Monthly Archives: November 2005

Why The Bush Strategy Isn’t A Strategy At All

Here’s a section of Bush’s strategy plan for Victory in Iraq (PDF).

This is under the section entitled "The Political Track In Detail".  Key words to that heading are: "…in Detail".

Even with this solid progress, we and our Iraqi partners continue to face multiple challenges in the political sphere, including:

  • Ensuring that those who join the political process leave behind violence entirely;
  • Building national institutions when past divisions and current suspicions have led many Iraqis to look to regional or sectarian bodies to protect their interests;
  • Building political movements based on issues and platforms, instead of identity;
  • Encouraging cooperation across ethnic, religious and tribal divides when many wounds are still fresh and have been exacerbated by recent hardships;
  • Convincing all regional states to welcome and actively support the new Iraqi state politically and financially;
  • Building ministerial capacity to advance effective government and reduce corruption

That may seem like a lot of words (to some), but a laundry list of "challenges" is not the same thing as a "detailed strategy". 

And to prove it, let’s do a thought experiment.  Based on what’s written above, can you answer ANY of the following questions:

(1)  HOW will we go about "ensuring that those who join the political process leave behind violence entirely"?  WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN before this item can be checked off the list?

(2)  HOW will we go about "building national institutions when past divisions and current suspicions have led many Iraqis to look to regional or sectarian bodies to protect their interests"?  WHAT IS MEANT by "national insitutions"?  WHO DECIDES WHEN "past divisions and currents suspicions" are leading Iraqis "to look to regional or sectarian bodies to protect their interests"?  WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN before this item can be checked off the list?

(3)  HOW will we go about "building political movements based on issues and platforms, instead of identity"?  WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE between a political movement based on issues and platforms, and a political movement based on identity (consider the political parties in this country)?  WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN before this item can be checked off the list?

(4)  HOW will we go about "encouraging cooperation across ethnic, religious and tribal divides when many wounds are still fresh and have been exacerbated by recent hardships"?  IN WHAT FORM will this "cooperation" occur?  WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN before this item can be checked off the list?

(5)  HOW will we go about "convincing all regional states to welcome and actively support the new Iraqi state politically and financially"?  WHAT IF THEY WON’T (Are we going to respect their autonomy or simply blow them to bits?)?  WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN before this item can be checked off the list?

(6)  HOW will we go about "building ministerial capacity to advance effective government and reduce corruption"?  WHAT IS MEANT by "ministerial capacity"?  HOW "effective" does the Iraqi government have to be before we can declare this objective complete?  HOW "reduced" does corruption have to be before we can declare this objective complete?

Remember, the foregoing is from the detailed section of the new "strategy document".  The report does not answer ANY of these questions.  It simply moves on to the next topic.

Most of us are going Christmas shopping in the next few weeks.  Maybe some of you even have a specific list of things to purchase.  Do you know how you are going to get those things?  Are you going online?  Are you going to a specific store?  Have you picked a time when to do all this?

If you have answered "yes" to any of those questions, you’ve got a more detailed strategy than this piece of drivel from the White House.

More on Bush’s “Victory In Iraq” Strategy

Here’s the real problem with Bush’s "Victory in Iraq" strategy.  We’re supposed to be fighting al Qaeda — they are the bad guys who pose a threat to us.  Where’s the "Victory Against Al Qaeda" plan? 

Sure, the Bush "Victory in Iraq" plan seeks to prevent al Qaeda from establishing a foothold in Iraq, but of course, al Qaeda never HAD a foothold there to begin with.  Talk about a zero-sum game.

And in fact, many generals and experts believe that our efforts in Iraq have resulted in increasing al Qaeda membership, not decreasing it.  And increasing it worldwide.

And while we are focusing on Iraq, Bush’s Iraq strategy does nothing to address getting rid of al Qaeda where it already does exist, which is throughout the world.  As others have said, it’s like obsessing over one square of the chessboard. 

Bush likes to say that Iraq is the "central front" in the war on terror, but is it?  What connection did the London subway bombings, the Spain train bombings, the Bali nightblus bombings, or the Jordan wedding bombings have to do with Iraq?  Zip, nada, nothing.  Just like 9/11.

Sadly, it may take another attack on the United States to make many people realize two things: (1) we have all our eggs in one basket; and (2) it’s the wrong basket.  I hope it doesn’t come down to that, but I fear it might.

Bush’s “Victory in Iraq” Strategy (or “Look, If We Built This Giant Wooden Badger….”)

I haven’t read it (things are crazy here), but Matt Yglesius has.  It sounds like what I expected: a laundry list of ideal goals, but not an actual plan on how to achieve them.  Here’s Matt:

[I]t’s plain that there’s no actual strategy here. The document calls for "building democratic institutions" and eventually "providing an inspiring example to reformers in the region." But the administration has no idea how to do that stuff. The government is corrupt, the security services, when not totally ineffective, are highly politicized and rather brutal, and there’s simply no consensus in Iraq about the basic legitimacy of the state. I don’t blame the White House for not devising a ten point plan to resolve those problems — they simply can’t be resolved — but I do blame them, a lot, for their determination to waste more blood and treasure in a situation where they’re hopelessly adrift. The "longer term" goals, meanwhile, are just idiotic:

An Iraq that is peaceful, united, stable, democratic, and secure, where Iraqis have the institutions and resources they need to govern themselves justly and provide security for their country.

An Iraq that is a partner in the global war on terror and the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, integrated into the international community, an engine for regional economic growth, and proving the fruits of democratic governance to the region.

That would be nice, I guess, but Iraq can’t both be a sovereign country and have its long-term policies determined in Washington. What if Iraq doesn’t want to be a partner in the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction? How is Iraq supposed to be united if Iraq’s Kurdish population doesn’t want it to be united? How are we supposed to force Iraq’s rulers to govern the country "justly?" And most of all, what about having 100,000+ soldiers and Marines running around the country hunting down bands of insurgent fighters is supposed to achieve any of this?

Of course, in my humble opinion, we should have had a national strategy for Iraq before the butcher’s bill was 2,110 dead American soldiers.

FURTHER THOUGHTS:  My problem with the Bush speech, as well as the message being pushed by war supports, is that it cuts against itself.  We are asked to believe (1) that things have been going extremely well in Iraq (despite what the mainstram media is telling us) and (2) we should plan to be Iraq for quite a while (presumably because it is one hell of a mess).  It has been close to two years since the fall of Saddam’s regime, so it seems that one of these two themes lacks inherent truthfulness.

UPDATE:  Think Progress has an analysis.  The bottom line: The document is a PR push, and says nothing new.  The strategy, apparently, is to "stay the course because it’s wicked important that we stay the course."

UPDATE:  Billmon snarks that the strategy for Iraq apparently involves the use of many many many bullet points.  A quick glance at the document shows that he’s right.

UPDATE:  Tbogg (from whom I shamelessly stole this blog’s subtitle), gives a list of ALL the many many times in the past when Bush gave a major address on Iraq strategy.  And even the boys at Powerline agree the strategy contains nothing new.  AP adds: "“Bush’s speech did not break new ground or present a new strategy.”

Kayes Expresses Herself

Kaye1129Our favorite wingnut columnist, Kaye Grogan, has a new column up.  It’s called "Freedom of speech and expression . . . most abused rights"  The title alone suggests that Kaye is having trouble with verbs this week, as she prefers to use ellipses.  Still, we forge on:

Freedom of speech is perhaps one of the most abused freedoms we have. From profanity to nudity these moral destroyers are acceptable and protected, and yet the freedoms associated with religion are met with disdain, and attempts to suppress those of faith is gaining momentum.

Looks like Kaye is also having problems with punctuation, subject-verb agreement, and — well — basic sentence structure too.

When I hear how pornography is protected under the "freedom of expression" I have to laugh. Since the people back in the days before the Constitution was drafted kept their clothes on, I doubt very seriously that they had pornographic images in mind, so it’s a big stretch to say this smut — is covered under the "Bill of Rights."

One wonders — how people back in the days before the Constitution managed to create more people, what with all the clothes-wearing they did.   Still, we know Kaye is speaking with a first-grader’s education of the Founding Fathers, totally ignorant of — for example — the fact that Ben Franklin was a milf-man.  And don’t get us started about Thomas Jefferson.

But you — have to applaud Kaye’s brand of logic.  Of course, people back in the days before the Constitution didn’t have the Internet — so, technically speaking, anything Kaye writes is not covered under the "Bill of Rights" either.  In fact, back then, women discussing political matters was seen as distasteful. 

Freedom of speech and freedom of expression does not give a person the right to do things that are detrimental to society as a whole.

And who gets get to decide what is "detrimental to society as a whole", Kaye?

When people have a problem conducting themselves in a proper manner — they have to be reigned in.

Or reined in, I suppose.  Unless they’re kings.

Bank robbers could be viewed as utilizing their freedom of expression, because they are expressing their desire to take money that doesn’t belong to them. Rapists could be viewed as just fulfilling their desires. So, you see — there has to be a restriction on freedom of expression.

And people who pray to God could be viewed as engaging in the Crusades and inquisitions, therefore we must restrict prayer.  Hey!  This is fun!!

I guess Kaye’s point is that because stupid people like Kaye could call anything "expression", we should limit "expression".

While freedom of speech gives us the right to verbally express how we feel, it does not give us the right to curse and abuse other people.

Of course it does!  Kaye confuses what we have a right to do, with what is the right thing to do.

Some things require self-control and respect. But unfortunately there will always be those who will pontificate that they have a right to do whatever they please.

Kaye, honey, look in the mirror.

There are many anti-religious and pro-abortion groups who are sweating the confirmation of Judge Samuel A. Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court, because they are fearful that he is a champion for the religious right and mutilated babies.

Samuel Alito is the champion for mutilated babies?  I hope I’m not being too partisan here, but if that’s true, maybe he really shouldn’t be confirmed.

This is a prime example of how these groups are under the impression that they are the bomb — when it comes to controlling free speech. Boy, this is pathetic!

No, Kaye-dog.  It’s whack, yo.

For years, conservatives have had to stand by watching an out-of-control high court make erroneous rulings that have capitulated Americans into a cesspool of filth.

Still having verb trouble, I see.  Americans (supposedly) capitulate, Kaye.  Rulings don’t.

And now that the tide may be changing — it’s time to push the panic button for many.

But only while counting chickens before the sky is falling.  Block that metaphor!

They fear the inroads they have paved to change society for years, is in jeopardy of turning around to the other side. Boy, what a day of rejoicing that will be!

The inroads is in jeopardy?  Okay, now I’m lost.  Someone is turning the pavement around?  What?

While all indications point toward Judge Alito being a champion for unborn babies, I have qualms about his statement that the Constitution does not provide protection for the unborn.

Harumph.  Some "champion for unborn babies" he turned out to be!

Pray tell what does provide protection against the slaughtering of innocent babies?

Methinks obviously not the Constitution, since it doesn’t say anything about it, right?

It must be you know what for pro-abortion advocates to spend the biggest part of their lives getting up every morning trying to decide what their next strategy will be — to keep the murdering of little innocent babies legalized. What a bloody life!

I can’t speak for others, but I only get up every morning once a day — usually in the morning.  I don’t spend the biggest part of my life getting up.  In fact, I don’t spend the biggest part of my day getting up.  Because once you’re up, you’re up.

Let’s see now — does the killing of babies fall under the freedom of expression clause? I guess this crutch is as good as any cramped under the umbrella of evil.

Let’s see.  Kayes writes an article about the freedom of expression clause, wedges in the issue of abortion, and then makes fun of others because they (supposedly) equate the abortion issue with the freedom of expression clause.  Pundit, heal thyself!

But I choose instead to fixate on the "umbrella of evil", because it sounds like something a James Bond villain would carry.

As the contentious battles between good and evil continue on a daily basis, the so-called 85 percent of the population who claim to be Christians need to use their freedom of speech — while they still have a voice.

Kaye, if you are going to say that Christians comprise 85% of the population, don’t defeat your argument by writing "the so-called 85%".  It’s sounds like you are doubting your own statistic.

That said, I have to laugh at the notion that 85% of the population is the oppressed minority here.

Right now they are lying dormant (mostly unresponsive — just warming pews) while their religious freedoms are evaporating faster than smoke from a teapot.

It’s steam, dear, not smoke.  Unless you fail to put water in the teapot first, in which case it very well might be smoke.

In Amendment 1 of the Bill of Rights where it reads: or the right of the people peacefully to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances — indicates that this is the only form of freedom of expression outlined in the 10 amendments.

Anyone care to diagram that sentence?

Amendment 10 reads: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. Time and time again, the people in every state (with the exception of Massachusetts and Oregon) have voted down same-sex marriages and pornography. So, something is more than just a little amiss here.

Boy, is there ever!  You’ve overlooked the 14th Amendment.

It is completely to the extreme when gavels of liberal judges are finalizing errant rulings, overriding established laws and the will of the people.

Yes, it is "to the extreme".  Rad and narly, too.  And that’s Kaye, finalizing her opinion!

Focus on SCOTUS: Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England

Yup.  It’s time once again to look at a major case coming before the Supreme Court, and attempt (inadequately) to translate what the legal issues are, as well as the case’s impact.

Tomorrow, the Court will hear arguments in the case of Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.  As you may have guessed, this is an abortion case, and as abortion cases go, this could be important.  For two reasons: (1) the issues involved (discussed below); and (2) the first abortion case in the Roberts Court.

As an interesting sidenote, this case deals with parental notification.  The last major case on this subject was Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania v. Casey, where Justice O’Connor spanked a Third Circuit judge who was not sympathetic to the pro-choice, anti-notification side.  That lower court judge was Judge Alito, O’Connor’s (probable) replacement.  But since Alito hasn’t been confirmed yet, the Ayotte case will be heard tomorrow by O’Connor and the other eight.

But there is an interesting angle to composition of the Supreme Court, which I will get to toward the bottom of this post.

The statute under review in Ayotte is New Hampshire’s Parental Notification Prior to Abortion Act, which prohibits abortion providers from performing an abortion on an unemancipated minor unless the minor’s parents or guardian have been given at least 48 hours’ notice.

The statute carves out three exceptions to this rule: (a) the pregnant minor has written confirmation that her parents already know about the abortion; or (b) the abortion provider certifies that the abortion is necessary to prevent the pregnant minor’s death and that there is insufficient time to provide the required notice; or (c) the minor obtains a court decree authorizing the abortion upon a finding that she is mature and capable of giving consent to the abortion procedure, or that it would be in her best interests not to notify.

The NH statute was challenged as unconstitutional.  A district court upheld the challenge, and ruled the statute unconstitutional.

On appeal, the First Circuit also ruled that the statute was unconstitutional for two reasons:

(1)  The statute fails to provide an exception when the health of a pregnant woman is threatened by the pregnancy.  Note that the exception above applies to death of the pregnant minor only.  But the Supreme Court has always ruled, from Roe to Casey to Stenberg (the partial abortion case a few years ago), that statutes which seek to limit access to abortions must contain an exception for situations where the health of the mother is at risk, not just her life.

(2)  The statute fails to provide an exception when the life of a pregnant woman is threatened by the pregnancy.  Even though the statute has a "death exception", the First Circuit thought it was too narrow.  Under the statute, the physician has a 48-hour period to ascertain whether the "death exception" might apply, and if so, the pregnant minor would then be able to have an abortion without parental notification.  Unfortunately, the court reasoned, a physician might not know with certainty within the 48-hour window if a life-saving procedure would be needed. The statute thus forces physicians to choose between gambling with their patients’ lives and facing liability.

Aside from the health/life issues, there is another aspect to the Ayotte case which may have an even broader impact on the abortion court battle.  The case also raises the question of what hurdle opponents of abortion statutes must clear before making facial constitutional challenges to those statutes.

Planned Parenthood argues that they should only have to show that the law might endanger the lives or health of some hypothetical women in some hypothetical circumstances.

The State of New Hampshire, on the other hand, argues that constitutional challenges should be allowed only if the challenger can show that the law would endanger the lives or health of every pregnant woman, and thus be unconstitutional in every circumstance. Challengers who can only show that a law is dangerous to some women in some circumstances must wait until those circumstances actually arise, and then only have the law declared unconstitutional as applied to them.   

Think about the ramifications of New Hampshire’s argument as applied to the New Hampshire statute: pregnant minors would have to wait until their life or health was at risk before they could challenge the constitutionality of the statute.  In other words, if New Hampshire wins on this particular issue, it will be harder in the future for other people to challenge statutes which seek (in some way) to limit access to abortions.

Now, how will this case come out?  Conventional wisdom is that the Supreme Court will be split on ideological lines (like other abortion cases).  And (like other abortion cases) O’Connor will be the deciding vote in favor of Planned Parenthood (meaning, the statute is unconstitutional because it doesn’t provide adequate exceptions to the parental notification requirement in situations where the life/health of the pregnant minor is at risk).

HOWEVER (here’s where it gets interesting), if Judge Alito gets confirmed and O’Connor’s retirement becomes effective before the Supreme Court actually decides this case, then the Supreme Court will probably have the litigants re-argue the case before the new court (with Alito on the bench).  And in that scenario, conventional belief is that Ayotte (i.e., New Hampshire) will win the case, and the backward slide against abortion rights will begin.

Kelly Ayotte is the Attorney General for the State of New Hampshire, arguing in favor of the statute.  The United States Solicitor’s Office has submitted a friend-of-the-court brief, also supporting the New Hampshire statute.  Jennifer Dalven will argue the case for Planned Parenthood.

Julie Andrews Ruins The Opening Of “The Sound Of Music” For Me

Somandrews CNN:

At a question-and-answer session celebrating the 40th anniversary of "The Sound of Music," Julie Andrews recalled the scene in which her character, Maria, runs through the mountains singing the title song.

It wasn’t as serene as it looked, the 70-year-old actress said Monday.

"I will never forget it, there was a large helicopter coming towards me through the mountains with a brave cameraman hanging out the side," she said.

"We shot the scene many times, and at the end of each take, the helicopter would circle round. The downdraft nailed me flat onto the grass, and a couple of times I bit the dust. At first it was funny, but after several times I began to get very angry."

I’d love to see the outtake reel.

Stupid Lawsuit Of The Day

SimpsonsrussiaD’oh:

A Russian lawyer plans to take his case against The Simpsons to the European Court of Human Rights.

It comes after a Moscow Court rejected Igor Smykov’s appeal to have the show banned from Russian TV.

Mrr Smykov wanted to have the cartoon series taken off the air in Russia, or at least shown at a later time, claiming it promoted drugs, violence and homosexuality.

He also demanded £6,000 in compensation from TV channel REN-TV saying the show had morally damaged his nine-year-old son.

But the Moscow City Court rejected his appeal and Smykov says he now plans to take the case to European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Everything’s Out Of Whack In Kansas City

Censorbluevalley…but they haven’t gone as fer as they can go.

A group of concerned parents in the Blue Valley School District want to ban certain books from the high schooler English curriculum.   The petition objects to the "quality of the books", although as far as I can tell, literary "quality" is measured largely by the number of polite words (the less vulgarity, the higher the "quality" of the literature).  Other objections are centered around books which contain racial conflict (because, apparently, we want adults-of-the-future to be unaware of disgraceful behavior) and books that don’t have a happy ending.

Click on the links below to find out what the Blue Valley parents find so objectionable about each book (you can click past their "warning" message).

  1. All the Pretty Horses
  2. Animal Dreams
  3. The Awakening
  4. The Bean Trees
  5. Beloved
  6. Black Boy
  7. Fallen Angels
  8. The Hot Zone
  9. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  10. Lords of Discipline
  11. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  12. Song of Solomon
  13. Stotan
  14. This Boy’s Life

Something To Consider

Electricchair_1In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to execute criminals again.  This week, barring any changes in schedule, the 1000th execution will take place since the 1976 reinstatement.  And it’ll probably happen here in North Carolina.

Fun fact: In the past 32 years, 120 death row inmates have been proven innocent and released.  Most of them have been in the past fifteen years, because of advances in DNA as exculpatory evidence.

Where do you stand on the death penalty?

The Abstinence Wars

What’s more important?  Young girls learning to have safe sex so that they don’t get pregnant and/or sick — or young girls being sexually abstinent?

Logically, these two positions are not incompatible.  Most would agree (I hope) that we would want young girls to be knowledgeable about safe sex, and then choose abstinence (until they are ready).

CensorshippregnantBut sadly, much of the religious right doesn’t see it that way.  They work under the belief that knowledge about safe sex will lead to actual practice of sex.  I don’t think there is a single study to support this, but the religious right isn’t big on science anyway.

So, via Amanda Marcotte, we have two pictures which reflect the battle-of-the-messages in the Abstinence Wars.  The first picture (on the left) shows teenagers creating T-shirts which read "Censorship got me pregnant" in response to an incident at their school.    Here’s what happened:

Copies of a high school’s student newspaper were seized by administrators because the edition contained stories about birth control and tattoos. The seizure has raised concern about possible infringement of the First Amendment.

Administrators at Oak Ridge High School went into teachers’ classrooms, desks and mailboxes to retrieve all 1,800 copies of the newspaper on Tuesday, said Wanda Grooms, a teacher who advises the staff, and Brittany Thomas, the student editor.

The Oak Leaf’s birth control article listed success rates for different methods, and said contraceptives were available from doctors and the local health department. Superintendent Tom Bailey said the article needed to be edited so that it would be acceptable to all the school.

IowablingThe second picture (at right) is the message from the other side — a billboard from Iowa’s Abstinence Mission, urging young girls to get married before they have sex.

I find it amusing that the abstinence message attempts to speak in the "hip" vernacular of teenagers (do they even know the word "bling" in Iowa?).  And it attempts to appeal to some presumed materialism they assume must exist in teenagers.  Whereas, on the other hand, the actual teenagers in the photo above actually speak in regular English, and seem to have higher ideals on their mind (censorship, health, etc.)

It should be noted that the Iowa Abstinence Mission isn’t some independent Christian group.  It is a division of the Iowa Department of Health.  And while abstinence is certainly the best method to prevent pregnancy and STDs, it’s clear that the Iowa Department of Health isn’t pushing abstinence for health reasons here.  Does anything about that billboard suggest health concerns are the chief concern?

It’s The End Of The World On Your TIVO

I’ve always been intrigued by entertainment fads as a reflection of culture and the national psyche.  For example, after Japan was nuked (twice) in WWII, they started making movies about giant monsters (Godzilla, Mothra, etc.) sent to destroy civilization.  And nuclear radiation was often the given reason why these monsters came into existence in the first place.  I’m not a sociologist (I only have a social psychology degree), but it takes take a genius to see the connection.

So what to make of this, as reported by Variety via Drudge:

The TV networks are getting edgier in their ’06 pilot plans.

The nets have filled their development slates with a bevy of brave ideas and bold format experiments, VARIETY reports on Monday, including shows about THE END OF AMERICA!

ABC alone has at least two would-be shows set in post-apocalyptic America ("Resistance" and "Red & Blue") while Gavin Polone and Bruce Wagner are teaming for the comfy-sounding plague drama "Four Horsemen" at CBS (which also is developing "Jericho," about life in a small town after America is destroyed).

We’re actually in the middle of this trend.  Witness Spielberg’s "War of the Worlds" and the popular (at least among Christians) "Left Behind" series.

What can explain our supposed newfound interest in apocalyptic entertainment?  Is it defeatism?  Is it the rise of evangelical belief in things like The Rapture?  Is it the mass-marketing of fear (fear of terrorism, bird flu, etc.)?

I, for one, am not complaining.  I tend to like that genre.  The mini-series "The Stand" was pretty cool, even if it did have the odd pairing of Molly Ringwald and Gary Sinese.  So bring it on.

Vatican vs. Me

The Vatican (as reported by Reuters):

The Vatican newspaper said on Tuesday that homosexuality risked "destabilizing people and society," had no social or moral value and could never match the importance of the relationship between a man and a woman.

Me:

"The segmentation of people based on their sexual preference destabilizes people and society, has no social or moral value, and could never match the importance of minding your own business."

Look, the Vatican obviously has a PR problem, what with the naughty priest scandals and all.  But pinning the blame on homosexuality doesn’t address the issue.  The problem with naughty priests was not about homosexuality per se, but child abuse.  If the Vatican wants to change its standards for the priesthood viz a viz homosexuality, that’s their business.  But let’s not cast aspersions on an entire lifestyle.

Fox News: Anti-Christmas

Well, the "War on Christmas" trumpters have a new enemy: Fox News.  Here’s why:

Fox News, the media company whose hosts have staunchly defended the public use of the word "Christmas," is raising eyebrows after posting a story on its website with the headline, "Holiday Trees Arrive at Capitol, White House."

The story written by FoxNews.com starts off with its lead sentence reading: "Two of the nation’s three branches of government were adorning themselves with more branches Monday as holiday trees were delivered to the Capitol and the White House."

It was originally posted with a headline reading, "Government Branches Out for Holidays," before being changed to the one noting "Holiday Trees."

I expect Fox will cave before the day is out.

RELATED:   Other evangelical Christians, after taking a close look at Yales’s Skull & Bones Society, are beginning to worry about Bush’s soul.

RELATED:  Laura Bush may be next.  Here’s what she said at the Christmas Holiday Tree ceremonies at the White House:

Well, all things bright and beautiful is the theme this year. I think it will be really bright and beautiful with this fabulous tree. But thank you all very much. Happy holidays. I know this is the real start of the season, the Monday after Thanksgiving, and so I want to wish everybody happy holidays. And we’ll see you later this week with the White House decorations.

She even talked about Santa’s elves decorating the White House.  But did she say a word about the birth of Christ?  Nope.  Now she’s in for it.

Whither Damon?

I’m no armchair general office guy, but it seems to me that Johnny Damon has been the key to Red Sox success.  At the top of the lineup, he gets on base, and that helps when the #3 and #4 slots come in.  He may be more important that Manny or Ortiz (although, of course, not both of them combined).

But is he really worth the price?  The smarter-than-me people at Over The Monster weigh the options.

Love Lasts A Year

Italian scientists (and really, what else would they study?) have proved it:

Some couples may disagree, but romantic love lasts little more than a year, Italian scientists believe.

The University of Pavia found a brain chemical was likely to be responsible for the first flush of love.

Researchers said raised levels of a protein was linked to feelings of euphoria and dependence experienced at the start of a relationship.

But after studying people in long and short relationships and single people, they found the levels receded in time.

The Dysfunctional White House

From the New York Daily News:

For the moment, Bush has dismissed discreetly offered advice from friends and loyalists to fire Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and bring back longtime confidant Karen Hughes from the State Department to shore up his personal White House staff.

"He thinks that would be an admission he’s screwed up, and he can’t bring himself to do that," a former senior staffer lamented.

BushpretzelDoesn’t Step One of the "Twelve Steps" require you to admit that you have a problem?  It seems to me that Bush, a (supposedly) recovered alcoholic, should be able to admit failure now and then.  The fact that he can’t admit mistakes — nay, the fact that he goes to extremes to avoid having to admit mistakes — gives me pause. 

And while I don’t necessarily agree with them, others are seriously wondering if things are even worse than we’ve imagined.  Here’s the excerpt that makes everyone’s skin scrawl (from the printed page of The New Yorker, in a column by Sy Hirsch):

Bush’s closest advisors have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush’s first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President’s religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that "God put me here" to deal with the war on terror. The President’s belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that "he’s the man," the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reelection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.

If the Republican sweep of congressional elections in 2002 fortified Bush’s belief that he was the arm of God, we can only hope that he gets the message in 2006, when (hopefully) the sweep goes the other way.

Knee Jerk Punditry – A Comedy In Three Acts

ACT ONE (The Setup):  Prominent Democrat Joseph Biden writes an op-ed in the Washington Post suggesting a broad outline for withdrawal of troops from Iraq:

"Over the next six months, we must forge a sustainable political compromise between Iraqi factions, strengthen the Iraqi government and bolster reconstruction efforts, and accelerate the training of Iraqi forces."

ACT TWO (The Knee-Jerk Reaction):  Right-wing pundits automatically attack the prominent Democrat’s ideas.

Scene OnePowerline calls it "a reminder of why Democrats are unfit to direct this country’s foreign policy".

Scene TwoGlenn Reynolds quotes Captain’s Quarters, which claims Biden "gets the entire war on terror fundamentally wrong—and demonstrates why the Democrats have entirely failed to provide any leadership on Iraq and the wider war."

ACT THREE (The Denouement): The White House comes out and says Senator Biden’s article was "remarkably similar to the Administration’s plan to fight and win the war on terror." Unsurprisingly, those same right wing critics have not bothered to explain why the Bush Administration is "unfit to direct this country’s foreign policy".

[Ende]

In truth, neither Biden nor the Bush Administration have actually provided a PLAN for withdrawal from Iraq.  They BOTH say things like "we must strengthen our counterinsurgency efforts" and "We must transfer security authority to Iraqi forces" .  Those items, however, state GOALS, and do not individually or collectively constitute a PLAN.  There is only an expression of pre-conditions to withdrawal — nothing about actual strategy to obtain those objectives.   

In fact, the dirty truth underlining these so-called "plans" is that there can be no plan at this point.  Saddam is gone, there never were WMDs, and Iraqis have held elections.  There’s nothing more to do other than mopping up, and as anyone who cleans house knows, you can do that indefinitely.  We’re just futzing about there, and we’ll only leave when the death toll becomes so intolerable that the only people elected will be those calling for immediate withdrawal.

About Time

Ever wonder how James Dobson’s Focus On The Family can get away with all the politicking they do, yet still remain a tax-exempt as a not-for-profit institution?

Well, the truth is, they can’t get away with it.  Not legally, anyway.

Which is why this was inevitable:

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) today filed an Internal Revenue Services (IRS) complaint against Focus on the Family, a conservative, non-profit organization led by its Founder and Chairman James C. Dobson. The complaint asks for the IRS to investigate activities by the group which may violate IRS regulations and require a revocation of its tax-exempt status.

Although barred from electioneering, Mr. Dobson has endorsed candidates for political office several times. In early April, 2004, Mr. Dobson endorsed Republican Representative Patrick J. Toomey in his race for Senate in Pennsylvania. In addition, it was reported that Mr. Dobson actively campaigned during a rally for Rep. Toomey. Other candidates that Mr. Dobson reportedly endorsed in 2004 include North Carolina Republican candidate Pat Ballentine for Govenor and Oklahoma Republican candidate Tom Coburn for Senate.

“Mr. Dobson’s egregious violations of IRS code demand an investigation into his improper activities that break both the spirit and the letter of IRS law,” Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW said today.

Whack-A-Democrat

Ezra Klein (via another) makes an interesting observation:

John Dickerson makes a good point on the laughably bungled attempt to mar Murtha:

This is what happens when a party goes into campaign mode without a single opponent. With no specific person to target, the Bush administration ends up taking on all members of the opposition at once. The White House plugged Murtha into an indiscriminate and undifferentiated rapid-response machine and it didn’t work. Finally, Democrats have reason to be happy that they have no clear leader.

That’s quite right. The GOP has perfected the art of eviscerating individual critics. As soon as a Democratic head peeks above a trench, they snipe him out. War heroes like Kerry are no safer than governors like Dean. Celebrities like Moore are used to smear representatives like Murtha. It’s all very efficient and deadly. What we’ve seen recently, however, is a Democratic Party without a putative leader. Reid is quiet and unassuming, you can’t launch an assault on an unknown. Pelosi is rarely on camera, I’ve forgotten what Howard Dean’s face looks like, no one has patience for Kerry, Hillary’s uninterested in tying herself to current debates, and so forth.

All of which has left the devolution of Iraq coinciding with a troubling lack of prominent liberals to pin it on. And, as the Bush administration has shown, without someone to smear, they can’t change the focus. Recently, they’ve tried tarring everybody whole parties in place of individuals, a move that created so much backlash that each official speech now merits a disclaimer on the courage, bravery, honor and patriotism of the war critics.

On the one hand, it’s comical, the Democratic Party is so weak and faceless that they no longer serve as a worthy target. On the other, it’s turned out to be the Bush administration’s worst nightmare: with no one to campaign against, all they can do is campaign against no one. And watching them vigorously punch air while their policies continue to rip apart real people has proven the worst media moment imaginable.

I, too, have noticed this.  I mean, the attempt to tag Murtha as a "Michael Moore Democrat" wreaked of sheer desparation.  Michael Moore?!?  Isn’t he soooo 2003?  This shows a chink in the armor of the "politics of personal attacks".  When the thing attacking you is an idea, and indeed, a rather widespread idea, you simply cannot fight back by hitting the messenger.  Sadly, this does not bode well for elections, when Democrats actually have to put up a candidate.

The Suicide of Col. Ted Westhusing

Ted_westhusingCol. Ted Westhusing, 44, . . .

was no ordinary officer. He was one of the Army’s leading scholars of military ethics, a full professor at West Point who volunteered to serve in Iraq to be able to better teach his students. He had a doctorate in philosophy; his dissertation was an extended meditation on the meaning of honor.

In June, this military ethicist, who once wrote a 352-page dissertation on military honor, committed suicide in his trailer on a Baghdad military base.  He remains the highest-ranking U.S. casualty to date in the Iraq Warn (although his death lists in the "non-hostile" category).

A note found in his trailer seemed to offer clues. Written in what the Army determined was his handwriting, the colonel appeared to be struggling with a final question.

How is honor possible in a war like the one in Iraq?

Indeed.  Read the whole story.  It’s a compellingly allegorical footnote to the Iraq War.

Kiss Of Death

This is the kind of news story that I’m embarrassed to blog about, but I do anyway:

A 15-year-old girl with a peanut allergy died after kissing her boyfriend, who had just eaten a peanut butter snack, hospital officials said Monday.

Christina Desforges died in a Quebec hospital Wednesday after doctors were unable to treat her allergic reaction to the kiss the previous weekend.

Actually, I kind of feel sorry for the boy, too.  Talk about guilt.

That Word Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

Redstate asks a stupid question — well, two of them.

When the history of the decision to go to war in Iraq is written, there’s one fact that I have to believe will get more attention than it does today: the fact that Saddam Hussein hired terrorists to murder George H.W. Bush….

Put yourself in Bush’s shoes: if you were asked to decide whether Saddam Hussein would ever get involved with terrorism, wouldn’t it affect the way you looked at the evidence that Saddam had already attempted a terrorist attack designed to kill a member of your family? And isn’t that, in fact, an entirely logical and natural way to approach such a question?

No and no. 

If I were in Bush’s shoes (i.e., President), I would understand that difference between "assassination" and "terrorism".  The difference between the two is vast: the former is conducted on political leaders; the latter on civilians.

And while I certainly cannot condone assassination, I doubt that there has ever been a sitting President in modern times who has enjoyed freedom from such a threat.  The thing is, they don’t elect to go to war over that.

The Duke Is Done

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham pleads guilty to tax evasion, and taking bribes from defense contractors in order to secure lucrative defense contracts.  Josh Marshall, who kept on this story from Day One, is happy, but notes that Cunningham is still on the Appropriations Committee.  Not for long, I’m guessing.

Where Would Jesus Shop?

Window_macys2Christians Underground, a website for all of the oppressed Christians who make up the vast majority of this country, weighs in on the "War on Christmas" with this observation:

On the first Sunday after Thanksgiving 2005 I visited Manhattan to go to Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and to see the displays in the front windows of two famous Fifth Avenue department stores, Lord & Taylor and Sax Fifth Avenue.

The windows were artistically decorated, but certainly not for Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, not children’s fairy tales or general concepts.

Window_lt_nameSo I suppose CU wants a creche in every window up and down Fifth Avenue?

The writer goes on:

The Lord & Taylor windows were dedicated to fairy tales, like Rumpelstiltskin, The Princess and the Pea, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Snow White was there, but not the Virgin Mary. There were a few decorated trees in some of the windows, but no Jesus, not even the word Christmas.

192987_fpx This does not surprise me one bit.  Of course, the point is silly.  I can understand being upset if, for example, religious institutions went commercial over Christmas.  But what exactly is wrong with commercial places of business being commercial about Christmas? 

I can even understand why many bemoan the general public’s indifference to the religious nature of Christmas.  Yes, the crass commercialization of the Birth of Christ is bad, but it is hardly new.  But this is not what the writer is talking about.  He’s talking about an actual war on Christ, being conducted by retailers and "secular extremists".

But all this is prologue.  The main thing I wanted to focus on was the writer’s funniest line of his rant:

It was the same at Sax, where the windows focused on concepts like unity, harmony and beauty. Nothing about Christmas.

And there you have it, straight from the religious right: Christmas has nothing to do with unity, harmony, and beauty.  "Peace on Earth and good will toward men"?  Yeah, fuck that — Christmas is about Christ, not that bullshit!

And yes, it’s "Sacks Fifth Avenue", not "Sax Fifth Avenue".

NOTE:  The photos here are from this season’s windows at Macy’s (above) and Lord & Taylor’s (middle).  This last photo is a picture of a creche, available at Macy’s.

Iraq: The Movie

Bruce Willis wants to make a pro-Iraq war movie, and the right wing blogosphere is all excited because there hasn’t been a good realistic war-is-fuckin’-awesome movie since the "Rambo" series.

Sadly for the wingers, there’s been much technological innovation since the "Rambo" series, and it seems that anybody can make a war movie these days, downloadable from the Internet:

A "trophy" video appearing to show security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

The video has sparked concern that private security companies, which are not subject to any form of regulation either in Britain or in Iraq, could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqis.

The video, which first appeared on a website that has been linked unofficially to Aegis Defence Services, contained four separate clips, in which security guards open fire with automatic rifles at civilian cars. All of the shooting incidents apparently took place on "route Irish", a road that links the airport to Baghdad.

Killing civilians — fuck yah!! (Video is here. [Warning: It’s very disturbing])

RELATED:  Ayad Allawi, the former leader of the U.S. backed Iraqi government says Iraq was better under Saddam:

Human rights abuses in Iraq are now as bad as they were under Saddam Hussein and are even in danger of eclipsing his record, according to the country’s first Prime Minister after the fall of Saddam’s regime.

‘People are doing the same as [in] Saddam’s time and worse,’ Ayad Allawi told The Observer. ‘It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things.’

AIDS Relief in Africa: Strings Attached

AIDS in Africa could reach pandemic perportions:

The HIV/AIDS scourge on the African continent could worsen in 2006 if developed nations do not deliver on their financial pledges, the U.N.’s top AIDS official in Africa said on Monday.

Stephen Lewis, U.N. special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said treatment, prevention and care programs on the continent will start losing out next year if rich nations do not release the money they have promised.

Quoting figures from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Lewis said it has only received $3.6 billion, half of what it needs to fund programs in 2006 and 2007.

"There’s a steadily diminishing lack of commitment on the part of the world to release money for the Global Fund," said Lewis.

Africa is the worst-hit continent with an estimated 26 million people infected with HIV/AIDS.

Four million of the infected have been identified as needing urgent treatment, but so far only 10 percent of them have access to treatment, Lewis said.

Some of you may recall that in his 2003 State of the Union speech, Bush promised an initiative to send aid to help fight this problem.  In fact, the White House website highlights the problem and solution:

  • Today, on the continent of Africa, nearly 30 million people have the AIDS virus – including three million children under the age of 15. There are whole countries in Africa where more than one-third of the adult population carries the infection. More than four million require immediate drug treatment. Yet across that continent, only 50,000 AIDS victims are receiving the medicine they need.

  • The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief will help the most afflicted countries in Africa and the Caribbean wage and win the war against HIV/AIDS, extending and saving lives. The following countries will be the focus of the initiative: Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
  • But sadly, the Bush Administration is making it harder for relief to get to parts of Africa.  And why?  Because the Bush Administration doesn’t approve of other peoples’ behavior:

    The Bush administration has extended its global gag rule to international AIDS prevention funding, according to the Maryland-based Center for Health and Gender Equity. The gag rule will affect a $193 million, five-year project for AIDS-HIV prevention programs in Kenya and requires organizations that seek funding to adhere to the administration’s policy that the health organization not provide abortions, provide any information about safe abortions to women or lobby for change in their nation’s abortion laws. In Kenya, complications from illegal abortions are a leading killer of married women in their 20s and 30s.

    Family planning, maternal and child health programs are the "first responders" for women and girls who have HIV-AIDS, who make up 60 percent of infected cases in sub-Saharan Africa, said the center’s executive director, Jodi Jacobson. "The administration has broken its own written commitment not to subject global AIDS funds to these onerous restrictions."

    Evil.

    RELATED:  The story of Jonah (from Sisyphus Shrugged)

    Bush Was Against Troop Pullout Before He Was For It?

    It was only a week or two ago when Bush/Cheney were labelling war critics, who were advocating troop withdrawal from Iraq, as a bunch of "cut and run" cheese-eating surrender monkeys (or words to that effect).

    But now, the Los Angeles Times writes that Bush will give "a major speech" on Wednesday "in which aides say he is expected to herald the improved readiness of Iraqi troops, which he has identified as the key condition for pulling out U.S. forces":

    The administration’s pivot on the issue comes as the White House is seeking to relieve enormous pressure by war opponents. The camp includes liberals, moderates and old-line conservatives who are uneasy with the costly and uncertain nation-building effort… The developments seemed to lay the groundwork for potentially large withdrawals in 2006 and 2007, consistent with scenarios outlined by Pentagon planners.

    I’m glad the Bush Administration is getting behind the eight ball on this.  Of course, like with Katrina, they do always seem to be behind the curve when it comes to doing the right thing.  You ever notice that?

    U.S. Border Patrol Uniforms Are Made In Mexico

    AP:

    WASHINGTON — The labels inside the U.S. Border Patrol uniforms have been making many federal agents feel uneasy. It’s not the fit or feel of the olive-green shirts and pants, but what their labels read: "Made in Mexico."

    "It’s embarrassing to be protecting the U.S.-Mexico border and be wearing a uniform made in Mexico," says T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a 6,500-member union.

    "Embarrassing"?  Try the word "ironic".

    He Didn’t Have Enough Slanty Pieces

    Hey, I liked Lego too, but then I grew up:

    Portland, Oregon – A 40-year-old man is behind bars, accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars of Lego sets.

    William Swanberg was indicted on Wednesday by a Washington County grand jury on two counts of felony theft and one count of attempted felony theft.

    Rent: My Mini-Review

    Rentmovie_posterI don’t go to the movies much anymore.  It’s such a hassle.  And movies that I’m interested in seeing?  They’re only around for a week or two (or so it seems).  But the film adaptation of the stage musical "Rent" was one I wasn’t going to let slide.  I’m a fan of the show — I saw it in 1997(?) with much of the original cast, and again in 2002.

    For those unfamiliar with the show at all, here’s a plot synopsis that I stole because I’m too lazy to write one myself:

    This story about disenfranchised youth living on the edge of society is the best urban-based musical of its kind since "West Side Story." The two share a number of similarities. "West Side Story," of course, found its inspiration from Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet," and "Rent" traces its roots to Puccini’s classic opera "La Bohème." Both are populated with characters living on the edge of society, with songs driving the narrative.

    After nearly 10 years, the musical’s subject matter and location — AIDS and the bleak Lower East Village of Manhattan — have changed dramatically. Thousands of people are now living with the deadly disease due to new miracle drugs, and the Lower East Side has become gentrified. But the movie’s theme remains relevant: young people trying to figure out their place in a world they don’t necessarily respect, or want to be a part of.

    The large ensemble cast of angry bohemians includes aspiring songwriter Roger (Adam Pascal); Roger’s roommate and wannabe filmmaker Mark (Anthony Rapp); computer genius Tom (portrayed by Jessie L. Martin, best known for his role as detective Ed Green on the TV show "Law & Order"); Tom’s cross-dressing lover Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who won a Tony for this role); and Benny (Taye Diggs), who betrayed his friends when he married their landlord’s daughter and is now threatening the group with eviction from their seedy loft apartments.

    The two new cast members who weren’t from the original group are lawyer Joanne (Tracie Thoms) and Roger’s downstairs neighbor Mimi (Rosario Dawson.)

    The plot focuses on the lives (and deaths) of this group of young bohemians, who find passion and love with each other, despite the cruelties of disease and disenfranchisement.  It is, above all, a celebration of life at the outer margins.

    For fans of the stage musical, this movie won’t disappoint.  The major songs are all there, as are most of the original cast.  Some of the incidental dialogue, rather than being sung (the stage show really is an opera), are acted as straight conversations, but the movie is almost wall-to-wall music.  The movie soundtrack contained an insipid ballad that was not in the stage show ("Love Heals") — thankfully, it ended up on the cutting room floor.

    The "hit song" from the stage show ("Seasons of Love") appears only in the opening number, where the cast stands on an empty stage, belting out the ballad.  The number is apparently an homage to the show’s creator, Jonathan Larson, who died on the opening night of the hit Broadway run.  And it works.  Instead, the running theme of the movie (as well as the movie’s advertisements) is the phrase from another song "No Day But Today", which is more fitting of the movie’s overall message.

    The cast is, for the most part, spectacular.  And they should be: they have lived with these characters for a decade.  Though an ensemble work, Jesse Martin as Tom Collins was probably the standout; his screen presence is captivating, and his giddy smile is engaging.  Tom has found love in the cross-dressing Angel, and as a result, his feet never seem to touch the ground.

    Director Chris Columbus doesn’t attempt to commercialize the show by making it mass-appealing, and it is very faithful to the spirit of original production.  Only twice does the movie enter the foray of traditional "movie musical" genre: a "dream sequence" during the "Tango Maureen" number, and the celebratory "La Vie Boheme".  These are among the few scenes that are not shot in darkness and shadows, and because of that, they breathe life into the film.

    But with that said, the "Rent" cinema experience fell a little flat for me.  Having had a few days to mull it over, I’ve decided that the fault doesn’t lie with the director’s choices, or any of the performances.  The problem is the material itself.  It simply does not translate to the Big Screen as well as I had hoped.   The camera allows the audience to get physically close to these people, and it sometimes doesn’t work, as they belt songs right in the faces of each other.  What’s missing, and perhaps cannot be avoided, is the enchantment of distance that comes from sitting in a theatrical audience.  In the movie house, we become almost too intimate with the characters’ world, so much so that we end up becoming grateful for our own.  At times, especially toward the melodramatic end scenes, we are a hair’s breadth from rolling our eyes and groaning. 

    Sitting in the movie audience, I couldn’t imagine wanting to be a part of their world.  Even with "Chicago", which had dark themes of murder and debauchery, it looked like everybody was having fun.  Those moments in "Rent" were too rare, which made the "celebration of life" message ring a little hollow.

    But that, as I said, is the way "Rent" is supposed to be.  Jazzing it up as a "feel good" musical and removing its edge would have ruined it.  So, as it is, "Rent" is the best adaption of the stage musical that one could hope for.

    K-mas

    Our dear Kaye Grogan is upset again in "Bah, Humbug . . . Retailers!":

    The anti-Christmas groups are gearing up again to oppose the display of nativity scenes in public and the singing of Christmas Carols.

    Oh, I guess that’s me she’s refering to.  Um . . . vrrroom, vrooom.

    And not to be outdone — there are several retailers who have joined the fight against Christmas, and in the process have become somewhat anomic.

    Yes.  Those huge corporate retailers . . . always fighting liberal causes.

    Evidently, some retailers in the country must be suffering from Amnesia or taking some really bad advice. I suspect the latter is right on the money.

    If not Amnesia, then Blunt Head Trauma.

    When will corporate America realize that they are way off base, when they concentrate solely on trying to appease 20 percent of the population — expecting 85 percent to just sit idly by, while they play their little "inclusive" games?

    Any math experts out there?  Doesn’t 20 plus 85 equal more than 100 percent?

    Many foreigners find it offensive to hear somebody say: "MERRY CHRISTMAS!"

    Ah.  Xenophobia.  Kaye’s handmaiden.

    Well, there is an easy solution to that — they can go back to their own country and celebrate whatever they celebrate over there. I am sure they won’t be missed.

    "God bless us, everyone native-born Americans," said Tiny Tim.

    I would like to see how far Americans would get, if they migrated to other countries and tried to interfere with their traditions.

    Over 2,000 dead U.S. soldiers — last time I checked.  Does that answer your question?

    This is AMERICA! — not Mexico, China, Japan or the middle east, etc.

    End of geography lesson.

    If you want to be inclusive then get on the American band wagon and accept our traditions.

    That’s right.  The only way to be inclusive is to embrace American values, and not the values of other cutures.

    Americans are getting fed up with being treated like sojourners in their own country, and I see an uprising brewing.

    And before you know it, we Americans are going to rise up against our immigrant overlords!  The next time I’m in a fancy restaurant, I’m going to get up from my table, march into the kitchen, go up to $2.50-an-hour Pedro behind the industrial dishwasher and shout, "Stop oppressing me, you greasy wetback!!"  That’ll show ’em!

    The misguided people who came up with the notion that we must be politically correct, really messed the system up. Besides, it’s hard to be politically correct considering how many unqualified politicians are being sent to Washington.

    Yes, sir!  Kaye would like to be tolerant of other views, but the politicians in Washington just won’t let her!!!

    There are many Americans, (especially Christians) poised to boycott the anti-Christmas retail stores during the Christmas season. I can’t say I’ll feel sorry for their declining profits, because they put the noose around their own neck.

    Big retailers like Wal-Mart and Target, should know by now — it’s suicide to alienate the Christians. And when they summate their after Thanksgiving sales — they will be BAH-HUMBUGS for sure!

    Mmmmm.  Here’s something from the Associated Press, Kaye:

    The official holiday shopping season appears to have gotten off to a lukewarm start, according to results announced Saturday by a national research group that monitors retail sales. Wal-Mart was one bright spot in the crowd, reporting its sales exceeded expectations.

    Wow, Kaye.  You’ve been proved wrong already!   Anything more to say?

    Like it or not: Jesus is the Reason for the Season! Without His birth, there would have never been a first Christmas. Every single tradition related to Christmas represents something to do with Christ. Before St. Nicholas became Santa Claus — he was a jolly fellow who went about doing good, giving to the poor and he was considered to be a real saint. The lights on Christmas trees represent Jesus "the light of the world." Wreaths represent Christ’s never ending love. A garland wrapped around a tree represents Mary wrapping her arms around Baby Jesus. Every decoration is symbolic of Christ’s birth.

    Except the tree itself, which came from pagen rituals.  And, oh yeah, the date of Christmas, too.

    Now you should be able to see why the ACLU, atheists, and agnostics want to eventually abolish the religious symbolism of Christmas and replace it with their anti-religious holidays.

    Right.  Because I have a great idea for a new Peanuts TV special: "You’ve Killed A Clergyman, Charlie Brown!!"

    In other words: these groups want the majority to be silent, as they dictate to them what they can and can’t do.

    And our first point of attack is on the holiest of holy places: Wal-mart!!!

    The writing on the wall was easy to read several years ago, as a big X replaced Christ in Christmas on many advertising boards. Usually, most things happen gradually, oftentimes covering up real motives until they make it from the back door to the front. But it was obvious the big X was an attempt to start the ball rolling to eliminate Christ and make Christmas more secular.

    Damn!  She’s figured out our plan!  Alright!!  Who squealed?!?

    This year I will spend my money purchasing Christmas gifts in retail stores that observe Christmas by the old traditional standards. And to the others all I can say is: Bah — Humbugs!

    And away Kaye skulked into the mall, muttering to herself as she went about her Christmas shopping….

    No, I’m Not Making This Up

    Just in time for Thanksgiving, the inventor of Stove Top stuffing has died.  Her obit is in today’s New York Times.  If you are at a loss for something to be thankful for tomorrow, why not give a shout out to her?

    And Baby Makes Three

    Like most states, the State of Virginia has "High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes", better known as "carpool lanes".  These are lanes which are open only to cars which have a certain minimum number of passengers.  To drive on an HOV-3 lane, the car must have at least three occupants.

    Pregdriver_1Recently, a woman in Virginia was ticketed for improperly driving on an HOV-3 lane (sorry, I lost the link).  Her defense?  There were three in her car:  (1) herself, (2) her child in the backseat, and (3) her unborn baby.

    This raised the question as to whether an unborn baby is a "person".  The ears of anti-choice advocates pricked up (which is why the story became national).

    Well, the Virginia Department of Transporation weighs in.  From their HOV FAQ website:

    I’m pregnant. Do I count as one person or two?

    In HOV world, you’re one person.  However, babies of any age count as a person.

    Not to worry, anti-choice advocates.  That’s in "HOV world".  As for the real world, VDOT ain’t touchin’ that.

    More On The War Against “Happy Holidays”

    Finch3 World O’ Crap channels Howard Beale:

    I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a War on Christmas.  Sales clerks either won’t wish you a "Merry Christmas," or aren’t sincere when they do.  (And heaven knows, they are never properly grateful to you for honoring them with your presence during this, your sacred holiday season.) 

    Last year some elementary school somewhere wouldn’t let a golden-haired child sing "Silent Night" during math class.  Another town ordered that all copies of the movie "A Christmas Story" had to be digitally altered in order to replace the scary store Santa Claus with a scary FDR-impersonator.  The ACLU is trying to ban creches on airport runways!  The secularists are doing drive-by shootings of Salvation Army Santas!  It’s like everything everywhere is going to hell in a Seasons Greetings hand basket!  I want you to get mad. I don’t want you to protest. All I know is, first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, "I’m a Christian, gosh darn it, and I must take precedence over anybody else."

    So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell, "I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this Happy Holidays crap anymore!" Or maybe instead of going to your window, go to your oven.  Yeah, go to your oven, open your oven, and stick your head in it, turn on the gas, and yell, "I’m as mad as hell at Target for not doing everything I tell it to  — especially when I think of all the money I spent there on colorful dishware and cheap, Chinese-made apparel — and I’m not going to take this anymore!"  And then breathe deeply the fumes of righteous indignation.  Do it.  Do it now!

    Boot’s On The Ground

    Max Boot, writing in the LA Times, says:

    WHEN IT COMES to the future of Iraq, there is a deep disconnect between those who have firsthand knowledge of the situation — Iraqis and U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq — and those whose impressions are shaped by doomsday press coverage and the imperatives of domestic politics.

    In support of this, Boot offers the following statistic:

    American soldiers are also much more optimistic than American civilians. The Pew Research Center and the Council on Foreign Relations just released a survey of American elites that found that 64% of military officers are confident that we will succeed in establishing a stable democracy in Iraq. The comparable figures for journalists and academics are 33% and 27%, respectively.

    I checked out the Pew Research Poll, and while Boot accurately reports the numbers, he misprepresents what they mean.  The military officers in the poll are NOT (as Boot’s first 26331paragraph suggests) people "with firsthand knowledge of the situation in Iraq".  As the poll’s methodology explains:

    The military leaders sample was drawn from a Lexis-Nexis search of retired generals and admirals quoted in American news sources in the past year. Also included was a sample of outstanding officers selected to participate in the Council on Foreign Relations’ Military Fellowship program since 2000.

    Interestingly, most of the Pew Research Poll really does not reflect well on Bush’s policies (see graphic at right — call me crazy, but it looks like the military thinks that Bush’s idea of spreading democracy in the Mideast is a bad idea — more so than most other of the polled demographic groups).

    Neo-cons will have to look hard (and spin a little) to find some encouraging news from the Pew Research Poll.  And that’s what Boot did.

    Anti-Homosexuality Balls: It’s What’s For (Thanksgiving) Dinner!

    As I’ve blogged before, social conservatives and religious zealots are gearing up to make Christmas the latest battleground for their whiny I’m-being-oppressed-because-not-everybody-feels-like-"witnessing"-a-thon. 

    But that doesn’t mean they’ve left Thanksgiving off their plate.  Here’s James Dobson’s latest crusade:

    Focus on the Family has announced plans to distribute 5,000 balls during Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to promote a website it operates that claims homosexuality is a disorder that can be changed through faith.

    The balls – called "stress balls" are part of a major effort by FOF reach a wider audience during the holidays. Each ball carries the name of its advice site http://www.troubledwith.com. The Web site also carries faith-based advice on topics ranging from eating disorders to depression.

    The balls will be tossed out by volunteers along the route and is not part of the official parade. Because they will be on public property there is little Macy’s can do. 

    Shakespeare’s Sister snarkily comments:

    I have to admit, I like the concept of throwing balls in people’s faces to try to cure them of homosexuality.

    Yup.  And I can’t think of a better forum for Dobson’s stunt than the hopelessly family-oriented Macy’s Annual Thanksgiving Parade.  I’m sure Mom and Dad will appreciate having to explain homosexuality to their children as the East Denver High School Marching Band performs the Star Wars theme.

    P_paradespongebob

    Nature Not Done Fucking With Us

    While we were all worried about terrorists, Mother Nature reminded us that she is the real bitch goddess, and sent Katrina our way.

    Apparently, she’s still pissed.  For one thing, Mount St. Helen’s is acting up again.

    But the big whammy in her arsenal may not hit us for another 24 years.  April 13, 2029 to be exact:

    Steve Chesley created a firestorm of panic last December when announced to the world his discovery of Asteroid MN4.

    A recently rediscovered 400-meter Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) is predicted to pass near the Earth on 13 April 2029. The flyby distance is uncertain and an Earth impact cannot yet be ruled out. The odds of impact, presently around 1 in 300, are unusual enough to merit special monitoring by astronomers, but should not be of public concern. These odds are likely to change on a day-to-day basis as new data are received.

    With each passing day the likelihood of such an event befalling us again becomes greater and greater. We must stop it, but we only have 25 years left.

    On April 13th, 2029, the asteroid may crush into Earth causing an explosion 100 times bigger than the blast of the A-bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. A large part of Moscow is likely to disappear.

    It’s name is Apophis, the Greek name for the evil demon of Egyptian legend, Apep.

    Title This Book!

    UNC Law Professor Eric Muller of the blog Is That Legal? has a dilemna, and a solution:

    I said I suck at coming up with book titles, right?

    This creates an opportunity for you, dear reader.

    It’s the IsThatLegal Name-My-Book Contest!

    Go to his post, download the draft introduction (so you can tell what the book is about), and suggest a title.  Many suggestions are already up, and some of them are pretty good.

    World’s Ugliest Dog

    Mn_ugly_dog_cabar501_1No doubt you have heard that Sam, the world’s ugliest dog, died last week at the age of 14.   And as you can see, he was indeed a very ugly dog.

    Sam, a tiny hairless crooked-toothed Chinese pedigree, was the three-time winner of the World’s Ugliest Dog competition.  Apparently, he had a very pleasant disposition.

    You can read MSNBC’s story here.  But if you are looking for a more intimate portrait, or if the story has intrigued or touched you, then you may be interested in the blog of Sam’s owner, which can be found here.

    Rent Belongs In the Pantheon Of Immortal Musicals…”

    Dawson184Well, you can’t get a much better review than that.

    Here’s the full NYT review, and here’s some select snippets from the review:

    Approaching Chris Columbus’s film adaptation, which reunites most of the original Broadway cast to belt out Mr. Larson’s lung-stretching songs about love, art, real estate and AIDS, I was inclined toward the latter category. Two hours later, I was pleased (and somewhat surprised) to find myself an us, for once, instead of a them. Some aesthetic objections still stand – on screen as onstage, "Rent" is often dramatically jumbled and musically muddled – but every time the film seemed ready to tip into awfulness, the sneer on my lips was trumped by the lump in my throat.

    ***

    In telling their entwined stories, Mr. Columbus has managed a feat similar to the one he pulled off with the first two "Harry Potter" movies; he has taken a source that is fiercely and jealously loved by its core fans and refrained from messing it up.

    "Rent" is nothing if not earnest – a full-throated, breathless defense of naïve idealism and unapologetic joie de vivre in the face of death – and the slightest whisper of knowingness or cynicism would spoil it. But a cameo from the smarty-pants shock comedian Sarah Silverman notwithstanding, Mr. Columbus’s movie believes in itself utterly, and affirms that Mr. Larson’s creation belongs with "Hair" and "Fame" in the pantheon of immortal musicals with one-word titles celebrating the self-dramatizing, unembarrassable and resilient spirit of youth.

    In other words, "Rent" is occasionally silly, often melodramatic and never subtle.

    ***

    Yes, Bohemia is dead. Its funeral rites are pronounced by Mr. Larson’s best song ("La Vie Boheme," quoted earlier), a wondrously nonsensical catalog of tastes, ideas and attitudes ranging from microbrewed beers to Kurosawa movies, with a toast along the way to "Sontag and to Sondheim and to everything taboo." But the passage of time, which has left almost nothing taboo, has also inoculated "Rent" against the disdain of hipsters who might find it woefully unsophisticated. Its idea of Bohemia is not realistic, but romantic, even utopian. Openhearted to a fault, it stakes its integrity on the faith that even in millennial New York, some things – friendship, compassion, grief, pleasure, beauty – are more important than money or real estate.

    Personal note to Cheryl:  Give Rosario Dawson (pictured above) a chance, will ya’?

    Bush Kept Intelligence From Congress — The List Grows

    From The National Journal:

    Ten days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda, according to government records and current and former officials with firsthand knowledge of the matter.

    The information was provided to Bush on September 21, 2001 during the "President’s Daily Brief," a 30- to 45-minute early-morning national security briefing. Information for PDBs has routinely been derived from electronic intercepts, human agents, and reports from foreign intelligence services, as well as more mundane sources such as news reports and public statements by foreign leaders.

    One of the more intriguing things that Bush was told during the briefing was that the few credible reports of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda involved attempts by Saddam Hussein to monitor the terrorist group. Saddam viewed Al Qaeda as well as other theocratic radical Islamist organizations as a potential threat to his secular regime. At one point, analysts believed, Saddam considered infiltrating the ranks of Al Qaeda with Iraqi nationals or even Iraqi intelligence operatives to learn more about its inner workings, according to records and sources.

    The September 21, 2001, briefing was prepared at the request of the president, who was eager in the days following the terrorist attacks to learn all that he could about any possible connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

    Much of the contents of the September 21 PDB were later incorporated, albeit in a slightly different form, into a lengthier CIA analysis examining not only Al Qaeda’s contacts with Iraq, but also Iraq’s support for international terrorism. Although the CIA found scant evidence of collaboration between Iraq and Al Qaeda, the agency reported that it had long since established that Iraq had previously supported the notorious Abu Nidal terrorist organization, and had provided tens of millions of dollars and logistical support to Palestinian groups, including payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

    The highly classified CIA assessment was distributed to President Bush, Vice President Cheney, the president’s national security adviser and deputy national security adviser, the secretaries and undersecretaries of State and Defense, and various other senior Bush administration policy makers, according to government records.

    The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the White House for the CIA assessment, the PDB of September 21, 2001, and dozens of other PDBs as part of the committee’s ongoing investigation into whether the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information in the run-up to war with Iraq. The Bush administration has refused to turn over these documents.

    Indeed, the existence of the September 21 PDB was not disclosed to the Intelligence Committee until the summer of 2004, according to congressional sources. Both Republicans and Democrats requested then that it be turned over. The administration has refused to provide it, even on a classified basis, and won’t say anything more about it other than to acknowledge that it exists.

    ***

    The conclusions drawn in the lengthier CIA assessment-which has also been denied to the committee-were strikingly similar to those provided to President Bush in the September 21 PDB, according to records and sources. In the four years since Bush received the briefing, according to highly placed government officials, little evidence has come to light to contradict the CIA’s original conclusion that no collaborative relationship existed between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

    "What the President was told on September 21," said one former high-level official, "was consistent with everything he has been told since-that the evidence was just not there."

    Trip down memory lane time.  Even though the CIA was telling Bush there was no collaborative relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda, we still got these lies from the Administration:

    President George W. Bush on Al-Qaeda:
    "The regime . . . has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda. The danger is clear: using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country, or any other."
    Source: President Says Saddam Hussein Must Leave Iraq Within 48 Hours, White House (3/17/2003).
    President George W. Bush on Al-Qaeda:
    "He has trained and financed al Qaeda-type organizations before, al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations."
    Source: President George Bush Discusses Iraq in National Press Conference, White House (3/6/2003).
    President George W. Bush on Al-Qaeda:
    "Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks. Senior members of Iraq intelligence and al Qaeda have met at least eight times since the early 1990s. Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training. And an al Qaeda operative was sent to Iraq several times in the late 1990s for help in aquiring poisons and gases. We also know that Iraq is harboring a terrorist network headed by a senior al Qaeda terrorist planner."
    Source: President’s Radio Address, White House (2/8/2003).
    President George W. Bush on Al-Qaeda:
    "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help develop their own."
    Source: President Delivers "State of the Union", White House (1/28/2003).
    Vice President Richard Cheney on Al-Qaeda:
    "I think there’s overwhelming evidence that there was a connection between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government. We’ve discovered since documents indicating that a guy named Abdul Rahman Yasin, who was a part of the team that attacked the World Trade Center in ’93, when he arrived back in Iraq was put on the payroll and provided a house, safe harbor and sanctuary. That’s public information now. So Saddam Hussein had an established track record of providing safe harbor and sanctuary for terrorists. . . . I mean, this is a guy who was an advocate and a supporter of terrorism whenever it suited his purpose, and I’m very confident that there was an established relationship there."
    Source: Morning Edition, NPR (1/22/2004).
    Vice President Richard Cheney on Al-Qaeda:
    "Saddam Hussein had a lengthy history of reckless and sudden aggression. His regime cultivated ties to terror, including the al Qaeda network, and had built, possessed, and used weapons of mass destruction."
    Source: Richard B. Cheney Delivers Remarks to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, White House (1/14/2004).
    Vice President Richard Cheney on Al-Qaeda:
    "Saddam Hussein had a lengthy history of reckless and sudden aggression. He cultivated ties to terror — hosting the Abu Nidal organization, supporting terrorists, and making payments to the families of suicide bombers. He also had an established relationship with Al Qaida — providing training to Al Qaida members in areas of poisons, gases and conventional bombs. He built, possessed, and used weapons of mass destruction."

    Source: Richard B. Cheney Delivers Remarks at the James A. Baker, III, Institute for Public Policy, White House (10/18/2003).

    National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice on Al-Qaeda:

    "QUESTION: Is there any question in your mind about the al Qaeda connection? Did Powell totally convince people today in that area?

    RICE: There is no question in my mind about the al Qaeda connection. It is a connection that has unfolded, that we’re learning more about as we are able to take the testimony of detainees, people who were high up in the al Qaeda organization.

    Source: Larry King Live, CNN (2/5/2003).

    There are many more quotes in which the Administration made the Saddam-al Qaeda connection, even though (we now know) the Administration received intelligence doubting that connection, and that intelligence was not shared with Congress.  In fact, it’s STILL not being shared with Congress!!

    University of Kansas To Offer Course on Intelligent Design

    I guess the University of Kansas has had enough of local school board in Kansas trying to wedge creationism into the public school curriculum:

    LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) – Creationism and intelligent design are going to be studied at the University of Kansas, but not in the way advocated by opponents of the theory of evolution.

    A course being offered next semester by the university religious studies department is titled "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies.”

    "The KU faculty has had enough,” said Paul Mirecki, department chairman.

    "Creationism is mythology,” Mirecki said. "Intelligent design is mythology. It’s not science. They try to make it sound like science. It clearly is not.”

    Easongate

    Back in February, CNN executive Eason Jordon made comments to the effect that the U.S. military targeted journalists.  The rightwing blogosphere went ballistic, decrying Jordon’s comments as absurd and unsubstantiated.  The whole thing was dubbed "Easongate", and within days, Eason Jordon resigned.

    Turns out Eason Jordon wasn’t far off the mark:

    US President George W. Bush planned to bomb pan-Arab television broadcaster al-Jazeera, British newspaper the Daily Mirror said, citing a Downing Street memo marked "Top Secret".

    The five-page transcript of a conversation between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair reveals that Blair talked Bush out of launching a military strike on the station, unnamed sources told the daily which is against the war in Iraq.

    The transcript of the pair’s talks during Blair’s April 16, 2004 visit to Washington allegedly shows Bush wanted to attack the satellite channel’s headquarters.

    Blair allegedly feared such a strike, in the business district of Doha, the capital of Qatar, a key western ally in the Persian Gulf, would spark revenge attacks.

    It should be noted that journalists are civilians, even journalists who (arguably) are sympathetic to our enemies.  They are not combatents or soldiers.  And attacking civilians is, in a word, terrorism.

    Besides, I don’t know how you win the hearts and minds of the Arab nations by blowing up journalists.

    Have A Whiny Christmas

    GrinchesLooks like the family values folks are going to make this yuletide holiday miserable for everyone.

    First, there’s Jerry Falwell, who has a team of 750 lawyers ready to litigate the pants off of anybody who expresses secular thoughts during Christmas. ("What would Jesus do?"  Subpoena your ass!!!)

    Then there’s the boycott-crazy American Family Association, choosing now to boycott Target for, among other things, NOT saying "Merry Christmas" (but saying instead "Happy Holidays" or "Season’s Greetings" or something like that).  Aside from the fact that Target has no such policy, the AFA is destined to fail in its boycott, as it usually does:

    As a rule, the AFA boycotts are counterproductive. A few months ago, for example, the group announced it was ending its nine-year boycott of Disney. A grand total of zero of the AFA’s demands had been met and the company enjoyed a surge in profits after the boycott began (though the two were no doubt unrelated). A few months later, the group went after Ford Motor Company, which didn’t seem particularly concerned.

    This followed similar recent efforts by the AFA against Crest toothpaste, Volkswagen, Tide detergent, Clorox bleach, Pampers, MTV, Abercrombie & Fitch, K-Mart, Burger King, American Airlines and S.C. Johnson & Son, makers of Windex, Ziploc, Pledge, Glade, and Edge. Late last year, the AFA also went after the movie "Shark Tale," because the group believed the movie was designed to brainwash children into accepting gay rights. Not a single AFA target has ever caved to the group’s demands.

    Still, whether Falwell and the AFA are successful or not is hardly the issue.  I find such overt politicization of Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah to be embarrassing and insulting.  Good will toward all men?  Not according to those zealots, who keep playing the "victim" because businesses won’t run up to the pulpit and engage in proselytizing.

    Steve Benen is exactly right:

    [T]he right’s perceived "war against Christmas" is getting pretty tiresome. Fox News’ John Gibson has a bizarre book out, while and Bill O’Reilly, Charles Krauthammer, and the truly silly Committee to Save Merry Christmas will probably enjoy the holiday season by whining a lot.

    And what’s truly annoying is to hear complainers lose sight of those who really suffer. Last year, armed police broke up a Christmas Mass at an underground Catholic church in eastern China, arresting the priest, demolishing a makeshift pulpit and scattering two thousand worshippers. Around the same time, some seasonal temp at the mall wished Bill O’Reilly a generic "Happy Holidays" and he felt like a victim.

    A little perspective, people.

    Stupid.com

    A town in Idaho has decided to change its name to "SecretSanta.Com" in order to hype an online gift exchange management service.  I kid you not.

    Surprisingly, this is not the first time this has happened.  Just ask the folks in Half.com, Oregon. [Half.com is an e-Bay-like online audition site].

    A Spit-Take Moment

    John O’Neill, head of the "Swift Boat Veterans For Truth" (the group that circulated unfounded rumors about Kerry’s Vietnam service) is back at it, engaging in more historical rewrites.

    Just read this sentence from O’Neill’s op-ed in The New York Sun (subscription required):

    Are the politicians like Mr. Kerry who led the campaign to send our kids to war (when it was popular) now to withdraw support while they are locked in combat and apparently succeeding because the task is difficult or unpopular?

    That’s right.  John Kerry "led the campaign" for the Iraq invasion.

    Now, Kerry can be faulted for many things, and chief among them is his vote which gave Bush the authorization to go to war, if needed.  But casting that vote is not the same thing as endorsing the invasion.  Kerry himself explained this over a year ago:

    Two years ago, Congress was right to give the President the authority to use force to hold Saddam Hussein accountable.  This President. any President. would have needed the threat of force to act effectively.  This President misused that authority.

    The power entrusted to the President gave him a strong hand to play in the international community.  The idea was simple.  We would get the weapons inspectors back in to verify whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.  And we would convince the world to speak with one voice to Saddam: disarm or be disarmed. 

    A month before the war, President Bush told the nation:  "If we have to act, we will take every precaution that is possible.  We will plan carefully.  We will act with the full power of the United States military.  We will act with allies at our side and we will prevail."  He said that military action wasn’t "unavoidable." 

    Instead, the President rushed to war without letting the weapons inspectors finish their work.  He went without a broad and deep coalition of allies.   He acted without making sure our troops had enough body armor.  And he plunged ahead without understanding or preparing for the consequences of the post-war. None of which I would have done.

    Yet today, President Bush tells us that he would do everything all over again, the same way.  How can he possibly be serious?  Is he really saying that if we knew there were no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to Al Qaeda, the United States should have invaded Iraq?  My answer is no – because a Commander-in-Chief’s first responsibility is to make a wise and responsible decision to keep America safe.

    So we see that once again, O’Neill is lying.  Or, to use the slang he unwittingly helped to popularize, he’s "swiftboating".  Again.

    Rent: A Review

    Well, I read my first review of the movie I have been waiting to see for a long time — "Rent".  It looks like I won’t be disappointed.  Here are excerpts from The Hollywood Reporter:

    "Rent" is one of the best film musicals in years — exuberant, sexy and life affirming in equal measure. Jonathan Larson’s 1996 Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical, based upon Puccini’s opera "La Boheme," makes an electrifying move to the screen as director Chris Columbus and choreographer Keith Young push the singing and dancing out into New York streets and subways.

    Stylized action in real locations doesn’t always work in movies, but it does here perhaps because six of the eight actor-performers from the original Broadway show return for the movie version. These actors know their roles down to the grit in their fingernails, so the film feels loose and real, unfettered by a proscenium and opened up in an almost spiritual way.

    "Chicago" proved that American audiences can still, on occasion, embrace a genre that has largely gone out of style. But what will mainstream audiences make of a musical about AIDS, drug addiction, homelessness and drag queens? "Rent" will be strong in major markets but needs crackerjack marketing to draw a broad young audience to the film.

    "Rent," which Larson, its author and composer, did not live to see became a worldwide success, focuses on a group of impoverished young artists and musicians, struggling to survive in New York’s East Village neighborhood in the 1980s under the shadow of AIDS. "Rent" shares with "La Boheme" an affirmation of the bohemian lifestyle, of creativity and art over anything as mundane as earning a living or paying the rent.

    The reason, of course, is these lives might be short. Drugs and HIV inflict several characters. Each feels a pressing need to create a legacy, one in which whom you love is at least important as what you create. You live your art — and life — with a metaphorical gun to your head.

    *** [Plot synopsis omitted] ***

    The film spills out of the cold-water lofts into nearby streets, bars, restaurants, performance spaces and churches in a celebration of the bohemian life. Stephen Goldblatt’s camera is constantly in motion, and Young’s dances have a athletic dynamism that energizes the screen. Some dialogue has been added in Steve Chbosky’s adaptation, but like the stage show the story is told in musical numbers that flow smoothly one into another. Meanwhile, Larson’s music honors a host of traditions, ranging from rock and blues to gospel, soul and even tango.

    Columbus managed the complicated logistics of the first two "Harry Potter" movies but never put his own stamp on those huge productions. Something in "Rent," though, hooked him emotionally for the movie represents his best work — confident of the material inherited from Larson, true to that legacy yet willing to make changes and expand the possibilities for the screen.

    Nearly every big movie has its set pieces around which the film develops, but "Rent" is all set pieces. Each requires ingenuity and sweat to get the best out of a super-talented cast. That each succeeds on its own terms yet flows together so easily is a tribute to Columbus’ passion for the material.

    Howard Cummings’ interior sets, the location work, Aggie Guerard Rodgers’ vibrant costumes, the terrific dances and adventurous cinematography all add up to pure pleasure.

    And Now, The Iraqis Weigh In

    From Bloomberg:

    Iraqi leaders, meeting at a reconciliation conference in Cairo, urged an end to violence in the country and demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraq.

    In a final statement, read by Arab League chief Amre Moussa, host of the three-day summit, they called for "the withdrawal of foreign troops according to a timetable, through putting in place an immediate national program to rebuild the armed forces.” No date was specified.

    So let’s check the toteboard:

    WHO WANTS THE U.S. TO WITHDRAW FROM IRAQ

    (1)  Most Democrat leaders

    (2)  The majority of the American public

    (3)  The U.S. military brass

    (4)  The Iraqi people, and now…

    (5)  The Iraqi leaders

    It’s only the Republican leadership who wants our troops to stay there with no end in sight.

    Broadway May Be Hitting A New Low

    From Playbill:

    Britney Spears, the international pop star who became a mother this past summer, and recent Sweet Charity audience member, may be Broadway bound.

    "The Insider" has reported that the 23-year-old performer is in talks to replace Christina Applegate in the revival of Sweet Charity at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. The television gossip program also reported that Spears’ husband, Kevin Federline, may join the revival of the Neil Simon-Cy Coleman-Dorothy Fields musical as well.

    Kill me baby one more time.

    Mildly Depressed People Are More Perceptive

    This is one of those scientific studies where I go "Duh", but apparently the scientists at Queens College (in Canada) were astounded:

    Surprisingly, people with mild depression are actually more tuned into the feelings of others than those who aren’t depressed, a team of Queen’s psychologists has discovered.

    “This was quite unexpected because we tend to think that the opposite is true,” says lead researcher Kate Harkness. “For example, people with depression are more likely to have problems in a number of social areas.”

    The researchers were so taken aback by the findings, they decided to replicate the study with another group of participants. The second study produced the same results: People with mild symptoms of depression pay more attention to details of their social environment than those who are not depressed.

    Why is this so surprising?  I suspect that obese people are more cognizant of the thin people around them than, say, the thin people themselves.

    Not Again

    BleedingmaryA statue of the Virgin Mary in some church in the Sacramento area is crying tears of blood.

    Can I just say something before we all get carried away?

    When I take a shower in my bathroom, and forget to turn on the fan or open a window, the walls (which are painted yellow), "bleed" red.  Not a lot, just a little.  This is not a cosmic message.  This is the product of paint and condensation.

    And this is being generous.  There are, quite likely, other reasonable explanations.

    The Pushback Strategy Debunked

    Conservative blog Protein Wisdom summarizes the Bush "Pushback Strategy":

    Clearly, the important administration arguments are beginning to coalesce:  1) Criticism of the war is not by itself unpatriotic 2) Similarly, answering anti-war critics is not challenging their patriotism 3) But opportunistic and cynical anti-war critics who are trying to walk back their own votes and level spurious charges at the Administration (they lied to take is into war) are themselves lying 4) These lies are hurting the country and the troops.  5) The burden of proof, in a post 911 world, was on Saddam Hussein to prove he’d disarmed; we could not wait for the threat to become imminent before acting 6) The cause the troops are fighting for is just and right 7) Iraq is moving toward freedom; and things on the ground are improving daily, regardless of what the MSM and prominent Dems would have us believe.

    These points, taken together, form an easy, concise, and—most importantly—a factually correct counter-narrative to the Dem / MSM narrative . . .

    Easy?  Concise?  Bwaaaaahahahahahahaha!

    Let’s try (for a start) "internally contradictory".  The pushback strategy would have you believe that criticizing the war is not unpatriotic (#1 and #2), yet it "hurt(s) the country and the troops" (#4).  Query the definition of "patriotic".

    But perhaps #4 does NOT contradict #1 and #2, if #4 only applies to "opportunistic and cynical anti-war critics who are trying to walk back their own votes"(#3).  Of course, that defies logical sense.  How exactly does changing one’s mind about the war (as opposed to always being against it) hurt the troops and the country?

    And, of course, #3 resurrects the canard that Democrats "voted for the war".  What many of them voted for, and what they understood their vote to mean (as many said at the time), was that they gave Bush the authority to invade Iraq so Bush could go to the U.N. and get international support behind him.  Bush, at the time, was publically saying that he wasn’t even sure he intended to invade Iraq.  With trust in those statements, the Democrats supported the October resolution.  That’s far different from actually supporting invasion itself.

    But, whatever.  I’m not an opportunistic and cynical war critic attempting to walk back on my vote.  I didn’t GET a vote, and if I DID, my position now is the same as it was then.  So #3 doesn’t apply to me. 

    #5 is the biggest joke.  If neo-cons were really interested in Saddam meeting (or not meeting) his burden of proof, they would have allowed to let the inspectors continue to inspect Iraq.  If neo-cons were honest, with themselves if not others, they would admit that would NEVER have been satisifed with whatever proof Saddam (or inspectors) offered.

    I have no problem with #6.  Assuming that "the cause the troops are fighting for" can be defined as "combating terrorism".  Of course, it avoids the chief criticism, to wit, does our presence in Iraq reduce terrorism, or increase it?  Most people, including promiment military experts and leaders, think the latter.  So saying that "the cause" is just and right does not serve as an approval of the dysfunctional way in which we achieve that goal.

    And if Iraq is moving toward freedom (#7), doesn’t that mean, on some level, "Mission Accomplished"?  Doesn’t that mean we can at least discuss bringing troops home?  Or are we planning to stay until democracy there is 100% perfect, something which we didn’t (arguably) achieve until the end of our civil war some 80 years after democracy’s birth?

    Every Mother’s Nightmare

    This is too funny.

    So everyone can appreciate it, let me explain the technology and background.

    Xbox Live is a game system where you can play games with other players over the Internet.  In certain games, you play a character, and your opponent(s) play a character, and all of you run around a virtual world trying to kill each other.  And if you have a headset-with microphone, you can talk (or taunt) the other players (and your character’s mouth moves as you speak).

    Okay.  So there was this nine year old kid playing an XBox Live against opponents.  It was a shoot-em-up game.  During the course of the game, the 9 year old boy starts getting into a fight with his mother about chocolate milk — he wanted her to bring him some.  Unfortunately, one of his opponents was recording the game and the argument.

    Here is the video of the game, as recorded.  Listen to this devil kid curse out his mother.  It really begins to cook about one minute into it.

    I don’t know how it ends up, but now that this video is out, I’m betting that kid doesn’t have an XBox anymore.