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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Wednesday, 20 April 2005

Topic: God and US

Religion: Who is YOUR Copilot?

It is always dangerous to visit the award winning legal web site Talk Left because these practicing constitutional lawyers are always pointing out the oddest things about the waves of theocratic domination rolling across America these days.

It seems these folks think there should be a separation of church and state, even if the House leader Tom DeLay says that?s just bull ? "The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state that's nowhere in the Constitution is that Congress didn't stop them." (From a recent interview in the Washington Times.) Ah well.

Now they are pointing out things in the opposite direction ? noting, from and AFP story, that it was Pope Benedict XVI, formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who inserted the Catholic church into the 2004 election by ordering bishops to deny communion to abortion rights supporters, including candidate John Kerry. Well, we now have a pro-Bush Republican Pope, it seems.

Then they point to an Associated Press item - Religious Intolerance Alleged At Air Force Academy - that also appeared in the Los Angeles Times - regarding complaints by Air Force cadets of religious intolerance at our Air Force Academy out in Colorado.
Less than two years after it was plunged into a rape scandal, the Air Force Academy is scrambling to address complaints that evangelical Christians wield so much influence at the school that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment have become pervasive.

There have been 55 complaints of religious discrimination at the academy in the past four years, including cases in which a Jewish cadet was told the Holocaust was revenge for the death of Jesus and another was called a Christ killer by a fellow cadet. ...
Well, if the shoe fits?. And we don?t want any Christ-killer dropping massive bomb loads from high altitude on the Godless swarthy Muslim folks who hate us for our freedom, do we?

No wait. That doesn?t make sense.

Oh, whatever.

The ?Talk Left? summary of the rest?
- The Air Force is investigating a complaint from an atheist cadet who says the school is "systematically biased against any cadet that does not overtly espouse Christianity."

- The official academy newspaper runs a Christmas ad every year praising Jesus and declaring him the only savior. Some 200 academy staff members, including some department heads, signed it. ?

- The academy commandant, Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, a born-again Christian, said in a statement to cadets in June 2003 that their first responsibility is to their God. He also strongly endorsed National Prayer Day that year. School spokesman Johnny Whitaker said Weida now runs his messages by several other commanders.

- Some officer commission ceremonies were held at off-campus churches. In a letter dated April 6, Weida said the ceremonies would be held on campus from now on.
Ah, the whole God is My Copilot concept returns to the American Military.

These same ?Talk Left? guys noted last November that our Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs was forced to take down a banner that read - "I am a Christian first and last! I am a member of Team Jesus Christ!" And the Academy then warned staffers against including biblical verses as taglines on Academy e-mail. And the Academy then officially disapproved of cadets using Academy e-mail to urge everyone to see Mel Gibson?s Passion of the Christ. And the superintendent announced the Academy would begin religious tolerance training.

It isn?t working.

Posted by Alan at 19:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 21 April 2005 17:21 PDT home

Tuesday, 19 April 2005

Topic: The Media

Warm Frogs: The So-Called Liberal Media Evaporates Before Our Eyes

Clare Booth Luce (1903-1987) -
Socialite Clare Booth Luce, married to Henry R. Luce who published Time, Life, and Fortune, served in the US Congress from 1942 to 1946 and later as ambassador to Brazil and Italy. She also wrote plays, was a World War II war correspondent, and wrote articles and reviews.
She entered politics as a critic of the Roosevelt administration and served two terms (1943-47) as Republican congresswoman from Connecticut. Her appointment by President Eisenhower as U.S. Ambassador to Italy (1953-57) made her the first American woman ever to hold a major diplomatic post.

Why mention her? Because of Time magazine and the Time cover story (subscription only) this week.

Time's cover profiles the conservative columnist and commentator Ann Coulter. Ah, maybe the term ideologue is better. They use the term ?conservative flamethrower.? The article compares her to Clare Booth Luce, the wife of Time's co-founder, and the writer, John Cloud, claims Coulter has "a personality far more labile [likable?] and human than the umbrageous harridan I had expected." He calls her the "most unlikely of conservative subspecies: a hard-right ironist."

Well, maybe.

David Sirota says this among other things ?
There's been a lot of debate over whether the media is "liberal" or "conservative." But as I saw this week's cover of Time Magazine, I realized just how ridiculous it is for there to even be a debate.

The cover trumpets right-wing crazy person Ann Coulter. This is a woman who advocated blowing up the New York Times offices and claimed Vietnam war hero and triple amputee Max Cleland didn't deserve to be honored for his losing his limbs on the battlefield.
Yep, that?s her.

Oliver Willis asks a simple question - Can we just take the "liberal media" meme outside behind the barn and shoot it?

Yes, one can do that now.

Well, we on the left have Michael Moore. The guys on the right have Ann Coulter. Fair is fair.

But getting a lot of play on the web is this from ?Digby? over at Hullabaloo (my emphases) -
It has become clear to me that we are frogs being slowly boiled to death. And the media are enjoying the hot tub party so much that they are helping to turn up the heat.

Ann Coulter is not, as Howie Kurtz asserts today, the equivalent of Michael Moore. Michael Moore is not advocating the murder of conservatives. He just isn't. For instance, he doesn't say that Eric Rudolph should be killed so that other conservatives will learn that they can be killed too. He doesn't say that he wishes that Tim McVeigh had blown up the Washington Times Building. He doesn't say that conservatives routinely commit the capital offense of treason. He certainly doesn't put up pictures of the fucking snoopy dance because one of his political opponents was killed. He doesn't, in other words, issue calls for violence and repression against his political enemies. That is what Ann Coulter does, in the most coarse, vulgar, reprehensible way possible.

Moore says conservatives are liars and they are corrupt and they are wrong. But he is not saying that they should die. There is a distinction. And it's a distinction that Time magazine and Howard Kurtz apparently cannot see.

I have long felt that it was important not to minimize the impact of this sick shit. For years my friends and others in the online communities would say that it was a waste of time to worry about Rush because there are real issues to worry about. Likewise Coulter. Every time I write something about her there is always someone chastising me for wasting their time. Yet, here she is, being given the imprimatur of a mainstream publication of record in a whitewash of epic proportions. Slowly, slowly the water is heating up.

? The recently anointed GOP saint, Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was the one who coined the phrase "defining deviancy down" and I think he's been validated. When a deranged, flame throwing fascist like Ann Coulter is called "amusing" and "entertaining", deviancy has definitely been redefined.
Well, did the woman really say all those things?

Yes. The citations are here, with links to the original items.
This about a "commentator" who claimed that the Democratic Party "supports killing, lying, adultery, thievery, envy"; who said of the idea that the American military were targeting journalists, "Would that it were so!"; who said President Clinton "was a very good rapist"; who insisted that "[l]iberals love America like O.J. loved Nicole"; who said that "I think a baseball bat is the most effective way these days" to talk to liberals; who said it was lucky for former senator Max Cleland's political career that he lost an arm and two legs in Vietnam; who has said her "only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building"; and who wrote that the only real question about Bill Clinton was "whether to impeach or assassinate."
Ah, but she was kidding. But she is sly about letting anyone know if she is kidding.

So she gets the cover of Time.

The world is indeed changing.

And in just what way is it changing?

Billmon, over at Whiskey Bar provides this lively history of Luce and Time magazine -
Once upon a time ? back when Ann?s hero, Joe McCarthy, still crawled the earth ? Time was what Fox News is now ? the unofficial official propaganda organ of the Republican Party. As partisan a rag as ever befouled the propeller of American democracy, in fact. And, just as Fox News has Roger Ailes to keep it on the shining path, Time had its publisher, Henry Luce ? who actually combined the roles of Ailes and Rupert Murdoch.

Luce was a rock-ribbed Midwestern Republican ? the son of a China missionary, educated at Yale (back when God and man still cohabitated there) and raised in an era when the GOP faithful still regarded the Democrats as the party of Rum, Romanism and Rebellion.

A time much like today, in other words. And Luce?s Time reflected the boss?s prejudices in full measure, particularly when it came to the ?who lost China? debate. Luce ? a fierce friend of Chiang Kai-shek ? blamed the debacle on Truman and the Democrats (which, from his point of view, was the sensible thing to do, since the alternative was admitting Chang and his government were hopelessly inept and corrupt, and Luce, like his magazine, wasn?t very good at facing unpleasant truths.)

In any case, Luce and Time flayed the Dems ? and the party?s presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson ? in editorial language so partisan and vicious it might have been written by Ann Coulter (that is, if Ann had taken an intensive course in remedial English composition.)

But Luce died in 1967, and his widow ? playwright cum politician Claire Booth Luce ? showed little interest in the publishing business. Loyal family retainers kept Time on the hard right side of the track for a while, but the late ?60s were tough times for Luce?s brand of absolute moral certainty. If you saw Apocalypse Redux, you may remember the hallucinatory scene of Marlon Brando, as big as a fucking Zeppelin, reading optimistic excerpts from Timeabout how well the war was going.
Yes, out here in Hollywood some of us do remember that. Amusing.

So what happened to Time?
Then came Watergate and the ?70s and the left?s cultural revolution. Loyal retainers passed away and corporate drones replaced them, and by the late ?80s, Time, while still Republican-leaning (and Reagan worshipping) was no longer the magazine that Luce built. When media hustler Gerald Levin moved in and gobbled up Time-Life in 1989, it seemed as if the last traces of the old fire-breathing, Red-baiting, Time had vanished forever ? suffocated in a vat of Hollywood schmaltz.
Ah, that famous at of Hollywood schmaltz. No doubt that vat is just down the block at Greenblatt?s Delicatessen and I should get a photo for the next issue of Just Above Sunset.

But seriously, the point here is these folks now are blowing with the wind to make money, and the question raised is putting Ann Coulter on the cover taking things to a whole new level. Is the old Time magazine making a comeback?

The short answer is no. The media are no longer that partisan -
? the differences between the old Time and the new Time not only show how much the magazine has changed, they also highlight how much the news media as a whole have been changed by the rise of the mega-monster entertainment conglomerates ? such as Time Warner AOL CNN HBO Elektra etc. etc.

Time isn?t returning to its roots ? if anything, it?s moving even further away from them. The old Time was conservative, right down to its DNA; the new Time is pandering to the conservatives, right down to its bottom line.

The old Time mirrored the obsessions of its founder, which were only partially, and not even primarily, commercial. The new Time is only part ? and probably not even the largest part ? of a line item on a quarterly profit and loss statement. The Time drones are giving head to Ann Coulter for the same reason the NBC clones are putting Left Behind knock offs in the fall line up: They?re both terrified they?ve lost touch with the mass audience, which they believe (based on what evidence I don?t know) to be drifting deeper and deeper into wacko land.

But there?s absolutely no conviction behind it, no Lucian desire to smite the wicked and elect the virtuous. Heck, according to, Time-Warner is the bluest of the blue corporations, with its executives giving a cool 77% of their $1.7 million in political contributions to the Democrats in the 2003-04 cycle.

Which is exactly why the magazine's fawning treatment of the conservative Mafia is being repaid with such contempt. Time is offering the journalistic equivalent of protection money, but the crew has something bigger in mind ? like busting up the joint and taking it over.

The kind of aristocratic partisanship that Luce represented is an anachronism in the modern media industry, which is almost as oligopolistic as the auto industry, but produces a more defective product. The old-time reactionary press barons are a dying breed ? Murdoch is probably the last of his kind. ?
Maybe so. But Billmon asserts this new ?print whatever is profitable? is more dangerous than having press barons with large holdings publishing their prejudices.
? the corporate media?s present eagerness to suck and lick the private parts of right-wing extremists is based on an increasingly frantic belief that this is what the audience wants. With their massive market power, however, the mega-monsters also have the ability to shape consumer appetites ? creating, in effect, a demand for the kind of content they want to supply.

All the pieces are in place, in other words, for a self-perpetuating spiral into extremism ? with the corporate bean counters smiling and clapping all the way. The evolution of talk radio into a contest to see who can shout the most deranged opinions into a microphone shows how the process can work. Something similar may now be happening in the print media.

We can always hope the fad burns itself out or at least plateaus ? like the reality show craze. Mass audiences can quickly grow bored when every single channel is trying to stuff the same crap down their necks. Who knows? Maybe Ann will get voted off the island.

I hope so, because we?re only beginning to get a sense of the raw propaganda power of the media megamonsters ? which, after all, are still in their infancy, like the baby velociraptors in Jurassic Park. And I?m already starting to feel nostalgic for cuddly old reactionary press barons like Henry Luce.
Yep, at least you knew where he stood.



If you use the SEARCH tab at Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log, you will find fifty-five references to Ann Coulter in the last three years.

As a virtual magazine, Just Above Sunset doesn?t have a cover page ? just a home page, and it doesn?t carry a cover story photo. If it were to carry one perhaps the first one would be? Jonathan Swift? Or maybe Duke Ellington.

Posted by Alan at 19:00 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 20 April 2005 12:33 PDT home

Topic: God and US

Religion: The New Pope

As of Tuesday, April 19, 2005 we have a new Pope in Rome. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has been elected by the Council of Cardinals, and has decided Pope Benedict XVI will be is papal name. And at least two of my friends are commenting on how this guy used to be a member of the Hitler Youth, the Hitlerjugend.

As I said last September here, I don't like what is in the air, but I want to avoid being one more lefty yelling Nazi and fascist like so many others. Bush is not Hitler. And Karl Rove is not Hermann Goering. Yes, Rove's grandfather was Karl Heinz Roverer, the Gauleiter of Oldenburg. Roverer was Reich-Statthalter - Nazi State Party Chairman - for his region. He was also a partner and senior engineer in the Roverer Sud-Deutche Ingenieurburo AG engineering firm, which built the Birkenau camp ? according to this research. But so what? The father of Arnold Shwarzenegger was a Nazi officer, but Arnold is our governor out here now. That?s all in the past.

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga on his web log, The Daily Kos, puts it this way -
Today has seen the third papal election in my lifetime. There are many reasons to criticize the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI, like his stances on women and gays in the church, social issues, his work in crushing liberation theology, his comments in regards to the priest sexual abuse scandals, and his generally conservative views.

Calling him a Nazi, however, is unfounded and unfair, and only serves to demean us.

The man is 78 years old. He was 18 when the war ended. He is of the right age group where you were required by law to join the Hitler Youth. Membership in the Hitler Youth by no means made you grow up to be a confirmed Nazi, although that was certainly the intent. Belonging to a Luftwaffe AA battery is also not a sign that he was a Nazi; had he been a fanatical Nazi, not only would he have volunteered for the Waffen SS, but he wouldn't have deserted in 1944. That desertion in itself is not an unremarkable act. They still shot deserters at that time. Being in the German Army does not mean that you were a Nazi.

There are plenty of reasons to criticize this pope and the policies he's likely to enact. Unfounded accusations are unfair, and will only serve to give the [right] wingers more ammunition.

Call him conservative, call him reactionary, call him old, call him surly, call him the wrong choice. Just don't call him a Nazi.
That seems about right.

But another citizen-journalist - and I guess that is what you could call bloggers theses days - Andrew Sullivan, has this to say about what happened here -
It would be hard to over-state the radicalism of this decision. It's not simply a continuation of John Paul II. It's a full-scale attack on the reformist wing of the church. The swiftness of the decision and the polarizing nature of this selection foretell a coming civil war within Catholicism. The space for dissidence, previously tiny, is now extinct. And the attack on individual political freedom is just beginning.
Strong words. But, then again, Sullivan is an openly gay conservative, and that is an odd mix ? and Sullivan is a devote Catholic. Forgive him?

Ah, but then Sullivan calms down. Well, not exactly -
? I am still in shock. This was not an act of continuity. There is simply no other figure more extreme than the new Pope on the issues that divide the Church. No one. He raised the stakes even further by his extraordinarily bold homily at the beginning of the conclave, where he all but declared a war on modernity, liberalism (meaning modern liberal democracy of all stripes) and freedom of thought and conscience. And the speed of the decision must be interpreted as an enthusiastic endorsement of his views. What this says to American Catholics is quite striking: it's not just a disagreement, it's a full-scale assault. This new Pope has no pastoral experience as such. He is a creature of theological discourse, a man of books and treatises and arguments. He proclaims his version of the truth as God-given and therefore unalterable and undebatable. His theology is indeed distinguished, if somewhat esoteric and at times a little odd. But his response to dialogue within the church is to silence those who disagree with him. He has no experience dealing with people en masse, no hands-on experience of the challenges of the church in the developing world, and complete contempt for dissent in the West. His views on the subordinate role of women in the Church and society, the marginalization of homosexuals (he once argued that violence against them was predictable if they kept pushing for rights), the impermissibility of any sexual act that does not involve the depositing of semen in a fertile uterus, and the inadmissibility of any open discourse with other faiths reveal him as even more hard-line than the previous pope. I expected continuity. I didn't expect intensification of the fundamentalism and insularity of the current hierarchy. I expect an imminent ban on all gay seminarians, celibate or otherwise. And I expect the Church's immersion in the culture wars in the West - on every imaginable issue. For American Catholics, I foresee an accelerating exodus. But that, remember, is the plan. The Ratzingerians want to empty the pews in America and start over. They will, in that sense, be successful.
Ah, let?s see. Contempt for dissent? A view that women should be subordinate in society? Homosexuals should be marginalized ? and if gay-bashers bash them it?s their own damned fault because they asked for their rights? No open discourse with anyone who doesn?t agree with what you believe? Silence those who disagree with you? Darn, that sounds familiar.

Did George Bush appoint this guy? No. He?s just the Pope. Harmless.

I don?t have a dog in this hunt, as they say. I?m not Catholic ? in fact, I?m not anything at the moment. On the other hand, the Man in Rome is awfully influential, even if he is not our president. So this does matter a bit in this sorry world.

The Washington Post on Sunday, April 3 did run a profile of Ratzinger and this gives us a sense of the man.
He wrote a letter of advice to U.S. bishops on denying communion to politicians who support abortion rights, which some observers viewed as a slam at Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry. He publicly cautioned Europe against admitting Turkey to the European Union and wrote a letter to bishops around the world justifying that stand on the grounds that the continent is essentially Christian in nature.

... Ratzinger was active in stamping out liberation theology, with its emphasis on grass-roots activism to fight poverty and its association with Marxist movements.
Anti-Kerry? And willing to say that works don?t matter, just the purity of your faith, so you don?t have to anything about injustice or poverty or oppression? Rove and the guys in the White House are cheering. The fellow fits right in with the conservative evangelical party that the Republicans have become. The Post also tells us that once called homosexuality a tendency toward "intrinsic moral evil" and dismissed the uproar over priestly pedophilia in the United States as a "planned campaign" against the church.

This guy is going to fit right in ? a man for our times.

And E.J. Dionne of the Post shows us why in this - Cardinal Ratzinger's challenge -
04.19.05 - ROME -- The words broke like a thunderclap inside St. Peter's Basilica on Monday. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, addressing the world's cardinals just hours before they sequestered themselves to choose the next leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics, decided to define this conclave.

"We are moving," he declared, "toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."

The modern world, Ratzinger insisted, jumped "from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism."

Those are fighting words. They guaranteed that Ratzinger, who was Pope John Paul II's enforcer of orthodoxy, will either set the church's course -- or offer his fellow cardinals the ideas they choose to react against. Decades from now, many conservative Catholics will see the war against the "dictatorship of relativism" as their central mission. It's not a line you forget.
Yep, that?s true.

It comes down to what matters ?
? for the many cardinals here from the Third World -- 20 of the 115 voting are from Latin America, 11 from Africa, 10 from Asia -- the battle over relativism is far less important than the poverty that afflicts so many of their flock. Some of these cardinals -- Claudio Hummes of Brazil is a representative figure -- may share points in common with Ratzinger on doctrine. But for them the struggle against suffering and social injustice is part of their lives every single day.

Many of these same cardinals, and some in Europe and the United States, place a higher priority on Christianity's rekindled competition with Islam and the urgency of Muslim-Christian dialogue. It's not clear where Ratzinger's approach would take these efforts.

Ratzinger, in other words, is now central to two very different dynamics inside the conclave. Cardinals will be asked to decide -- by voting for or against him or someone he favors -- whether Ratzinger's theological approach is right. And they will decide whether Ratzinger's priorities are about the things that matter.

? What makes this papal election so unusual is not the normal disagreement over specific issues. The odd part is that the cardinals disagree fundamentally over what the election is really about because they differ in their judgments of what constitutes the most important issues confronting the church.
They decided.

Dionne says this too ?
Ratzinger is a brilliant, tough-minded intellectual who started out as moderately liberal and -- like so many American neoconservatives -- developed a mistrust of the left because of the student revolt of the 1960s. He once said that "the 1968 revolution" turned into "a radical attack on human freedom and dignity, a deep threat to all that is human."

? He is proposing that the church take one aspect of John Paul's synthesis -- the battle against relativism reflected in doctrinal rigor -- and make it the late pope's central legacy.
Damn. That year, 1968, caused no end of trouble.


So what is the connection of this matter in Rome with the neoconservatives ? this band of evangelical Christians running our country on militarism and intolerance of others?

Well, Jeffrey Hart is professor of English emeritus at Dartmouth College and a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, and he has a pretty good explanation of American Christian evangelical movement in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Sunday, April 17 here.

His contention?

The Bush presidency is not conservative. It is populist and radical, its policies deformed by the influence of Christian extremism.

Oh. That.

This is actually a long history of the American Christian evangelical movement. You can read that if you wish, but this observation is at the core -
Because Evangelicalism is sustained by no structure of ideas, and, beyond that, has no institutional support in a continuing church, it flares up in repeated "Awakenings," and then subsides as the emotion dissipates. Because it is populist and homemade, its assertions tend often to be ridiculous, the easy targets for the latest version of H.L. Mencken.

If we recall Leo Strauss's formulation that "Athens and Jerusalem" -- science and spiritual aspiration -- are the core of Western civilization, American Evangelicalism is a threat to both, through ignorance of both.

Except for that major qualification, Evangelicalism would not matter much if it were a private superstition, a sort of hobby, except that the Evangelicalism of the Bush variety has real and often dangerous effects on the world in which the rest of us, and even they, live.
And Hart goes on to discuss stem cell research and other matters that show the evangelicals shutting things down -
- Information about safe sex was removed from the Centers for Disease Control Web site.

- The scandal that the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research prohibited over-the-counter sale of a "morning after" contraceptive as encouraging promiscuity and thus spreading disease -- clearly outside the mandate of the FDA. The New England Journal of Medicine described this as a political decision, which of course it was.

- The fact that the Bush administration has devoted millions to faith-based organizations promoting abstinence, but in doing so telling flagrant lies: that condoms fail to prevent HIV 31 percent of the time during heterosexual intercourse (3 percent is accurate); that abortion leads to sterility (elective abortion does not); that touching a person's genitals can cause pregnancy; that HIV can be spread through sweat and tears; that a 43-day-old fetus is a "thinking person"; and that half of gay teenagers have AIDS. Some grants for faith-based programs stipulate that condoms be discussed only in connection with their failure.

You would think that such Halloween science would be impossible in federally funded programs. Isn't bearing false witness prohibited by the Ten Commandments? But, as we see, Evangelicals make up their own scripture. And this is the Bush administration.

- Then there was that book the federal bookstore at the Grand Canyon was obliged to carry, maintaining that the Grand Canyon was caused by Noah's Flood. Geology shows that the canyon took millions of years to form by erosion. No problem. Geology is wrong.
Sigh. And now this Pope ? cut from the same cloth.

What a world.

Who ARE these people? Well, Richard Cohen explains.

Faith-Based Pandering
Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, Tuesday, April 19, 2005; Page A19

This is a discussion of Bill Frist and the filibuster business, but in taking care of that business Cohen gets to the heart if the matter -
? Frist initially led the Senate's effort to keep poor Terri Schiavo alive even though every court that had heard her case had concluded she was, technically and sadly, dead. Now Frist will be joining a telecast that will attack Democrats as being hostile to "people of faith." It will focus on the filibuster, which the Democrats have used to block 10 of George W. Bush's 229 judicial appointments. Some of the nominees are quaintly anachronistic in their views but to a person I assume they believe in God and therefore cannot be opposed no matter what else they think or do.

"The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias, and it is now being used against people of faith," the telecast's sponsoring organization has declared. Among the participants are some, if not all, who believe that any abortion is wrong, that a stem cell is an inviolate human life, that homosexuality is a sin, that sex before marriage is both a mistake and a sin (don't even ask about homosexual sex before marriage), and that the rights of both Terri Schiavo and her husband should have been brushed aside -- along with a couple of hundred years of allowing state courts to settle such matters.

I am pausing now to wonder if the phrase "people of faith" is meant to include Muslims with several wives, Hindus with several deities or even the odd person here and there who believes, as I am sometimes tempted to, that God can be found in a pint of Ben & Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch. But I think somehow that "people of faith" is meant to embrace only conservative Christians and maybe Orthodox Jews, who are sometimes lumped together as Judeo-Christians. People of faith, you may rest assured, are people of their faith. All others need not apply.
The result?
I don't think a gay Presbyterian would be considered a person of faith, no matter how devout, nor, for that matter, a pro-choice Methodist -- say, someone such as Hillary Clinton. The category would certainly not include a Baptist such as Husband Bill or a Jew such as Chuck Schumer or, I venture to say, an Episcopalian such as John McCain, whose faith sustained him in a Vietnamese prison. As for a Roman Catholic such as Ted Kennedy, whose faith informs his liberalism, take it on faith that he would not be considered a person of faith. The phrase would also exclude anyone of any faith who believes in a limited role for religion in public life, especially the schools, if only on the pragmatic grounds that otherwise we will be at each other's throats. This is a lesson of history.
So it is, and now we have this new Pope.

Interesting times are coming. And I don't like what is in the air.


Here is something amusing on the name the new Pope selected for himself - Benedict XVI - from Keith Olbermann at MNSBC -
?the former Cardinal Ratzinger is now invoking the memories of the other fifteen Benedicts.

The first, chosen in 579, is so obscure that the only trace of his pontificate is a document showing he granted one an Italian estate to a local Abbot. The second Benedict, we are told, was a great singer ? an unusual resume for a Pope. The third had to fight off an invasion by the Saracens.

Numbers four to nine are generally conceded to mark the darkest period in Papal history ? one was deposed, one was killed, one was bribed into resigning. The tenth was literally the "anti-Pope" during the pontificate of Nicholas the second in the 11th Century, but Benedict the 11th made peace with the French.

The 12th we'll get to presently; the 13th was pretty much nondescript; the 14th was feisty (during an argument with the French ambassador, he once seized the man, shoved him into the Papal chair and said "Be Pope yourself!"). And the 15th, who ascended in 1914, tried to keep the Vatican neutral during the first World War and publicly pleaded with world leaders not to fight ? becoming in the process the first Pope to correspond with an American president. There is little doubt the new Pope is trying to evoke that Benedict, and the Saint of the same name, and even the word itself (benedictum) meaning, simply, ?blessing.?

But then there was Benedict the 12th and one almost wishes there was still a place for his earthy self-deprecation at the Vatican. Elected in 1342 ? on the first ballot, and when the Popes still ruled more or less in hiding at Avignon, France ? he was Cardinal Jacques Fournier, and he evidently wasn't too happy about his new job.

To his fellow cardinals he said, quote, "you have elected a jackass."

Certainly that is not the Benedict which the former Cardinal Ratzinger hopes to emulate. But the selection does raise the question: What does the name mean in the end? Does the name shape the Pope or does the Pope shape the name?

If we could ask one past Pope for an answer, it would be the Cardinal who advanced to the title in 468. He became Pope Hilarius. At the time, the word ? in Latin and Greek alike ? still principally meant gracious or cheerful, and had not yet assumed its current sense of stand-up comedy.

They made him a Saint ? possibly because he?d have to carry that name throughout history. But it?s instructive to note that there has yet to be a Pope Hilarius II.
And there will not be another, or so it seems. The days of ?gracious and cheerful? are long gone.

Posted by Alan at 15:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 20 April 2005 12:55 PDT home

Topic: Oddities

Molecular Gastronomy: Beyond Shepherd?s Pie and Bangers and Mash

Ah, from Reuters in an item dated April 19, 2005 we learn this - ?The Fat Duck, an English countryside former pub, has topped an annual list of the world?s best restaurants, marking a new gastronomic triumph for a country once known for, well, other reasons besides its food.?

Say what? These folks at The Fat Duck are the folks who serve sardine-on-toast sorbet.

Well, they do.


So who are these people at Restaurant magazine who compile the annual list of the world?s best restaurants and just pronounced The Fat Duck the best in the world?

They are from the UK ? and specifically you can find them at Kilburn House, Manchester Science Park, Lloyd Street North, Manchester M15 6SE - if you are in town. You won?t find much trying their web site. This magazine is a trade publication - #50 per year for twenty-four issues. They don?t publish on the web. So you have to trust Reuters.

But is there a bias at work here? Reuters tells us that British restaurants won four of the top ten spots and fourteen of the top fifty, beating countries like France and the United States ? but adds that the magazine?s selections ?are based on the opinions of more than 500 industry experts around the world.?

Well, maybe these five hundred industry experts are really British, just living abroad. On the other hand, Reuters quotes the magazine?s editor, Ella Johnston, telling us the results are quite fair and honest and right ? ?It shows just how far Britain has come in terms of culinary output and the range of experiences we offer.?

And what are those experiences? Try ?smoked bacon and egg ice cream? and ?leather, oak and tobacco chocolates.? Ah! This is far, far beyond Shepherd?s Pie and Bangers and Mash.

And who is responsible for this revolutionary cuisine?
The Fat Duck, run by chef Heston Blumenthal, beat out El Bulli in Montjoi, Spain and The French Laundry in California --previously voted world?s best two years in a row.

Blumenthal, a self-taught chef, has pioneered ?molecular gastronomy? ?

That has turned The Fat Duck in Bray, west of London, into a magnet for food enthusiasts.

Note: For a discussion of the science involved in Molecular Gastronomy see this:

Doctor Food
Wednesday April 20, 2005, The Guardian (UK)
This week Heston Blumenthal was crowned the world's best chef thanks to his unique marriage of science and cooking. But how did he discover his winning formula? Leo Hickman went looking for the men in white coats who helped develop his distinctive style. Meanwhile, Dana Bickford, describes the joys of working for him.

This probably much more than you wanted to know.

By the way, you might want to check out this - an insider view of this world from someone who worked at El Bulli in Spain and now works at the Hotel de Crillon. I wonder what she thinks of this British place. It's a whole other world.


But the food news back here in America is all litigation these days. Reuters also tells us that fast-food chains are hopeful that Congress will pass the Cheeseburger Bill.

Oh, THAT bill.

In short, there have been some potential suits against fast-food chains claiming this or that fast-food company is specifically responsible for the litigant?s obesity and should pay damages. Thus we get this -
Fearing a flood of such cases and lobbied by the restaurant industry, more than 20 states have enacted or are considering legislation that bars or limits obesity suits against restaurants and food manufacturers.

Nation's Restaurant News, a trade publication, said restaurateurs nationwide remain hopeful that Congress will pass a federal "cheeseburger bill" limiting such suits. The House of Representatives passed such a bill last year.

In the meantime, the landmark 2002 suit against McDonald's is the only pending U.S. action blaming a restaurant chain for obesity.
There was only ONE real case ? the rest is just hypothetical - and they want legislation for protection?

Well, in matters of law once cannot be too careful

Some folks see this as silly.
"Nobody forces you to go into McDonald's," said Anthony Sabino, a professor at St. John's University Law School. "I just had a quarter-pounder with cheese and nobody held a gun to my head. Even in this litigious-crazed society ... even the most ambitious of trial lawyers throw up their hands and say this does not fly."
Well, we may get the legislation anyway. This congress is odd.

But if McDonalds severed sardine-on-toast sorbet, and smoked-bacon-and-egg ice cream and ?leather, oak and tobacco chocolates.? Ah! The problem would be solved.

Want fries with that?

Posted by Alan at 13:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 19 April 2005 20:35 PDT home

Monday, 18 April 2005

Topic: For policy wonks...

Archimedes said ?Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.? Here?s one.

It seems that lately when I glance at television in the evenings I keep seeing the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. What?s up with that?

Over at the Discovery Channel they?ve been running "Does Europe Hate the U.S.?" (first shown on Thursday, April 7, 8-9 pm Eastern and Pacific). A synopsis? - With the European Union seeming to be changing the global balance of power for the 21st Century, the confrontation between the U.S. and Europe has big implications for the future. In this documentary, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explores Europe's feeling about America.

Guess what? They?re not happy with us. Well, it is a bit more complicated than that. The interviews with the students in Germany and France are cool, and those with the government big-wigs just depressing.

And then Friedman just popped up on the PBS Charlie Rose Show, plugging his latest book that was released this month, "The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century."

Interesting. But should we listen to this guy?

From his Times bio you can find out that Friedman won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, and that was his third Pulitzer for the Times. He became the paper's foreign-affairs columnist in 1995. Before that he was their chief economic correspondent in the Washington bureau - and before that he was the chief White House correspondent. And this year he was elected as a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board. He?s got a BA in Mediterranean studies from Brandeis and a masters degree in Modern Middle East Studies from Oxford. Not bad. And his book, "From Beirut to Jerusalem" (1989), won the National Book Award for non-fiction that year - and "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" (2000) won the Overseas Press Club award for best nonfiction book on foreign policy, and has been published in twenty-seven languages.

He might know something.

This new book he was chatting up on the Charlie Rose Show? It?s about this:
Friedman argues that in the last few years, while we were distracted by Osama Bin Laden's transformation of the political landscape, a whole new phase of globalization was taking shape. Fueled by Internet-friendly software and cheap fiber optics, it features the fine-grained and far-flung division of data-related labor, often with little need for hierarchical, centralized control; and it subjects yesterday's powerhouses to competition from upstarts. "Globalization 3.0 is shrinking the world from a size small to a size tiny and flattening the playing field at the same time," bringing a "newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally."

? He shows us some of globalization's beneficiaries - such as Indians who take "accent neutralization" classes and who, so far as I can tell, are as decent and worthy as the American airline reservation clerks and tech-support workers whose jobs they're taking (and who seem to prefer "exploitation" to nonexploitation). What's more, even as some Americans are losing, other Americans are winning, via cheaper airline tickets, more tech support, whatever. So, with net gains outweighing net losses, it's a non-zero-sum game, with a positive-sum outcome?a good thing on balance, at least from a global moral standpoint. ?
Oh. Yawn.

But wait! In the last two issues of Just Above Sunset, the parent site of this web log, you can find a lively discussion by many readers of the various ways the Democrats can mount a challenge to the powers that be ? the imperialist Christian evangelicals, as it were. There was April 10, 2005 ? Liberal Wimps: The Allure of Calm Reasoning With the Powerful Right followed a week later by Inventing a Loyal Opposition. Eight or nine different folks had a lot to say about what can be done. The problem was finding that lever to move the world.

And now this week Robert Wright is suggesting that Thomas Friedman has provided that lever to move the world. And that is here -

The Incredible Shrinking Planet
What liberals can learn from Thomas Friedman's new book.
Robert Wright ? SLATE.COM - Posted Monday, April 18, 2005, at 12:30 PM PT

Here?s the opening (my emphases throughout) -
What do you call it when multinational corporations scan the world for cheap labor, find poor people in developing nations, and pay them a fraction of America's minimum wage? A common answer on the left is "exploitation." For Thomas Friedman the answer is "collaboration"?or "empowering individuals in the developing world as never before." Friedman has written another destined-to-be-a-best-seller, destined-to-annoy-many-leftists-even-though-he's-a-liberal book, The World Is Flat.

Readers of Friedman's 1998 The Lexus and the Olive Tree may ask: Why another best-selling, left-annoying Friedman book on globalization? Friedman argues that in the last few years, while we were distracted by Osama Bin Laden's transformation of the political landscape, a whole new phase of globalization was taking shape. Fueled by Internet-friendly software and cheap fiber optics, it features the fine-grained and far-flung division of data-related labor, often with little need for hierarchical, centralized control; and it subjects yesterday's powerhouses to competition from upstarts. "Globalization 3.0 is shrinking the world from a size small to a size tiny and flattening the playing field at the same time," bringing a "newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally."

This theme will get the book read in business class, but the reason leftists back in coach should read it has more to do with Osama Bin Laden's transformation of the political landscape. Islamist terrorism has been a godsend to the American right, especially in foreign policy. President Bush has sold a Manichaean master narrative that fuses neoconservativism with paleoconservative hawkism, the unifying upshot being the importance of invading countries and of disregarding, if not subverting, multilateral institutions.
Wright then argues that if ?the left is to develop a rival narrative,? it will have ?to honestly address the realities of both globalization and terrorism.? And he says Friedman's book ?contains the ingredients of a powerful liberal narrative, one that harnesses the logic of globalization to counter Bush's rhetoric in foreign and, for that matter, domestic policy.?


Wright contends that ?these days? hardly anyone accepts the label "anti-globalization." And that leads to an odd place -
Most leftists now grant that you can't stop the globalization juggernaut; the best you can do is guide it. Friedman's less grim view suggests that, if you look at things from the standpoint of humanity as a whole - a standpoint many leftists purport to hold - globalization may actually be a good thing. ?

? Even globalization's downsides - such as displaced American workers - can have an upside for liberals in political terms. A churning workforce strengthens the case for the kind of safety net that Democrats champion and Republicans resist. (Globalization-induced jitters may help explain why President Bush's plan to make Social Security less secure hasn't captured the nation's imagination.) Friedman outlines an agenda of "compassionate flatism" that includes portable, subsidized health care, wage insurance, and subsidies for college and vocational school. You can argue about the details, and you can push them to the left. (He notes that corporations like to put offices and factories in countries with universal health care.) But this is clearly a Democratic agenda, and, as more and more white-collar jobs move abroad, its appeal to traditionally Republican voters should grow.

Globalization's domestic disruptions can also be softened by global institutions. As the sociologist Douglas Massey argues in his just-published liberal manifesto Return of the L Word, the World Trade Organization, though reviled on the far left as a capitalist tool, could, with American leadership, use its clout to enforce labor standards abroad that are already embraced by the U.N.'s toothless International Labor Organization. For example: the right of workers everywhere to bargain collectively. (Workers of the world unite.)
That?s pretty cool, even if Wright admits ?Friedman doesn't emphasize this sort of leftish global governance.?

But you think the war was a bad idea? You might like globalization!
Friedman persuasively updates his Lexus-and-the-Olive-Tree argument that economic interdependence makes war costlier for nations and hence less likely. He's heard the counterargument - "That's what they said before World War I!" - and he concedes that a big war could happen. But he shows that the pre-World War I era didn't have this kind of interdependence - the fine-grained and far-flung division of labor orchestrated by Toyota, Wal-Mart, et al. This is "supply chaining" - "collaborating horizontally - among suppliers, retailers, and customers - to create value."

For example: The hardware in a Dell Inspiron 600m laptop comes from factories in the Philippines, Costa Rica, Malaysia, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, India, and Israel; the software is designed in America and elsewhere. The corporations that own or operate these factories are based in the United States, China, Taiwan, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Ireland, Thailand, Israel, and Great Britain. And Michael Dell personally knows their CEOs?a kind of relationship that, multiplied across the global web of supply chains, couldn't hurt when tensions rise between, say, China and the United States.

Friedman argues plausibly that global capitalism dampened the India-Pakistan crisis of 2002, when a nuclear exchange was so thinkable that the United States urged Americans to leave India. Among the corporate feedback the Indian government got in midcrisis was a message from United Technologies saying that it had started looking for more stable countries in which to house mission-critical operations. The government toned down its rhetoric.
Wow! Off-shore systems shops and those Nike sweatshops can stop wars? Perhaps so.

And Wright points out that the new hyper-globalization ?rewards inter-ethnic tolerance and punishes tribalism.? He cites Friedman - ?If you want to have a modern complex division of labor, you have to be able to put more trust in strangers.? And that would mean ?nations famous for fundamentalist intolerance? like Saudi Arabia don?t get to play in the new, big sandbox.

And how far can one go with this?
Peace and universal brotherhood - it almost makes globalization sound like a leftist's dream come true. ?

Like Friedman, I accept Bush's premise that spreading political freedom is both morally good and good for America's long-term national security. But is Bush's instinctive means to that end - invading countries that aren't yet free - really the best approach? Friedman's book fortified my belief that the answer is no.

Friedman, unlike many liberals, has long appreciated that, more than ever, economic liberty encourages political liberty. As statist economies have liberalized, this linkage has worked faster in some cases (South Korea, Taiwan) than in others (China), but it works at some speed just about everywhere.

And consider the counterexamples, the increasingly few nations that have escaped fine-grained penetration by market forces. They not only tend to be authoritarian; they often flout international norms, partly because their lack of economic engagement makes their relationship to the world relatively zero-sum, leaving them little incentive to play nicely. Friedman writes, "Since Iraq, Syria, south Lebanon, North Korea, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran are not part of any major global supply chains, all of them remain hot spots that could explode at any time."

That list includes the last country Bush invaded and the two countries atop his prospective invasions list. It makes you wonder: With all due respect for carnage, mightn't it be easier to draw these nations into the globalized world and let capitalism work its magic ??
Well, that?s a thought. I have often argued with my conservative friend about our fruitless embargo on trade with Cuba and the matching severe travels restrictions. What is the point? If we want them to ease out of the Albanian communist mode, why not open up all sort of trade with them? A Starbucks on every corner, a KFC every ten blocks ? we buy cigars and do the tourist thing ? and money flows back and forth? So much for their people?s revolution.

Wright puts it this way -
This is one paradox of "neoconservative" foreign policy: It lacks the conservative's faith in the politically redeeming power of markets. Indeed, Bush, far from trying to lure authoritarians into the insidiously antiauthoritarian logic of capitalism, has tried to exclude them from it. Economically, he's all stick and no carrot. (Of Iran he said, "We've sanctioned ourselves out of influence," oblivious to the fact that removing sanctions can be an incentive.)

Of course, if you took this approach - used trade, aid, and other forms of what Joseph Nye calls "soft power" to globalize authoritarian nations and push them toward freedom - hyper-tyrannies like Saddam Hussein's Iraq would be the last dominoes to fall. More promising dominoes would include Egypt, even Saudi Arabia. But according to neocon reverse-domino theory, it only takes one domino.
Yeah, but we do things militarily. How odd. And Friedman supported the war.

Anyway, the lever for changing things may be this book, if my friends buy into it premises -
? selling this lefty, peacenik message to Friedman isn't as improbable as selling it to some lefty peaceniks, because buying the message means coming fully to terms with globalization?not just granting its inevitability but appreciating its potential. The Naderite left reviled The Lexus and the Olive Tree for what they took to be its Panglossian depiction of globalization as a force of nature. ? But, seven years later, Friedman's early depiction of globalization's power - good and bad - looks prescient. And with this book he's shown how and why globalization has now shifted into warp drive. Meanwhile, the main achievement of Naderite nationalists has been to put George Bush in the White House. If forced to choose between the two - and, in a sense, liberals are - where would you look for inspiration?
Look to globalization.


Panglossian? Think baseless optimism.

Pangloss is a character in Voltaire's Candide, ou l'Optimisme (1759). Pangloss is a follower of - and some argue a caricature or outright satire of - the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, who theorized that the world we live in is the best of all possible worlds. As one wag said, perhaps we should fear we do. (See this.)

Posted by Alan at 21:59 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 18 April 2005 22:04 PDT home

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