Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ecclesiastic Sleight-of-Hand

My wife received an end-of-year letter yesterday over the signature of the senior pastor of her church. The gist of it was how everybody needs to contribute money to the church because every year the budget is barely being met.

Aside from the obvious (to me) conclusion--viz., perhaps the budget is overblown--the letter stands as a fine example of what I've come to regard as ecclesiastic sleight-of-hand. Specifically, it slides rather subtly from "giving to the church" to "giving to God" or "giving to Jesus." (This is hardly unique to my wife's church or denomination, by the way: I've had fifty years of hearing the same sort of slippery phraseology coming from Catholic pulpits, too, and I have absolutely no reason to believe it doesn't take place across the board.)

One is left with the question of what God needs money for.

And the answer, of course, is that he has no need of it whatsoever.

To which I would expect the rejoinder to be that, no, God has no need of filthy lucre himself, but money is what it takes to do God's work on earth, so contributing money to the church is in effect to contribute it to God's work.

Okay. But there is more sleight-of-hand at work there, too. Because every church that I've ever trafficked with, as member, visitor, or member-in-law, has insisted that its share of the take must come right off the top--what some churchy enterprises insist on referring to as "first fruits"--and that everyone and everything else must vie for whatever is left. Indeed, in some churches that I've been around, the powers that be even go so far as to describe certain undertakings as "second mile" giving, meaning that they sure as heck don't want you to deduct your contribution from what you put in the collection plate. The sleight-of-hand at work here is the presumption that God's work is done only through "the church"--which is to say "this church"--or most importantly through "the church," and so everything else is subordinate. And yet, is not a donation to charity "doing God's work"? What about a donation to "a good cause" (as defined by yourself)--I can think of several that are about the Lord's work just as much as any parish, congregation, or denomination is. But I suspect that most churchy folk will say that such contributions, though admirable and good, must come only after one's tribute to the local institutional church.

To which I say: Baloney.

God's work in the world boils down to helping other people. Thus the money donated to the local food bank, or homeless shelter, or Salvation Army is dedicated to God's work no less than the money placed in the collection plate. Maybe even more so, depending on circumstances. Ditto for dollars sent to a particular mission or relief endeavor.

This is not to say that giving to one's church is not important. It is of course. It's just to say that the church's insistence that it needs to be at the head of the line doesn't mean it really deserves to be at the head of the line.

"The first shall be last", where did I read that...?

I am left equally cold by various church's insistence on tithing. My conscience and I are perfectly capable of determining what we feel should be our contribution to the church, thank you very much. I heard tell of one pastor who insisted that no one who didn't tithe could be a member of the church council. This strikes me as a pretty hot idea, inasmuch as I'm not too fond of meetings and am usually looking for a way to avoid serving on board and committees. It also strikes me as just shy of charging a membership fee to belong to a church, which is not such a hot idea.

Once again the sleight-of-hand is fully evident: You must tithe, traditionally ten percent of the gross, to "God's work." But what is really meant is, again, "the church"--"this church"--and not any other manifestations of "doing God's work." So to say, "Ten percent of my gross income is X dollars, and I'll divvy those dollars up among the food bank, the women's shelter, the orphanage, the Maryknoll Missioners, the community chest, and my church" is not acceptable to the church. The church, indeed, insists that the full ten percent belongs to the church, and that anything else you may care to donate to any other worthy cause must come from the remaining 90 percent of your income.

And, again: Baloney. God's work is God's work, no matter who is doing it.

The sad fact is, the pie is only so big and can be cut into only so many pieces, and "the church" wants to make sure it gets its piece, and the biggest piece, first.

Shame on them.

Thoughts on Gerald Ford's Passing

Watching coverage of the various memorial services for Gerald Ford brings to mind a number of things:

  • How grand of the current president to decline to cut his vacation short a day or two in order to be in D.C. when Ford's remains (and, more important, family) arrived. Yes, indeedy, a class act all the way. Goes to show how poorly the current occupant of the White House compares to his predecessors, especially the one who will be buried this week.
  • Gerald Ford is the only Republican presidential candidate for whom I have ever voted (and unless the GOP changes mightily in the future, the only one). It was the first year I was eligible to vote. I felt (still do) that Ford had been handed the most unimaginable mess--war, inflation, Watergate, just about everything short of frogs and locusts--and had done an admirable job of dealing with it. I felt (still do) that he deserved "his own" term. I further felt (still do) that Jimmy Carter was simply not the right man for the job, and am among those who feel Carter is a better ex-president than president. My feeling 30 years ago was that Ford was an honorable man trying to pull the country back together, and nothing in the interim has caused me to change my mind.
  • I read a comment on from someone who felt that Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon is what defined Ford's presidency, and not for the better. I disagree. At the time, I was one of those who believed the fix was in and that the pardon only showed the bottomless corruption of the Nixon bunch and the GOP. With the passage of time, however, I came to believe that pardoning Nixon was perhaps the only way to get the country past Watergate. The fact that it was unpopular, that Ford must have known it would be unpopular, and that he probably realized it jeopardized any chance he may have had to be elected in his own right only serves to illustrate the character of Gerald Ford.
  • What the hell has happened to the Republican Party that in a mere three decades it has gone from the likes of Gerald R. Ford (decent, honest, committed to the nation's best interests) to the likes of George W. Bush (duplicitous, deceitful, and committed only to his cronies' best interests)?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Monsters and Straw Men

This letter appeared in my local newspaper last week. I started to draft a pithy reply to it, but quickly realized that to meet the paper's parsimonious word count would require me to edit it down to a nubbin, which I was loath to do. Anyhow, here's the diatribe:

Did vote match philosophy?
By Cindy M. Flakoll
legislative liaison Concerned Women for America of South Dakota
PUBLISHED: December 19, 2006

South Dakota's abortion ban failed on Election Day.

Which group's philosophy aligns with your personal philosophy?
Organization No. 1 believes:

# Abortion hurts women and kills unborn children. Babies conceived in rape/incest deserve prenatal care and birth just as much as babies conceived under other circumstances.

# A woman confronting an unplanned pregnancy should be supported medically, emotionally, spiritually and financially so she can give birth to a healthy child, then choose to raise the child or choose adoption.
Organization No. 2 believes:

# The woman's need to kill her own child is all-important. Her child's needs should not be considered.

# No matter how the child is conceived, the woman should utilize any means to kill her child rather than allow "it" to become burdensome - medically, emotionally, spiritually or financially - for herself and her chosen partner or rapist.

Where are you? If you believe like Organization No. 1, you should have voted "yes" to ban abortions. If you voted "no" on the ban, then you voted against your own beliefs.

If you believed the ban was too extreme, your philosophy matches Organization No. 2. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, on Election Day you became a supporter of the culture of death in America.

Well. You can imagine how gratifying I find it when someone who doesn't know me presumes to know what my innermost thoughts and feelings are. For the record, I voted against this state's near-total ban on abortions because I felt that it was bad law--unnecessarily harsh and drafted for no other reason than to force the issue into the court system, ultimately to the Supreme Court. I fail to see why every taxpayer in the state should be shanghaied into such a blatantly illegal undertaking. (Legislators take a vow to uphold the Constitution. To pass legislation that contravenes the Constitution violates that vow. As far as I'm concerned, every legislator who voted for the ban should be impeached and possibly prosecuted for treason. Same goes for the governor who signed the measure.)

Ms. Flakoll's hardly unbiased letter does serve as a shining example of the Straw Man argument, one that my old high-school debate coach would have been proud of. See, she gets to present both sides of the argument, and in so doing gets to portray The Other Side as morally monstrous, evil, and all kinds of other bad things, while Her Side is virtuous, noble, and full of sugar and spice and everything nice.

And so, in the spirit of Ms. Flakoll's dishonest and spurious presentation, I proffer my own:

Which group's philosophy aligns with your personal philosophy?
Organization No. 1 believes:

# The government should be in the business of making health-care decisions for women, no matter what the woman and her doctor think best.

# Women are simply too emotional to know what's best for them, so the totalitarian state must make decisions for them

# There is no room for sympathy or mercy if a woman is the victim of rape or incest, and the government forcing her to continue her pregnancy is for her own good

# It's probably her own fault that she's pregnant, anyway.

Organization No. 2 believes:

# Abortion is a hard choice, and we should feel great empathy toward women who are faced with making that decision.

# Women are intelligent enough to be able to make their own medical decisions, in consultation with their physicians and with the support of their family.

# A woman or girl who has been the victim of rape or incest should not be further victimized by the legislature, the governor, social activists, or others who always know what's best for everybody else.

# It's very easy for someone to dictate what other people "should" be doing, when the consequences do not weigh on him or her at all.

See? With no one to refute or rebut, you may simultaneously slander and demonize people who don't agree with you to your little heart's content. Loads of fun, and you can do it in your own home!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

What, Me Work?

"Keeping us up here eats away at families," is what GOP Congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia told The Washington Post. Democrats, he said, "could care less about families -- that's what this says."

And what was Mr. Kingston complaining about? Why, the incoming Democratic leadership of the House has this bizarre notion that members of Congress should actually, you know, work. Like, in their offices. Which these days are located in Washington, DC.

Yes, our representatives will actually be forced to return to work on January 4--whole weeks before the State of the Union address, which is when they’ve been accustomed to wandering back in under GOP “leadership.”

As The Post points out in an editorial this morning, “Do-Something Congress”, the current 109th Congress will have been in session for a grand total of 103 days this year, seven days fewer than the "Do-Nothing Congress" of 1948.

The Post also points out that “an ordinary full-time worker with a generous four weeks of vacation would have clocked 240 days of work during that same period.”

In addition, says The Post, quoting to the American Enterprise Institute's Norman Ornstein, “the average number of days in session for a two-year Congress has dropped from 323 in the 1960s and '70s to just 250 during the first six years of the Bush presidency.”

“This,” writes The Post, “saps lawmakers' ability to get much done. It's one explanation, though not the only one, for why they were able to finish work on only two spending bills this year. It takes a toll, too, in less measurable ways, on congressional civility and bipartisanship. How can lawmakers forge friendships -- or even learn to get along -- when they're barely in town long enough to learn each other's names?”

As to Rep. Kingston: I too have noticed how having a job really cuts into one’s free time. Perhaps the voters of his district can help him out with that in a couple of years.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Strangely Familiar?

Here is a picture of the familiar old Civil Defense emblem, which was retired yesterday after almost 70 years of service. We Cold War kids remember it well, if not fondly:

Here is its replacement, the Emergency Management logo:

And here is the current symbol for DC Comics, publisher of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.

Is it just me, or do logos #2 and #3 look an awful lot alike?

I leave it to your imagination to determine what this strange resemblance might mean, if anything...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Although I like to think I'm as cynical as the next guy, this news summary from this morning's New York Times struck even me as a little crusty:

Pope Backs Turkey’s Bid to Join European Union
The gesture of good will, a reversal of his position, was aimed at blunting Muslim anger toward him.

Short of Benedict himself saying, "I'm doing this to blunt Muslim anger toward me," it seems unlikely that we really know what Il Papa has in his heart. Mind, I'm sure that anger-blunting was part of the package (see above re my cynicism), but is it not also possible that the pope has re-thought his previous opposition to Turkey's joining the EU, that he has had a legitimate change of mind and/or heart—and that perhaps that instead of or in addition to anger-blunting is behind his new position?

But our society does not allow for that. To change one's mind is to flip-flop, to waffle, to bow to political correctness or some other pet bugaboo. Stubbornness has become a virtue. Real men "stay the course"; real men are consistent, and consistency requires one to be as ignorant today as he was yesterday.

Growth? That's a funny word…

Saturday, November 25, 2006

It's the Holiday Season!

The "Quotation of the Day" in this morning's online edition of The New York Times:

"It's like a mosh pit. You get pushed everywhere." --LEXIE DEWEGEL, 19, a shopper at Fashion Place Mall in Murray, Utah, where fighting erupted among 12,000 bargain hunters.

One hates to always be the spoilsport, but this Black Friday free-for-all strikes me as pandering to the worst impulses of the American public. Everybody likes a bargain, and retailers must make money, but does that translate into "anything goes"?

Is there no major retailer in the country with enough intestinal fortitude to say, "No, we think we can be better than that"?

Well, of course not. What am I thinking? Obviously been hitting the cranberry sauce a little hard,

But as I watch the images of holiday shoppers stampeding into Wal-Mart like a herd of wild pigs, as pushing and pulling degenerate into fistfights, I cannot but think that sooner or later somebody's going to get killed. Someone will stumble in the mad rush, and be trampled by the wild pigs. A fight will turn deadly. Someone will produce a gun or knife in order to secure the season's version of Tickle-Me Elmo.

Black Friday, indeed.

And, since we live in a litigious society, the victim, or the victim's survivors, will sue. The retailer will argue that the victim was there voluntarily, and that it is blameless. The survivors will argue that the victim was, well, the victim of the retailer's endless hyperbolic advertising, that nonstop insisting that those who snooze will be those who lose created an imperative in the victim's mind that he or she was helpless to resist. And anyway the store should have had better security.

As annoyed as I get at people's refusal to accept responsibility for their own actions and the consequences thereof, I hope that when--not if--the lawsuits start flying, some of these retailers are hit with whopping great fines. Money being the only thing that seems to matter to them only the threat of having money taken away from them will make them see (maybe) that just because base impulses exist in the American public, they needn't feel obliged to pander to them.

In the meantime, I was sound asleep at five a.m. when the local stores started their "doorbuster" sales. It was noon before I was looking at the newspaper ads telling me about all the great bargains I had missed. (One wonders: If Best Buy boasts a "minimum of 10" copies of an attractively priced LCD TV, what are the odds of my getting one even if I'm in line at the store in the middle of the night?) I am hard-pressed to think of anything I want or need so badly, any bargain that is so irresistibly attractive, that would compel me to eat Thanksgiving dinner in a tent in front of the mall.

And the holiday season begins!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Morning in America

By Tony Auth, Philadelphia Inquirer

Voter Turnout

The official voter-turnout count in South Dakota for Tuesday is 67.2%--a good number, by modern standards, but neither a record nor the 72% that Secretary of State Chris Nelson was guessing at.

Nelson's guess, and that of others who predicted lines around the block, was based on an odd bit of reasoning, to wit: The number of absentee ballots taken out before the election (well, of course: they don't let you vote after the election) was higher than usual, therefore overall voter turnout would be higher than usual.

Except that various sources were encouraging people to vote absentee even if they were going to be around on election day, once again on the grounds that turnout would be high, lines would be long, and you could save a lot of hassle by voting before November 7. Well, if enough people did that, then you would see fewer people at the polling places, since so many would already have voted...not that more people were voting, mind, just that more were voting in advance.

I haven't heard if any records were set for absentee ballots.

Granted, more people voted than in recent years. But only one person I've spoken to had to wait in line more than a couple of minutes. Me, I got to my polling place at about 7:25 a.m., chatted in the parking lot with the school custodian a few minutes, went in for my ballot (number 53), took the only open voting booth, marked the aforementioned ballot and turned it in at the lockbox, went back outside and chatted with one of the candidates for a few minutes, and was still at my office by 7:50.

Reflections After the Fact

Yesterday, the day after Election Day, was an odd one.

For one thing, I am long since used to being in the wilderness, politically speaking. It is a rare occurrence for "my" candidate to win, a rare occurrence for me to be on the same side of a given issue as my voting peers. And yet. My gubernatorial, attorney general, and one state representative choices failed, but everyone else I voted for was elected, Bizarre.

Likewise on the ballot issues. As you know, South Dakota had a mess of 'em this year: eleven constitutional amendments, initiated measures, and referred laws. Phew. Again, though, I found myself in league with the majority on an unsettling number of them, most notably our infamous abortion ban, which was defeated, but also such oddities as who gets to decide when school starts (I thought that's what we elected school boards for, and it seems the majority of my fellow residents felt the same) and whether the governor can use a state-owned plane to go to his kid's football game (no).

Add to that the wonderfully bizarre turn of events in Our Nation's Capital--Democrats taking back the House of Representatives and nearly (at that point) the Senate (now an apparent reality), precipitating the ouster of Donald Rumsfeld (one-third of the Axis of Evil that got us into the mess(es) we're in today)--and you can about imagine how disoriented I felt all day!

(I do not for a minute believe that Rummy's departure means that the president or anyone else on Pennsylvania Avenue "got" the message. Mr. Bush did a fine job of ducking the question of whether this signifies a change in approach to the war, leading me to conclude that it's just a new actor in the old role. See "Bush Replaces Rumsfeld with... Another Rumsfeld" by Joshua Holland.)

I'm much more used to waking up the morning after and cursing the imbecilic electorate for being so easily duped.

What accounts for this strange turn of events? I hardly think, after all these years, that I am somehow an exemplar of Mainstream America. So I'm left to conclude that the political pendulum, having swung so far to the right these past several years, has now swung back to the center, perhaps even a bit left of same, where I believe I have stayed all along. Presumably it will now settle back in the moderate mid-range, where the majority of the country (by definition) is.

Of course, it's not all fish and chips in America now. The we-know-what's-best-for-you right-wing extremist morally superior shove-it-down-everyone's-throat lobby has already vowed to "continue the fight" to ban all abortions in South Dakota. Predictable. And the constitutional amendment to "define" marriage (one man and one woman, in case you were wondering) passed rather handily, which is disappointing. I can't decide if it was a win for fear and prejudice (anti-gay) or a case of the electorate not fully understanding that, despite its billing, this amendment doesn't just close the door on gay marriage but also on certain rights afforded to straight couples who are living together without benefit of clergy. What my friend Jerry would refer to as the Law of Unintended Consequences.

I was amused by some people's reaction to the defeat of the mean-spirited and hard-hearted abortion ban...not the diehard wild-eyed right-wing extremists, but otherwise normal and rational-seeming folks. Some of them seemed ignorant of the fact that legal abortion has been available in the United States of America for some decades now, and honestly seemed to believe that Tuesday's election meant that abortion will now be coming to a medical clinic near you. Others (well, actually some of the same people) seem intellectually incapable of separating the concepts of "against banning all abortions" and "in favor of abortion." The truth is, nobody is "in favor" of abortion. I think there is widespread agreement across the board that abortion leaves no winners. The question is not whether one is "for" anything, but rather who gets to make a woman's health-care choices: the woman, or the government?

I think this is why I so often hear, and in very definitive tones, that it is "impossible" for me to be pro-choice and pro-life. Nonsense: It is by definition not impossible, since I am both of those things; rather it just takes a little bit of intellectual discrimination to realize that the two are not mutually exclusive. I think abortion is bad news. My prayer would be that no woman would ever find herself in such a position that she felt abortion was her only or best option. But, meanwhile, we must live in what I hilariously refer to as the real world, in which women do find themselves in that predicament. Given that, I fail to see how adding to her distress by turning her into a criminal, by sending her back into the good old alleyways and into the unsanitary, unsafe hand of butchers (or worse) helps her in any way. I fail to see how this "protects" women, as the anti-abortion lobby insisted the total ban would do.

But for a brief interlude, now, it's possible to bask in the glow of some political success. Not across the board--but as I said, it's so odd for me to have several of my votes among the majority, let alone most of them, that I can do nothing else but enjoy what will most likely be a once-in-a-lifetime event!

Worth a look:
GOP Myths Fall Short Of Reality, by CBS News political consultant Samuel J. Best.
A Victory for Progressive Values, by Nathan Newman, TPMCafe.
Bush Urges Bipartisan Cooperation After Cabinet Meeting
, by William Branigin, The Washington Post. (For comic relief, the headline alone is a knee-slapper.)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Subtle, and Not So, Continued

One hates to start sounding paranoid (although you know what they say about it not being paranoia if they're really out to get you), but I was once again stunned by yet another fairly blatant anti-Catholic jab, this one in yesterday's edition of the local rag. The item in question was about pastors who feel "pressured" if they express an opinion on the various social issues that we will confront at the polls next week. Here's the pertinent bit, in re the upcoming vote on this state's now-infamous total ban on abortion:

"My denomination says abortion is OK in certain limited circumstances," Tarver [a retired United Methodist pastor] said. "Now, if (the ban) passes, it means the Catholic Church and the evangelical right has trumped our position, and that of Jews, Muslims and others. That's not a very happy thing to contemplate."

Yow. Even though I will break ranks and vote against the ban next week, this character's bigoted remark about those Catholics who might "trump" his vote is truly appalling. Yes, yes, I see that he also swipes the "evangelical right": you will note, however, that he doesn't single out any other church or religious organization. Just Catholics.

How likely is it that he would express outrage at the possibility that, say, the Presbyterian Church might "trump" his vote? Or the Congregationalists? How about the Rotary Club?

Then, the very next paragraph after he trashes members of the Catholic Church who might vote differently than him, comes this:

What bothers Tarver most is the strain he thinks has developed in ecumenical relations between denominations. The spirit of ecumenism he once saw as a young pastor has largely dissipated, he thinks.

Geez. Almost hard to believe, huh? Wonder what could possibly have happened to that "spirit of ecumenism"?

If this is the sort of fat-headed commentary that these so-called pastors are spewing, then they should feel pressured to shut up, at least until such time as their brains have had a chance to catch up to their tongues.

As my latest foray into time-wasting, I last night penned this letter to the editor of the aforementioned rag:

In an election year in which some forces would take us back to the nineteenth century, and in which various players feel free to use large quantities of mud in their undertaking, it was just a matter of time before good old-fashioned Catholic-bashing would emerge.

Thursday's Argus Leader quotes a retired United Methodist pastor thus: "Now, if (the ban) passes, it means the Catholic Church and the evangelical right has trumped our position, and that of Jews, Muslims and others. That's not a very happy thing to contemplate."

What a hateful and bigoted thing to say! I can hardly imagine anyone complaining that a particular outcome would mean that the United Methodist Church has "trumped" the election. Yet this man considers it acceptable to condemn members of another church--and specifically the Catholic Church--because they might vote differently than him, and thus "trump" his vote.

In an election, we generally see opposing sides on every issue. The side that generates the most votes prevails. We call that democracy.

Ironically, the man in question next laments the dissipation of "the spirit of ecumenism he once saw as a young pastor."

No kidding.

The sad thing is, the man who made these insensitive, bigoted remarks probably would not consider himself the least bit bigoted or insensitive. Sad, and dangerous. For that kind of bigot usually insists (and porbably believes) that he was misunderstood, and the aggrieved party is over-sensitive. And so we let that kind of attitude slide unchallenged--I am often guilty of that myself--which implies that it is acceptable.

It isn't.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Subtle, and Not So, Bigotry

One of the interesting things about being the token Catholic on a non-Catholic religious organization's staff is the opportunity to observe how pervasive anti-Catholic sentiment really is. And often among people who would consider themselves progressive, ecumenically minded sorts with nary a bigoted bone in their bodies. And yet...

Several days ago a comment in passing led a co-worker (a newish one, who I'm not certain knows I'm Catholic, so I don't think she was trying to be provocative) to complain about schools serving meatless lunches on Fridays in lent. "It's about choice," she averred. Balderdash. 'Round these parts, there is no choice in elementary school lunches--if chicken is today's entree, everyone gets chicken--and middle school and high school cafeterias are a la carte, so there's always choice. Thus the complaint is not that the kids all have to eat mac and cheese on Friday, but rather that an accommodation (and a small one, at that) is being made to Catholic kids. And why should that bother anyone, unless they have at least a subconscious bias against Catholics?

A couple of years ago, an article appeared in the local press about someone who had been taken in by one of these e-mail offers of untold zillions in an African bank, which can only be liberated by the solicitor of the deceased owner of the zillions if he has a "partner" in the U.S. A discussion of that in the office prompted someone to mention that some years previous, a local church of my employers' denomination had lost money in a similar scam; I conversationally mentioned that a local Catholic church had had the same experience. "They can afford it," said one of my playmates dismissively. Actually, they couldn't: they were and are a struggling parish. But even if they could, what a shameful thing to say. The implication was clear: They're not us, so their loss doesn't matter; they're Catholics, so who cares.

A co-worker (who does know I'm Catholic, and who was I think making an effort to be hurtful) mentions a conversation with someone else who has read on "a web site" that Catholics "still" believe you can "earn" your way into Heaven. (Not precisely true, but precision is not something that is prized by bigots.) Causing someone else in that conversation to comment that he "hoped they would have done away with that by now." Golly. Where to begin? First of all, "a web site" is not what we would call a reliable source. Anyone can put anything on a web site. Second, not knowing the name of the web site makes it impossible to verify its contents, or to know whether the contents were being properly relayed by the commenter. Third, why would the commenter "hope" the Catholic Church would do or not do anything? If you're not a Catholic, what do you care what the Catholic Church professes? Finally, the smug implication--we're enlightened, they're benighted--is patently offensive. (Just as I would imagine the holder of such an attitude would be offended by the revelation that in some quarters his insistence on the concept of "grace alone" is not considered enlightened but rather incomplete.)

Item: In reference to the ordination and installation of a new bishop to the local Catholic diocese, one of my co-workers says that, watching the local news and seeing the rows and rows of priests in attendance, she is so proud to be a member of a church that ordains women. Well, okay. She should be proud of her church; everyone should be. Most of the time I am, too. But there again I sense an undercurrent of we're so enlightened and they're not. I certainly get no sense of respect for another church's right to set its own policy and make its own way to what it sees as the will of God. And, again, the subtle anti-Catholic thread is clearly evident: the Roman Catholic Church is far from the only church body that does not ordain women. And yet I hear little bemoaning of the fact that, say, Southern Baptists don't allow women in the pulpit. Why is the Catholic Church singled out? Well, because it's the Catholic Church, silly!

Let's be plain here: If it were left to me, the Catholic Church would have both women priests and married priests. But that's not the point. The point is, do I respect the right of Baptists, Presbyterians, Mormons, Jews, Hindus, etc., etc., to make their own policies? Not do I agree with these policies, but rather whether I have respect for them. If the answer is yes, then I have to acknowledge that "respect," if genuine, means being mature enough to avoid looking down my nose at policies that are different from those of my church or those that I would establish were it up to me.
Somebody once said that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable bias in America. I used to think that was largely a dodge to keep the Catholic League in business, but my opinion has been altered these past several years. Sadly, most of the anti-Catholic comments and attitudes I observe are so ingrained that the person in question almost certainly does not recognize them as such. In a way, that's the worst kind of bigotry.

Postscript: This talk of who and who does not know my religious preference might imply that I keep it secret. I don't. I don't bruit it about all the time, but I don't keep it confidential either. Anyhow, it's more fun (if that's the word I want) to sit back quietly and see what people have to say when they don't realize there's an outsider in their midst.

Friday, October 13, 2006

What He Said

Time for another batch of collected quotations! As usual, these caught my eye as adjuncts to the wonderful A Word a Day:

Very few established institutions, governments and constitutions ... are ever destroyed by their enemies until they have been corrupted and weakened by their friends. -Walter Lippman, journalist (1889-1974)

History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure. -Thurgood Marshall, US Supreme Court Justice (1908-1993)

Whenever morality is based on theology, whenever right is made dependent on divine authority, the most immoral, unjust, infamous things can be justified and established. -Ludwig Feuerbach, philosopher (1804-1872)

Power always has to be kept in check; power exercised in secret, especially under the cloak of national security, is doubly dangerous. -William Proxmire, US senator, reformer (1915-2005)

No man is justified in doing evil on the ground of expediency. -Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd US President (1882-1945)

In the small matters trust the mind, in the large ones the heart. -Sigmund Freud, neurologist, founder of psychoanalysis (1856-1939)

The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinions. -James Russell Lowell, poet, editor, and diplomat (1819-1891)

Those who never retract their opinions love themselves more than they love truth. -Joseph Joubert, essayist (1754-1824)

He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. -Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher (1844-1900)

War is so unjust and ugly that all who wage it must try to stifle the voice of conscience within themselves. -Leo Tolstoy, novelist and philosopher (1828-1910)

Fortune does not change men, it unmasks them. -Suzanne Necker, author (1739-1794)

Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with few, friend to one, enemy to none. -Benjamin Franklin, statesman, author, and inventor (1706-1790)

Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom. -Theodore Rubin, psychiatrist and writer (1923- )

To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest. -Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

I'm proud of the fact that I never invented weapons to kill. -Thomas Edison, inventor (1847-1931)

Those who know how to win are much more numerous than those who know how to make proper use of their victories. -Polybius, historian (c. 205-123 BCE)

You do not examine legislation in the light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered. -Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th US president (1908-1973)

The only means of strengthening one's intellect is to make up one's mind about nothing -- to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts. -John Keats, poet (1795-1821)

In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and the highest responsibility anyone could have. -Lee Iacocca, automobile executive (1924- )

The radical novelty of modern science lies precisely in the rejection of the belief ... that the forces which move the stars and atoms are contingent upon the preferences of the human heart. -Walter Lippman, journalist (1889-1974)

The human mind treats a new idea the same way the body treats a strange protein; it rejects it. -Peter. B. Medawar, scientist, Nobel laureate (1915-1987)

When you think of the long and gloomy history of man, you will find more hideous crimes have been committed in the name of obedience than have ever been committed in the name of rebellion. -C.P. Snow, scientist and writer (1905-1980)

The study of error is not only in the highest degree prophylactic, but it serves as a stimulating introduction to the study of truth. -Walter Lippmann, journalist (1889-1974)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Here's Your Sign, redux

I've been rethinking slightly my earlier ponderings on yard sign, following a quip I made to my wife the other night that I should look at the signs in a particular neighbor's yard so I will know whom and what to vote against. There certainly is that angle, but it also occurs to me that there might be a residual effect for lesser-known candidates whose signs are displayed alongside the better-knowns. For instance, there are a couple judicial elections on next month's ballot. Frankly, I haven't heard of any of the people running, including the incumbents. So if I see Judge X's sign in a yard full of signs for candidates and positions that I support, it seems reasonably safe to vote for Judge X. The opposite would also seem reasonable.

But only to a point: There is a fellow in our neighborhood whose social-political stands are the virtual opposite of my own, and yet, based on yard signs, I see that there is one candidate on whom we agree. (I suspect that my neighbor's sign might be there on the basis of the candidate also living in our neighborhood, and I wonder whether the sign will in fact translate into a vote...but we'll never know, will we?) Obviously, I will not be voting in synch with all the other signs in this fellow's yard. So you have to have your wits about you.

In re incumbents: My late friend Jim Carney, who was my unofficial mentor when I was a just-out-of-college magazine editor, had an interesting take. On one occasion in those days, I commented on how, if I got into the voting booth and was looking at odd slots like water commissioner or something and found that none of the candidates' names meant anything to me, I usually voted for the incumbent on the theory that he or she already knew the job and that my ignorance of his or her name meant he or she must not have been involved in any scandals or malfeasance. Jim said he did just the opposite: in that case he would vote against the incumbent, who probably would be re-elected, just so that he or she would now that there was someone out there who didn't like the job he or she was doing, just to keep 'em on their toes.

That struck me as reasonable, and I've employed that tactic ever since.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Overheard on the Campaign Trail

So I’m sitting in a folding chair on Dakota Avenue in downtown Sioux Falls, across the street from my alma mater, Washington High School (the original, now the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science), enjoying the annual Festival of Bands USA parade. Naturally, it being an election year, folks are roaming the crowd handing out political stuff. A remarkably polite couple working for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Billion are working the sidewalk, asking people if they’d like a “Back Jack” sticker. I took one, of course--in fact I took three, knowing my kids would each want one. The couple moves on. And then I hear behind me (in a very loud and obnoxious voice, of course): “WE DON’T BACK JACK, WE BACK JESUS.”

Although it took a Herculean effort, I did not turn to see who the loudmouth was: what would I do if I knew her?

But I did find myself wondering about the lousy campaign Jesus is running. Why, I didn't even know he was in the race! Less than a month until the election, and I haven’t seen a single billboard, yard sign, or bumper sticker, let alone a TV ad. Plenty of those "ICHTHU" fish things on the backs of people’s cars, of course, but I have always taken those to be a warning of a bad driver behind the wheel (high positive correlation between the fish emblem on the back and a questionable driver up front. Don’t take my word for it: Start paying attention and see if I’m not right) and not a campaign tool.

I must assume, then, that Jesus is running a word-of-mouth write-in campaign, and I envision his supporters dutifully penciling “Jesus…H…Christ” onto their ballots next month.

For all the good it will do. Although I consider myself a friend of Jesus, I won’t vote for him. He would probably make a good governor, but I suspect he doesn’t meet South Dakota residency requirements.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Odds and Ends. Mostly Odd, Though

Been a hectic couple of weeks, so, although I've been thinking many great thoughts, none of them have been set down here. But here are a few items that came across the radar scope of late. (Thanks to friends Jerry and Ron for making sure of that):

Item: "War plans: Congress OKs $20 mil for victory parties"
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The military's top generals have warned Iraq is on the cusp of a civil war and that U.S. troops must remain in large numbers until at least next spring. But if the winds suddenly blow a different direction, Congress is ready to celebrate with a $20 million victory party. ... [read it all at, 10/4/06]

Good to know that somebody's thinking ahead!


Item: "Perversion"
It took the Republicans a little more than a decade to achieve what forty years of Democratic rule accomplished - the institutionalization of corruption. The major difference is that the elephant masqueraded as a reformist, moral revolutionary. Hypocrisy is truly the tribute vice pays to virtue. These guys give Elmer Gantry a bad name.

How can fiscal conservatives continue to endorse Republican rule? How can social conservatives embrace a House leadership that neglected to expel a child predator from their ranks? How can reformists applaud the Abramoff Congress? ... [10/3/06; read it all at]

Two words: willful and ignorance.


Item: "While the leadership inside the White House has self-destructed over the revelations of a book with a glowing red cover ..."

Just 25 days ago, on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, this same man spoke to this nation and insisted, “We must put aside our differences and work together to meet the test that history has given us.”

Mr. Bush, this is a test you have already failed.

If your commitment to “put aside differences and work together” is replaced in the span of just three weeks by claiming your political opponents prefer to wait to see this country attacked again, and by spewing fabrications about what they’ve said, then the questions your critics need to be asking are no longer about your policies.

They are, instead, solemn and even terrible questions, about your fitness to fulfill the responsibilities of your office. [10/6/06; read it all at]

Was Keith Olbermann ever a carpenter? He's good at hitting nails on the head.


Item: "Lessons from the priest scandal"
What did the House Republican leadership learn from the priest pedophilia scandal? Not much, apparently. Otherwise, Speaker Dennis Hastert et al. would have followed the most basic precepts of public relations: Be honest, be forthcoming, be quick. Otherwise, politicians lose credibility and sink fast. ...[10/2/06; read it all at]

What??! Since when do cover-ups and stonewalling not work??

Item: "Republican Plan to Teach Creationism in Public Schools Will Lead to State Income Tax"
The South Dakota Republican Party adopted a resolution at their 2006 state convention endorsing a mandate for teaching creationism in public schools. Current Republican legislators were quoted in the article supporting potential legislation for a statewide mandate. [10/2/06; read it all at{FD915CBA-5D5D-4D06-A068-24B0C352B22A}&DE={9824FF0A-18D0-46D0-9A63-0D70C61B01C4}]

The South Dakota GOP seems intent on dragging this state back into the eighteenth century at best, and forcing their own warped views of reality onto the rest of us at worst. The "creationism" question was posed to several of us who have been selected for the current "Dakota Comments" panel of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader a couple of weeks ago:

The state Republican Party has approved a resolution that supports teaching creationism alongside evolution in public schools. In addition, a couuple of surveys indicate South Dakota biology teachers think that's not a bad idea. Should creationism be taught - in any form - in public schools?

Here's what I replied (it wasn't printed in the paper, but appeared online):

Would the South Dakota Republican Party push a resolution to teach the Civil War in gym class? Of course not: one has nothing to do with the another. So why creationism taught "alongside" evolution in science class? Creationism is not science but rather a literary device to illustrate a religious concept. It has as much business in a science classroom as in a math or woodworking classroom. Biology teachers should understand that.

Where does it belong? If a school district (not a political party) so decides, teach creationism in social studies, history, political science, current-events...and represent it truthfully, as a religious or cultural belief, not "alternative science."

What I didn't have space enough to say is this: Creationism is not "an alternative view." That implies that it's science, that it's another way of looking dispassionately at evidence and reaching a verifiable conclusion. It's like my math teacher telling me that the area of a circle is pi times the radius squared and me saying, "Well, that's what you say but I have an alternate view." In such instances, we would call the "alternate view" by its proper name, viz., wrong!


Friday, September 15, 2006

Here's Your Sign

Yesterday a friend e-mailed me about an upcoming yard-sign distribution for Rep. Stephanie Herseth, which was something of a coincidence inasmuch as (as I told him) I had been musing on the subject of political yard signs, bumper stickers, and the like whist gazing upon a Jack Billion sign near my son's school.

The gist of my musing was twofold.

First, I wondered, and still wonder, if they do any good. Or anything at all. I would really hate to think that there are folks out there who are so ill-informed and ill-formed that they would go into a voting booth and cast their ballots based on the number of yard signs, bumper stickers, lapel pins, or Styrofoam skimmer hats they saw with Candidate X's name. Once upon a time people might have been more influenced by noting that some Prominent Citizen had a sign supporting a given candidate or issue; I suspect very few feel that way anymore. My conclusion, then, is that probably almost no votes are gained directly, though a few curious souls might note having seen a number of signs and be inclined to learn more about the candidate or issue they promote--name recognition, in other words.

Likewise, I would hate to think that there are people so shallow and mean that, perceiving a greater number of bumper stickers for Candidate Y than Candidate X, go in and vote for X out of some kind of perverse orneriness. Or who don't vote at all, on the theory that since they don't see many Styrofoam skimmers with "their" candidate's name on it the game must be lost and why bother voting at all. (Although that's pretty much the theory behind not publishing national voting results until after the last precincts in the country have closed.)

Second, I reflected on the relative lack of such signs in my current domicile, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, yard signs were de rigueur--everyone had 'em every political season, tons of 'em...every front yard, every vacant lot, every roadway right-of-way, every utility pole. What's more, people had at least one in the yard for every candidate and every issue they supported. All up and down the street...and the next street over...and every street all over town--literally thousands of yard signs, great and small, horizontal and vertical, red and blue being the predominant colors, but plenty of green and yellow and even orange to go around. It was like crops of signs sprouting up in people's yards.

I imagine there were local printing shops that, like retail stores at Christmastime, literally survived only because of the political season.

It was really quite amazing...and yet it wasn't, because it was the norm for the first ten or twelve years of my life. It was only after moving here in childhood--at a time when there were virtually no such signs in use in Sioux Falls--that it occurred to me that that was perhaps not the norm across the country. That suspicion was buttressed when I returned to Omaha for college in the mid-seventies and heard one of my political science professors, who was not originally from the region, declaim that he had never known of a town that went in for political signs the way Omaha did.

And does: I was back there a few years ago during an election season, and noted as in childhood the scores upon scores of signs as far as the eye could see, urging me to vote for this candidate that I had never heard of (and obviously could not vote for if I wanted) or against some proposition that, apparently, the locals knew all about, since they were cryptic messages along the lines of NO ON 162! Okay. Good to know.

'Round these parts, although there are far more signs than in my childhood (whatever "far more" of "zero" would be), no print shops are staying alive on the basis of creating yard signs for candidates or Concerned Citizens. Today, a few people up and down the block will post a sign, or maybe--if they're exceptionally bold and the sort of people who probably routinely stay up past eleven--two in their yard, sort of decoratively positioned back from the sidewalk where they're visible but won't, you know, attract too much attention But that's about it.

I will be interested to see if the yard-sign trend, such as it is, continues. As indicated in my musings above, I really do wonder about the signs' usefulness. And yet, if everybody is erecting yard signs, as they do in Omaha, what candidate could afford not to play the game as well, even if they really do no good?

The signs, I mean, not the candidates. Although...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Suddenly the city is fairly festooned with billboards that would persuade me to re-elect Mike Rounds as Governor of South Dakota. (As if, having not voted for him the first time, when he was a lesser-known quantity, I would vote for him now that he has displayed his true colors.) My favorite shows Mr. Rounds looking all grim and resolute and square-jawed and everything, with the message, "Rounds. Results."

To which I reply, "Results? Really?"

In signing South Dakota's heartless and mean-spirited abortion law, Rounds said, "In the history of the world, the true test of a civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society."

(That he pretty much swiped the statement from Hubert Humphrey is well documented [see and, among many others]. Humphrey's quote: "The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.")

My question is and always has been, Does he mean it? So far, the answer seems to be no. According to the Children's Defense Fund []:

  • South Dakota ranks 17th among states in percent of babies born at low birthweight.
  • South Dakota ranks 31st among states in infant mortality.
  • South Dakota ranks 34th among states in the percent of children who are poor.
  • South Dakota ranks 44th among states in per pupil expenditures.
  • South Dakota ranks 46th among states in the percent of babies born to mothers who received early prenatal care.

This does not speak well of how Rounds purports to treat "the most vulnerable and most helpless" in our society. I would argue that the "true test" of a political leader is how well her or she stands by his or her political rhetoric. So far, Rounds is failing the test pretty badly.

Clearly, as is so often the case with right-wingers, once a kid is out of the mother's womb, Rounds's interest in him or her drops to about zero. Certainly Rounds displays little interest--and definitely no "results"--when it comes to adequately funding public education. He and his Democratic opponent, Jack Billion, debated the matter the other day. Here's what the Sioux Falls Argus Leader (it won't be there long: the Argus is not good about keeping articles online) quotes Rounds saying this about school districts that actually manage their paltry finances enough to stay in the black:

"Let's talk about our local districts for a minute, because in the last two years, at the end of the last previous school year, they had $138 million sitting in their general funds, which was an increase of over $13 million from the year before, and their capital outlay (reserve) was at $83 million, which was an increase of almost $16 million from the year before,'' Republican Rounds said.

"So if they're taxing you and not spending it on their kids but putting it in their savings account, let's talk about that, because it ought to be going for the kids instead of into a checking account from year to year.''

Golly, Mike…do you suppose that maybe the money that's "sitting around" is there to be spent on the kids when you and the state legislature fail for the umpty-eleventh time to do anything to fix the state-aid formula? Do you think it's a bad idea to hold a little something in savings in case of unforeseen circumstances? Do you think it's good fiscal management to go into the red every year?

Rounds's opponent, Jack Billion, who is fighting uphill if only because this state hasn't sent a Democrat to the governor's office since the 1970s, had this to say about Rounds's bizarre statement:

"What the governor is telling you is that the school districts ought to spend down their money every year.

"That would be like if you were in business or if you were farming and you would say 'Hey, I'm going to empty my budget every year, spend it all. I'll start every year with zero dollars.' That's absolutely ridiculous."

Doctor Billion is a master of understatement.

Anyhow, billboards notwithstanding, I've yet to see the "results" that Mr. Rounds seems so proud of. Still optimistic, however.

(Oh, but only to a point: It is now obvious even to me that KSFY-TV has decided to ignore the e-mail I sent to them last Thursday. That's okay. I'll just do likewise with their station.)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Curiouser and Curiouser

This appeared Friday in "Eat the Press" in The Huffington Post, but I only got to it today:

Bush Announces Sept. 11th Primetime Address, Asks ABC To Interrupt "Path Of 9/11" Posted Friday September 8, 2006 at 10:45 PM

Yet another wrinkle was thrown into the factually-challenged ABC "Path Of 9/11" drama today: President Bush is planning a prime-time address from the Oval Office on Monday to mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11 — and has asked the networks for time to broadcast his remarks. If all goes according to controversially-scheduled plan, ABC will be entering the final hour of the five-hour, two-part, commercial-free miniseries, which has been hotly debated over the past few days when it was revealed that elements of the film were fabricated, improvised, and not remotely grounded in proven fact.

Read the whole article here.


In an otherwise fine article about The Path to 9/11 controversy at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website, "Fudged facts put 'Path to 9/11' on a slippery slope," Melanie McFarland makes an all-too-common mistake. See if you can spot it. She writes,

Some groups, including members of Congress, also requested the show be pulled from broadcast altogether. Wrong move. No political body in a free society has the right to pressure any network into censoring entertainment, even one with factual misrepresentations. What made-for-TV, ripped-from-the-headlines drama doesn't?

Did you spot the all-too-common mistake? It's this: Not understanding the concept of "censorship." Too many people too often cry censorship at the drop of the proverbial hat. To my knowledge, no one is proposing censoring ABC Television. I know I'm not. I'm asking them not to air fiction as if it is fact; I'm asking them to voluntarily do the right thing, the responsible thing, and restrain themselves from airing this smear job. That's not censorship: censorship would be the government moving to stop them from broadcasting this right-wing propaganda. Something the current government is unlikely to do.


Back to The Huffington Post (and having nothing to do with ABC Television): this item by John Kerry, with a link to the text of a speech by him in which he details "the five biggest things that need to happen to get the war on terror right." In case you're interested, Kerry says they are:

  1. Redeploy out of Iraq.
  2. Recommit to Afghanistan.
  3. Reduce our dependency on foreign oil.
  4. Restore our moral authority.
  5. Reform Homeland Defense.

Interestingly, not a single one of those seems to be on the Bush administration's to-do list.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Path to Conservative Hypocrisy

This is from Anthony Wade's excellent article, "The Height of Hubris for the Corporate Media and the GOP, Abusing the Collective Sadness and Pain of America," at OpEd News:

The ABC Corporation has decided to air a two-night docudrama, entitled "The Path to 911." For the uninformed, ABC is owned by Disney, who also refused to run Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 because it was critical of Bush, costing their stockholders over 200 million dollars. They claimed at the time that they did not want to appear partisan, even though at the same time, ABC was carrying Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on nearly all of their national radio stations. That hypocrisy aside, it is time to officially bury the right-wingnut fantasy talking point that the media has a liberal bias. This docudrama, officially confirms what we have all known for some time. The increased deregulation under George W. Bush has created a corporate media machine, wielded by the GOP when they wish to deceive the American people. This 911 docu-farce is the quintessential example of that.

Read the whole article at OpEd News.

Frankly, I had forgotten about the Fahrenheit 911 business. Guess "not wanting to appear partisan" refers only to one party...

Meanwhile, this little snippet from Slate, in Dana Milbank's Zeigeist Checklist: What Washington Is Talking About, caught my attention:

ABC Overlooks P's and Q's
Homeland Security. Katie Couric is panned in her debut as CBS News anchor, but this is quickly overshadowed by ABC flub. Part of the 9/11-plus-five hubbub, the network's miniseries The Path to 9/11makes changes after Clinton officials protest fabrications. The biggest howler: Blaming the Washington Post for exposing monitoring of Osama Bin Laden's phone; it was the Washington Times.

Dig the last sentence: The Path to 9/11, written by
the unabashed conservative Cyrus Nowrasteh, originally faulted the Washington Post (biased liberal newspaper: bad) for exposing the monitoring of bin Laden's telephone, when it fact it was the Washington Times (morally upright conservative newspaper: good). Oooooops. Now, cross-reference this against the statement released on Thursday by ABC Television, in which it claims that it is "irresponsible" to criticize their little bit of fiction-posing-as-fact until after the poison has been released into America's living rooms--and yet, if not for that pre-deployment criticism, the lie about the Washington Post--and, from what Clinton-era folks are saying, who knows how many others--would have been broadcast.

Once again, any "irresponsibility" in this matter lies squarely on the shoulders of ABC Television, the Walt Disney Corporation, and every ABC affiliate that airs the program.

I hate to play "everybody knows," but I think it safe to say that if an avowed liberal writer created a "fictionalized" screenplay in which the Clinton administration (white hats for everybody!) worked tirelessly to pre-empt bin Laden only to see its inept, corrupt successor (black hats: boo, hiss!) bungle everything, there is not a television network in the United States that would touch it. Why, then, is "The Path to 9/11" considered acceptable?

Can you spell "hypocrisy"?

KSFY-TV update: Still no reply to my e-mail to them of 9/7/06. I am shocked--shocked, I say--at their inattentiveness! And yet I remain optimistic...tee hee.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Pot, Meet Kettle.

The following excerpt from an ABC Television statement issued yesterday in re "The Path to 9/11" and its concomitant controversy is interesting:

"'No one has seen the final version of the film, because the editing process is not yet complete, so criticisms of film specifics are premature and irresponsible,' the network said in a statement Thursday." (As reported today in The Washington Post)

Hmm. "Irresponsible." That's a funny word to use under the circumstances: You take a historical event, involving real people. But you "dramatize" it--that is, you make up parts of it, by all accounts to make one group of people look bad and another look good...something we lay people might call "distortion." And then when people object to these smear-job tactics, you tell them 'theyre being irresponsible?! Amazing.

Meanwhile, an update on my report from yesterday on my e-mail to my local ABC station: So far, no reply. Stay tuned, as they say.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Yet Another Waste of Time

A few minutes ago I sent the following time-waster off to my local ABC Television affiliate, KSFY:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing in regard to the upcoming ABC Television miniseries "The Path to 9/11." Having heard and read a great deal about the production, including the fact that it was written by an avowed right-wing screenwriter and previewed only to right-wing columnists and commentators; as well as the fact that several Clinton Administration officials who served as advisors to the producers, and President Clinton himself, have complained about inaccuracies and outright falsehoods in the production, I can conclude only that, in its current form. it is a blatant right-wing smear campaign, one which attempts to place the blame for 9/11 at the Democratic Party's doorstep while glossing over the Bush White House's missteps and fabrications.

It is my hope that KSFY is interested enough in fairness and honesty to pre-empt the local broadcast of this slanderous fiction-disguised-as-fact, in the event that ABC/Disney lack the integrity to either re-edit the movie to remove its partisan biases or cancel it outright.

Thank you.

William J Reynolds
Sioux Falls

Here is my official prediction: I will receive back a canned statement to the effect that this is an ABC production and not a locally created smear, KSFY believes that a variety of viewpoints should be heard, and blah blah blah. There might also be a line in there about waiting for the slander to be perpetrated before objecting to it, and blah blah blah again. There will under no circumstances be any display of genuine integrity or intestinal fortitude. You read it here first.

Of course I signed a couple of form-letter style petitions to Robert Iger, the president and CEO of the Walt Disney Company--one at Act for Change, one at the Democratic Party website--but I imagine those to be time-wasters as well. For one thing, I have no reason to expect that the kahunas at Disney/ABC give a rip what anyone thinks, and especially anyone who isn't a fatcat GOPer. For another, I have to think all these "gang petition" ventures fairly scream Ignore Me!! when they get to wherever they're going. But I sign 'em anyhow. Sometimes the lost causes are the only ones worth getting involved in.

There are a couple of ironies (as usual, for me) associated with the "Path to 9/11" brouhaha. File them under "Conservative Hypocrisy":
  • Conservatives like to pretend there's a "liberal bias" to the mainstream media. It's been demonstrated repeatedly that this is a fiction, but conservatives like to think they're always being picked on. How, then, to explain this obvious smear against the Clinton Administration and the Democratic Party? How, then, to explain CBS's pulling of their proposed miniseries "The Reagans" a couple of years ago when the right wing objected to "distortions" of their icon's image? If the media were controlled by the left, I wouldn't be wasting time writing letters to uninterested TV shills.
  • As an outgrowth of the above, conservatives like to pretend that they are all about achieving "balance" in the media. Why, Fox News even has the guts to call itself "Fair and Balanced," by which of course they mean unfair and slanted. Obviously, "balance" is the last thing they want; what they want is to lay the blame for 9/11, civil war in Iraq, the high price of gasoline, and the gum they stepped in on the way to work this morning on Democrats in general and Clinton (on whom they have this bizarre fixation) in particular. At the same time, they want to rewrite history and current events to make the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue appear blameless, infallible, and completely without fault.
  • Conservatives like to pretend they're such fabulous Christians, but I'm pretty sure there's something against "bearing false witness" in the Ten Commandments (you know, the ones they want displayed in courtrooms). Obviously that doesn't apply to smearing people of different political parties and social opinions. One does find oneself wondering about all those rubber bracelets: What indeed would Jesus do?
  • "Don't condemn before you see it" is another swell bit of hypocrisy. See above re "The Reagans." See also right-wingers' apoplectic reaction to "Death of a President": none of them seem willing to wait till its US release before passing condemnation.
See here for a well-written review of the miniseries from Editor & Publisher: