I'm calling this the one-year anniversary of my blogging career.
My first post occurred a year and a day ago, but it was a test post just to make sure that the blog skin I downloaded was working, so we won't count on the official tally. My first substantive post was written one year ago today. I lived in Montana. It was cold. I was mildly depressed. It would have been a good day to try out alcoholism if I liked cheap booze. Unfortunately for me, I don't.
The past few months have caught me blogging like my life depended on it. And though that might sound like an overstatement, it's not a stretch to say that my sanity has been contingent on this ability to shout into cyber-space like it actually meant something. That was a long sentence. This isn't.
I've though about splitting my blogging subjects between a few different blogs. One for theology, one for politics, one for general pop-culture musings -- but I've come to the conclusion that splitting my thoughts like so would be deceiving. These things, as varied and frantic as they may seem, are who I am. Or more importantly, they are who I am becoming. My whole outlook on life has an eshcatological bent to it, so for me, becoming is always more important than being. I can't ever tell who I am, but I can go write for hours about who I'm becoming.
That makes sense, I swear.
On other notes, a comrade blogger of mine has posted some info on how best to help out with relief efforts in Asia after the devastating tsunami. Good stuff. Check it out here.
And good news for D.C. on this, the last day of 2004. Baseball is in our future, my friends. The Montreal Expos are officially no more, bound for RFK Stadium as the Washington Nationals. In the middle of worlds falling apart, slipping through our hands no matter how hard we try, it's these little victories that allow me to keep smiling.
So over the past year, I've lived in Montana, wished I lived in California, and moved back to Wisconsin instead. My heart is still in Huntington, spread amongst the Great Wall, my College and the kids of East State Street Church of God. I'm one year older, one year less a Bush supporter, one year more a despiser of all things modern and post-so. One year of still loving my faith, one year of continuing to loathe the (lower-case "c") church. In the end, a year for the books.
All that to say, this is the last day of 2004. The first day of new things. My name is Jonny Rice, I live in Wisconsin, I want to be happy, I need to be content.
Friday, December 31, 2004
Posted by jonny at 2:00 PM
Thursday, December 30, 2004
Righteous indignation, take a flamin' hike.
Hopping aboard that great time-machine called nostalgia, I've been in love with the idea of Fiona Apple since 1996. That's 8-going-on-9 years. Her first album, Tidal, was one of those albums you hear in high school that shapes your musical tastes for the better part of your life. I was a freshmen in college by the time When the Pawn... came out. By that time, my musical horizons were expanding to the point that it got buried amidst the rubble of Pedro the Lion, Over the Rhine and Nirvana's Unplugged material.
And yet....for the last two years or so there have been internet rumors of a new Fiona Apple album. Sometimes even tentative release dates. But after doing my regular quarterly search for new news I discovered tonight that her new album, Extraordinary Machine, has been permanently shelved by Sony because they couldn't find a single to kick off a costly marketing and promotion campaign. Instead, Sony cut its losses and is letting the album lie, preferring that Fiona get back to the studio and try to work her magic with happier and heavier radio-friendly thoughts I would imagine.
But in my search tonight, I came across a pair of leaked-slash-stolen mp3s from the album. And I'm in love all over again. Sometime after Punch Drunk Love came out, I realized something about Miss Apple's music -- It feels like a P.T. Anderson film. This should come as no big surprise, as Jon Brion produces her records and scores his movies. Add the fact that Apple and Anderson have dated/are dating (what do you think I am, People magazine?), and the comparisons become concrete quite quickly (say that five times fast). These new tracks from Extraordinary Machine only perpetuate the connection. And btw, they rock me like a hurricane.
So if you're interested, there are two things you must do. First, visit this website (freefiona.com) and sign the petition asking Sony to release Extraordinary Machine. Somehow, in this digital age, it's hard to believe they couldn't find a cost-effective way to make a few bucks off of it. The petition has even received some buzz from the news wires (AP). But they need more digital signatures, so give 'em some love.
Second, saunter on over to this here website, all cloaked and daggered like, and download the tracks Sydney Bristow style. If I could wait for nearly 30 minutes via dial-up to hear them, you can spare the two minutes it will take to zip 'em down with your fancy-schmancy high-speed connection.
So let's get Extraordinary Machine off the shelf and into my/our hands. The tracks are good. And by good I mean flipping sweet -- even to the point of Paul-Philip-Michelson flipping-sweet. Steal them, then go sign a petition for me.
Posted by jonny at 1:45 AM
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
After an event so cataclysmic that it shifted the physical location of islands by literally hundreds of feet, and tilted the planet earth an inch off her axis, our president has not yet made a public address concerning the disaster. He has not said that the American people are grieving with the people of Asia; he has not made public our nation's support of this ravaged region; he has not offered his condolences to the friends and families of those who lost their loved ones in this tragedy. Reflecting on the days after September 11th, the world rushed to our support, with French newspapers declaring, "We are all Americans."
That's right, French newspapers.
In his defense, the U.S. has offered monetary support. But in light of the president's low profile, it almost seems like he's had nothing to do with it. At a time when the leader of the free world also happens to be the face of Christianity across much of the globe, President Bush's failure to speak about this tragedy doesn't just hurt our country, it hurts the Church.
So just where is our Head of State?
On vacation, of course, at his ranch in Texas, unwilling to cut his holiday short.
[Editorial note at 4:30pm: AP is reporting that Bush has finally addressed the nation from ranch in Crawford, Texas.]
Posted by jonny at 2:55 PM
Monday, December 27, 2004
Saturday, December 25, 2004
He calls it his symphony to God.
For better or worse, I'm living the last few days of 2004, where making new music gets harder every second. Then along comes Smile. What can’t the songwriters of my generation create something this vital, this fundamental, this unique, and (dare I say it?) this holy -- something set apart from everything else. Not better or worse -- as if those descriptors meant anything when describing music -- just wholly other.
I’ve written about having difficulty finding my Steven Patrick Morrissey, my Dylan, my Purple Rain, my "Smells Like Teen Spirit." I want music to speak directly to me, lyrics and arrangements and instruments and all. It’s hard to find, but Brian Wilson manages.
I’m not sure how to even categorize Smile. Is it a piece of the past, an album that was never made in any concrete sense, but has existed in bits and pieces for almost 40 years? Or is it something new, something that speaks of the here and now? If this is the leftovers, what glorious leftovers they are. Could the remaining Beatles ever dream of writing and arranging something this important at this stage in their lives? I think not. But Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks have. And they should receive all the credit in the world for it.
Whether this is a lost artifact from an age gone by or an entirely new piece of work for the America in which we now live seems a topic worthy of conversation only when not listening to Smile. Once it's popped into the stereo, all that becomes irrelevant. All that matters is how much this music sounds like the delights and afflictions of the human condition set to lyric and harmony. This is life -- and what a life it is.
What other artists could sing:
Sleep a lot, eat a lot, brush ‘em like crazy.
Run a lot, do a lot, never be lazy.
Da da da da...
and still seem to sound so transcendent? I don’t use that word lightly. This is one of those few albums that seems to transcend the time period from which it was born.
Take a step back, and see this as truly American music, some of the first of its kind -- the perfection of the 20th century art form known as rock and roll in the hands of one of America’s greatest artists. Very few musician/composers make me want to weep, laugh, mourn and rejoice all at the same time -- even fewer if we limit ourselves to American artists.
But Brian Wilson makes me want to jump off the high cliffs and get lost in the tall grass for days on end. In our favorite songs, we know where the good parts are, the parts that quicken the pulse and make it hard to breathe, the parts that make the filler somehow worthwhile. But Wilson has managed to create an entire album that leaves you out of breath and near as you can get to heart attacks of joy as long as it keeps spinning. Repeat buttons beware.
It’s so hard for me to write about music most of the time. It’s so hard to get excited about new bands and artists these days. There’s good music. There’s smiley music. There’s toe-tapping, hand-clapping music. There’s beautiful music and music for tears. There’s music for heartache, music for courtship, and music for long summer nights. Then there is music that captures it all. Music that can be played just as easily on Christmas day as on the Fourth of July -- wedding days and contemplations of suicide. Inside and out the walls of every church, synagogue, mosque and temple on the planet. Music that echoes along streets of gold.
He calls it his symphony to God. Contemporary Christian artists take note: you don’t have to rip of the Psalms to submit an offering of worship. You just have to have the patience and insanity to wait 37 years to perfect your best for the glory of God. In the face of Brian Wilson, the modern worship movement seems like shit strewn across the barn yard. It makes it hard for me to even pick up a guitar, because if I can’t write the best, why should I even bother?
This is the album of 2004. It takes everything, because it gives everything. It is a last will and testament and a proclamation of life itself. It testifies to the glory of God and to the incredible value of human life. It is the good vibration.
Thank you, Brian, for sharing your symphony with the rest of us. We weren't sure if we could, but somehow, we love you all the more for it.
Oh, and post script....Happy Christmas!
Posted by jonny at 1:46 PM
Friday, December 24, 2004
Twas in the moon of wintertime
when all the birds had fled,
that mighty Gitchi Manitou
sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim
and wondering hunters heard the hymn.
Within a lodge of broken bark
the tender babe was found;
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
enwrapped his beauty round;
But as the hunter braves drew nigh
the angel song rang loud and high.
The earliest moon of wintertime
is not so round and fair
as was the ring of glory
on the helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before him knelt
with gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
O children of the forest free,
O seed of Manitou,
the holy Child of earth and heaven
is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant boy
who brings you beauty peace and joy.
by Jean de Brebeuf, ca. 1643
trans Jesse Edgar Middleton, 1926
Posted by jonny at 1:52 PM
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Things are beginning to brew over at Midwest Mindset, with Jake commenting on recent reports that the Christian news media are beginning to pick up on the John Sanders controversy at Huntington College.
A brief explanation. Jake and I both studied theology under John Sanders at Huntington College. John is one of the leading proponents of an Arminian offshoot labeled Open Theism. Huntington knew about Sanders' theology before hiring him, but since that time, John and his colleagues have come under fire from the Evangelical Theological Society for their views. It's created a swirl of controversy, and calls from United Brethren pastors (the parent denomination of Huntington College) for Sanders to step down. It seemed like a compromise was struck a couple years back when John agreed to step down form teaching theology at HC, and focus on philosophy.
This past fall, the debate was brought up again, and it looks like Sanders will not be asked back for the 05-06 school year. The Christian Century has a brief introductory article of the situation, while Christianity Today has some further quotes from Sanders and HC student Joni Michaud.
Jake has had some choice words since we first heard the news. But I haven't said a whole lot. These recent moves don't surprise me much, so it's hard to build up enough anger to muster a proper response.
It's not enough to say that I'm disappointed with the way HC handled the situation. I can only imagine what would have been the response had Jake and I (as well as other thoughtful friends like Paco M, Liz S, Adam S, etc.) still been attending the school. However, I'd be remiss if I failed to note that the student body has done more this year than ever before. But even in the face of that, the Board of Trustees, without a voice from the faculty or student body, has decided that John Sanders doesn't belong at Huntington. It's a sad day for the institution, and I would echo the sentiments of Joni Michaud in saying that I wouldn't be able to recommend HC if the trustees go forward with their current plans.
There's more. There always is. But maybe it's just too late to do anything but offer my sincerest condolences to Huntington College on the death of their academic integrity.
Posted by jonny at 1:31 PM
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
The U.S. is releasing another terror-suspect from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay this week. Bush had some interesting comments on Monday about the matter:
"You've got to understand the dilemma we're in. These are people that got scooped up off a battlefield attempting to kill U.S. troops. And I want to make sure, before they're released, that they don't come back to kill again."
In the president's mind, the detainees are already guilty of attempting to kill U.S. troops, so it's easy to understand his justification for their indefinite detention. But it's simply not the case that we caught these suspects on the battlefield with guns ablazin'. Furthermore, by Bush's logic, we should never have released the suspects we have thus far, because "to kill again" implies that they had killed a first time. Too bad they hadn't.
Putting Bush's tortured logic aside, I wonder what's going through the minds of these men who have been released. I wonder if they hate us even more now than before they were captured and falsely imprisoned? I wonder if by "scooping up" Muslims and holding them for three years, then letting them go free, that perhaps we've created new terrorists with a personal grudge against the U.S.? In times to come, will Guantanamo be a rallying cry for militant Muslims?
This whole mess stinks. It stinks because of what we took away from these men. And it stinks because of what they might do to innocent people in the name of revenge. We've made our bed, and now we've got to sleep in it.
Posted by jonny at 2:06 PM
This is a playlist, made not 24 hours ago, for the people I work with, as we strive for mediocrity in retail. While posting it, I also discovered it would make one amazing double-LP.
1. Title Track by Death Cab For Cutie
2. Lucky Denver Mint by Jimmy Eat World
3. The Rat by The Walkmen
4. Danger! High Voltage by Electric Six
5. The Grandmother Wolf by Pretty Girls Make Graves
6. Paper Thin Walls by Modest Mouse
7. Rhythm Bandits by Junior Senior
8. Bandages by Hot Hot Heat
9. Pollen by Mirah
10. Nick Drake Tape by Clem Snide
11. Gone by Jack Johnson
12. Wedding Day by Rosie Thomas
13. Do You Realize?? by The Flaming Lips
14. There She Goes, My Beautiful World by Nick Cave
15. A Good Man Is Easy to Kill by Beulah
16. Heavy Metal Drummer by Wilco
17. Half Acre by Hem
18. Last Things Last by Rachels
19. Ágætis byrjun by Sigur Rós
20. Damn Shame by Jolie Holland
Posted by jonny at 3:55 AM
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
I complain a lot. I complain that Christmas is losing its Christ. I complain that Christians in Iraq are getting blown to bits. If I were witty enough, I would complain about my complaining. But I'm not, so I'll try to combine those two previous posts into one short grievance.
Christmas in Iraq has been canceled.
Okay, if you're an American soldier, because of your gun, you're probably going to be safe. So celebrate away. But if you're an Iraqi Christian, chances are you won't be publicly commemorating the birth of the Christ child; mostly because you'll be fearing for your life. Where we see festivities to commemorate the season Advent, Iraqi insurgents might see universal "kill me" signs to commemorate the Christian occupation of their country. Merry you-know-what.
I don't know if I've ever been scared like that. It makes me sick to think of it for long periods of time, so honestly, I try not to. Maybe I should stop complaining and just enjoy the fact that I'm white and American and middle class. It's worked so far.
Or maybe I can grieve a little bit with Iraq on Christmas day - say a few trembling prayers for Christians and Muslims - remembering that on Christmas day some 2000 years ago, things weren't very festive. Mary and Joseph had been ordered by an empire to return to Bethlehem; baby Jesus was born in a barn; and the night-shift shepherds were the only ones invited.
So maybe I won't smile as much, or get little Christmas shivers so often....but maybe I don't care. Maybe Jesus in other countries is more important. I love him, as weird as it is to love someone I've never seen. But I do.
If the whole of creation can weep until Jesus remakes this world, maybe I should too....it's really the least I can do. And for now, maybe all I have to give.
Posted by jonny at 1:58 PM
Monday, December 20, 2004
President Bush personally addressed recent criticisms of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld in a press conference this morning, saying, "I believe he's doing a really fine job." This comes after critics have been crawling from the woodwork in recent days, from GOP Senators Chuck Hagel, Trent Lott, Susan Collins and John McCain, to the secretary's many critics in the Democratic Party. While Rumsfeld has found support from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, it was obvious that the President himself was going to have to lend a bit of public support to quell the rash of criticisms. We'll see how effective his press conference was in the weeks leading up to free elections in Iraq this January.
What's more troubling is how out of touch Bush seemed with the situation in Iraq. He said at one point about Rumsfeld, "I have heard the anguish in his voice and seen his eyes when we talk about the danger in Iraq and the fact that youngsters are over there in harm's way. And he's a good, decent man. He's a caring fellow."
And that's all well and good -- it's nice to hear we have someone who agonizes over the dangers and deaths in Iraq. But what we really need is someone to admit to the American public that perhaps we should have gone with a larger troop force in order to better secure "post-war" Iraq. Or someone to acknowledge to American soldiers that we're going to be in the country for a good, long while. Or someone to tell Congress that there is a need for additional funding or manpower or whatever to get our troops the necessary vehicles and equipment, in order for them to do their jobs in as safe a manner as possible. And p.s., we need someone who actually signs those letters of condolence to families who have lost loved one in Iraq, and doesn't have a computer do it for him.
Note to President Bush: this person will not be Paul Wolfowitz, either. Find us someone who will not be Rumsfeld, Part Deux. Find us someone we can trust, not someone who spews the party line like some automaton. Perhaps it's not a bad idea to wait until after Iraqi elections, as this will be a major test of post-war Iraqi security. But the President is putting his political capital on the line with his unwavering support of Secretary Rumsfeld. And it could prove fatal for his second term agenda, depending on how things go over the next 40 days.
But find us someone, Mr. President. Find us someone, and soon.
Posted by jonny at 1:28 PM
Sunday, December 19, 2004
Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, one of my favorite never-watched PBS shows, just ran a piece about the Protestant recovery of Mary as a Biblical character to be singled out. Protestants have tended to ignore Mary in response to an over-emphasis in Catholic and Orthodox circles, as if our ignorance somehow cancels out their heightened veneration of the mother of Christ. (What magnificent logic we employ....)
But because of the need for Biblical women role models in contemporary discipleship, Mary is becoming a figure to be studied and talked about once again. For starters, she was singled out from all the women mentioned (and unmentioned) by the Bible to be the mother of God-Incarnate. That's got to count for something, right? And her prayer in Luke chapter 1, often called the Magnificat, ranks in beauty alongside the best of the OT hymns in the book of Psalms. It's a about time we Protestants took a long look at this young woman who gave birth to baby Jesus -- and followed him all the way to the cross, a place even his disciples wouldn't dare to go. Click here to read the transcript, with pictures no less!
On another note about Mary, an interesting item last week from MSNBC about how the Virgin of Guadeloupe is gaining in popularity here in the States. The Virgin's humble origins began with a mystical sighting of Mary in 1531 by a Catholic Aztec peasant. She shares both Biblical and Native American characteristics, and is easily one of the first, truly American religious icons of the Roman Catholic Church. The article states at one point, "If you start keeping an eye out for the Guadeloupe image, you’ll see that it’s already very common in pick-up truck rear windows, behind the counter in family stores, ubiquitous in Catholic churches with a large Mexican congregation, and often seen even in American Catholic churches which have very few Mexicans."
Yet she is virtually unknown to Protestants in the States -- even Catholics here have little understanding of her iconic status among Mexican Americans. But as that latter population grows in the U.S., we should expect to see more and more of her in the years to come. So why not bone up on your expertise a little early, and get a jump start on the rest of the church?
That's all I got. Well, that and I'm hoping it snows soon. I really don't want another green-with-naked-tree-branch-Christmas. Gross.
Posted by jonny at 1:55 PM
Saturday, December 18, 2004
1. Try not to talk too much about the commercialization of the birth of Christ.
2. Try not to rail on how we celebrate the Advent of freaking God-become-Man by spending hundreds of billions of dollars on plastic decorations and toys that will be boxed up in someone's basement five years from now.
3. Try not to call on the complete and total banishment, immediately and with all due haste, of anything Christmas-related until such a time when the Western world wisens up and realizes that people are dying so that they can gas up their SUVs for the trip to Grandma's where they will exchange highly-priced crap made by tiny fingers, not unlike their own children's, only Chinese in origin, which may or may not have been bleeding after a 12-14 hour work day, for possibly 50 cents if they're lucky, so that their family may buy rice for the next day, in order to ward off starvation, all the while not being allowed to worship in whatever way they choose, or criticize their government without fear of being sent to prison camps for "political re-education," sometimes death.
That being said, let's begin.
Some have said that the increased clamor of Christians this year over the de-Christianizing of the holiday season (see, I just did it, too) is due to the vigorous post-election spirit in which Christian votes put Bush back in the White House for four more years. I say that's crap, because I didn't vote for Bush but I'm still pissed as hell about how idiotic this debate about keeping Christ out of Christmas has become.
A school district in New Jersey has banished religious themed songs from its Christmas concerts. In Denver, a Christmas float was banned from a city parade for being too religious (in response, one group of people sand carols throughout the entirety of the parade). Schools in Woodland Illinois almost didn't allow their bus drivers to play Christmas carols over the radio. Towns everywhere are taking down nativity scenes from places of city-owned property. Businesses, even in the South and Midwest, are discouraging employees from wishing customers a "Merry Christmas!" Instead, the more banal "Happy Holidays" will have to do.
And to top it all off, a 9-year-old in Scarborough, Maine came home and told his mom that he felt uncomfortable wishing his friends a "Merry Christmas" while at school.
It's not enough that 75 percent of Americans believe that there is not enough religious emphasis put on the meaning of Christmas. It's not enough that public opinion shouldn't matter a damn when there wouldn't be a Christmas were it not for its "religious emphasis." Is that what we're calling Jesus these days? I didn't get the memo.
Argument A: Christmas was a celebration by the early Christian church commemorating the birth of the Christ child. They believed Christ grew up to be big and strong, said some amazing things, hung out with the losers, healed a few of them, then died. Oh yeah, then he came back to life and floated into heaven. If that's not worth commemorating, I don't what is. Even if you don't buy it all, history tells us that this idea caught on like wildfire in the West, and basically transformed December 25 of the Roman Calendar in the biggest holiday in Europe and the Americas. If you want to celebrate Christmas, you've got to at least mention where it came from -- Christ.
Argument B: The United States has always protected religious freedom (at least, in theory). When most of us in America were Christian, it didn't matter that we might piss off and exclude the Jews around Christmas while celebrating "our nation's faith." But now, it's not just the Jews, it's also peoples of every nationality from all around the globe, especially parts of the globe that don't celebrate Christmas. So far, Argument B is totally lame. But if we had caught on earlier that the state shouldn't promote religion, it would make more sense. Allowing people to sing about Jesus is okay, as long as it's not on federal, state or city property, or has received government, state or city funding. Schools and kids get lumped in because we let the government take over their education. Not a bad idea at the time, but look where it's gotten us today. We can't teach how Christmas began because it would be imposing religion on kids.
Argument C: There is no argument C. But if there were, it would probably follow certain items laid out above in the Ground Rules, which I'm not allowed to discuss.
I am. You can't talk about the Pilgrims without discussing religious freedom. You can't talk about the birth of our government without discussing God and natural law. You can't talk about the Civil War without discussing religious rationales for slavery. You can't talk about Prohibition without talking about the religious "temperance movement." You can't talk the Cold War without discussing Western critiques of "godless" communist forces. You can't talk about capitalism without discussing conservative appeals to Judeo-Christian individualism. And you can't freaking talk about Christmas without discussing Jesus H. Christ.
There. I'm done.
U.S. Christians Fight Against Secular Christmas (Reuters)
'Frosty' vs. 'All Ye faithful' (USA Today)
In schools and cities, battles over 'Christ' in Christmas (CSM)
Posted by jonny at 1:31 AM
Friday, December 17, 2004
Quick, how many Christians live in Iraq?
Wrong, my friend (unless, of course, you were right), there are some 800,000 Iraqi Christians, many from one of the oldest Christian sects in the world. Theologically speaking, most might be more akin to the Eastern Orthodox Church. They're not really even Arabic, but ethnic Assyrians. And they speak a modern-day form of Aramaic, the language spoken in Palestine during the time of Christ!
Until the war, they lived pretty peacefully. But now, after our nation did them the pleasure of turning Iraq into a base for Muslim fanatics, their churches are getting blown to smithereens. Some 10,000 or more have fled to safety in Syria and Turkey. Others are considering a mass exodus from their homes in and around Baghdad to northern Iraq, living amongst the (I'm assuming here) more hospitable Kurds.
Sister Beninia Hermes Shoukwana, a Catholic-Chaldean nun, who is the headmistress at a Baghdad public school, says parents have begun taking their children out of her school because of her faith. "For years Christians and Muslims lived like brothers and sisters," Sister Beninia said. "Today the extremists are trying to separate us." In spite of the fact that many Christians are fleeing or at least contemplating leaving their homes, she has every intention to stay put and dialogue with the local Muslim community, because despite their differences, it's still her community.
"Iraq is like our house. It's our duty to try to clean up our house."
For all the talk about democratic elections next month in Iraq, maybe it's time we admit that we could learn more from the Iraqis then we have to teach. Maybe it's time we shut the hell up and listened for a change. If swords are ever to be turned to plowshares in Baghdad, it won't be because of American military might.
Back here in the States, a Methodist minister by the name of Wayne Lavender realized this, and has launched a four-month peace mission, in which he hopes to visit Iraq and meet with President Bush and VP Cheney (who also happen to be a Methodists). He's taken a leave of absence from his church and set out to raise awareness among Christians about the power of church when it comes to peace and justice.
Even though I can't claim to be a strict pacifist, I can't help but get excited about things like this. It just makes me thin -- what if the U.S. had decided to undertake a four-month peace mission in Iraq before employing military action? What if we had sent 100,000 Red Cross workers and doctors to the border with food, medical supplies and clothing? What if we had raised taxes just a little bit, so that we could fund humanitarian airdrops all across Iraq, along with propaganda pamphlets that spoke of the generosity of the American people? What if we had considered sacrificing something other than the lives of U.S. citizens?
Like I said, I make a horrible pacifist, but I still can't help wondering....what if?
Posted by jonny at 1:59 AM
Thursday, December 16, 2004
This is becoming habit, rounding up a few D.C. related stories that catch my eye every once in while. If you can think of a catchy "district roundup" title, drop me an email. Otherwise, let's begin.
John McCain is throwing his hat into the ring, my friends. After showing some tough love towards Major League Baseball over steroid abuses, now he's criticising good old Don Rumsfeld, whom I love with all my might, but only because of Matthew 5:44. McCain's giving Rummy a big vote of "no confidence" on his handling of the war in Iraq. It's the Senator's way of speaking his mind without asking the president to step outside and solve things like men folk. It's not exactly what I'd like....but it'll do, pig. It'll do.
Things really heat up in the second go-round, as Senate Democrats finally find their spines and start to pull out the old congressional-oversite-hearings-card. The Senate is supposed to ask the president the tough questions, but when Senate leaders are a bit too cozy with the White House....It's like when you let your friend drive home after they've had a couple of drinks, but you follow after them in your car just to make sure they get home okay. No matter your rational, it's still wrong. And you should have stepped up and told them so. Anyways, the Dems are going to throw around what little weight they have, and try to grab those keys while everyone else is too buddy, buddy to say anything. Only problem is, without the Senate majority, they don't have the power of subpoena. Fight the good fight, my friends! And if all else fails...maybe you could just slash their tires?
And finally, baseball might not be coming to the Capital after all. Those Washington Nationals could still be in Montreal next year, or God knows where else, as things are looking pretty grim for D.C. baseball. Wherever these guys end up (Portland? Virginia?), they're going to be my new favorite team. I just need them to settle somewhere so that I can buy a hat and start caring about baseball again.
Posted by jonny at 2:07 AM
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
More from the military tribunals against alleged terrorists held at the Guantanamo military prison in Cuba from the Washington Post.
"Abd Al Aziz Sayer Uwain Al Shammeri, a Kuwaiti professor of Islamic studies, questioned the tribunal's presumption that he was an al Qaeda member, an accusation that the tribunal based on three facts: that a version of his name was on an international terrorist list, that he traveled to Afghanistan in September 2001 and that he tried to cross into Pakistan without a visa. He said millions of Arabs linked to the same Saudi tribe share his last name, and that he traveled to Afghanistan to teach the Koran as a Muslim duty."
"Detainee attorneys also contend that tribunal authorities select the information they consider. Al Hajj, a Bosnian Muslim clergyman originally from Algeria, was arrested in October 2001 based on an FBI tip that he and others were plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo. The Bosnian Supreme Court ruled in January 2002 that there was no credible evidence that he and five others had hatched such a plot. The day they were released, they were immediately taken into custody by U.S. authorities."
I don't even know what to say. I realize that a handful of these men may turn out to be actual, factual terrorists. But in the mean time, what about those who aren't? What about those who've had they're lives literally ripped from their hands? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, how are we more concerned with making sure gays and lesbians don't have the legal right to marry? This is the order of our priorities?
Oh that's right, they're Muslims. They're just lucky we didn't round them all up. Give 'em hell, Mr. President.
Give 'em hell.
Posted by jonny at 3:26 AM
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
I think I've made it relatively clear how little I think of the modern-day Republican party here and elsewhere. But I hope I've made it just as abundantly clear how I'm still desperately clinging to my conservative roots. How to go about doing this, I'm still figuring out. But two recent stories might shed a little light on the subject.
President Bush recently made news by announcing that he wasn't going to raise tax revenue while implementing his partial privatization of social security. Unless he comes up with another idea, the only way to fund the immediate shortfall in benefits is to borrow the money (thereby, increasing the deficit). But the White House is still claiming it can cut the federal deficit in half by 2009. How this works, they're not willing to say.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina isn't buying it. And he's made remarks to that effect on the record: "I think it's irresponsible to borrow the whole trillion dollars....What I'm asking of the president, when it comes to the transition costs, be flexible."
This is what I love about the Republican party; there's more than enough room to argue the finer points of policy. Where I see liberalism as mostly a coastal phenomenon, conservatism stretches from the Appalachians past the Rocky Mountains, varying ideologically as often as its geography. It's this diversity within conservatism that gives me hope in the midst of our current, lackluster Administration. This isn't the pinnacle of conservatism. One need only to look at conservatism's rich history to put Bush in his proper perspective. There have always been men who've abused conservative thought, but they will come and go. Lindsey Graham proves that conservatism, especially in its fiscal sense, can never be ignored.
Tryanny By Other Names
On the other hand, when Republicans get together on something, they can be reeking bullies. Despite the virtues of its individual members, Senate Republicans (as a whole) are devising ways to force Bush's court nominees through the Senate, possibly destroying that time honored tradition of the filibuster.
A filibuster is one of those archaic Senatorial rules of procedure that allows unlimited debate on a bill before it is brought to a vote. But just because it's archaic does not mean that it's outdated (I realize I'm redefining archaic a bit, but I like the word, and dislike that it's taken a negative connotation). The original purpose of a filibuster was to allow the minority to fully critique a bill before it was put to a vote -- to allow for it to be criticized incessantly if need be. In the last century, however, it's also become a way for minority Senators to look out for their minority constituents.
In today's climate, with the nation so evenly divided, the filibuster is of utmost importance. Even though there is a clear Republican majority in the Senate, there is still a whole 48% of the voting public who don't agree with President Bush and his policies. The filibuster must remain in place for their voice to be heard. Democrats blocked only 10 of 229 court nominations through the use of filibuster during Bush's first term. In their eyes, there were 10 potential justices who had no business sitting on a federal bench. And even though the Republicans had the votes to put them there, the Democrats constitutionally kept them off because they felt these justices were the types who would run rough shod over the rights of the minority.
This is, in fact, a key component to our system of government. We do not live in a pure Democracy, but in a Democratic Republic. Might does not in fact, make right. Provisions are made for the protection of the minority, whether they make up 1% or nearly half of the population. This is a good thing, and shouldn't be thrown away because we happen to find ourselves in the majority. If for no other reason than one day, we might find ourselves once again in the minority, with no protection left to cling to!
The filibuster is part of this long tradition of looking out for the welfare of the minority. No amount of rhetoric (such as labeling 10 failed justice attempts out of 229 "the tyranny of the minority") should allow us to lose sight of this. I hope the "mavericks" of the Republican party are able to make the more obstinate among them understand this, and cooler heads might prevail.
Reclaiming the Conservative Name
So there you have it. Though I'm a conservative, I'm not much of a Republican. Mostly, because I like our Republic, and I want it to last another 200 some years. It's not perfect, but making it better should never involve silencing dissent for short-term political gain. Conservatism, in its purest form, understands that our past is worth fighting for -- no matter whom our opponent may be.
Posted by jonny at 1:35 AM
Monday, December 13, 2004
I love brothers, especially congressmen brothers. John and Ken Salazar (Rep-elect and Sen-elect respectively) from the state of Colorado have decided to be roomies while in Washington, and have rented an apartment in the DC area.
John is a farmer and rancher, while Ken is the state's current attorney general. Both have families that will remain in Colorado while the two men serve in Washington.
"I think we can get along," quipped the elder brother John. "Maybe he'll give me a ride up to the Capitol each day."
How can you not love this?
Posted by jonny at 4:44 PM
Two links this evening. Two links to places with knowledge, waiting to be had.
Link One: Did you know that Hanukkah is also known as Armed Jews Week? Did you know that those sweet paintings of Judith by Artemisia Gentileschi were inspired by events around the time of the Maccabees? Are you even sure when the time of the Maccabees refers to? To learn more about how some fairly violent times were the impetus for Hanukkah, and how Hanukkah has been a source of inspiration to Jews during other times of trouble, check out this Hanukkah overview by Dave Koppel over at MSNBC.
Link Two: This link comes courtesy of Adam over at mrjonesandmeandmrjones. He emailed me about a recent opinion piece in the Chicago Sun-Times by Cathleen Falsani. It's basically a lament (like a modern day Isaiah or Jeremiah) on the failure of the evangelical church to respond to the AIDS crisis in Africa. A telling statistic: over the past year, the number of evangelicals who would help children orphaned by AIDS given the opportunity has risen from 3% to 17%. Not a bad jump to be honest, but what it also means is that 83% of evangelicals don't see a big enough problem to lend a helping hand. And I don't mean lend a hand to reckless adults who contracted AIDS because of unsafe sex, but to FREAKING ORPHANED CHILDREN (that's me, yelling into cyberspace). Go read it, and care a little more about Christ on other continents.
Posted by jonny at 1:37 AM
Sunday, December 12, 2004
It seems my employer is getting sued.
Trevin and Melanie Skeens of Maryland recently bought an Evanescence cd for their daughter on her birthday, because they were hoping to be cool that way. However, much to their dismay, the band drop the f-bomb on one of their songs. Trevin and Melanie are hopping mad because it's common knowledge that Wal-Mart carries edited cds (where if someone swears, the music keeps going, but the lyrics drop out, leaving you pretty much to imagine on your own that they're saying "fuck" in all the blank spaces; which really might be worse, because you're thinking of it on your own, and not being forced to by whomever is singing), and they want someone to pay the piper.
Anyway, these parents are flaming furious. They would never have bought their 13-year-old daughter the cd if it had an "explicit lyrics" warning on the cover (Wal-Mart only carries the edited versions of those cds). And they, like any red-blooded American family, trust Wal-Mart to filter out all the bad stuff for them, because let's face it, they're very square and don't know much about the rock music these days. Plus, they have to work all the time, and don't have time to monitor what they're kids are into. Wal-Mart is their last hope -- all that stands between a life of comfort and actually investing their time into the lives of their children.
Because, in today's fast paced world, if you can't trust Wal-Mart to raise your kids, you can you trust?
p.s. I am not a total dick. I just play one on TV.
Posted by jonny at 1:43 AM
Saturday, December 11, 2004
I'm tired of complaining about Republican empires. And too depressed to think about starvation and land mines and whatever pet project Rolling Stone has this week to prove they're still relevant even though they haven't been for 20 years. Instead, here's an awesome picture of a man with six fingers, who may or may not be the antichrist.
So not much to say tonight. Check out Midwest Mindset, where I respond with sweet posts to Tyler and Jake. Or visit some of my links to other blogs if you want. As for me, I'm going to be watching the West Wing on DVD. Until next time...
Posted by jonny at 2:48 AM
Friday, December 10, 2004
Little Known Fact #1
Remember that intelligence bill I thought was so important? Well, I still do. But here's something I didn't know. I was under the impression that two House committee chairmen were blocking the bill (by somehow keeping it in their respective committees, thus proving my ignorance of how laws are made). What the press seemed to leave out at the time was that the congressmen had no power to block this bill. Instead, House Speaker Dennis Hastert was blocking the bill because of the objections raised by the two congressmen. The bill had enough votes between the Democrats and Republicans who supported it in the House, but Hastert wanted the majority of his party behind it. So this is what it came down to: the bill would have passed without those two committee chairman (and their congressional friends), and it would have passed easily. It nearly failed to come to a vote not because the bill didn't have enough support in the House, but because it didn't have enough support in the Republican part of the House. So much for putting the country (and national defense!) before party interests.
Little Known Fact #2
Some years ago, China set a one child limit on all its families, hoping to curb its exploding population. As a result, many families are opting to use abortion, abandonment and infanticide in order to "secure" a boy as their only child. In a new book by political scientists at the University of Kent and Brigham Young University (Bare Branches), they argue that an increasingly disproportionate male population could leave China "more prone to political instability, violent crime and military aggression." China's already a bit aggressive when it comes to Taiwan, and shows no easing on its grip over Tibet. Oh, and unless you forgot, they have nukes. And quite possibly the largest army in the world. Girls are nice for a variety of reasons, but one effect they have on us men is that they tend keep us from blowing everything up. Will someone official please say something critical about China? Or will we will toe the line until we can't make any more money off of them? (Or maybe until they nuke the shit out of us?)
Little Known Fact #3
Russell Mokhiber, who writes for the DC based-Corporate Crime Reporter, is my hero. He tends to ask these wonderfully erudite questions at White House briefings with Press Secretary Scott McClellan. And Scott tends to ignore, dodge or BS his way out of them. But Mr. Mokhiber continues the good fight. Here's an example of his questions and McClellan's mock honesty, with links to even more press briefings.
It's been all over the news, but in case you missed it, the United Nations children's fund has reported that more than half of the world's children are being denied a safe and healthy childhood due to the effects of war, poverty, disease and AIDS. Okay, you say. Big deal. I already knew that. So let's get depressed:
~more than 1 billion children are growing up hungry and unhealthy
~one in six children are severely hungry
~one in seven has no access to a health care (a hospital or clinic)
~one in five have no safe water to drink
~one in three have no toilet or sanitation facilities at home
~640 million have no adequate shelter
~140 million, the majority being girls, have never been to school
~29,158 children under the age of 5 are dying from preventable causes everyday
~in 2003, more than 500,000 under the age of 15 died of AIDS
~while some 630,000 contracted HIV, most during pregnancy, birth or breast-feeding
~nearly one-half of the 3.6 million conflict/war related deaths in the 1990s were children
But by all means, Mr. President, let's continue to cut those taxes and borrow money to fund our "operation" in Iraq.
Posted by jonny at 1:46 PM
Thursday, December 09, 2004
Good for them, Congress passed the no-brainer legislation. Thanks to the voices of the families of 9/11 victims and President Bush's well-spent political capital, the House and Senate agreed to overhaul our nation's intelligence community.
The Christian Science Monitor takes a long look at what exactly these reforms will mean. The big items are the new Director of National Intelligence and the creation of a National Counterterrorism Center. It won't all happen overnight, and we'll probably see some of the same bureaucratic problems we saw with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, but this was sorely needed. There were dissenters, with relevant arguments even. But those gaps can be filled in by the next Congress, which won't have to worry about going through the whole process of getting this bill to a vote, coming to a compromise bill between the House and Senate, and agreeing to put the new bill into law (which could have taken another year).
Instead, we have real legislation that seeks to prevent the 9/11 tragedy from ever happening again on American soil. If that's not worth blogging about, I don't know what is.
Posted by jonny at 1:59 AM
What does it mean to 'support our troops'?
Andrea Cooper writes some fantastic commentary here about her struggle to support American troops without condoning our administration's actions in the Iraq. It's good. And not overtly partisan. Just honest.
Said troops take Rumsfeld to town.
A town hall meeting in Kuwait between US troops and Donald Rumsfeld turned into a political bitch-slap for the Secretary of Defense, as troops voiced their honest concerns about problems with armor shortages, extended tours, antiquated equipment and paycheck delays. All in front of the national press. Oops. Thank God for a free press.
Meanwhile, in Moscow.
The same can't be said for Russia anymore, apparently. A Russian television anchor was suspended for sarcastic comments on the air about the earlier firing of another journalist who criticized the TV station. While the station is not owned directly by the Kremlin, it was purchased by a state-controlled gas company in 2001. And it seems certain editorial decisions have favored President Putin, foregoing journalistic integrity. So when people speak up, they lose their voice. Once again, thank God for a free press.
Parents go on strike, move to front yard.
I was sure this was from the Onion. But it's not. Mom and dad have been living in a tent in the front yard because they couldn't get their kids to help out with household chores. If TV cameras can't get your kids to do the dishes, I don't think anything can. I say good for them.
Got a parking ticket? Pay in toys.
So Boston is freaking awesome. For three days they let people pay for parking tickets with new toys as part of the Toys for Tots program. This is the best idea ever. But it should be all month long, and in every city in the country. Word.
Posted by jonny at 1:15 AM
Sunday, December 05, 2004
I'm going to be out for a couple of days, so I thought I'd post something warm and fuzzy to sit at the top.
An Indiana woman is auctioning her father's ghost on Ebay. No, this isn't another grilled cheese story. She's "selling" the ghost because her 6-year-old son is terrified it might haunt their house.
It just goes to show that while the world might be a mean place, most people aren't. How that works, I'll never know.
Posted by jonny at 12:42 PM
Saturday, December 04, 2004
In 1994, full-scale genocide broke out in the African country of Rwanda as Hutu rebels gained control of the country. The United States pulled its people out at the first sign of trouble, and the United Nations took little action. Eventually the rebels were defeated, but only after they had murdered nearly a million Rwandans (no one knows for sure how many were killed; reports vary from 500,000 to over 1,000,000).
In the following years, Rwanda sent its army into neighboring Congo in efforts to find and kill the thousands of Hutus who were hiding somewhere within the eastern part of the country. Uganda lined up with Rwanda, while Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia sent troops in support of Congo. Another 3 million people died as a part of this African “civil war,” most due to famine and disease caused by the chaos of the conflict. Since 2002, a fragile peace has held sway over the region.
Just days ago, UN observers reported Rwandan forces had been sighted in the eastern Congo once again. They quickly retreated back to Rwanda, but the government has made it known that there will never be a real peace until the 8,000-10,000 Hutu rebels in Congo are brought to justice.
Yesterday, the head of UN peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, reported to the UN Security Council that unconfirmed reports have put some 3,000-8,000 Rwandan troops on the Rwanda-Congo border (initial statements suggested they were actually in Congolese territory).
But no one seems to care. Most nations are still smarting with guilt from their failure to act immediately after the first reports of genocide came out of Rwanda back in 1994. The world stood by and did nothing. And now, out of guilt, we find it hard to firmly criticize Rwanda as they flex their military muscle for another possible invasion of the Congo.
This is especially damning for evangelical Christians. For all our righteous indignation against the Sudan in their persecution of Sudanese Christians, we say relatively nothing when persecution occurs to non-Christians around the globe. Do we speak out for women’s rights in Muslim countries? Do we speak out against China’s occupation of Tibet? I sometimes wonder if our silence is because Rwanda and Congo are a black nation, with no familiar white faces or white casualties to draw sympathy from (even though 4 million people have died from genocide, famine and disease in the last decade). I hope this isn’t the case, but I fear it might very well be.
The UN is fairing no better, having a hard time lately keeping up with international crises. They failed to denounce the genocide and religious persecution in the Sudan. There has been little notice of the rise of opium trading in post-Taliban Afghanistan. And the implications of abuses within the Iraqi oil-for-food program are staggering (some $20 billion could have ended up in the wrong hands, portions of which might have found their way into the pockets of Iraqi insurgents). Suffice to say, even though the UN is urging Rwanda to show restraint and not proceed into the Congo, they no longer hold the moral higher ground to issue such statements.
Is this a time for the US to stop shouldering the bulk of the UNs budget? Probably not. But it should be an opportunity for the US and other nations to urge major reforms within the UN, moving it away from the Cold War detente model and towards an organization with a commitment to fighting terrorism and assisting third-world countries in their transition from colonial territories to stable democracies. This should not be the role of the US State Department or the DOD, where neocon dominance in Bush's inner circle gives priority to US interests. What we need is a more globally-minded way of thinking, and the UN is the perfect vehicle for such a model. If they are able to overcome their current problems, that is.
And as far as Christianity is concerned, we need to shoulder some of the blame for the state of affairs in sub-Saharan Africa. Our missionaries were the first white colonists to push into the continent, and as civil war, disease and famine have ravaged the countryside, pulling back has meant an erosion of proper teaching in some African churches.
Granted, the causes of these African conflicts are far more complex than simple Christian/Muslim skirmishes (as a few of them have been simplistically called). There are deeper tribal differences here at work; ones that the West was able to suppress during the time of colonialism. But in the years since giving sub-Saharan Africa political autonomy, the West has done little to ease their transition to democracy. Just as African churches don’t have the theological training they need, leaving some faithful Christians to the wolves, African governments were never given the political training they needed in order to govern effectively, leaving them to the wolves of civil war.
Who’s to blame? The Church? The US? The world? It’s such a mess that it’s impossible to say. But someone needs to step up before war breaks out in the Congo once again, bringing other African countries into a conflict that could reach across the entire continent. And destroy another 4 million lives in the process.
Latest from the wire services:
World Response Muted to Rwanda-Congo War (AP)
Rwanda Urged to Show Restraint In Congo (AP)
Thousands Uprooted by Clashes in East Congo (Reuters)
Posted by jonny at 4:20 PM
Friday, December 03, 2004
I’m having trouble loving the Holy Spirit.
We Christians have this wonderfully confusing idea that the God of the Bible is three persons in one being. Whatever that means. It’s not something we came to lightly. There were quite a few heresies along the way to this rather far-fetched version of deity. But eventually it just seemed to make the most sense of the Biblical message, which is, as follows:
God is one. There is only one God. The one God was known by the ancient Jewish people as Yahweh, or something akin to that. All other supposed deities, depending on what book of the Bible you happen to be reading, are either artificially heightened supernatural beings, even more artificially heightened mortals, or figments of an over-active, human imagination. So far so good.
Then came Jesus. At first, Jesus was reluctant to claim his divinity, liking to call himself the Son. But later, through that whole salvific act, he came out of the closet as it were, and poof! The early church was presented with a problem. How could Yahweh the Father and Jesus the Son both be God? Some said Jesus wasn’t all God. Others said we now had two Gods. Still other said that Jesus and Yahweh were separate manifestations of one being; that it was just a matter of our finite human perception. But the written testament was clear. God was one, and the Father and Son were both God, and both had been so eternally even prior to our meager existence.
But before that whole mess could be cleared up, some pinhead had to pipe up in defense of the Holy Spirit. According to those New Testament epistles, he’s just as much God as the other two. If the church hadn’t called a few special counsels, we might not be split among Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox these days, but between monotheists, ditheists and tritheists! Though as luck or providence would have it, those early church fathers did get together and scour the Scriptures for our modern understanding of God as three persons in one being.
Setting aside the total lack of clarity and whisperings of mystery and paradox for just a moment, let’s get back to my problem. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to love the Holy Spirit. The Father is easy. While he's burdened himself with a few questionable smitings of Israel’s neighbours here and there, he is the perfect example of the tender affection between parent and child. This is the widow who searched her house for the one lost coin, the shepherd who left his 99 to find the one, the father who danced for joy and ran to his sorry-ass prodigal son. How can you not love him?
Loving Jesus is easier. The man simply exuded love and affection from his pores -- from his every word and deed. Even when trading barbs with religious hypocrites he still had a righteous love about him, because they were his religious hypocrites, and he loved them just the same as anyone else. This is Son, who drew water from wells with Samaritans and spent his time with the outcasts of his day -- the hookers, the race-traitors, the leperous folk -- limbs and dignity falling to the floor. Perfect love existing perfectly as a witness for all those who've come since. It wouldn’t even matter if he were God; that it just so happens to be is another added bonus. Falling in love with Jesus every day is what makes the next dismal 24 hours bearable.
But then there’s the Holy Spirit. Maybe my problem is that there’s just not enough time to get to know him. He doesn’t really enter into the story until the book of Acts. Maybe it’s because he’s described as a spirit or ghost, and I get these feelings of coldness and clammy palms -- shivers like someone just walked over my grave. Sometimes, when I think of the Holy Spirit in maternal terms, as a female, it gets a bit easier. But I think I take the wind and water analogies a bit too far, and begin flirting with gaia or panentheism, and suddenly I’m a heretic. So I back track, and find myself once again not in love with the idea of loving a ghost.
I don’t know if this gets any easier with age, or if it’s a gender issue, or if I’m just a bit screwy in the head. But I want to love the trinity, and the entire trinity. The person of the Holy Spirit is too important theologically to just let it go. But embracing an idea and loving a person are two entirely different things. So I’ll continue to teeter between clamminess and heresy, hoping for those emotional moments during worship, and furiously deluding myself into believing that that’s the real Holy Spirit, setting reason and theology aside for a moment of self-hallucinatory, ecstatic satisfaction.
Posted by jonny at 4:18 PM
President Bush does not like to talk. Strike that, President Bush does not like talking with reporters. Amendment, President Bush does not like talking with reporters when they ask him questions he doesn't like. Okay.
The Washington Post recently ran an excellent story about the White House press corps, and how thay've had to transform their entire way of thinking and reporting during Bush's presidency. Before you moan and groan, I'm gonna cut you off before you can got your knickers in a knot. I know, I know. If you're a lefty, you probably feel the press is too soft on Bush, and let's him get away with far too much. If you're a righty, you probably think the press is out to get Bush, and fails to cover the good that's come out of his presidency. But if, by some miraculous portent, you still feel the press represents the eyes and ears of the people, and has an obligation to keep the executive branch accountable, for the sake of public discourse, you'll like the piece. So go read it.
We sometimes forget how close the press corps is in proximity to the Oval Office. In some sense, they're our wingmen. And they have a distant intimacy with George W. Bush that might be more genuine than the friendships the president has with his supporters. What the press has to say has got to count for something. Otherwise, why have them there at all?
Posted by jonny at 1:00 AM
Thursday, December 02, 2004
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn), who sits on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations looking into abuses in the UN's food-for-oil campaign with Iraq, has called for the resignation of Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Maybe it's not a bad idea. Maybe it's not a good one. I don't know enough yet in order to have an opinion. But I think Sen. Coleman's reasons for Annan's resignation are interesting. He argues that even if Annan was not aware of abuses within the program, he should resign because they happened on his watch. And while he is yet Secretary-General, there can be no legitimate investigation by the UN into said abuses.
But let's take Sen. Coleman's comments and apply them to another situation: that of President George W. Bush. Here are quotes from the Senator, "modified" to reflect the situation here in the US (look to USA Today for the quotes in their original form).
[Note: Replaced words in boldface.]
"President Bush was at the helm of the US for all of the Iraqi conflict, and he must, therefore, be held accountable for the US's utter failure to justify war in Iraq."
"...The most extensive fraud in the history of the US occurred on his watch. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, as long as President Bush remains in charge, the world will never be able to learn the full extent of the political pressure put on the CIA, foreign intelligence errors and overestimates of available data that took place during the buildup to war in Iraq."
"...Any private company would have asked for his resignation. But the members of the board, in this case corporate America have all benefited from the US being in power."
Maybe it's not the best point-to-point analogy, but I think it really does go to show just how much political interests (i.e., party affiliations) impair our elected representatives' judgments. How can Sen. Coleman believe Annan's ability to govern be impaired while Pres. Bush's ability is not? I can only see three possible reasons.
1)He just wants another Sec-Gen in UN and will do anything to get him out, including fighting for a cause he really doesn't believe in. 2)He is able you put up with Bush's "impaired leadership" because impeachment or censorship against Pres. Bush would go no where and effectively kill the Senator's political career. 3) He really doesn't believe Bush did anything wrong in the buildup to the war in Iraq, and is ignoring the facts as best he can because his own conscience is "impaired" by his political ideology.
And that might be the most frightening reason of all, because it's indicative of a larger problem with conservatives all across the United States. We've put up with Bush because we can't see beyond our own conservative blinders.
Posted by jonny at 3:21 PM
On the resignation of Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security:
"Can I tell you today there are X number of incidents that we were able to thwart or prevent? Cannot. Am I fairly confident, confident that we probably have? Yes, I am, but it's still difficult to prove something unless I could point to a specific case."
~Tom Ridge, taking questions after his resignation speech
"Mission not....unaccomplished, presumably?"
~Jon Stewart, summarizing Ridge's statement
Posted by jonny at 1:07 AM
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Ahoy maties! Join me as we take a peak around our fine-fangled globe. Let's do it.
First up, Africa! AIDS keeps on truckin' through this continent, leaving marketers scratching their heads in confusion. The UN AIDS Epidemic Update is estimating that an additional 3.1 million Africans will contract HIV over the next 365 days. Millions of Africans are still unaware of how HIV is contracted, and many more believe it can only be contracted from homosexuals and prostitutes! Not to mention the fact that some African males don't want to give up their sexual virility by entering into monogamous relationships. In the words of Grandpa Rice, "Oh boy..."
A hop-skip-and-a-jump-away to the Middle East, prisoners are running for public office! Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian in prison for attacks that killed 26 Israelis, has declared his candidacy for president in an election to replace the late Yasser Arafat. This coming at a time when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is clinging desperately to his majority in Israel's parliament.
But at least they don't have to worry about the Nazis, who are gaining small chunks of power in Germany. Apparently, the Third Reich is making a humble comeback in the land of beer and brauts. I don't even know what to say, other than whatthef!?!
And if you think I've got problems, take a gander at China! Someone forgot to mention this (my employer), and I can't understand why (money), because it's seems like a big deal (capital), and there's no reason for we here in America to ignore it (cheap labor), but some 4,500 mine workers have died in China over the past year. That's not a typo. 4,500! It's a good thing the Bush Administration and the U.N. keep such a tight reign on human rights violations in that country....Oh wait, I must have nodded off. It's official policy in the West to do nothing about China, otherwise we might not have enough cheap crap to sell on the day after Thanksgiving. Thank goodness for "looks-the-other-way" Bush!
Speaking of our homeland, we all know about how Carlos M. Gutierrez has been nominated as Bush's next secretary of commerce. No beef against Gutierrez, but if you read the fine print, you'll see that a number of top-flight economists have declined to join the Bush administration's economic team due to the fact that historically, they haven't had a hand in shaping policy, only rah-rah-rooting for policy set from on high. In other words, Bush doesn't want smart people with new ideas, he wants cheerleaders who will defend his policies, no matter how ludicrous they may seem!
Finally, if you read this before 6:30 EST (5:30 CST), make your way over to the NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, as he spends his last night behind the anchor desk. The man is a peach; send him out with a bang.
Thanks for taking a trip on the old J-train (take that Toby Mac), and enjoy the rest of your day at Cedar Point, America's roller coast!
Posted by jonny at 4:11 PM
In 1996 California and her voters decided to allow marijuana to be allowed for medicinal purposes. The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing the case of Californian women, who use the drug to alleviate chronic pain. The federal government (under the auspices of the Attorney General) is challenging California voters. At stake is whether or not the federal government can impose its will on states when the Constitution doesn't give it the specific right to.
Federal drug law prohibits the use of marijuana under any condition. Opponents of the medical use of cannabis argue that since the FDA hasn't found marijuana to alleviate pain better or worse than drugs already on the market, it shouldn't be allowed for use by doctors. The glaringly obvious problem with their argument is (correct me if I'm wrong), the FDA cannot do a full-blown study on the medical feasibility of marijuana because of federal regulations against its use. Who decides that the FDA could use it for a scientific study? Congress I would assume. If that is the case, I don't see representatives from the heartland rushing to allow the FDA to further the cause of science with a study on a hippie drug. That's not the way we do things here in America.
That isn't to say that all conservatives are siding against California. Many state's rights advocates across the country are hoping for a ruling that would allow Californians to continue to use the drug, not because they agree that marijuana should be legalized, but because they're looking to roll back the federal government's power when it concerns its relationship to the states. This is a balance of power issue between Washington and local government.
The fight then is not between doctors/patients and the FDA/DEA. The fight is actually between the rights of states to experiment with social policy without the federal government butting in. It's not so much a libertarian issue as it is an issue of federalism.
The argument for the medical use of marijuana is that 1) it is not being sold or bought (the patients in question receive it free of charge); and 2) It takes place within one state, without crossing state lines (making it difficult to define it as "drug trafficking"). Under the Constitution, the federal government can regulate commerce between states (or interstate commerce). But marijuana used in this case was grown by local co-opts, to be used free-of-charge, for specific medicinal purposes.
A ruling against the state of California would set a dangerous precedent. It gives the federal government another inch of power which it hungers for so haphazardly. It allows the federal government power over intrastate commerce where the law of the Beltway over-rides the law of states and commonwealths. And it seems to announce, rather arrogantly I might add, that states have little room to experiment with social policy where it conflicts with policy handed down from Washington, aka Perfect-ville, USA.
Logically, the best judges of social policy would be the states, and not the Supreme Court. Federal social policies should allowed to be adapted by local communities because they have the a greater know-how of what things need fixing and how to go about fixing them. A one-size-fits-all policy on the medical use of marijuana is at the very least romantically ignorant, and at the most, imperial hubris.
If there is a way for the Supreme Court to rule in opposition to the medical use of marijuana without trampling states rights, I would be all for it. But it doesn't seem our Supreme Court has the type of legendary minds who have the ability to unearth those badly-needed, history making compromises.
Or if they do exist, their better angels are drowned out by the temptation to draw even more power away from the people, and towards the all-seeing eye and ever-lengthening arm of the Court, states rights be damned.
Posted by jonny at 1:57 AM
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
I've found myself working for Wal-Mart lately, as if by accident.
I man the cash register, I push carts indoors from the cold, I show people where things are, I put things away that said people picked up but didn't really want, and I straighten up aisles and aisles of mussed-up items from China. I receive a paycheck every two weeks for my effort. Life is good.
I'm not sure how I got started on this anymore. I'm not sure I even care. But working for Wal-Mart has taught me one thing. The world is divided into two kinds of people: dicks and not-so-much dicks. I happen to be a not-so-much dick, so I mostly get along with other not-so-much dicks. Then there are the dicks, whom I despise, yet am still very polite to, because I am the best there is at what I do. Damn straight.
For the most part, the not-so-much dicks, or NSMDs, are locals who understand that I have a crappy job, and who either have crappy jobs themselves, or have had them in the past. And while they are filthy rich today, they remember such a time as they had toiled, selling their labor to the highest bidder. Such as it is, I am not one of them. I toil currently. And how.
Wal-Mart is supposed to destroy small town life. Whoops. Someone forgot to mention that most of the time it doesn't. While downtown might have been the old watering-hole in some towns, now it sits geographically near and around the proximity of Wal-Mart. Is this a good thing? Specifically? No. Downtowns have more character and charm than large blue warehouses with hundreds of security cameras placed strategically throughout "in order to keep prices low for you, the customer." But in general? Yes, Wal-Mart can be a good thing for small towns. Lack of competition can make businesses lazy. Competition can make them sharp. In my town, of approximately 6,000 residents, there are two hardware stores, a paint store, a Home Depot (that no one figured would make it), two grocery stores, two mexican markets, and a Walgreens. Since our Wal-Mart was upgraded to a Super Wal-Mart (a traditional Wal-Mart with a grocery store for the uninitiated), not one of those stores has shut its doors. (In fact, one of the mexican markets opened in the time since.)
Competition makes businesses sharp. And competition breeds excellence.
The local paint store has more choices and better customer service than Home Depot, and blows Wal-Mart's paint aisle out of the water. By keeping prices relatively competitive, they stay afloat. When we painted our house, we bought local. Not because of their prices, but because they had the colors I had in my head. No one else did. They compete -- and customers win.
The local grocery stores aren't so local. They are chain stores, though not from large ones. In order to survive, they offer things Wal-Mart doesn't. They're prices are a bit higher, especially on things like cereal and fresh meat. But they have so many items that Wal-Mart only dreams of carrying, like regional salsas or loads of organic foods. For these reasons, I, the ever-loyal Wal-Mart employee, shop at one of these grocers in particular. As long as I don't get spit in the face or sold poison-Swiss cheese, I am fiercely loyal.
I never go to Walgreens. Not because I hate it or anything. Mostly because I can't figure out why it's there. It's awful bright. And I don't take drugs. So I avoid even mentioning it.
Okay, and here's the but. (You knew it was coming.) But I live in a tourist town. That's right. So even though my town is some 6,000 strong, it can double on some weekends, and swell to triple during the summer. We're right off of highway 12, which runs from Detroit to somewhere just short of the Pacific Ocean. So we have that key Motown-to-Vancouver road trip demographic. In our town, Wal-Mart makes sense. And all I can really speak for is our town.
But to be honest, even though the not-so-much-dicks are the nice type people, the dicks are the ones who fund our local economy, and make it possible for me to push carts and take people's money, while other stores can stand side-by-side, also pushing carts and taking people's money. (To be fair, not all out-of-towners are dicks. Some are NSMDs, but the vast majority of dicks are from out of town, so while it can be difficult to peg the NSMD as townies or tourists, the dicks you can assume are from the greater Chicago-land area. Those people who've forgotten what it was to toil-tirelessly for that much-needed paycheck, and who never experienced it in the first place.)
In short, I work for Wal-Mart to learn solidarity, to be blue-collar, to experience the damning effects of "the man," to understand why more than a few people stood up for their rights as workers last century, either by joining a union or a violent revolution. If theology is faith-seeking-understanding, then being a stooge for corporate America is dry-history seeking life-giving-praxis. Or maybe it's just the $6.70 an hour. You be the judge.
But please oh please, don't be the dick. There are more than enough of those. Be a NSMD, wherever you shop, and remember that we at Wal-Mart work on your behalf, forcing manufacturers to move plants to China in order to bring you that Bratz doll or DVD player for 1/10 the price were it made in America. Come on, do you really think we'd all be watching digital Spider-Man 2 on widescreen with Dolby DTS had our DVD player cost us $500? (And that being the cheap version that breaks after a year.)
Wal-Mart exists because people want it to exist. They like cheap shampoo and even cheaper cereal. And they sure as hell like to buy crap electronics for insanely low prices. You want to stop the march of Wal-Mart? Educate people about how they got that Bratz doll for $10. Tell them about how China abuses their workers, persecutes their religious citizens, and swallows up whole sovereign nations like Tibet without raising an eyebrow from the near-useless United Nations. Don't yell at the cart-pushers. They're likely to agree with you. And secretly call you a dick behind your back once you get in your gas-guzzling, Arab oil dependent, yellow ribbon bearing SUV.
You heard that right, dick.
Posted by jonny at 11:54 PM
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
During the battle for Fallujah, an Iraqi journalist named Abdul-Qader Saadi stayed behind in order to report events from the war in his home town. I can't even begin to tell you his story. After the initial fighting, Saadi turned himself over to American and Iraqi forces during the offensive. Then, even though he was a civilian and a journalist, he was treated like a something less than human. In the common vernacular: he was shat upon. Read this. Read his story. Please.
There is only one way for American soldiers (or any soldiers for that matter) to function physically and mentally during a war in which they are taking human life -- and that is to view the enemy as something less than human. If you've seen films like Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket you'll understand what I'm talking about (if you've lived those stories, you'll know more than I could ever imagine). It's no wonder Abdul-Qader Saadi was treated like a wild animal; in the minds of these soldiers, he was one.
At the same time in Cuba, some 550 prisoners in the Bush Administration's "war on terror" are still being held without the legal protection of an attorney present during their military trials. Hundreds still have absolutely no knowledge why the U.S. government has detained them for over three years now. Those who have faced the tribunal are only read unclassified portions of the charges brought against them.
Okay, I know we're at war. And I know that some, maybe most, of these men are terrorists, but we are beginning to apply a very utilitarian approach to this "war on terror." The safety of the many has tended to come at the cost of the rights of the few (and by few, I mean Muslims). Our country was founded on a belief that a person's liberty was something that could never be taken away. It could be limited in certain ways, but there was never a situation that demanded he gave up everything for the "greater good." This is the reason we rid ourselves of the military draft. This is the reason for so much popular opposition to affirmative action. This is the reason America has been so staunchly in favor of private property and a free market. Socialism has the potential to be a choice made by the American public, but according to our constitution, it can never be forced upon us in order to bring the maximum happiness to the greatest number of people. If these men were guilty of something, things might be different. But they've been held for over 36 months without even being charged! How can they argue their cases when they don't even know the charges leveled against them?
You're right, they can't.
Gauntanamo Bay, our own private Siberian concentration camp, spits in the face of natural law and the essential worth of the human being. Of all the things to take away from Stalin's Soviet Russia, we pick this? What's happening? What's going on? This is America?
Wait, I fucking mean it, this is America?
Posted by jonny at 4:03 AM
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Meanwhile on the Hill, two wonderfully block-headed congressmen have blocked a bill that would have overhauled the way our country gathered and interpreted intelligence, especially in the way it combats terrorists. USA Today, which doesn't lambast too often, went after the toolbags with claws out. If these guys can get the McPaper riled up, something is definitely amiss. The legislation expires when this congress expires, so the whole process would have to start over if it doesn't pass before then. Let's hope the president dangles their jobs over the fire (to take a line from Josh Lyman) and gets them to fall in line. I mean, if the Republicans can scare the crap out of Arlen Specter....Is a safer America too much to ask from a lame-duck Congress?
Oh, and by the by. Where's the social conservative outcry against these "rogue" Republicans? Apparently the Dobsonites care more about conservative judges than about another terrorist attack. Thanks for the back-up guys.
Posted by jonny at 3:10 PM