Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Identity Politics and the Dominant Group

I wrote a couple days ago about identity politics. Here is part 2 of the essay. When the dominant group (straight white males are most dominant) look out for their own interests, it is never called identity politics. That term is reserved for when a minority group does it. The dominant group also refers to it as single-issue politics, as in "Why can't you set your single issue aside for the greater good?" We'll get back to you when the "greater good" is achieved. That single issue is not one that benefits the dominant group, which means the minority group is being asked to give up its identity as the "other."

While Democrats play identity politics (how should a black woman prioritize her identities?) in the first few primaries, eventually they need to appeal to the working class whites in order to beat the GOP. So what's important to blacks this year? Home foreclosures, bad economy, fewer dollars available for college for their kids, the general fragility of their status as middle-class. About the same as the issues of the working class whites. But it is not identity politics when someone asks, "So who should the white guys vote for?"

A thought not in this posting: While a lot of black issues are also issues of the working class whites, the biggest gay issue -- relationship security -- isn't. Alas, gays have been known to play the dominant role with transgenders in the minority role, as in the ENDA fiasco a few months ago.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Election Fraud is Alive and Well

Mark Crispin Miller wrote an article for Harper's Magazine back in 2005 titled "None Dare Call it Stolen" documenting voting irregularities in Ohio which gave Bush a second term. That article is here.

That article has been expanded into the book, "Fooled Again: The Real Case for Election Reform." One main conclusion is there is no way to be confident of the 2000 and 2004 reported election results. The book is now out in paperback and prompted Harper's blogger Scott Horton to interview the author. A summary of what they talked about:

The book contains a quote about how dictators deliberately confuse true and false so that a challenge to their power can be taken for a lie. That quote is here.

When that is put on a book about election fraud what does that imply about Bush? Unlike others Bush's inversion of truth is in a large part based on what he actually believes. And he believes it because he is paranoid. As a lot of people leading crusades over the centuries (including modern religious conservatives) see themselves as victim, outnumbered, and fighting back while their opponents as evil and relentless, full of fury.

Perpetrators of fraud in Ohio are being prosecuted and when the subject comes up the GOP unleashes a storm of ridicule so that the Mainstream Media won't take it seriously. Fortunately, the GOP is looking stupid and the press is beginning to wake up. Alas, they don't call it fraud, merely "irregularities" and meaningful reform isn't likely until the word "fraud" is used. While electronic voting machines are now generally discredited, optical scanners are being shown to be open to manipulation. They also have the drawback that a recount can't easily be done in public view. Just because the GOP lost by a lot in 2006 does not mean they are done with voter fraud. In the recent New Hampshire Dem primary Hillary won by 6% in precincts that used optical scanners and Obama won by 6% in precincts that used hand-counted ballots. The GOP wants to run against Hillary.

Continued points of vulnerability: (1) Voting systems and voter registries of any kind that use a computer. Lots of Dem voters are disappearing from rolls. (2) Voter ID laws. (3) A politicized Department of Justice that has no interest in pursuing issues of voter rights. (4) Media's silence on election fraud and their insistence on calling elections before all votes are counted (or even accounted for). The latter stifles audits and recounts, allows the charge of "sore loser."

Some of the fixes mentioned: (1) Repeal the Help America Vote Act. (2) Use only hand counted ballots. (3) No computerized rolls. (4) Prohibit declaring a winner until the counting is complete. (5) Get rid of voter registration by automatically registering voters as they turn 18. (6) Get rid of voter ID rules. (7) Put polling places under video surveillance. (8) Make election day a holiday so we have time to vote. (9) Ban Secretaries of State from working on political campaigns. (10) Make voter fraud a felony.

Very little of the news of the scandal of the fired U.S. Attorneys a year ago has discussed that all the dismissals were over voter fraud (the dismissed attorneys wouldn't participate). The Media has been bullied into providing balance. Since there is no comparable Democratic voter fraud there is no way the media can be "balanced" so they ignore the story. Yes, that means the media, the watchdogs of democracy, have been asleep.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

How many times must I tell you?

The Center for Public Integrity and the Fund for Independence in Journalism decided to take a look at one particular set of lies by the Bushies. In the two years leading up to the Iraq war, they counted the number of lies that supported the war that appeared in speeches, briefings, interviews, and other venues. The tally: 935. Note this is not a count of different lies. The count includes the lie that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction, which was repeated 532 times. Say a lie often enough and people will start to believe it. The cost of this lying: 110,000 people killed (only about 4000 of them are American), 300,000 casualties and $2.5 trillion in direct costs. We have yet to see the costs of caring for wounded soldiers. This posting attributes a lot more consequences to these lies, but I'm not sure how to pin a doubling of gas prices since Clinton left office to this set of lies. Surely, there were other lies. So why aren't we hearing more about this tally? Mainstream Media were complicit in propagating the lies and can't bring themselves to admit it. Democrats, who have controlled Congress for a year now, have wimped out. They have declared that trying to uncover Bush's lies creates too much tension in various Congressional committees.

But I need that bubble

Less than a decade after the dotcom bubble and as the real estate bubble is being popped what's next? Some think that our economy is now so constructed that it needs the makings of another bubble to keep going (and they even have ideas on what industry might provide it). What causes bubbles? A good idea that gets hyped to be a fantastic idea that captures the imagination of the masses, a media that gushes over the quickly rich instead of offering skepticism, and a government eager to let the market run it course and keep the public at a safe distance from what's really going on.

Christians get on my nerves

It seems some conservative churches are reviving the old practice of shunning. The story in this posting is about a 71 year old woman in a Baptist Church in Allen, Mich. She declared the new pastor needed to follow church bylaws and appoint deacons. The pastor countered since there were only 12 members it wasn't necessary. She insisted. He declared she was not properly submitting to authority as the bible said she should and had her arrested, escorted out, and told not to return. This pastor said what a lot of conservative churches have been saying: not only should the church define morality, it must enforce it too. Liberal churches who preach acceptance are only leading their members astray. This story demonstrates that while 72% of Americans say a supreme being exists, the same number say the church is full of hypocrites and 44% say "Christians get on my nerves." When travel was limited a shunned person led an isolated existence and that was frequently enough to get them to reform. Force me to leave the church? I'll go find a community where I'm wanted.

Identity Politics v. Ideology

Identity politics is the idea that only a candidate of my own group (usually a group that is discriminated against in some way) knows enough about my issues to be able to represent them adequately in government. If there is no gay representative, then gay issues will be put on the back burner or left out altogether. Some people view the Democratic Party as a collection of identity groups, each fighting to get its voice heard. One group may get its issues acted on, but that is no guarantee the issues of the next group will be up next. In contrast, the GOP is built around ideology and has a much more cohesive voice. The members know if their issue is bypassed today, it will be next. Is it possible for the Dems to create an ideology that encompasses the goals of all of its identity groups? Can gays coexist with black homophobes?

Anybody out there?

Or am I only talking to the one person who suggested I start a blog? If you are reading this, please add a comment to say hi. I'd also appreciate knowing how you discovered me.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Healthy relationships

Could gay and lesbian relationships actually be healthier than the straight variety? Research suggests so. So what do they have that we don’t? Assumptions that certain tasks are for certain genders. A same-gender couple will divide tasks according to who is better at it or will share tasks. This posting discusses various other topics, including various aspects of gays and the primaries. It ends with a look at inequality. Most people lament about income disparity by talking about themselves and those who are richer. As for rights, they talk about their own lack of rights. Which means they are only concerned for themselves.

How to renew the church

The latest reports say the membership of the United Methodist Church has dropped below 8 million (it had been 9 million in the 1960s). The church has become grayer and the only skin color it seems able to attract is white. The denomination needs renewal. A loud contingent proclaims, in the manner of biblical Pharisees, that renewal happens through doctrinal rigidity. This writer says we need more than a theological change. The Holy Spirit wants "to change our actions, our allegiances, the systems and structures that govern our society and the entire universe God has lovingly created." Our faith isn't right thoughts and words. Doctrinal recitation won't make it. We need action, such as defending the poor and needy. Doctrinal rigidity maintains the status quo. The Gospel is about change.

You want what?

Our nation has a deserved reputation of not awarding rights to a minority group without bloodshed or even war. Perhaps gays can gain rights without much blood (though hate crimes are blood that has been spilled), but the general wimpy demeanor of many gay rights organizations -- "Do you think, perhaps, we could have our rights, please?" -- isn't going to get us very far.

The Democratic Party has some traditional constituencies, black, Hispanic, and ,since at least 1992, gays. Some of these other groups are somewhat to a lot homophobic and most Dem powerbrokers see nothing wrong with letting the gays get shorted while they cater to the homophobes. The reasoning is sound. It isn't that gays have nowhere else to go, because some gays are enthusiastic supporters of candidates that give them not much in return. It's that gays let them. Free gay votes. No effort required.

The GOP and legacy

This week's Newsweek has a series of articles on the state of the GOP in the last year of Bush's presidency. It was only a few years ago that various people were claiming that the GOP would hold onto its majority for decades. Now the party is in disarray. The first article discusses the current crop of GOP candidates for prez. and how they are trying to be anything but Bush (while still perpetuating many of his policies). It also discusses how presidents tend to end up in a bubble, surrounded by yes-men, if they're not careful. And Bush wasn't.

Bush's former speechwriter, Michael Gerson, laments on how the party has lost its way. First, it let Bush govern unchecked. Then Bush proceeded to offend every GOP coalition -- those concerned about budget, immigration, and compassionate conservatism that wasn't. Add in the public's sour mood on Iraq. All are now being taken out on the GOP candidates, the victor being chosen as the lesser evil. The core GOP issues of the 1980s -- tax rates, welfare reform, high crime -- are no longer big issues (at least to the GOP) and they haven't figure out what issues to replace them with. There is someone who will unite them: Hillary.

Issues that Bush has ignored (or made worse) that the next president will have to deal with: Immigration, Foreign Policy, Economy, Health Care, Environment.

A good Shakespearean tragedy studies how the character flaws of the central character bring about his demise. Here is an excerpt of a new book, The Bush Tragedy, by Jacob Weisberg. Briefly mentioned (in the excerpt) are Act 1: the son's struggle to be like dad, Act 2: The son's success as he tries not to be like dad. The excerpt discusses at length Act 3: The botched search for a doctrine that will clarify world affairs coupled with a growing messianic complex. The various doctrines:

Unipolar Realism: "I'm not Clinton." This ended with 9/11.

With Us or Against Us: What frightened Bush wasn't the terrorism of 9/11 but the anthrax scare a month later. The neo-cons take over the asylum.

Preemption: If biotech is going to be the battleground the only defense is a strong offense. This justified the Iraq war.

Democracy in the Middle East: The war was still young. Success in Iraq would cause the other Middle East countries to get rid of their dictators.

Freedom Everywhere: Democracy is God's gift to humanity. That flopped most quickly.

Since the 2006 election, when Dems took over Congress, there hasn't been much of a foreign policy. "The more the son's faults glared, the more his father's reputation grew."

Monday, January 21, 2008

The worst of bigotry

The single worst aspect of bigotry? The person on the receiving end begins to believe he deserves it, that he's less human, says Bishop Desmond Tutu. That, of course, results in all kinds of unhealthy behaviors, such as drug and gambling addictions. The oppressors see this higher rate of addiction and say, "See, these people are fundamentally flawed, less than human. We can't let them have rights."

Florida, Front and Center

We're 22,000 signatures from Florida deciding the presidential election -- again. That's how many signatures are needed to get a marriage protection amendment on the Florida ballot in November. As in many states in 2004 & 2006 this is expected to draw out the fundie vote, enough to tip the balance to more American Theocracy. Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio are the three largest states that have the potential of swinging Red or Blue (other states are larger but are solidly in one column or the other). A prez. victor needs 2 of the 3. GOP shenanigans (including a marriage amendment) made Ohio Red in 2004. Will gay-baiting work again? Jeb Bush hopes so. A comment at the end of the post suggests a Red Florida, but for a different reason: Florida changed its primary as Michigan did and lost its seats at the Dem convention. That means lots of GOP ads are being shown on TV with no balancing Dem presence. Thanks, Howard Dean.

An election cartoon for today.

Martin Luther King Day and stubbing toes on race

Obama's Martin Luther King speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta got a lot of media coverage and lots of play of his line:

"We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late."

However, the media wasn't so quick to include this bit:

"We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity."

Yes, Obama went to the black community and essentially said, "You are also being bigots and it must end." Wonderful stuff!

This won't be an attack on the media about leaving that bit out, but on the issue of bigotry in the campaign. This is a step in the right direction by Obama to atone for the incident with the ex-gay gospel singer a few months ago. We'll see whether he can follow that with action.

But the more interesting aspect of the speech is to wonder why Edwards and Hillary weren't saying something similar. True, it would have been difficult for either to go into the black community and tell the audience they are being bigoted. Charges of racism would have been thick. But they haven't gone into their own communities (mill workers and trial lawyers for Edwards and women's groups for Hillary) to talk about the bigotry that exists there.

In a situation where the speaker and audience are of different races the charge of racism is almost reflexive. The audience feels uncomfortable with the message and charges the speaker with being racist. The speaker responds with defense, "I can't possibly be racist." The real issue is obscured. A better way would be for the speaker to say, "Perhaps I am. Could you explain how I offended you so I don't do it again?" The audience will have to actually examine the speaker's message. Alas, today's politicians won't (or can't) bring themselves to say such an admission. Their foes would jump all over them.

The charges and denials of racism flared in the Democratic race around the New Hampshire primary. Both Clinton and Obama made mistakes which intensified the problem. Though both seem to have agreed race-baiting helps neither side, according to columnist Stephen Henderson it showed Obama may be in an impossible situation:

"You're forced to take sides in America's racial debate, and to prove to every possible faction that you're exactly -- and exclusively -- the black person they expect you to be."

All this talk of racism as well as much of what Huckabee says, according to columnist Tom Walsh:

" This nation needs to get over its hypersensitivity about who's insulting whom with an ill-chosen phrase, who's doing what in their bedrooms and who believes what about the hereafter. It's time to focus on the here and now of how to compete in a dynamic global economy, how to create companies and more good jobs and how best to educate our children to cope in a world that no longer kowtows to the notion that the United States gets to make all the rules."

Saturday, January 19, 2008

State's Rights is back and just as stinky

In terms of gay issues, the 3 major candidates sound quite a bit alike, with only minor differences. All 3 are for repeal of DADT, all 3 are for civil unions, none of them is to the point of pushing for gay marriage. Here's the difference. Obama and Edwards are for repealing all of DOMA and Hillary wants to repeal all but the clause that says states can ignore the married status of gays acquired in another state. You may be married in Massachusetts, but move to Michigan and you're legal strangers.

On closer look, this isn't minor. So why are so many gays working for Hillary? I've heard it is because they hope to get a lot of influence in Hillary's government. But it also means she can take them for granted without actually producing much in results. She was just in a campaign dustup because she said while Martin Luther King is important, he needed President Johnson to actually get the Civil Rights Laws passed. It seems a President Hillary will not be the corresponding gay champion.

Hillary has been saying gay marriage should be left to the states. And that is the hoary States Rights excuse Republicans used to spout to signal they were all for letting the South remain bigoted. The term has not gotten better with age. Terrance says it this way (emphasis in the original):

In the history of this country, states rights have never been invoked in the service of extending rights and protections to more people, but has always been invoked in the service of restricting the rights of and denying protections to—or restricting rights to and preserving protections for—particular groups of citizens.

Put another way, “states’ rights” has never been a means to advance equality, but has always been a tool for preserving inequality.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Defining conservatism

Who is a conservative and what is being conserved?

A starting place:

One of the key differences between liberals and conservatives is their view of the essential nature of man. Liberals believe that man is essentially good and given the right environment, will mostly do good. Conservatives believe that man is basically bad, and lacking proper discipline and guidelines, will mostly do bad. Liberals wonder what we can change for the better; while Conservatives worry that changing what stands will almost always be for the worse.

Since our country and culture is so diverse it would be difficult to conserve much of anything beyond the Constitution. But just that allows us to conserve:

limitations of the powers of a Federal government, protecting the rights of the people by preventing congress from abridging freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religious worship, the right to bear arms, preventing unreasonable search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishment and self-incrimination and guaranteeing due process of law and a speedy public trial with an impartial jury

And the Constitution says that list may not be complete.

But there is a much older tradition that people want to conserve. It includes:

religious intolerance, persecution of minorities, genocide, manifest destiny, might makes right, slavery, racism, sexism, white supremacy, Christian militarism and imperialism and homophobia

I know which set I want to conserve.

God's Constitution?

In the continuing debate... Why should Huckabee stop at marriage protection and human life protection amendments to the Constitution if he wants to bring it up to God's standards? Here are some other amendments he could champion:

* Require a woman to be a virgin when she weds. Execute her if she isn't (Deut 22:13-21).

* Ban divorce (Deut 22:19).

* Ban interest fees (Exodus 22:25).

* Ban Red Lobster restaurants (Lev 11:10-12).

and more…

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Disgrace and Ridicule

Huckabee's call to update the constitution to God's standards got a response on the Christianity Today blog site. The main posting asks:

But what does "amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards" mean? Does it mean that the Constitution does not measure up to God's standards? Is the Constitution anti-God? Would the addition of a human life amendment and a federal marriage amendment would make it measure up to God's standards? And is Huckabee suggesting that those who oppose these amendments, say, because of their views on federalism, are trying "to change God's standards"?

One of the comments after the posting declares Huck isn't a Christian because he says one thing to Evangelicals and another thing to the regular public:

Christians, above all others, should speak honestly and plainly letting their yeas be yea, their nays be nay (Matthew 5:37, James 5:12) lest the cause of Christ be disgraced and ridiculed.

And the cause of Christ is certainly being ridiculed these days.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Church isn't the State?

The important -- and scary -- campaign news was made by Huckabee during a standard campaign speech Monday evening in Warren. As part of his call to amend the USA Constitution for "human life" (anti-abortion) and "marriage protection" (anti-gay) statements (something he has demanded several times) Huck added a new dimension:
"I believe it's a lot easier to change the constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards."

He's usually pretty good when speaking to a non-evangelical crowd (which is what Warren is) at not being obvious about his desire to overturn the separation of Church and State.

Stealing votes

I was annoyed with Michigan Radio's coverage of the Michigan Primary because they only named the victors and didn't give the size of the win. I had to go digging on a news site since the actual election results story wasn't obvious. So, here we are:

GOP results:

Romney -- 39%

McCain -- 30%

Huckabee -- 16%

Dem results:

Clinton -- 55%

Uncommitted -- 40%

Kucinich -- 2% (only reported as part of exit poll data)

I'll let you peruse the articles to see how they slice-and-dice the numbers.

Alas, Michigan party rules say a candidate must get at least 15% of the vote in a district to get any delegates. With only 2% overall it is unlikely Kucinich reached that threshold anywhere.

That only matters if Michigan actually gets to send delegates to the convention. Jack Lessenberry of Metro Times has another column complaining about the mess the state Dems made of this primary. They sacrificed our vote to prove a point and failed at proving it. It's usually the GOP that is good at taking votes away. When Mich. Dems confidently claimed that Michigan was too important a swing state to not seat our delegates at the convention the national party cancelled the rooms that had been reserved for the Mich. delegation. All those "uncommitted" delegates? They go to whomever the party bosses say they go to because the party bosses select the delegates. Which means if Hillary is gracious enough to allow the Mich. contingent to be seated, party bosses would respond by selecting Hillary delegates. As for the claim that Michigan is more important than Iowa or New Hampshire in deciding the nominee and should thus go first Lessenberry has a response. Michigan is too big. It is important that small states go first because that allows candidates that aren't well funded to gain a toe-hold, something good to occasionally wrest the presidency from the rich or those willing to do corporate bidding. That's good, even though this year's low-budget candidate is Huckabee (who was outspent by Romney 20-1 and still won Iowa).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

With me or against me?

Does Christianity need to demonize those that aren't Christian? I'll let you ponder that question, though my feeling is that it does not. However, there is no doubt that Christianity quite frequently does. Please note that a lot of groups use this technique, not just churches and not just religious institutions. Some gays even use it against bisexuals and transgenders.

This demonization has a purpose. At the basic level, an in-group (and when your prize is Heaven, you're the ultimate in-group) needs an out-group to keep it together. If you don't work to stay in the good graces of the in-group then the out-group will git ya, and you're on your way to Hell (or at least on your way out of the in-group). Add another level. Much of the claim of the Christian church is moral superiority. A way to demonstrate that superiority is to compare your members to the out-group (and project some of the in-group's sins onto the out-group). Another level. The leaders of the in-group gain a great deal of power (and money) by keeping fear of the out-group in front of their followers. Along the way, seal the deal by using self-loathing of members of the in-group to claim without the power of the leaders as protection the members would be no better than the out-group.

The selection of the out-group is usually quite easy. For a good part of America's history the out-groups have been blacks and Native Americans. The church that came from Europe maintained Jews as an out-group. We also added Catholics. In the last few decades, the church has added gays and Mexicans (and immigrants in general).

It is possible, though difficult, to make an out-group part of the in-group. Blacks have taken a step in that direction; though racism is no longer mentioned in polite society, it still lingers. The jump is made when the cost of maintaining an out-group as the "enemy" is higher than the rewards of having them on the outside. So, the next question is how do we raise the cost and lower the rewards? And an even bigger question is how to structure the Christian message to break down the barrier between the in and the out?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A moment in history

The first pro-gay ruling by the Supreme Court was 50 years ago today. A scrappy "homosexual education" magazine with the name of ONE ran afoul of the US Postal Service. They said it was obscene and refused to deliver it. The suit went all the way to the Supremes who, amazingly, issued a once sentence ruling without bothering with oral arguments. The ruling didn't say the Postal Service had to deliver everything given to it, but only that ONE was not obscene. 1958 is quite different from today. Go here for the full story and context.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Michigan primary: What to do?

What's a poor Democrat in Michigan to do? Next Tuesday's primary is a botched affair and leaves few choices.

First, a review of the candidates through the help of columnist Chris Crain from Between the Lines who, alas, only looks at the top 3 candidates. His take:

Clinton: She's even more cautious than Bill. When he brought up gay issues and the GOP pulled out his knives, he backed down and we ended up with Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. It is doubtful she would fare nearly as well.

Edwards: He says all the right things, but he has a habit (as does Romney and Huckabee) of changing his message according to his audience. We can do without the slipperiness.

Obama: Also says the right things with a few things in his favor. He brings up gay issues before national audiences. He refuses to pander and will not polarize. He sticks to his ideals (though I’m personally annoyed with that ex-gay gospel singer debacle).

Kucinich: The ideal candidate on gay issues, but… At least he recommends Obama as a second choice.

Strange that the Dem candidates have all stated pro-gay platforms on the campaign trail and have been pretty much ignored by the press. The GOP candidates, however, are being grilled on their positions both from the mainstream media to highlight how uniformly anti-gay they are and from conservative commentators who claim the candidates are not anti-gay enough.

But back to the primary dilemma. Since Edwards and Obama have withdrawn their names a write-in vote for them means the ballot will not be counted. That leaves essentially 4 options: (1) Sit out, which has the advantage that my name won't go on a political party "preferred voter" list, (2) vote for Clinton (see above and add in high negative ratings), (3) vote for "uncommitted" (which is a way to embarrass Clinton, but the delegate is free to vote for Clinton anyway), (4) vote for Kucinich. The NewsHits column of Detroit's Metro Times explains why a vote for Kucinich is preferable. Other than getting on that voter list, there is nothing to lose (which is damning with faint praise -- and typical for this political year).

Friday, January 11, 2008

Honest about Hadrian

A historical first (in more ways than one): The British Museum in London will be putting on a big exhibition on Roman emperor Hadrian starting at the end of July. The historical first is that the show will bluntly portray Hadrian as a gay man. Up to now museums have been quite content to not mention the subject. For those not up on Roman history, Hadrian was an important emperor, adding a lot of territory to the empire, including Britannia. Hadrian's Wall was built along the northern edge of his British holdings, near the modern border with Scotland.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Getting left behind

From the people who crunch the numbers, it is very clear that progressives clearly gave Obama the victory in Iowa. But Obama just as clearly avoided giving them credit. So much for genuine influence in an Obama White House. What's the deal? Likely the idea that getting a Democrat as Prez. is most important and we do what we must to make that happen. Even if that means hiding many core Dem. values. And that implies they are values to be ashamed of, and we get candidates who don't espouse them. You may attract moderate Republicans but at the cost of being a more conservative party, not what it historically has been. The ultimate victory of the Republican Revolution is a more conservative Democratic Party. And progressives without a party.

Now look at that from the side of what is driving that revolution. Unless you're a fundie, Tim LeHaye's Left Behind series of books about the End Times are a perfect marriage of bad literature and bad theology and easily ignored. But the series has sold 65 million books (making LeHaye a top seller of all time) to people who otherwise don't like or buy books (well, maybe Reader's Digest). They are quite delighted to see their beliefs reflected in print and proclaim the books great literature. And those beliefs? The persecuted Christians "get to pass judgment on everyone who disagrees with them, and then watch God kick the living snot out of them." This is a bloody, black version on Christianity that now has mass media behind it. These are the people Bush tapped into to get to be prez. This view of life has no trouble with Bush's corruption ("He's one of us."), torture in Iraq, and hate crimes (the whole series of books are essentially depictions of hate crimes against non-believers). How can people act so nice and be so nasty? Germany is still trying to figure that one out. Here's the big problem: Democrats (and the rest of the country) haven't got a clue how to counteract this force. Some Democrats are even willing to tap into the power. The rest are too willing to take the high-road view of, "They're a bit loony and I'm above all that." Electing a Democratic government will not discredit them enough to remove their power.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Huckabee tries to have it both ways

Another article about Huckenfreude, this time from Newsweek. The commentator, Howard Feinman, notes that Huckabee is trying to have it both ways -- a vocal Christian Fundy when talking to Fundy crowds, and a regular guy with no Fundy taint when talking to others (records of his time as a pastor are completely unavailable to reporters, creating a Lost Decade). And that brings up the question, just what does Huck believe and how far will he push those beliefs as president?

Some clues.

In a small New Hampshire church where cameras were banned (meaning nothing on the evening news) Huck gave a sermon saying that when one becomes a Christian one has signed up to be a member of God's Army, a soldier for Christ. As in a national military, it is a Christian's job to obey orders.

Never mind how much the previous misses the point of Christianity. It gets worse, straying even farther afield. Huckabee has been keeping close company with a few Dominionists, even sharing a book authorship (in 1998) with one.

A Dominionist is one who follows the writings of R.J Rushdoony. He said that every word of the Bible must be at the core of a Christian's life. That means it must replace civil laws and national constitutions. Thus a country isn't acceptable to Christ until all Old and New Testament laws become actual laws of the land -- including the death penalty for homosexuality, incest, and adultery. Never mind that the Bible itself says that salvation is not through the law.

Huck's fellow author is George Grant, who wrote in The Changing of the Guard: Biblical Principles for Political Action (1987):

"Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ – to have dominion in the civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.

But it is dominion that we are after. Not just a voice.

It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.

It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.

It is dominion we are after.

World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less."

One of the comments to this post is apparently from a Dominionist, who claims that Huckabee can't be one of theirs if he is gives a secular reason for some of his goals as president.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

How to make a mess of things

There is a devious plan afoot to divide the gay community and embarrass the Democratic candidates for Prez during an election year. Even better, it appears to be doing something for gays. Here's how it works: A few months ago the House passed a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that gave protections to gays but not to transgender people. That set off a huge firestorm in the gay community, some saying we should get what protections we can while we can and other saying that if we leave the transgenders behind no one will come back to include them. So now introduce that same bill in the Senate. That way the gay community will be distracted and feuding all over again and won't be putting their efforts into the election. In addition, a few senators campaigning for prez will actually have to pick one side and seriously annoy the other side. Both the gay community and prez candidates lose. Then Bush vetoes it. Such a devious plan sounds worthy of the GOP. Alas, no. The bill is being pushed by Democrat Ted Kennedy. One would think by now he would be politically savvy. You can be sure that though the GOP didn't come up with this disaster they will exploit it for all they can.

This will *really* help

Alas, the Catholic Church has increased its gay-bashing to a new level. Not only is homosexuality a mortal sin, so is harboring or promoting it. This is from Archbishop John Nienstedt, who is apparently trying to burnish his credentials to get a job as Cardinal. The pronouncement means you can't befriend a gay person, much less allow him into your home. Do you have to fire your gay employees? Kick your gay kids out of your house? Or just consider it one more of those strange Catholic rules to be quietly ignored?

Voting for ourselves

Why is it when we have a candidate who represents our ideals more closely than anyone else do we refuse to vote for him? For gay people (and quite a few Democrats), this candidate is Dennis Kucinich. Yet the major gay organizations are behind Hillary (or at least avoiding Kucinich). It is because he can't win in November? Who says he can't? Well, Mainstream Media says, but we don't trust them to be impartial anymore. So why are we voting against our interests? Do we believe in order over justice? Full commentary here.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Atheists and Moderates

Newsweek has an article about the state of beliefs in America. Atheists have made big gains in getting their ideas accepted in the town square. After Romney gave his speech on religion (which "lit up the Internet like a pinball machine") he grudgingly said that religious liberty includes the right not to believe. And the number of people willing to admit to being atheist to pollsters has risen from 2% to 6%. The reason for these gains is that some atheists are willing to be as loud and intransigent as the Christians. But some authors are starting to claim a different path, that of the moderate. They claim the problem isn't either belief or unbelief, but ruthless certainty. That certainty destroys humility and compassion. It is better to admit to doubt and listen to what your fellow man is actually saying.

Creationists Evolve

The recent edition of the Washington Spectator (alas, no link) has an article written by Lauri Lebo, who covered the Dover Intelligent Design trial and was featured in the recent PBS Nova show about the trial. Says Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, "Creationists are proof of evolution." Their tactics evolve in response to each battle. The next battle is in the Texas Education Agency, important because the state's department authorizes textbooks for the entire state (a job that is handled by individual districts in Michigan) and is the second largest (behind Calif.) bulk purchaser of books. Publishers cater to Texas and that limits textbook options in other states. Step 1 of the battle was to eliminate Christine Comer, a science teacher, from the TEA on grounds that she wasn't neutral to the creationist debate. She won't be there to protect scientific integrity when standards are set for statewide testing. Step 2 isn't as far reaching as insisting on teaching Creationism or ID, but merely teaching the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution, such as why the Cambrian Explosion is a serious problem (this Wikipedia article will tell you more than you want to know about this stuff that happened half a billion years ago). But this tactic can have students question all scientific ideas. We know that gravity works, but we don't know how it works (waves? particles?), so is that a weakness that allows us to dismiss gravity? Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network says, "How can you have a rational debate if every time you say 'it's not science,' they say 'you're bashing religion'?" Which sounds to me like they are admitting it is a religious issue.

Sin v. Sinful

If you very carefully parse the words Huckabee and Giuliani use to describe gays you encounter an interesting split. It all comes down to the difference between the words "sin" and "sinful." The first refers to failing to live up to God's expectations and no matter how severe the offense (such as murder) it can be forgiven and forgotten. In contrast, "sinful" means rejecting God's guidance and rejecting what is right. So, according to Huckabee, adultery is a sin, but homosexuality is sinful because no matter how far the first is outside God's laws (and it made the Top Ten), the second is also "unnatural" and "aberrant." He may sin (no, I'm not accusing him of adultery), but he is never sinful. But Giuliani doesn't describe gays as sinful and makes no distinctions between his own sins and those of a gay person. That would make a big difference in policy, though I'll take any Democratic nominee over either one of these guys. This commentary includes full transcripts of both candidates remarks.

The South has Risen Again?

The top contenders for Prez so far (after just Iowa) represent the opposing sides of the worst time of our nation's history. Huckabee is a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, the driving force to maintain slavery a century and a half ago (though he did force the integration of his own congregation). The Old South has scored its greatest victory. Obama is from a marriage that would have been illegal in many states before 1967. We know where Huckabee stands on gays: hell is the appropriate place for us. Obama? He's said some nice things, done some bad things, but does he have enough spine to cross his own base?

One of the comments in this post noted that news outlets are reporting percentages, not actual vote counts. After digging another found that in a state of nearly 3,000,000 people (1,800,000 voters) only 36,000 voted for Huckabee. Something is wrong with this picture.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Procreation Imperative isn't needed

I wrote a while back about the Procreation Imperative, the idea that unless you are in a religious order that demands celibacy, you must get married and you must produce children. Now comes a report that the USA birthrate in 2006 achieved replacement rate, something unique among industrialized nations (where the birthrate is much lower) and something American hasn't done since sometime around 1965 at the end of the Baby Boom. Note that this rise in the birthrate comes after gay marriage in Massachusetts and after civil unions in a few other states. Gay marriage is not going to make anyone stop having kids who wants them. Add in immigration and the country's population continues to increase (haven't heard much about overpopulation lately, have we?). So why is the Right in such a stew over procreation? Might it be because there aren't enough white babies being born to counteract all the brown babies that are immigrating? Surely it isn't racism.

Successful Katrina response

After Hurricane Katrina, FEMA instituted policies to get money into victim's hands quickly. These policies were immediately overruled, with the reason given that FEMA needed to thoroughly review the requests to make sure they weren't fraudulent. But those reviews did nothing to stop the fraud, which produced one of the most extraordinary displays of scams and bungles in modern history ($2 billion and counting). The other effect is that low-income housing is not getting rebuilt in New Orleans, to the point that many agencies have stopped their attempts. New Orleans will be less black. A commentator feels this matches conservative philosophy quite well: People who are better off are better people. The poor got that way because they are bad people. It is their own fault. Helping them only reinforces their badness and takes money away from the good people. Can the government help people? Yes. Should it? According to conservatives, no, it shouldn't. Therefore conservatives make sure that it doesn't help them, even though it can. Thus the Katrina response is a success. Quite a contrast to what I understand of Christianity. For the record, my Christmas card photo was me on a Katrina work mission.

The war of Christmas is older than you think

Happy New Year! I'm back from a week in Texas visiting my brother's family and attending my nephew's wedding. While I enjoy hanging out with my nieces and nephews (I stayed with another nephew and his family), this is the brother who is the reason why I don't give much identifying information in this blog.

Another rant about the secular society reducing Christmas to just another Happy Holiday produced a commentary about how the date for Christmas was chosen. If shepherds "watched their flocks by night," which they only need to do in lambing season, then Jesus was born in the spring. So why December 25? Archaeologists now say that the Basilica of St. Anastasia in Rome was the first to celebrate the birth of Christ on the date we know. The Basilica was built next to the grotto where Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, were supposedly nursed by a wolf, and the date had commemorated the birth of the sun god (Apollo?). It is also the date of the birth of the god Mithras. Who can throw a better party?

But Christians seem to be missing the point, and I don't mean the ones about freedom of speech and separation of church and state (though they miss those points too). The Christmas they seem to be defending these days, the one about "holiday trees" and stores accommodating pagans, is the Christmas of secular consumerism. Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, was originally set by the Church as a time of intense prayer and reflection about the theological implications of Christmas. It has become a marathon of pointless shopping. By the time the actual Christmas season (12/25 to 1/6) arrives we're sick of the whole thing. So why aren't Christians who are fearful of the dilution of their sacred day joining up with anti-consumerism progressives?

The comic strip Candorville has a Dec. 30 strip appropriate to the topic.