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Tuesday 30 November 04


Wounded And Sick From Iraq And Afghanistan.

Nearly 21,000 of our fighting men and women have passed through the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq according to Maria Shaw, spokeswoman for the hospital. (Get a Day-Pass or, better yet, a subscription to salon.com to read the full Associated Press newstory.)

This Is Just Wrong.

Zack and Hilary Rudman, according to the Associated Press, have decided to say the hell with it and just offend everyone this holiday season. Not really. What Zack and Hilary do think is that they've found the perfect solution to the December Dilemma that all inter-faith couples wrestle with: What to put on their greeting cards.

Zack, a Jew, and Hilary, an Episcopalian, used to send out non-denominational holiday cards with snow scenes on them. But not anymore.

"I'm all for holiday cards but I want to make sure when we send something it respects both sides of our family," Rudman said. "I always like to deal with religious differences with humor. These were right up my alley." The cards come courtesy of the folks at The Interfaith Holiday Of Chrismukkah.

Let's be clear on something. Christmas and Hanukah have only two things in common: first, they both fall on the 25th of a month—the 25th of Kislev for Hanukah and the 25th of December for Christmas—and second, they both originated in Israel. That's it. Nothing else. Nada.

Jews celebrate Hanukah to commemorate our great military victory over the Greeks under Antiochus IV circa 165 B.C.E. (Antiochus was the local successor to Alexander the Great.) We play up the whole oil thing, but that's more out of self-preservation than anything else. Conquerors get edgy when subject people celebrate holidays involving the overthrow of oppressors.

Christians celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The origin of the date is in question—birthdays didn't use to be such a big thing. The selection of 25 December as the date may have more to do with Pagan rituals in lands conquered by the Romans than with the birth of Jesus. According to one source:

"In the West it [Christmas] has been celebrated on 25 Dec since 336 [C.E.], partly in order to replace the non-Christian sun worship on the same date." The New Encyclopedia Britannica, states: "December 25, the birthday of Mithra, the Iranian god of light and . . . the day devoted to the invincible sun, as well as the day after Saturnalia, was adopted by the [Roman Catholic] church as Christmas, the nativity of Christ, to counteract the effects of these festivals."

This of course raises the issue of why the folks at chrismukkah.com didn't include the Pagans in their inter-faith cards. And how about African-Americans? Shouldn't Kwanza be in there too? Or how about Chinese-Americans? Shouldn't Chinese New Year be included? What if Zack were an African-American Jew and Hilary were a Chinese-American-Episcopalian who converted to Wicca? They would be totally ignored by the lucrative holiday card industry.

Diversity is not about smushing everything into one amorphous mass. Zack and Hilary should send Hanukah cards to their Jewish friends and Christmas cards to their Christian friends, Winter Solstice cards to their Pagan friends, Kwanza cards to their African-American friends who choose to celebrate that holiday and, and, and... But no. That would be too much trouble.

One size does not fit all, damn it.



Monday 29 November 04

A TOP 1,000?... WHAT THE &*^$# ARE WE AFRAID OF?...

What We Read.

The Online Computer Library Center has been around since 1967 and has more than 50,540 member libraries around the world. It is a nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization dedicated to the public purposes of furthering access to the world's information and reducing information costs. The OCLC's Top 1,000 list is made up the titles most owned by its member libraries. Like Google, the OCLC list is not based on academic assessment of what is important, but rather the gut feelings of tens of thousands of librarians about what readers want on the shelves.

Like most list makers, OCLC had a small problem setting the cut-off. The list actually contains 1,001 books. At 1,000 is Closing Of The American Mind by Allan Bloom and at 1,001 is Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson.

The surprise that brought a smile to my face was the inclusion of Garfield At Large by Jim Davis at No. 18. Linking to Davis' website got me to this fun animation (my favorite is Lava Java) that made me blow my own coffee out my nose. (Is there a good way to clean espresso out of a keyboard?)


The New Boogeymen.

When did we stop being the home of the brave? I can't figure it out. Quite plainly there are many courageous men and women in our country who daily serve in a variety of occupations ranging from fire fighter and police officer at home to the ranks of military personnel on the front lines around the world. But they are the minority. The rest of the country, it seems, is driven by irrational fear. If this had been the attitude of the men and women destined to settle North America, there would have never been any colonies or a United States.

Writer Christopher Moore lay out the numbers in "How The Terrorists Won." The gist of his argument is this: if you were living in the United States in 2001, you were five times more likely to be die from accidental poisoning than you were to die at the hand of a foreign terrorist. So what are we so afraid of?

I'm not suggesting that there are not enemies of the United States and that we are not right to hunt down and kill those enemies. But this national reaction of fear puzzles me. We have many more, very real enemies both within and without the United States, yet we pay little or no attention to them because we are focused on silly color codes and terror alerts.

I remember the reaction of a co-worker following the horrible murders at Columbine High School. Her immediate reaction was to swear that she would demand that all her grandchildren be home schooled, despite all the evidence to the contrary that school were safer that day than they had been any time in the previous 10 years.

In 1933, in the depth of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address. In that speech he told America:

"...let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days....

"Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment. Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for."

Roosevelt's words are just as true today as they were nearly 72 years ago.



Sunday 28 November 04


Carmen, Mallard and Thor.

About the same time as I stopped watching television, I also stopped reading the local newspaper. The TV went on the tree lawn because I was behaving like a junkie when it was on, and the newspaper delivery was canceled because I realized the only thing I was finding that was worth reading was the comics.

With the Internet, of course, I could assemble my own morning comic pages without having to toss all the slick advertising circulars that come with a newspaper. I have a few favorites—Pat Brady's Rose Is Rose, Scott Adams' Dilbert, Johnny Hart's B.C., Aaron McGruder's Boondocks, Bill Watterson's Calvin And Hobbes, Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury, Lynn Johnston's For Better Or For Worse, Bill Amend's Foxtrot, Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur, Brant Parker and Johnny Hart's Wizard Of Id, Allison Barrow's Preteena, Peter Zale's Helen, Sweetheart Of The Internet, Keith Knight's K Chronicles and (Th)ink, Dan Piraro's Bizaro, Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayer's Crankshaft, Tom Batiuk's Funky Winkerbean, Isabella Bannerman's, Margaret Shulock's, Rina Piccolo's, Ann Telnaes's, Kathryn LeMieux's and Stephanie Piro's Six Chix, Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman's Zits, Julie Larson's The Dinette Set and Alison Bechdel's Dykes To Watch Out For—show up in my email that I read with my morning coffee.

(Damn, I've never typed out the list that way. That's pretty much a full page of comics.)

Recently I added a new cartoon, Prickly City by Scott Stantis. When I started reading the strip I didn't like it. And I still don't find it particularly funny, but I'm going to keep reading about Carmen and her coyote pal Winslow. Why? Because they present a point-of-view that is not my own. If you only read Prickly City you would think that Stantis is a card-carrying member of the right. But, he's also a political cartoonist—he's syndicated from Alabama's The Birmingham News—whose cartoons take shots at all politicians as recent panels demonstrate.

One of the problems most people have is that we don't like to spend time reading, watching, listening too or talking with people on subjects on which we disagree. A recent Salon article referred to the phenomenon as the Echo Chamber. Andrew Leonard wrote:

"Echo chambers, so the argument goes, are places where like-minded people talk to one another, nobody ever changes anyone else's mind and true diversity of opinion is exchanged for an infinite plenitude of ideologically identical communities."

Leonard was writing about the Internet, but I think the Echo Chamber concept applies to our circle of friends, the co-workers we have drinks with after work and the social organizations we belong to.

I think that speaking Blue all the time is a bad thing.

To counter the echo chamber in my own life I engage in conversations with people whose points-of-view I disagree with. Two examples are my friends Rick and George. Both are Reagan conservative who I have no doubt voted both times for George W. Bush. Both are intelligent and articulate men. Both know that I am a progressive. Yet, we can talk for hours in a civil manner about topics that, with other people, would make us want to throw things.

I also read blogs and articles by writers I disagree with, as well as listen to conservative talk radio (yes, I do listen to Rush Limbaugh). And now, I'm adding right-wing cartoons to the daily mix. In addition to Prickly City, I'm going back to reading Bruce Tinsley's Mallard Fillmore. I had read the strip for several months on the recommendation of Susan Brackney, author of The Lost Soul Companion, but I stopped because I grew tired of the incessant Clinton bashing.

Don't make the mistake that I'm encouraging reaching out or moving to the center so that the new center is even further right, that's not the case. I still think that Rick and George are wrong more often than they are right (and they feel the same way about me, I'm sure). But by consistently exposing myself to other world views I accomplish two things: first, I sharpen my own mind by being forced to carefully think through all my opinions; and second, I know what the other side is thinking so that I don't get blindsided by political moves with the power to change my life.

Now, for those of you who remember way back to the title of this essay, I listed three comic characters. In addition to Carmen from Prickly City and Mallard Fillmore from the comic of the same name, I included Thor. Not the Norse God or hammer-throwing superhero but the wheel-saleman in Johnny Hart's B.C. comic.

B.C. was one of the first comic strips I collected. I have a a few dozen of Hart's books of comics in the humor section of my bookshelf. Over the years I recognized that Hart was a Christian who expressed his views, particularly on Christmas and Easter, about Christian values. And that never bothered me. In recent years, however, I've noticed that Hart is creeping more and more into politics with his strip. It's subtle and it's rare, but it's there. There was a part of me that wanted to stop reading, but I haven't. And I don't intend to.

Now I'm on the hunt. I want to find other right-wing comics to add to my list. I'm excluding political cartoons because they're too easy. I don't want to achieve anything like comic parity, but a dose large enough to keep me thinking will be nice.



Saturday 27 November 04


A Different Kind Of Meltdown.

CNN's before-and-after pictures of Viktor Yushchenko border on the bizarre.


You Need A Scorecard.

Daniel D. Drezner, another intense voice on Ukraine thanks to Andrew Sullivan.


Republican Sex.

When I was an undergraduate at Ohio University's School of Journalism, we had a lot of students in the program because it was the only school that required no math. When the school underwent a re-evaluation in 1984, as part of getting a huge infusion of cash from Scripps Howard, one of the things that changed was that journalism students were suddenly required to take two classes in statistics. The 20 December cover story of The American Conservative is an indicator why this was a good idea.

The magazine's staff got a hold of The National Center for Health Statistics's 152-page National Vital Statistics Report Vol. 52, No. 19 and pulled out the 2002 statistics for the birth rate among Whites: "the 800-pound gorilla of ethnic electoral groups, accounting for over three out of every four votes," says the article.

(Friendly note to the editors. Weight references as regards women are not wise.)

After examining the data, Steve Sailer (check his site for feedback on the article) came to this conclusion:

"Indeed, voters are picking their parties based on differing approaches to the most fundamentally important human activity: having babies. The white people in Republican-voting regions consistently have more children than the white people in Democratic-voting regions. The more kids whites have, the more pro-Bush they get."

If you take a quick look at the table included in the article you find a large overlap in the birth rates of Blue States vs. Red States. For instance, Louisiana and Michigan have the same White Fertility Rate (1.88), yet Louisiana went for Bush (56.7%) and Michigan went for Kerry (52.2%). The overlap runs from 1.88 down to 1.78 with Louisiana, Montana, Colorado, Nevada, Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, North Dakota and West Virginia all in the Red column and Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois and Wisconsin in the Blue column.

The most glaring omission, however, is the one that Sailer was either ignorant of or intentionally chose to not mention: the most important factor correlating to birth rate is the educational level of the women involved. The more education a woman has, the more likely it is that she will have fewer children. According to the Population Reference Bureau:

"Women's access to education, health care, family planning, and employment all affect family size. Studies show that women who have completed primary school have fewer children than those with no education. Education is key because educated women are more likely to know what social, community, and health services, including family planning, are available and to have the confidence to use them. In addition, women with more education have more opportunities outside the home and can see the benefits of education for their children. Women who achieve a relatively high level of education are also more likely to enter the labor force before they marry or begin childbearing, and ultimately to have smaller families than women who marry in their teens. This trend is evident in almost every country where data are available."

As the chart on Page 9 of the report indicates, women in Blue states tend to start their families later (median age for first birth is 26-years-old or older) than women in the Red states (median age for first birth is 25-years-old or younger. (There is, however, considerable overlap at the 25-year-old point.) Higher education and careers resulting from that education are important factors that women consider when they delay starting a family. And, the later a family is started, the fewer children are likely to become part of that family.

If I were unkind, I might suggest that what Sailer's article really reveals is a correlation between educational attainment and voting for Bush. That would be a further gross simplification of the issue and would not set well with the magazine's readership, I'm sure.



Friday 26 November 04


Pissing In The Cistern.

Two marvelous examples of the writing of Wendell Berry appeared this month. Berry is on my short list of writers of whom I am in awe. I first found his non-fiction in Orion magazine. From there I found his fiction and finally his poetry. All three have never failed to move me.

The first piece is Compromise Hell! in the November/December 2004 issue of Orion magazine. Berry has always been a strong voice for sanity and opposition to those driven by greed. Following on the heels of his two books of political essays—Citizens Dissent, Security , Morality and Leadership in an Age of Terror (with David James Duncan) and Citizenship Papers—Berry has written the argument for the sober, the rural, the reasonable citizen to oppose the greed hidden behind the politically correct term of Free Markets.

This is my favorite line from Compromise Hell!, an essay where every word counts:

"Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us."

The second piece is the much-awaited next tale from Berry's Port William, Kentucky: Hannah Coulter. Things don't blow up in Berry's books. Nor do space aliens cause Ohio River bridges to collapse. The sex, when it occurs, is off stage, and people tend to live the way we would all do well to observe and emulate. The story opens with:

"I picked him up in my arms, and I carried him home."

So Nathan would end the last of his stories of his childhood as he told it to our children.
This was 1940. Nathan was sixteen. He and Jarrat and his dad, his dad's brother, Burley, and his grandpa Dave—the three of them had gone down into the river bottom, taking a team and wagon, to help a neighbor put up hay.

It was hot weather, "hay weather," the last of July. Dave Coulter, whom I had learned to call "grandpa" though I never knew him, was eighty years old, no longer much use for work. While the younger men loaded and hauled in and unloaded the hay, Grandpa Coulter puttered about, or sat in the shade and slept, or carried water to the others when they needed a drink. Toward the middle of the afternoon he had one of the sick spells he called "miseries," and Jarrat told Nathan, "Walk home with him. Help him along. Take care of him."

The two of them went up the hill together, stopping often. When they had got almost home, Grandpa staggered and went down, and couldn't be wakened. Nathan was a big boy by then, strong, and he gathered Grandpa into his arms and carried him the rest of the way up to the house where Grandma Coulter, whom I do remember a little, hurried to open the door and to make a place to lay him down.

The title character tells her story looking back on more than 80 years and two husbands. Her's is an American story in a Red state. One could hardly do better than read of Berry's Port William if you are to begin to grasp what it means to live where family and land matter.



Thursday 25 November 04


Before I Pass Out From Tryptophan Poisoning.

Like every other young boy or girl I was subjected more than once to the horrible embarrassment of sitting around the Thanksgiving table and having to tell the assembled company what I'm thankful for. Adults think it's cute. Kids think it's torture. So I'll be looking forward today to hearing my nieces and nephews squirm as they try to come up with something to say that isn't lame so that all the adults can make appropriate sounds of appreciation.

But when you are an adult, you begin to appreciate things more. So I'd like to take this public space (OK, maybe it's public for all three of my readers) to list what I'm thankful for.

First, and foremost, I'm thankful for my father; a man who did the unusual back in the '60s and became a single father. He did one hell of a job. They don't come any better than Charlie Hess.

Second, I'm thankful for my stepmother Pam because she is a wonderful companion to my father and loves him deeply. Which isn't easy, because we Hess men can be royal pains in the ass at the drop of a hat.

Third, I'm thankful for my younger siblings, Chris, Meredith and Jason. I am constantly in awe of how they have found partners that love them and have done the hardest thing in the world: created families of their own. Nieces and nephews are neat because I get to teach them all the stuff their parents wish they'd never learn and then I get to walk away from the mess.

Fourth, I'm thankful for the friends who orbit through my life. I don't make friends lightly. The people who I let into my life are all special in their own ways. Like most artists and writers, I spend a great deal of my time in solitude, and that's fine because I really like myself, but I cherish each and every one of my friends because they keep me sane.

Finally, I'm thankful that I woke up this morning in the greatest nation on the planet. Sure, we have problems, but that's what makes things interesting.

It's good to remind ourselves periodically that we have so much to be thankful for.

Now it's nap time.

P.S. Since I'm traveling down to Marietta, I'll be gone for a few days. See y'all when I get back.



Wednesday 24 November 04


Uncle Johnny's Wisdom.

One of the things I like about family stories is the way they can make perfect sense out of the most confusing of circumstances. This story of Uncle Johnny, Why this Election is a win-win Situation for us All!, comes from Chris Moore's Blog via havecoffeewillwrite's webgoddess. I've read a number of similar pieces on the web since 3 November, but none captured where we are better than Moore's tale. So, in the spirit of Uncle Johnny, we'd all best grab our asses and brace for impact. Because when the smoke and the debris settle, it's going to be up to us to clean up the mess and rebuild the dock. And remember: What Would Biff Do?.


The Revolution Will Be Blogged.

Straight from the streets of Kiev, it's Discoshaman. The tanks are rolling. Stay tuned.


The Soviet, Err Russian Bear.

A friend of mine made a prediction the other night that Russia will again be the No. 1 threat to the United States in 10 years. I think he's way too optimistic. Like soon-to-be Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, I studied the Soviet Union when I was an undergraduate student. (My high point was correctly predicting that Yuriy Valdimirovich Andropov would succeed Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev in 1982.) There are many, I'm sure, who think such knowledge skills are quaint in the 21st century, but I think President Bush's appointment may be the shrewdest move of his presidential career. In the past week two news stories have made my sovietologist antennae twitch.

First, was the announcement by Russian Vladimir Putin that the Russian military was close to deploying its next generation of ICBMs. While reports are sketchy, one of the attributes of these missiles is reported to be anti-Strategic Defense Initiative technology. That's no great surprise, scientists have said for years that the greatest fault in SDI was that the counter-measures were cheaper and much simpler to implement than the expensive and complicated SDI systems themselves. It's quiet possible that the touted missile is all smoke and mirrors. The Russians have done that sort of thing before (remember the Foxbat?). And that is exactly the kind of thing Rice would understand and have the tools to deal with.

Second, is the election uproar in Ukraine. During the reign of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, elections were regularly held with near-100 percent participation and always 100 control by the leadership in Moscow. The election in Ukraine smacks of a return to such centralized control. The popular, pro-west Ukrainian candidate Viktor Yushchenko narrowly lost the election to the carpetbagger candidate Viktor Yanukovych and tens-of-thousands of Ukrainians have taken to the streets.

It might seem too outrageous to consider Soviet, err Russian tanks rolling into Kiev at the request of Yanukovych. But with the United States stretched thin in the Middle East and Putin in a position of strength in Russia, I don't think it's that far fetched. It was during an earlier crisis in the Middle East, the Suez Canal crisis of 1956, that a new Soviet, err Russian leader, Nikita Khrushchev, sent tanks rolling into Hungary to squash a liberal rebellion.

That was a defining event in the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. And it's an event that I'm sure Dr. Rice has ticking away at the back of her head.



Tuesday 23 November 04


Battle Plans.

The following is the core of MoveOn's report back on Sunday evening's national house parties.

In living rooms, bars, and rented church rooms across the country, MoveOn members gathered to discuss two key questions. First, party attendees were asked to determine which issues were most important for all of us to pursue together in the next four years. When all the votes were tabulated, the top issues were clear:

Election reform—5,691 votes; Media reform—4,529 votes; The Iraq war—4,488 votes; The environment—3,581 votes; The Supreme Court—3,031 votes; and Civil liberties—3,018 votes.

We also asked you to think about the top strategies MoveOn should pursue going forward. On the top of the list was a desire to more clearly articulate commonly held values—our progressive vision for a free and just America that is once again a model of peace, liberty, and prosperity to the rest of the world (9,243 votes). But that wasn't all—you also felt we should build the political force we're creating together by organizing local precinct networks (5,558 votes) and run progressives for Congress (3,629 votes).


On issues, we'll start our work today. After pushing so hard to turn out hundreds of thousands of new voters, it's not surprising that many of you were appalled at the way the election was run. We're working to make sure that every last vote is counted, that the thousands of reports of suppression and fraud are investigated, and that laws are passed in Congress to make sure that the problems we saw with voting machines and in polling places never happen again. We're also helping with the expected recount in Ohio.

We'll also keep up our work on news organizations. Ever since the media gave Bush a pass in the run-up to the Iraq war, media reform has been a core issue for MoveOn. In the next few years, we'll be working with media watchdog organizations like Media Matters and media policy organizations like Free Press and Common Cause to make sure that journalists report the truth and are held accountable when they don't.

Right now, the top comment on the ActionForum is, "Bush has been re-elected, and probably feels like he has a free hand to do whatever he likes. We must work to block his dangerous appointments to the Supreme Court. Those appointments will continue long after Bush has gone." We heard interest from many of you in working on appointing reasonable justices to the Supreme Court and protecting civil liberties. We'll certainly be taking that on as well.


Other Cheek? Just Joking!

On Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish today is an email from a reader illuminating the intent of an article written by Doug Giles and excerpted by Sullivan yesterday. In Monday's Email Of The Day, the writer says he thinks Giles' writing:

"...may have been misunderstood on your part. This seems to me... to be a piece that is representative of a small fad in evangelical writing. The most prominent of this fad is "Wild at Heart" by John Eldredge. The concept is that the current church has been feminized as men have not lived up to their role as depicted in scripture. To counteract this trend, these authors depict the spiritual life as one that can be seen as a masculine challenge rather than passivity."

Now, I admit it has been a number of years since I read the Christian Scriptures and I confess to not paying a whole lot of attention to Mr. Doan on Sunday mornings—except when he was telling really cool stories about Motocross and Husqvarnas—but I'm reasonably certain that the model set by Jesus and the disciples didn't involve a lot of smiting and pit-bull tactics. With the exception of the incident with the money changers, I'm not aware of anything in the four Gospels that indicates that, according to Giles:

"God intended His believers—especially Christian leaders—to be spiritual warriors, to be pit bulls who smash demonic strongholds, stand for truth and bring life, light and healing to this great planet."

Seems to me that we had a run in with this kind of view point some 900 years ago when in 1095 a lot christian pit-bulls gathered up their arms and armor, took a few practice swings at the Jewish communities around their home towns and then set off to liberate the Holy Land from "demonic strongholds."


Conversation As Recreation.

This past Sunday I introduced my two classes of 9th graders to the concept of the Socrates Cafe. After explaining the basics of the cafe, I had the students spend five minutes free-writing by repeatedly completing the sentence: "What I really want to know is..." in their journals. I told them that no subject was off limits. (A very risky proposition, I know, but the educational literature indicates that for a discussion to be authentic and work, the students have to feel that they can raise any issue.)

After the five-minute journal exercise we went around and each student suggested one question. When all the questions were in we voted to pick what we would talk about for 15 minutes. The two topics that we discussed were: "When will terrorism end?" and "Is love an overused word?" Both good questions and we had a good first run at the practice of discussion. The only rule that I inserted was that, in order to ensure that no one was talked over, the discussion had to go around the circle and each person could speak or pass before someone spoke twice.

I was pleased with the way it went and I'm planning on repeating this as part of the community-building activities within the classes. The one comment that surprised me that morning arose when I was describing the way the Socrates Cafe I attend—second Tuesday of the month beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Nighttown at the top of Cedar Hill here in Cleveland Heights—works. When I told the class that we usually discuss a single topic for two hours, one student asked: how do you talk about one thing for two hours? At first I passed it off with a comment about how we could go on for three hours or more on most topics. But as I later reflected, two hours is a very long time to my students. Movies, in which entire epics (Lord of the Rings, notwithstanding) are told, are often less than two hours.

While I was the Project Coordinator at the Temple Emanu El's religious school we spent the better part of three years writing an extensive curriculum. The backbone of the curriculum was a method called Understanding By Design. The idea was that you figured out what you wanted the student to know at the end of the lesson and determined what you needed to teach by working backwards from that point. One of the things we discussed in the process of writing the curriculum was something we wanted to avoid known as an Iceberg Curriculum. This is the kind of curriculum where the teacher hops from iceberg tip to iceberg tip in teaching a topic without ever diving deep to the huge amount of material waiting just beneath the surface.

Our goal was to pick a single iceberg and spend a greater amount of time exploring all of it; to deepen the understanding of the students. This is, in part, one of the reasons I'm experimenting with the Socrates Cafe method in my classroom: to acclimate my students to the idea of diving deep on single subjects and to get away from covering the high points.

My student's question about how you could discuss anything for two hours, however, reminded me that I have to go slow. If you're going to dive deep you need to gradually increase your lung capacity.



Monday 22 November 04


Breed Or Burn.

From the ever-watchful webgoddess at Trollcastle comes this frightening quote in an AP story by David Crary:

"When you talk about protecting marriage, you need to talk about divorce," said Bryce Christensen, a Southern Utah University professor who writes frequently about family issues.

While Christensen doesn't oppose the campaign to enact state and federal bans on gay marriage, he said he worries it's distracting from immediate threats to marriage's place in society.

"If those initiatives are part of a broader effort to reaffirm lifetime fidelity in marriage, they're worthwhile," he said. "If they're isolated—if we don't address cohabitation and casual divorce and deliberate childlessness—then I think they're futile and will be brushed aside." (My emphasis.)


An American, A Marine.

No comment is possible on this account from Major David G. Bellon, USMC. Any words would be meaningless if added to his.


My Home Town.

I looked this morning to see how my home town voted on 2 November. Not surprisingly, Washington County went solidly Republican voting 58% to 41% for Bush. On Issue 1, Ohio's version of the protection of marriage act, the county voted 72% to 28% for the amendment. These are the people whom I grew up with. They are my family and friends.

The results have me wondering; is there a way for me to reach out and find way to hold up the American and moral values of liberty, equality and opportunity without appearing to be a carpetbagger?

(A not-so-brief aside. I found it funny and disturbing that the the disclaimer at the bottom of the County Board of Elections page notes: The information provided on this page is provided by the County Board of Elections and is their property and is copyrighted by that County.

I wonder if anyone at the Marietta Times has taken the time to inform the County Board of Elections that government can't copyright what it prints. Any information coming out of government agencies belongs to the people, not the agency.

Remember President Bush's statement in 2000 about how it was necessary to remind government that tax money belonged to the American people and not the government? It works for information too.)


First Meeting Report.

Last night I attended my first MoveOn.org house party. There were about 40, or so, people there to talk about where MoveOn goes next. I was very impressed with the organization of the event. It was disciplined, focused and, thanks to the nationwide hookup, exactly on time in every aspect. I have never seen a progressive group able to accomplish that kind of discipline yet retain the essential free discussion it needed to thrive.

Following an initial pep talk via the Internet from the MoveOn leadership, we divided into two roughly equal groups to discuss issues and strategy for 50 minutes. We discussed, we ranked, we voted and we reported back to the national office. It was amazing to watch and to take part in. MoveOn promised to have the returns on all the votes sometime today and I'll append those to this entry when the email gets here.

I was very pleased to hear so many people talking about election reform that focused on ensuring that votes count. I raised the quote by Joseph Stalin, "He who votes decides nothing, he who counts the votes decides everything," and the people in my group nodded in understanding.

At the end of the 50 minutes we took a vote to decide on our top three issues. Our group voted nearly unanimously for MoveOn to focus on taking back Congress in 2006 as our No. 1 priority.

The one piece that I was disappointed, but not surprised, by was how homogenous the group was. In general, the people in attendance were white, middle aged and female. There was not a single non-white in the group. I think the youngest people there (granted, I'm horrible at guessing ages) looked to be a 30-something couple (with the average group age somewhere around 50) and my recollection is that 2/3 to 3/4 of those in attendance were women.

More to come later when MoveOn releases the tally from last night.



Sunday 21 November 04


So Little Time.

One of the primary reasons that I tossed my TV set onto the tree lawn a dozen years ago was that I realized I had a real addiction to the thing and that it regularly enticed me from doing something I genuinely enjoyed doing: reading. That is still the case and my students honestly wonder how I survive without instant access to the idiot box. (Does anyone else remember that phrase?)

I get my reading suggestions from a lot of sources: friends, NPR, the QPBC, the Internet and, most importantly, browsing in the library and bookstores. At the moment I have 15 books on my hot pile. Of those books, 10 are from the library, three are from my personal collection and two are on loan from a friend. (I am as meticulous about tracking books I borrow from friends as I am about books my friends borrow from me.)

In no particular order the books are:

Opening The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer (102 pages), The Anchor Book Of New American Short Stories edited by Ben Marcus (480 pages), The Fabric Of The Cosmos by Brian Greene (544 pages), The Conscience Of A Liberal by Sen. Paul Wellstone (216 Pages), American Scream by Jonah Raskin (230 pages), Exuberance: The Passion For Life by Kay Redfield Jamison (378 pages), The Wave In The Mind by Ursula K. Le Guin (301 pages), Zero Debt by Lynette Khalfani (198 pages), The Zen Of Creativity by John Daido Loori (249 pages), The Caring Classroom by Laurie S. Frank (215 pages), The Music Of Life by Hazrat Inayat Khan (354 pages), Sefer Yetzirah edited by Aryeh Kaplan (388 pages), The Zohar, Vol. 1 translated by Daniel C. Matt (484 pages), The Annals Of Newberry by John Belton O'Neall and John Chapman (816 pages) and Civil War Medicine by Robert Denney (389 pages).

Altogether that makes 5,344 pages sitting on my desk. When I was in college, I don't think I had a quarter where the stack was ever that high.

While I was an undergraduate student I figured out that I read at an average rate of 20 pages per hour. I read fiction as a much faster rate, of course, but if I'm trying to retain information for later retrieval, then I block out my books at the 20-pages-per-hour pace. That means that the books on my desk represent some 267 hours of reading, or, say using a 40-work week, nearly seven weeks of reading.

This is one reason that I hate sleeping. If I had one of those selfishly motivated wishes people always dream about it would be to have a sleep-free life. Imagine what anyone could accomplish with an extra eight hours each day. That's an extra 56 hours a week, a bonus of 2,912 hours a year; and, oh the sweet rapture, an extra 189,280 hours (figuring a 75-year life with 65 years of reading) in a lifetime. If I were to devote that time solely to reading, I could wallow and frolic in 3,785,600 pages!

But, alas, there are no genies, beelzebubs or fairy godmothers to grant such wishes. We are mortals are condemned to lament: so many books, so little time.


Spending Political Capital.

They have no shame. Here's the language that Rep. Ernest Istook, (R-OK) tried to insert into the $388 billion finance bill:

Hereinafter, notwithstanding any other provision of law governing the disclosure of income tax returns or return information, upon written request of the Chairman of the House or Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service shall allow agents designated by such Chairman access to Internal Revenue Service facilities and any tax returns or return information contained therein. (My emphasis.)

It used to be that Republicans wanted the government out of citizens' business and into their bedrooms. Looks like that's not so true anymore.



Saturday 20 November 04


Setting The Example.

Since 2 November I've been trying to figure out what all I can do to politically improve my country. There are two things that trouble me the most. First, with one exception, I've only cast one vote for president that I really felt good about. In every other case I was voting against the other guy; going for the lesser of two evils. Second, as the preeminent nation and the symbol of Democracy, Liberty and Equality, the United States has an obligation to elect our government in a manner that is beyond reproach. We've now clearly demonstrated in two elections that we don't.

Changing the first, which would required finding a candidate whom I really believe in, is squishy and highly subjective. Fixing the second, however, is not. Objective, doable standards that we adhere to when we talk about holding elections in countries where a free vote is a novelty already exist. So how do we go about enforcing such standards here?

The United States does not hold a single election, we don't even hold, as the Electoral College system seems to imply, 51 elections (Washington, D.C. counts as it's own entity in a national election). There are an astonishing 3,143 counties, parishes or independent cities in the United States and nearly all of them create election authorities that determine how a vote is collected and counted.

In 2000 the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States asserted something profound in their decision in Gore v Bush. (Please read the decision in its entirety here.) The nut of the court's decision was that Florida's differing counting standards constituted a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And in a weird, Bizarro-Universe sort of way, I agree with them.

No one person's vote should count for more than any other's. And how each vote is tallied dramatically determines how the vote counts. Every vote in the United States in every election should impartial and transparent. This is the standard used by the Carter Center when it observes elections around the world. Dr. David Carroll, interim director of the center's Democracy Program said in an interview a few days before the November election:

"...the management and administration of elections should be impartial and transparent. Most countries with strong democratic institutions have an independent national election authority that administers elections nationwide with uniform processes and standards. In the United States, elections are administered at the state and local level, often under the direction of partisan officials, and with varying practices, procedures, and machinery."

The Carter Center has declined to become involved directly in monitoring elections in the United States because it would be perceived as a partisan effort due to President Carter's party affiliation. That's a shame, but it also points to the high level of ethics that the organization holds to. But there are other groups around the country laboring to do the same work here. Just a few include: The Election Reform Information Project; Election Protection; and Verified Voting.

Tomorrow evening I'm attending a house party for MoveOn.org. The two questions we've been asked to consider are: "What issues do you feel most passionate about? Why?" and "What is the most important strategy for MoveOn over the next two to four years so that, in the long term, we'll be able to move our nation in a progressive direction?" My answer to both questions is going to be the creation of a single method of voting that meets the Carter Center's impartial-and-transparent standard.

As long as the voting process is flawed, it makes no sense to encourage people to cast votes that ultimately won't be counted.



Friday 19 November 04


Walking Through Walls.

I really want to believe that this is total BS. But it comes from the James Randi Educational Foundation, a source I believe to be credible, so until I found out otherwise, I'm going to accept that Jon Ronson is not a nut case. I won't attempt to describe it here, it's just too weird. I'll let Ronson tell his own story. If anyone can point me to a source that debunks his claims, I'll be very interested in hearing from them.



That this organization exists makes me want to..., %*#@, I don't know. It's just one of those things that makes my blood boil. The National Center for Science Education "defends the teaching of evolution in public schools. We are a nationally-recognized clearinghouse for information and advice to keep evolution in the science classroom and "scientific creationism" out. (My spell checker wanted to change creationism to cretinism, maybe there is hope.)

As I read through the NCSE website I was amazed at the number of fronts on which this battle is being fought. I was particularly surprised that Wired magazine found it necessary to put the story on it's front cover. And, to make me even more ashamed, the story starts out with the battle here in Ohio where the State School Board voted to allow intelligent design into the classroom. It's getting harder and harder to tell people I live in the state.

The simple fact is that the organization exists because there is a real need for it. The least I can do in repayment for the hours spent by my high school science teachers, Mrs. Stalnaker, Biology; Mr. Guinn, Chemistry; and Mr. Smith, Physics, drilling into me the importance of critical thinking is to keep talking about people like this fighting ignorance and superstition in the trenches of our schools.


In The Wind.

I got my email newsletter from the Quality Paperback Book Club this morning and saw that Jonathan Kellerman's newest new book is being released next week. The title is Twisted and the main character is Detective Petra Connor of Billy Straight fame. I've got my name on the list for it at the library, but I'm No. 361, so it could be a few weeks before I get it. In the meantime I'm putting the archaeological reading on hold until I finish the newest book.

I won't be including the collected novellas written by Jonathan and Faye Kellerman—Double Homicide—just because I'm only doing Jonathan's novels. It's an arbitrary decision, but hey, this isn't a doctoral thesis, I'm allowed to be arbitrary.



Thursday 18 November 04



View as needed until you're well enough to get mad as hell again and do something about it.


Reading Backward.

My personal library is way too big. I've bought too many books over the years, and while I've made attempts to cull the shelves by selling some to Mac's Backs on Coventry and giving others away through Bookcrossing, I still have a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf that forms the western wall of my apartment.

To combat the further expansion of the Wall, I began several years ago to create what I call my electronic chapbook. What I do is simple. Instead of buying a book, I borrow it from the library. As I read the book I keep my laptop (or a notebook) open beside me and I copy out particular phrases or ideas that I want to remember. I've collected entries on this website and, if you're interested, you can read them here.

A few months ago I picked up Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit: Learn it and use it for life. I'm a great believer in learning from other disciplines, and although I didn't know anything about Tharp except that she was a great choreographer, I thought the book would be interesting. It was.

One of the ideas that she discusses is reading archaeologically. The idea is this: when we read from front to back we are surprised by the twists and turns of the author. But when we read from back to front, we know all the surprises before they are set up. And, here's the important part, we are able to clearly see how the author plants clues.

Now, for the reader, that's not all that exciting. But for the writer, it's like being able to pop the back off of a watch and see how all those little cogs and springs do what they do.

Several months ago I decided to do this with the works of Jonathan Kellerman. He's always been a favorite writer and since my own genre is similar to his, I've seen him as one model for my craft. What I did first was to refresh my memory by reading all the books in order. Now, I'm about to start the reverse process with Therapy. What I'm going to do is read the chapters in reverse order, making notes along the way to the things that leap out at me.

All of the notes will go into the chapbook, of course, but I'll also be posting things here that I think are specially interesting from time to time.


Man Of The Year.

The rumblings of whom the editorial board of Time magazine will choose as its Man of the Year have already started and one of the names being held up to the light is that of Karl Rove, chief strategist and election engineer for President George W. Bush. I think he would be a good choice.

In recent years, it seems, we have forgotten the stated intent of Time in making the selection. It is not an honor to be selected as Time's Symbol of the Year. It is not an award given for good works. Rather, the editors of Time admit that their "choices for Person of the Year are often controversial. Editors are asked to choose the person or thing that had the greatest impact on the news, for good or ill—guidelines that leave them no choice but to select a newsworthy—not necessarily praiseworthy—cover subject."

A lot of names are under consideration, not the least of which is that of President George W. Bush. Among the others reportedly in the running are PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Lance Armstrong, the Terrorist, Barry Bonds, Michael Moore, Mel Gibson, God and Mohammed. Why would I select Rove over these? Of the list, only two others are even in the running, in my opinion: President Bush and Yasser Arafat. The others are transitory or nebulous.

First, Chairman Arafat. His death certainly marks an important turning point, we can only hope for the good, in Israel and, by association, in the Middle East. Arafat, however, has spent the last three years sequestered in a windowless room in his compound in Ramallah and greatly removed from political events of the past year. I think anyone would be hard pressed to state how he could be said to symbolize 2004.

Second, President Bush. It's hard to marginalize a president of the United States. He is the most powerful individual in the world, end of discussion. But not quite. President Bush won re-election by the smallest margin of any president since 1916. He has spent more time on vacation than any president in our history. Despite his numerous statements otherwise, he just hasn't been working all that hard. President Bush is not a leader. He is the figurehead for an ideological agenda. And, at the risk of earning membership in the aluminum-foil hat brigade, I think just one tiny example of this is the now-dead, I'm sure, question of the mysterious something under his coat during the presidential debates.

I think Time would better serve it's readers and the nation by drawing the people behind the figurehead into the light: Vice President Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. As far as I can tell, Cheney's name isn't on the list. I don't know why that is, but I can speculate that in our public consciousness vice presidents just don't count. I think I could make a pretty good case for why this one does, but he's not on the list and I like somebody on the list better anyway.

Which brings me to Rove. There have always been political strategists. I'm sure that there was someone at Mount Vernon whispering into President George Washington's ear. Karl Rove, however, seems to me to be a distillation of the role that has changed the way American politics are conducted. President Ronald Reagan was called the Teflon president because it seemed that no bad news could touch him. To be sure, President Reagan had his handlers, but his success was due mostly to his own character and the way people felt about him.

This is not true for President Bush. With only a few exceptions—11 September, the invasion of Iraq, the capture of Saddam Hussein—President Bush's poll numbers consistently declined during his first term in office. Yet, his campaign for re-election was successful. Why? I think because Karl Rove did what he does better than anyone in the history of election politics and in doing so re-shaped the way politics will be conducted for the foreseeable future.

I think that is huge. Huge enough, in my estimation, to justify Time devoting its journalistic resources to do a thorough and intimate examination of what Rove does, how he does it, and how he has helped to shape the way the United States sees itself.


The Stare Down.

Six Chix strikes again. This time it's Ann Telnaes.


Hypocrisy In The House.

Back in 1993, when he was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Daniel Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) was forced to step down from that post when a rule change was voted in requiring such action whenever an officer of the House was indicted on a felony charge. It was a bad rule then and it's a bad rule now.

To paraphrase John Mortimer's great Old Bailey legal hack, Horace Rumple, the great golden thread running through English (and, by association, American) law is the idea that everyone is innocent until proven otherwise by a Court of Law. Indictments are merely rulings, sometimes politically motivated, that there are enough questions to justify a trial, nothing more. I don't think anyone should lose their job, or anything for that matter, on a question of guilt.

Thus, I think it is a good thing that the rule is about to rescinded by the same party that put it in place. That does not stop me, however, from railing about the sense of fairness being violated here; what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

By all appearances, Travis Country District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, is about to indict the Republican House Majority Leader Tom Delay on charges of campaign-finance violations. As I write this, Delay is innocent of those charges. And if today or tomorrow the district attorney issues an indictment against Delay, he will still be innocent. He will only be guilty when a judge bangs the gavel and states clearly that his court, and possibly a jury of Delay's peers, has found him guilty. Then he should not only lose his post as Majority Leader, but also his congressional seat and follow in the infamous line of other recent Republican House leaders and resign.

What Delay, and any other House member who votes to rescind this rule, is guilty of is hypocrisy.



Wednesday 17 November 04


Cartoons And Puppets.

Andrew Sullivan just keeps doing it. His column, Un-Credibles, offers further insight into the blueish reds or redish blues, depending upon your point of view. Here's the quote I liked best.

"The truth is, there is a conservative majority in this country not because the religious right is a majority but because Republicans have been able to corner the market on the themes of achievement, individualism, energy, and action. And they have also won over those who disdain the politics of resentment, whining, and permanent criticism."


Tuesday 16 November 04


Things French.

Life is complicated. But given the unsavory alternative, I'll keep working at it. Margaret Shulock's Six Chic comic today captures how people who hate complication and rely on symbols and code words all too often see the World. No, I'm not talking about the narrow-minded world view of the supposedly Republican woman on the right in the strip; I'm talking about the code-word-focused readers who will look at it and think: "That is so true. The only things red-state people can think about are French fries and ketchup."

Look how fast people jumped on the gay marriage issue as the reason Senator John Kerry lost the election. Well, it turns out that after careful examination of the election results, while it contributed to the loss, it was far from the sole or even biggest reason.

I revel in ambiguity. The only people who I think are justified in seeking the answer to anything are physicists like Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene. For the rest of us, we just have to embrace the reality that everything is a multi-dimensional mishmash of thoughts and emotions and relationships between the two. If you ask the question, "What do insert-name-of-group-here want?" you're doomed. Individual group members may or may not want something. And each will want or not want it for their own reasons. This is why I think focus-group politics and marketing experts turned political advisor are bad for the American political landscape.

This simplification of reality makes me think of Shulock's "polarization of America" in terms of the too-many red/blue maps that are on the Internet now. One that I saw a few days ago here breaks the divisions down into urban and rural communities. (Note: I think there is an error on the map in that I don't understand why the spike of New York City is so much smaller than that of either Chicago or Los Angeles.)

I grew up in rural Southeastern Ohio along the Ohio River. I lived in a community where some of my friends lived on working farms, but I did not. I like to think that I can speak with some experience about rural things, and I hope my extended family will add to that understanding next week when I make my Thanksgiving appearance at the table.

It is not simply a matter of rural or urban people being stupid. It is not that rural or urban people are poorly educated. We all plainly see the World through different lenses that shape what we feel about what we know and believe. Perhaps part of the problem is the advent of air travel and the interstate highway system. We no longer have to get up close and personal with our fellow Americans while traveling or on vacation except in sanctioned and sanitized spots like Disney World and Princess Cruises. We miss hearing the everyday conversations in diners when we stop for lunch driving from here to there.

The Internet offers some possibilities. I used to like Internet Relay Chat because it gave me a chance to talk to people I would never have otherwise met. But I stopped that because it became like watching a soap opera: I could ignore a group for a month and not be able to detect anything new in the conversation upon my return. People seemed more interested in being heard than hearing.

How do we get out of our comfort zones and listen to people who don't see the world the way we do? A good way, I think, is by tuning-in to the "other" talk radio shows and reading the "other" blogs. Sure, there are ideologues out there who lie, but even they deserve your attention if for no other good reason that we all need to know what's going on. Seeking to understand a diversity of views is a good thing.


Motorcycle Diaries.

I went to see the Motorcycle Diaries yesterday. I enjoyed the movie. Ernesto "Che" Guevara was an adolescent hero of mine for all the wrong reasons. I thought revolution was cool because all teenagers think revolution is cool. I didn't really know that much about Che and he was dead before I had even seen a picture of his face. But he was Cool. I was fascinated with him to the extent that I studied Spanish rather than French in high school because that had been the language Che spoke. I gave up on Spanish after a couple of years, but Che stayed with me in one way or another.

At Ohio University in my late 20s I studied the politics and history of the Soviet Union. One of the things I remember was how American Communists revered Joseph Stalin. He represented for them the potential for revolutionary victory. When First Party Secretary Nikita Khrushchev delivered his secret speech on the Cult of Personality to the 20th Party Congress in 1956, he pulled the curtain aside and revealed Stalin for the beast he had been. When word of the speech spread, many American Communists were crushed. Yet, some remained solid supporters of Uncle Joe.

Che is like that. I see teenagers and college students in the coffee shops I frequent wearing t-shirts with Che's face printed on them. His images are young and cool and there is a noir Don-Quixote-like quality to Che's life. He's a tragic hero who died fighting for a noble cause: the unification of indigenous peoples in South America. That's the grand picture. Yes, I've read about the strident, Soviet revolutionary that Che became in Cuba. And I know that his attempts to unite South America failed miserably. But the cause was right.

As time went on my interests went elsewhere. But it always seemed that my path would loop back to some juncture where Che would become important for a brief moment and then we would diverge again. I read several books that collected Che's speeches and thoughts on guerilla war and once bought, and still own, a black beret with a red Soviet Army star. Some thoughts changed, others stayed the same. I had meant to read The Motorcycle Diaries back in '95 when it was published in English, but never got around to it. I'm not sure that I will now, after having seen the movie. Not because I think reading it will anticlimactic, but rather because I want to preserve the country versus city images of the movie.

It was these images that made me ask myself, "Where is Che?" Where are the people who are adventurous enough to go out and see this great country of ours? Where are the souls not satisfied with the fantasy of reality television, but who need to take off their rubber gloves and touch all of America? Such an experience changed Ernesto Guevara. Who will next step up and be changed?



Monday 15 November 04


Game World

Cory Docorow's Anda's Game is an intriguing story of the Internet Gamer Universe. It's been way too long since I threw 20-sided die against a Balrog at the Brewery in San Diego, so I don't know how close to reality the story is, but it raised some interesting questions for me. I'd like to hear what others think about Docrow's vision.


Eid Ul-Fitr

Last night marked the end of Ramadan and a good friend of mine out in Washington State described to me the gathering of some 25 women and their children who celebrated the event together with sweets, music and dancing. One of the customs she told me about was that as each person entered the party they touched their forehead to that of every other guest and thanked them for being in their lives.

With our preoccupation with insurgents and beheadings we loose sight of those things that unite humanity: a wish to realize our dreams, a desire to see our children happy, a hope that no one needlessly submit their will to others, a dream that all humanity realizes that we are not different.


Frist On Filibusters

Why is it that a single U.S. Senator can stand up on the floor of the Senate and talk until he drops, a la Jimmy Stewart in Frank Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington?" I was very surprised to find that the term filibuster is actually a reference to a military adventurer or, in an even more historical sense, the freebooter of piracy fame.

The sense in which we use it today to describe the delaying tactic of a Senator was written into the rules of the Senate first in 1917 when a two-thirds rule (67 votes today) was instituted to bring cloture. That rule was amended in 1975 to reduce the number of votes to three-fifths or 60 votes.

The Neo-Con Regressives in the Senate have been working unsuccessfully over the past four years to dilute the rule further because the opposition has blocked a few judicial appointments of President Bush. For the record, Democrats blocked 10 out of of 213 appointments made by the President, according to The Republican in Springfield, Mass. In comparison, opposition Senators blocked 37 of 239 of President Clinton's nominations. That's a 95-percent success rate for President Bush versus an 85 percent success rate for President Clinton.

Now the tools used—committee rules for the Regressives versus filibuster for the opposition—are different, but the intent is the same: conserving a status quo. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist doesn't like conservatives. The regressive Frist wants to take away a tool that senators on all sides have historically used to oppose the tyranny of the majority. That is a good thing or a bad thing depending upon which side of the question you stand, but historically it has been a tool used by senatorial conservatives to slow change.

Turning large, ponderous institutions should be difficult. To-quick changes can result in unanticipated damage and ruin. There are times when it is appropriate to stop, take a few deep breaths, and consider just what it is you were hoping to accomplish when you decided to drain the swamp.


All Hail To Sparky!

Dan Perkins' Sparky the Wonder Penguin makes it all clear to me. I'm jealous of his skill at capturing in four panels what everyone should be talking about in political discourse.

His body of work is enviable. Who can forget the way he presented the horrible view from his rooftop in Brooklyn in "Words Failed Me"? (For those of you who have not yet purchased subscriptions to Salon, and you know who you are, grab a day-pass to read the clarity and prescience of Perkins' response to 11 September.)

But that isn't all that he does. Check out his blog. His body of work is enviable. Today's entry, for example, hammers away at the Neo-Con Regressives' continuing lame effort to label anyone who still thinks Halliburton is a company worth examining as "spittle-flecked lefties."

Concludes Perkins: "So the next time someone acts as though anyone who mentions the word "Halliburton" is a tinfoil-hat conspiracy freak holed up in his basement to avoid the alien mind control rays—well, you can cross that person off your list of trustworthy commentators, because they are either lying or stupid, but in either case not to be taken seriously by rational people."



Sunday 14 November 04


Taking Back Congress.

Since I first raised the issue last Thursday, I've been doing a great deal of thinking about how important it is for those of us opposed to the Neo-Con Regressives to take back Congress in 2006. Our country and our Constitution are too important to wait until 2008; we need to make the 110th Congress one where Liberty and Equality are once again upheld as American values. While it would be possible to do so one district and one state at a time, I prefer to learn from history and rally behind a visionary leader prepared to lead a freshman class of legislators down the aisle to once again make Congress a representative body of the People and not one of a self-entitled, new aristocracy of greed and privilege.

To do that we need to rolllback the Neo-Con Regressives to below the 218-vote threshold by doing three things. First, and this is the toughest, encourage the leader with the vision to step forward and take up the torch. Second, work fearlessly to ensure that the regressives gain no new seats. And third, implement the vision in a way to regain at least 13 of the 231 seats they will hold in the house and six of the 55 seats they will hold in the Senate.

The late Sen. Paul Wellstone spoke eloquently on the future and passion when he wrote in his book Conscience of a Liberal: "Sometimes, only realists are the dreamers. Robert Kennedy once said, 'The future will not belong to those who are content with the present.' I think the future also will not belong to those who are cynical or those who stand on the sidelines. The future will belong to those who have passion and are willing to work to make our country better."


Minnesota Nice.

Garrison Keillor joked about it Saturday night, but the phenomenon is real. There is a actually an apparent surplus of flu vaccine in Minnesota. Not because they have too much, but because Minnesotans are so concerned about their fellow citizens that they are forgoing the shots out of fear that someone else might need it more.

The Associated Press reported on Friday that the state still has 925,000 doses of vaccine available. According to the AP: "Frustrated health officials said they may be dealing with an excessive case of Minnesota nice, the copious courtesy and deferential nature for which Minnesotans are known." If I weren't so opposed to running away from the political fight here in Ohio, I'd move to Minnesota just to be closer to those kind of people. They show what being a Blue state is all about.



Saturday 13 November 04


Feed My Sheep.

The Miami Herald's Leonard Pitts Jr. has a lot of good to say about the real Christian Right (as in correct and opposed to the pseudo christian right, or as I prefer, the christian wrong). In his 8 November opinion piece, Pitts points to another of my personal heroes, President Jimmy Carter, as the example of someone who walks the Christian talk. Pitts wrote:

"But Carter's ex-presidency has been a model of that unofficial institution. He has built homes for the poor, mediated wars, helped feed the hungry in Africa, fought disease in Latin America. In so doing, Carter, a deacon of Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., has obeyed a directive that Jesus issued one of his disciples.

"Do you love me? He asked Simon Peter.

"Peter said Yes.

"Feed my sheep, said Jesus."

President Carter has spent the last 24 years of his life putting his deeply held faith into action by, as noted on the Carter Center website, "waging peace, fighting disease and building hope." One of the actions he is best known for is his participation in and support for Habitat for Humanity. Years ago I heard a story, possibly apocryphal, about how President Carter and his wife Rosalynn came to Cleveland to help in the building of a house as part of Habitat. The people assembled to build the house gathered in the morning first to offer a few prayers. The service, however, seemed to take on a life of it's own and stretched beyond the few minutes that might have been expected. President Carter finally spoke respectfully to the group. "Y'all keep praying. I have a house to build."

For me, this is the perfect example of what it means to be part of Pitts' Christian Left.


It's Not Just A Theory.

I swear, the next person who says to me, "it's just a theory," I'm going to smack them upside the head with a duckbill platypus. In the wake of the presidential election we're already hearing tale after tale about school boards and boards of education that are crumbling to superstition and ignorance in a rush to include "alternatives" to the Theory of Evolution.

There are no alternatives right now, folks. Creationism and Intelligent Design are not Theories. They're not even theories. At best they are unsubstantiated and untestable hypotheses. If we're going to teach Creationism, we might as well teach dowsing and healing touch, because there is just as much evidence - none - in support for the latter two as there is for the former. If more people had stayed awake for Junior High Science, they might have learned the difference between a Hypothesis, a Theory and a Law.

Merriam-Webster's 10th Collegiate Dictionary says: Hypothesis implies insufficient evidence to provide more than a tentative explanation; such as a hypothesis explaining the extinction of the dinosaurs. Theory implies a greater range of evidence and greater likelihood of truth; such as the theory of evolution. And Law means a formula derived by inference from scientific data that explains a principle operating in nature. A Law implies a statement of order and relation in nature that has been found to be invariable under the same conditions, such as the law of gravitation.

National Geographic Magazine was very timely in putting Darwin and Evolution on it's November cover. Don't let the title "Was Darwin Wrong?" fool you. The scientists come down solidly on the side of Darwin as shown in this excerpt.

A central message of the article is: "If you are skeptical by nature, unfamiliar with the terminology of science, and unaware of the overwhelming evidence, you might even be tempted to say that it's "just" a theory. In the same sense, relativity as described by Albert Einstein is "just" a theory. The notion that Earth orbits around the sun rather than vice versa, offered by Copernicus in 1543, is a theory. Continental drift is a theory. The existence, structure, and dynamics of atoms? Atomic theory. Even electricity is a theoretical construct, involving electrons, which are tiny units of charged mass that no one has ever seen. Each of these theories is an explanation that has been confirmed to such a degree, by observation and experiment, that knowledgeable experts accept it as fact. That's what scientists mean when they talk about a theory: not a dreamy and unreliable speculation, but an explanatory statement that fits the evidence."

OK. I'm breathing much better. So, can we stop discussing teaching superstition in public schools now?



Friday 12 November 04


... They Despise Your Christ.

That's how Bob Jones III , president of Bob Jones University—yes, that university—categorizes all of us "liberals." You can read his whole letter of congratulation to President Bush here.

I think that Jones may have inadvertently said something accurate, however, when he used the adjective "your" in his declaration. I think that there are a lot of Christians out there who don't think the Biblical Jesus is the same person that Jones is talking about.

Lest there be any doubt about the agenda that Jones now expects President Bush to spend his political capital on, pay close attention to this sentence: "Undoubtedly, you will have opportunity to appoint many conservative judges and exercise forceful leadership with the Congress in passing legislation that is defined by biblical norm regarding the family, sexuality, sanctity of life, religious freedom, freedom of speech, and limited government. You have four years—a brief time only—to leave an imprint for righteousness upon this nation that brings with it the blessings of Almighty God."

Yesterday, Sidney Blumenthal, published an essay on Salon on this general subject that concludes with a quote from one of my personal heroes, President Thomas Jefferson. In a 6 December 1813 letter to Alexander von Humboldt, Jefferson wrote: "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes."

Can anyone say it better than President Jefferson?


One Positive Thing.

A lot of people are asking what they can do lift their spirits after the election hangover of 3 November. Here's a quick suggestion: subscribe to salon.com by surfing over to here.

I've been a subscriber and daily reader of Salon for five years now. While I don't think it would be good idea to only get your news from Salon - no single source is a good idea - I've found that it has pointed me towards more useful information than any other print or Internet source that I regularly refer to.



Thursday 11 November 04


Dan Savage Rocks!

One of the reasons I look forward to Wednesdays is that I get to read Dan Savage's latest column in one of Cleveland's alternative weeklies, Scene. For those of you not familiar with Savage, he writes a sex advice column—Savage Love—that is both instructive and hilarious.

This week, Dan's final letter and response were too good not to share.

I can't believe that you fucking faggots could fuck it up for everyone like this. If you faggots had just waited until after the election to start getting married, then we wouldn't have to put up with George W. Bush and Republican control of both houses of Congress. When they take away my grandmother's Social Security to pay for the invasion of France, I'm going to point my finger in your face and say, "You helped this happen."

Stupid, Stupid Faggots

I hear you, SSF. And while we're apportioning blame for the current fucked state o' the nation, let's not forget all those stupid, stupid African Americans who fucked up the Democratic lock on the south by launching the civil rights movement. Jesus, we'd have a Democratic Senate right now if it weren't for them! Remember what LBJ said when he signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964? "We have lost the South for a generation." Wrong! The Dems wound up losing the South for two, three, four, or more generations. All because selfish blacks wanted to vote, get educations, and sit wherever they damn well pleased on the bus. The nerve of some people!

Look, the gay marriage issue and the anti-gay marriage amendments brought the knuckle-draggers to the polls, for sure, can't deny it. But one day Dems might thank us homos for this--the only consoling argument out there now is that the Dems dodged a bullet by losing this election. Iraq is a mess, the economy is a mess--the next four years are going to be an ugly shit storm. If Kerry had been in the White House, the Republicans and their media attack dogs would have pinned it all on the Dems. With Bush in the White House and the Rs still in control of Congress, they have no one to blame for the shit storm but themselves.

But, hey, if this cold-comfort analysis is wrong, SSF, if we all live to regret the gay marriage issue coming to a head, rest assured that all the dykes and faggots out there will pay a high price for it.


New Deal, Great Society, One America?

On the second Tuesday of each month I head over to Nighttown, a local watering hole and Jazz venue, for two hours of conversation with my friends at the Socrates Café. For those of you who haven't read about it, the Café works like this: members suggest philosophical questions and the group votes on which question to address for the evening.

This week we picked a topic stemming from last week's election: Is the fight for rights by homosexuals the moral equivalent of the race-based civil rights battle of the '60s? And, in the spirit of our president's insistence on a one-question rule during his first press conference since the election, I offered a follow-up question to my first.

The discussion quickly took off and we stayed on the first part of the question for nearly 90 minutes. At around 9 p.m. I reminded everyone about the second part of the question which was "If tomorrow, medical science said, without question, that either homosexuality was clearly a life-style choice, or, that science had discovered the brain chemical imbalance that caused homosexuality and that had developed a pill or shot that could overnight restore the balance and change any homosexual into a heterosexual, would that announcement change your opinion on the first part of the question?

I saw a strange energy go around the room as I asked the question and people considered its ramification. Then Bruce, an articulate teacher and friend, spoke up. He told us that his initial response had been to say that yes, it would make a difference. But before he could say that, he continued, he caught himself and said that no, it didn't make a difference; and more importantly it shouldn't make a difference. Bruce's statement changed the dynamic in the room. A new member of the group added to Bruce's position by sharing her experience in the Gay and Lesbian Community. She said that she and others thought that reliance on the phrase "but we can't help it, it's not a choice," was ultimately damaging.

The evening changed my views on the subject. The next day I was doing some surfing and came across a well-written argument from John Corvino on the topic. Corvino, who published his essay back in August, ends with a powerful quote from a 1964 speech by activist Frank Kameny to the New York Mattachine Society, an early gay rights group. Kameny said: "We are interested in obtaining rights for our respective minorities as Negroes, as Jews, and as Homosexuals. Why we are Negroes, Jews, or Homosexuals is totally irrelevant, and whether we can be changed to Whites, Christians or heterosexuals is equally irrelevant."

Twice in the 20th Century, the Democratic Party - first under President Roosevelt's New Deal, and then under President Johnson's Great Society - took risky positions and greatly widened the inclusiveness of American society. President Clinton seemed poised to make a similar leap during the opening days of his first term in office, but he stumbled and homosexual rights languished for the next eight years. Now, at the beginning of the 21st Century the whole question of homosexual rights has been blamed, rightly or wrongly, for the election of President Bush.

I, for one, believe that any movement that broadens the base of power in our society is a good one. Those Americans, like myself, who believe that it is equality and liberty that make our country great; that understand that our Constitution is the greatest document written in the history of humanity; that are unwilling to allow superstition and ignorance kidnap freedom; need to start working as hard as possible to make sure that the 2006 election sends a clear message of Equality and Liberty to all Americans and the rest of the world.

Just as Newt Gingrich led a Republican Revolution in 1994 under the "Contract With America" banner, it's time for an Democratic Revolution, and my suggestion for that banner is "One America."



Wednesday 10 November 04



Theo van Gogh's film Submission (which is the English translation of Islam) got him murdered in a very public way. Thanks to ifilm.com you can now watch the film online here.

It takes great courage to speak the truth as you see it when those who want to silence you are willing to commit any crime. The actions of van Gogh's murderers reinforce in my mind that it is not possible to reason with people who do not base their world view on reason. Everyone should be encouraged to view this 11-minute film to see what it takes to attract the wrath of those driven by belief and not reason.



Tuesday 09 November 04


The Republican '20s

One of the things I do is tutor high school student here in Cleveland. I recently started working with a young man on his American History. The assignment was to pick up his work with the end of the Great War—now known as WW I, of course—and to carry through to the mid '90s. The text is American Odyssey: The United States in the 20th Century by Gary B. Nash, a professor of History at the University of California at Los Angeles.

When I teach History I try to find the connections to the present to better aid my students in making sense of people and events. Usually it's not too difficult, but this time the comparisons leapt of the page. We started with the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti and quickly moved to reading about The Red Scare. Here's what we read:

The Red Scare: Anti-Communist Panic.

Judge Felix Frankfurter described the atmosphere in Boston during the Sacco and Vanzetti trial. He said that outside the courtroom "the Red hysteria was rampant: it was allowed to dominate within."

Indeed, Boston had become one of the centers for the Red Scare, a violent wave of anti-Communist panic swept through the United States in 1919 and 1920. In November 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution had installed a Communist government in Russia. Communist uprisings in Hungary and Bavaria made it seem as though communism were (sic) spreading rapidly.

Two small Communist parties were formed in the United States in 1919. Their total membership never exceeded 70,000, just one-tenth of one percent of the adult population. Even so, many people began to fear that a Communist revolution like the one in Russia was brewing in this country.

During World War I, George Creel's Committee on Public Information had whipped up public hatred of Germans. After the war many Americans transferred this hatred to anyone who had been born in another country. Foreigners were especially vulnerable to attack when, like Sacco and Vanzetti, they favored radical politics.

Public officials, business leaders and the press all contributed to the Red Scare. More than any other person, President Wilson's Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer, directed the Red Scare.

A Climate of Fear

A progressive lawyer and politician from Pennsylvania, Palmer had no doubt that Communists were about to take over his country's government. For one thing, Palmer had spent the war serving as an alien property custodian. In his job he had collected and been shocked by reams of anti-American propaganda. As a pacifist Quaker, Palmer despised the Bolshevik theory that promoted violent revolution.

To Palmer the Bolshevik plan to take over the world seemed to become a reality on June 2, 1919, when bombs exploded in eight cities throughout the United States. One of the bombs shattered the from of Palmer's Washington, D.C., home. Although the bomb thrower was killed in the blast, evidence suggested that he was an Italian immigrant and anarchist.

After the bombing, Palmer asked for and got an appropriation of $500,000 from Congress to launch a campaign to "tear out the radical seeds that have entangled American ideas in their poisonous theories." Within the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation, Palmer established the General Intelligence - or anti-radical - division. Under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, this division began to gather information about domestic radical activities.

The Palmer Raids

In November 1919, Palmer's men staged raids on the Union of Russian Workers in 12 cities. In December, 249 aliens were deported to Russia on a ship the popular press nicknamed "The Soviet Ark." Most of the deportees had never participated in any terrorist or criminal activity but merely favored non-violent radical causes.

The following month Palmer's men arrested more than 4,000 people, many of them United States citizens in 33 major cities during a single night of raids. Seized without warrants, many of these prisoners were denied attorneys and deprived of food, water, heat and even bathroom facilities. In Boston, one detainee leaped five stories to his death, two prisoners died of pneumonia and another went insane. In New York guards beat many prisoners.

Some critics challenged Palmer's methods. William Allen White, newspaper editor, called Palmer's raids "un-American." He went on to argue:

"And if a man desires to preach any doctrine under the shining sun, and to advocate the realization of his vision by lawful, orderly, constitutional means - let him alone. If he is Socialist, anarchist or Mormon, and merely preaches his creed and does not preach violence, he can do no harm. For the folly of his doctrine will be its answer. The deportation business is going to make martyrs of a lot of idiots whose cause is not worth it." William Allen White, Emporia (Kansas) Gazette, January 8, 1920.

The public, however, generally applauded Palmer's January raids. Even though most of the prisoners eventually were released because they had nothing to do with radical politics, the Washington Post proclaimed that this was "no time to waste on hairsplitting over infringement of liberty." Six-hundred radicals were expelled from the country before the Department of Labor, in charge of aliens, halted the deportations.

By midsummer the height of the Red Scare seemed to be over. The raids and deportations had demoralized American radicals. Business had broken a rash of strikes. Bolshevism had failed to spread beyond Russia.

In September 1920, a bomb exploded at the corner of Broad and Wall streets, the center of New York City's financial district, killing more than 30 people and injuring hundreds more. If the bombing had occurred the year before, Americans might have interpreted it as part of a plot to overthrow the government. Now the United States seemed to be determined not to give way to panic. One newspaper reported:

"The public is merely shocked, not terrorized, much less converted to the merits of anarchism. Business and life as usual. Society, government, industry functioning precisely as if nothing had happened." Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 18, 1920.

Did you have the same experience I did? Did you realize that all you had to do was change "Red" to "Terrorist" and move the dates to 2001-2002 to make it seem like a wrap-up story from your local newspaper? Did it make you a little uneasy to read about American citizens locked up without warrants or access to legal representation?



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