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Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Deep Throat Unmasked

"I'll be holding a press conference down in the parking garage in twenty minutes"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vanity Fair magazine said
Tuesday that Mark Felt, a former FBI official, had revealed
himself to be "Deep Throat," the legendary source who leaked
Watergate scandal secrets to the Washington Post and brought
down President Richard Nixon.

Unmasking the identity of "Deep Throat," a key source for
Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, would solve one
of the greatest political and journalistic mysteries of recent

The magazine said Felt, now a retiree living in Santa Rosa,
California, had admitted his role in the scandal to his family
and had cooperated with the story. It is the first time a major
potential source has claimed to be "Deep Throat."

Bernstein's kid once identified Felt as Deep Throat -- at summer camp, no less. Apparently, Bernstein told his then-wife Nora Ephron, and she told the kid.

Here's an ethics quiz: A confidential source has entrusted his secret identity to you. Whom do you tell? The answer is: nobody. Don't tell your wife. And for God's sake, don't tell your blabbermouth teenage kid as you're dropping him off for camp.

Yeah? Well, I'm Offended That You're Offended

The question on every American's mind today is a very simple one: does Dick Cheney resemble galactic puppetmaster Palpatine, or is he more like Darth Vader?

Smarter bloggers than myself are already working on that one, so I'll let it go. But I did get a kick out of Cheney's complaint on "Larry King Live" that he was "offended" by the Amnesty International report that called the Guantanamo Bay facility a "gulag".

"Guantanamo's been operated, I think, in a very sane and sound fashion by the U.S. military. ... I think these people have been well treated, treated humanely and decently," Cheney said. "Occasionally there are allegations of mistreatment.

"But if you trace those back, in nearly every case, it turns out to come from somebody who has been inside and been released ... to their home country and now are peddling lies about how they were treated."

Now, this is from the guy who pushed harder than anyone else to invade Iraq on a raft of phony evidence of weapons of mass destruction. He has been repeating the thoroughly debunked claim that the Iraqi government was involved in 9/11. And, you will no doubt remember, Cheney was the guy who famously claimed in the vice-presidential debate that he "had never laid eyes" on John Edwards -- only to have videotape appear later in the evening that showed the two of them seated together at a prayer breakfast.

Cheney, to use an old-fashioned term, is a goddamn liar. But he is not the kind of liar Nixon was -- he is not a man who "doesn't know the difference between lying and telling the truth". Cheney's lies are very smug, and very calculated. He knows the office he holds will force the media to give him the benefit of the doubt, and so he says with a straight face that there is no abuse at Guantanamo, or he never met John Edwards, or the insurgency in Iraq "is in its last throes". Whatever lie is immediately useful to the administration.

Cheney's whoppers are getting so egregious that if, in a television news conference, he denied that the earth was about to be invaded by flesh-eating monsters from another planet, I would head immediately for the basement with a shotgun and enough bottled water to last me to the end of an interstellar siege. Which will probably be before 2009 -- which is when Cheney promises that military action in Iraq will be over.

What a coincidence -- that's when the Bush administration leaves office too.

Friday, May 27, 2005
Termination Shock

"What's that ahead?!? Aieeee!"

Voyager 1, that plucky little interplanetary overacheiver, has finally made it out of the neighborhood. Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories have announced that the space probe has passed the termination shock -- the point at which the faint outward pressure of the solar wind and the faint inward pressure of the interstellar ether are at equilibrium. This may not sound like much, but it's really an amazing achievement.

Remember that this is a space probe that is way, way, past its warranty. Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 was designed to explore Jupiter and Saturn (it flew by Jupiter in 1979 and Saturn in 1980). Since then it's been tooling along at around 40,000 miles an hour, sending a little peep back to Earth every day, just to check in.

Having passed through the termination shock, Voyager is now in the heliosheath, a kind of interstellar no man's land. It will eventually cross the heliopause, which is the final boundary into interstellar space.

The passage will not be as perilous or dramatic as the illustration above would suggest (which makes it look like we're being catupulted into an interstellar wall of fire). But the pure science of the Voyager missions have been inspiring, and we should continue to fund the program as long as the probe keeps sending back data.

It's the least we owe the little guy. But the Bush administration is planning its own little termination shock for the Voyager program.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005
A Goat And A Rhinoceros? I Say, "Preposterous!"


The Washington Post site is giving prominent play to a new FBI report this afternoon. Apparently, prisoner complaints about Koran abuse at Gitmo were much more widespread than previously believed.

Not a peep about this on CNN.com yet, although they have not missed the latest on the Michael Jackson trial, the latest on the Runaway Bride saga, and the touching story of the goat and the baby rhino who became friends.

Off With Your Head

"Do I look healthy to you?"

Since Monday night the wingers have been breathing heavy over the Senate filibuster compromise -- that's no surprise -- but Tony Blankley is practically frothing at the mouth. Even by the overblown standards of right-wing rhetoric, he's gone over the top. To be honest, I'm worried that the guy might pop a cardiovascular gasket; to judge by his photograph I'd say he's already a two-pack-a-day smoker with a weakness for Hostess Ho-Hos.

America, Tony declares, has been taken over by -- gasp! -- a sinister cabal!:

What shall we call these 14 senators? Trustees, regents, governing board members, blessed ones, lord protectors, proconsuls, oligarchs, cabalists, conspirators, usurpers? For the moment, it doesn't matter. History will give them their final designation. Certainly they see themselves as saviors of the Senate traditions. (God save us from self-appointed saviors. It always ends in tears.)

Whatever they are, they are not defenders of tradition. For starters, they have converted the allegedly traditional authority of a minority of 41 to block passage or confirmation into an empowered minority of three. Any three Democratic regents may block a judicial nomination. By organizing into a blocking mechanism -- and presumably swearing blood oaths of loyalty to one another in a secret ceremony out of sight of the uninitiated -- they have created a new "tradition."

Already they are taking on the trappings of a governing entity. On Monday night, they didn't issue a press release -- as senators and congressmen usually do. Instead, they issued a "Memorandum of Understanding on Judicial Nominations" on plain Senate stationery, subscribed by the 14 self-chosen ones. I assume in due time they will have their own stationery printed up. Gold-embossed, I shouldn't wonder.

That's right, Tony. And when they have finished writing their sinister decrees on gold-embossed paper, the Lord Protectors will swirl their capes and return to their underground lair, where they will send out for pizza and sit up all night playing "Risk".

Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Jonathan Yardley's BookWorld: A Waste Of Good Electrons

What a shame there isn't a Webby for "Most Idiotic Newspaper Chat". If such a category existed, I'd nominate the birdbrained and inexplicably employed Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post. This morning Yardley led a book chat (where the book "discussed" was The Washingtonienne by Jessica Cutler) and it was a good argument not only against web chats, but against the Internet itself and perhaps the written word as well.

Here are some of the highlights -- if you can call them that.

Jonathan Yardley: Welcome to wet, dreary and chilly Washington. Perhaps we can warm up the afternoon with a discussion of "The Washingtonienne" or any other matters relating to books and Book World.


Washington, D.C.: I read the blog online, is the book any different? Or just a rehash of the blog? Thanks

Jonathan Yardley: I haven't read the blog. I decided that life (or at l;east my life) is too short for blogs, so I don't read them.


Succasunna, N.J.: How does Miss Cutler's novel stack up against other Washington, D.C. sex-scandal books? Any recommended books in this genre?

Jonathan Yardley: To be perfectly honest I can't remember the title of the last DC sex scandal book I read. It's a very minor literary genre. The Brits do it much better.


Laurel, Md.: So in her autobiographical novel, does she finish college?

Why on earth is the Post treating this unimportant work by a silly, trashy, wannabee as worthy of a review and chat?

Did someone on your staff ghost-write it?

Jonathan Yardley: The Post is a NEWSpaper. Like it or not, In DC Jennifer Cutler is news. The book had to be reviewed, here if not many other places.

I have no idea what makes you think someone on the Post's staff ghost-wrote it. I have no idea who actually wrote it. There is at least the outside possibility that Jennifer Cutler did.


New York, N.Y.: How does Ms. Cutler's novel stack up against Toni Bentley's memoir "The Surrender"?

Jonathan Yardley: Sorry, I haven't read it.


Atlanta, Ga.: Will Ms. Cutler do a book signing tour? This is one book I NEED to have inscribed by the author!

Jonathan Yardley: Sorry, I don't know for certain, but I'm sure she will.


Richmond, Va.: Based on your review and today's comments, your measured enjoyment of this book is doing wonders for your (probably unfair) rep as a curmudgeon.

Jonathan Yardley: GRRRRRRRRR. _______________________

Alexandria, Va.: It is my understanding that Ms. Cutler is being sued by one of her "partners" from the blog (identified as RS). Is his character included in the book?

Jonathan Yardley: Yeah, I read about that somewhere, but I know no more about it than you do.


Okay, that's enough, Yardley. Don't make me come out there.

Anything That Angers James Dobson Makes The World A Happier Place

Was the deal brokered on Monday night by 14 moderate senators a good one for Democrats, or a bad one? That depends on whom you ask.

The agreement prevents the "nuclear option" from being enacted by Mssrs. Frist and Cheney, and (presumably) the sacrifice of Judges Meyers and Saad, in exchange for an up-or-down vote on Judges Brown, Pryor and Owen.

It also allows cloture on the Brown nomination tomorrow, so theoretically,the Republicans could declare victory -- although they might find that difficult.

Frankly, I think Bush was going to get Brown, Pryor and Owen on the federal bench one way or another anyway. So that part really doesn't worry me.

The main thing the Dems gave up in this was a shimmering chance to use this issue as a club to beat the living hell out of the GOP in the 2006 elections. But it was only a possibility. It seemed likely that Frist's brownshirt tactics would backfire on him, but there was no way of being sure.

But here's what seems like a likely short-term outcome of this: John McCain comes out smelling like a rose. He was the one of the key players who helped forge the deal, he was the one who spoke for the 14 Senate moderates; he is the one who suddenly seems mature, statesmanlike, like someone who puts his country ahead of his party; he will be the one credited in the media for averting a constitutional crisis.

Bill Frist, in contrast, will be seen exactly for what he is: a mouth-breathing, butterfingered pennyboy of the Christian right. He bet everything that the religious right could carry him to the White House, and now he must follow their script to the bitter end.

That script will not call for Frist to embrace the compromise. There will be hell to pay once Dr. Dobson and his friends find that they have been denied their jihad against the federal judiciary, and I think the result can only be internecine war in the Republican party.

So, not a bad outcome at all.

UPDATE: It's official: this was a good deal. How do I know? Because it's pissed off Hinderaker at Powerline.

Monday, May 23, 2005
Okay, Enough About Freedom. Who Wants Cookies?

Like a naive schoolteacher kidnapped by pirates, sold into slavery, and forced to sell encyclopedias door-to-door in a foreign land where reading has been outlawed, First Lady Laura Bush is singing America's praises to anyone in the Middle East who will listen.

Actually, the news media describes it as a "fence-mending" trip, and Laura was clearly chosen because she's the only person in her husband's administration who isn't actively hated by the rest of the world.

All the same, things could have gone just a little bit better. She ran into trouble on Sunday while showing her sensitive side at an Islamic mosque in Jerusalem and uttering platitudes about how freedom is good, and how nice it would be if everyone could pick their own leaders (provided, of course, that those leaders meet the approval of the Bush administration).

After a brief tour of the Dome of the Rock mosque, about 40 or 50 protesters surrounded Bush and her U.S. Secret Service detail as they departed, pushing to get closer and shouting: "How dare you come here" and "You don't belong in this mosque."

Security guards closed in tightly around the first lady while angry protesters pushed close.

As Secret Service agents shadowed her, Israeli security guards linked arms and forced a pathway for the first lady's entourage through the crowd to Bush's motorcade.

News reports indicate that Laura's Stepford-wife rictus of a smile remained hideously fixed in place the whole time.

That was horrible enough, but the spin control was worse.

Adnan Husseini, director of the Islamic Trust that administers the mosque compound, told The Associated Press that Bush tried to downplay the heckling, saying it could have happened anywhere.

Anywhere but in America, it would seem.

Friday, May 20, 2005
Silence Implies Consent

John Podhoretz bloviates away at The Corner:

I've been receiving e-mails all day accusing me of being an "apologist for torture" because I pointed out earlier that today's New York Times story on horrific instances of abuse in Afghanistan was clearly intended to buttress Newsweek's retracted Koran desecration story -- to make the point that Newsweek's account was, in essence, fake but accurate. I guess if you believe in the slippery-slope argument -- the idea, current in all the toniest armchair-critic circles, that if you allow tough detention tactics at prisons you will inevitably end up at torture -- then you also believe that criticizing a story on an incident of prisoner abuse makes the critic a torture apologist.

No John, I don't believe that you're an apologist for torture because of your criticism of a New York Times article. I believe you're an apologist for torture because of your refusal to actually condemn the use of torture in any way, shape or form.

Maybe it's time for me to up my monthly contribution to Amnesty International USA.

Maybe time for you too.

The Old, Old Question

Yesterday we talked a bit about how right-wing bloggers engage in some very aggressive doublethink on the torture issue. It's easy for someone like Glenn Reynolds, sitting at a computer keyboard in the safety of his living room, to pose as a tough-as-nails warrior and declare that torture, mock executions, sexual humiliation and religous insult, though unfortunate, happen sometimes in American detention camps; that's the price we pay for liberty. And anyone who protests such actions gets asked an old, old question: "Whose side are you on, anyway?"

Yet these same wingers will insist that an incident that has real-world consequences -- like the allegations that a copy of the Koran was thrown into a toilet at the Guantanamo Bay facility -- must be a fabrication because of the sterling moral character of our interrogators.

Back in the 80's, this form of doublethink found its way into U.S. policy. The Kirkpatrick doctrine essentially boiled down to this: right-wing torturers are morally superior to left-wing torturers.

Implicit in the Kirkpatrick doctrine was the idea that good people must not be doing bad things if those bad things are being done to bad people.

And if bad things are done to good people by mistake, well, it's a tough old world and we can't be crybabies about it, can we?

It's pretty easy to act tough when you don't have to live with the consequences of your actions.

I would suggest you read this stunning article in today's Times:

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

Remember that the next time the Republicans brag about their moral virtue. Because no moral person would do such things, and no virtuous person would condone it.

And if anyone is guilty of moral relativism, it's the right wing.

UPDATE: Predictably, the Times story is being desperately savaged by John Podhoretz and Instapundit; they're claiming that it's ancient history, the events having taken place in 2002, that all the soldiers involved were punished for Dilawar's death. It's just not true -- as you can see here.

Thursday, May 19, 2005
Okay Lads, Let's Have A Clean Break

If you're not following the Andrew Sullivan - Instapundit punchup at their respective blogsites, I would recommend you tune in. Not out of a morbid desire to watch two conservatives fight, but because what they are really arguing about is the future of the conservative movement and the idea of what, exactly, being a conservative is supposed to mean. I think Andrew is in many ways an old-fashioned libertarian with a strong impulse toward enlightened self-interest. Instapundit is more of a company man who is ready to believe not only that we're at war with Eastasia, but that we've always been at war with Eastasia.

Andrew has become rather unpopular in conservative circles for many reasons, but most recently because he's been critical of the Abu Ghraib and other prison abuse scandals. Instapundit thinks Andrew has gone all squishy and liberal:

Every war has its Abu Ghraibs -- and, usually, its Dresdens and its Atlantas, which this war has lacked, not because America didn't have the ability, but because it possessed a decency and restraint that gets small credit. When Andrew was a champion of the war on terror, writing about martial spirit and fifth columns composed of the "decadent left," did he believe that nothing like Abu Ghraib would happen, when such things (and much worse) happen in prisons across America (and everywhere else) on a daily basis? If so, he was writing out of an appalling ignorance.

You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, right?

Andrew says this in reply:

The U.S. has indeed violated the law in condoning torture; and accused those of us who protest the record of going soft in the war, as if trying to prevent huge self-inflicted wounds is somehow going soft. It seems to me that Glenn's position is the president's: he's against torture, except when it happens. Then he refuses to stop or condemn it. And in unguarded moments, he's a real enthusiast.

And then Andrew provides a link to show just what he means. It ain't pretty.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Episode III: Revenge Of The Liberals

It's only Wednesday evening, but it's clear that the world is falling apart and civilization is unlikely to last through the weekend. I don't mean to get you down, but I feel it's important to be honest with you.

There's just too much sorrow for this creaking old world to bear. The Senate filibuster fight is getting nasty. The Bush administration is about to commit the U.S. to a $100 billion program to militarize outer space. Angry grackles are attacking innocent people on the streets. Britney Spears has her own television show. And -- this is the clincher for me -- the new Star Wars movie opens tomorrow.

The world used to be so simple. A new Star Wars movie was fun. It marked the beginning of summer and offered an escape from the daily grind of our earth-bound lives. We were free to dream with our eyes wide open for a couple of hours, we were offered a peek into a brighter, happier world than the one we were born into. And that feeling that we had as kids when we walked out of the theater, that giddy feeling of promise and exhilaration, followed us for days afterward, and we jabbered about those movies with our friends and played and planned and dreamed happily, and when we looked up at the stars we saw nothing out there to be afraid of.

But this new film, Revenge of the Sith, has become part of the culture war, like everything else has; and now the wingers are determined to wring every last drop of joy that might be had from it.

From sea to shining sea, the flying monkeys of the right wing have their orders and are taking wing, shouting: Star Wars is liberal! Star Wars is liberal! Hahahahahaha!

Here's an example of collective winger blogthink on the subject -- some clown named Jay Redinger, who hasn't even seen the movie yet (but read the review in the hated New York Times site), is reacting as though Lucas' new creation was being distributed by Mosfilms:

The last thing anyone needs is a lesson in how capitalism is bad (from a multimillionaire who’s whored the Star Wars universe out to sell everything from candy to cars) and how there are no such things in absolutes from a man who creates characters who scream “HELLO! BAD GUY!” with every ruffle of their suitably villianous dark cloak.

Just as, in T.H. White's kingdom of the ants, "anything not forbidden is compulsory", so it is in our Brave New Wingnut World that anything not conspicuously conservative is dangerously liberal. I don't remember anything, in any of the last five Star Wars movies, that could possibly have been construed as hostile to capitalism, but perhaps that's the point. We didn't see a Starbucks at the Mos Eisley spaceport and we never saw Princess Leia shop for shoes at Famous Footwear. Could it be that there are things more important in the universe than commerce?

No, sorry, forget I said that. That's heresy. i don't mean to get you down, but I feel it's important to be honest with you.

Take That, You Drink-Soaked Former Trotskyist Popinjay

George Galloway might be a radical and a loony. He might be a loose cannon and a buffoon and he might have a big mouth. He might even be guilty of taking bribes in the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal. He might as guilty as Lucifer, but after the way he slapped administration sock monkey Sen. Norm Coleman around a crowded Senate hearing room yesterday, the guy is all right with me.

Coleman has been eager to advance his Senate career by chairing oh-so-important investigative hearings, by looking professional and prosecutorial and glowering at frightened witnesses in the Senate chamber. It's just the sort of cheap political theater one would expect from a cheap politician, but yesterday Coleman made the mistake of picking unexploded Scotsman George Galloway to share the stage with him. Galloway made headlines on election night in Britain by ousting the well-regarded Labour MP Oona King in the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency, and his victory speech (in which he called Tony Blair a liar and a warmonger) was replayed endlessly on the BBC the following day.

To give you an idea of Galloway's rhetorical style, here's how The Guardian described his encounter with writer Chris Hitchens:

Before the hearing began, the Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow even had some scorn left over to bestow generously upon the pro-war writer Christopher Hitchens. "You're a drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay," Mr Galloway in formed him. "Your hands are shaking. You badly need another drink," he added later, ignoring Mr Hitchens's questions and staring intently ahead. "And you're a drink-soaked ..." Eventually Mr Hitchens gave up. "You're a real thug, aren't you?" he hissed, stalking away.
And the Guardian could barely conceal its glee as it recounted a liberal British MP's pummelling of a stuffed-shirt American senator:

...Mr. Galloway was in his element, playing the role he relishes the most: the little guy squaring up for a fight with the establishment.

For these purposes, Senator Coleman served symbolically to represent all the evil in the world - the entire Republican party, the conscience of George Bush, the US government and the British government, too: no wonder his weak smile looked so nauseous.

No no, he always smiles like that.

"I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq ... senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong," Mr Galloway told him.

Well, Norm wasn't going to hear it from the Democrats. He might as well hear it from Galloway.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Sassy New Look, Same Great Blog

The multi-talented but elusive Nemo has been working for some time on a redesign of the Lost City site, and I imagine that you've already noticed the results. Many of the images and quotes scattered about the page should be familiar to you, others less so. It's my hope that Nemo will reappear long enough to provide an answer key; and perhaps this is his signal that he is returning from his self-imposed exile.

Your comments on the new look are most welcome.

Monday, May 16, 2005
It's Puzzling, It's Very Very Puzzling

According to CNN, Scott McLellan opined at today's press gaggle that it's really "puzzling" that Newsweek hasn't completely retracted its story last week that a copy of the Koran was flushed down a toilet at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility. The truth is, Newsweek's sources in the government are now denying that they ever confirmed what Newsweek had already confirmed that they'd confirmed.

What's puzzling to me is, if there's no truth to the Newsweek story, why doesn't the White House just deny it?

After all, we all know the amazing self-restraint of our interrogators. To be sure, at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo they have engaged in documented incidents of beatings, torture, mock executions and murders; detainees have been stripped naked, hooded, and left in solitary confinement for long periods of time; vicious dogs have been used to threaten and intimidate naked prisoners; naked detainees have been stacked in human pyramids and led around on leashes for the amusement of the guards; women have been used as props to humiliate Islamic men by stripping naked in front of them, sitting on their laps, and smearing them with menstrual blood.

But would interrogators act in a disrespectful way toward the Holy Koran? Oh, no. That would never happen.

The Stained-Glass Windows Slam Shut

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was anointed Pope Benedict XVI, some progressive Catholics hoped for the best. "Of course he was a doctrinal hard-liner," they said; "that was his job. He was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Now that he's Pope, he has to think of the entire church; and he will show himself as the humorous, gentle man that his defenders keep insisting that he is."

Wishful thinking, it turns out. The arch-conservative Benedict XVI is very quickly making liberal Catholics pine for the good old days of the conservative John Paul II.

Since Benedict's election, liberal and moderate Catholics have been sent an artfully crafted but unmistakeable message: all discussion, on any topic, is now closed. The Vatican will send the talking points from now on; there is no longer any need for scholarship from outside the Vatican; and all the laity is expected to do from now on is to do as they're told and keep writing the checks.

Consider the sudden dismissal of Fr. Thomas Reese, long-time editor of the progressive Jesuit publication America. The CDF, under the leadership of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, had been accusing Fr. Reese of publishing unorthodox opinions for years. Had Cardinal Ratzinger been allowed to kick it old-school, as he no doubt would have preferred, Fr. Reese would have been put to the torch until he recanted. But in our squishy-soft liberal age, the best that CDF could do was investigate, harrass, investigate some more and wait until the time was right. And the day Ratzinger was elevated to pope was the day that Fr. Reese's fate was sealed. Never mind the fact that Fr. Reese was cleared of any accusations of doctrinal inconsistancy that he may have faced; it was his lot to have been made an example for other would-be heretics.

Similarly, for the last several Pentecost Sundays, the Rainbow Sash wearers have been going up to take communion at the Cathedral of Saint Paul. There has been some confusion on how to handle this in the recent past, and the matter has been decided on a diocesian level. In the Twin Cities, Harry Flynn has seen no harm in distributing communion to the Rainbow Sash wearers, but now the Vatican has stepped in and ordered that such demonstrators should never receive the Eucharist. It is a perfect example of the doomsayers have been predicting over the last couple of decades: that Vatican II, that was supposed to decentralize the ossified church power structure, has been completely dismantled at last.

And Benedict's pick for his own replacement as prefect of the CDF is none other than William Levada, the archbishop of San Francisco who -- by his own admission -- spent years defending pedophile priests and dismissing allegations of sex abuse by the clergy. Like his predecessor, Levada has publicly opined that the church sex abuse scandal is much ado about nothing, a clumsy attempt by the media to embarrass the church.

We've come a long way since 1964, when the beloved John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council. At that time he declared that he wanted to "open the windows of the church so that we can see out and the people can see in". But now the windows have been nailed shut. And the people be damned.

Thursday, May 12, 2005
Are Flying Monkeys The Missing Link?

Loquacious but idiotic mouth-breather Brian McNicholl chases after Charles Darwin with a pickaxe on the Town Hall site, inspired by the Kansas Board of Education's current campaign against the scientific establishment.

McNicholl is all for putting evolution on trial in Kansas and he chides scientists for being unwilling to take part:

...so far, the scientific community of Kansas and surrounding areas has refused to participate. This proceeding, they say, is beneath them because all issues regarding the origin of life are settled.

When I hear such talk, I can’t help but think of the distinguished members of the scientific community who killed George Washington by using leeches to cure him of what amounted to a bad case of the flu. Or the study that came out just this week saying that a procedure performed a million times a year in this country on women during childbirth not only doesn’t help them but makes things worse. Or the sad treatment of Galileo, a distinguished scientist who spent the last years of his life under what amounted to house arrest because he’d been convicted of heresy for asserting that the earth orbited the sun, rather than the other way around.

In each of these cases, the scientists of the day assumed that they knew the truth, that they had incontrovertible proof and that no instruments ever would appear that could disprove their thinking.

What a fascinating tour through the history of science! McNicholl has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that scientists don't know anything. Why, just look at bloodletting and episiotomies! (McNicholl doesn't actually use the word "episiotomies", either because he's too squeamish to use the name of a medical procedure that cuts a lady's -- gulp! -- vagina, or because he doesn't know the name and is too lazy to look it up. In any case, scientific studies have shown that episiotomies are overused, not useless, and it was feminists, not religious conservatives who have long argued against the procedure.) Is McNicholl arguing against epidurals and ultrasounds, which are also based on scientific principles?

Bloodletting, of course, was a holdover from medieval folk medicine; it was modern science that debunked such practices.

The real corker is Galileo. It must have occurred even to the dim-witted McNicholl that Galileo was the scientist in that controversy. He was placed under house arrest for religious heresy, not scientific heresy.

The “scientific community” frequently cites the slimy evasions of creationists and intelligent-design advocates when they get “nailed” with some question about amino acids or whatnot.

Or sneaky questions like: "what's the scientific basis of your theory?"

You want to see slimy evasion? Put this to a dedicated Darwinist: How did two apes, two animals driven by nothing but instinct to survive, mate and produce a thinking, discerning, right-from-wrong-knowing human being? Two of them, actually – one boy and one girl, in more or less the same neighborhood, travel not being as convenient then as it is now.

You’ll hear all manner of stammering and yammering about how it’s not that simple, how saying we have a common ancestor doesn’t exactly mean that, at some point, two animals mated and produced a free-thinking person. But the fact is, it is exactly that simple. Show me how this could’ve occurred, shoe me the “missing link,” and I’m foursquare on your side.

Apparently rejecting an absurd premise is "slimy evasion" to the creationists.

No evolutionary scientist has ever postulated that two monkeys gave birth to a "thinking, discerning, right-from-wrong-knowing human being". No evolutionary scientist has ever argued that sentience and "right-from-wrong" morality are either-or propositons -- things that either exist in their entirety or don't exist at all.

McNicholl's argument seems to be that if a scientific principle is not simple enough for the most simple-minded winger to understand in ten seconds, it can't be true. But few scientific theories are that simple. Moreover, the evidence that organisms change slowly over thousands of generations is simply overwhelming. The evidence that a branch of hominids split off from the apes and, over thousands of generations, became progressively less apelike and more humanlike is overwhelming. The fossil record has gaps, but like a nearly-completed jigsaw puzzle we can clearly see the picture, and every year there are new discoveries that help to bolster the premises of evolutionary theory.

People like McNicholl, though, show that arguing the merits of evolutionary theory aren't enough. Creationists bamboozle people into buying their arguments because most people have a poor understanding of what science is and how science works. Students have to have a solid grounding in the scientific method before they can intelligently filter out the nonsense spouted by the creationists. Without a solid grounding in the basics, students can't evaluate the claims of the wingers, no matter how nutty they happen to be.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005
After All, Would He-Man Have Forged An Alliance With Skeletor? I Rest My Case

The other day I jabbered a bit about the Crusades and some of the historical second-guessing that went on in the Hollywood movie Kingdom of Heaven. But President Bush, while in the former Soviet republic of Georgia this week, did a little historical second-guessing of his own. From the comfortable perspective of the early 21st century, everyone's favorite Master of Destiny declared that the Yalta conference, now sixty years in the past, was "one of the greatest wrongs of history".

Watch out, George. Historians sixty years hence might describe your presidency that way.

It's been reported by those close to the Bush family that the only historical text George W. owned during the Cold War was called The Fart Book, so its gratifying to see that junior has become such an eager student of history.

There's no question that the Soviet domination of eastern Europe was tragic and unjust, but given the situation at Yalta what was Bush suggesting Roosevelt should have done? Should he have launched a new war against the Soviets once the Nazis were vanquished? Or should he have allied with the Nazis against the Soviets in the first place? David Greenberg has an excellent article in Slate that sets the historical record straight.

Perhaps someone will ask our Master of the Universe to expound on his viewpoints -- that is, if any unscreened menshevik ever gets to ask our freedom-loving leader a question.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Surely You Must Be Joking, Mr. Medved
Ah, Michael Medved. The former co-editor of "The Golden Turkey Awards", now self-appointed moral guardian of our nation's film industry, gave another self-righteous speech last week -- this time to that famous incubator of public policy, Hillsdale College. Medved laments the fact that war movies, which used to be a Hollywood staple, are now rarely produced, and when they are produced frequently depict war in -- gasp -- a bad light.

Who, Medved asks rhetorically, is responsible for this outrage? Did you even have to ask?

Part of what changed—and it was a change that was already under way before Vietnam—was Hollywood’s transformation from a mass appeal industry to an elite institution. Many of the major stars today have an Ivy League background. And a large number of them are second or third generation stars—people who have been born into the movie business and have lived in it their whole lives. So the industry is no longer connected with the public in the way that it used to be. Certainly very few of Tinseltown’s luminaries have had any experience in, or contact with, the military. All of this is reflected in the new mission that Hollywood has adopted: not to entertain, but to challenge and discomfort the public.

Now, it seems to me that only a blue-collar, by-his-bootstraps kind of guy could make such assertions about elitism without coming off like a hypocrite. But according to Medved's own bio, he attended Yale (still an Ivy League school, the last time I checked), and I didn't see any mention of military service at all.

As for Hollywood's "new mission", it's the same as its old mission: to make lots and lots of money. Hollywood is as much a part of the free market as any other sector of the economy. If you make movies the public wants to see, you make money. Fail to do that -- as the old United Artists did after a series of expensive flops -- and you will cease to exist.

Medved is certainly aware of (but chooses to ignore) the other big changes in Hollywood during the 50's and 60's: the decline of the studio system, in which big centralized studios shepherded projects through every stage of production. The kinds of movies that got made were in the hands of a small cabal of executives. As the vertically-integrated "movie factories" lost their influence, film projects were "packaged" in less centralized ways which gave enormous leverage to actors.

The end of the studio system also meant the end of the Hays Office, which was the film industry's censorship board. In the old days Hollywood didn't make any anti-war films because the Hays Office wouldn't have allowed it. But without a centralized film production system, the censors had less influence. Medved, who decries the sex and violence in films, also complains about theme and subtext in movies (even most family films bother him -- he doesn't like the schmaltzy "Field of Dreams" because it has ghosts in it; he doesn't like "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" because it depicts smart kids and bumbling adults; ditto "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes"). This guy would have been right at home as a Mosfilms censor.

But smart kids, bumbling adults, ghosts and goblins, jive-talking robots, crazy guys with hockey masks, are on the screen because they sells tickets. The right-wing market theology casts "the Market" as a sort of benign conservative god, a god who only provides what is good for us. If something appears in our society that is clearly not good for us, the Market cannot be blamed. There must be some other cause. There must be a conspiracy against us; the elites must be plotting something, in defiance of the Market. Like a bad Hollywood movie, paranoia is the simplest and most satisfying explanation.

Monday, May 09, 2005
Living In The Past
When the movie Minority Report came out a couple of years ago, I got into an argument with a friend of mine about the future. He believed that the film was as accurate a representation of the future that had ever been done, and that the world of 2050 would look more or less as the movie depicted.

I said, no way.

No movie has ever gotten the future right. From Things To Come to Destination Moon to Robinson Crusoe On Mars to 2001: A Space Odyssey to Solaris to Rollerball to Aliens, movies about the future are never about the future; they are always about the present. Fifty years from now, Minority Report will be a laughable timepiece from a wildly consumerist culture, a society for whom the "wonders of the future" mean only a more convenient way to shop at The Gap.

Blade Runner gets a pass from me on this issue. It was made 23 years ago, but it's hardly dated at all (although the last time I saw it I wondered where all the cell phones were).

Ridley Scott directed Blade Runner, and he also directed the new historical epic Kingdom of Heaven, which chronicles the events between the second and third Crusade. Kingdom of Heaven is proof that historical movies are as much about the present as futuristic movies are. Orlando Bloom stars as Bailen of Ibelin, a blacksmith who becomes a knight and who defends the City of Jerusalem from the armies of Saladin.

It's a meticulous CGI-created replica of the 12th century, but the movie is entirely informed by modern sensibilities. In the movie, both Saladin and Baldwin IV dream of a day when Jerusalem can exist as a multicultural paradise, a kingdom where Muslim, Jew and Christian can sit together at the table of brotherhood. Alas, extremists on both sides push the two leaders reluctantly toward war.

Baloney. Not only did Saladin and Baldwin emphatically not believe such things, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the 12th century who would hold such beliefs, let alone express them openly. The ideals that seem so natural and sensible to us -- equality, decency, tolerance -- were entirely alien to the 12th century mind. Christians and Muslims saw themselves in a death struggle, and both sides believed that only their side could survive. It's not pleasant to think that the hero of your story might hold beliefs and attitudes that you would find repugnant, but that's the way it is.

And if history is any guide, the people of the future will have values and attitudes that will seem alien, even repugnant, to us. And they will live in a world that we would find incomprehensible -- not at all the sort of future that we think we're building for our children.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005
The Kids Are All Right (Far Right)
Like a bunch of little boys playing army in their mom and dad's backyard, the mouth-breathers at Town Hall are currently imagining glorious conquests without blood, pain or sacrifice. Sensing that Bill Frist is less than certain that he has the votes to pull off the nuclear option gambit, all the kids at Town Hall are goading him to act, predicting a quick and bloodless victory.
Shannen Coffin believes that Bush's political power is roughly equivalent to that of Don Corleone:

It is time for George W. Bush to call on those who owe a service to him. When John McCain came to the president and sought “justice” from the political insults of his enemies, Don Presidente granted his request and signed McCain-Feingold into law, despite his serious reservations with its legality. When Arlen Specter sought protection from the slights of his fellow Republicans, Don Presidente stepped into the Republican Senate primary in Pennsylvania and backed Specter over his more conservative challenger, Pat Toomey, drawing the howls of Bush’s most ardent supporters. Many others have called on the kindness of the president for similar political favors, not to be disappointed. Early in his tenure as capo, he even reached out to the other families, appointing two of President Clinton’s holdover nominees to the federal courts of appeals.

And what does he have to show for these acts of kindness? Very little. Languishing in the Senate for the last four years are a group of highly qualified, top-notch nominees to the federal court, supported by a majority of U.S. senators but unable to receive an up-or-down vote. Fueled by ultra-liberal interest groups like Moveon.org and People for the American Way, Democrats have successfully blocked the majority of the Senate from exercising one of its most important constitutional functions, advising on and consenting to the president’s nominees to the federal court. Using the filibuster, a procedural device never before used to block a judicial nominee who would otherwise be confirmed by the Senate, Democrats in the Senate have prevented nearly 1/3 of the president’s nominees to the U.S. Courts of Appeals, the prestigious courts that sit in review of lower-court judgments. Because of obstruction by Democrats, President Bush has been the victim of the lowest confirmation rate for appellate-court judges in modern history.

You could build a psychological conference around this example of circuitous winger logic. Bush is all-powerful, Coffin declares, a mafia don; grown men tremble at the mere mention of his name; everyone owes him a favor; the weak-kneed Republicans aren't carrying out his wishes; the Democrats are obstructing him; he's a victim.

Perhaps Coffin truly believes that Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law as a favor to others. Perhaps he believes that Bush's stumping for Arlen Spector was done as a personal favor and not as an act of political expediency. And perhaps Coffin thinks that Bush can simply reach out his mighty hand and smite his enemies at will, but is only restrained by his awe-inspiring sense of fair play.

Who knew?

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