Marriage is love.
(And thanks to The Mad Prophet for pointing me to this bit of code.)



Let me say, first of all, that rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. I've just been up to my eyeballs since Thanksgiving, banging out 5,000-odd words on why maybe we shouldn't say quite so many bad things about a chap named Adam de Stratton, who died around 1294 (otherwise known as my semester project for my medieval history class). Blogging forecast is going to be light over the next week, too, because I've now got to bang out about as many words on my research prospectus and then a take-home final. But long about this time next week, I'm going to feel a whole lot lighter, take about 40 books back to the library, kick back with a pitcher of margaritas, and then pull out my French grammar review.

In the meantime, it's Advent, the start of a new liturgical year. I've always liked this season, but the readings about the coming of the Light are taking on new meaning this year. The Psalm from last Sunday's Mass also struck me: "I rejoiced when I heard them say, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.'"

The reason the Psalm struck me, apart from the fact that I've always liked it, was that it got me to thinking. Look around at all the so-called "values voters," and at the brand(s) of religion they claim to espouse. Now ask yourself when the last time was that you saw somebody like James Dobson or Jerry Falwell rejoicing at anything except the discomfiture of those among their fellow human beings of whose lives or "lifestyles" they don't approve. I don't think these people (I won't call them "gentlemen," because they're not, and neither will I call them "reverend" because there is nothing either reverent or worthy of reverence about either one of them) have ever really understood what it means to rejoice to go into the Lord's presence: they're too busy playing God (or trying to get rich off of marketing Him) to have the time for such pedestrian feelings. Anger is what seems to get these guys' juices flowing. Anger, and hatred, and spite: none of them emotions I tend to associate with the Prince of Peace.

But that gets me to the other thing that's been on my mind lately, and it goes back to my first point above: the coming of the Light. The past few months have been an epic battle, and it has been brutal. I'm tired, but not worn out, and certainly not defeated. And while I am absolutely not going to knuckle under to the Repugs and their dominionist agenda, I do think we need to get positive again. I don't always want to be the guy who's raging against the lying of the Right (though I will absolutely do that when it needs doing): I'd like to be the guy who has something positive to point to, a reason to be for something and not just against the other side. I don't know if I'll be able to maintain that, but that's my goal.

In the meantime, here's a modern take on an old tradition from a parish not that far from me: St. Margaret Mary parish's online Advent calendar.



What were they thinking?!? (Part DCLXVI)

In the "Things that Make You Say 'Huh?' file," today's New York Times reports that the ACLU has some concerns about new high-tech passports that the State Department plans to begin issuing soon.

The concerns arise from the incorporation of a computer chip into the passport's cardboard cover. The chip is similar to those already used in smart cards and highway toll-pass systems, and it would be used to store all printed data on the passport and a digitized version of the passport photo showing the bearer's face.

The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain documents about the new passports, and found that they're not the only ones concerned about the new technology: Canada, Germany, and Britain are also worried that the chips may leave passport holders vulnerable to unauthorized snooping, called "skimming."

A laboratory test performed on the chips to be used in the new passports indicates that they could be read from as far as 30 feet away. Even more worrisome is the September memo from the State Department indicating the U.S. government's position is that data on the chip "should be able to be read by anyone who chooses to invest in the infrastructure to do so."

In other words, our government thinks it's just fine and dandy to put our personal data on a chip that they believe anybody should be able to read who's willing to spend a measly few hundred thousand bucks to perfect a reader for it. The chip could be read by someone brushing up against you in an airport, or by means of a scanning device mounted in the doorway of a hotel frequented by American tourists. And since our government is one of the few considering the use of such high-tech passports, Barry Steinhardt of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program was right to note that putting them in the field is like "putting an invisible bull's-eye on Americans that can be seen only by the terrorists. If there's any nation in the world at the moment that could do without such a device, it is the United States."

I quite agree. Fortunately, my current passport still has several years left to run before it expires, so I won't be forced to "upgrade" for a while yet.



Happy Thanksgiving

To those of you who celebrate it. And if you don't, have a happy Thursday. I hope all who have to travel today (myself and most of my family included) do so in safety and return in the same way.

A preview of the blessing I'll be offering over the table today:

We give You thanks, O Lord our God, that You have created us in freedom, and enabled us to gather in Your sight today to share these gifts, which earth has given and human hands have made, from the bounty which You provide for us. We ask you to bless them, and us, that they may nourish and sustain us to do Your work in the world.

We place before You in memory all those who cannot be with family and friends today, and ask that You bless them in a special way, especially the men and women of our armed forces who are serving in harm's way across the world. Bless them and keep them safe, and grant that they may soon have a safe homecoming to their loved ones. Guide our leaders back to the path of righteousness, and teach them wisdom and compassion, humility and right judgement. And may we celebrate this feast next year in peace.

We ask all of this through Christ our Lord, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.



"Oh, the weather outside is frightful...."

Fortunately for me, I don't have to travel far today at all, and not that far tomorrow. But this is the latest radar image for northern Illinois:

That nasty pink line is the transition zone between rain (green) and snow (baby blue). It's been snowing pretty heavily here for at least the last couple of hours, and it's sticking to the grass (but not the roads, which are just going to be slushy). Our in-house forecaster says we'll probably wind up with at least a couple of inches on the grass (would have been more, if the ground had already frozen).

The good news is, it's warm enough in Chicago that it will likely be an all-rain event there--so getting to the airport will be a major hassle, but flying shouldn't be. And tomorrow is supposed to be clear and marginally warmer than today.

A happy and safe Thanksgiving to all. I'm off to bake the pies for tomorrow's feast, and when that's done, to start roughing out my paper on the Sevenhampton manors so I have a rough draft to exchange with my partner next Tuesday.


A blast from the past

The distant past, as it happens:

Constitutions change even without civil war arising from strife, owing to electoral intrigue and to carelessness, as ...when the people allow to be present in the sovereign offices of state those who are not friends of the constitution.

The quote is from Aristotle's Politics (5.1303a, if you want the citation), and I encountered it this morning in the .sig file on a colleague's e-mail from the history department. I'm not a big fan of Aristotle (I'm more a Platonist at heart), but I like this passage. And tous mē tēi politeiai philous ("those who are not friends of the constitution") is about as apt a description of the Shrubbery as we're likely to find--even if it was written two and a half millennia before the Shrubbery arrived to darken the stage of history.

At least we can take heart in this much, as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving. If Aristotle could write about people mucking around with constitutions in the classical period, and the human race is still around 2,500 years later, then I have to say we'll probably manage to survive the next four years with relatively little damage.

Courage, me hearties! Now let's get down to the work of taking our country back from those usurping bastards who are mē tēi politeiai philous.



Illinois will experience "interesting times"

And, at least according to the Chinese, whose most potent curse was "May you live in interesting times," that's not a good thing. Neither is the news that carpetbagging loon Alan Keyes won't be moving back to Maryland anytime soon.

Despite losing by more than 50 points in his bid to become Illinois' next junior senator, and despite the fact that nobody of any consequence in the Illinois Republican Party wants to have anything to do with him after his nasty, divisive, and downright mean-spirited election campaign, Keyes has purchased a condominium in the Loop (like he was ever going to stay in that dump of an apartment in Calumet City he rented as a figleaf during his failed campaign bid) and is apparently planning to move at least some operations of his foundation (now located in Washington, D.C.) to the area as well. So it looks like we're going to be the "beneficiaries" of more wingnutty goodness in the years to come.

I wonder how long it will take for Chicagoans to resurrect the lost art of tarring and feathering?


Mihi mirum est

(That's a free translation of "What the fuck?" into Latin. Literally, it means "It's a wonder to me.")

According to a story posted three hours ago, "controversy over Oliver Stone's film of legendary warrior Alexander the Great has resumed, after a team of lawyers threatened to take legal action over the film's gay content."

Apparently, the Greek lawyers believe that Stone's portrayal of Alexander as someone with "a polymorphous sensuality" who "was an explorer in the deepest sense of the word" is too far over the top. They want him to state that his film is a fictional take on Alexander's life and not representative of historical fact.

The story states:

The film suggests Alexander, played by Colin Farrell, had affairs with women and men, with its historical adviser claiming this is a true representation of the times he lived in. Farrell's Alexander is seen having a charged bond with Jared Leto's character Hephaistion, but there are also suggestions that he links up with other younger men.

According to The Guardian newspaper, the lawyers believe this part of the historical figure's life is a fabrication.

Caveat: I haven't seen the film, which only had its Hollywood premiere a week ago, and is scheduled for full release in the United States tomorrow, according to the linked story. But I do know a little bit about Greek history, and specifically about Alexander the Great. It is universally accepted in the ancient sources that he and Hephaistion were erastes and eromenos respectively, male lovers in the Greek fashion of an older man taking a younger lover and, in return for sexual favors (usually a part of the bargain, though not, apparently, always), helping the younger man get set up in the adult world--introducing him around the circle of one's friends, for example, or sponsoring him in other ways. There are also, as I recall (and it's been a few years since I had this material at my fingertips, so my recollection could be faulty), indications in the records that when Alexander was on his Persian campaign and afterwards that he took his pleasure wherever he could find it. We know he married a Persian princess, which, taken together with a male lover in Hephaistion, would make a pretty solid case for an ability to experience desire, at least, with members of either gender. Last time I checked, that's how we tend to define "bisexuality" in the modern world. QED.

My guess is that the Greek government, or some group of Greek citizens (there was no indication in the story of whom the lawyers in question represented), see this portrayal of one of their national heroes as somehow a slight on the Greek honor. My advice to them would be to lighten the hell up. It's no slight on Alexander (or the honor of Greece) to admit that he probably, as with many or even most men of his era, had sex with other men as well as with women. That's just the way things were, back in the day. For my money, admitting that salient fact just makes Alexander an even bigger hero. Even though he liked dick, he still whipped the arse of the known world. Who says gays make bad soldiers?



Never surrender

No, this post is not going to be an homage to Corey Hart or his 1985 song of the same name. Instead, it's my invitation to you, my legions hundreds dozens several faithful readers, to take the ACLU's "Refuse to Surrender" pledge:

I pledge to join with over 400,000 ACLU members and supporters to help ensure that the President, his administration, and our leaders in Congress fulfill their duty to preserve, protect, and defend our Constitution.

By reaffirming my commitment to the American values of justice and liberty for all, I am enlisting in a powerful movement to defend our freedoms against assaults on our civil liberties.

Simply put, the ACLU is trying to get 100,000 people to sign on to that pledge by the time Dumbyanocchio raises his right hand toward God on January 20 and swears to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic." We all know he's going to do a rotten job of it, given how frequently he forgot (or broke) the exact same oath he falsely swore in 2001, so the ACLU is looking for a few good people to do the job that Georgie won't.

Please consider signing on. And tell a friend or three while you're at it.


Wilkommen, bienvenue...

Long-time reader and commenter Bryan has launched his own blog, Why Now?. Go on over and give him a big friendly liberal "Hello!" and tell him Michael sent you.


Quarum hodie memoriam facimus

In May 1915, Canadian army doctor John McCrae wrote of the "...crosses, row on row,/That mark our place..." ("In Flanders Fields").

Today is such a date, a marker-piece in time for me. I have a wake to attend tonight, and I am one of the last few people who can say they were someplace on that terrible day forty-one years ago when the dreams of Camelot came to a bloody end on a Dallas expressway.

At the time, I was two days shy of being a month old. Obviously, I do not of myself remember where I was or what I was doing. However, from stories my mother and my grandmother told me as I was growing up, I "know" that when news arrived of President Kennedy's shooting, I was being dandled on my mother's lap in the living room of her mother's home in Ohio (where we were living at the time, since my father was overseas in the Army), as she was feeding me mashed bananas. The ladies were watching "As the World Turns," one of my grandmother's favorite soap operas, when the news was flashed on national television. I don't know what happened next; they never told me that part of the story. My suspicion is that they felt much as I did two weeks ago tomorrow: shocked, stunned, depressed, angry, violated, amazed, and uncertain.

Perhaps it is only the roseate lenses through which we tend to look at the past, and especially our salad days, but it seems to me that those days which ended on November 22, 1963, were better ones than we have now or that we can reasonably anticipate in the near future. There does seem to have been a sense of hope, of optimism in the air that is now not only lacking but desperately wanted. Things were not perfect by any means, but they were getting better, slowly but surely. We could still trust our government. We could still understand, and work with, people of other faiths or political persuasions than our own. What we now call the politics of personal destruction had really yet to be invented, and those few people who practiced early forms of it were ostracized and not lionized.

With Mustang Bobby, I will reach into the WayBack MachineTM for something from that rosier time, and offer it in memory of that brilliant, flawed man who died well before his time:

If by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people - their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties - someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad; if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."

--John Fitzgerald Kennedy



Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale

I learned last night that the man who's cut my hair for most of the last 30 years succumbed to cancer. He was 55. He and his family knew the end was near, and at least according to the preliminary obituary in the local paper, he died peacefully at home surrounded by his family. If you're the praying kind, or spiritually inclined, I'd appreciate a good thought for Ken White and the wife and two daughters he leaves behind. God be good to them all.

And a bit of a cautionary tale, while I'm on the subject. The cancer that took Ken's life was melanoma, probably from overexposure to the sun, back in the days when the only skin-care product on the market for sun exposure was tanning oil. A premature death is too high a price to pay for that all-over bronze look, folks. Have "safe sun," to quote from one of Gaelic Storm's latest songs.



It's early days, but...

Any sign of hope is worth noting. Agence France Presse reported yesterday afternoon that French researchers at the Institut Pasteur and elsewhere "had stimulated antibodies which dramatically barred the AIDS virus from infecting human immune cells."

This is not an HIV vaccine. As the headline to the linked story notes, however, this preliminary in vitro success is "good news" for the continuing quest to find such a vaccine.

Unlike previous efforts, which were focused on raising antibodies to specific proteins from the virus' protein coat, the French researchers targeted only a small portion of a surface protein. They claim this protein region is common "across the range of HIV types." That would be important in any potential vaccine, because one hypothesis for why HIV has been such a huge health catastrophe is the existence of multiple strains of the virus with few similarities. (Another is the virus' ability to mutate quickly, which would limit the effectiveness of specific remedies.) According to a statement released yesterday:

This area is called CBD1 and is part of the gp41 protein. CBD1 binds to a protein in the T-lymphocyte immune cell called caveolin-1, thus helping the AIDS virus to dock to and infiltrate its target.

The researchers synthesised a chain of peptides -- the building blocks of proteins -- corresponding to CBD1 and immunised rabbits with it.

In lab-dish experiments in which blood taken from the immunised rabbits was exposed to human T-cells and the virus, it proved to be a remarkable shield against a range of sub-types of HIV-1, the commoner and more vicious form of the two big strains of the virus.

"The anti-CBD1 antibodies work in two ways," the press statement said. "Firstly, they inhibit cellular infection by HIV, and secondly, among cells that are already infected, they lead to the production of defective viruses (which) are unable to infect other cells."

The vaccine is only experimental and has not been applied to any human volunteers to see whether it is safe or effective.

That these antibodies appear to have dual effect is very promising. The goal of any vaccine is to prevent the immunized person from contracting the disease in question. That may or may not be possible with HIV because of the nature of the virus. That this protein fragment could also cause an infected person's cells to pump out compromised viruses that would at least serve to limit the possibility of subsequent infections offers another line of defense against the AIDS pandemic.

Since I was a guinea pig for Vaxgen's unsuccessful bivalent vaccine in clinical trials from 1999-2002 I might not be eligible to volunteer for this one. But if I can, I'll seriously consider it. The stakes are too high, and even though I only lost two good friends to AIDS, that's still two too many. Consider it my tribute to them.



Phelps gets bitch-slapped in Oklahoma

This is the story of a teen-ager coming out in Oklahoma. But it has a happy ending.

Michael Shackelford is 17 years old and gay. When the raving loons at Westboro Baptist got hold of that information, they decided to drive up to Tulsa from Topeka and protest in front of the teen-ager's church one fine Sunday morning, carrying their usual assortment of filthy, hateful posters, banners, and whatnot. (I will not link to these people nor give their message of hate any airing whatsoever. In the extremely unlikely event that God hates anybody, my guess is that it would be this bunch--and not the queers they regularly protest against.)

Here's how the protest turned out:

After the service, several people came up to hug Janice. One woman held her in an embrace that lasted two minutes, whispering to Janice the whole time.

A burly man with a crew cut gave Michael a thumbs-up. "Man, you be who you are," Shannon Watie said, holding his Bible. "We got your back."

Watie later said that he respected Michael for having the courage to come out. "I have the sin of pride, the sin of lying sometimes," said the 37-year-old father of two. "The reason why Jesus was on the cross was because we all do."

Watie voted for Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage. Civil unions? He might have considered those. Homosexuality? "That's between the person and God," Watie said.


In nearby Tulsa that Sunday night, a vigil was held in response to the Phelps demonstrations. It was organized by Tulsa Oklahomans For Human Rights and held at a gay and lesbian community center. Organizers set out 24 chairs. More than 220 people showed up; the overflow strained to hear from the sidewalk.

Janice [Michael's mom] had been nervous to attend the vigil with Michael but there she was, standing in back. Several Tulsa ministers spoke out against Phelps. Most were from churches that Janice was unfamiliar with; Unitarian, Congregational and Diversity Christian.

The Rev. Russell L. Bennett, president of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance, took the podium. "You are a gathering of the saints," he said, smiling at the crowd. "Now, in some parts of town, that might be disputed."

Bennett recited a Bible verse in which Jesus scolds the leaders of his time for worrying more about narrow morality than the bigger picture. "Woe to you, hypocrites," the reverend said. "For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy."

Janice was quiet, listening to phrases such as "radical inclusivity" and quotes by Robert F. Kennedy about the long arm that bends toward justice. Only once did she feel at home, when a man came up afterward and reached for her hand. "You know, we have been praying for you all week," he said.

His name was Toby Jenkins and he was a Free Will Baptist pastor for 17 years before accepting that he was gay. Now he preaches at a gay evangelical church in Tulsa. He told Janice that the Bible is not the black-and-white doctrine that many say it is. He asked Janice if they could pray together, and he took her face in his hands and they stood motionless in the crowd, forehead to forehead, eyes closed.


The next morning, the Phelps protesters were back in Sand Springs, this time picketing in front of Charles Page High, the school that grudgingly started a Gay Straight Alliance last year after an openly gay senior forced the issue.

Shirley Phelps Roper stood on the sidewalk, holding her ...sign and singing "America the Beautiful." Police were standing by, but all was peaceful. Several cars drove by with their own messages painted on the windows: Go Back to Kansas and God Loves Everybody.

As school let out that afternoon, dozens of people from Tulsa Oklahomans For Human Rights arrived with brooms. In silence, they swept the sidewalk where the Phelps protesters had been. Michael was there, sweeping.

A group of students walked by. One of them, a girl with long, silky hair and a backpack, was obviously fed up with all the protests and counter-protests. "Leave our homos alone," she said, to no one in particular.

As my Jewish friends would say, Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam ha-tov v'ha-mei'tiv, "Blessed are You, O Lord our God, ruler of the universe, for You are good and You make things more good."

V'imru amen! ("And let us say 'Amen'!")


This is what faith-based math looks like

Fortunately for me, I decided to forego my morning cup of coffee this morning. Otherwise, I'd probably have choked to death on it when I heard that Treasury Secretary John Snow was claiming that fiscal responsibility was going to be a top priority in the second Bush term.

This is the preznit who has yet to veto a single bill. This is the preznit who took the nation from record surplus to mind-boggling record deficits in just under four years. This is the preznit who decided to start a war with Iraq that has already cost probably four times what he estimated, and no end anywhere near in sight. This is a preznit, and his lap-dogs in Congress, that just spent the better part of a year running around the country promising all sorts of things to all sorts of people if they'd only vote for them.

In short, if Paul Snow really thinks George W. Bush is suddenly going to develop a serious case of fiscal discipline, then he should quit the Treasury and run for chief executive of Fantasyland. There is absolutely nothing in the Bush record to suggest that he would recognize fiscal discipline if it came up to him on the street and ripped off what's left of his manhood. And this is, by the way, the same Paul Snow who, despite describing himself as a "life-long deficit hawk," has sat back meekly upon his bum and watched while his Dear Leader has anally, orally, and otherwise raped the United States Treasury into a sea of red ink that could take decades to wipe away.

It is also the same Paul Snow who thinks the current weakness of the dollar is just peachy keen, because that's what the market says a dollar is worth. Never mind that the dollar hit another record low against the euro yesterday. Never mind that while a weak dollar is good for U.S. manufacturers because it makes their products cheaper and therefore easier to sell overseas, it makes it increasingly less likely that foreign investors are going to want to buy the Treasury securities necessary to fund our Brobdingnagian budget deficits.

I do believe that giant sucking sound you're hearing is what's left of the U.S. economy being flushed down the toilet.



What's next, mandatory McMeals?

I've seen this several places around the blogs, but I'm linking to Scooter's discussion of one of the lovely bills on the lame duck Congress' agenda. Bad enough that they're stirring the copyright pot again (always a bad idea these days). Even worse, they're going to get even stickier when it comes to fair use. To quote Scooter:

Check out that next-to-the-last sentence: "However, under the proposed law, skipping any commercials or promotional announcements would be prohibited." It's clearly designed to kill Tivo, but just imagine the trials. You could be charged with skipping a soda commercial. What if prosecutors decide to take a hard line -- you could be arrested for going to the bathroom during a commercial break of the Super Bowl, because you missed a Coors ad.

How I long for the days when our conservative politicians actually acted conservative, instead of behaving like gibbering rules-obsessed barbarians.

Bad enough that you wouldn't be able to skip through all that promotional shit they put on the front of DVDs anymore. But imagine what that's going to do in classrooms. Want to show something from a DVD for your class? The class will have to sit through the promos, even if they're longer than the clip you plan to show--assuming, of course, that the eejits in Congress leave anything left of the fair use doctrine to allow for free and unencumbered use of copyrighted materials for educational purposes. (And that's a big assumption, given the way they fucked it up with the DMCA a few years ago.)

Whatever happened to shrinking the government down to the size where it could be drowned in Grover Norquist's bathtub?



The local NPR affiliate bills itself as the place where you "learn something new every day." At least in my case, that slogan is usually way off-base. But today it might be true, though probably not in the way their marketing people intended it.

As I was getting ready for work this morning, I heard one of the "Morning Edition" anchors say that the Producer Price Index rose by more than 1 percent last month, the biggest increase in nearly 15 years. I stopped what I was doing, the better to pay attention to the story that followed, because I wanted to hear what the hell was happening to our allegedly robust economy.

Which meant I heard clearly and distinctly when "Morning Edition" moved on to a feature on how the birthrate was declining. I heard nothing more on the PPI. Zip. Nada. Bupkes.

Not that the declining birthrate is unimportant, mind you. It's just that it's hardly news, considering it's been happening in the industrialized world for at least as long as I've been alive. Nor, I suspect, is it going to have anywhere near the impact on people's lives that a spike in prices--even as we head into the most significant quarter of the economic year, where retailers make upwards of half their yearly profits. And I'm sure I'm not the only one experiencing that cold, empty feeling at the pit of my stomach at words like these:

"There are just massive amounts of inflation brewing,'' said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. fixed-income economist at Deutsche Bank Securities in New York. "It's clear there is a lot of pipeline pressure coming through and it's coming through because there's a good increase in demand.''

I grew up in the 1970s. I remember inflation. I remember interest rates for home mortgages at 14 percent and above. I don't want to relive that era of malaise and worry--especially given that we're already living in an era of malaise and worry for other reasons.

I have zero confidence in the Shrubbery's ability to manage it's self-denominated "war on terror." I have even less confidence in the Shrubbery's ability to manage that war while at the same time fighting a war on inflation and trying to keep our economy, already swirling at the bottom of the toilet bowl, from flushing itself into the sewers. You may officially color me worried.

And the new thing I learned today listening to NPR? That they're just as complicit as the rest of the so-called liberal media in pushing the Bush régime's agenda on us. Economy's in trouble? Look over there! Let's talk about "values" instead.


Ding, ding, ding!!

Give Tom Toles a cigar. (Or something). It grieves me to say so, but he's absolutely deadly accurate (to use the appropriate metaphor) with today's editorial cartoon:

Damn it.



Powell's out

And the hits just keep on comin'. Colin Powell has announced his resignation as secretary of state. According to the BBC, the resignation will not take effect until a successor has been found.

Spokes-hamster Scott McClellan is also quoted in the story as saying three other cabinet members are expected to tender their resignations today. They include Rod Paige, whose intentions leaked out over the weekend; Spencer Abraham (secretary of energy); and Ann Veneman (secretary of agriculture). At this rate, there's not going to be a single familiar face in the cabinet room other than Chimpy and Big Dick.

I'd like to think this trend bodes well for the future. But the phrase "Better the devil you know..." keeps ringing in my ears. To paraphrase the immortal words of Bette Davis in All About Eve, "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy four years."



There may yet be hope for the truth

I was heartened to see a column on page three of the Perspective section in this morning's Chicago Tribune entitled GOP mostly pays lip service on moral issues. Amid all the whoopin' and hollerin' and hand-wringing over the alleged lock the Bushoviki have on moral values in this country, it's refreshing to see there are still a few of us left who haven't gotten completely drunk on the Shrubbery's Kool-Aid.

As Joseph Cammarano and Grant Reeher (both professors of political science) note, the Religious Reich has now aligned itself "...with a party that mostly pays lip service on moral values while it much more effectively defies [religious leaders] on the gospel's [sic] teachings to use the community to promote justice, fairness and peace." Earlier in the article, Cammarano and Reeher said that "the administration is apparently continuing the long-standing Republican strategy of providing symbolism to conservative Christians, though with precious little policy change." They also pointed out that there are already signs that the Flip-Flopper-in-Chief will not be making the Religious Reich's passions his policy priorities any time soon.

Ordinarily, I'd be upset at the blatant hypocrisy such a stance entails, being as I'm still a member of the old school that believes a politician shouldn't promise anything s/he can't deliver. But in this particular instance I must confess to feeling more than a little Schadenfreude at seeing our alleged moral leaders being so thoroughly sold a bill of goods. The Bushoviki brought out all the brightly colored lures in its tackle box, and the fundagelicals would appear to have bitten down hard on all of them. The end result, however, will not be the establishment of a Christian nation in the United States. Rather, the Shrubbery will continue to keep fish like Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, et aliae swimming around in a suitably manicured ornamental pond, where they can be put on prominent display when necessary and forgotten the other 98% of the time.

What the Religious Reich fail to comprehend is that their entire agenda is in direct conflict with what is probably the single most fundamental American moral principle--and one that is also prominently enshrined front-and-center in Republican rhetoric. I refer, of course, to what Justice Louis Brandeis famously termed "the right to be left alone" in Olmstead v. U.S. (277 U.S. 438, 478) in 1928. To be sure, there are certain things we can all agree that we don't want to have happen in our society: we don't want people to be murdered in their beds (or anywhere else). We don't want theft or rapine and pillage in our streets. We want our employers to pay us a fair wage for the work we do, and we want to do that work in an environment that is safe.

Most of us are probably uncomfortable with things like abortion. Surveys indicate that a plurality of the U.S. population is still uncomfortable with the idea of two men or two women having sex together, and eleven states just voted to amend their constitutions to prohibit such couples from getting married. Personally, I find such enactments to be on a par with King Canute's famous edict forbidding the tide to roll in on the shore where he was standing at the time--they will not, nor can they ever, work. Not because we're thumbing our noses at a fundamental physical principle, as in Canute's case, but because such laws are fundamentally un-American.

If you take a look at the Bill of Rights, you will find that it has "privacy" stamped all over it. Our government is forbidden to enter our homes, or to search our persons or our possessions, absent compelling evidence suggesting that it has cause to do so. It may not diddle around with our right to believe and worship as we please, if we please. Nor may it tinker with the freedom of our press to publish what it feels is newsworthy, even if that news happens to be embarrassing to the government or to persons within it. We here in America still believe that one's home is one's castle, and as long as whatever one does therein disturbs no one else, it should be no one else's business.

For my money, that's one of the most basic principles on which any human society must be grounded if it's to have a chance at survival. It's also one reason among the many that the immoral minority of so-called "values voters" is doomed to fail at its latest attempt to turn this country into a narrow-minded, bigoted copy of itself. For me and my house, I'll turn to the opening stanza of Rudyard Kipling's 1925 poem "The Glories" for my inspiration:

In Faith and Food and Books and Friends
Give every soul her choice.
For such as follow divers ends
in divers lights rejoice.

Can I get an "Amen!" brothers and sisters?



Another one bites the dust

According to a tiny story buried on one of the inside pages of this morning's Chicago Tribune, Rod "The teachers' unions are terrorist organizations" Paige will be stepping down as secretary of education at the end of the year. It's not the way I'd have liked to see him leave office, but I'll take it. I don't hold out any great hopes that whomever Emperor C+ Augustus appoints in Paige's place will be much better, but we can at least hope it will be someone who is not inclined to demonize and denigrate the people whose work he is supposed to be supervising and coordinating.

I'm sure we won't get a chance to revisit the No Change Left Behind Act, either, though we should scrap that stupid piece of backward legislation at the first possible opportunity. We can start with the obvious fact that it represents a ginormus unfunded federal mandate, which is reason enough to get rid of it--as countless Republicans have advocated doing with countless other unfunded government mandates for lo!, these many years.

But the bigger problem is that it places too heavy a reliance on high-stakes standardized testing. Absolutely there should be standards of education to which our students and our schools are held. But as anybody who has ever read even an elementary textbook on teaching can tell you, it is a well-known fact that not every student processes or approaches information in the same way. There are an awful lot of very bright students in the world who, quite simply, suck when it comes to taking tests. And there are at least a few other students who, although they barely have a coherent thought in their heads, can at least memorize and regurgitate information on an exam, though they will have absolutely no idea of what that information actually means or how they might put it to use. To make student progress, and the grading and funding of schools, dependent upon all and only high-stakes tests is, therefore, a perniciously risky expedient.

And besides, test-taking is a skill with limited application. As a bumper sticker I once saw had it, "School is mostly true/false. Life is mostly essay questions." When one gets out of formal education, there are relatively few tests one has to take thereafter, the most likely of which being a driver's test on a few occasions, or possibly a certification or a licensing test.

Most employers, on the other hand, are going to be far more interested in having an employee who can think on her feet, who can communicate effectively and persuasively both orally and in writing. They will be thrilled if that employee also has the capacity to take two or more seemingly unrelated bits of information or procedure and combine them to make something new and exciting--or marketable. Those are skills that tests just can't measure, and which reliance on more and more testing in the schools does nothing to foster.

Case in point. At the university where I work, we do exit interviews with all of our graduating seniors. One of the standard questions we ask graduating students is if there's anything they wish we'd spent more (or less) time on. I work in the chemistry department, and probably 95% of our graduating students tell us in those exit interviews that they don't understand why we make such a big fuss about oral and written communications skills. (I'm sorry to say that what they refer to as a "big fuss" is really pretty minimal by the standards of what I was required to do before graduating high school, way back in the Paleolithic period.)

The university sends a general survey to all of its graduates a year after graduation, and then again every five years after that. One of the standard questions asked on that survey is if there is anything the university should have focused on more to better prepare them for whatever it is they're doing now. About 95% of our graduates who reply to that university survey, a year after having told us they didn't understand why they had to do so much writing and public speaking when they were in college, want to know why we didn't make them do more of it. By the time they get that second survey, they've gotten out into the job world, or into graduate or professional school, and they've learned that communication is the name of the game.

I just wish we could find a way to get them to arrive at that insight while they're still in a position to do something about it.



Remembrance Day

That's what they call today in Canada, and I prefer it to "Veterans Day," because I think we need to remember everyone who served (or is serving), even if they don't happen to be wearing a uniform while they do it. I'd have been wearing red and black today even if it hadn't been an open house day at the university where I work (whose colors are cardinal and black) because those are appropriate colors for a day commemorating those who gave, as Lincoln called it at Gettysburg, "the last full measure of devotion" for their country and their fellow human beings.

I myself have never worn my country's uniform, and I'm not likely to get the chance now. (I'm way past the draft age, out of shape, and I'm gay. Not that that last makes me any worse as soldier material, but the Department of Defense has yet to come around to that way of seeing the world.) But I come from a long line of soldiers and sailors and airmen. Chances are, if this country's been in a war, at least one of my relatives has fought in it, and many of them have died. My dad was serving in Korea during the Vietnam War when I was born; I was a year and a half old before he ever laid eyes on me except in pictures. My stepfather served in World War II, as did a great-uncle who was killed on a bombing raid over Germany in 1944. Other relatives served in Korea, in World War I, in the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, the Mexican Wars and, we're pretty sure, the Revolutionary War, in which one distant cousin of mine died at Valley Forge as a soldier in the Maryland Line.

For my money, anybody who's honorably worn the uniform of this country is intrinsically worthy of respect and is owed a debt of gratitude by those of us s/he fought to keep safe. And that's exactly why I'm amazed the ground didn't open up beneath Commander Codpiece's feet at Arlington National Cemetery today and swallow him up whole for the presumption he has in setting foot on that hallowed ground after he pissed on the uniform and on the country, both as an AWOL member of the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War and by his recklessly stupid conduct of the war in Iraq these last 19 months. He's not fit to be commander in chief of our armed forces, nor to take the salute from men and women who, unlike him, have put their lives on the line.

I'll close with the lyrics from Bryan Adams' 1987 song "Remembrance Day," which are appropriate to the day and to my mood:

I'll be back for you someday - it won't be long
If I can just hold on 'til this bloody war is over

The guns will be silent on Remembrance Day
There'll be no more fighting on Remembrance Day


One day soon - I don't know when
You know we'll all be free and the bells of peace will ring again

The time will come for you and me
We'll be goin' home when this bloody war is ended

The guns will be silent on Remembrance Day
We'll all say a prayer on Remembrance Day

I do say a prayer today, for all those who have served, who have given their lives--and even more for all those who are presently serving and who may have to give their lives. You deserve better from us as a nation. At the very least we should have given you a commander-in-chief who will respect you and your sacrifices, instead of this warmongering fool who can blithely send our finest off to die for his oil-baron buddies because he's never seen what combat looks like up close and personal. God be good to all of you, and accept the thanks of a grateful nation for your sacrifices. God grant you come home safely and soon.



Good news, bad news

The good news is that unlike a seat on the federal bench, an appointment as attorney general only lasts for four years. The bad news is, Dumb-ya wants to make Alberto Gonzales the next attorney general.

Gonzalez, you'll recall, is one of the minuscule handful of ultra-conservative Bush judicial nominees treated to a filibuster in the Senate. When the Democrats refused to move on his nomination, it was withdrawn. Gonzalez is also one of the handful of lawyers (if that's the word to use for them) who drew up the infamous "torture memo" outlining ways in which the Bushoviki could sidestep the Geneva Conventions and the laws of war to detain prisoners outside the purview of the International Red Cross and extract information from them using methods that would, by any objective definition of the word, be classified as torture but which the Shrubbery stubbornly insisted did not rise to that level.

Perhaps, during his confirmation hearings for the new post, Mr. Gonzalez could volunteer to subject himself to some of the techniques he argued were perfectly legal to use on prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wonder if his opinion as to whether or not those techniques constitute torture would then change.

I'm not holding my breath.



Ass-crotch out on his ass

And I couldn't be happier. At least according to the news tonight, it looks like there's going to be (or could be) a substantive shake-up in the Shrubbery's makeup before Bush's second term. Ashcroft and the Secretary of Commerce have already tendered their resignations. Colin Powell and Tom Ridge are expected to do likewise, and it's possible that Ronald Dumsfeld and Condoliesherarseoff Rice may quit, too.

If you need a scorecard, that's the departments of Justice, Commerce, State, Homeland Security, Defense, and the National Security Agency Council. That's a pretty hefty chunk of the most important posts in the Cabinet. This is not a small shift, this is a serious reorganization. In fact, it's possible that one or two of these resignations (Rice's in particular has been spoken of in these terms) are strictly pro forma, to allow for the possibility of changing positions.

As far as I'm concerned, they should let Tom Ridge disappear into the sunset...and take the Department of Homeland Security with him. Anyone who will shed tears over Ashcroft's departure isn't anyone whose tears are going to move me. I loved the bit where Ashcroft tried to claim all the credit for the fact that no terrorists have blown up anything on our soil since the last time on his watch when they did that. Begone, you odious little evil man, and never darken our national doorstep again! (And take your fucking boss with you, while you're at it.)

Update: Corrected Rice's position. Thank you, Bryan!



Poor, mixed-up kid

The sad, troubled and troubling story of former St. Louis Blues center Mike Danton is winding down. A federal court in East St. Louis today sentenced Danton to seven and a half years in prison for his role in an attempted murder-for-hire plot that appears, despite vociferous denials from the man himself, to have been directed against Danton's agent, David Frost. Danton's family, meanwhile, has maintained all along that Frost is less Danton's agent than a Fagin-esque manipulator who essentially stole their son from them. Speculations have been rampant, again in the face of denials from Frost and others, that Danton and Frost were homosexual lovers (putting it as charitably as possible) at some time in the past.

Nothing in this tangled tale is clear, other than the obvious fact that Mike Danton is not exactly the picture of mental health. I hope, for his sake, that he can confront whatever demons have been tormenting him and get some help while he spends what could have been some of his best hockey years in some kind of prison. It is rumored that as part of his sentencing agreement, Danton will request a transfer to a Canadian prison. Unfortunately for him, as a convicted felon, it may be difficult for him to get a visa to enter or work in the United States ever again--which would make playing in the National Hockey League difficult, even if he were to sign with a Canadian club--since there are only six Canadian teams left in the NHL, and 24 of them south of the 48th parallel.

I hope something can be worked out. Absolutely Danton should be punished for having sought to kill someone. But it seems crystal clear on the record that he was far from fully compos mentis at the time he did so, and he shouldn't have to lose his livelihood because he needed help that he didn't get and did something stupid as a result.



It's Mustang Bobby's first blogoversary! So head on over to Bark Bark Woof Woof and show him some love. (And if he isn't already on your blogroll, he should be. Fix that. Fix it now!)



And no, I'm not talking about the emotional variety. I was listening to NPR's morning business report today while shaving, and I'm not happy with the way the program ended. The expert they'd brought on to talk about current market conditions was comparing the present situation to the 1930s in terms of the outlook for growth. The host asked him point-blank, "We're not heading for a depression, are we?" The guest hedged and said that we could look forward to a period of "sub-par growth." Well, color me uncomfortable.

Another item I heard on the news this morning was speculation that the Federal Reserve would be raising the short-term interest rates again at the next meeting of the Open Market Committee. This will hurt the thousands of people who are carrying high debt loads, especially those whose credit ratings are not stellar, where the rates on their credit cards (and possibly their recently refinanced home mortgages or equity loans) are pegged to the prime rate--which is itself pegged to the short-term interest rate.

The price of gasoline has dropped--marginally. From a high a couple of weeks ago of $2.05/gallon for regular unleaded here, it's been slowly coming down. The price at the pump this morning as I was driving to work is $1.99/gallon. Lower, yes, but hardly significantly so. I'll be interested to see the price differential when I go into the northwest suburbs to dog-sit for my sister later this week.

The stock market went up sharply last week. But that doesn't mean diddly: see October 1929, when the market went giddily upward, ever upward--right up until the moment on Black Tuesday when it crashed precipitously. And given the fact that early indications from the Shrubbery suggest they're going to persist in trying to push their tax-cutting agenda still further, and to privatize Social Security, while continuing to spend more money than we actually have in the Treasury, I have to say I don't have a great deal of confidence in the economic outlook. In fact, if there could be a worse time to think about privatizing Social Security for younger workers, I'd be hard pressed to imagine when that time could be. The only beneficiary I see in such a course of action are the stockbrokers and mutual-fund managers, who will get their cut no matter which way the market goes--and oftentimes by not acting in their customers' best interests. (Or so say the federal indictments recently handed down against several of the nation's largest brokerage firms.)

Thank God for a balanced retirement portfolio, and the fact that I'm not all that close to needing to tap it just yet. Methinks I might want to consider readjusting some of my asset allocations, however...



I'm down with that

Via the inimitable TBogg, I found this suggestion for how properly to pay respects to Mr. Bush:

That's President lying, deceitful, mass-murdering, woman-hating, cocaine- and alcohol-damaged shithead to you!

In the interests of brevity, perhaps the acronym (PLDMMWHCADS) would be a better choice.



Lord knows he needs it

Play the Give George a brain game. Good clean fun for the whole family.


Exultate, jubilate

It pleases me to note that I have finally finished translating 13 years' worth (with a few gaps) of court rolls from Adam de Stratton's manor at Sevenhampton. The rolls, covering the period from November 1275 through September 1288 and encompassing 85 printed pages of Latin text, are my primary source for my semester project in a seminar on medieval daily life that is my last course requirement for the M.A. in history.

Now the fun starts. I get to dig through the translation to look at what the court records can tell me about medieval daily life, or at least daily life on this particular manor in county Wiltshire, near modern-day Swindon in the English Midlands. I'm especially interested in what I can find out about the women who appear in these records--especially since the common stereotype is that women were invisible in the Middle Ages. (These and other manorial records suggest quite otherwise, since a woman, Avicia Cooper, held one of two mills on the manor, and around a quarter of the named tenants were women.)



I heartily concur

My brother-in-soul in New Orleans reports his daughter's first words:

"Daddy, this sucks mammoth ass."

She just said a cotton-pickin' mouthful.


Sad. Very sad.

I'm a month into hockey withdrawal. Yesterday was bad enough, when the NHL announced that it was cancelling the 2005 All-Star Weekend. But today's news is worse: NHL player Zholtok dies at 31.

Zholtok, who last played in the NHL for the upstart Nashville Predators, collapsed during a game in his native Latvia, where he was playing during the lockout. He died not long afterward. He had missed games last year due to dizzyness, and one Canadian TV station reported that he suffered from cardiac arrhythmia.

God be good to him, and to his family in this their time of grief. And can we please get the season underway? I need to see some puck to help lift my spirits!



Je ne regrette rien

It's been a hell of a day. If I keep busy, I'm OK, which is why I've been occupying myself with the archaic and half-literate 13th-century English legal Latin of the unknown clerk who kept the manorial court records on Adam de Stratton's Sevenhampton manor. (Which is the subject material of my research project for my last class for the M.A. in history this semester.)

I'm going to need a couple of days, I suspect, before I'm back in full form. An intravenous infusion of margaritas and a ton of meaningless sex are both looking very good to me right now--separately or together.

I haven't been playing the upbeat music today that I had planned on. But I'm getting there. As I was walking from my office to my car after work this evening, I hit upon the song that's going to be my mantra for the next few days, until something else comes along to help me get a little further down the road. It's Edith Piaf's classic chanson, "Je ne regrette rien":

Non! Rien de rien ...
Non ! Je ne regrette rien
Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait
Ni le mal tout ça m'est bien égal !

Non ! Rien de rien ...
Non ! Je ne regrette rien...
C'est payé, balayé, oublié
Je me fous du passé!

Avec mes souvenirs
J'ai allumé le feu
Mes chagrins, mes plaisirs
Je n'ai plus besoin d'eux!

Balayés les amours
Et tous leurs trémolos
Balayés pour toujours
Je repars à zéro ...

No! Nothing at all...
No! I regret nothing
Not the good anyone's done me
Or the bad--it's all the same to me!

No! Nothing at all...
No! I regret nothing...
It's paid, swept away, forgotten
I don't give a damn about the past!

With my memories
I've lit the fire
My griefs, my pleasures
I've no more need of them!

Swept away the loves
And all their quaverings
Swept away for good
I'm starting over from scratch...

(My translation from the French.)

Take some time to heal up and then it's back to work, me hearties! "Contre nous de la tyrannie l'étandard sanglant est levé..."



I've done my part

Now be sure you do yours.

I voted on my way to the hospital to visit my grandmother this morning. I'm pleased to say my polling place was busier than I've ever seen it in the 10 years I've lived in this precinct. Granted, three precincts vote at the same place, but there were people waiting at each of the three tables, and the voting booths were full. No long lines, but definitely busy. According to the counter on the optical scanner, mine was the 369th ballot logged at that location this morning--and that was at around 9:40 a.m. All of the cars I saw with bumper stickers were for Kerry/Edwards.

I think we're going to win this one huge, folks. Forget all the scare talk about lawsuits and delayed counting. I don't think it's going to matter. Think good thoughts, help get people out to vote, and don't forget to vote yourself.

And remember: Bush is toast! Bush is toast! Bush is toast!


Eleven-two: We're taking our country back!

Today's the day, folks!

Do it. GO VOTE! Take a friend. Take all your friends. Bring treats for voters waiting in line. Know your rights and refuse to allow anyone even to try to take them away from you.

If you're of a spiritual bent, I offer the following prayer:

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, for You have created us to be free. Help us exercise our freedom wisely. Grant us the spirit of wisdom and right judgement when we step into the voting booths today. Let us be conscious that the choices we make will have repercussions beyond our personal horizons, and choose accordingly.

Help us to remember that those who do not agree with us politically are Your creatures as well, and to treat them accordingly. May all who take part in our national elections tomorrow travel in safety to and from the polls, and encounter neither harassment nor intimidation as they exercise their sovereign franchise. Let all the votes legitimately cast be counted expeditiously and fairly, and may the best candidate win.

We ask all this of you, most compassionate and merciful God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.




From the man himself

The following is from an e-mail I received today from the man who will be our next president:

Tomorrow, Americans will face a choice.

How will we find our way forward? How will we keep America safe, and keep the American dream alive?

I believe we begin by giving this country we love a fresh start. This morning, I would like to give you as a plainly as I can the summary of my case on how -- together -- we can change America.

I believe we begin by moving our economy, our government, and our society back in line with our best values.

I believe we do whatever it takes to lead our troops to success and bring them home safe. And when they do come home, I believe we begin by rebuilding an America with a strong middle class where everyone has the chance to work and the opportunity to get ahead.

Tomorrow, you can choose a fresh start. You can choose a president who will defend America and fight for the middle-class.

You can choose between four more years of George Bush's policy to ship jobs overseas and give tax breaks to the companies that do it -- or a president who will reward the companies that create and keep good jobs here in the United States of America.

Tomorrow you will face a choice between four more years of George Bush's giveaways to the big drug companies and the big HMOs -- or a president who will finally make health care a right, and not a privilege, for every American.

This election is a choice between four more years of tax giveaways for millionaires along with a higher tax burden for you -- or a president who will cut middle-class taxes, raise the minimum wage, and make sure we guarantee women an equal day's pay for an equal day's work.

Tomorrow, America faces a choice between four more years of an energy policy for big oil, of big oil, and by big oil -- or a president who finally makes America independent of Mideast oil in ten years. A choice between George Bush's policy that just yesterday showed record profits for oil companies and record gas prices for American consumers. I believe that America should rely on our own ingenuity and innovation, not the Saudi Royal family.

Tomorrow this campaign will end. The election will be in your hands. If you believe we need a fresh start in Iraq; if you believe we can create and keep good jobs here in America; if you believe we need to get health care costs under control; if you believe in the promise of stem cell research; if you believe our deficits are too high and we're too dependent on Mideast oil then I ask you to join me and together we'll change America.

I ask for your vote and I ask for your help. When you go to the polls bring your friends, your family, your neighbors. No one can afford to stand on the sidelines or sit this one out.

And in return for your hard work, you have my commitment to always fight for you, to always be on your side. In the words of Bruce Springsteen that have become the theme of this campaign. "We've made a promise we swore we'd always remember...no retreat and no surrender."

Tomorrow we will change America and with your help I will always keep that promise to you.

Thank you,

John Kerry

It's in our hands. Now get out there and vote!


No callback for Georgie

Fellow Liberal Coalition blogger Mustang Bobby has his directorial analysis of the candidates posted at Bark Bark Woof Woof. You should read it. Really.


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