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Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Due To Circumstances Beyond Our Control, The End Of The Democratic Party Has Been Delayed Indefinitely
Michael Gecan writes the latest obit for the Democratic party in Wednesday's Post. The beginning of the end, according to Gecan, was Warren Beatty's appearance at a McGovern rally 32 years ago. Gecan declares that the party is "the same star-struck, celebrity-driven, immature mess that it was in 1972." His evidence? John Kerry appeared at a number of campaign rallies with -- gasp! -- Bruce Springsteen, a long-haired performer of this awful "rock-and-roll" music. You see, in courting the teenagers and the hedonists, the Dems have lost sight of the hard-working folk of the small villages, the salt of the earth who shake their heads, unable to understand the party's obsession with the celebrity of the moment.

Oh, Mr. Gecan, you make me laugh. Young people don't listen to Springsteen anymore; they don't listen to Glenn Miller either. Most of Springsteen's fans are paunchy, middle-aged, balding and quite in the mainstream.

Anyway, you're behind the curve on the zeitgeist. After the last election, pundits were desperate to find a single reason, an easy explanation, for the Republican victory. And what they settled on was this idea, that has grown and spread like an urban legend: the Democrats, it is said, are so out of touch with the mainstream, that regular folk just can't make heads or tails of 'em. Gosh, those crazy kids and their crazy Hollywood values. That's why the Democrats were routed in the last election.

But it's a lie. The Democrats weren't routed; it was one of the closest elections in American history. And if anyone in this country is star-struck, celebrity-obsessed and immature, it's the Republicans -- who ran Ronald Reagan for President, Arnold Schwarzenegger for Governor of California and Sonny Bono, for God's sake, for the U.S. Senate.

So if anyone's taking requests for New Years resolutions, how about this: could we please dispense with this nonsense about how the Good Honest Folk of Small-Town America are all right-wingers who have a monopoly on values? Could we please stop pretending that people who live in cities and suburbs are all hedonistic lefties who don't matter?

Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Happy Christmas, Lost Citizens
You might think that I'm a bit late wishing all of you a merry Christmas. But the truth is, I'm right on time.

Christmas is just getting started. Today is December 28, the fourth day of Christmas, which runs to January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. Our word Christmas is derived from the Old English Cristes Maesse or "Mass of Christ". It is neither the most important feast day on the Christian calendar nor the oldest. In fact, the day was apparently not officially recognized anywhere before the sixth century.

In the early days of the Church, celebrating the birthday of a divine being was considered a bit unseemly, the sort of thing the pagans did. And unlike Easter, there was no definitive date for Christ's birth anyway (in fact, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes that "there is no month in the year to which respectable authorities have not assigned Christ's birth".

At some point Christ's birthday got lumped in with the feast of the Epiphany, which the Eastern church celebrated in Early January. This is apparently because of a copying error in Luke 3:22 that crept into some ancient Greek manuscripts. Instead of the voice of God saying, Thou art my beloved son, in thee I am well pleased, the error changed the passage to Thou art my beloved Son, this day have I begotten thee.

As the custom of celebrating Christ's birthday with Epiphany spread, the leaders of the Church were troubled that many Christians took part in the pagan custom of lighting candles on December 25, to commemorate the birthday of the Sun and celebrate the solstice. The Church wanted to make it clear that the only true Light was Christ. Therefore, the celebration of Christ's birth was moved from January 6 to December 25.

Even though the Epiphany (which roughly translates to appearance of the divine) was associated with Christ's baptism in the Eastern Church, the Western Church interpreted Epiphany differently. It was sometimes connected to the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus began his ministry, but it was more often linked to the arrival of the Magi to the infant Jesus. So today, tradition holds that Christ was born on the 25th and visited by the Magi on January 6.

And you thought you had to wait a long time to open your presents.

Hope you all have a merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year. Thanks for walking with us along the streets of the Lost City and for being willing to listen to the nutty guys shouting from the soap box.

P.S. Look, I'm not trying to bum you out, or to boss you around. But if you are so inclined, please say a prayer for the many victims of the horrendous disaster in Southeast Asia. What they are going through is simply unimaginable, and it's only going to get worse in the days to come.

When you're done saying that prayer, please make a donation to the international relief agency of your choice. I'm not sure where God is right now, but it looks like we'll have to pick up the slack until he's back in the office.

Amen and out.

Thursday, December 23, 2004
Oh Lord, It's Hard To Be Humble

Donald Rumsfeld prepares to appear humble and compassionate at a news conference on Wednesday.

It's official. Donald Rumsfeld is in deep, deep trouble.

Things have not been going well in Iraq, and his flip, arrogant public statements have been wearing thin with the public, the congress, and with the soldiers in the field. President Bush has stepped up to defend him, but almost no one else has. Someone on the defense secretary's staff must have seen the handwriting on the wall, because at a press conference yesterday, Rummy abruptly attempted to project an image that is utterly alien to him: a humble and contrite defense secretary who lays awake at night worrying about our boys in uniform:

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld delivered an impassioned defense of himself yesterday, saying at a Pentagon news conference that U.S. casualties in Iraq affect him profoundly.

"I hope and pray that every family member of those who have died so bravely knows how deeply I feel their loss," he said in a lengthy statement at the outset of the session. "When I meet with the wounded, with their families, or with the families of those who have been lost, their grief is something I feel to my core."

Like Evel Knievel trying to jump the Snake River Canyon, Don Rumsfeld is trying to portray himself as a humble, sensitive guy who just wants to do right by the troops. It's a political stunt of epic proportions. Nobody believes he can do it, but no one can keep from watching. This must be galling for the man once hailed as the "rock star" of the Bush administration. The Post article dutifully mentioned that fact, but failed to mention -- probably out of embarrassment -- that many in the media also went so far as to call Rumsfeld a "sex symbol". This was in late 2001, during the war against Afghanistan, when Rumsfeld's abrasive, sarcastic demeanor was mistaken for confidence by a press eager to anoint heroes in a post-9/11 world.

To paraphrase LBJ, chicken salad turns to chicken shit mighty fast.

Now the question is, will Rummy benefit from his sudden craving for humble pie?

"It seemed almost an act of contrition," said retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales Jr., a former head of the Army War College. "That's what it came across as, dripping of humility." He added: "The spark, the sense of self-confidence, wasn't there."
No wonder we're having so much trouble in Iraq. Doesn't the former head of the Army War College recognize a feint when he sees one?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Christmas With The Kooks
Monday morning I was tooling along West 7th, scanning the AM dial for some late Sunday football scores. As I was flipping through the stations, I stumbled across the usual audio menagerie of ranting wingnuts, whom I usually avoid, but for some reason I stopped when I heard the voice of Mike Gallagher. It might have been because of the tone of his voice; he sounded weirdly happy and optimistic, albeit in a kind of creepy way.

If you've never heard him, Gallagher is in many ways the archetypal right-wing talk radio host. He doesn't snarl as loud as Hannity or bluster as effectively as Limbaugh, but snarling and blustering are definitely part of his schtick. His arsenal of rhetorical chicanery is somewhat more limited than the other guys; he doesn't try to scold people on the left and he rarely goes for searing irony. That's too subtle for him. Instead, he usually just says that people he disagrees with "hate America" or are "on the side of the terrorists".

Like all wingnut talk-show hosts, he tries to project the smug air of I-Got-Mine-Jack entitlement. Even the breathless bio he distributes tries to portray his career as a series of hard-won accomplishments by a tough-as-nails, by-his-bootstraps kind of guy, in spite of the fact that he's apparently never done an honest day's work in his life:

Mike Gallagher's road to becoming one of America's fastest-growing nationally syndicated radio show hosts began in 1978 as a 17-year-old high school senior in Dayton, Ohio. Taking a tour of his hometown talk radio station, WAVI, Mike saw a memo on the bulletin board stating that the station was in search of a young talk host. Figuring he had to be one of the leading contenders based on his age, he marched into the program director's office and announced that he was the man for the job.

I expect the conversation started out something like, "Dad, can I work at the radio station?"

That night, he was on the air and within a week he had his first full-time stint in broadcasting. When the management of WAVI discovered they had hired a high school senior, they quickly put a clause in his contract mandating that he never publicly reveal his age. So began a colorful broadcasting career that has culminated in being heard around the country.

That's a pulse-pounding bio, all righty. This particular morning, though, Gallagher departed from his usual brand of wing-nuttery to gush, gush and gush some more about the White House Christmas Party.

Well, a White House Christmas party. It's the one thrown by the White House for the spittle-flecked attack dogs of AM radio and Fox TV. I don't have a transcript of Gallagher's comments, but I wish I did. What a prose poem Mike Gallagher painted for his listeners! How beautiful was the White House (with "more than one" Christmas tree!) How numerous were the attractive women in attendence! (Winger talk-show hosts always seem surprised and gratified when there are attractive women near them, regardless of the reason). How fair was First Android Laura! How bold, how confident, how heroic was the visage of our great leader, as he shook hands with the sweaty racanteours whose thoughtful daily insights he turns to for inspiration!

Gallagher was in the receiving line, he related breathlessly, moving toward the President. He had rehearsed just he would say. First, he would wish the President a merry Christmas: "I was going to start by saying 'Merry Christmas, Mr. President'. Just like that -- 'Merry Christmas, Mr. President!'" For his next act, Gallagher was going to try for some old-fashioned sucking-up. "I decided to add, 'Go Pirates!' because he's from Crawford. 'Go Pirates!'" Does Gallagher understand that Bush isn't actually from Crawford, and doesn't necessarily have any allegiance to the local high school football team, the Crawford Pirates? Does he comprehend that what he thinks of as a back-slapping moment of macho bonding with the Prez really looks more like a horny 15-year-old stammering compliments to the Homecoming Queen?

Does it matter? Gallagher made it to the President, shook his hand, and said "Merry Christmas, Mr. President! Go Pirates!" Bush apparently made no reply to this, but Gallagher, insanely, gushed to his audience that the way Bush shook his hand was masterful, simply masterful; in fact, the way that he gripped Gallagher's hand while gently pushing him on to the next person in the line was even more masterful.

Meanwhile, as Lloyd Grove later reported, Bill "They're All Afraid Of Me" O'Reilly skulked around one of the White House Christmas trees looking glum, in the company of his loving wife.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004
I'll Stop Feeding On The Rancid, Festering Carcass Of The Blogosphere When It's Not Fun Anymore
I stumbled across this post on the personal blog ASV the other day. If there's no award for Most Overwrought Metaphor By A Blogger, there oughtta be:

I would really like to find the exact moment in time this stopped being fun. And I sure as hell would like to put the fun back in it. Right now I see the blogosphere as a stinking carcass of a once beautiful animal and all of us vultures are still picking at it, even though its festered with maggots and there's not much meat left. Which is when we all start pecking at each other, I guess. Frankly, you don't taste all that great. And you give me heartburn.

Ah, the blogosphere! You were once a beautiful, graceful animal! Fleet and strong, you nimbly pranced through the electronic forests of the Internet!

It's because of us -- the bloggers -- the vultures -- that you lie dead and decaying!

Will no one mourn for the blogosphere?

Monday, December 20, 2004
Rummy, We're Missing You Already
Don Rumsfeld has gotta be used to reading the snarky things Maureen Dowd writes about him, but he cannot be used to the bitch-slapping he's getting from Bill Kristol, Trent Lott, Chuck Hagel and the other wingers in the beltway.

Predictably, Bush's GOP shills in the Senate are still reading from the White House press releases; John Warner and Dick Lugar still gamely express 100% confidence! in Rummy.

Warner made the startling assertion on the Sunday chatshows that Rummy was doing "a spectacular job" as defense secretary (which might sound kind of stupid, but be fair: Rumsfeld's cirque de soleil of idiocy really has reached the level of the spectacular). John Cornyn said that only "the Islamists and the Jihadists" would benefit from Rumsfeld's departure. It's clear, though, that without Rumsfeld, the Iraq insurgency would have been defeated years ago, assuming it ever took root in the first place.

Warner and Cornyn are working hard for their guy, but the over-the-top statements are starting to sound hollow and desperate. All over the capitol, the grumbling is getting louder. Now Rumsfeld is getting rapped for not even signing his own letters to the families of dead soldiers, although he states rather bizarrely that it doesn't matter because he "approved and wrote" each letter personally. This is apparently Rummy-speak for "My hands were shaking so much from the devastating loss of our boys in uniform, I had to use a machine to affix my signature on the letters". This tone-deaf quality has gotten the Donald in trouble more than once over the years.

The post-911 triumphalism that people once called strong and confident is increasingly seen as arrogant and grating. Even Cheney-approved sock monkey Norm Coleman is hedging his bets, voicing "concern" and promising an investigation to determine "who is accountable" for the supply problems in Iraq, although Coleman is quick to add that his investigation might yet show that the Pentagon really is doing its best and maybe no one is to blame.

Amusingly, the glib Washington CW is that Bush still backs Rummy, and that Bush's opinion is the only one that matters.

Technically, that's true. But here's my question: how much of Bush's political capital do you think Rummy will be allowed to burn before the First Mate and the Bos'n decide to tie a big weight around his neck and throw him over the side?

When the eagle-eyed Cap'n Bush isn't watching, I mean?

Thursday, December 16, 2004
Hoo Boy, Another Profile In Courage

"I'm ready for my close-up!"

You know Don Rumsfeld is in trouble when the administration's own congressional sock monkey, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), expresses concern about the Defense Secretary's job performance:

Minnesota Republican U-S Senator Norm Coleman says he has deep concerns about the leadership of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Coleman says Congress will investigate allegations the military has not provided adequate armor for U-S soldiers in Iraq.

"The military has come back and said they're doing everything they can. They're moving as fast as they can," Coleman said. "I think we have to look into that and question that, because our soldiers deserve nothing less. There shouldn't be any doubt that we're providing the highest level protection equipment there is. And if not, someone should be accountable."

He just oozes with compassion for our troops, doesn't he?

Coleman says he needs more information before deciding if Rumsfeld should be held accountable for the lack of
armor on military vehicles.

Yeah, who would be held accountable for ongoing, systemic problems in the Defense department that are unnecessarily putting our soldiers at risk?

Do you get the impression that Coleman is running after the parade, just in case he might want to lead it?

Playing The Field Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry

Looking for some three-on-one action? Apply to Doane College!

Chances are, you've never heard of Doane College, an undistinguished freshwater school hidden in the cornfields of Nebraska. But Doane College has managed to capture headlines all around the world for the above postcard, mailed to prospective students in California.

The Washington Post draws the battle lines:

One frame showed a student playing football for the Doane Tigers, with the caption: "Finally, a place where he could work toward the career of his choice. And also play the field."

The next frame showed him talking to a group of attractive women and was captioned: "And play the field some more."

Some faculty members said the postcard objectified women and could lead prospective students to get the wrong idea about the four-year, liberal arts college affiliated with the United Church of Christ.

The timing for the postcard also troubled some. Doane football player Alan Branting, 19, has been suspended and is awaiting trial on a charge of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in May.


Some of the most interesting quotes on the controversy, by the way, were published in the Doane College newspaper, the Owl:

Dan Kunzman, vice president of admissions, said that critics of the recruitment material are “short sighted and shallow to make tones of assumptions.”

'Tones of assumptions'? Where did you get your degree, Dan -- Doane College?

“It provided us a way to get out of the box instead of doing the same old thing,” admissions counselor Michelle Faltin said.

Engebretson said she put the phrase through an Internet search and no sexual undertones were found, but some in the Doane community feel the advertisement is sexist.

Wow. She put the phrase "play the field" through an Internet search and didn't find any sexual undertones! That's the kind of rigorous research that has made Doane the college that it is.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this controversy is the fact that the Doane administrators have no idea how to handle the situation. They could have minimized the whole controversy by doing a mea culpa and firing the idiots responsible -- and clearly, they have a smorgasbord of idiots to choose from. Instead, they stubbornly insist that there was nothing wrong with the postcard, and that anyone who says otherwise is being unreasonable.

Good old red-state values at work.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004
You Can Ape The Ape

How can V.C. Andrews keep publishing novels if he's been dead for ten years? Here's your answer.

It's starting to look like Amazing Science Week here in the Lost City. First we heard from the frog-freezing mad scientists at the improbably named University of Miami In Ohio.

Now we learn of another strange experiment, dutifully reported by America's Most Trusted News Source:

The classic puzzle about whether an infinite number of monkeys typing for an infinite period of time would type a Shakespeare play has been answered in the affirmative. Researchers at the Raleigh Institute near Manchester, England, announced that the monkeys in their lab produced a perfect version of "Romeo and Juliet."

"We've been holding our breath for weeks," says Alan Ripshaw, the researcher in charge of the Monkey Project. "We knew the monkeys were getting close, but we've had a number of false starts.

"One time they got to the fourth act of Macbeth, before making a mistake. The monkeys also recently typed out a Thomas Pynchon novel, but that doesn't count."

Ripshaw says he began the project because he was intrigued with the controversy over whether Shakespeare really was the author of the plays bearing his name.

"Some scholars think Bacon was the real author," Ripshaw says. "That's when I had the thought, 'What if they were written by monkeys?'

Ah. What if. Those are the words that make every scientists' heart beat a little faster. While I admire Dr. Ripshaw's enthusiasm, I'm a little skeptical of his methodology, In any event, they're a little old-fashioned over at the Raliegh Institute. Computers have made this sort of thing much easier (not to mention cleaner). You can even participate in the research yourself!

Monday, December 13, 2004
Somebody Call The A.S.P.C.A.

"Leave me alone, human. I have powers beyond your ken".

It's hard to believe scientists are still getting grants to do all the cruel things that eight-year-old boys do for free. This time the mini-Mengeles at the University of Miami in Ohio (if you can figure out where their campus is located, they give you a diploma) found a wood frog that was just minding its own business, froze it solid, then thawed it out, as part of a diabolical but supposedly necessary bit of research into natural antifreeze, or some such nonsense.

This wood frog, which lives in woods all over the Washington area and ranges as far north as Alaska, is one of a few animals with the ability to freeze solid during the winter and thaw out again unharmed. The secret is a process by which the frogs fill their cells with natural antifreeze, which keeps the cells unfrozen even as the space around them fills with ice.

If this is such dispassionate high-brow research, how come they posted a video that shows the whole thing? That's kind of like billing the Paris Hilton video as a marital aid class, innit?

Sure, the frog can come back to life after being frozen solid. That's cool, right? Maybe, but I'll bet the frog doesn't enjoy it.

Loyalty Is A Two-Way Street
I'm not sure if I've mentioned this in the past, but the president of the United States is not the brightest light in the Washington firmament.

He has a number of smart but evil people working for him, but let's face it: the guy himself is as dumb as a bag of hammers.

While this is no secret to anyone reading this blog, and not unprecedented in presidential politics, it is a little unusual. Richard Nixon, for example, wasn't a genius, but he was reasonably intelligent; his success was a combination of smarts, ambition, connections, luck, and a contract he signed in college with Louis Cyphre. Bush doesn't have a tenth of the talent Nixon did; in fact I'm beginning to suspect that Bush was constructed in a laboratory by his dad's friends, as part of an elaborate vendetta that just plain got out of control.

Everyone seems to agree that loyalty is a big thing with Dubya. However, as he appoints subordinates for his second term, we're learning that loyalty to Bush is more than just important: it trumps every other consideration, including competence. Elizabeth Bumiller and Eric Lipton wrote an interesting article for Monday's Times that really underlines just how bizarre Bush's loyalty fixation is.

It turns out that Rudy Guliani was the guy who recommended Bernard Kerik for the position of Homeland Security director; and Guliani presumably didn't know that Kerik had -- ahem -- forgotten to pay taxes on his nanny, who apparently wasn't -- ahem -- 100% legal to work in the United States. Oops!

Homeland security begins at home, and this revelation made Kerik and unacceptable candidate for the job. For the administration, which never makes mistakes, it came down to a simple to question of who to blame. And without question, the person to blame was Guliani:

Although people close to the president say he likes and respects Mr. Giuliani, they say the president has long been leery of him as a man who could not be counted on for the loyalty demanded by Mr. Bush. And while the breakdown of Mr. Kerik's nomination is not lethal to Mr. Giuliani's relationship with the White House, the friends and officials say, it will hardly burnish his credentials with the president.

Nice playmates you got, Rudy.

"It hurts him politically, so therefore by extension it's going to hurt him with the White House," said a Republican close to the administration who has worked for both Mr. Bush and Mr. Giuliani and who asked not to be identified because of the political sensitivity of the situation. "Nobody at the White House is saying to themselves, 'Damn that Rudy Giuliani.' It's more, 'Well, he got his licks.' "

In the interview, Mr. Giuliani indicated that he should have known about Mr. Kerik's legal problems because he had named him police commissioner and then had gone into business with him. The former mayor seemed to suggest as much in a phone call on Saturday morning to Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff.

"I said, 'Well, I wish I had figured it out earlier,' " Mr. Giuliani said. "That's what I was apologizing for, that we hadn't figured this out earlier. And Andy said something like, 'Well, Bernie just focused on it you know, this is a very difficult process.' They were very nice about it."

Suzy DeFrancis, a White House spokeswoman, said on Sunday: "I'm sure Rudy Giuliani is held in high respect at the White House and among the American people as well."

That's quite an endorsement, Suzy! "I'm sure Rudy Guliani is held in high respect at the White House". Can you feel the icy wind blowing off that sentence? They're pissed, all right, and little wonder. After all, the White House is under no obligation to actually vet their own nominees, right?

Now, I know what you're thinking: Guliani was a huge benefit for Bush in the 2004 campaign; doesn't that earn some loyalty chits? He traveled all over the country, campaigning as The Guy Who Didn't Spend The Day Hiding Out On September 11. Bush needed a guy like that in his corner. Guliani's tireless support may have put Dubya over the top in the vote total (the fact that Bush's election victory hasn't slaked his thirst for payback is almost Nixonian).

Well, sure. Rudy worked for Bush's re-election. But that doesn't prove that the guy's loyal. Okay, Guliani actually backed Bush over his long-time friend John McCain during the 2000 primaries. Again, big deal. Guliani had the temerity to say -- gasp! -- some nice things about McCain during the 2000 primary season, and Bush has never forgotten it. For Bush, the loyalty offered by his people must be pure and innocent, like Fay Wray being served up, buffet-style, to King Kong.

Friday, December 10, 2004
It's Official: Everything's For Sale
One of Nemo's most recent posts was about Bigfoot and his booze-addled, rodeo-riding alter ego, who insisted the hairy denizen of the Great Northwest was a figment of his (and therefore our collective) imagination. In the course of that post, Nemo invoked the name of the extremely elusive Mothman, who is said to lurk around Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and who is said to be responsible (in some appropriately spooky way) for the collapse of that town's Silver Bridge in 1966.

All this was chronicled in a book by John Keel called The Mothman Prophecies -- a book that I read breathlessly when I was an excitable and somewhat credulous seventh-grader.

Keel was a freelance paranormal investigative reporter, sort of a real-life Carl Kolchak. I couldn't imagine a more exciting job than Keel's -- running around graveyards in the dead of night, chasing down reports of alien abductions and cattle mutilations and confronting strange beings who shadowed him in his work -- men who claimed to be government agents but who seemed to be less, or perhaps more, than human.

As the years passed by I always assumed that Keel's book and the incidents in Point Pleasant were long forgotten, except for a few excitable and credulous former seventh-graders. But like Roswell, New Mexico, which long ago stopped fighing its destiny and became a tourist haven for flying saucer nuts, Point Pleasant has embraced the Mothman (sounds a bit icky, doesn't it?)

Yes, Point Pleasant has rolled out the red carpet for Mothman tourists. Here's a little taste of their official web site:

Thanks to everyone for your continued support and interest in the MOTHMAN legend..We wish each and everyone of you and your families a safe and happy holiday as well a great 2005 !!!

We have several new MOTHMAN artwork submissions to be added this week....all of the artwork being sent is nothing short of amazing....keep sending it in!!!...also be sure to check out the new MOTHMAN sighting reports just recently added to our sightings link below.

sign up today for the exclusive MOTHMAN CARIBBEAN CRUISE set to sail in October 2005 !!! 15th ...guest speakers,lectures and Mothman interest group meetings will be scheduled during the cruise.Contact Susan at Latitudes Travel Agency at travel@gva.net or call 540-921-5033 for more details.

Now, I'm always railing against crass commercialism, and I understand that it's like railing against the weather. But there are some lines that commercialism shouldn't cross. Some lines, such as those leading onto the infield of major league ballparks, are well-defended. But who's going to defend the Mothman?

The 17th-century colonists of New England stared fearfully into the vast forests to the west, imagining what might be lurking out there, and dared not laugh; the mysterious threatened to overwhelm them. They weren't ashamed to admit that they were afraid. But we live in a culture that has lost all connection to the wonderful and the mysterious. Our dreams have become the cheap and shoddy work of committees, our storytellers carefully screened and focus-grouped and cross-promoted. Even our nightmares are strangely lacking in texture.

Of course this is not a new observation, but it is a peculiarly American problem, if it even qualifies as a problem. After all, you don't see folks in the area surrounding Loch Ness, or the inhabitants of Transylvania, treating their legends this shabbily, do you?

You do? Well, never mind then.

Thursday, December 09, 2004
A Tailgunner Joe For Our Time
Norm Coleman, the cynical and overweeningly ambitious junior senator from Minnesota, published a Wall Street Journal opinion piece last week calling for the resignation of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Coleman blames Annan for the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal, the anti-American insugency in Iraq, the lack of American support in the Security Council, general and unspecified malfeasance, bad weather, rush-hour congestion on the I-95, and Roland Emmerich's 1998 version of Godzilla:

Since it was never likely that the U.N. Security Council, some of whose permanent members were awash in Saddam's favors, would ever call for Saddam's removal, the U.S. and its coalition partners were forced to put troops in harm's way to oust him by force. Today, money swindled from Oil-for-Food may be funding the insurgency against coalition troops in Iraq and other terrorist activities against U.S. interests. Simply put, the troops would probably not have been placed in such danger if the U.N. had done its job in administering sanctions and Oil-for-Food.

This is smashmouth revisionist history. The Bush administration was not dragged unwillingly into war by a recalcitrant U.N.; this administration pursued the war eagerly, stating that Iraq was a grave and imminent threat to the United States, that it was at any given moment only 45 minutes from completing a nuclear weapon, that the "smoking gun" for Iraq's nuclear weapons program might be a mushroom cloud, that the U.N.'s last chance to remain "relevant" was to immediately back the invasion with blood and treasure.

Coleman was an early and ardent backer of this policy; he ran for the Senate saying that would wholeheartedly support invasion. He baldly states now that the Senate Special Permanent Committee on Investigations, which he chairs, has proven Annan's guilt.

If it had actually done so, of course, there would be little need for Coleman to call for Annan's resignation; the world leaders whose countries pay annual dues to the U.N. would order their delegates to remove him.

I can only speculate that one of Coleman's staffers wrote the WSJ opinion piece. The style is too serious and cites too many statistics to actually have been written by the glib, baby-kissing Coleman. The Journal piece also respectfully refers to Kofi Annan as "Mr. Annan", which is itself particularly alien to the Minnesota senator's style; in every interview Coleman has given since the piece ran, he has smugly referred to the Secretary-General simply as "Kofi".

This is the sort of sneering, arrogant jibe that is better suited to an AM radio talk-show host than it is a United States Senator. But Coleman's U.N.-bashing is a calculated move, one that is designed to curry favor with the hard-core right, both inside and outside the administration. Coleman, quite simply, has ambitions for higher office, and he's not going to let any potential competitors -- Rudy Guliani, say, or John McCain -- out-bash him when it comes to the "Kofi".

Divide, And (Eventually) Conquer
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives. And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.

Matthew 14:26-27

Evangelical Christians have widely been credited for turning out on election day and putting George W. over the top. You might think they will now belly up to the bar at the Red State Cafe and order a tall, cold glass of political payoff. But Jerry Falwell says, oh no. Virtue is its own reward:

"I just do not think for a moment anybody … from our camp [is] going to rush the president and say, `We did this. Now you do that.' It just doesn't work that way."

In his own twisted, cynical way, Falwell is correct. It is true that the Christian Right assumes that it will get hundreds of "strict constructionists" appointed to the federal bench, and as many as four "strict constructionists" appointed to the Supreme Court. "Strict constructionists" , as you no doubt are aware, is the most blatant example of political code since "state's rights", but never mind that; we all knew what a Bush victory would mean to the federal judiciary. This is a gimmee to the rightists in general, and the Christian Right gets the crumbs. But it won't be enough to satisfy them in the long run.

Many of the evangelicals have been talking openly of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. It's possible that the rank-and-file in God's Army thought they would get this at half-past noon on January 20. But their leaders are a bit more cautious when talking about it:

Many Christians see passage of a constitutional amendment outlawing same sex marriage, which Bush has endorsed, as an important priority.

"Getting the amendment enacted within the next four years has become a realistic goal," said Charles Colson, a radio host and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries which seeks to rehabilitate prisoners by converting them to evangelical Christianity.

Influential radio evangelist James Dobson and other conservative Christian organizations lost no time after the election in calling for a renewed push for the constitutional amendment, which failed in both houses of Congress this year.

That use of language was like a magic trick; did you see the key phrase?: within the next four years. That's calculated language, and it mirrors what's been coming from Bush and Co. since the election. The gay marriage amendment is going straight to the back burner for now; it'll only resurface in 2006, just in time for the midterm elections.

The GOP will make sure it has a nice juicy wedge issue on the agenda for every election from now on, but they don't want to appear in the thrall of the religious right.

The religious right, similarly, doesn't want to appear as if it has been co-opted by the secular politicos.

There is nothing more dangerous than an emboldened fundamentalist, though, and the zealots will most likely try to flex their political muscle during the next presidential primary cycle. Right now the three top GOP contenders are Guliani, McCain and Schwarzenegger. None of them has the street cred the religious right demands.

But verily, verily, I say unto you, all three guys are gonna get religion. And soon.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004
If I'm Beating A Dead Horse, How Come It Keeps Getting Up And Running Away?
The Icebound Utopia Formerly Known As Canada apparently doesn't have enough sniveling malcontents of its own, because now it wants to import them from the United States.

A Vancouver lawyer named Rudi Kischer is holding seminars in three U.S. cities for the legions of dissatisfied but brain-dead Americans who would rather switch than fight. And apparently, he's finding plenty of them:

Ralph Appoldt has started the emigration process for he and his wife.

The 50-year-old sales manager in Portland, Ore., was born in Winnipeg, but became a naturalized U.S. citizen after his parents moved him to California when he was six....he's hired Kischer to see if he still has Canadian citizenship and if not, what he has to do to get it for he and his wife.

"I mean the country (the U.S.) has just gone in such a horrible direction. (Bush) is just such an awful, little man. To have the majority of the country behind him and his programs is just devastating to me as a human being."

Appoldt bristles at suggestions that if he really wants change to come to the United States, staying and fighting for it would be a better way.

"I've spent tens of thousands of dollars for all the causes I believe in and the Democrats never really give us a good candidate. They always pick the middle of the road guy. It's kind of like picking Republican Light," said Appoldt.

"The Democratic Party to me has just continually let us down. I don't feel like I've abandoned them at all because they have really abandoned the people of this country."

Awww, poor Ralph. He's spent tens of thousands of dollars and the Democrats still haven't won the White House. It must have been terrible for him -- like a winter at Valley Forge. No wonder he's ready to pack up and leave.

Send me a postcard, Ralph. Let me know how you're doing, okay?

Truth is, we're better off without you -- just as the Democratic party is better off without the psychological detritus of Zell Miller, Strom Thurmond, George Wallace and the rest of the Boll Weevils who used the party label and machinery to get elected but who had no real loyalty to the party's principles. The Democrats began to splinter when Hubert Humphrey championed "human rights" over "states' rights" at the 1948 convention; the split became permanent when Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1964. The split cost the Dems over the years, cost them dearly; but I don't regret any of it.

The Republicans can break bread with the segregationists and the homophobes and the lunatics if they wish. I know in my heart that they are wrong to do so, and that the day will come -- to wax scriptural for a moment -- when they will reap the whirlwind.

Imagine how it will be for guys like Appoldt on that day -- guys who wouldn't even fight for what they believed in. They'll shrug; they might even move back to the States.

But I'd rather they didn't.

Sunday, December 05, 2004
Yee-Haw, We Got Us An Education Policy!

The Alabama Legislature celebrates passage of the state's new textbook policy.

Alabama (aka the State That Is Not Quite As Progressive As Arkansas) has a problem. For some reason, its students just aren't doing well in school. In fact so many students are not doing well in school that the State Department of Education (hey, whaddya know, they have one) is beginning to suspect that something might be wrong with its schools. It obviously couldn't be anything like per capita education spending in the state, so what could it be?

First it was "alert" and "caution." Then came "priority" and "clear." Now, for the third time in as many years, the state Department of Education, to comply with federal law, has introduced a new set of vocabulary words and standards for measuring school performance.

Mobile and Baldwin counties do not seem to be faring well: Only 26 of Mobile's 100 schools and six of Baldwin's 40 schools scored high enough marks to stay off of a new list of schools that, according to the state, "need improvement."

Only one high school between the two counties performed up to the new standards.

Note that these flailing motions are only being made out of a need to comply with dadgummed federal law. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

But fear not, sweaty rednecks of the Gomer Pyle state: your legislature is riding to the rescue, in a scene straight out of Birth of a Nation!

A bill by Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, would prohibit the use of public funds for "the purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle." Allen said he filed the bill to protect children from the "homosexual agenda."

"Our culture, how we know it today, is under attack from every angle," Allen said in a press conference Tuesday.

He's right, you know. In the old days our culture would get attacked only while in the missionary position. But now it's getting it from all angles.

Allen said that if his bill passes, novels with gay protagonists and college textbooks that suggest homosexuality is natural would have to be removed from library shelves and destroyed.

"I guess we dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them," he said.

Clearly, he's given this issue a lot of thought.

A spokesman for the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center called the bill censorship.

"It sounds like Nazi book burning to me," said SPLC spokesman Mark Potok.

Don't be ridiculous. Allen wants to bury the books, not burn them.

Allen pre-filed his bill in advance of the 2005 legislative session, which begins Feb. 1.

If the bill became law, public school textbooks could not present homosexuality as a genetic trait and public libraries couldn't offer books with gay or bisexual characters....

The bill also would ban materials that recognize or promote a lifestyle or actions prohibited by the sodomy and sexual misconduct laws of Alabama. Allen said that meant books with heterosexual couples committing those acts likely would be banned, too.

Come on, Rep. Allen. Why not just ban all books from our schools? I know you want to. After all, books are full of dirty words and ideas and stuff. There's only one book that y'all won't end up burning.

Y'all know the one I mean.

Friday, December 03, 2004
You Have Everything To Live For
All right, Lost Citizens. I know it's been a long week and we're all tired. But I think the time has come for an intervention.

We've been shaking the tree to see what falls out for a while now. It's been fun, hasn't it? Yes, it has been fun, and it will continue to be fun, as long as we don't get carried away. You see, it has come to my attention that some of you -- and I don't know which of you -- might be considering entering into a suicide pact.

Now, there's no use denying it. The fact that you're reading this is all the evidence I need:.

LONDON (Reuters) - The growing popularity of the Internet could lead to a rise in suicide pacts in which several people kill themselves together, a leading psychiatrist in Britain said on Friday.The pacts in Japan seemed to have been arranged by strangers who met on the Internet and planned to kill themselves via special suicide Web sites.

Four men in Japan were found dead last month in what police suspect was the latest in a series of such pacts that have claimed dozens of lives in the past two years.

Sundararajan Rajagopal, a psychiatrist at St Thomas's Hospital in London, fears it could be the first sign of a growing trend because the Web gives people access to others who think along the same lines.

"I don't know whether the Internet will lead to an increase in the total number of people dying from suicide but it could shift a disproportionate number of people into suicide pacts, he told Reuters.

"The Internet is something that could be a factor in both individual suicides, as well as suicide pacts."

Hey, anyone want to guess how many news stories over the last decade have contained the phrase "the growing popularity of the Internet"? Probably seemed pretty catchy back in 1996, but the Internet's been around for a while now; it's a bit like referring to "the growing popularity of cable television" .

And how, exactly, does one find a "special suicide Web site"? Do you Google your way there, or blunder into it while clicking that little "next blog" button at the top of the page? Do you die as soon as you reach the Suicide Site, or do you have to click on a link?

Methods used in suicide pacts tend to be less violent than in single suicides. Poisoning by exhaust fumes from a vehicle is most common. In the United States and England, suicide pacts are most common among spouses. In Japan it tends to be between lovers and in India between friends, according to Rajagopal.

My lovely wife often refers to our marriage as a suicide pact; but I think she was kidding.

I, for one, would be a lousy participant in a suicide pact. I have a terrible memory, and I would get to the end of the day and suddenly remember that I was supposed to kill myself with my friends right after lunch. Plus, I'm always running late, and by the time I got to the Special Suicide Web Site, I would no doubt have missed the whole thing.

Thursday, December 02, 2004
Blindfold The Birds, B.S. The Bees


You may have heard that the Bush administration has sunk $170 million in taxpayer money into abstinence-before-marriage programs at America's schools. This is the only sort of S-E-X education that our youngsters get anymore -- except, of course, for what they manage to pick up on the playground.

You've probably also heard that numerous studies have demonstrated that these abstinence-only programs do little or nothing to prevent premarital S-E-X, but trust me, that's the least of our problems. Here's the kicker: the curricula for these taxpayer-funded programs are routinely stuffed to the gills with misinformation, disinformation and personal opinions baldly presented as scientific facts.

Rep. Henry Waxman of California, who is routinely labeled a hysterical nutcase by the Republicans (in spite of the fact that he always seems to be right) has been dragging some of the assertions into the open, and it's not pretty:

The report concluded that two of the curricula were accurate but the 11 others, used by 69 organizations in 25 states, contain unproved claims, subjective conclusions or outright falsehoods regarding reproductive health, gender traits and when life begins. In some cases, Waxman said in an interview, the factual issues were limited to occasional misinterpretations of publicly available data; in others, the materials pervasively presented subjective opinions as scientific fact.

Among the misconceptions cited by Waxman's investigators:

• A 43-day-old fetus is a "thinking person."

• HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be spread via sweat and tears.

• Condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission as often as 31 percent of the time in heterosexual intercourse.

One curriculum, called "Me, My World, My Future," teaches that women who have an abortion "are more prone to suicide" and that as many as 10 percent of them become sterile. This contradicts the 2001 edition of a standard obstetrics textbook that says fertility is not affected by elective abortion, the Waxman report said.

This is Lysenkoism of the most blatant variety, and it is now so pervasive that it is starting to resemble the cultural propaganda of the old Soviet Union:

Some course materials cited in Waxman's report present as scientific fact notions about a man's need for "admiration" and "sexual fulfillment" compared with a woman's need for "financial support." One book in the "Choosing Best" series tells the story of a knight who married a village maiden instead of the princess because the princess offered so many tips on slaying the local dragon. "Moral of the story," notes the popular text: "Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man's confidence or even turn him away from his princess."

Is that clear enough? Don't voice your opinions, ladies, it makes you look unattractive. I just thought I'd share that beauty tip with you.

Because your tax dollars paid for it.

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