed. He lies about his parents' professions. He lies to his wife about how he lost his virginity. Etc. Each lie Jack discovers makes him more determined to find out who Greg really is. But for the most part, it's Jack's desire to discover the truth that is mocked, and the film doesn't offer much critique of Greg's dishonesty.

It amazes me how they actually "watched" this film, since what is clear from the movie is that parallels of deception, secret keeping, etc. abound in all the couples' relationships in the movie; Jack's deception is unmentioned in this review, presumably because it would portray the "conservative" character as flawed.

Or this bit:

Roz and Bernie's comfort level with sex translates into an acceptance of sex outside of marriage, so when they find out that Pam and Greg are pregnant, they're unequivocally elated. And they make great fun of Jack for being so antiquated and repressed as to think virginity should be guarded until one's wedding night. (The movie doesn't usually take sides when it comes to the Byrnes vs. the Fockers, but in this case it clearly applauds Bernie and Roz while thumbing its nose at Jack.

Look, you've got adult kids in their early 30's. They're about to get married. They wind up expecting a kid. Why not be elated?

In fact, very little attention in the film is devoted to Jack's actual expression of opinion on this subject, rather, their anticipation of what Jack would say, which furthers the keeping of secrets. Which, of course, was Jack's career.

However, purusing the FOTF website, one can actually figure out why they're so whacked in terms of denial and deception themselves:

Knowing that God says, “Above all else, guard your heart” (Proverbs 4:23), we pledge to guard our
hearts from harmful media influences (music, films, videos, Internet, magazines, books, television,
video games, etc.) that work against our faith.

The fact is, that whatever works against "their faith" - regardless of whether "their faith" is true, is to be criticized.

This itself is a form of denial and (self-) deception, and cannot, in society at large be healthy - or moral- in any way.

Monday, December 27, 2004

One of the better arguments against "Intelligent" "Design"

Why would the rest of "creation" be so stupidly designed?

But seriously, as Shokai points out, with all the real problems people have, it's kind of telling of the self-absorption of Americans that "Intelligent Design" is the thing on which many focus.

When fundamentalists take over school boards...they go wild...

Hugh Hewitt's harrumphing about this WaPo article on that crazy town in Dover PA, is simply too much to pass up.

Of course, as notes the Post article:

Dover's modern politics are resolutely Republican -- President Bush polled 65 percent of the vote here -- and its cultural values are Christian, with an evangelical tinge. To drive its rolling back roads is to count dozens of churches, from Lutheran to United Church of Christ, Baptist, Pentecostal and Assemblies of God.

Many here speak of a personal relationship with Christ and of their antipathy to evolutionary theory (A Gallup poll found that 35 percent of Americans do not believe in evolution). Steve Farrell, a friendly man and owner of a landscaping business, talked of Darwin and God in the Giant shopping center parking lot.

"We are teaching our children a theory that most of us don't believe in." He shook his head. "I don't think God creates everything on a day-to-day basis, like the color of the sky. But I do believe that he created Adam and Eve -- instantly."

This is probably the real reason that people like Joe Carter and Hewitt have problems with the article: it's quite out front about the extreme wackiness of these people. (Anyone who's publicly associated with the Assembly of God cult deserves about as much respect as a Scientologist. They AoG still thinks that some non-Christian practices are "demonic" as any search of their own site will show. )

As has been well known by those of us following the extreme religious right in this country for decades now, they like to operate in stealth mode, as Ralph Reed famously said. Anything that shows what these people really stand for makes their public advocates try to change the subject, shout louder, anything to avoid the fact that the driving forces behind this movement are quite a few fries short of a happy meal.

It's funny, though Carter tries to attack the Post, but the reality is he is still at a loss to explain why "Intelligent" "Design" is a science.

The terrorists won...


French journalists held hostage for four months in Iraq said their militant captors told them they wanted President Bush to win re-election.

In a four-page account of their ordeal, one of the reporters, Georges Malbrunot, also wrote that they saw several other hostages who were later decapitated. The journalists said their captors viewed foreign businessmen working in Iraq as their enemies.

One of the captors from the group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq said Bush's re-election would boost their cause, Malbrunot wrote in Friday's edition of Le Figaro, the French daily he works for.

''We want Bush because with him the American troops will stay in Iraq and that way we will be able to develop,'' Malbrunot cited the captor as saying.

The New York Times is right today...


While other political forces support the mandatory sentences - most notably the powerful local prosecutors - prison rights advocates have recently begun to argue that prison district politicians are more concerned about keeping the prisons full than about crime. The idea of counting inmates as voters in the counties that imprison them is particularly repulsive given that inmates are nearly always stripped of the right to vote. The practice recalls the early United States under slavery, when slaves were barred from voting but counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of apportioning representation in Congress.

Any organization that would champion such tactics must be relegated to the ash heap of history, by the view of any decent person.

The Republican Party has become something truly repugnant to American sensibilities.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

No kidding, really?

BUENOS AIRES, Dec. 23 - When the Argentine economy collapsed in December 2001, doomsday predictions abounded. Unless it adopted orthodox economic policies and quickly cut a deal with its foreign creditors, hyperinflation would surely follow, the peso would become worthless, investment and foreign reserves would vanish and any prospect of growth would be strangled.

But three years after Argentina declared a record debt default of more than $100 billion, the largest in history, the apocalypse has not arrived. Instead, the economy has grown by 8 percent for two consecutive years, exports have zoomed, the currency is stable, investors are gradually returning and unemployment has eased from record highs - all without a debt settlement or the standard measures required by the International Monetary Fund for its approval.

Argentina's recovery has been undeniable, and it has been achieved at least in part by ignoring and even defying economic and political orthodoxy. Rather than moving to immediately satisfy bondholders, private banks and the I.M.F., as other developing countries have done in less severe crises, the Peronist-led government chose to stimulate internal consumption first and told creditors to get in line with everyone else.

Uh, Chile did the same thing. We know that conservative Republican policies are disastrous wherever they're tried- they work about as well as Kim Il Sung's juche nonsense. So why should this surprise anyone?

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Must Reading for Christmas

Brent Rassmussen's Midwinter Night's Mare to which he alluded below (fittingly enough as a comment on the Heart Sutra...) deserves wide dissemination...

What will our descendants think of us? Will they view us as barbaric decadent savages, who madly consumed our most precious resource until we finally incinerated what was left with nuclear fire? Will they condemn our glaring stupidity for wasting our energy endowment, and theirs, on winter strawberries and Stealth Bombers? Or will they recognize in themselves stirrings of those same ancestral weaknesses we fell pray to and forgive us, maybe even thank us, for educating future civilizations on yet one more hidden danger facing the talking chimpanzee and his clever tools?

Before finding the sweet black embrace of sleep, I sometimes lie awake in the dark musing. The dichotomy of a sweeping intelligence helplessly overruled by mindless instinct is tragic, is it not? Time and time again we're smart enough to see disaster coming, yet too burdened with the shadows of our ancestors to stop it. Maybe it would be better not to know. Maybe the last T-rex gorging on a duckbill carcass was better off not comprehending the portent of those brilliant meteor showers lighting the very last Cretaceous sky. But we traded the option of blissful ignorance for lucidity with every stone tool knapped, every fire kindled, and with every novel technology teased out of nature. The tragic irony is that individually we talking chimps sport the most prodigious intellect on the planet, but collectively we barely surpass the intelligence of those ancient algal blooms whose metamorphosed corpses have led us into this latest inescapable trap. The die for this generation has already been cast. The fate of our mechanized petrol world is as set in stone as the oil we harvest to run it. The last conscious thought I have before my self awareness dissolves in the forgiving mist is the time table; this isn't a long range forecast of doom our children's children will face. The fun and games begin in less than five years: And nothing will stop it.

Nietzche, that great Christian prophet, said that the power of one's will could be measured by the amount of pain and suffering one could not only endure, but turn to one's advantage.

Seems like there's going to be a lot of will work-outs coming on...

Friday, December 24, 2004

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Republicans and their sewer of corruption....


PLEA DEAL: Ending a two-year federal investigation, former Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland pleaded guilty to a felony count of conspiracy to steal honest services.

WHAT'S NEXT: Prosecutors have agreed to ask for no more than a two-year prison sentence. Rowland owes the IRS more than $35,000 and faces up to $40,000 in fines. He could still face state charges.

REACTION: "Today the state of Connecticut was humiliated, and I, as John Rowland's former running mate and colleague, feel personally betrayed." - Gov. M. Jodi Rell, Rowland's replacement.

Ah, remember when (May 2, 2004, to be exact)?

"People say, 'Oh, he's done things wrong. He's taken gifts.' OK, let's assume half of the stuff is true. I think the more important point is, the reason I don't resign is I haven't compromised this office," Rowland said in an interview with The Associated Press Thursday.

Thanksfully, in Washington State
, we have beaten back the anti-democratic, death-squad-loving Republicans.

More on the decline of the United States...


Chinese energy companies are on the verge of striking ambitious deals in Canada in efforts to win access to some of the most prized oil reserves in North America.

The deals may create unease for the first time since the 1970's in the traditionally smooth energy relationship between the United States and Canada.

Canada, the largest source of imported oil for the United States, has historically sent almost all its exports of oil south by pipeline to help quench America's thirst for energy. But that arrangement may be about to change as China, which has surpassed Japan as the second-largest market for oil, flexes its muscle in attempts to secure oil, even in places like the cold boreal forests of northern Alberta, where the oil has to be sucked out of the sticky, sandy soil.

"The China outlet would change our dynamic," said Murray Smith, a former Alberta energy minister who was appointed this month to be the province's representative in Washington, a new position. Mr. Smith said he estimated that Canada could eventually export as many as one million barrels a day to China out of potential exports of more than three million barrels a day.

"Our main link would still be with the U.S. but this would give us multiple markets and competition for a prized resource," Mr. Smith said. Delegations of senior executives from China's largest oil companies have been making frequent appearances in recent weeks here in Calgary, Canada's bustling energy capital, for talks on ventures that would send oil extracted from the oil sands in the northern reaches of the energy-rich province of Alberta to new ports in western Canada and onward by tanker to China.

Chinese companies are also said to be considering direct investments in the oil sands, by buying into existing producers or acquiring companies with leases to produce oil in the region. In all, there are nearly half a dozen deals in consideration, initially valued at $2 billion and potentially much more, according to senior executives at energy companies here.

Oddly enough, many folks don't get the connection between US imperialism, and this oil issue.

True words...


"It's time for Democrats somewhere to draw a line in the sand and say we are not going to let bully Republican tactics determine who our governor is or how an election is going to be determined."

-Paul Berendt, chairman of the Washington State Democratic Party.

Dino Rossi has become an acute embarassment to Washington State, not only because he is a Republican.

It should be obvious that being a Republican is an embarassment, and this man should concede.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The trend is good, but...


As holiday shopping reaches the home stretch, consumers who are far removed from the silver-plated boutiques of Madison Avenue and Rodeo Drive say they are holding down their spending for the season...

C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group in Charleston, S.C., said that low- and middle-income shoppers across the country have been telling pollsters that stores have not done enough to put them in the mood to buy; shoppers have criticized stores' decorations as flimsy and the merchandise as boring.

Mr. Beemer agrees. "I have surveyed a number of store display managers" who have complained about budget cutbacks, he said. Consumers also report that their children are not pining for a "must have" toy this year - because, he said, there isn't one.

Yet all indications are that broad-based consumer spending remains strong. Economists pointed to last week's Commerce Department report, which suggested that overall spending is likely to rise by a solid 4 percent on top of an inflation rate of roughly 3 percent for the fourth quarter.

The idea that we need this media-inspired consumer frenzy to spend, spend, spend is absurd.

I don't mind Christmas as a time to give gifts- think it's great. But in any large family, such as mine, you learn to appreciate disarmament.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Fill in the blanks...


"We don't have a disease," said Jack, echoing the opinion of the other 15 boys at the experimental Aspie school here in the Catskills. "So we can't be 'cured.' This is just the way we are."

From behind his GameBoy, Justin Mulvaney, another 10th grader, objected to the program's description of people "suffering" from (fundamentalism, non-Christianity, homosexuality, heterosexuality, being a liberal in a blue state, being a conservative in a blue state, being a conservative in a red state, being a liberal in a blue state, Asperger's syndrome, etc.) or the form of {fundamentalism, non-Christianity, homosexuality, heterosexuality, being a liberal in a blue state, being a conservative in a blue state, beinga conservative in a red state, being a liberal in a blue state, Asperger's syndrome, etc.) he has.

"People don't suffer from {fundamentalism, homosexuality, heterosexuality, being a liberal in a blue state, being a conservative in a blue state, beinga conservative in a red state, being a liberal in a blue state, Asperger's syndrome, etc.) "Justin said. "They suffer because they're depressed from being left out and beat up all the time."

That, at least, was what happened to these students at mainstream schools before they found refuge here.

But unlike many programs for autistics, this school's program does not try to expunge the odd social behaviors that often make life so difficult for them. Its unconventional aim is to teach students that it is O.K. to act like they have {fundamentalism, homosexuality, heterosexuality, being a liberal in a blue state, being a conservative in a blue state, beinga conservative in a red state, being a liberal in a blue state, Asperger's syndrome, etc.) and also how to get by in a world where it is not

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Speaking of catastrophes...

the flu shot shortage (has it abated?) was one example...and another is alluded to in the NY Times today:

Yet few of these imports are examined to ensure they meet American health and safety standards. This year, the Food and Drug Administration will inspect about 100,000 of the nearly five million shipments of food crossing our borders, and distribution is so rapid that tainted food can reach consumers nationwide before officials realize there is a problem. The increasing control of the global food supply by a few corporations has made such tampering even more tempting for a terrorist who wants to have a big impact.

You might think that the solution is obvious: we should rely on our domestic food supply. Unfortunately, when it comes to food security, our vulnerabilities at home rival those we face abroad. The federal government's encouragement of consolidation in agriculture diminishes the security of our food supply.

Since the 1950's, American agricultural policies have been grounded in the belief that farms should produce as much food as possible for the least cost. These policies have led to a landscape of fewer but bigger farms that specialize in a decreasing number of commodities that are destined for fewer processors and packers.

The free market is -again- failing us on the food front. Think tomatos. We need, to prevent catastrophes, redundancy in our food supply distribution system...and that costs a bit more money....

Luckily, landowners can grow gardens...

These words have to be propagated...

Thanks to this diary on Kos, I understand that Chuck Baldwin seems to have seen the light...

No one can honestly question my commitment to pro-life, pro-family, conservative causes. That being said, the Religious Right, as it now exists, scares me.

For one reason, on the whole, the Religious Right has obviously and patently become little more than a propaganda machine for the Republican Party in general and for President G.W. Bush in particular. This is in spite of the fact that both Bush and the Republican Party in Washington, D.C., have routinely ignored and even trampled the very principles which the Religious Right claims to represent.

Therefore, no longer does the Religious Right represent conservative, Christian values. Instead, they represent their own self-serving interests at the expense of those values.

It also appears painfully obvious to me that in order to sit at the king's table, the Religious Right is willing to compromise any principle, no matter how sacred. As such, it has become a hollow movement. Sadly, the Religious Right is now a movement without a cause, except the cause of advancing the Republican Party.

Beyond that, the Religious Right is actively assisting those who would destroy our freedoms. On the whole, the Religious Right comports with those within the Bush administration and within the Republican Party who, in the name of "fighting terrorism," are actually terrorizing constitutional protections of our liberties.

The Religious Right offered virtually no resistance to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the passage of the Patriot Act, or the recently created position of National Intelligence Director. Neither did the Religious Right offer even a whimper of protest as President Bush and Republicans in Congress created a first-ever national ID card in the new intelligence bill, which eerily has more in common with early Twentieth Century German and Russian intelligence institutions than anything envisioned by America's Founding Fathers.

This is all true.

Take Focus on the Family....please...

Focus on the Family has been nothing more than a cheerleader for the most jack-booted policies of the Bush junta; they never once spoke about about the Swift Veterans Liars, they don't seem to give a damn about the looting of Social Security, the dishonesty regarding Iraq meant nothing to them,

On the other hand arrogating itself the position of advice giver on, say, on "how to choose a church," it places itself above any individual denomination - with amusing results- once you click through to their "denominations link," you get all kinds of denominations, including ones that even shocked me...lucky they did leave off David Koresh... For example consider the Liberal Cathoics...rather odd stuff... who would have thought that Blavatsky would have a few churches influenced by her????

Friday, December 17, 2004

Vacation Time!

I'll be going on vacation starting today, and so posts will be more or less as I see fit and have time.

"Although it could put out its horns, when it does not, the snail is so round."

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Two great blogs

brought to my attention (OK, I already knew about Panda's Thumb) by Brad de Long.

Panda's Thumb has great accesible (if you have patience and a graduate degree) critiques of the anti-evolution zealots. A must read in this area, and a good supplement to

Real Climate is the place to go for global warming information.

Frank Rich's column this week is a must read:


What is this about? How can those in this country's overwhelming religious majority maintain that they are victims in a fiery battle with forces of darkness? It is certainly not about actual victimization. Christmas is as pervasive as it has ever been in America, where it wasn't even declared a federal holiday until after the Civil War. What's really going on here is yet another example of a post-Election-Day winner-takes-all power grab by the "moral values" brigade. As Mr. Gibson shrewdly contrived his own crucifixion all the way to the bank, trumping up nonexistent threats to his movie to hype it, so the creation of imagined enemies and exaggerated threats to Christianity by "moral values" mongers of the right has its own secular purpose. The idea is to intimidate and marginalize anyone who objects to their efforts to impose the most conservative of Christian dogma on public policy. If you're against their views, you don't have a differing opinion — you're anti-Christian (even if you are a Christian)...

Does Mr. Falwell, who after 9/11 blamed Al Qaeda's attack partly on "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians," speak for any sizable group of American Christians? Does the Rev. Al Sharpton, booked on TV as a "balance" to Mr. Falwell, do so either? Mr. Sharpton doesn't even have a congregation; like Mr. Falwell, he is a politician first, a religious leader second (or maybe fourth or fifth).

Gary Bauer and James Dobson are also secular political figures, not religious leaders, yet they are more frequently called upon to play them on television than actual clergy are. "It's theological correctness," says the Rev. Debra Haffner, a Unitarian Universalist minister who directs a national interfaith group, the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing, and is one of the rare progressive religious voices to get any TV time. She detects an overall "understanding" in the media that religion "is one voice — fundamentalist."

Even more important than inflated notions of the fundamentalists' power may be their entertainment value. As Ms. Kissling points out, the 50 million Americans who belong to progressive religious organizations are rarely represented on television because "progressive religious leaders are so tolerant that they don't make good TV." The Rev. Bob Chase of the United Church of Christ agrees: "We're not exciting guests." His church's recent ad trumpeting its inclusion of gay couples was rejected by the same networks that routinely give a forum to the far more dramatic anti-gay views of Mr. Falwell. Ms. Kissling laments that contemporary progressive Christians lack an intellectual star to rival Reinhold Niebuhr or William Sloane Coffin, but adds that today "Jesus Christ would have a tough time getting covered by TV if he didn't get arrested."

Really, it's about time the networks started covering religion as something other than this either or between fundamentalists and the rest of us.

In the News...


An important test of the United States' fledgling missile defense system ended in failure early Wednesday as an interceptor rocket failed to launch on cue from the Marshall Islands, the Pentagon said.

After a rocket carrying a mock warhead as a target was launched from Kodiak, Alaska, the interceptor, which was intended to go aloft 16 minutes later and home in on the target 100 miles over the earth, automatically shut down because of "an unknown anomaly," according to the Missile Defense Agency of the Defense Department.

The launching had been planned as the first full test in two years of this element of the Bush administration's effort to deploy a multilayered missile defense shield.

The setback threatened to delay further the initial step of activating a basic missile defense, which had once been planned for September but slipped into next year after a series of canceled tests and developmental difficulties.

Ah, yes, the troops don't have armor, but hey, we have a white elephant pretty useless against terrorists missile "defense" system.

link 2

A federal Education Department analysis of test scores from 2003 shows that children in charter schools generally did not perform as well on exams as those in regular public schools. The analysis, released Wednesday, largely confirms an earlier report on the same statistics by the American Federation of Teachers.

The department, analyzing the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test for fourth graders, found charter students scoring significantly lower than regular public school students in math, even when the results are broken down for low-income children and those in cities.

In reading, the report said, over all there was no statistically significant difference between students in charters and in regular public schools. However, when students in special education were excluded, charter students scored significantly lower than those in regular public schools

Well, I guess those teachers unions have corrupted even charter schools with their psychic powers...

link 3

Tokyo- Toru Kondo, an English teacher at a public high school here, had never before been reprimanded in his 32-year career. But he was recently required to take a two-hour "special retraining course," lectured on his mistaken ways and given a sheet of paper on which to engage in half an hour of written self-examination.

His offense was to defy the Tokyo Board of Education's new regulation requiring teachers to sing the national anthem while standing and facing the national flag. He and scores of colleagues refused, because for them the rising-sun flag and the anthem, "Kimigayo," or "His Majesty's Reign," are symbols of imperialism.

"When the Japanese military invaded Asia, the rising-sun flag led the corps and the 'Kimigayo' was sung when Japanese soldiers won a battle," Mr. Kondo said. "I've been telling students that the two are linked to Japan's militarism."
In Tokyo, the only municipality to have meted out broad punishments, the authorities were hoping to use the capital's influence to make respect for the flag and anthem compulsory nationwide. While newspaper polls show voters here opposing such a movement, voters have still remained firmly behind its leader, Shintaro Ishihara, the rightist governor of Tokyo.

The movement suffered a setback recently, from an unexpected corner: Emperor Akihito, who stated his opposition to the regulation. The Imperial Household Agency, some politicians and newspapers played down the comment by the emperor, who, according to the Constitution, is forbidden from interfering in political matters. But others saw in his rare political utterance a sign that he was worried about Japan's direction.

After Japan's defeat in World War II, the rising-sun flag was banned for more than three years under the American occupation. Asian neighbors remain suspicious of Japanese nationalism and of the country's new assertiveness overseas, including sending 550 troops to Iraq. The young in Seoul or Shanghai may consume Pokémon or other symbols of the new Japan. But since they are thoroughly taught about the brutalities of Japanese colonialism, unlike their Japanese counterparts, their often visceral reactions to symbols of the old Japan lie near the surface.

Too bad the US doesn't have such debates, and too bad Japan is going back to this over patriotic stuff.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Military Will March Front and Center at Inaugural Festivities


As he leaves the Capitol after taking the oath of office Jan. 20, President Bush is expected to exercise a familiar presidential prerogative — reviewing the troops.

Then the real embrace of the military begins.

Bush, who campaigned for reelection as a wartime president, will have more than the usual military flourishes at his second-term inaugural ceremonies.

With 138,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq (news - web sites) and casualties reported nearly every day, the White House wanted to showcase the role of the armed services in the war against terrorism as well as in the nation's premier display of a peaceful transition of power.

Officials are tight-lipped about details, awaiting a briefing this week from the Presidential Inaugural Committee. But the military theme will thread through the 10 days of inaugural events that are normally highlighted by pomp and circumstance, a time when the nation's capital turns into a lavish backdrop for the revelry of the winning party.

Yes, Virginia, Ideas do have consequences,

but the consequences might not be what you imagined...

link 1

Emboldened by their Election Day successes, some Christian conservatives around the country are trying to put more Christ into Christmas this season.

In Terrebonne Parish, La., an organization is petitioning to add "Merry Christmas" to the red-lighted "Season's Greetings" sign on the main government building and is selling yard signs that read, "We believe in God. Merry Christmas." And a Raleigh, N.C., church recently paid $7,600 for a full-page newspaper ad urging Christians to spend their money only with merchants who include the greeting "Merry Christmas" in ads and displays.

"There is a revival taking place in our nation that is causing Christian and right-minded people to say, `Wait a minute. We've gone too far,'" says the Rev. Patrick Wooden Sr., pastor of the Raleigh church. "We're not going to allow the country to continue this downward spiral to the left."

In California, a group called the Committee to Save Merry Christmas is boycotting Macy's and its corporate parent, Federated Department Stores, accusing them of replacing "Merry Christmas" signs with ones wishing shoppers "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays." The organization cites "the recent presidential election showing political correctness is offending millions of Americans."

link 2

In the aftermath of the Nov. 2 election, the press and various political partisans jumped on exit polls that seemed to suggest "moral values" was the top issue in voters' minds as they re-elected President George W. Bush (news - web sites). Some analysts have questioned that notion, but a new nationwide Gallup Poll, released Tuesday morning, could deal a death blow to the whole idea.

Asked what they consider the most important problem facing this country today the issue of values was tied for fourth place with unemployment/jobs, with only one in ten of the Gallup sample choosing it. Far ahead, with 23%, was the war in Iraq (news - web sites), followed by terrorism and the economy in general, both at 12%, only then followed by unemployment and values

link 3

While President Bush has yet to offer a specific plan, White House spokesman Scott McClellan earlier this month indicated that borrowing to fund "transition costs" associated with the creation of private accounts would be less costly than doing nothing about the projected $10 trillion shortfall faced by Social Security over an infinite time period. See earlier story.

Economist Jason Furman, who served as Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's top economic adviser, said the White House was using a "deeply misleading, classic bait-and-switch argument" over transition costs.

Furman, who participated in a telephone conference call sponsored by the liberal-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, noted that the $10 trillion is estimated over an infinite horizon. A more traditional measure is the 75-year imbalance, which totals $3.7 trillion, according to calculations by Social Security actuaries, he said.

Moreover, the $2 trillion that would be borrowed over the next 10 years wouldn't close the Social Security gap, Furman argued, but would only fund the creation of the new accounts. To close the long-term gap, taxes would need to rise or future benefits would need to be cut.

The master asks the Emperor: "How will you govern the people?"

The Emperor replies: "With wisdom and compassion!"

The master comments: "Then every last one of them will suffer!!!"

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Why they're going after Social Security

It just doesn't look as red as the rest of the budget.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Even Xinhua sees through this...

link 1, as reported from Italy...

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The military junta is using Buddhism as a propaganda tool, this according to monks and analysts after the Fourth World Buddhist Summit ended in Yangon. Despite repeated threats of boycott, Myanmar’s military was able to host the event.

Isolated internationally for its many human rights violations, the military regime focused on the event which official media described as a “landmark in the history of Buddhism”.

Official newspapers carried photos of junta members appearing with Buddhist leaders or making generous donations for the upkeep of pagodas...

enerous donations for the upkeep of monasteries and the building of pagodas, and most of whom at some point become novices or monks.

The reality is quite different. The regime does not allow monks to practice and worship their religion freely. “They [monks] are totally controlled. They are obliged to be on the side of the regime,” a diplomat said.

“When Aung San Suu Kyi—leader of the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy—went into the provinces after her release, certain temple abbots refused to receive her” for fear of being harassed by military intelligence officials, the diplomat said of the Nobel peace laureate’s short period of freedom. Currently, Ms Suu Kyi is under house arrest.

Monks and nuns do not play a socially active role in the political life of the country, primarily devoting their time to the study of sacred texts and meditation in their monasteries.

“They are given gifts to encourage them to remain calm and not get involved in politics: money and cars,” said one analyst. “The Buddhist clergy has been completely bought,” he added.

Monks who dare to criticise the regime end up in prison and are almost immediately defrocked.

According to a secret association of monks, about 400 monks are currently being held in Myanmar prisons. A superior monk, who declined to give his name, acknowledged there were many monks in prison even as the regime hosted the Buddhist summit

And Xinhua says...

The religious summit, staged by Myanmar for the first time and began on Thursday, was participated by over 1,000 monks an nuns, observers and scholars from more than 30 countries and host Myanmar.

The opening ceremony was graced by Chairman of the Myanmar State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Senior-General Than Shwe, Prime Minister (PM) Lieutenant-General Soe Win, Lao Prime Minister Boungnang Vorachith, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Lu lay Sreng.

Observers here viewed the summit as a grand event for Myanmar during which leading Buddhist monks, researchers and scholars from across the world presented and discussed papers on a number of topics including "Universal Appeal of the Buddha Dhamma", "Buddhism and World Peace", "Buddhism and Its Relevance to the Present World", and "Buddhist Meditation and World Peace".

At the summit, common views were reached on many religious issues which contribute to enhancing understanding, friendship and cooperation among Buddhist countries.

Naturally, the Chinese story's watered down- they want that Greater Pan Asian Co prosperity whatever ... but the even does seem to have been staged...

That said, what should the response be?



Certainly, IMO, dissociation from the regime post-facto.



SEATTLE - The election director in Seattle's King County said Monday that hundreds of absentee ballots were mistakenly rejected in the heavily Democratic stronghold — enough to swing the close governor's race to Democrat Christine Gregoire.

A statewide hand recount is under way across Washington state after Republican Dino Rossi came out ahead of Gregoire by just 42 votes out of 2.9 million cast.

King County Elections Director Dean Logan said he will ask the county Canvass Board on Wednesday to amend the results of the Nov. 2 election in his county. Agreement is likely; Logan has a seat on the three-person board, and one of the other members is a Democrat.

Logan said election workers mistakenly rejected 561 absentee ballots because they thought signatures on the ballots did not match original voter registration records.

However, he said that the signatures simply were not on file in the county's computerized voter registration system and that original registration records should have been checked.

You know, this is only about counting the votes...and making sure the election's legit, but I won't be surprised to hear blather about "stolen elections."

This sedulous application and defense of the election law, though, is something that ought to have been done in 2000.

Fighting like a tiger after the election is what Karl Rove would do.

Mental Illness, Prison, and the Folly of it all


Jesse McCann was a baby-faced teenager of 17 the day he hanged himself in a New York State prison. The letters he had written to family and friends in the final weeks of his young life were not at all what one would expect of a person about to take his own life. In a letter dated March 16, 2001 - the final day of his life - he wrote passionately about wanting to pursue a degree in paralegal studies while in prison so that he could make a difference for young people in trouble. He asked his Uncle Dennis for a shipment of coffee - and talked about Twizzlers, one of his favorite candies. He signed the letter, "Love you, Jesse," and added a smiley face to the salutation.

This optimistic tone probably came from the medication he was taking...

The mood on display in this last letter, however, was not destined to last. According to official accounts, Jesse was being escorted to the mental health unit for his medication when he lost control - as inmates with mental problems often do - and began shouting obscenities. Predictably, a corrections officer tried to quiet him. Just as predictably, Jesse exploded. He struck the officer and was placed in the disciplinary housing unit, where unruly prisoners can be shut up for 23 hours each day.

Isolation, a hardship for even healthy inmates, is often catastrophic for those with mental problems. Their symptoms get worse and they often end up trying to harm themselves. Studies show, for example, that mentally ill inmates who are placed in isolation are far more likely to attempt suicide. The prospect of being isolated as a result of the latest outburst was apparently too much for Jesse. Shortly after being placed in the cell, he tied one end of a sheet to the window, the other to his neck and hanged himself...

Jesse was not innocent when it came to breaking the law, but his case fits this category, too. He was arrested and confined to a county jail for a nonviolent offense. While there, he succumbed to hysteria and was charged with assaulting a corrections officer, which is a felony. The offense seems to have drawn him special attention from corrections officers, who make it their business to keep close tabs on inmates charged with assaulting one of their own. Isolated and under more pressure than ever, Jesse McCann ended his life.

I have heard simplistic conservative advocacies for legal sanctions for various behaviors, wherein these advocates of "freedom" (who don't get the irony) insist that sanctioning some behaviors will lead to less of them.

But the fact is there's all these Jesse McCanns who blow to smithereens the premise of these conservative arguments, that people can rely on their reason.

Yet, if reason tell us to rely on our experience, how come conservatives don't realize that in actual practice, not simply in appeals to existential freedom, this doesn't work?

We imprison people for the public's safety, first and foremost. If we can work with the incarcerated to correct their behavior, this is good, and humane.

But assuming that the incarcerated are simply rational robots is as absurd as thinking their jailers are.

And the dark times begin...


In Kansas, conservatives now hold 6 of the 10 seats on the State Board of Education. All of them favor teaching theories that compete with or criticize evolution, said Jack Krebs, a member of the State Science Standards Writing Committee and vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science.

In 1999, the Kansas board voted to erase any mention of evolution from the state science curriculum, opening the door for the teaching of creationism. That was reversed in 2001, after three board members who supported the move were defeated in a Republican primary. Kathy Martin, a newly elected member of the board who favors teaching alternatives to evolution, said the board would probably take a different route this time, like introducing the teaching of "intelligent design," a theory that holds that the development of the universe and earth was guided at each step by an "intelligent agent."

The degree of illiteracy in science in the US is astounding, and Christian conservatives will go to great lengths, it seems (see here and here) to deny that their arguments against evolution are, in fact, as valid as talking to your dead ancestors, except that there's a granted patent for the latter can put in search words at the USPTO website and find it...

In recent weeks I've been working on research over at the IEICE's website. Americans are trying to use their resources to jusitfy that "evolution is false," while we are eating the dust of all the countries that are leaving us behind technologically.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

A Culture of Life Issue the Bush Regime Doesn't Care About


Emergency plans are being drawn up by government health advisers to deal with a potential outbreak of bird flu in Britain, which experts warn could claim many thousands of lives.

Measures being considered include closing schools, cinemas or theatres in affected areas, quarantining those who come into contact with victims, cancelling routine operations to allow hospitals to deal with the outbreak, and public education.

But highly sensitive consultations are also taking place over who would be given priority for early protective drug therapy.

The anti-viral drugs that can treat the disease have not yet been stockpiled and would probably cover only up to a third of the population.

Healthcare workers, as well as emergency service staff, would be given priority, following a plan drawn up during an earlier flu alarm, as would women in the later stages of pregnancy. The new scheme could include computer staff in a group of 'essential' workers who would have to be treated in order to ensure the economy did not collapse in the event of a pandemic.

The Whitehall blueprint is being given new urgency because of alerts from the World Health Organisation, which believes that the bird flu sweeping South-East Asia could move into the human population next year.

The virus carries a 73 per cent mortality rate, so fast action would need to be taken once the infection appeared on British shores. Sars, which hit Asia and Canada last year, revealed how air travel allows infections to cross the world in days if security measures are not taken in the countries of origin.

The last time Britain was hit by a flu virus was in 1968, when the Hong Kong strain arrived and affected 8 per cent of the adult population and caused 40,000 deaths. The new outbreak could be more virulent, because it is a new strain and there would be no pool of immunity against it.

What's the US doing? Why just google it and you'll see.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

You can't make this stuff up...


Christian school in Cary stops use of booklet justifying slavery

Leaders1 at a Christian school pulled yesterday a booklet about slavery that attempts to provide a biblical justification for slavery and asserts that slaves weren't treated as badly as people believe.

Officials of Cary Christian School argued that they weren't condoning slavery by having students read the booklet, but they said they removed it from the school's ninth-grade curriculum after they learned about faulty footnotes and citation errors in the publication.

"We apologize for this oversight and covet your prayers for our school," stated a memo to parents.

Students read Southern Slavery, As It Was, for two days when they study the Civil War, principal Larry Stephenson said.

The school used the booklet because it is difficult to find writings that both sympathize with the South and explore what the Bible says about slavery.

"You can have two different sides, a Northern perspective and a Southern perspective," Stephenson said.

Douglas Wilson, a pastor in Moscow, Idaho, and Steve Wilkins, a member of the board of directors of the Alabama-based League of the South, wrote the booklet.

That organization is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights group based in Alabama.

You this stuff really just is getting worse and worse...I imagine soon we'll see stuff justifying why concentration camps aren't so bad...oh waith...that Gonzales guy...Guantanamo...never mind.

1. What's "leader" in German again?

Why a Christmas Tree?

This is a question you could ask anyone of any religious persuasion, unless they're Nordic pagan, I suppose, but all the genuine Nordic pagans have died out. Probably the ones we have left are like our renditions of ancient Romans in 60's movies (they always spoke with English accents, for some reason).

Christmas, of course, probably like all holidays at this time, is a more or less invented holiday: it was originally Saturnalia. Whether or not Bodhi Day (Dec. 8) actually happened around this time, I don't know. And an exact date is really secondary. The "meaning" of holidays is what we impress upon them.

The news in Denver, recently, wasn't very encouraging:

This year, Jesus came anyway. A local evangelical Christian church called the Faith Bible Chapel sought but failed to get permission for a religious-themed float with a choir singing hymns and carols. By coincidence, Denver's mayor chose this year to change the traditional banner on the roof of the City and County Building. "Merry Christmas" was out. "Happy Holidays" was in.

Like a spark in dry tinder, the result was a flare-up that caught even some church leaders by surprise. A holiday rite that had drawn thousands of paradegoers annually suddenly became a symbol, for many Christians, of secular society run amok.

In our house, we use our Christmas tree as an expression of our family. There's photographs of family members, good-luck charms from China, Kwan-Yins from a local Chinese Pure Land Temple, keepsake ornaments from Kofukuji and Takaozan, and simply ornaments including, but not limited to my son's old pacifier, a "Baby Bop" on a sled, and penguins, Santas and a Christian religiously themed ornament or two. There used to be an old candy-cane, but my son ate that this year. Yuck.

Putting up the tree then is a celebration of who we are, and what we give to each other that really matters: ourselves.

Who gets to decide what "Christmas is," in our society? Does Bill O'Reilly? (Is that a role model you want near your adolescent daughter?) Does Faith Bible Chapel? Does the corporation that owns all thoee Westfield Shoppingtowns?

If everybody says, "You gotta do Christmas my way or the highway," doesn't that strangle all the good stuff about Christmas, if you're actually gullible enough to buy into that?

Anyway, we'll respectfully disagree with everyone and have a great time.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Prominent American Buddhists Part V: Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

Here's a guy most people who think of shallow "Hollywood Buddhists" probably don't know, let alone pronounce his name.

This guy has quite a pedigree. And he lives in a "red state."

Henepola Gunaratana was born on the 7th of December, 1927 in a small village named Henepola and ordained at the age of 12 as a Buddhist monk at a small temple in Malandeniya Village in Kurunegala District in Sri Lanka. His preceptor was Venerable Kiribatkumbure Sonuttara Mahathera. He received his basic Buddhist education at a small monks' school called Vidyasekhara Pirivena, Gampaha. At the age of 20 he was given higher ordination in Kandy in 1947. He received his higher education from Vidyalankara College in Kelaniya and Buddhist Missionary College of Mahabodhi Society in Colombo. Subsequently he was sent to India for five years of missionary work for the Mahabodhi Society, serving the Harijana (untouchable) people in Sanchi, Delhi, and Bombay. Later he spent ten years as a missionary in Malaysia, serving as religious advisor to the Sasana Abhivurdhiwardhana Society, Buddhist Missionary Society and the Buddhist Youth Federation of Malaysia...

At the invitation of the Sasana Sevaka Society, Bhante Gunaratana came to the United States in 1968 to serve as Hen. General Secretary of the Buddhist Vihara Society of Washington, D.C. In 1980 he was appointed President of the Society. During his years at the Vihara, he has taught courses in Buddhism, conducted meditation retreats, and lectured widely throughout the United States and Canada. He has also pursued his scholarly interests by earning a B.A., an M.A., and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The American University. He taught courses on Buddhism at The American University, Georgetown University, Bucknell University, PA, and University of Maryland. Also he has lectured at many universities in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand...

Bhante Gunaratana was the Buddhist chaplain at The American University, counseling students interested in Buddhism and Buddhist meditation. He is now president of the Bhavana Society and abbot of the monastery in West Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley, about 100 miles west of Washington, D.C.

While I may not agree with everything he writes, I have to admit that I usually find him to be deeply wiser than many other religious folks.

Where is the outcry on the right over this?

Atrios and David Brock rightly express outrage over this column by Sam Francis:

But the ad's message also was that interracial sex is normal and legitimate, a fairly radical concept for both the dominant media as well as its audience.

Nevertheless, for decades, interracial couples of different sexes have been sneaked into advertising, movies and television series, and almost certainly not because of popular demand from either race. The Owens-Sheridan match is only the most notorious to date.

In the minds of those who produced the ad, race is at least as important as the moral and aesthetic norms their ad subverts.

To them, the race as well as the religion, the morality, and the culture of the host society are all equally hostile and oppressive forces that need to be discredited, debunked and destroyed.

This is pretty disgusting stuff, and the excuse that Creators Syndicate syndicates a variety of columnists does not justify running such racist garbage. Or for that matter Michelle Maglagang. Or Joseph Farrah.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Must read on Digby on fundamentalists...

But first, on Digby, yeah, when I saw that photo of Bush, the first thing I thought of was Khaddaffi.

OK, now on to the fundamentalists:

The only way all fundamentalisms can have the same agenda is if the agenda preceded all the religions. And it did. Fundamentalist behaviors are familiar because we've all seen them so many times. These men are acting the role of “alpha males” who define the boundaries of their group's territory and the norms and behaviors that define members of their in-group. These are the behaviors of territorial species in which males are stronger than females. In biological terms, these are the characteristic behaviors of sexually dimorphous territorial animals. Males set and enforce the rules, females obey the males and raise the children; there is a clear separation between the in-group and the out-group. The in-group is protected; outsiders are expelled or fought.

It is easier to account for this set of behavioral biases as part of the common evolutionary heritage of our species than to argue that it is simply a monumental coincidence that the social and behavioral agendas of all fundamentalisms and fascisms are essentially identical.

What conservatives are conserving is the biological default setting of our species, which has strong family resemblances to the default setting of thousands of other species. This means that when fundamentalists say they are obeying the word of God, they have severely understated the authority for their position. The real authority behind this behavioral scheme is millions of years older than all the religions and all the gods there have ever been. It is the picture of life that gave birth to most of the gods as its projected champions.

Fundamentalism is absolutely natural, ancient, powerful—and inadequate. It's a means of structuring relationships that evolved when we lived in troops of 150 or less. But in the modern world, it's completely incapable of the nuance or flexibility needed to structure humane societies.

This is a great read, and very useful those of us who want to see a better world.

And that's bad because....

it means higher oil prices just due to currency fluctuations.


Pearl Harbor Day, Al Mohler, and nice confluences

Shokai has, from communication, some interesting questions today, on Pearl Harbor, Japanese aggression and Zen:

I got to thinking about the shady, often unmentioned relationship between Zen and the Japanese aggression before and after the attack. If there were Zen Masters present in Japan in the 1940s, as surely there were, why is there no record of them discouraging or protesting the war? Did they not find the militant attitude objectionable? Did they approve of the war, or even encourage the actions?

...the conclusion that is made is that Zen, with its emphasis on non-verbal experience, has no moral or ethical teachings, which allowed first the samurai class, then later the military, to go off the ethical deep end, and commit the atrocities of Pearl Harbor, and elsewhere through the Second World War.

No moral or ethical teachings in Zen? Nothing could be further from the truth. The author needs to spend less time in a library and more time in a zendo before attempting to identify the problem with Zen and its relation to the militaristic mind set of Japan in the first half of the 20th Century.

The fact is, there was a separation of a moral code from practice by these "samurai." The 8-fold path, 4 Noble Truths all work together, and it's a bastardization of Buddhism to act as though they don't.

Eventually (as with all suffering), there was enough of it for some folks, such as Gempo Yamamato Roshi, to sit up and take notice, but that was towards the very end of the war.

What does this mean for us today?

Can "Evangelical Christians" use this history?

Joe Carter cites a guy today as an "important Evangelical" who is cited admirably by Al Mohler, of whom Carter says:

Dr. Mohler is a prime example of the type of evangelical leader who has a profound impact on our country while remaining relatively unknown outside of Christian circles. He was one of the key figures in the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention, a monumental change that affected the largest Protestant denomination in America...

As bold as he is intelligent, Mohler often takes positions that are “politically incorrect” (e.g., his claim that Jews and Muslims don’t worship the “same God” as Christians) or that would raise the eyebrows of his fellow Baptists (i.e., his view that couple who choose “deliberate childlessness” are in violation of God’s moral order). He is also an eerily prolific writer, producing a quality article on culture and society for his weblog every weekday.

Anyone who wants to know the direction that conservative evangelicalism will take in America would do well to keep track of this influential theologian.

Meanwhile, a poster at Daily Kos has engaged Mohler on his own moral failings:

Anyway, in light of your recent comments that our denomination's "God is Still Speaking" television commercial is a "diabolical misrepresentation of the Christian faith," I wonder if you would mind giving me some pastoral advice. How exactly is it that I should tell this grandmother that her grandson is not welcome in our church? Should I explain to her that in order to maintain the body of Christ pure and unblemished, her loved one must be cast out?

If we take the angle that homosexuality is a sin, I'll have to explain to her that she should take the handful of scriptural passages that condemn same-sex intercourse at literal face value, but that she should then disregard Jesus' example of welcoming to himself those traditionally shut out of religious participation: children, the lame, lepers, sinners, tax collectors, and so on. How should I do this? She may very well respond with Jesus' consistent exhortations to avoid judging one another. How shall I respond to her?

I see on your weblog your thought that Jesus welcomed sinners, but expected them to repent of their sins. Since all the examples of Jesus' calling people to repentance involve social sins--that is to say, hurting other people--how should I explain this to this grandmother? If you could remind me how it is that being gay hurts someone else, I'd really appreciate it.

My saint may want to leave the church after such an exchange. What should I tell her friends, who have known since before my own parents were born? How should I minister to her, or to them? I'm afraid I may not have much of a pastoral relationship with her after this. She may feel hurt, as if she or her grandson had been somehow found to unworthy of God's grace and mercy. How should I tell her that God still loves her family, even though His church has banished her grandson?

I also spoke on Sunday to a family that's been visiting the church lately. They have two grandsons who have been attracted to the church through a new children's program we're running. One of these boys has a father from Ghana. The other is at least part Hispanic. We're very happy to have them with us, and we hope that they will choose to join the church at some point.

As you no doubt remember, the "God is Still Speaking" commercial also features an African-American boy who is turned aside by the bouncers outside a church. If our ads are "diabolical misrepresentations," as you suggest, won't I have to tell this family that in fact they're not welcome either? How should I tell them that our church is for white folks only? Should I tell them that the gospel passages where Jesus heals people from outside the Jewish nation were wrong, and he shouldn't have done it? Should I let them know that his commandment to "go out into the entire world, making disciples as you go" was just a joke? Oh, and what about the part of Acts where Peter baptizes an Ethiopian man? Does that not apply, either?

Clearly Mohler has forgotten what at least as of today, Japanese Zen Buddhists have not forgotten: that their wrongs have effects that live on.

Why do people like Mohler (and Carter) do this? Well, maybe to give folks like me an opportunity...

The AMA wants better than "faith based"

and says "no evidence that abstinence programs work."

Christopher DeRienzo, a medical student from Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C., who represents the nation’s medical students in the AMA’s House of Delegates, brought the community-based sex education issue to the AMA. The AMA already is on record supporting broad-based sex education programs that include information about contraception as well as information about abstinence. But DeRienzo says that community-based programs often have an abstinence-only curriculum that includes not only errors but also sexual stereotypes, such as teaching that girls are unable to “focus” when sexually aroused.

The medical students asked the AMA to make a flat statement that it was opposed “federal funding of community-based abstinence-only sex education programs and instead support federal funding of comprehensive sex education programs that teach about contraceptive choices and safe sex while also stressing the importance of abstinence in preventing unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.”

But the AMA delegates, who represent state medical societies as well as medical specialty societies, softened the language. Rather than saying the AMA is opposed to abstinence-only sex education programs, the new policy states that the AMA only supports programs that are evidence-based.

The change in wording was brokered by Billie Jackson, MD, a Macon, Ga., dermatologist who describes herself as a mother of teens. She says that there is evidence that an abstinence-only program in Jessup, Ga., “is effective and there is also evidence that an abstinence-based program in Washington, D.C., is effective. So, I think that in some communities, abstinence-based programs do work and so children should be told that they can just say no. And as physicians we should support programs that work.

To me, this sounds much like the pork-barrel DARE projects that are now highly discredited.

I can imagine that concentration camps for teens involved in sex might arise and make future ambassadors to Italy rich....

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Paul Krugman makes a brief appearance...

and, as usual, is dead on in his assessment at the lies, thievery and generall moral pig-sty of the Bush regime:

Right now the revenues from the payroll tax exceed the amount paid out in benefits. This is deliberate, the result of a payroll tax increase - recommended by none other than Alan Greenspan - two decades ago. His justification at the time for raising a tax that falls mainly on lower- and middle-income families, even though Ronald Reagan had just cut the taxes that fall mainly on the very well-off, was that the extra revenue was needed to build up a trust fund. This could be drawn on to pay benefits once the baby boomers began to retire.

The grain of truth in claims of a Social Security crisis is that this tax increase wasn't quite big enough. Projections in a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office (which are probably more realistic than the very cautious projections of the Social Security Administration) say that the trust fund will run out in 2052. The system won't become "bankrupt" at that point; even after the trust fund is gone, Social Security revenues will cover 81 percent of the promised benefits. Still, there is a long-run financing problem.

But it's a problem of modest size. The report finds that extending the life of the trust fund into the 22nd century, with no change in benefits, would require additional revenues equal to only 0.54 percent of G.D.P. That's less than 3 percent of federal spending - less than we're currently spending in Iraq. And it's only about one-quarter of the revenue lost each year because of President Bush's tax cuts - roughly equal to the fraction of those cuts that goes to people with incomes over $500,000 a year.

Me, I'd fund this directly through bringing back the estate tax. It could be done very easily, and have no effect on those much touted "family businesses."

Monday, December 06, 2004

There's hate and there's hate, I guess

Focus on the Family [sic] reports on the resignation of an NPR reporter for using "hate speech."

"You're evil, horrible people. You're awful people," she said, identifying herself only as "Rachel." "You represent horrible ideas. God hates you and He wants to kill your children. You should all burn."

Chris Carmouche, publisher of, said he's accustomed to liberals being offended by his group's moral stands—but added that Buchman's message was over the top.

"We want people to know that this is not an isolated incident," he said. "People have to realize there's not just a media bias, but in many cases there is a media hatred, toward anything conservative, Christian or traditional."

Well, I can say she was certainly blunt. But when you consider that, in the US compared to Europe:

Majorities in most countries say it is necessary to believe in God to be a moral person. But Canadians and Europeans – both in the West and the East – take the secular view that it is possible to be moral without believing in God. Opinion in the United States is closer to that in most developing countries, where agreement is nearly universal that personal morality is linked to belief in God.

is it really true that there is unfavorable bias towards Christians and not atheists and agnostics?

But there's a more important issue here: when Rachel Buchman said "You should all burn," wasn't she merely turning conservative Christians' rhetoric back on themselves? And so if it's hateful to say to conservative Christians "You should all burn," isn't the "God damn you" implied by conservative Christians ("Hell is not an eternal party place. It is the home of never ending torment, anguish and permanent damnation...") equally hateful?

Is this hate not directed against anyone who is not a conservative Christian?

Should Focus on the Family be focusing on its own planks?

Prominent American Buddhists: The strange case of Dr. Lenz...

This is part IV of a continuing series (Previously I wrote on Richard Thurman, Bernie Glassman, and Richard Baker.)

While he's been dead for a few years, the story Frederick Lenz is another cautionary tale for those that would consider taking up a study of the Dharma.

Lenz was, as I read it, a narcissist and exploited those around him. And his espousal of Buddhism seemed to have done little to affect his own day to day behavior.

Oddly enough, this guy's content lives on thanks to the internet. Despite the fact that he's in his grave, we can, thanks to the net, see the visage of some big-hair 80's rock-star like wannabe "Zen master." ("A Zen master is a teacher of enlightenment("direct perception of life without illusions"). In my experience that is about the only thing any two Zen masters have in common.")

Now, the fact is this isn't the point. The point is, from a Buddhist perspective, to answer the question of why do we suffer, and what can we do about suffering with concrete, mindful action. Yeah, when you're "enlightened" you see your "self" and things as they are, and that impels the "enlightened" one to act sincerely and whole-heartedly.

This takes years to develop, and is not some witty entertainment. It's not a gimmick. It's not a quasi-private joke amongst a select group of cognoscenti. It is hard work to integrate into the marrow of one's bones what one can see by practicing mindfulness. Takes years.

Oddly enough, though all the money Lenz collected over the years from his "seminars," seems to be getting put to relatively good use.

Some of the money (not an especially large amount- apparently Lenz's estate was worth around 18 million) has gone to the Zen Center of Utah.

The "Big Mind Process" is an innovative technique developed by Genpo Merzel Roshi, who heads the Salt Lake City Zen Center. The process is designed to fast track participants towards achieving self-realization. The innovative and accessible approach taught through this process allows participants to awaken to a universal mind consciousness, creating a major shift in perspective, from a self-centered view of the world to one where all beings are seen as connected with one another. The Foundation's grant permits Kanzeon to train teachers in this new process and to offer the program in ever-expanding parts of the United States.

When I read this I was concerned about two aspects:

1. The head of the Zen Center sits on the "advisory committee" of the foundation.

2. As I've noted above, true practice, true "enlightenment" takes years of practice/enlightenment.

After contacting them, I've been told basically that the Board makes the grant decisions ( the head of the center is not on the board), and that they agree with my second point.

So, despite the weirdness of it all, it looks like some good will eventually come out of all the misery that was engendered by Lenz.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Coming soon: on finding a teacher...

As per my earlier post on Richard Baker, and with the emerging issue of finding a teacher for my son (for martial arts, for music, for languages), I have been thinking about how one should find a teacher and what they should teach.

The issue of teachers in America is very muddled to say the least. Teachers in public schools feal beleagured by school boards who have their own agendas, parents who are often not involved in their children's lives, and of course the ever expanding "teaching to test" aspects of education policy.

That said, there are several questions I'd like to address (feel free to comment):

1. What makes a good teacher?

2. What is the proper relationship between teacher and student?

3. What should a teacher teach?

4. How do you evaluate whether a teacher is a good teacher?

5. When is a teacher unnecessary?

6. What responsibilities do parents have when dealing with teachers (when it's a teacher for a child)?

There are many people who have many opinions on this issue, to say the least. I tend to think more pragmatically about the Zen world there are "teachers" that say "a teacher is necessary," to those that say "Boddhidharma is the teacher, I'm not a teacher." Which is correct? How does this generalize to other teachers?

It's everybody's fault, but...

link might be time to ask if American consumers are entirely responsible for all their out-of-control spending. After all, the United States economy depends on its citizens' penchant for spending with abandon. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the nation's $11 trillion economy, and the machinery of American advertising, marketing, media and finance all encourage the consumption habit. Many consumers are unable to resist the overpowering mantra: spend, spend, spend...

"The American consumer has been pulling the United States economy and the global economy for years," noted David Wyss, chief economist of Standard & Poor's, a financial research firm.

But all that heroic pulling comes at a price. The outlook for consumer-driven growth, economists say, is in doubt, given the low savings rates and high debt levels of many American families. The Commerce Department reported last week that the personal savings rate fell near to a record low in October, when American households saved a meager two-tenths of 1 percent of their disposable income. The rate implies that a family with take-home pay of $40,000 saves on average $1.50 a week.

The average American household now spends 13 percent of its after-tax income to pay debts, the highest percentage since 1986. Much of it goes to pay home mortgages and car loans, but the average American household is also carrying more than $8,000 in credit card debt. Every 15 seconds, someone in the United States goes bankrupt, five times the rate in 1980, noted Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law School professor who is an expert on bankruptcy...

Another school of thought blames not the consumers, but the rising costs of necessities like education and housing. The debt of American consumers is worrying, but the problem is not impulse buying of luxury goods, said Professor Warren.

Today's middle-class families with two working parents, she said, have far less financial leeway than a single-income middle-class family of 30 years ago. What Ms. Warren classifies as "fixed costs" - mortgage, child care, health insurance, car and taxes - take up 75 percent of the income of today's two-income family. By contrast, the those costs represented about half of a middle-class family's income in the early 1970's.

Given that Americans' real income has been declining, and given the fact that their assets are mostly in real estate nowadays, one way to alleviate the issue is basically for people to agitate for a monetary and economic policy that's devoted to expanding the middle class, rather than raping it.

Of course, to many folks, that smacks of socialism, but when you look at the tax rates from, say, 1969 (start your own research here), if those taxes were indexed to inflation and adjusted for today's incomes (that is, e.g., the median income now is taxed at the same percentage as the median income then), most of us would get a tax cut, and of course the budget would be brought much closer to balance, if not in balance.

The religious right's latest cause celebre

(link) seems to be following the standard operating procedure for such outrages...

More than a year ago, the principal, Patricia Vidmar, had advised Mr. Williams - a self-described "orthodox Christian" - that she worried he "would try to proselytize his Christian faith to the students in his classroom," according to a federal lawsuit filed two weeks ago on Mr. Williams's behalf by Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian group based in Arizona.

Some at his school feared that that was exactly what he was doing. So last May, Ms. Vidmar instructed him to submit his class handouts to be screened for inappropriate religious content, Mr. Williams says.

What has ensued has opened a window on the increasingly high-pitched struggle taking place in a number of schools across the country over how much God should be taught in American history, a battle that has raged for many years but is intensifying as conservative groups feel invigorated in pushing their viewpoint and as defenders of a more secular approach are put more on the defensive.

Barred from his classroom, Mr. Williams said, were handouts with excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, the "Right of the Colonists" by Samuel Adams, and the 1682 "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania" by William Penn. Also rejected were excerpts from George Washington's prayer journal and a handout titled, "Fact Sheet: Currency & Coins History of 'In God We Trust.' "

Ms. Vidmar nixed the handouts "because of their religious content," the lawsuit states. In it, Mr. Williams accuses the school district of excluding "the viewpoint that this nation has a Christian history" and of demonstrating "impermissible hostility towards religion." Mr. Williams says his materials had been singled out because of his Christianity.

1. A right wing guy tries to push the envelope regarding making sure his narrative is the only narrative...

2. Moderates rightly object...

3. The right-wing spin machine goes into hyperdrive...

I have nothing against mentioning the religious history of the United States, but it should be shown warts and all:

1. The context of religious freedom given the then relatively recent events of the Thirty Years' War...

2. The theft of land, the issues of slavery (and the support of conservative churches for it), the witch burnings, the oppression of progressive movements by conservative churches, etc. should be discussed. And of course, the religious oppression of non-Christians should also be taught.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Interesting Christian...

I wonder if Joe Carter, who recently blogged about John Stott, will get around to Anthony Ole, who was recently profiled in the New Yorker. (No link, sorry.)

There's an earlier article from the LA Times, and one from US News & World Report, though.

But for the Christian belief system, Anthony could be an "avowed" Buddhist...

Despite outward success, Anthony felt inwardly bankrupt until he heard a talk by an evangelical author.

"The words that really got to me were: 'You were meant to be a failure. That is the only way God can use you. Look around you with honest eyes. Don't you see that all human effort is futile, empty and vain? All that is necessary for you is: Abandon yourself, pick up your cross and follow Him.' " So Ole Anthony closed his eyes and prayed...

He walked away from his business and said goodbye to dumbfounded friends. His plan was to surrender completely and wait for God to reveal the next step. He said his new faith was tested when he soon found himself homeless. For a while, he worked at a Christian TV station raising money on air - he smiles at the irony. "I would even cry on demand," he says. But the station was sold and everyone was let go. Anthony started living under a bridge in West Dallas. Huddled around the flames that leapt from a 55-gallon drum on a cold spring night, Anthony began to doubt his encounter with God. Maybe he had gotten the message mixed up. So he prayed again: "Did I not hear you correctly?"

He says he heard God's voice again:

"Your warfare is over, so take your eyes off yourself. Let me have the joy of making you what I want. I will supply your every need with no effort on your part. I love you." For Anthony, that settled it. "I really, really understood."

The New Yorker article makes it plainer: this is a guy who understands that suffering isn't to be evaded, but that it is where meaning is found in life.

Anthony is best known for exposing some of the seedier aspects of televangelists, as the above articles make plain.

Again, despite the very Christian worldview...this guy would make for an interesting discussion with Buddhists.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Focus on the Family and Lies for Jesus

I am always amazed at the nonsense that's published on the 'net by "apologetics" "ministries" of conservative religious groups that inevitably smear different religions.

Focus on the Family does it from time to time, such as this latest endeavor.

Here's my reply to them:

I am saddened by your article here (TRUTH ENCOUNTER Don’t All Spiritual Paths Lead to God? )

It is articles like this that have given people who are not fundamentalist Christians grave doubts about the morality of "biblical" Christians in general and Focus on the Family in particular.

To wit, Mr. Russo, the author, wrote:

Buddhism has no god and no type of final existence. The Hindu god is impersonal but can be approached through countless deities and statues. Allah, the Muslims’ god, is personal with no secondary deities and a total ban of idols or any other way of representing God. There’s no forgiveness or supernatural help in Buddhism and Hinduism, only cold-blooded karma.

The fact is Buddhism states nothing definite nor indefinite whatsoever about a "final" existence. Neither does Buddhism specifically have a need for "forgiveness," nor for the "supernatural." That said, there are variations of Buddhism that a Christian might refer to as "supernatural."

Finally karma, or interdependency, need not be "cold blooded," when understood and used by compassionate human beings.

I would think it is not too much to ask that you honestly represent Buddhism. Remember, your readers can go to a place like, or, or any of a number of places on the web and find out how Buddhists really view the world and what they practice. Trust me, you are not doing yourself any favors by misrepresenting the truth for "Jesus."

I really think it's not too much trouble for a group concerned about morality to actually practice it.