Friday, September 28, 2007

God-o-Meter and Alan Keyes

Just in time for the Presidential elections, shrill site for the holy tax exempt, beliefnet, has constructed the God-o-Meter, measuring the holiness of the Presidential candidates in both parties. The scores might surprise you a little.

Speaking of God-o-Meter, just in time to lose yet another election, right-wing religious activist Alan Keyes has thrown his pre-Enlightenment hat into the ring for the White House. To celebrate, the Keyes for President supporters decided to throw a weenie roast.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Great Conference Name Tag

One of the least appealing aspects of academia is the self-love fest that is conferences. Ideally, conferences are supposed to be used to present papers and ideas for peer review (usually, as a precursor to publication), and to "network" with other careerists, looking to advertise their intellectual greatness to other colleagues, and just maybe make an inroad to future employment at another institution.

The peer review is usually a joke. You rarely get any insightful comments or suggestions from your colleagues and peers, most of whom know little to nothing of what you are writing about. More often than not, the conferences are a cash cow for the institutions or universities holding them, so any pretenses for peer review is discarded when you present to four people on a five person panel (at a conference which retains hundreds of panels on key issues of the day like, I kid you not, the political implications of Jerry Lewis). In my collegiate career, I can honestly say I have been to only one 'good' conference, which was well attended, with useful questions, and actually gave me some ideas on what to work on. The rest are a collection of small speeches in front of smaller crowds, with little to offer in the way of usable material and ideas, and only the registration fee, hotel accommodations, and car rental burning a hole in your pocket until reimbursement. Anything to inflate the curriculum vitae.

The worst part of any conference, though, is the exchange of the business cards. To this day, I refuse to have my own, which probably does not endear me to anyone, but since the cards are thrown out after awhile anyway, I am certain that my inability to produce one of these wallet-packing look-at-mes will be discarded.

Last but not least, in the words of Sally Field, the goddamn name tags. I do not like wearing those anymore than exchanging the business cards, but like the conferences' themselves they cannot be ignored. There is no getting around them. You have to wear them, because if you do not come question and answer session one of the three audience members might forget to ask your name, and you would never want to be so impolite.

For the longest time, I struggled with the name tag issue, what I should put on my next one at an upcoming conference, but I believe it may be solved. For your elucidation:


I only wish I had the guts to wear something like that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rice: Grant, Lee, and al-Zarqawi

When General Ulysses S. Grant won his first great battle at Vicksburg, it effectively shut off outside trade and nearly half of the Confederacy’s territory to its retreating army. His grinding strength in numbers approach was really the first time in modern warfare that a commander showed a comprehension of the switchover from the Napoleonic to the age of industrial, total war.

In many ways, General Robert Lee was the last representative of the Napoleonic way of war in the US. Big sweeping flank moves, followed by a decisive battle, which would hopefully win the day and maybe the war. And like the French cavalry in 1914, it failed, in spite of Lee’s genius. His victories at Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg, Lee’s Austerlitz, never won anything, except an extra year or two before the Union finally decided to entrust its army to Grant.

This week, their memories were graced by our Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who compared the departed terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to the man whose efforts helped eliminate slavery and preserve the existence of our country.

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Rice: Zarqawi was 'diabolically brilliant'

NEW YORK (AP) -- Slain al Qaeda in Iraq chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a "diabolically brilliant" war tactician, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, likening the terror commander to Civil War generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.

Zarqawi's successors are less talented, and less able to manage what may be a shift in Iraq away from sympathy for foreign-born fighters, Rice said in an interview. Zarqawi was killed by U.S. forces more than a year ago. Since then, the al Qaeda in Iraq network he led has suffered setbacks but has proved a resilient threat.

"He was diabolically brilliant," Rice said of Zarqawi. "I think he was an outstanding organizer, I think he had a kind of strategic sense, and I don't think the follow-on leadership has been quite as good," Rice said in the interview with Fox news.

It is wrong to dismiss Zarqawi's killing as a temporary or insignificant victory in the long fight against terrorism, Rice continued.

"When you hear people say ... 'If you kill one of them, they'll just replace him with another leader,' remember that that's like saying, 'If you take out Robert E. Lee or Ulysses S. Grant, well, they'll just replace them with another leader.' " Rice said. "There are people who are better at this than others."

After the death of the Jordanian-born Zarqawi, "they started to make more mistakes."

Al Qaeda in Iraq is a homegrown Sunni extremist group, comprised mainly of Iraqis but in some cases led and financed by foreigners. The Bush administration says the shadowy group overreached in Anbar province, leading to a revolt by local sheiks.

Rice, who visited Anbar with President Bush this month, agreed with a questioner who said "these foreign fighters have recognized that the game's changed and has turned against them."

"They're still hoping for parts of Iraq, which is why we've got to stay on the hunt. I mean, they moved from Anbar to Diyala," Rice said. "But your point is exactly right. They're going to want to go someplace else because I think it's not going to be long before they're not welcome anywhere in Iraq."

U.S. commanders in Iraq told The Associated Press in July that al Qaeda has been run out of some parts of the country yet still has the will, financing and fighters for significant attacks.

"They're in disarray, but they're always trying to make a comeback," Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, the commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, said in an interview. His area includes Diyala province, where al Qaeda in Iraq had a firm grip until recent heavy U.S.-led fighting.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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What I find most foolish in this comparison, other than the inapplicable historical and cross-cultural context, is that al-Zarqawi never won a single battle, any wars, and in fact lost completely before his early check-out. And his “amazing” skill to elude capture was enabled by the Iraqi people, who captured al-Zarqawi at least a year before and let him loose, after allegedly failing to recognize him. To this day, you hear almost nothing about this, even though his jail break, with the assistance of our beloved free Iraqi people, precipitated the slaughter of hundreds of more Iraqi civilians and American soldiers. Not one investigation from Congress.

Another anomaly in this faux comparison is that if al-Zarqawi was such a great leader, and had the knack for avoiding our military, why is it that he ultimately met his doom at the hands of the US military? What kind of leader gets himself caught and thrown in jail? What kind of organizer, who knows he is one of the most monitored and wanted men on earth, goes back to the same domicile to meet with his comrades in arms, knowing that he is exposing himself? How brilliant can he be, if his foolishness and trust in the wrong group of people get him killed? But hey, he was a good organizer, which I suppose would make Adolph Eichmann just like General Grant, too.

Lastly, Madame Secretary, if al-Zarqawi's death has been such a blow, then why is that al-Qaeda did not collapse after his death? Why is it that these attacks persist, and if it is now being carried out more by Iraqis than foreign fighters, what does that say about the Iraqi people who are volunteering for these services, which we previously considered improbable only a few years ago?

If you are down there, al-Zarqawi, look at this way. At least your theological purity did not have to live through the US trying to start a war with those hated Shias next door in Iran. Who knows, maybe you could have lived to offer your services to us, like your brethren did during the surge or in Afghanistan back in the 1980s.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Coaches Gone Wild

One of the things I love about college football, other than watching unpaid 18-22 year old future felons beat each other to a pulp for exploitative universities raking in billions off the backs and labor of others, is the passion. Such is the love for the game of Oklahoma State University's coach Mike Gundy, who experienced one of those rare meltdowns this last weekend, after winning a shootout with Texas Tech. Apparently, Gundy took great offense to a local newspaper article questioning the resolve of a quarterback the coach had benched.



This is not the greatest coach/manager meltdown of 2007, however. That distinction goes to Phillip Wellman, manager of the class-A Mississippi Braves minor league baseball team.



The rosin grenade was a cute touch.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ahmadinejad: To Debate or Not to Debate?

Iranian President Ahmadinejad is coming to the US this week, first to address the United Nations (the real reason for his appearance), and then to speak and put himself through a question and answer session with students and faculty at Columbia University. There is a lot of debate about whether or not Ahmadinejad should be allowed to speak at Columbia. Some, like ADL National Director Abe Foxman, views it as a reward for a man who has made revisionist statements about the Holocaust. University President Bollinger, on the other hand, feels that it is an opportunity for dialogue and debate.

For me, I personally think it is a wonderful idea, particularly to question President Ahmadinejad on his previous statements in an environment he will not be able to dodge such questions. So, what does everyone else think on this issue?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Dobson to Thompson: Drop Dead Fred


In hate-fest news, this past week James Dobson, founder and leader of the religious Evangelical sect Focus on the Family, has refused to endorse Fred Thompson. Apparently, the ex-Senator's refusal to support a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage outed him as a human being.

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Dobson Says He Won't Support Thompson
Eric Gorski, September 19, 2007
DENVER — James Dobson, one of the nation's most politically influential evangelical Christians, made it clear in a message to friends this week he will not support Republican presidential hopeful Fred Thompson.
In a private e-mail obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, Dobson accuses the former Tennessee senator and actor of being weak on the campaign trail and wrong on issues dear to social conservatives.
"Isn't Thompson the candidate who is opposed to a Constitutional amendment to protect marriage, believes there should be 50 different definitions of marriage in the U.S., favors McCain-Feingold, won't talk at all about what he believes, and can't speak his way out of a paper bag on the campaign trail?" Dobson wrote.
"He has no passion, no zeal, and no apparent 'want to.' And yet he is apparently the Great Hope that burns in the breasts of many conservative Christians? Well, not for me, my brothers. Not for me!
The founder and chairman of Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, Dobson draws a radio audience in the millions, many of whom who first came to trust the child psychologist for his conservative Christian advice on child-rearing.
Gary Schneeberger, a Focus on the Family spokesman, confirmed that Dobson wrote the e-mail. Schneeberger declined to comment further, saying it would be inappropriate because Dobson's comments about presidential candidates are made as an individual and not as a representative of Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization restricted from partisan politics.
Dobson's strong words about Thompson underscore the frustration and lack of unity among Christian conservatives about the GOP field. Some Christian right leaders have pinned their hopes on Thompson, describing him as a Southern-fried Ronald Reagan. But others have voiced doubts in recent weeks about some of the same issues Dobson highlighted: his position on gay marriage and support for the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation.
Dobson and other Christian conservatives support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would bar gay marriage nationally. Thompson has said he would support a constitutional amendment that would prohibit states from imposing their gay marriage laws on other states, which falls well short of that.
Karen Hanretty, a spokeswoman for the Thompson campaign, said Wednesday in response to the Dobson e-mail: "Fred Thompson has a 100 percent pro-life voting record. He believes strongly in returning authority to the levels of government closest to families and communities, protecting states from intrusion by the federal government and activist judges.
"We're confident as voters get to know Fred, they'll appreciate his conservative principles, and he is the one conservative in this race who can win the nomination and can go on to defeat the Democratic nominee."
In his e-mail addressed "Dear friends," Dobson includes the text of a recent news story highlighting Thompson's statement that while he was baptized in the Church of Christ, he does not attend church regularly and won't speak about his faith on the stump.
U.S. News and World Report quoted Dobson earlier this year as questioning Thompson's commitment to the Christian faith _ comments Dobson contended were not put in proper context. Dobson in this week's e-mail writes that suppositions "about the former senator's never having professed to be a Christian are turning out to be accurate in substance."
Earlier this year, Dobson said he wouldn't back John McCain because of the Arizona senator's opposition to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Later, Dobson wrote on a conservative news Web site that he wouldn't support former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani should he win the Republican nomination. Dobson called Giuliani an "unapologetic supporter of abortion on demand" and criticized him for signing a bill in 1997 creating domestic-partnership benefits in New York City.
Last week, Dobson announced on his radio show that the IRS had cleared him of accusations that he had endangered his organization's nonprofit status by endorsing Republican candidates in 2004. The IRS said Dobson, who endorsed President Bush's re-election bid, was acting as an individual and not on behalf of the nonprofit group.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20070919/dobson-thompson/
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In defense of reason, this is the same James Dobson who has denounced Harry Potter as being Satanic. He has also previously claimed to be able to heal Ted Haggard, the super nice Evangelical leader previously busted for frequenting (drum roll) gay sex and meth from a male escort, of any and all traces of homosexuality. And when not putting his shrink degree to use by healing anti-gay homosexuals and Harry Potter readers, the good doctor compares supporters of stem cell research and science in general to Nazis, and advocates beating children as a way of garnering their submission to your loving but firm master, I mean, authority. In essence, a beaten child is a happy Christian child, which may explain why so many of these folk prefer sadomasochism and risky sexual encounters, while denouncing the very behavior they clandestinely participate in as sinful.

If nothing else, at least Dr. Dobson did not declare Thompson as being in league with the devil, like Harry Potter or John McCain. Then again, he did declare some months back that the ex-Senator from Tennessee was "not a Christian." Thus it is the logical conclusions of all ideologies, whereby the ideologues politically consume one another in ideational fratricide.

As a progressive, I must admit to enjoying this spectacle (as this pre-primary intra-party fight is sort of my bathroom stall). Here is to hoping Dr. Dobson's non-choice will further split the conservative vote in the GOP and make it nearly impossible for the Republicans to choose a politically acceptable nominee before the convention (and maybe compelling the leading candidates to waste more of their campaign money). May the creator protect thee, Dr. James Dobson. You are serving her cause, whether you realize it or not.

Moron Report #4

Say hello to Representative Peter King of New York. A longtime sympathizer and supporter of the Irish Republican Army, one of the most violent terrorist organizations in the West, the good Congressman thinks there are too many terrorists in the United States, and that we need to spy on them, on the condition that they are Muslim, of course. No Irish terrorists need apply.

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September 19, 2007
Read More: Homeland Security

Rep. Peter King: There are "too many mosques in this country”

New York Rep. Peter King, a prominent House Republican, said there are “too many mosques in this country” in a recent interview with Politico.

“There are too many people sympathetic to radical Islam,” King said. “We should be looking at them more carefully and finding out how we can infiltrate them.”

King is the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee. And as an outspoken advocate of strong anti-terror measures, he has been unafraid to ruffle some feathers in his drive to protect the homeland.

When asked to clarify his statement, King did not revise his answer, saying “I think there has been a lack of full cooperation from too many people in the Muslim community.” The interview was for a profile of the committee, as part of Politico’s Committee Insider Series.

Earlier, King had said in an interview with radio and television host Sean Hannity that 85 percent of the mosques in this country are controlled by “extremist leadership,” a comment that prompted strong condemnations from many religious organizations and from the Democratic National Committee.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, the congressman said: “The quote was taken entirely out of context by Politico. My position in this interview, as it has been for many years, is that too many mosques in this country do not cooperate with law enforcement. Unfortunately, Politico was incapable of making this distinction.”

UPDATE 2: After Congressman King said his comment was taken out of context, Politico posted a fuller video so readers can decide.



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I suppose the Congressman would digress that his terrorists do not worship in mosques.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Don't Tase Me, Bro!

What will doubtless become one of the great arrest lines until the next demonstrator is beaten, shocked, or shot, introducing student activist Andrew Meyer who, when going on a little too long when questioning Senator John Kerry at a recent political event at the University of Florida:



Apparently, the cops who juiced Mr. Meyer are already on administrative leave, pending an investigation into the aforementioned incident. It seems to me the man was rather harmless and, while meandering in what constituted his question, not uncooperative to the point that he warranted an early exit. Then again, in this society, what with the way things are today, he probably already has an FBI and NSA file.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The French Revenge

Just in time to remind us of why you can never ascribe ideological generalizations to any country, the French Foreign Minister this week threatened a war with Iran over its nuclear program. It appears Old Europe has rediscovered its imperial roots after all. I guess Jonah Goldberg is going to have to take back his surrender monkey comment.

And not just warriors, such is the military might of the French nation, but one that believes in privatization, economic liberalization, and DNA tests for immigrants. President Sarkozy is to propose legislation to cut back on pensions, and impose new restrictions on immigrants, a group he referred to as “thugs” during the 2005 Paris Riots. Getting rid of payments for the elderly, treating immigrants like criminals, replete with fingerprints and DNA tests for those targeted arrivals from a certain North African country. This is what counts as "reform" for the folks at The Economist and The Wall Street Journal. Needless to say, Sarkozy is not a popular figure amongst French immigrants of African descent.


Naturally, la grande Président nation must be credited with one character attribute--he is no teetotaler. When not talking tough to the Russians about its human rights record, and sanctioning assassinations on European Union soil, he apparently is a not infrequent consumer of Vodka.

Pro-war, anti-immigrant, anti-welfare. If the Democrats win the 2008 elections, maybe the Republicans will want to seek asylum in France.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Conservatism Isn't What It Used to Be

Here is an interesting column from a conservative (i.e., real conservative, not the ones on Fox news) about the lack of free speech in academia.

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Conservatism Isn't What It Used to Be

By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

When I was in the Reagan administration, America had a lively press that never hesitated to take us to task. Even the “Teflon President” received more brickbats than Bush and Cheney.

The lively press disappeared along with its independence in the media concentration engineered during the Clinton administration. Shortly thereafter all the liberal news anchors disappeared as well. Today the US press a serves as propaganda ministry for the government’s wars and police state. Yet, some conservatives continue to rant on about “the liberal media.”

That other conservative bugaboo, liberal academia, has also been crushed. Universities once controlled their appointments, but no more. Recently, the political science faculty at DePaul, a Catholic university, voted to give tenure to the courageous scholar and teacher Norman Finkelstein. The department was unable to make its tenure decision stick over the objections of the Israel Lobby and their conservative allies, who were able to reach in over the heads of the political science department and the College Personnel Committee and force DePaul’s president to block Finkelstein’s tenure. Finkelstein had angered the Israel Lobby with his criticisms of Israel’s misuse of the holocaust sufferings of Jews to oppress the Palestinians and to silence critics.

On September 14, 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that the appointment of the distinguished legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky as the Dean of a new law school at the University of California at Irvine had been withdrawn by the university’s chancellor, Michael V. Drake, who gave in to the demands of conservatives outside the university. Conservatives are outraged at Chemerinsky because he criticized Attorney General Gonzales. In withdrawing Chemerinsky’s appointment, Drake told him: “I didn’t realize there would be conservatives out to get you.”

Gonzales is the attorney general who wrote memos justifying torture and denying that the Bush administration was bound by the Geneva Conventions. Gonzales told a stunned Senate Judiciary Committee that the US Constitution did not provide habeas corpus protection to American citizens.

To experience an attorney general of the US fiercely attacking the US Constitution, rending its every provision, is the most frightening experience of my lifetime. That the head of the legal branch of the executive, sworn to uphold the Constitution, would turn against it in order to enhance unaccountable executive power is a clear impeachable offense. If anyone anywhere in the world deserved criticism, Gonzales did. But when Chemerinsky unbraided the despicable Gonzales, conservatives rushed to Gonzales’ defense, not to the defense of the American Constitution.

It seems only yesterday that conservatives were complaining about the liberties that liberals took with the Constitution. Liberals were expanding rights, fancifully perhaps. But today conservatives are curtailing long established rights, such as habeas corpus and protection against self-incrimination. Conservatives abandoned “original intent” and all of their constitutional scruples once they had a chance to cram more power into the presidency.

In my conservative days as an academic, I experienced some liberal blackballs. But liberals did not attack academic freedom per se. The new conservatives despise academic freedom and have created organizations to monitor departments of Middle East studies in order to lower the boom on scholars who follow the truth instead of neoconservative ideology or Israeli policy. Today academic freedom has disappeared just like the independent media. No one but powerful organized interest groups has a voice. In the media truth can only emerge on comic shows like The Colbert Report and Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.

In years past, conservatives were often shouted down on university campuses by left-wing students. But today speakers disapproved by powerful interest groups are simply disinvited in advance. Even Harvard University has fallen to the new censorship. On September 14, 2007, the Harvard Crimson reported that the Israel Lobby was able to force Harvard University to disinvite three speakers, an Oxford University professor, a DePaul professor, and a Rutgers professor, because they had criticized Israeli policy.

In America today, speaking your mind in the media or in academia is a thing of the past. A country that has no voices independent of powerful interests is a country in which freedom is dead.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com

http://www.counterpunch.org/roberts09172007.html
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How sad that an Old Right paleoconservative like Paul Craig Roberts has to point out the state of affairs of American academia. It is even more telling that a former employee of Ronald Reagan reveals the hypocrisy of those neoconservatives who cry wolf on political correctness while advocating the compilation of an enemy's list on those profs who are insufficient in the empire's cause for later condemnation, firing, or even worse. For those of us within the walls of the Ivory Towers, the firing of Ward Churchill, the axing of Norman Finkelstein, and rescinding of
Erwin Chemerinsky's offer as law school dean all retain the very familiar qualities of overextended bureaucratic hacks cutting off people under the guise of their "controversial" views (after numerous complaints from the believers in the beauty of perpetual war).

Of course, the fact that a right-wing ex-Senator who wants to make English the national language was the one responsible for getting rid of Churchill, Finkelstein the victim of a concerted effort by his scholarly enemies (namely, Alan Derschowitz), and Chemerinsky the object of hate for some of his commentaries on the law, should make one wonder about the purpose of academic institutions, if they are merely to serve the interests of those with power and influence (on the threat of losing your job if your views diverge from the party line). These are not bright days for the university system in this country, and I appreciate someone with views quite different from my own for noticing it.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Right Said Fred

As someone who is not a Republican, it is difficult to get that excited about the Republican Presidential field, but I will do my best. Enter Fred Thompson. Part-time actor, lobbyist, blonde-bombshell connoisseur, the ex-Senator from Tennessee threw his hat in the ring this last week for the White House.

Thompson’s resume is much thinner than most of the candidates in the GOP field. He served for less than a decade in the US Senate, compiling a reliably conservative voting record (a lifetime 86 voting record from the American Conservative Union [with 100 being perfectly conservative]). He could have easily run for reelection and won in 2002, but inexplicably quit, claiming fatigue and the all-too-used excuse of wanting to spend more time with his family. Before that, politically, he was known primarily for his ties to ex-Governor and Senator Lamar Alexander. He was also involved in the Watergate Scandal, as counsel for Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker during the Watergate hearings.

On the issues, Thompson has not always been forthcoming. His association with Alexander and Baker are bound to hurt him with some conservatives who remember those two, because both of them had records and reputations for being moderates. Thompson himself has previously answered in the affirmative in wanting to maintain abortion, and has also lobbied on behalf of abortion rights interests. In deference to his evolving views, Thompson now asserts that he would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned, but that the issue of whether to ban the practice mostly left to the states (since he has voted in the past for federal legislation to restrict abortion services). The latter is likely his true view, if he has one at all.

The ex-Senator is also an opponent of a federal marriage amendment to the US Constitution (banning gay marriage). He instead supports allowing states to decide the matter, while maintaining the rights of states not to recognize those who allow gays and lesbians to legally wed (permitted by the Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed into law by Bill Clinton). Of course, he still opposes gay rights, hate laws, etc., but in the world of the Evangelical mind in the GOP his stance on the Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, as well as his previous statements and lobbying efforts on behalf of abortion rights groups, will likely cost him the support of the Jesus is King grouping. If Thompson is going to find an issue to unify conservatives around his campaign, it is likely going to be on something other than the social issues which he has such a qualified record on.

The main appeal of Thompson is not so much his message, or lack of a sudden conversion to wanting to throw gays into the Atlantic Ocean, but his charisma. Conservatives have been seriously lacking a candidate to carry on the appearance and charm of Ronald Reagan for the past two decades.

Thompson’s public speaking skills and ability to work over large crowds is impressive, even by the standards of an accomplished character actor. We sometimes forget just how rare of a commodity this is in politics, as most politicians, even the most seasoned campaigners, have the oratory skills of a tape recorder. Whatever else can be said about Thompson, he is a first rate speaker and retains a magnetism that is undeniable, and he is a frontrunner based on this skill alone.

As for any character issues, well, he has his share. Like most of the Republicans running for President, Thompson has been divorced. This is not such a big deal today, as most married couples divorce, but it used to be. Ronald Reagan was our first divorced President, and when he was courting religious voters during the 1980 primaries there were quite a few preachers who were not overly thrilled with it. I doubt this will be much of an issue anymore, seeing how the Evangelicals’ themselves are having their own life issues.

It is probably still too early to give the nomination to anyone. At this point, I suppose Thompson’s support will continued to be siphoned from Romney (from those conservatives who still hold it against the ex-Governor for being so liberal until a year ago) and Giuliani (for those who cannot stomach supporting a pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and pro-gun control candidate). In fact, here are the national polling numbers for the major Republican candidates over the last several months (with Thompson’s pre and post-test intervention [i.e., his announcement for the Presidency] also included).

Perp.

June

July

Aug.

Sept.

Giuliani

24%

30%

27%

24%

McCain

20%

14%

13%

14%

Romney

10%

10%

16%

9%

Thompson

15%

17%

16%

23%





Source: American Research Group (http://www.americanresearchgroup.com/).

Thus far, Thompson’s candidacy seems to be taking the most out of Romney (going from 16% to 9% in one month). However, Giuliani has also been impacted (going from 30% in July to 24% this month), while McCain has stayed the same. As it is, Thompson is already second and looking to catapult himself into the lead.

Unless, in the words of ex-Louisiana Governor Edwards, he is caught with a dead girl or live boy, we better get used to listening to Fred Thompson’s homespun accent, because we are going to be hearing a lot more of it in the next fourteen months.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Antioch Update...

I wrote some time back about the problems of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. One of the last truly progressive colleges in the US, it has experienced some cash shortages and disputes between faculty-alumni-students and its Board of Trustees and President, the latter of whom seemed certain to shut down the college for over four years (to demolition the old buildings and replace them). If this plan was ever implemented, it would have amounted to a death penalty for the college. That is how rare any university can come back from being closed, even for a short period, not alone four years.

The demise of Antioch would have been a terrible blow not just to Yellow Springs, but to the faculty and students, along with its loyal alumni, and those of us who support them, that would be losing an institution which promoted values of community you so rarely see in today’s corporatized academic environment (one I can personally attest to when dealing with middling committees come time for budget or when trying to convince them to allow me to teach an extra course on an economically unviable subject like human rights or unions). For all the talk from the David Horowitzs of the world, there is no better way to guarantee your future status as a non-tenured faculty, particularly in my discipline, than by being labeled the departmental Marxist. Even if you are not, just teaching a course or two on Cuba or China can arouse suspicion in many departments.

Now, to the good news. Apparently, the Board of Trustees, at the insistence of local citizens, faculty, students, and alumni, finally listened and has agreed to a tentative plan to keep Antioch College open. To date, the Antioch renewal fund has raised $12 million, which is being earmarked to maintain the college.

I still have my doubts about the Board of Trustees. It dislodged its President this month, and the Board is still widely distrusted by many members of the faculty and student body. So, it remains an open question what will happen. As it stands, it looks highly likely that Antioch will be kept alive, which is an achievement in itself. If you read the news, or asked alumni a few months ago, everyone feared for the worst. Here is to hoping I am still writing about Antioch as an open college next year.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

So Sexy It Hurts, Part II: Southwest Strikes Again

Not satisfied with denying attractive blondes with accentuated clothing, Southwest Airlines has expanded its no-fun, anti-attractive female policy to brunettes.

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Too Hot to Fly


LOS ANGELES, CA -- In case you're wondering why a young woman wearing this dress would completely bundle up, Setara Qassim says "I was sitting like this on the plane, like a psycho."

Setara Qassim says it was not her idea that 100 degree day she flew back from Las Vegas on Southwest Airlines.

Setara says "the flight attendant came up to me and asked me if I had a sweater and I said no because why would I pack a sweater in the heat. So, I asked her why and she said I need to cover up."

Just last Friday on the "Today Show," a young woman from San Diego told her story of a Southwest Airlines flight attendant taking issue with the propriety of her attire.

On the "Today Show," the young woman said the flight attendant told her "this is a family airline. You are too provocative to fly on this
flight."

Setara said "the way the woman [on the "Today Show"] described how she felt is exactly how I felt about the whole situation."

We spoke with Ms. Qassim too late to get a response from Southwest but last week, in response to the woman on the "Today Show" being asked to pull up her tanktop and pull down her skirt, Southwest issued a statment that read in part: "when a concern is brought to our employees' attention, we address that situation directly with the customer involved in a discrete and professional manner."

Qassim counters if an airline wants to enforce a dress code, it should post some specifics and not "just the flight attendants deciding on their own whether you're lewd and offensive or not."
http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/strange/news-article.aspx?storyid=91000

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It appears that there are some Southwest Airlines employees with an inferiority or God complex. I find it interesting that in both cases a female was targeted. I wonder if this would have happened if it was a young attractive male with some clothing that revealed a part (or parts) of his body deemed advantageous for future breeding? I doubt it. Most of what passes for the beauty burden in our society is imposed on females. Apparently, men simply cannot control ourselves and will act in an anti-family way, if we see someone wearing clothes that might give away that person's shape. What makes this even more curious is that I have seen young women dress much more provocatively (in my view) than either of the two women in the Southwest cases.

On the positive side, I guess we will not have to worry about Britney Spears taking a trip on Southwest Airlines.

Monday, September 10, 2007

All’s Well That Never Was: Iraq War Report

As expected, General Petraeus’s Iraq War report is straight out of commissar central casting.

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Petraeus says U.S. troop levels can be cut

By Arshad Mohammed and Susan Cornwell 1 hour, 45 minutes ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. commander in Iraq on Monday said the number of U.S. troops in Iraq could be cut by next summer to roughly 130,000, its level before this year's "surge" of 30,000 forces, without jeopardizing security improvements.

Speaking to a congressional hearing on a war that has killed more than 3,700 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis, Gen. David Petraeus also strongly endorsed U.S. President George W. Bush's decision to add forces this year.

"The military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met," Petraeus said in an appearance with U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker that may set the stage for the political debate in Washington on when and whether to withdraw forces.

"I believe we will be able to reduce our forces to pre-surge level by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains," Petraeus added.

There are 168,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. A cut of the sort outlined by Petraeus would restore troop levels to around 130,000, roughly where they were in January when Bush decided to add troops to give Iraqi leaders breathing space to achieve political reconciliation among warring Shi'ites and Sunnis.

As the hearing began, Petraeus listened to deep skepticism from the Democrats who seized control of Congress last year largely because of the profound discontent with the war among American voters.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat, told Petraeus the Iraq war had left the United States unable to confront other challenges.

"The troops in Iraq are not available for other missions; to go into Afghanistan to pursue Osama bin Laden" whose al Qaeda militant group attacked the United States six years ago on Tuesday, Skelton said.

"The administration's myopic policies in Iraq have created a fiasco," added House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, a California Democrat. "The administration has sent you here today to convince the members of these two committees and the Congress that victory is at hand ... I don't buy it."

The Iraq war began in March 2003 when U.S.-led forces invaded to topple Saddam Hussein but has dragged on for more than four years amid a vicious insurgency and brutal sectarian warfare.

Although violence has ebbed in some parts of the country, it continues to rage in others. A suicide truck bomb killed 10 people and wounded 60 in northern Iraq while a car bomb killed two people and wounded six in central Baghdad, police said.

The war is deeply unpopular among Americans, who last year gave control of both houses of Congress to the Democrats largely because of anti-war sentiment and disaffection with Bush's Republicans.

However, the Democrats do not appear to have the votes to cut off funding for the war, the main tool that Congress could use to force Bush to change strategy.

Some analysts believe that the Democrats, hoping that they may win the White House next year, fear a major cut in troop levels could both worsen the situation on the ground and open them to political criticism that they "lost" Iraq.

In Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told lawmakers his government had stopped Iraq sliding into civil war and said violence in and around Baghdad had plunged under a U.S.-backed security crackdown this year.

Speaking before the testimony by Petraeus and Crocker, Maliki said security gains had been made across Iraq, but added that his forces needed more time to take over full security responsibility from U.S.-led foreign soldiers.

(Additional reporting by Aseel Kami and Dean Yates in Baghdad, Susan Cornwell, Andrew Gray and Richard Cowan in Washington)

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070910/ts_nm/iraq_dc
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Note the use of catch-all positive connector words, like “improving,” “better,” “gains,” etc, etc. And as expected, the increased military presence has not had a noticeable effect on life in most of Iraq (outside of Anbar, which is a rural province to begin with). The death levels in Iraq have not decreased to where they were a year ago, contrary to popular belief, the US still controls less than half of Baghdad, as it did before the “surge,” and the civilian deaths are virtually the same this time as they were last August and September.

If nothing else, credit should be given to the U.S. military for being smart enough to begin their campaign when the weather would be the warmest, so to use the weather to its advantage in deterring attacks, but if this campaign is such a success, then why is it that we still need to maintain more than 100,000 troops indefinitely? Why is it that the same Iraqi government which is making such “great gains” is claiming that they “need more time” to take over security responsibilities, which includes the security of its Prime Minister, cabinet members, and vacationing parliament? Why is it that we still control less than half of the capital of the city, which is necessary to create a viable future state? Why is it that we are not even close to controlling the borders of Syria and Iran? No, these are little questions that will not be answered, today, tomorrow, or likely for the next few years.

As I stated in an earlier post, this military campaign, from the beginning, was not about “winning” Iraq. It was about not allowing the occupation situation get too far out of hand, after the spike in violence last spring, so to be able to rationalize the maintenance of the occupation, just long enough to pass the baton to the next President.

Europe Wither? Pope Orders More Babies

I must confess, as a recovering Catholic, I always found it anomalous that an ideally childless and sexless man (save for all the Alexander VIs of the world) would dare to lecture me or anyone else on our sex lives and how many children we should be having. Then again hypocrisy has never been an issue to the Church. It thrives and lives on it.

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Pope blasts Europeans for not having enough children

by Sim Sim Wissgott Sat Sep 8, 3:27 PM ET

MARIAZELL, Austria (AFP) - Pope Benedict XVI blasted Europeans for being selfish and not having enough children, in a sermon on Saturday at the 850-year-old pilgrimage site of Mariazell in Austria.

"Europe has become child-poor. We want everything for ourselves and place little trust in the future," the pope told a crowd of faithful from his canopied area at an open-air, afternoon mass that took place under heavy rain.

But Benedict held out hope, saying: "The earth will be deprived of a future only when the forces of the human heart and of reason illuminated by the heart are extinguished . . . Where God is, there is the future."

The pontiff had slammed abortion upon arriving in Austria Friday as the "very opposite" of human rights.

"The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself," he told members of the government and the diplomatic corps at the Hofburg, the seat of the Austrian presidency in Vienna.

Austrian Defence Minister Norbert Darabos said in a state televisin interview however Saturday that the Austrian government would not call for a change in the country's law which allows abortions.

Meanwhile, in evening prayers at Mariazell the traditionalist Pope defended chastity for religious orders as a way for them to become "men and women of hope."

Celibacy is not "individualism or a life of isolation" for priests, nuns and other religious orders but "unreservedly" serving God and having "deep relationships ... which they accept as a gift."

The Austrian Church has been wracked by several sex scandals involving priests and in an open letter to the pope the liberal Austrian movement Wir sind Kirche ("We are the Church") has called for the end of celibacy.

Despite the bad weather that has dogged the visit so far, thousands stood in the rain at Mariazell packed behind crowd barriers, with many wearing yellow raincoats and some waving blue scarves, the traditional colour of Jesus's mother Mary.

The pope, who had arrived in Mariazell from Vienna by car instead of by helicopter due to the weather, waved to the crowd through the windows of the Popemobile as he made his way to the centuries-old white and pink basilica in Mariazell.

People who had been sheltering under doorways rushed towards his motorcade as it passed, even as the rain increased in intensity.

Organisers said 33,040 free tickets had already been distributed for Mariazell and that the pilgrims would include 70 bishops from central and eastern European countries.

The Austrian archbishop, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, told the crowd that two pilgrims had died from health problems, and the Pope said a prayer for them.

On Friday, the pontiff said he intended his pilgrimage "to be a journey made in the company of all the pilgrims of our time."

He said Mariazell "symbolizes an openness which... transcends physical and national frontiers."

The main pilgrimage site in the Danube region, some 110 kilometres (70 miles) southwest of Vienna, the basilica was founded by Benedictine monks.

The site, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and celebrates its 850th anniversary this year, welcomes around a million pilgrims every year from Austria, neighbouring Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia as well as Poland, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina.

The Pope arrived in Vienna Friday morning and addressed a crowd of thousands at Am Hof square before making a silent tribute to the victims of the Holocaust at a nearby monument.

The pope's visit has been greeted with some criticism in a country where the traditionally powerful Catholic Church is waning in influence.

Statistics show the Austrian Church has lost about one million followers since 1983, and only 67 percent of Austrians are still officially Catholic, compared to almost 92 percent in 1900.

On Sunday, the Pope will celebrate a morning mass at Vienna's St. Stepheon's Cathedral and visit the Cistercian monastery in Heiligenkreuz, before flying back to Rome.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20070908/wl_afp/vaticanpopeaustria_070908192741
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The oddity of this article is that the Pope speaks out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand, people are being chastised for their greed and avarice, living life without more children, while simultaneously demanding his own priests and monks to be celibate (which we know they are not, and with the wrong people to boot). This is all the more galling because this same Pope has relativized the pedophile sex scandals in the US by claiming they are mostly the result of anti-Catholic bigotry (as opposed to pedophile priests and those in the leadership, like Cardinal Bernard Law [a close friend on the pontiff], who enabled the abuse).

This is not to trivialize the problems of population contraction in Europe, however. The European Union’s population is shrinking by about a million people per year, and the Pope’s homeland, Deutschland, is leading the charge, with one of the oldest countries in Europe (with a median age of 43) and lowest birthrates (overall, the fertility rate in the EU is under 1.5 children per woman). With fewer children, an aging population, and a continent looking more like a retirement home with every passing day, these are not ingredients for regeneration. Add to that the EU’s increasing intolerance of immigrants, especially those from north Africa or the rest of the Middle East (i.e., anyone who is non-white and Muslim), it means that within a few centuries there will not be much left to call Europe.

All of this is something to lament, I suppose, if you are one of those believers in the clash of civilizations, but it is not unusual to human history. Populations fade all the time, and they are either amalgamated into surrounding populations, like the Assyrians or Scythians, or they simply die. Why should anyone expect those countries with wealth and affluence, and a very high cost of living, to have as many children as those who live in rural societies with pre-modern concepts of the family? Well, according to Mr. Ratzinger, because he believes that is the kind of society we should be living in, except for him and his priests, of course.

Friday, September 7, 2007

So Sexy It Hurts....

If you are an attractive female, wearing anything that apparently shows your legs, reveals your face, or accentuates your bosom, take note of this message from Southwest Airlines. Its jealous employees reserve the right to try to boot you off their flights.

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ONLY IN SAN DIEGO
Southwest fashion police set no-fly zone

September 5, 2007

As the mercury climbed over 100 on Labor Day, I called Southwest Airlines with a not entirely hypothetical question:

Could a young woman board a flight to Tucson today wearing a bikini top?

Angelique, the agent who took my call, assured me that a young woman could.

“We don't have a problem with it if she's covered up in all the right spots,” she said. “We don't have a dress code.”

Tell that to Kyla Ebbert, who was escorted off a Southwest Airlines flight two months ago for wearing an outfit far less revealing than a bikini top.

Ebbert, a Mesa College student and Hooters waitress, was allowed to stay on the plane, but only after she put up a fight and, she says, was lectured on how to dress properly.

I don't know about you, but one of my big gripes with the airlines is that they just don't take the time to dispense fashion advice any more.

Southwest explained its treatment of Ebbert in a letter to her mother, saying it could remove any passenger “whose clothing is lewd, obscene or patently offensive” to ensure the comfort of children and “adults with heightened sensitivities.”

Ebbert, 23, says she was judged unfairly by the airline and humiliated by the experience. Who wouldn't be?

She had a doctor's appointment that afternoon in Tucson, where temperatures had topped 106 all week. She arrived at Lindbergh Field wearing a white denim miniskirt, high-heel sandals, and a turquoise summer sweater over a tank top over a bra.

After the plane filled, and the flight attendants began their safety spiel, Ebbert was asked to step off the plane by a customer service supervisor, identified by the airline only as “Keith.”

They walked out onto the jet bridge, where Keith told Ebbert her clothing was inappropriate and asked her to change. She explained she was flying to Tucson for only a few hours and had brought no luggage.

“I asked him what part of my outfit was offensive,” she said. “The shirt? The skirt? And he said, 'The whole thing.' ”

Keith asked her to go home, change and take a later flight. She refused, citing her appointment. The plane was ready to leave, so Keith relented. He had her pull up her tank top a bit, pull down her skirt a bit, and return to her seat.

Ebbert says several flight attendants overheard the conversation and, after an embarrassing walk down the aisle, she took her seat and spread a blanket over her lap. She kept her composure until the plane landed, when she called her mother and broke down.

She took a photo of herself with her cell phone so her mother could see her clothes. That's when mom became livid.

“My daughter is young, tall, blond and beautiful,” Michele Ebbert told me, “and she is both envied and complimented on her appearance. She dresses provocatively, as do 99 percent of 23-year-old girls who can. But they were out of line.”

Who knows where the lines are drawn these days, particularly when it comes to dress? If you watch television, or visit the mall, or take in a game at Petco Park, you'll see women dressed in ways that, 50 years ago, were pornographic. Today they are stylish.

A Supreme Court justice famously could not define “obscene,” and declaring a thing “lewd” imputes motive. Did Kyla Ebbert intend to excite sexual desire on that flight to Tucson? I doubt it, just as I doubt that flight attendants are proper judges of such matters.

But neither am I. So when I arranged to see Ebbert in the notorious outfit, I brought along my fashion advisers, writer Nina Garin and photojournalist Crissy Pascual, who for years collaborated on a feature in this newspaper called “Seen on the Street.”

The three of us met Ebbert and her mother for lunch at Nordstrom Cafe. Ebbert, who is 5-foot-5 and has green eyes, is pretty enough to be a model.

Yet even wearing the clothes that scandalized Southwest, she did not attract attention beyond some lingering glances.

My fashion advisers were baffled, saying they saw nothing you don't see on a college campus or in Pacific Beach.

“I was expecting to be shocked, and I was shocked the other way,” Pascual told me.

“It wasn't a big deal,” Garin said. “Her skirt was a bit short, which was only accented by her heels. If she had been wearing flip-flops it wouldn't have mattered.”

Garin wondered if a jealous woman may have complained about Ebbert's outfit. I asked her what she would have said had she been on the plane.

“ 'I hope she's not sitting next to my husband,' ” Garin replied. “She's pretty. She wears her clothes well. But I wouldn't complain about it.”

Pascual detected sexism in the way Ebbert was treated, wondering if a man would have been asked to change clothes. Do men dress inappropriately? “I see butt cracks, a lot of butt cracks,” she said.

In its letter, Southwest said “there were concerns about the revealing nature of her outfit.”

I called Hollye Chacón, the Southwest customer relations representative who wrote the letter, to see if we were talking about the same outfit.

“What exactly was being revealed?” I asked.

She said yesterday she'd call back, but never did. That's pretty revealing in itself.

http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20070905/news_1m5braun.html
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Of course, when it comes time to complain about terrible service, being charged for everything while you are in flight like some levitated toll booth, or being generally treated like cattle on your way to the slaughterhouse (for pay), well, good luck on getting a response. But, hey, at least I do not have to worry about my strained neck (since I refuse to pay for the pillows) having to endure the sight of mini skirts, thanks be to God.

All of this reminds me of one of my favorite satires (although it was unintentional) of all-time, Perversion for Profit.