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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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Tuesday, 4 July 2006
The Fourth of July
Topic: Announcements

The Fourth of July

Out for the day. Family picnic. A long drive south.

"In the United States there is more space where nobody is than where anybody is. That is what makes America what it is." - Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), The Geographical History of America (1936)

American flag as seen from the Page Museum Atrium at La Brea Tar Pits, Wilshire Boulevard, July 5, 2005



Posted by Alan at 07:56 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Monday, 3 July 2006
American Values
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

American Values

When I left teaching in 1980 or so it was to get with the real world. Tried of being underpaid and hearing "those who can't do, teach," diving into the world of business seemed to offer a chance to "do" for a change - not to talk about things, but to participate in them, and make reasonable money. So it was hauling my sorry ass out of Rochester, New York, and moving to Los Angeles, where my sister and her family had ended up some years earlier, and hitting the bricks. In a few months I was doing, sort of, and living down in Manhattan Beach. So this is what the real world is like. That's what I told myself.

First at Northrop, then Hughes, it was working in "Training and Organizational Development" - but it was still teaching. These were, however, classes in supervision - how to manage difficult workers and play by the rules and motivate and reward, and reprimand, and all the rest - as if I knew. But they had scripts and all sort of audio-visuals that made it fairly straightforward, and if you can get seventh graders arguing about Macbeth and his motives, you can use some of the same techniques to get prima donna PhD engineers to be happy and productive workers, designing the next generation of electronics for the spy satellites. The new supervisors and managers needed all the help they could get, having been bumped up from being brilliant workers themselves to suddenly being bewildered bosses who didn't do the doing at all. They did the meetings, and the paperwork, the planning, and all the HR stuff - performance appraisals and the raises, coaching, hiring and firing. A good number of them were not entirely happy with that, but a promotion is a promotion. And that's how large organizations work - do something really well and you'll move up and not do it any more.

A few thrived. Many didn't. Those who thrived later became amazing executives, and those who didn't tried to remember what they had learned in "charm school" as they called it, and got stuck in that dreaded nowhere land of middle management, responsible for the work of those below them, and hammered by those above them for results, and not allowed to "do" anything. That's where I ended up, moving from the training thing to HR systems, coding clever little applications, then supervising those who did, then managing "systems shops" where I had not much idea what real work was being done two or three levels down, for which I was entirely responsible. Managing the business applications shop at a GM locomotive plant in Canada was a long way from those lazy afternoons in upstate New York, getting the kids to think about what Lady Macbeth was really up to, and writing something about it. How did that happen?

But those days are over. The systems world is an awful place, with all that "churn" and the outsourcing and the ever-changing technology, and no sense that anyone is ever safe. After stints at CSC and Perot Systems, where contracts come and go and the reorganizations move everyone around or out quite regularly, it seemed best to move on. The websites are fine. I'm retired.

In the middle of all the business stuff of course you had to read all the books on management theory - Tom Peters and that sort of thing. These books told how to get the most out of people, and be successful. "Management by walking around" made sense - be an open inquisitive presence, hourly if need be, and people will know you care about what's good on. It was all common sense, and rather obvious. These books made their authors rich, and they spoke at all those conventions you had to attend. I think this was supposed to be motivational. But nothing much can fix Salt Lake City or Las Vegas, stuck in a banquet room with five hundred of the clueless, sipping bad coffee and listing to the "insights" and worrying what's gone south back at the office.

And too there was the matter of values. Teaching English to kids from seventh to twelfth grade had that values stuff built in - help them develop the ability to understand what they read, to think critically as best they could, and help them learn to organize what they thought, and to write it down in a way others can understand. That was hard work, but it made sense. That's what they needed.

In the systems world it was a bit different. It was getting people to work well in threatening and chaotic circumstances, and like it, with the ultimate aim of keeping costs down, including the salaries you paid, so that the organization made scads of money and the shareholders were happy. It seemed a bit of a scam. Or maybe it was just detached from any sort of value, beyond the dollar.

This all came back when I came across an item in The New Statesman by Tom Hodgkinson, The Winner Takes It All. Tom Hodgkinson is editor of The Idler and author of "How to Be Idle" (Penguin) - and a bit of a wag, and blunt, as Brit writers can be when they deal with nonsense.

The item is a review of four of those management books -

Winning: the Ultimate Business How-To Book
Jack Welch with Suzy Welch, HarperCollins, ISBN 0007197675

You Can't Win a Fight With Your Boss and 55 Other Rules for Success
Tom Markert, HarperCollins, ISBN 0007227515

The Servant Leader: Unleashing The Power Of Your People - 50 Cautionary Tales for Managers
Peter Honey, How To Books, ISBN 0749445335

Bonjour Laziness: Why Hard Work Doesn't Pay
Corinne Maier, Orion, ISBN 1400096286

As you see, the first three are the management book, and that last one is the subversive one. That's why it was discussed in these pages off and on, most recently here, here, and by guest columnist Bob Patterson here. It "resonated," as they say. It's a values thing.

And Hodgkinson, in his review, dives right in the values issue, as a peculiarly American thing (British spelling, punctuation and usage maintained) -
In 1736, the American Puritan Benjamin Franklin published a pamphlet called "Necessary Hints to Those That Would Be Rich"; this was followed in 1748 by "Advice to a Young Tradesman". In these early management training guides, Franklin outlines the principles of a new kind of capitalism, then in its infancy: riches are to be pursued for their own sake; it must be remembered that "time is money".

Franklin goes on to recommend hard work and stresses the importance of appearing industrious: "The most trifling actions that affect a man's credit are to be regarded. The sound of your hammer at five in the morning, or eight at night, heard by a creditor, makes him easy six months longer; but if he sees you at a billiard table, or hears your voice at a tavern, when you should be at work, he sends for his money the next day . . . it makes you appear a careful as well as an honest tradesman."

As Max Weber pointed out in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Franklin promotes avarice, hypocrisy and the accumulation of wealth as if they were ethical principles. The emphasis is on how you are perceived. It doesn't matter if you go to the tavern - just don't let your boss see you there. Qualities such as honesty are promoted not because they are essential virtues, but because they might be useful business tools.
The scam has been going on a long time, but then, who's not to say avarice, hypocrisy and the accumulation of wealth are the real core of American ethics?

No, that couldn't be. Greed is good? Everything you do must be in the service of profit, growth and share price?

Let's see. Ten years in teaching, twenty-five in the business world. No, that seems about right.

And Hodgkinson is saying the first three of these books, on the secrets of "doing well" in business, promote what is "one of the central myths of capitalism - that, purely by virtue of hard work, anybody can get to the top."

Of course that's silly. If anyone could, they would, and everyone would be at the top, and then it wouldn't be the top, because everyone was there. It would be the dreaded middle. Maybe the books exist make you feel bad - you're not at the top, so you haven't been doing the right things, you inadequate slug. Maybe they aren't motivational at all, but written for depressives who want to think the worst of themselves.

And Hodgkinson, too, says the books recommend all sorts of immoral actions -
In the old days, greed and covetousness were seen as sinful; now they are encouraged. Jack Welch's Winning sets the tone. The author grins manically from the cover - despite the silver hair, manicured nails and perfect teeth, he looks like Beelzebub incarnate. Welch became CEO of General Electric after beginning his corporate life in plastics. He is well known in the business world as a "great CEO" - which, roughly translated, means that he has made loads of money. So now he feels qualified to advise young men and women how to "win". As Welch explains in his grammar-free prose: "And that is what this book is about - winning. Probably no other topic could have made me want to write again! Because I think winning is great. Not good - great."

But why is "winning" so great? Because, says Welch, it enables people to make lots of money which . . . erm . . . enables them to "get better healthcare, buy vacation homes, and secure a comfortable retirement". That's it. Those are the three goals of our mortal existence, otherwise known as more pills, more mortgages and more burglar alarms. Whatever happened to joy, pleasure, brotherhood? Whatever happened to enjoying life? Whatever happened to creativity? Whatever happened to love?
Well, those are for high school teachers to discuss when such things come up in whatever book they're teaching. And curiously, in my last position those who worked for me were aghast because one of the senior executives thought Welch had the right idea - each year fire the fifth of the workforce with lowest performance appraisals, as there's no point in helping them improve their work. That takes too much time and just slows everything down, and costs a ton of money. What's the point? What was I to say, that it would never happen in our office? It was going to happen. Life is hard, and I had to do the performance appraisals on a curve - there would be a lowest twenty percent. What to say? I'd write a nice reference letter. We'd have a going way luncheon at a nice place, if I could play tricks with the budget to find the funds.

But Welch is big on honesty -
"I have always been a huge proponent of candor," he says, before going on to explain why honesty is the best policy in business. Displaying his trademark Franklinesque hypocrisy, he advocates honesty in your dealings with others not because it is ethical, but because it can be useful for making money.
And there's this -
Some of the traits Welch looks for in potential staff are a little worrying: "They're sports trivia nuts or they're fanatical supporters of their alma maters or they're political junkies." Nuts, fanatical, junkies: in the everyday world, being insane, a fundamentalist or a drug addict might be considered bad; in business, it seems, the crazier you are the better. All of which summons up a picture of a madhouse office, with grinning employees giving each other high-fives, shouting "whoop!" and exploding with joy because they have just beaten someone else to a pulp. And Welch warns that you can't be too mad: "Hire and promote only true believers and get-on-with-it types . . . ferret out and get rid of resisters, even if their performance is satisfactory."
Well, he may not be charming, but he is successful, in his own thuggish way. And he has his values. They just aren't very pretty.

As for the Markert book, You Can't Win a Fight With Your Boss, that one is just about working hard - "You can forget lunch breaks. You can't make money for a company while you're eating lunch . . . if you don't put in the hours, someone just as smart and clever as you will. Fact of life: the strong survive." Don't follow that advice "and you might just end up as roadkill - lying dead by the side of the corporate highway as others drive right past you." Thomas Hobbes lives

Of course out here in Hollywood there's the classic line that if you can fake sincerity you've got it made. It's not just Hollywood -
Markert shares Welch's view that certain moral qualities can be useful in business - sincerity, for example, when sucking up to the boss ("The trick is to simply be sincere and charming"). He advises that "having friends at work is not a great idea", and he offers a staggering homily about plane travel. Markert claims that he always introduces himself to the person sitting next to him on the plane. Oh, that's sweet, you think. But then he explains this is "not to be nice"; it's because he wants to find out whether the other guy is a competitor before he gets out his laptop and displays confidential information. In such a world, even eating is seen as a business tool: "I'm a recent convert to eating well . . . food is fuel. Fuel is an element of performance. Bad fuel means low performance."
This is very utilitarian of course, or pragmatic. We American invented Pragmatism as a school of philosophy. Maybe we just don't do values.

The Neuschel book is more of this, and it all comes down to this -
The same tenets are repeated in these books: all variety in life is subservient to the goal of making money; individual character traits are fine so long as they don't hinder profits and share prices. "Eccentricities are welcome provided they do not have a detrimental effect on people's performance," warns Peter Honey in 50 Cautionary Tales for Managers. None of these authors ever mentions what the company he works for actually makes. Not once does Welch or Markert talk of quality of craftsmanship or the satisfaction of creativity; their sole interest is in growth, success and profits. Where the profits come from is immaterial. It could be cat food, computers or cars, any old stuff - as long as it makes money.
Hodgkinson say these books are just "sophisticated whips for slaves." He quotes Raoul Vaneigem - "Every call for productivity under the conditions chosen by capitalist economics is a call to slavery." That did occur to some of us in management, when told to get more out of people, but there was no money for raises, so we had to attended workshops on "no monitary reinforcement and motivation" - the brainstorming session were just depressing.

But that worked for some - heap on the praise, let them leave early and come in late now and then, as they're working at home too. We've all managed a few of these gung-ho happy workaholics. They can be scary. Just what are their values? What do the think, or feel, or dream? Vaneigem - "Nowadays ambition and the love of a job well done are the indelible mark of defeat and of the most mindless submission."

As for the hyper-successful authors of these books, Hodgkinson says this -
These architects of misery never exhibit the slightest concern for ecological issues: these are the sorts of guys who have been wrecking the planet, yet they present themselves as heroes. Nor, unsurprisingly, do they acknowledge the role of good fortune in business. They never say: I was just lucky in that, for 20 years, the markets went my way and I have no idea why.
They like that illusion of control, but how much of their brilliant success was just plain dumb luck, as Chaos Theory would and will demonstrate?

For a discussion of that see this, where Leonard Mlodinow, the author of those books on physics and mathematics - Feynman's Rainbow, Euclid's Window: The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace and, with Stephen Hawking, A Briefer History of Time - discusses the Hollywood executives out here who believe their success is based on great decisions they've made and their management skills, when really whether any one movie is a hit or a flop can be explained best by Chaos Theory and information cascades and all that. The mathematical concepts are complex, but explained clearly. The item is long, and amazing. Any movie can be a hit or a flop, and there's not much way to tell which it will be. That is demonstrated mathematically, with plenty of examples. You only have the illusion of control. It's a scam too.

Hodgkinson really likes Corinne Maier's Bonjour Laziness - she knows a scam when she sees one. That's why that one has been discussed in these pages.

And all I can feel is gratefulness. Hodgkinson read these nasty books. Facing that would be too depressing. Those days are over. No more of that.

But that's the business side of things. There are other American vales, as we are a religious nation - a pious nation. Outside the world of Islam and the nations which with we are now in conflict, you will find no more hyper-religious state. We'll match them scriptural revelation to scriptural revelation, the Bible faces the Koran in a showdown of righteousness. We're not all about making money. We're about doing God's work here on earth. And that's a different sort of management theory.

Amy Sullivan explains here, and it's a bit complicated -
For the past six years, the most prominent Christian in America has been the president. His belief is not of the "God said it. I believe it. That settles it," sort that fundamentalists embrace. Rather, Bush subscribes to a syllogistic doctrine of presidential infallibility: God works through Christians; I am a Christian; I have decided to do X; therefore, X is God's will.

Bush is known to start each day reading a devotional from My Utmost for His Highest, a collection of essays by 19th-century Scottish minister Oswald Chambers. As Bob Wright explained in the New York Times a few years ago, Chambers had a very simple - some might say comforting - view of divine will. "The basic idea" Wright wrote, "is that once you surrender to God, divine guidance is palpable." The only questioning involved is whether one carries out God's will, not whether one correctly interprets it.

Those who accuse Bush of being a theocrat have made much of his reported belief that God speaks through him. That's not entirely fair, because what Bush refers to is a fairly common hope among believers that God will use each of us to be instruments of justice and mercy and grace. "May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight," from Psalm 19, is a prayer many Christians recite. It's just that most of us don't express this as a confident assertion that God does in fact speak through us. Instead, the prayer is a humble plea.
But the man isn't humble. And he's at the top of the heap, king of the mountain. So that's a management approach too.

What to make of all this, the Brit reviewing the management books and ragging on Ben Franklin? And this business about doing God's work when you manage things? What are our values?

Monday, July 3, 2006, there was this -
People in Britain view the United States as a vulgar, crime-ridden society obsessed with money and led by an incompetent president whose Iraq policy is failing, according to a newspaper poll.

The United States is no longer a symbol of hope to Britain and the British no longer have confidence in their transatlantic cousins to lead global affairs, according to the poll published in The Daily Telegraph.

The YouGov poll found that 77 percent of respondents disagreed with the statement that the US is "a beacon of hope for the world".

As Americans prepared to celebrate the 230th anniversary of their independence on Tuesday, the poll found that only 12 percent of Britons trust them to act wisely on the global stage. This is half the number who had faith in the Vietnam-scarred White House of 1975.

A massive 83 percent of those questioned said that the United States doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks.

... US President George W. Bush fared significantly worse, with just one percent rating him a "great leader" against 77 percent who deemed him a "pretty poor" or "terrible" leader.

More than two-thirds who offered an opinion said America is essentially an imperial power seeking world domination. And 81 per cent of those who took a view said President George W Bush hypocritically championed democracy as a cover for the pursuit of American self-interests.

... In answer to other questions, a majority of the Britons questions described Americans as uncaring, divided by class, awash in violent crime, vulgar, preoccupied with money, ignorant of the outside world, racially divided, uncultured and in the most overwhelming result (90 percent of respondents) dominated by big business.
Yeah, but they drink warm beer, and they have those football hooligans (and they perversely call soccer football when we know what that is), and the queen wears funny hats. We have all the money, and we have God on our side. What do they know?

The poll, the review of the management books, appear on the same day, just as the United States celebrates our two hundred thirtieth July Fourth. It's time to examine the values. Again.

Posted by Alan at 23:39 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 4 July 2006 00:04 PDT home

Sunday, 2 July 2006
Press Notes: A Tale for the Fourth of July
Topic: The Media

Press Notes: A Tale for the Fourth of July

It used to seem so simple.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Well, congress just can't do such things, but the pressure is there. Calls for the abridging the freedom of speech, and the press, were all the rage, Sunday, July 2, on the Sunday morning political shows, and in the press, and on the web, which some call the "blogosphere." Yeah, those pesky web logs.

The problem was the New York Times, again. Yep, those folks who long ago published the Pentagon Papers, and last year the story that revealed the domestic wiretapping of anyone or everyone without any warrants or judicial or congressional oversight and clearly against the law that explicitly said that was forbidden, and last month the story about the effort to secretly follow most all bank transactions in the world to see what's up. It was the Times at it again, printing what the government told them not to print.

How is the administration supposed to keep America safe from the terrorists everywhere if this newspaper keeps pointing out that the guys in charge are purposely breaking a quite unambiguous law or two, or more, flat-out lying to the public, and to congress, and just ignoring what they have sworn to defend, that constitution? It's just not fair, or something. Which do you want, safety - or the way things traditionally, and by law, and previously have been done? Make up your mind, folks.

The calls for charging the Times with treason are all over - from Congressman King of New York to most of the media on the right. Why even document it? Turn on the radio, or watch a little television. It's the topic of the week of the Fourth of July - freedom of the press, and its limits. We pride ourselves on having a free press but it must be compliant and complicit in the nasty things that must be done to keep us safe, or something like that - the free press is there to support the government and its policies, and its methods. What else is a free press for? This is an interesting discussion to have on the Fourth of July. It's getting back to the basics.

But it can get very odd. The Times is the lightening rod here, or the scapegoat. That's where to "pile on" if you're inclined to think there are many, many things you shouldn't know, and no one should know, and the press should only print the official version of things. So all eyes are on the Times and on this particular Sunday it was, of all things, something they printed in their travel section. Really.

The item at issue is this - a fluff piece on the small town of down in Maryland, Saint Michaels, where you will find vacation homes of all sorts of famous and really rich Americans, including Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. There's a picture of Rumsfeld's driveway.

What's the problem?

It's a plot - an intentional "exposure" of Cheney and Rumsfeld to terrorists, done with clever malevolence by the New York Times - they've just told the terrorists where these two live and are hoping the bad guys will come to Maryland and kill them. The Times wants them dead, and is helping along anyone who will do the deed. Yes, of course, the sale and ownership of all land and the buildings there is a public record. Anyone can look it up, and much is on the web, so you can look such things up from an internet café in Kabul or Tehran. But there terrorists only read the Times, of course.

But the outrage on the right is wide and deep, and reviewed by Glenn Greenwald here, with links to it all, and his discussion. You can follow it all there. It's all quite open - this is the smoking gun, proving the Times is plotting to overthrow the government, or at least have key officials assassinated. They did this travel piece on purpose. See? It's quite clear.

Everyone points to the problem. These homes and their location were well-known. Last year the Washington Post wrote about them here, and so did the hyper-right news service NewsMax here, quoting the Post item. But they're not the Times. And the too, back in 2003 the Times here printed a quite similar story about the Clinton's Chappaqua home north of Manhattan. This is travel writing, folks, about cool and exclusive places. Or it's treason.

Greenwald -
The Times clearly published this weekend's article [about Cheney's and Rumsfeld's vacation homes] disguised as a feature about vacation homes but with the intent to "retaliate" against and endanger Bush officials, even though: (a) the Times published a far more revealing article about the Clintons' private home in Chappaqua two years ago, completely with all sorts of identifying pictures, and (b) the secret, dangerous information which the Times revealed about Cheney and Rumsfeld's homes in order to encourage assassins was already disclosed in full months ago in an almost identical article published by that small, obscure newspaper called The Washington Post.

... America is currently at war and its enemies are domestic liberals and The New York Times. This war was started by Al Gore and Jimmy Carter when they opposed the invasion of Iraq. The New York Times is allied with Al Qaeda and their latest plot against America is to provide their terrorist friends with a roadmap to the vacation homes of Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld so that they can be assassinated. That is what is being reported today by three of the largest "conservative" blogs on the Internet, along with Horowitz, the leader of the conservative effort to wipe out anti-conservative bias on college campuses.
So, you see, it's coordinated treason. You do see that, don't you?

And if it is it's retaliation time against the reporters and editors who were involved in this particular travel story.

Greenwald quotes one idea -
So, in the school of what's good for the goose is good for the gander, we are providing this link so YOU may help the blogosphere in locating the homes (perhaps with photos?) of the editors and reporters of the New York Times.

Let's start with the following New York Times reporters and editors: Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger Jr. , Bill Keller, Eric Lichtblau, and James Risen. Do you have an idea where they live?

Go hunt them down and do America a favor. Get their photo, street address, where their kids go to school, anything you can dig up, and send it to the link above. This is your chance to be famous - grab for the golden ring.
If Cheney dies, so does the travel writer. In the meantime, if you're a patriot, you can threaten and terrify the kids.

This is the side of things than posted the photos and home address of those who work at clinics that provide abortions. You remember the doctor who was shot dead in Buffalo, and the clinic bombed near Atlanta where that nurse lost much of her face. It's the same sort of thing. Now it's the Times, the newspaper on the side of the terrorists who hate America. Can't have that.

It should be an interesting Fourth of July. Will people cheer when those at the Times are gunned down to defeat terrorism? Maybe it's all bluster and they'll just harass the kids. Well, at least their children will have a chance to try real education - home schooling. It won't be safe to leave home. They're "fair game."

Is this a great country, or what?

And the press thing gets even odder, as it splits the Wall Street Journal, with its angry pro-Bush editorial board and its staff of first-rate objective reporters. On NBC's Meet the Press, Sunday, July 2, Andrea Mitchell interviews on of those reporters, John Harwood, and he unloads on whether the Times was just being treasonous when it ran the bank records story -
MS. MITCHELL: Let me, let me show you a Wall Street Journal editorial - a very unusual editorial - that was in the paper on Friday. It said that "The problem with The New York Times is that millions of Americans no longer believe that its editors would make those calculations in anything close to good faith. We certainly don't. On issue after issue, it has become clear that The Times believes the U.S. is not really at war, and in any case the Bush administration lacks the legitimacy to wage it." John, I don't want to really put you on the spot here, but I am. Your paper's news columns also ran this story, and here you have this editorial. It really is a really sharp conflict.

MR. HARWOOD: Couple of points on that. First of all, that editorial wasn't kidding when they said there's a separation between the news and the editorial pages at The Wall Street Journal.

MS. MITCHELL: That's for sure.

MR. HARWOOD: Secondly, there is a very large gap between the ideological outlook and philosophy of The New York Times editorial page and The Wall Street Journal editorial page. There is not a large ideological gap between the news staffs of those two places, and why would there be? Some of the top people of The New York Times were hired from The Wall Street Journal. What I found shocking about the editorial was the assertion that The New York Times did not act in good faith in making that judgment. I don't know anybody on the news staff of The Wall Street Journal that believes that. I certainly don't.
Yep, as Hemingway said - "Every good writer needs a foolproof, shockproof crap detector." Hemingway was a reporter for the Toronto Star in the late thirties, interviewed Mussolini, and new bully crap when he saw it (Mussolini was reading a book when Hemingway arrive, but was holding it upside-down). And this one reporter knows the same thing.

Then there was William Bennett and William Safire of Times mixing up on the same show -
MR. SAFIRE: Let me respond to what Bill [Bennett], to the point he's making, that who elected the media to determine what should be secret and what should not?

MS. MITCHELL: Which is the fundamental point.

MR. SAFIRE: Right. And the answer to that is, the founding fathers did. They came up with this Bill of Rights beyond which the constitutional convention would not move unless there were a First Amendment to challenge the government ... just as the American founding fathers challenged the British government. Now it's not treasonable, it's not even wrong for the press to say we're going to find out what we can and we'll act as a check and balance on the government. Sometimes we'll make mistakes. Sometimes the government will mistake.
Ah, a traditionalist.

And there was his boss, New York Times editor Bill Keller on Face the Nation with this -
Published reports that the U.S. was monitoring international banking transactions were not news to the terrorists who were its target because the Bush administration had already "talked openly" about the effort, The New York Times' top editor said Sunday.

... Keller, on CBS, said it is the government that "likes to have it both ways. ... They confide in us when they want to advertise the programs that are successful. And then they rebuke us if we write about something they would prefer we didn't write about."

"... I don't think this is all politics. I think the administration is a little embarrassed. This is the most secretive White House we've had since the Nixon White House."
And as noted here by Kos, the most widely read on the left - "Let's hope Keller is pissed off enough - and has been re-reminded of the importance of the First Amendment we've all been begging the paper to defend - to continue to show the Bush administration the folly, as the old saying has it, of picking a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel."

But the fight is on. It'll be a fine Fourth. Let's hash this out.

Posted by Alan at 23:11 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 2 July 2006 23:28 PDT home

Hot off the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot off the Virtual Press

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 27, for the week of July 2, 2006.Click here to go there...

For the Fourth of July - this week what no one actually does anymore, burning the flag in protest, was again not banned with a new amendment to the constitution, but there was a lot of talk about charging the nation's top newspaper with treason for printing what the government told them not to print, so we're back to the basics somehow. It's all about power, and how hard it is to assert it. And with a flurry of decisions, the Supreme Court either saved the country by restoring balance to things - and suggested we be a little more honorable in how we deal with matters - or else they too are closet cheese-eating surrender-monkeys who want us to lose everything. Take your pick. And the issue of the separation of church and state came up again in a big way, in spite of what was set down in the rules two hundred thirty years ago. Another Fourth of July and we still can't seem to get all this stuff right. Oh well, just consider the Zen nature of McDonalds - a place you can go and let all these heavy matters fall away. Zen? Yes.

At the International Desk, Our Man in Tel-Aviv, Sylvain Ubersfeld, provides another tour of another neighborhood there, with amazing photos of a place lost in time. Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, sends good stuff - France beat Brazil in the World Cup game this weekend, and faces Portugal next. Paris went wild, as you'll see.

Your bit of Hollywood history this week is a photo tour of the studio where Gone With the Wind was shot, and it isn't MGM, but rather a place no one much notices. This week too you'll find four architectural studies of the some fine old buildings, in the old styles, from Zigzag to Art Deco to Spanish Mission. And there are some arty abstract shots too, and two cloud studies for the closet meteorologists out there, and the weekly botanicals - extreme red white and blue for the holiday. And for a change of pace, a guest photographer - old trains in the Catskills, far north of Manhattan.

And too, our friend in Texas keeps us up on the weird, and the quotes are for the Fourth, people saying cool things.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________________

Shutting Things Down
The Irony of Power: Losing It All by Being Strong
Legal Matters: Third Time is Charm, or Not
Religion: Two Hundred Thirty Years and We Still Argue
Refuge: Comfort Food and the Absence of Place

The International Desk ______________________________

Our Man in Tel-Aviv: The House of Justice
Our Man in Paris: France Hugs Brazil and Wins

Hollywood Matters ______________________________

Landmarks: The Forgotten Major Studio

Southern California Photography ______________________________

Architecture: Good Old Buildings (four pages, four styles)Abstracts: The Heat
Clouds: Storms Over Hollywood
Botanicals: Red, White and Blue

Guest Photography ______________________________

Upstate: Old Trains

Weekly Features ______________________________

The Weird: WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL
Quotes for the week of July 2, 2006 - Independence Day

Posted by Alan at 17:49 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 2 July 2006 17:51 PDT home

Friday, 30 June 2006
Religion: Two Hundred Thirty Years and We Still Argue
Topic: God and US

Religion: Two Hundred Thirty Years and We Still Argue

The week was dominated by the news of the Supreme Court decisions, particularly that amazing one on the last day of the court's term (all discussed here), and the current invasion of Gaza by the Israelis with them taking parts of the Palestinian government into custody, blowing up lots of infrastructure so as the week ended there was no water available there at all, and buzzing the government buildings in the Syrian capitol with the fighter-bombers we've sold then over the years, all to get that one soldier back. Things are a bit hot there. Then there were the calls for the New York Times to be charged with treason for printing a story about how we traced the terrorists' financial transactions, which the administration had actually boasted about doing some years back. It was supposed to be a secret? Guess so (discussed here along with the flag-burning business). And the week ended with this - "The American military is investigating accusations that soldiers raped an Iraqi woman in her home and killed her and three family members, including a child, American officials said Friday. The investigation is the fourth into suspected killings of unarmed Iraqis by American soldiers announced by the military in June. In May, it was disclosed that the military was conducting an inquiry into the deaths of 24 civilians in Haditha last November." We are the good guys, we really are.

And those were just the major stories. We live in turbulent times, and just where this all is heading is unclear. This country seems to be disintegrating before our eyes, or seems so to some, and you even get discussions of whether our president can be charged with war crimes - see this and this - theoretically possible but politically quite unlikely, even implausible. That's new. War crimes? That's unprecedented.

But the Fourth of July is fast approaching, and we can use the day to feel good about things - or not. Are you patriotic? Yeah, maybe you are. But are you godly?

Why should that come up now? Well, under the major stories there's some disagreement about core values that's getting nasty.

Things used to be different. Susan Jacoby is quoted here on the matter of church and state -
Those who cherish secular values have too often allowed conservatives to frame public policy debates as conflicts between "value-free" secularists and religious representatives of supposedly unchanging moral principles. But secularists are not value-free; their values are simply grounded in earthly concerns rather than in anticipation of heavenly rewards or fear of infernal punishments. No one in public life today upholds secularism and humanism in the uncompromising terms used by Ingersoll more than 125 years ago.

Robert Green Ingersoll on July 4, 1876, the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence - "Secularism teaches us to be good here and now. I know nothing better than goodness. Secularism teaches us to be just here and now. It is impossible to be juster than just. Secularism has no 'castles in Spain.' It has no glorified fog. It depends upon realities, upon demonstrations; and its end is to make this world better every day - to do away with poverty and crime, and to cover the world with happy and contented homes."

These values belong at the center, not in the margins, of the public square. It is past time to restore secularism, and its noble and essential contributions at every stage of the American experiment, to its proper place in our nation's historical memory and vision of the future.
Yep, there are those of unchanging moral principles - Jesus is their savior and they know in which parts of the New Testament he was just kidding about tolerance and loving your neighbor and all the rest - and the rest of us just have no values. And the government should operate on those unchanging moral principles - and deal harshly with gay folks and those who would let other religions be and all the rest.

And there's no "making the world better." Life nasty, mean, brutish and short, and people need to be kept in line - and anyway the end is coming with its Rapture, and improving things thus seems kind of pointless.

But why would the issue of church and state and basic values come up this week? Well, someone stirred the pot again, and that would be the rising young star of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois. He gave a speech at a conference of Call to Renewal, a religious group that wants to reduce poverty in America if they can. That speech would have been harmless enough, but he called for Democrats to embrace religious rhetoric from public platforms, and for the party to just lighten up about school prayer and all the other faith-based issues. It was, maybe, a "get religion and give in" speech. It raised some eyebrows. Liberal politics can be fused with religion? Really? For liberals religion was always a private matter, not political.

From a quick survey the reaction were mixed. From the left Michelle Murrain said this - "In the end, I think that this is very positive. He is right, most people in this country have some sort of faith, and Republicans have exploited this to forward their basically immoral agenda. He's not saying, and I'm not saying that we need to do the same. What he is saying, and I agree, is that politics and religion do mix, and we (that is, progressives) ignore that at our own peril." But another staunch Democrat said this - "I would agree with Obama that Democrats need to reach out to the Evangelical community, but let's not be stupid about it. Let's not compromise our principles and our beliefs in the basic humanity of ALL Americans in a cheap, transparent effort to woo a few more votes come November."

The widely-read lefty Duncan Black said this - "If you think it's important to court evangelicals, then court them. If, on the other hand, you think it's important to confirm and embrace the false idea that Democrats are hostile to religion in order to set yourself apart, then continue doing what you're doing. It won't help the Democrats, and it probably won't even help you, but whatever makes you happy."

In response to that there was this - "What nonsense! Obama's speech was far more critical of the cynical use of religion by the religious right than an attack on Democrats."

Maybe it was, but that's not how people saw it.

On the other side, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, thinks Obama offers "secularism with a smile," that he "seems to believe in the myth of a universal reason and rationality that will be compelling to all persons of all faiths, including those of no faith at all. Such principles do not exist in any specific form usable for the making of public policy on, for example, matters of life and death like abortion and human embryo research." That's here - there's no such thing as universal reason and rationality, as those two things never did anyone any good (the Enlightenment and all the science and political theory that arose from it was a crock, it seems). And anyway, you cannot be rational about abortion and human embryo research - you can only be right, or wrong. Rationality has nothing to do with it.

Michelle Goldberg, the author of the new book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, thinks something even deeper is at play. She's a bit alarmed about what she has named, probably rightly, Christian Nationalism. That's what her book is all about - all the organizations with the explicit aim of creating a Christian nation, not exactly a theocracy, but a government that is run on purely Christian principles, allowing those of other religions and values only limited rights and little say in things. There a whole lot of these folks.

But she understand them, as she explains here -
When I was in Dover, PA during the intelligent design controversy, a preacher's wife told that if evolution is true, life has no meaning. "Where's this universe heading?" she asked. "What's the purpose of it all? There's no standard, no guidelines." Obviously, Democrats should not join Republicans in pretending that they have a lock on divine truth, but they can speak to people's anxiety, their hunger for community and purpose. The religious right offers people a narrative arc, not just about their own lives, but also about America's decline and imminent resurrection. Democrats need a mobilizing vision as well, one that speaks to the despair that underlies so much of our politics.
Ah, it's the existential despair thing. Since the secular left offers no comfort for "the absurd" - just fixing this policy or that and repairing roads or whatnot - the party that offers "meaning" in this sorry world gets their support.

Now THAT'S hard to counter. And she says that the trouble with Barack Obama's recent speech about religion and the Democratic Party is not "his embrace of religious language in the service of liberalism" -
Religious speech can be transcendent, and genuinely Christian ideals about justice and mercy can inspire even non-believers. The right has successfully convinced much of the country that the Democratic Party is hostile to people of faith, and speeches that work to counter that myth are valuable.

Unfortunately, Obama's rhetoric ends up reinforcing Republican myths about liberal Godlessness instead of challenging them.
Yeah, the other side really should take the religious right's rhetoric seriously, and should engage and argue with the movement's ideas and not just scoff at it all as fanaticism. There is a "spiritual void at the heart of American life" - social movements that offer people meaning and "existential solace along with practical policy solutions" are a good thing.

Obama -
Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds - dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets - and they're coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough. They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives.

They're looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness.
Yeah, he gets it. People do have a problem with that nothingness scenario. Those of us who have made our peace with it are just too smug. And he suggests keeping the God words in the Pledge of Allegiance is no big deal, or voluntary student prayer groups using school property to meet, and certain faith-based programs - targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers - are fine, as they fix things.

But Goldberg contends this is silly, as there really is no battle at all -
It is a common right-wing talking point that liberals want to take the phrase "under God" of the pledge of allegiance. Undoubtedly, some of us regret that, during a moment of Cold War panic in 1954, our government amended the historic pledge to put the word God in it. However, there is now no organized movement to take it out. The California man who sued over the pledge a few years ago represented no one but himself, and in 2002, when the 9th Circuit voted in his favor, many ardent defenders of church/state separation groaned. "This is a godsend for the religious right," Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State told me that day. "They're going to raise millions of dollars on this issue. I'm sure even as we're speaking, there are presses running overtime printing fundraising letters saying, 'Save the Pledge of Allegiance!'" Meanwhile, the Supreme Court had recently ruled that public money could be used for religious school tuition. "We're on the verge of tax-supported religion in this country. It's a startling change of policy, and instead of taking a hard, serious look at that, we're going to spend a couple of months arguing about the Pledge of Allegiance."
You do notice that no liberal anyone knows and not one Democrat is fighting against the mention of God in the Pledge of Allegiance. What's the deal here? The left did what, exactly? They should be asking why the government is funding specific religious education, but they're not even doing that.

It's all a myth -
Similarly, no one is stopping religious kids from gathering together to pray at school. Last year, when I was writing about the myth of the War on Christmas, I interviewed Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center and an expert on religion in public schools. He's presented as a heroic voice of sanity in John Gibson's ridiculous book "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought." This is what he told me: "The big picture is that there's more religion now in public schools than ever in modern history. There's no question about that. But it's not there in terms of the government imposing religion or sponsoring it, and that bothers some people on the right. They miss the good old days when public schools were semi-established Protestant schools."

In the last two decades, Haynes said, "religion has come into the public schools in all kinds of ways ... many schools now understand that students have religious liberty rights in a public school, so you can go to many public schools today and kids will be giving each other religious literature, they will be sharing their faith. You go to most public schools now and see kids praying around the flagpole before school." In this evangelical climate, I suspect many students who practice minority religions, or no religion at all, are made to feel far more alienated than when I was in school during the 80s and 90s. Nevertheless, when schools have stopped kids from engaging in religious speech - say, not letting them hand out religious tracts at lunch - the ACLU has stepped in to defend them, and they've been correct to do so. Liberalism, at its best, stands for free speech, even when that speech is annoying.
So the problem here is that Obama is basically saying the left and the progressives, and the major players in the Democratic Party, should stop doing what they're not doing.

What should be at issue these days? Goldberg has some ideas -
The relevant argument, then, is not about whether there will be prayer in public schools. It's about whether there will be government-mandated prayer in public schools. The argument is not whether religion can do good things in people's lives. It's whether the government should fund religion. The argument is not even whether religious groups should contract with the government to provide social services - Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army and others have been doing that for decades. It's whether religious groups that do receive taxpayer funds should be permitted to proselytize on the public dime, and to refuse to hire those of the wrong faith. The relevant debate is about government-financed religious discrimination. The rest is just a smokescreen to make it seem like defenders of the First Amendment are the ones on the offensive.
Yeah, it's all upside-down.

But what should the government be doing?

One of the contributors at Firedoglake says it seems so simple -
Congress shall make no law respecting
an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press;
or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The first amendment puts the free exercise of religion right next to the freedom of speech and the press, and both of these next to the freedom to participate in the political realm shared by all. For over two centuries, society in general and the courts in particular have struggled with how to hold these three in tension. ... We all want our own beliefs respected, and part of that respect is the freedom to express them in public.

One big aspect of the whole "separation of church and state" discussion is generational. In the early 1960s, the Supreme Court made two major rulings that causes the TheoCons to scream for the heads of the Court. In 1962, the Court ruled in Engel v. Vitale (370 US 421) that the "Regent's Prayer" used in the public schools of the state of New York was unconstitutional. This prayer said "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our Country." (Students forced to pray for teachers: was this what Jesus had in mind when he said "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you"?) The next year, the Court ruled in School District of Abingdon Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp (374 US 203) that the practice of a daily Bible reading led by the teacher followed by a recitation of the Lord's Prayer by the class is similarly unconstitutional.

Maybe it's because I never went to school in NY prior to 1962, but I like letting schools be schools, churches be churches, mosques be mosques, holy groves of trees be holy groves of trees, and so forth. But for some of a certain age who DID attend such schools, the loss of these prayers and practices felt like having a part of their school heritage cut out. The TheoCon leaders tapped into this pain, turned it into anger, and have used it ever since to fuel a "return to God" movement against the Court and all who agree with these rulings.
It that same existential despair thing - and the votes you can generate from it. Mix it with nostalgia for the good old days that never were, and you win, big time.

And the "return to God" things is really working (emphases added) -
Some of the more recent cases have cut into this protection of the religious rights of those in the political minority. In Employment Division of the State of Oregon v. Smith in 1990 (494 US 872), Justice Scalia wrote for a 5-4 majority that the state was within the law when it fired a Native American drug rehabilitation worker for using peyote as part of a Native American religious ritual. The most disturbing part of Scalia's opinion was this, because he accurately assessed the import of his ruling: "It may fairly be said that leaving accommodation to the political process will place at a relative disadvantage those religious practices that are not widely engaged in; but that unavoidable consequence of democratic government must be preferred to a system in which each conscience is a law unto itself or in which judges weigh the social importance of all laws against the centrality of all religious beliefs." (p. 891)

In other words, Scalia says that those who practice minority religions or those with practices rooted in opposition to prevailing religious beliefs only have such rights as the majority deigns to give them politically. This worries me greatly, because I break the laws of California (and at least 22 other states) every Sunday by providing alcohol to minors, some only just old enough to walk. It is part of a Sunday morning conspiracy of lawbreaking that goes by various names, including Holy Communion, the Eucharist, and the Lord's Supper. According to a compilation of state liquor laws as found in the Alcohol Policy Information System, run by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (part of the NIH), at least 23 states provide no exception in the law for alcohol used in religious ceremonies. The only thing keeping me and my co-conspirators out of jail is the willingness of the various district attorneys and police departments to look the other way. (It's just a sip, officer...) That's not very comforting.
But that's the way it is.

But the real issue in this item isn't "the protection of beliefs of those in the political minority" - or the rights of those who just don't believe. You can make an argument for the church - any church - to support the separation of church and state. This doesn't have to do with the courts and all - it has to do with the question of "who speaks for the church?" You want these clowns in Washington speaking for your church? Have you no pride?

The idea is that the separation of church and state because it protects both church and state -
Bush has wrapped himself in the cloak of Evangelical Christianity. He ran for office twice on a platform of Christ guiding his policy. Check that knee before it jerks. However, we are now a global community, many people are being introduced to Christianity through this overtly faith branded administration and ... the current administration is giving Christianity a bad name. Which is the ever-loving point behind the separation of church and state.

... It's one thing to have to clean up my own sins and (as a pastor) the sins of my church. My mess, my problem. But having the sins of the White House attributed to me and my beliefs is more than I want to deal with. (It's bad enough that I have to take them as an American, but as a Christian? No thanks!)

... Think about it: who do you want speaking for your beliefs and your church (or whatever your collection of like-minded folks might be called)?
Yeah, but the Christian Nationalists got a taste of political power - having the force of the government behind you to make everyone else do what you think is right - and that's pretty heady. Bush may be an embarrassment at times - a bit dim-witted and inarticulate - but the power is intoxicating. It's a trade-off.

Some don't like it, of course. See Andrew Sullivan from early May - My Problem with Christianism: A Believer Spells Out the Difference Between Faith and a Political Agenda.

He does not use the term Christian Nationalists. He prefers Christianism. He explains it this way -
Christianity... is simply a faith. Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism. The distinction between Christian and Christianist echoes the distinction we make between Muslim and Islamist. Muslims are those who follow Islam. Islamists are those who want to wield Islam as a political force and conflate state and mosque. Not all Islamists are violent. Only a tiny few are terrorists. And I should underline that the term Christianist is in no way designed to label people on the religious right as favoring any violence at all. I mean merely by the term Christianist the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.
That may be overly clever, but it captures what's going on - you have specific values and beliefs, and if you get enough political power, you can insist others subscribe to those particular and specific values and beliefs, and behave appropriate to them, or face the penalties under the laws established by the political system. How could you resist the tempatation?

But then, when "the discourse about faith is dominated by political fundamentalists and social conservatives, many others begin to feel as if their religion has been taken away from them."

Who would that be?

The list -
The number of Christians misrepresented by the Christian right is many. There are evangelical Protestants who believe strongly that Christianity should not get too close to the corrupting allure of government power. There are lay Catholics who, while personally devout, are socially liberal on issues like contraception, gay rights, women's equality and a multi-faith society. There are very orthodox believers who nonetheless respect the freedom and conscience of others as part of their core understanding of what being a Christian is. They have no problem living next to an atheist or a gay couple or a single mother or people whose views on the meaning of life are utterly alien to them - and respecting their neighbors' choices. That doesn't threaten their faith. Sometimes the contrast helps them understand their own faith better.

And there are those who simply believe that, by definition, God is unknowable to our limited, fallible human minds and souls. If God is ultimately unknowable, then how can we be so certain of what God's real position is on, say, the fate of Terri Schiavo? Or the morality of contraception? Or the role of women? Or the love of a gay couple? Also, faith for many of us is interwoven with doubt, a doubt that can strengthen faith and give it perspective and shadow. That doubt means having great humility in the face of God and an enormous reluctance to impose one's beliefs, through civil law, on anyone else.
Sullivan claims a clear majority of Christians in this country fall into one or many of those camps. The evangelical right would say they're not "real" Christians.

And there's the political tidal wave -
... the term "people of faith" has been co-opted almost entirely in our discourse by those who see Christianity as compatible with only one political party, the Republicans, and believe that their religious doctrines should determine public policy for everyone. "Sides are being chosen," Tom DeLay recently told his supporters, "and the future of man hangs in the balance! The enemies of virtue may be on the march, but they have not won, and if we put our trust in Christ, they never will." So Christ is a conservative Republican?

Rush Limbaugh recently called the Democrats the "party of death" because of many Democrats' view that some moral decisions, like the choice to have a first-trimester abortion, should be left to the individual, not the cops. Ann Coulter, with her usual subtlety, simply calls her political opponents "godless," the title of her new book. And the largely nonreligious media have taken the bait. The "Christian" vote has become shorthand in journalism for the Republican base.
So what can the majority of "not good enough" Christians do about it? The idea here is the worst response, would be to construct something called the religious left, no matter what the junior senator from Illinois thinks -
Many of us who are Christians and not supportive of the religious right are not on the left either. In fact, we are opposed to any politicization of the Gospels by any party, Democratic or Republican, by partisan black churches or partisan white ones. "My kingdom is not of this world," Jesus insisted. What part of that do we not understand?
So Sullivan is having none of this mix of church and state -
That's what I dissent from, and I dissent from it as a Christian. I dissent from the political pollution of sincere, personal faith. I dissent most strongly from the attempt to argue that one party represents God and that the other doesn't. I dissent from having my faith co-opted and wielded by people whose politics I do not share and whose intolerance I abhor. The word Christian belongs to no political party. It's time the quiet majority of believers took it back.
Good luck with that. It may be too late. No one believes there is any "quiet majority," anymore than they believed Richard Nixon when he said there was a "silent majority" behind him all the way, agreeing with everything he did, who just didn't say a word for some reason. It's pretty to think so. And it's foolish.

So July Fourth will mark two hundred and thirty years of getting this church and state thing settled. The "Founding Fathers" probably thought they made things quite clear. And they sort of did, actually. But after all these years people still don't like the idea. The transitory news of the day comes and goes. This pesky issue is always around.

And for those of us who have embraced the absurd, who are "destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness" and are fine with it - that's the way things are, and you do your best to do good things, be kind and tolerant, and inquisitive - look at all this and smile ruefully.

Posted by Alan at 23:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 30 June 2006 23:42 PDT home

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