Saturday, April 23, 2005

A Deep Thought for the Day

Madness is a renewable resource.

(Seen somewhere on the internets. It sounds like the truth right now.)

Scattered Comments

It's Saturday so you can get more of my political musings on the American Street (listed in the right column of this here blog).

Being a political blogger is a little like living in a pressure cooker. There are times when the steam starts overpowering everything else and you realize that your irrationality sensors are going "beepbeepPLONK", and you double-check what you have written yourself and go "Oy vey". Then it's time to take a step back and replenish the batteries with nonpolitical things. Think what we bloggers are suffering on your behalf! Just to bring you all the atrocities of the day so that you can feel equally bad and angry.

The nice thing about this all is that whatever won't kill you will make you stronger. Or perhaps more lunatic, I'm not sure. I still look fairly normal for a goddess. But it's time to read some poetry and take nice walks and have long arguments with Henrietta the Hound about the importance or not of clean ears on droopy-eared dogs.

She hates ear cleaning and thinks that it's just another form of torture humans have invented. My arguments to the contrary are refuted in the bared teeth and the raised hackles form. I win, usually, by raising the horrible spectre of the Vet!, and Henrietta will meekly surrender for exactly one ear's worth of cleaning per week.

She had a hard morning today. Several large puppies had to be turned upside down in the dog park and taught basic good dog manners. The next time we visit all these puppies will crawl on their stomachs to Henrietta and kiss her neck. Their owners hate us, though. They don't understand puppy-rearing principles at all and assume that my dog is attacking their poor little puppies. Which she is, sort of, but that's how a dog mother acts. - I have seen what happens when this correction does not take place: large adult dogs barging straight into Henrietta and then having most of their butthair removed by the same. Not pretty, not pretty at all.

Hank had a hard morning, too. It consisted mostly of carrying extremely large branches sideways and trying to get them through between the legs of various standing humans. She is not liked in the dogpark, either. I feel about the same there as I'd feel in a Southern Baptist service.

And then the snakes always want to sleep on the cool side of the bed!

I didn't plan to just complain here. The idea was to show how wonderful a non-political life could be, and it probably is wonderful. I just have to find it first.

About This Earth

We are completely and totally dependent on this planet for our survival. We need the earth under our feet, we need its ability to grow food for us and we need the air for breath in the atmosphere. Whether we like it or not, we are really just part of the ecosystem of the earth. We are not its rulers, no god ever gave us the right to just go and rape it at will, or if this happened it was one of those truly nasty divine jokes on us.

Yet it would be hard to see this in the many writings about what to do to keep oil flowing or how to best exploit the wilderness for more oil, more houses and more highways. Or even in the opposite writings about how to jiggle things around so that we can go on spreading and consuming for a few more generations by gently fucking mother earth here and there rather than gang-raping her as is the custom nowadays.

This is something humans do extraordinarily well: To believe that we are the kings of all that we can see. Remember how Jesus in the Bible turned down this offer from Satan? Well, fundamentalists have not turned down the same offer, no. They have grasped it with both hands. And by fundamentalists I refer to both the radical clerics and the radical market-lovers.

Echidne is no tree-hugger, though. I have far too much real respect for the nature to assume that it cares about my hugs. No, I'm approaching this question analytically and from that stance we humans are no different from cockroaches or bacteria in most important aspects. We are all dependent on this planet for our continued survival. The only difference between "us" (set apart, somehow, by being the winners in the evolutionary race) and "them" (all those "also-rans") is that we can consciously decide to commit collective murder and suicide of ourselves and everything else on this earth. We really should be called the suicide bombers, all of us. That's how smart we are.

Yet, the fundamentalist market-lovers and clerics do have a point: None of the trends scientists have observed are really bad enough to worry over if the worrying is about the survival of the planet. They are correct: the planet will survive. What won't is us. But of course the wingnuts believe that they will be harvested in the Rapture and resettled somewhere to sing eternal psalms in white nightgowns. And the wingnuts don't really care about anyone else but themselves and their rigid nightmares.

I'm no wingnut, thank all the goddesses and gods that might exist. I don't really believe that this planet is just the training wheels for humans, something to be discarded when we have memorized the Bible. That is one of the most egotistical beliefs I have ever met and I have met many. But because far too many are willing to accept the training wheels theory I must fight them. Not because I would hug trees or worship the earth but because there is no other alternative if you are interested in seeing the next installment in the history of this earth.

My garden notes tell me about the changes that are happening. Spring flowers cropping up so early that their pollinators are not awake yet. The neigboring gardens becoming areas of death, with not one single worm or spider in them, because of the miracle poisons that clear up everything. Then the plants wither and die, and the gardeners add more stuff to force them back. I see the birds on their migrations and the only lawn they land on is mine, the only one without poisons. All the neighborhood squirrels store their nuts in my flower beds, the only ones without poisons. And I, the only poisonless gardening goddess, stomp my feet in frustrated anger, because what I can do is too little and too late. And leaves me with all the work.

But there is no alternative. So get going on whatever small strip of earth you have control over. Hug the trees if you have to, they can tell you a thing or to. And then start pestering the politicians and chasing the wingnuts around the blog or block and so on. For the sake of not this earth but all of us on it.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Friday Embroidery Blogging


This is something I embroidered after 9/11 events. I took the picture a long time ago and the flash hit the Lady Liberty's forehead (because of glass on top). But since then I dropped the camera on Hank and I don't want to test if it still works.

The techniques are pretty primitive: straight stitch, cross stitches and some chain stitches. The black linen background was once a summer party dress! Lots of happy memories though the theme isn't very happy.

Happy Earth Day!

Others can comment on this one for me:

Six wild horses rounded up on federal land in the West and sold to a private owner have been slaughtered - four months after Congress did away with protection for wild mustangs, a government official said Thursday.

``This is something we regret and are very disappointed'' about, said Celia Boddington, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Washington, D.C. ``We make every possible effort when the horses are sold to make sure the animals are placed in good homes for long-term care.''

In December, Congress replaced a 34-year-old ban on slaughtering any mustang with a law that allows the sale of older and unwanted horses. But the Bureau of Land Management says it is trying to prevent sales of horses for their meat.

The animals up for sale are captured during periodic government roundups aimed at reducing the wild population. About 37,000 wild horses and burros roam the Western range, about 9,000 more than the BLM has said the natural forage can sustain.

BLM has sold and delivered nearly 1,000 horses since the new law passed. Some 950 more have been sold and are awaiting delivery.

And here is our president honoring the earth:

President Bush canceled an Earth Day visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Friday because of bad weather.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the threat of hail and thunder storms was keeping the president from visiting the park, but Air Force One still was making a brief stop at an airport outside Knoxville, Tenn., so Bush could make remarks near the park on Earth Day.

Bush then planned to fly on to Texas, where he was spending the weekend at his ranch and then hosting Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Monday.

"W" is For Women. Gag.

In fact, George Bush and his wingnuts care so much for the women of this world that they are prepared to have as many as 68,000 more of them dead:

The US government is trying to block the World Health Organisation from endorsing two abortion pills which could save the lives of some of the 68,000 women who die from unsafe practices in poor countries every year.

The WHO wants to put the pills on its essential medicines list, which constitutes official advice to all governments on the basic drugs their doctors should have available.

Last month, an expert committee met to consider a number of new drugs for inclusion on the list. They approved for the first time two pills, to be used in combination for the termination of early pregnancy, called mifepristone and misoprostol. In poor countries where abortion is legal, doctors currently have no alternative to surgery.

The Guardian understands that the US department of health and human services has been lobbying the director general's office at the WHO to block approval of the pills, in line with President George Bush's neoconservative stance on abortion.

While the availability of pills might make abortion easier and could increase the number choosing it, the experts want them listed to reduce the deaths and damage caused by surgery. Every year, 19 million women have unsafe abortions - 18.5 million of those take place in developing countries. An estimated 68,000 women die as a result of botched or unhygienic surgery, while many others suffer long-term damage, including sterility.

Note that it makes no difference that these drugs would only be available in countries where abortion is legal already. Would such availability increase the number of abortions? Probably. Would it also decrease the number of women who die from abortions? Definitely. The Bush administration calculus of values is clear: The loss of fetuses counts for more than the loss of already existing lives. I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't another hidden value judgment in operation: Punish those women who don't wish to be pregnant.

Similar sentiments hold sway here in the U.S.. The pro-life movement has expanded its definition of abortion to cover certain types of contraceptives, especially the contraceptive pill. Pharmacists now wish to decide if the contraceptive pill is an abortifacient and they want to have the right not to dispense it. Given this, it is not surprising that the most recent pro-life attack is against "the morning after" pill, also called Plan B, a high dose of progesterone taken soon after unprotected intercourse.

The wingnuts don't like this pill. It encourages promiscuity, omits the necessary punishment for sexual activity and so on:

Plan B's most outspoken critic, the right-wing Concerned Women for America, insists it is actually worried about safety, given the lack of studies on the pill's long-term effects. But the vast majority of medical experts say Plan B is completely safe, in part because birth-control pills have such a well-established safety record themselves. According to the Guttmacher Institute, Plan B was available in 2002 without a prescription in 26 countries, including Switzerland, Israel, and Congo.

A less flimsy argument against Plan B is that it is tantamount to abortion. While science has demonstrated that Plan B works, it has not shown definitively how Plan B works. And, although most researchers believe that it acts by postponing ovulation or preventing fertilization, it could also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus--which, according to some pro-life groups, is murder. That's a perfectly respectable, intellectually consistent position for people who believe life begins at the instant when sperm meets egg. But it's also a very severe standard, given that fertilized eggs naturally fail to implant 40 to 60 percent of the time. This is one reason that the medical establishment defines pregnancy as beginning only when a fertilized egg has implanted.

The other serious argument against Plan B is that it will increase risky sexual activity by young people. But peerreviewed studies published in mainstream medical publications (like one just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association) have repeatedly found no such link. Of course, conservatives argue that making emergency contraception available sends a broader cultural message about the acceptability of premarital sex. But, even if that were true, there are the likely benefits of Plan B to consider. James Trussell, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, has estimated that, if emergency contraceptives were widely available in this country, they could reduce the approximately 1.3 million abortions that take place yearly in this country by half. If a culture of life is so sacrosanct, shouldn't that trump the issue of premarital sex?

How to answer that last question? There are specifications to the "culture of life" in wingnuttia and these exclude most anything that promotes better lives for already existing people. "Life" in the wingnut jargon usually refers to fetuses and to people who are brain-dead. Some already existing lives (such as those of Iraqis or Afghanis) don't matter much. Women's lives are valued as equipment for making future wingnuts but don't seem to possess much intrinsic worth. And in general wingnuts lose all interest in the saving of any lives if it costs them something. Hence the eagerness to ban abortions and the reluctance to fund anything that would make bringing up children easier.

The "W", by the way, stands for "wingnut".

Thursday, April 21, 2005


FAIR has just published a response to the Ann Coulter interview in Time. Well worth reading if you are one of the few people not blessed with a far too intimate knowledge of the lunacies that Coulter spouts. Here's a taste:

Throughout the article, Cloud presented instances where Coulter was
allegedly misunderstood or underappreciated. And in each case, Cloud
either gave Coulter a pass, or concluded that her opponents were wrong.
Cloud generously wrote that Coulter "likes to shock reporters by
aloud whether America might be better off if women lost the right to
vote"-- as if she writes or speaks such things on national television
to get a rise out of journalists. Cloud also argued that Coulter can
"write about gender issues with particular sensitivity," an odd trait
attribute to someone who recently claimed that women are "not that
(Fox News, 9/23/04).

Cloud also recalled a TV debate over environmentalism where Coulter
offered her typical hyperbole: "God gave us the earth. We have dominion
over the plants, the animals, the seas.... God said, 'Earth is yours. Take
it. Rape it. It's yours.'"

And so on. It's entertainment, of course, or Coulter-tainment. The idea is to make politics into something a knuckledragger would enjoy watching, and the reason is in advertising revenues. If you make political debates into fights between wackoes (or better still, into wingnut wackoes beating up whiny Democrats) the folks who normally watch wrestling might be lured over! Hence a woman who advocates killing and violence routinely is portrayed as an Important Player in Politics.

That's probably pretty much the only kind of woman who could be famous in politics, though I think talking about blowjobs all the time would work, too. Whether Coulter is all an act or whether she is seriously deranged is irrelevant (though ethically the first alternative is worse). What matters is that this is the new entertainment of our era: politics as reality television.

Some argue that people like Coulter should be engaged in debate, not ignored or ridiculed. That is wonderful advice. How exactly would you do that? Just pick that statement above about raping the earth. How would you respond to that? And what would Coulter say then? It's impossible to debate someone who has no intention of actually debating back, who intends to yell and scream and call you names at every opportunity and who will simply talk more loudly if you try to interject an argument.

Coulter is a rabid extremist and should be regarded as one. That the Time magazine gave her inches and inches of positive column space tells poorly on the magazine. There is such a thing as responsible journalism. Too bad that Time has decided to have nothing to do with it.

Unless Roe v. Wade Is Overturned, Politics Will Never Get Better.

This is what David Brooks says in his newest NYT column. The Roe v. Wade decision is one of those things that, believe it or not, caused everything that has gone wrong in American politics ever since the early 1970's. It has made politics uncivil, it has caused those arrogant elitist liberals to ignore the mainstream values (which mean wingnut values for Brooks who wouldn't recognize a member of the working classes if one was sent to him in a padded envelope) and it is even responsible for the Republicans' nuclear option of banning filibustering in the Senate. If Roe v. Wade had never happened the wingnuts politicians would be kissing and hugging communists all over Washington D.C..

The best response to this inanity is Michael Berube's rewriting of the column by substituting Brown v. Board of Education (the case that integrated schools) for Roe v. Wade (thanks to commenter norbizness for the tip). I have little to add to Michael's masterful treatment of the topic, but what little I do have is important to point out.

First, overturning Roe v. Wade would not make politics more civil. What would happen is this: Wingnuts would no longer necessarily want to vote Republican. This would mean that the Republicans would have to invent another hot button issue to keep the fundamentalists angry and ready to vote. The most likely candidate is banning all contraception. Now this would make politics very interesting, I think, but civil is not exactly the word that comes to mind.

Second, even if Brooks was right and everyone in politics would join arms in the walk towards Rapture, the rest of this life would look increasingly uncivil. There would be lots more dead women around, for one thing.

Third, though I don't exactly wonder about Brooks's sanity anymore (I have enough evidence by now) I do find it odd that only a few days ago he wrote this:

You see the febrile young teens in their skintight spaghetti strap tank tops with their acres of exposed pelvic skin. You hear 50 Cent's ode to oral sex, "Candy Shop," throbbing from their iPods. You open the college newspapers and see the bawdy sex columns; at William and Mary last week I read a playful discussion of how to fondle testicles and find G spots."

And now he tells us that Roe v. Wade should go. Brooks is a man and he is not expected to wear skintight tank tops or expose his pelvic skin (thanks for small mercies!). He is never going to become pregnant by rape or incest or by accident. He is never going to know how any of those alternatives might make him feel. Given this, he should write his columns with a little more humility, with a little less cocky arrogance. But if he was able to perform such feats he wouldn't be a wingnut.

Today's Action Alert

Today's Action comes via pflag:

Dear friends and colleagues,

A judge is being followed 24/7 by bodyguards to protect him against death threats and hate mail that he has been receiving. You might think this story comes from Iraq, but it's happening in San Francisco right now. It's happening to Judge Richard Kramer, who recently issued a historic decision that determined it is against California's state constitution to deny civil marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

According to a good friend of mine who speaks with Judge Kramer regularly, Judge Kramer is depressed that mail against his decision outnumbers mail in favor by a ratio of 10 to 1. He is depressed because he is bathing daily in a bath of vituperation and hatred. He is depressed because the people who oppose his decision are not interested in the rule of law but the rule of ideologies and emotions.

So i am asking you a favor: please take out your pen - yes, your pen, i ask for your hand in this - and write Judge Kramer a brief note of support.

If you are straight, please mention this.

If you live out of state, explain how it might touch and affect you to know that a California judge has had the courage to interpret the law scrupulously and in accordance with the evidence and our fundamental principles of equal justice for all, as our system requires.

Please note that Judge Kramer is known to be a conservative and prudent jurist. He is a married Catholic and a Republican, and was appointed to the bench by a Republican. So it is difficult to write off his opinion as one biased by a liberal or personal agenda.

And please, forward this email on to your own list, and ask your friends and colleagues to write as well. If we do not support and defend people who act with integrity and stand up for what is right, who will?

Your letter should be sent to:

Judge Richard Kramer
Civic Center Courthouse
400 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102-4514

Thanks for taking today's action.

Quote of the Day

This is from LA Times, describing the events of the new pope's election day:

After the traditional burning of ballots and the pope's triumphant balcony appearance Tuesday, Benedict XVI invited the cardinals back to a hasty celebratory dinner. Caught off-guard, 20 nuns at the cardinals' Vatican residence improvised a repast of soup, beans, cold cuts, ice cream and champagne.

Make of it what you wish.

DeLay, Out Of Touch

According to the Great Popularizer of wingnut ideas, one David Brooks of the august New York Times, us liberals and progressives are out of touch with mainstream America (which he defines to exclude us, of course). Well, I think that the wingnuts are out of touch with practically everything. Consider this raving by Tom DeLay, the Bugman Extraordinaire:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay intensified his criticism of the federal courts on Tuesday, singling out Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's work from the bench as "incredibly outrageous" because he has relied on international law and done research on the Internet.

DeLay also said he thought there were a "lot of Republican-appointed judges that are judicial activists."

The No. 2 Republican in the House has openly criticized the federal courts since they refused to order the reinsertion of Terry Schiavo's feeding tube. And he pointed to Kennedy as an example of Republican members of the Supreme Court who were activist and isolated.

"Absolutely. We've got Justice Kennedy writing decisions based upon international law, not the Constitution of the United States? That's just outrageous," DeLay told Fox News Radio. "And not only that, but he said in session that he does his own research on the Internet? That is just incredibly outrageous."

Indeed. Using the many law libraries on the internet is outrageous. But accepting a skybox donation and a trip to Europe is not outrageous. Read my lips, David Brooks:
Politics will never be civil as long as we have wingnuts like this in power.
Understanding this rant may require reading the Brooks link. My apologies. Probably better just to skip the whole thing.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Bodies in the Tigris River?

I used to read about this river as the cradle of civilization. Now it cradles at least fifty corpses if Iraq's president is to be believed:

The new Iraqi president said today that more than 50 bodies had been discovered in the Tigris River and suggested they were victims of a massive kidnapping south of Baghdad that Iraqi officials insisted was a hoax just three days ago.

President-elect Jalal Talabani, who made the surprise assertion after a meeting with Shiite leaders over dividing up top jobs in the new government, offered no details about the crime, including when or precisely where the bodies were found.

Mr. Talabani, in his comments to reporters, offered no documentation that could help independently verify his statement, like a list of victims, photographs of the bodies, or the names of witnesses. He said the government knew the names of victims and had such photographs, however.

In the latest bizarre turnabout in a succession of claims about whether any kidnappings occurred, Mr. Talabani said that hostages had , in fact, been killed, and their bodies thrown into the Tigris. An American military spokesman in Baghdad said today that he had no information about the bodies.

These corpses would be Shiites, kidnapped and executed by Sunni terrorists. Stirrings of a civil war? Well, at least Saddam isn't a danger any longer.

Whatever the truth about this particular incident, Iraq still has plenty of violent events to satisfy the most insistent rubber-necker:

The pronouncement came amid continuing violence in the country, as 20 Iraqi troops were taken from their trucks near the western city of Haditha, dragged to a soccer stadium and lined up against the wall and shot, according to an official in the Interior Ministry. Nineteen of the Iraqis died, and one was taken to a hospital, the official said.

Later today, a suicide car bomb went off near the headquarters of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's political party in Baghdad, a police official told news agencies. At least one person was killed.

Was it all worth it? Americans are asked this question regularly in various polls about whether the Iraq war was a good idea or not. I find the whole idea of polling people who are driving their SUVs far away from the killing fields disgusting, especially when we can't ask the dead, not the Americans or the Iraqis, not those killed by Saddam or those killed by other Iraqis or by Americans. They are the ones who paid the price, after all.

All About Sex

Atrios has an interesting post today which asks this:

The question isn't why for Sullivan or me or anybody else it's "always about the sex." The question is why in contemporary society much of religion is all about the sex, and especially gay sex. Last I checked there were all kinds of sins and all kinds of sinning going on. The Church may never stop considering homosexuality to be a "moral evil." But, they consider lots of things to be "moral evils." Why the obsession with hot gay sex?

The fundie churches are indeed very focused on sex and on fertility. There is the right kind of sex (in marriage and resulting in more believing babies) and the wrong kind of sex (everything else). The cynical explanation for all this single-minded focus on sex is that churches want large markets, they want to have lots of little believers which will grow up to be big believers, because large numbers mean more money and more power and influence. Indeed, I think that this is a major part of the true explanation.

But linked to the market area concerns are the concerns about how to keep traditional structures in place and what such structures mean. If fundie churches have control over sex they have solved a large chunk of these problems. For example, women who are continuously pregnant or lactating will not have time or energy to question their place or to demand perks such as the right to be priests. In fact, they will be pretty unable to leave the home much at all. As old Ratz the pope, for example, thinks that women should be at home all this works out just dandily.

Abortion, contraception and gay sex are all threats to this plan. Abortion and contraception can be controlled because the tools used in them can be controlled. But gay sex is much harder to regulate this way, given that no specific aids are needed. Gay sex will not produce more believers. What's more worrying, gay sex confuses the big traditional gender issue of who's to be the submitting bottom. No longer is it possible to decide this on the basis of sex! And horror of horrors, perhaps the same kind of thinking might spread to heterosexual couplings! Traditional structures would groan and shake and then...! NO. The fundie churches can't allow that.

So though I exaggerate just a teeny bit here I think that all the talk about sex is not about sex at all. It is about power and keeping people in their proper places, especially women. That's why old Ratz doesn't attack just the gays and the lesbians but also and especially the feminists.

Just Talking to Myself

Someone on a political thread somewhere in the lefty blogosphere used this structure:"When we get back in control..." in talking about what might happen after the wingnuts have been defeated.

This sentence scrap kept echoing in my head afterwards and wouldn't leave me alone until I agreed to attend to it. Here's the attending:

I will never be in control. I have never been in control and expect never to gain control over anything much. This I know for a fact. Why, then, can someone else so trustingly expect to have control over the political situation? What is it that makes me feel as if I have really very little say on this planet? There are many billions of people who probably have less say in reality. Or is it just that I don't believe in the generalized concept of control by one political party or another? Most of us don't have power over political effects, after all. So was whoever made the initial statement someone with access to real power? Or just someone who feels much more empowered?

This is all totally trivial. Or is it? Why do I feel as if my voice is inaudible in this world? Because it is? Because all our voices are inaudible in a world where only money and guns and gods can speak? Or is this a woman-thing? Something to do with the new pope, perhaps, with the celebration and glorification of a man who would not listen to women? Who would not listen to anyone with values like mine?

Maybe that is the answer. I no longer see, hear or read my values expressed positively in the media that stands for our common living-room. Can you think of a single person with liberal or progressive values who has easy access to mainstream media networks and who is actually allowed to speak uninterrupted for a few minutes? I can't think of a single living person like this. Some dead ones, sure, like Martin Luther King. But the dead are inaudible, too.

They Just Don't Get It #6

This is my series of those ever-so-minor things that feminists notice. Like the sensitive princess feels the pea through forty-eight mattresses, I can smell sexism through the internets.

Here is a comment I read yesterday:

I generally don't listen to female artists. Nothing against women in music, it's just that the music they produce rarely does anything for me.

I could understand this statement if all women in music were in one type of music, say jazz or hiphop or classical. But the only unifying aspect here seems to be the performers' sex. Something about being a woman causes this man not to like the female artists.

Hmmm. Let's check. Suppose that I said: "Igenerallydon'tlistentoblackartistsnothing againstblacksinmusicit'sjustthatthemusictheyproducerarelydoesanythingforme."

I think this one fails the no-sexism test.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

On Relativism and Fundamentalism

The new pope gave a homily before his election. It included this important statement:

The prelate said relativism "recognises nothing definitive and its final measure is no more than ego and desire".

"Every day new sects are born and what Saint Paul said about the deception of men, on cleverness that leads to mistakes, is becoming so.

"Having clear faith according to the credo of the church is often labelled fundamentalism, while relativism, that is, allowing oneself to be carried here and there by whatever wind of doctrine, seems like the only attitude with any currency today," said Ratzinger.

This is important because Ratz tells us why he is a fundamentalist and why he regards alternatives to Christian fundamentalism as incorrect. Notice how he uses false dualism here? There is his stance, strong and unwavering, and then there is chaos. There is fundamentalism, which for him is knowing all the answers and then there is fashion and picking a new way of thinking every Monday morning.

Not being a fundamentalist doesn't have to mean that one is a complete value relativist, but you would never get this from Ratzinger's statements. His arguments are simplistic, political and unexamined, by him, at least.

He says nothing about the scenarios people hold about values in general. I can think of at least three: Some (including old Ratz) believe that there is one single framework of values, given to everyone by some superhuman being (not Echidne, though). Others believe that every society has its own value frameworks and that those outside that society cannot evaluate them meaningfully. This would be the relativist viewpoint. Yet another theory argues that there are certain almost universally held values but their actual manifestations differ in different societies because of historical reasons and reasons of weighing the basic values differently. This one Ratzinger ignores in his homily, perhaps, because it requires thought to understand and apply. Obviously, it is the one I follow!

The fight between absolutes and relativities has been going on for thousands of years, probably, and the appeal of the absolutes is always here. If something is inherently so, by god's words, then all one needs to do is to follow that absolute and, presto, one has the visa for heaven or paradise or nirvana. Then what usually happens is that the horrible crimes following this sort of thinking (the Inquisition, for example, or the witch burnings) start upsetting some and the discussion shifts towards an attempt to rank values and to decide which ones are more basic and thus more important to maintain. If this shift lasts for a while we get something like the Enlightenment, but then usually another period of absolutism begins. Because people fear death and want simple answers. Also, we want to know that there is a god and we want to please that god.

Ratz is a fundamentalist. The problem with religious fundamentalism for me is twofold: First, I don't believe that divinities wrote the holy books in the first place. I believe that they were written by religious people of their time and place and that they largely reflect the values of those societies. So what Ratz tells me is to live my life according to the values that nomadic shepherds had two thousand years ago.

Second, fundamentalists have a lot of trouble ranking the messages in their holy books, and ranked they must be if they are to make sense in actual decision-making. Is the condemnation of usury more important than, say, the ban on wearing wool and linen at the same time? What about all the pro-poor statements in the Bible? Should they take precedence over the few statements which advocate killing the witches or subjugating the women or murdering the gays? Questions, questions...

In reality, all fundamentalists take the bits they like and magnify them while ignoring the other bits. This is value relativism, of course.

But what I most dislike about the religious fundamentalists is their penchanche to replace the letter of the law for its intention. Consider how the Taliban banned women's shoes that made noise! The reason for this has to do with the ankle bells that prostitutes wore during Mohammed's era, to advertise their profession. Thus, Mohammed told women not to make a noise when they walked, and the Taliban theologists complied!

What the Catholic church does is something very similar: Just make divorce illegal and all marriages will be as god intended! Fundamentalism does away with the need to dig into the causes of problems, to address the needs of each individual and to suggest real solutions. Instead of all this, just ban, ban away. Osama bin Laden would approve, too, though for him the letters of the law are different, naturally.

Catholics, World Leaders Welcome the New Pope

I don't. I already had a bout in the ring with old Ratz and I won. He's a bigoted wingnut, he is, and I don't care how many people I insult by simply stating the truth. Even though he is now a pope.

Just look at his picture:

Ratz doesn't like uppity women and he hates feminists and gays. He also hates Liberation Theology, believes that other religions are false and wants to "reconvert" Europe into Christianity. Will they use swords this time, too?

Here is a short summary of his views:

Once settled he was quick to make a mark with his old-fashioned dogmatism and conservative values. He was particularly upset by what he saw as destructive, liberalizing influences unleashed at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). These 'wild excesses' extended to the introduction of a non-Latin Mass after Vatican II which Ratzinger characterized as a 'tragic breach' in tradition. But the Cardinal's discomfort with modern life and yearning for the good old days also extended to the social realm, especially into the areas of gay rights and women.

In 1986 Ratzinger issued a letter to the Catholic Bishops in which he wrote that homosexuality was a 'tendency' towards an 'intrinsic moral evil'. A few years later, in 1992, he rejected the notion of human rights for gays, stressing that their civil liberties could be 'legitimately limited'. He followed up by remarking that 'neither the church nor society should be surprised' if 'irrational and violent reactions increase' when gays demand civil rights. Not a man to mince his words, Ratzinger urgently set to work to ferret out gay-sensitive clergy.

The good Cardinal also extended the Papal principle of 'infallibility' by declaring that the ordination of women was impossible because John Paul II said it was so. Ditto for the use of the word 'priest' by the Anglican Church: not on, said Joe, because Leo XIII in 1896 said it wasn't allowed.

The Cardinal is also not happy mixing religion and politics Рat least not the kind of politics which suggests the Church has an obligation to assist the poor in their fight for justice. So he set out to muzzle outspoken 'liberation' theologians including Brazil's charismatic Leonardo Boff. He also replaced the now-deceased Archbishop of Recife, Dom Helder Camara, with Monsignor Jos̩ Cardosa Рa conservative right-winger Рand warned the ex-Bishop of Chiapas in Mexico, Samuel Ruiz, to preach the Gospel 'in its integrity without Marxist interpretations'.

As if that weren't enough, the ever-busy Cardinal has used his privileged take on the Truth to set back inter-faith tolerance and religious pluralism a few decades. In 1997 Ratzinger annoyed Buddhists by calling their religion an 'autoerotic spirituality' that offers 'transcendence without imposing concrete religious obligations'. And Hinduism, he said, offers 'false hope'; it guarantees 'purification' based on a 'morally cruel' concept of reincarnation resembling 'a continuous circle of hell'. The Cardinal predicted Buddhism would replace Marxism as the Catholic Church's main enemy this century.

And he is in bed with Opus Dei, where the men's sheets get changed and laundered by the women members. - No, I don't care for Pope Ratz, and calling him Benedict will not help.

He is seventy-eight years old which means that he will likely be a short-term pope, to get the church into order for something or other. But even a short-term pope can do long-term damage.

Today's Action Alert

Today's Action comes from MoveOn.

Write a letter to the editor of your local paper explaining why the Republicans should not use the nuclear option to eliminate the filibuster. Here are some talking points, but you should put these in your own language.

* In the next 10 days the Republicans will try to use the "nuclear option" to seize absolute power to appoint judges who will roll back decades of progress in protecting worker rights, the environment, and privacy.
* The "nuclear option" is a parliamentary trick to eliminate the filibuster - the right to extend debate on controversial judicial nominations.
* One of the first judges the "nuclear option" would force through is Janice Rodgers Brown of California, who is nominated for the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals, a common stepping stone to the Supreme Court
* Judge Brown follows an extremist judicial philosophy that calls for the courts to block Congress from guaranteeing such things as the 40 hour work week, the minimum wage, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Thanks for taking today's action!

Monday, April 18, 2005


Ann Coulter's interview in Time is getting much attention in the blogosphere. Billmon has a funny take on cover and people on Eschaton are saying all the things about Coulter that need to be said: that she lies and screams and yells, that she advocates razing down whole countries and converting them to Christianity and that she thinks liberals should be hit with baseball bats. All true. The next rational question then is why would Time bother to interview someone like that.

Because she is "someone like that". We now have a media that would shame Barnum and other circus impressarios. At least they only sold unicorns to the unsuspecting masses. We get sold teasers: sexual teasers, political teasers, "everything-goes" teasers. The teasers never have a resolution, have you noticed? They never give any new information. Their only purpose is to maximize sales, and the way to do that is to guarantee that they outrage the liberal/progressive reader and do not outrage the wingnut reader.

I have figured this out and I will be very mad if data proves me wrong. Because it is an excellent and cunning theory and it goes like this:

Axiom 1: Newspaper and magazine readers are largely liberals and progressive (because we are smart). (You can figure out the corollary...)

Axiom 2: People are more likely to buy a magazine that provokes them than one that soothes them.

Axiom 3: The larger the sales of a magazine or newspaper, the greater its advertizing revenues will be.


Echidne's Theorem:

Magazines and newspapers will publish pro-wingnut teasers.

If they did the reverse the wingnuts would buy in outrage but they are not that many. Most liberals would not bother, and the total profits of the firm would be less.

For all this to work the teasers must never conclude by taking sides in a definite manner, and this is why we will see no end to this stupidity.

The Ann Coulter story is the last of many such tricks. Even the New Yorker has hired the "one-topic" anti-feminist Caitlin Flanagan as its teaser. The New York Times has David Brooks laboriously penning gooey diatribes. But check out Washington Times, the Moonie-owned wingnut paper. Does it publish Echidne's Communist Column? Nope. That's because nobody actually reads the wingnut rags, of course, and Echidne's Theorem fails if there is no readership. Still, I'm going to apply for a job at the Times. Even goddesses must eat.

On Goats

Only Bill O'Reilly can get from same-sex marriage to goats in a paragraph or so:

O'REILLY: Now, there was another request up there from a woman -- prisoner, inmate, convict -- who wanted to marry another woman who's not in prison. And, I guess they're still mullin' that over. No, it was denied -- no, I'm sorry, they're mullin' it over -- no, it was approved! Oooh, no, look at this! The other request was approved because it involved the marriage of a female inmate to a woman who's not in prison. See, I woulda denied that. I'd have said, "When you get outta prison, you can marry her." But not here. This isn't pre-Cana [Catholic premarital counseling] prison -- all right, you can't do that. See, I'm not buyin' into any of this politically correct nonsense. If you're a prisoner, you're a convict, you lose your rights until you get out. So, I'm sorry. We're not lettin' you get married, not gonna let you drive a car, you can't vote. You're in -- you're in, that's it.

So this is just the beginning, ladies and gentlemen, of this crazy gay marriage insanity -- is gonna lead to all kinds of things like this. Courts are gonna be clogged. Every nut in the world is gonna -- somebody's gonna come in and say, "I wanna marry the goat." You'll see it; I guarantee you'll see it.

What is it with wingnuts and various types of weird sexual obsessions? If it's not falafels or loofas it's turtles or goats. O'Reilly needs to see someone. Urgently.

He is getting more tiresome and ugly all the time. He dirties everything he touches. No self-respecting goat would have him. No self-respecting blogger should blog about him.

Monday, Monday...

The title should be sung with a smiling voice. Do you like Mondays? I do. Sundays are the hardest days of the week for me so I always feel bright-eyed and bushy-tailed early Monday mornings. And yes, I know how annoying that can be...

Here is my Monday's collection of news and other stuff of interest (probably only to me):

Billmon has a good discussion of the current ugly economic situation with some theories about what might be going on. Go read Billmon if you are one of those grumpy Monday people, then take your money out of the financial institutions and store it in your mattress. Or send it all to me for better investing!

In other news, Ann Coulter will be the cover girl of Time this week. And it isn't even Halloween!

Then there are the worsening Sino-Japanese relations. I wonder how much of the protests in China are really driven by something else than the memories from WWII? These protests offer a fairly safe avenue for venting anger in a country which doesn't usually allow it. But it is true that nationalism is getting stronger and stronger in China, and that may be all the explanation that is needed.

Nationalism is often accompanied by other (even?) less wholesome trends such as racism. All countries probably have certain types of racism. The Chinese types are discussed in this Guardian article about Condoleezza Rice's visit to the area.

And the cardinals will enter the conclave now. Will they eat chocolate ice-cream there? How much politicking will be practised? We will probably never know. What I do know is that I am pained by the thought that no woman is regarded as good enough to help in the selecting of the next pope.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

A Quiz!

This is courtesy of General J.C. Christian(who, by the way, scores a perfect ten on the scale of manly heterosexuality). It measures your ability to tell apart comments from an obscure wingnut chatsite called Little Green Footballs and the comments of some historical figures...

I got 85%. Not too bad.

Chastity and Vaccinations

There are topics which make me cry, and this is one of them. Did you know that religion and tradition may require women to die from cervical cancer? Some strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV) are suspected as being the cause of most cervical cancers. These strains are transmitted sexually, though nonsexual transmission is also possible.

The way to fight HPV and cervical cancer is through vaccination, preferably before the onset of sexual activity. New vaccines are being developed and look promising. The snag is that many groups will not wish to see young girls vaccinated against a disease that may be sexually transmitted:

In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. "Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus.

Tear your clothes and scatter ashes on your head. It is estimated that half of all sexually active women between eighteen and twenty-two in the U.S. are infected* Most of those infected will not get cervical cancer but some probably will. Thanks to regular screenings, cervical cancer can be caught early enough for it to be treated.

Things are much gloomier in the developing world where regular screenings for anything are a pipe-dream. Eighty percent of cervical cancer deaths happen in these countries, yet social and religious taboos make it extremely unlikely that young girls would be vaccinated:

But some problems have already surfaced. India is planning to do its own clinical trials, but will not test the vaccine in young girls. "This is not possible until around the age of marriage in India," Ganguly says.

Once licensed, the vaccine should be given to younger girls, he says. "But people will say 'My girl is very virtuous, why vaccinate?' It will be a real challenge, not like other vaccines."

The most feasible solution would be to vaccinate all young boys instead. There is no similar worry about their chastity and the value of a son is not reduced if he is shown to have been sexually active. Also, this would provide some protection for any virtuous woman whose husband gives her the HPV. And for rape victims.

Sigh. It is so hard for me to understand why social conservatives view extra-marital sex as worse than death. This is not the first example of similar thinking; the Catholic church's attitude towards condoms has caused much suffering in the AIDS-infested countries of Africa. I guess it is holier to kill than to fornicate.
*And probably some fairly similar number of sexually active young men. But so far it seems that the consequences for men are not as serious.
Via Atrios who got it from coldfury.