Saturday, April 30, 2005

Bear with me?!

I hope you'll bear with me, folks... I've got four term papers to write and a grant deadline to help meet, and I learned this week that our landlord will be selling the house we've been living in for 10 years. Things are feeling a little out of control. But this too shall pass! (At the very least, I'll have lots of books to recommend - or not recommend! - when these papers are done.)

Monday, April 25, 2005

No Report, No Problem (Part II)

While a troublesome terror report is getting the ax, an environmental report is being gutted:
The Bush administration's program to study climate change lacks a major component required by law, according to Congressional investigators. The program fails to include periodic assessments of how rising temperatures may affect people and the environment.

The investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, conclude in a report to be released today that none of the 21 studies of climate change that the administration plans to publish by September 2007 explicitly address the potential effects in eight areas specified by a 1990 law, the Global Change Research Act. The areas include agriculture, energy, water resources and biological diversity.

Without such an assessment, the accountability office said, "it may be difficult for the Congress and others to use this information effectively as the basis for making decisions on climate policy."
Read the rest here. (Thanks, B!)

The Day After Just-Us Sunday...

I'll beg your patience and understanding for yet another skimpy week, but in the meantime, please don't miss Thom Hartmann this week! He begins:
Why would a multi-multi-millionaire Senator, who consistently votes to harm the hungry and the poor who so concerned Jesus, join forces with religious fundamentalists to stack this nation's highest courts? Could it be because he and his wealthy Republican friends see huge financial benefits for themselves and their corporate patrons in a compliant court?
And gets better from there. Do read it! Kudos to Rev. Robert Edgar - if he was the first - for ingeniously renaming the "Justice Sunday" farce.

While it may be difficult for some in the reality-based community to understand how evangelicals can feel so "oppressed," it's not news to anyone who read Chris Smith's American Evangelicals: Embattled and Thriving, as I had to recently for one of my classes. Smith shows several other times over the last century-plus, when Evangelicals have launched similar campaigns - always designed to invigorate and animate members around a sense of oppression, marginalization, and disentitlement. It's the primary tactic through which they form a "sub-cultural identity"; it gives them meaning and determination. The evangelicals quite literally thrive on it, as Smith shows, and as their repeated use of the tactic demonstrates. (I don't have the book at hand in order to list the four previous episodes, but I'll try to add that later.) But it really does begin to strain credulity when the "oppressed minority" can be shown to have most of the Republican Party in their back pocket.

I'm beginning to quite literally thank God for Harry Reid. I wasn't sure what to think when Harry Reid became the Senate Minority Leader. But with each passing week I respect him even more. Via Daily Kos and AmericaBlog, Reid directly challenged Cheney's lies last week...
“In the span of three minutes, the vice president managed to reinvent 200 years of Senate history and ignore the fact that Congress has already approved 205 of this administration’s nominees. Apparently, a 95 percent confirmation rate is not enough for this president. He wants it all, even if it means shattering the checks and balances in our government in order to put radical judges on the bench.

“Last week, I met with the president and was encouraged when he told me he would not become involved in Republican efforts to break the Senate rules. Now, it appears he was not being honest, and that the White House is encouraging this raw abuse of power.

“It is disturbing that Republicans have so little respect for the separation of powers established by our founding fathers. Based on his comments last week, I had hoped that the president was prepared to join Democrats in taking up the work of the American people, but it is clear this is no longer the case. If the White House and Congress insists on proceeding down this road, Democrats will do all we can to ensure that Congress pursues an agenda the American people can be proud of.”
Here's a great post from Josh Marshall on the Republicans' sudden and desperate efforts to get the media to stop saying "nuclear option" (a piece of bait the LA Times has already bitten into). He's got more history here. And Atrios has an amusingly rich round-up of all the recent times Republicans used the phrase "nuclear option." If any other journalist falls for the Republican "that's what the Democrats want you to call it" line, then we've got more Jeff Gannon-like Pseudo-Journalists out there than we care to know.

Oh, and Via Chuck Currie... The theocrats are even planning to remove sitting judges. Read the whole frightening story.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Girls necessary afterall

At the risk of reducing a complex cultural, historical and political issue to the merely biological... did this little fact of life not occur to anyone? My mother sends the following item from the latest not-accessible-by-internet "Women's Network News" (edited and published by Rachel Conrad Wahlberg, 5804 Cary Dr., Austin, TX 78757; this story reprinted from: NY Times International, Jan. 31, 2005 )...
“Everyone knows about the one-child policy in China. Its purpose was to limit the population – which is now 1.3 billion people.

For years many families have been using prenatal scans and selective abortions to make certain that the child is a boy – not only for his labor, but tradition holds that a son must care for his parents. A son is often compared to a pension.

Demographers predict that in a few decades China could have up to 40 million men unable to find mates.

But now – there is such a glut of boys – roughly 134 for every 100 girls – that the Chinese government is having second thoughts. It has decided to pay families who already have girls.

Some schools now have a Care for Girls program. Now there are billboards promoting the latest propaganda campaign – RESPECT GIRLS. A school official explains the program is supposed to build the self-esteem of girls.

In one rural community the pressure for sons had been so enormous that one mother, Liao Yanquing, said that she contemplated suicide because her second baby was another girl.

Now, she and her family have received a government grant – money they have used to buy a new house and a small restaurant. And both girls go to school free.

“It’s been quite a dramatic change,” she said.

Sweet deal

From a Washington Post editorial:
U.S. sugar policy stands for all that's bad about our political system. The government restricts imports through a series of quotas, pushing U.S. sugar prices to between two and three times the global market rate. As a result, a handful of sugar producers, notably in Florida, a battleground electoral state, pocket $1 billion a year in excess profits. To protect this cozy arrangement, the sugar barons plow a chunk of their revenue back into the political system. During the 2004 election cycle, two Florida sugar companies gave a total of $925,000 to election coffers.

This corruption has victims. Producers' enviable profits come straight out of consumers' wallets, so that ordinary supermarket visitors are made to subsidize welfare for corporations. At the same time, efficient foreign sugar producers, many of them in poor countries, are denied a fair chance to export their way out of poverty.

Meanwhile there is an environmental cost: In Florida, sugar cane production has contributed to the degradation of the Everglades. Sugar-using industries are losers too. As Kimberly A. Elliott notes in a paper for the Center for Global Development, some candymakers have closed U.S. factories rather than pay crazy sugar prices.

The biggest cost of the sugar racket is to free trade itself, and therefore to all producers and consumers. Blatant protection of sugar barons undermines U.S. trade negotiators' credibility when they seek to open foreign markets, and pressure from the sugar lobby is now holding up free trade with Central America. Sugar accounts for a minuscule share of U.S. farm output. But because Big Sugar is politically ruthless, it has the power to hold trade hostage.

No report, no problem

Remember early last summer when the State Department terrorism report ballyhooed the worldwide decline in terrorism, then quietly retracted and restated the results to reveal an increase (scroll down to "about that clerical error"). Well, terrorist attacks are up even higher this year, so Condi cancelled the report. That's right... It just won't be published anymore. No report, no problem.

What to do if you've been exposed to Time Magazine this week

Kevin Drum provides an emergency antidote to this week's Time Magazine cover horror (so horrible I won't even link to it). So does Think Progress. And Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media. (Update: fixed the Think Progress link.)

Social Justice Sunday

Fresh from pronouncing his expert diagnosis of Terri Schiavo's medical condition from a 30-minute videotape provided to Congress, Sen. Bill Frist is set to join James Dobson to rally the militant theocrats in a simulcast event this Sunday, at which opponents of Frist's plan to destroy the Constitution will be labeled enemies of people of faith. Religious progressives are organizing their response -- see George Lakoff's Daily Kos post and consider joining the Clergy and Laity Network's National Prayer Vigil.

For some historical context on the "nuclear option" Frist and the Republicans are pursuing, see this LA Times editorial:
In the last half-century, conservative politicians have mounted three dramatically different attacks on the federal judiciary. The first attack, in which they emphasized the need for judicial restraint, was principled and coherent.

The second, which called on judges to consider the original meaning of the Constitution, was more radical but still had honorable goals: to promote stability, neutrality and the rule of law.

The third attack, however, is the most worrisome: a large-scale challenge to judicial independence, and we are now in the midst of it.
Read the rest.

Friday, April 15, 2005


Originally uploaded by mizm_sf.

Me, after finishing taxes and financial aid forms at 2 a.m.?

-- or --

"Kintana, a four-day-old aye-aye, is revealed by Bristol Zoo Gardens in the UK after becoming only the second to be born and reared in captivity. Aye-ayes, from Madagascar, are the world's largest nocturnal primates." From the BBC's Day in Pictures. (Read more about aye-ayes here!)

(Update: for some reason this posted twice; I just deleted the second one!)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


It just occurred to me that Left At The Altar turned one year old over the weekend! And we've had just over 4800 visitors during the last year. Sorry, but I can't do cake for 4800...

"In theocracy they trust" (updated)

I'm still scrambling to catch up, but I want to make sure you see this Michelle Goldberg article, In Theocracy They Trust. These people are just scary. The "culture of life" appears to advocate judicial assassinations...
What to do about communist judges in thrall to Beelzebub? Vieira said, "Here again I draw on the wisdom of Stalin. We're talking about the greatest political figure of the 20th century…He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him whenever he ran into difficulty. 'No man, no problem.'"

The audience laughed, and Vieira repeated it. "'No man, no problem.' This is not a structural problem we have. This is a problem of personnel."

As Dana Milbank pointed out on Saturday in the Washington Post, the full Stalin quote is this: "Death solves all problems: no man, no problem." Milbank suggested that Kennedy would be wise to hire more bodyguards.

Was Vieira calling for assassination? I'm not sure. The conference's rhetoric, though, certainly suggested that judges deserve to reap the horrors they have been ostensibly sown. The affair finished with a rousing speech by recent Republican senatorial candidate Alan Keyes, who drew enthusiastic applause when he said, "I believe that in our country today the judiciary is the focus of evil."

It is a challenge to know how seriously to take this sort of thing. The world inhabited by most of those at the conference seems so at odds with empirical reality that one expects it to collapse around them. With each new lunacy perpetrated by religious fundamentalists, progressives tell each other than any second the pendulum will swing the other way and some equilibrium will return to our national life. They've been telling each other that for more than four years. But the influence of religious authoritarianism keeps growing. punishment for homosexuals, abortion doctors, and women who have sex before marriage (not men, of course)...
One conference speaker was Howard Phillips, the hulking former Nixon staffer who helped midwife the new right. Years ago, Phillips, along with Richard Viguerie and Paul Weyrich, recruited a little-known Baptist preacher named Jerry Falwell to start the Moral Majority. Though he was raised Jewish, Phillips is now an evangelical Christian who told me he was profoundly influenced by the late R.J. Rushdoony, the founder of Christian Reconstructionism. "Rushdoony had a tremendous impact on my thinking," Phillips said. As time goes on, he said, Rushdoony's influence is growing.

Christian Reconstructionism calls for a system that is both radically decentralized, with most government functions devolved to the county level, and socially totalitarian. It calls for the death penalty for homosexuals, abortion doctors and women guilty of "unchastity before marriage," among other moral crimes. To be fair, Phillips told me that "just because a crime is capital doesn't mean you must impose the death penalty. It means it's an option." Public humiliation, he said, could sometimes be used instead.
...and telling outrageous lies if it will rally the villagers to raise their torches and pitchforks...
The conference attendees took their warfare metaphors seriously. They exist in a parallel reality, with its own history and its own news, and in that reality, the Schiavo case dwarfs the war in Iraq or the budget deficit in its import. The Terri Schiavo story that has so galvanized them isn't the same one shown on CNN or reported in the New York Times. Rather, it was an act of, as one conference participant called it, state-sponsored terrorism, designed to demonstrate the court's terrible power to take life at will. The narrative that Gibbs presented on Thursday seemed familiar to his audience, but it was new to me.

To begin with, in his version of the story, Michael Schiavo probably caused his wife's brain damage by beating or choking her until she was near death.

There were three leading theories about what happened to Terri all those years ago, he said. The first was that she had a heart problem. The second was that she had an eating disorder. There was no evidence, he said, for either of those.

"The third leading theory -- and as you can see, the first two seem to be sort of eliminated -- is that there was some form of foul play," he said. "That some sort of strangulation or violence occurred, at the hand of the husband possibly."

Gibbs offered nothing to substantiate this rather serious claim.

With his wife hospitalized, Gibbs said, "The husband did everything he could to keep people away from Terri, because if television cameras or regular people got in to see her, they would clearly see how alive she was."

Nor was her condition irreversible. "I firmly believe that for all the depravation and abuse she suffered at the hand of her husband…if she'd have had any therapy she wouldn't even have needed a feeding tube," he said.

In Gibbs' telling, Circuit Court Judge George Greer cavalierly ignored all this overwhelming evidence. Such villainy, he said, is the direct result of a legal system that has tried to cast off God's dominion.
In other words, they will stop at nothing.

Sleep tight. (Update: But not before you read Father Jake's more richly sourced post on the spread of theocracy in the US.)

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Still here

Long time, no blog! My mother and stepfather were visiting, and it seemed rude to read and process news while they were here from 3/4 of the way across the country, from that state which cannot be named. What a blessed diversion that turned out to be! I recommend short news-reading moratoriums; it clears the head.

I'm catching up, and see that there's much to chew on (like this interesting business press perspective on Bush's social security shenanigans), but for now I want to point you to two sobering and important stories about the state of the great apes: ebola is starting to catch up to bushmeat hunting as the most pressing threat to their continued survival. See these two stories on the outbreaks (perhaps you've already read that a related virus, Marburg, has broken out in Angola).

Saturday, April 02, 2005

"Where are we going and why am I in this handbasket?"

That's the content of a bumpersticker I picked up at the school bookstore, recently. I keep it on my desk and I find myself looking at it a lot this week.

Apologies for the letting the blog lie fallow for so many days. Both the new contributor and I were inundated this week. Things will probably be a little spotty for the coming week, also, but don't give up on us.

  • Meanwhile, please, please read Nicholas Kristof's latest:
    President Bush is focusing his program against AIDS in Africa on sexual abstinence and marital fidelity, relegating condoms to a distant third. It's the kind of well-meaning policy that bubbles up out of a White House prayer meeting but that will mean a lot of unnecessary deaths on the ground in Africa. The stark reality is that what kills young women here is often not promiscuity, but marriage. Indeed, just about the deadliest thing a woman in southern Africa can do is get married.
    This is something that too few people understand or believe -- most dangerously, this administration. (And, if you will forgive my speaking harshly of the recently deceased, the pope!)

  • And read Paul Krugman and John Danforth, both dealing - in different ways - with the rise of religious extremism in the US.

  • And if you didn't already see it, here's a summary of a UN-sponsored study - compiling the work of 1300 scientists - which declares that the earth is very nearly beyond repair.

  • Via Daily Kos, The St. Petersburg Times' Robert Friedman shows readers his living will. Tacky? Maybe, just a touch... But also funny (in a sad way).
    Like many of you, I have been compelled by recent events to prepare a more detailed advance directive dealing with end-of-life issues. Here's what mine says:

    * In the event I lapse into a persistent vegetative state, I want medical authorities to resort to extraordinary means to prolong my hellish semiexistence. Fifteen years wouldn't be long enough for me.

    * I want my wife and my parents to compound their misery by engaging in a bitter and protracted feud that depletes their emotions and their bank accounts.

    * I want my wife to ruin the rest of her life by maintaining an interminable vigil at my bedside. I'd be really jealous if she waited less than a decade to start dating again or otherwise rebuilding a semblance of a normal life.

    * I want my case to be turned into a circus by losers and crackpots from around the country who hope to bring meaning to their empty lives by investing the same transient emotion in me that they once reserved for Laci Peterson, Chandra Levy and that little girl who got stuck in a well.

    * I want those crackpots to spread vicious lies about my wife.

    * I want to be placed in a hospice where protesters can gather to bring further grief and disruption to the lives of dozens of dying patients and families whose stories are sadder than my own.

    * I want the people who attach themselves to my case because of their deep devotion to the sanctity of life to make death threats against any judges, elected officials or health care professionals who disagree with them.

    * I want the medical geniuses and philosopher kings who populate the Florida Legislature to ignore me for more than a decade and then turn my case into a forum for weeks of politically calculated bloviation.

    * I want total strangers - oily politicians, maudlin news anchors, ersatz friars and all other hangers-on - to start calling me "Bobby," as if they had known me since childhood.

    * I'm not insisting on this as part of my directive, but it would be nice if Congress passed a "Bobby's Law" that applied only to me and ignored the medical needs of tens of millions of other Americans without adequate health coverage.

    * Even if the "Bobby's Law" idea doesn't work out, I want Congress - especially all those self-described conservatives who claim to believe in "less government and more freedom" - to trample on the decisions of doctors, judges and other experts who actually know something about my case. And I want members of Congress to launch into an extended debate that gives them another excuse to avoid pesky issues such as national security and the economy.

    * In particular, I want House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to use my case as an opportunity to divert the country's attention from the mounting political and legal troubles stemming from his slimy misbehavior.

    * And I want Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to make a mockery of his Harvard medical degree by misrepresenting the details of my case in ways that might give a boost to his 2008 presidential campaign.

    * I want Frist and the rest of the world to judge my medical condition on the basis of a snippet of dated and demeaning videotape that should have remained private.

    * Because I think I would retain my sense of humor even in a persistent vegetative state, I'd want President Bush - the same guy who publicly mocked Karla Faye Tucker when signing off on her death warrant as governor of Texas - to claim he was intervening in my case because it is always best "to err on the side of life."

    * I want the state Department of Children and Families to step in at the last moment to take responsibility for my well-being, because nothing bad could ever happen to anyone under DCF's care.

    * And because Gov. Jeb Bush is the smartest and most righteous human being on the face of the Earth, I want any and all of the aforementioned directives to be disregarded if the governor happens to disagree with them. If he says he knows what's best for me, I won't be in any position to argue.
    Finally, if you're going to drop your gas station credit card somewhere... a seminary parking lot is probably your best bet. Some good soul found mine and turned it in to the bookstore. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Since gas station credit cards are merely "swiped" through a machine with absolutely NO identification required, this coulda been ugly. Thanks, whoever you are.
  • Transitions

    Originally uploaded by mizm_sf.

    I've always liked this very striking image of Pope John Paul II (it's included in the NYT multimedia biography/obituary, but I found it here). So, so often, I found him completely infuriating (some of the reasons are spelled out pretty well in this article - thanks, B), but it was impossible not to admire his energy, his enjoyment of people, his faith and deep commitment.