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Thursday, November 30, 2006
That Whole Mormon Thing

Say, where'd you get that horse?

There's been an interesting discussion over at The Corner the last week or so about the Mormon faith, and how its tenets and traditions square with evangelical Christianity.

This is of course no idle question. With Bill Frist officially out, and George Allen effectively eliminated from the running as a GOP contender for the Presidency, the Republican right is looking for a new champion. At the moment, the contenders for that dubious honor seem to be Sam Brownback, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

Of course, John McCain has been tacking to the right lately, and it is likely that Rudy Giulani will soon follow suit. But it seems improbable that the right wing of the party will ever feel comfortable with either of them.

At this point, it's uncertain whether Brownback has any real enthusiasm for running, or any real financial resources to run with. Gingrich seems to be waiting for the party to anoint him, a strategy that didn't work out so well for Mario Cuomo in 1988.

Which leaves Romney. To paraphrase Martin Amis, Romney gets points for being audibly and visibly right-wing. He is reputedly a good stump speaker and an able debater. He is a conservative who has road-tested appeal in bright blue Massachusetts.

But he is also a Mormon, and that might spell trouble for him on his quest for the nomination. Most Americans don't know a lot about the LDS, and I think it's fair to say that it's a church not likely to find a friendly reception among Christian evangelicals.

There are, of course, some similarities between LDS and evangelical Christianity. Mormons put a premium on family values and family connections. They are evangelical in a way the Christian right can appreciate. They are hierarchical in church organization. They do not tend to tolerate dissent within the church. And like Christian evangelicals, they are contemptuous of science, seeing it as antithetical to their faith.

But I don't believe the religious right is tolerant enough to accept a Mormon presidential candidate. The LDS is conservative in many ways, but the belief system it rests upon is just too strange for the wingnuts to ignore.

Moreover, I question whether any member of the insular and hypersensitive LDS church would be able to weather a long, grueling presidential campaign. Mormons are forbidden to read anti-Mormon literature -- mostly because it raises reeeeeeeeally troubling questions like:

If a bronze-age civilization existed in North America 2,000 years ago, why haven't archeologists found any evidence for it? Where are the bronze spear-heads, the shields, the carriage wheels, the bits and the bridles for their horses?

Come to think of it, where are the remains of the horses? Where are any of the animals -- the horses and the camels and the sheep and the oxen -- described in the Book of Mormon as existing in pre-Columbian America?

How do you explain Joseph Smith's disastrous "translation" of the Egyptian papyrus, which turned out to be -- to put it charitably -- fraudulent?

How do you explain the presence of Greek and Latin names for character in the Book of Mormon, who supposedly descended from the Egyptians?

Mormons don't routinely have to answer these sorts of questions, but in a presidential campaign, Romney would be asked these sort of questions -- and many more -- all the time.

It's a bit ironic that Romney supporters are asking evangelical Christians for tolerance -- something that the Christian right has been very stingy with. And ironic, too, that outside scrutiny -- something the Mormons have traditionally been allergic to -- is something that will be asked in return.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006
A Different Set Of Rules
Okay, here's the first two grafs of an AP story on Newt Gringrich holding forth on the subject of freedom of speech:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Monday that First Amendment rights need to be expanded and cited the elimination of McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms as one solution.

Gingrich, a Republican, suggested allowing people to give any amount to any candidate as long as the donation is reported online within 24 hours.

Contrast that with the first two grafs of the Manchester Union-Leader's coverage of the same event:

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich yesterday said the country will be forced to reexamine freedom of speech to meet the threat of terrorism.

Gingrich, speaking at a Manchester awards banquet, said a "different set of rules" may be needed to reduce terrorists' ability to use the Internet and free speech to recruit and get out their message.

A "different set of rules" indeed. It would seem that Newt has realized that the pesky first amendment to the constitution can't be repealed, so he wants to do the next best thing: redefine "freedom of speech", "freedom of the press", "freedom of assembly", until those phrases lose any real meaning.

It would seem that in Gingrich's ideal world, the most cherished freedom is the freedom to give your favorite politician a briefcase full of cash. I guess when everyone in Washington is on the take, no one is.

I'm actually pleased that Gingrich is running for President, since it gives the crazies at the National Review someone to cheer for, someone even farther-out than George Allen.

And speaking of different sets of rules, how come the AP story buried the lede? Gingrich talks about how it might be necessary to curtail our most basic freedoms, and all they get out of it is that he's in favor of expanding our freedoms? Don't they have editors over there?

Monday, November 20, 2006
Why Do It Right, When Doing It Wrong Is So Much Easier?
Ever wonder what it's like to stand on the brink of madness and peer down into the pit? Here, read this quote from Bill Kristol on yesterday's Fox News Sunday program. You'll get an idea of what it's like.

It's time for more troops. Are there more troops? There are. It would be a strain on the army. You could do 20,000 in the short-term. You could do up to 50,000 over six to eight months. It would require a lot of strain and a lot of extending deployments and taking people out of Okinawa and other places and bringing them into Iraq and stressing our commitments elsewhere. And we need to rebuild the military at the same time.

"It would be a strain on the army," he says. Ya think?

You could do it, of course -- you could find 50,000 troops if you tried. You'd essentially pour all available military resources into Iraq and bleed the military white, but you could do it. And "rebuild the military at the same time?" How?

And even if you did all that, would you actually win?

Personally, I don't want to double down on this damned war. But it seems to me that if the President and the Congress want to, they will have to do it without breaking the military. And if they are going to do it, they must do it right. They must not send in one soldier fewer than is needed to do the job.

Are Kristol and his merry men talking about 20,000 to 50,000 troops because that's the number needed? Or because they figure that's all we can reasonably peel away from other deployments?

If more troops are to be sent, then get an assessment -- an honest one for once -- from the military. Find out how many troops would be needed to stabilize Iraq, and get them.

My feeling is that the total number needed on the ground is probably closer to Gen. Shinseki's original figure of 300,000.

That would mean we need an additional 180,000 soldiers -- but let's be generous. Let's cut that number in half. We'd still need 90,000 soldiers. But of course you'll never hear a call for 90,000 soldiers because that would mean a -- well, I can't bring myself to type the word, but it starts with a D and it rhymes with "raft". And nobody except Charlie Rangel is calling for that.

Kristol and the neocon all-stars lied and bamboozled their way into this war. They shouldn't be the ones framing the debate about how to get out of it.

Friday, November 17, 2006
Double Or Nothing
It's no surprise that the Weekly Standard wants us to raise the stakes on Iraq. The editors have nothing to lose except their miserable reputations. After four years of assurances that everything is going great over there, and that it's the liberal media that's been presenting a false picture -- now the neocon house organ basically admits that, well, we're not exactly winning, but quickly assures us that injecting another 20,000 troops will make everything okay:
War is not poker; the stakes in Iraq are much higher than a little money or a few chips. But war's psychology bears some resemblance to a well-played game of cards. The only way Americans lose this war is to fold. That seems likely to be the next move, but it is the last thing we should do. Far better to call and raise. Our cards are better than theirs, if only we have the nerve to play them.

Pretty easy to raise the stakes when you're gambling with other people's money.

And other people's lives.

Andrew Sullivan seems to agree with the Weekly Standardites, though he thinks it'll take more than 20,000 troops to get the job done.

An addition of 20,000 seems insignificant to me - another signal to the enemy that we can be outlasted. A commitment of another 50,000 to 75,000 troops to Iraq is a different matter.
It's possible. Not very likely at this point, but just possible. The question is, how much more blood and treasure do we want to pour into what is already looking like a failed state? How much more do we want to invest in this President and his team of rank incompetents?

And consider this: we can't make 50,000 to 75,000 soldiers appear out of thin air. Seems to me the 20,000 figure is being bandied about because that's about all we can muster without drawing down troops from other deployments (South Korea, for instance) or instituting a draft.

I'm assuming that the Weekly Standard isn't going to start exhorting its readers to rush down the the local recruiting office. So are they in favor of a draft? If this war is as important as they say, if victory must be obtained at any cost, what are they willing to risk?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006
The Last Conservative On Earth!
John J Miller, who had so much fun compiling the "Top 50 Conservative Rock Songs", pointed his readers to this "Top 10 Conservative Horror Films" list compiled by Libertas. Miller was chagrined that he didn't see it before Halloween, but it's still a fun list to read, and an interesting insight into the right-wing mind.

There are some very obvious conservative horror flicks, of course -- films in which those who violate society's taboos get hacked up by a demented killer, as in "Friday the 13th"; or flicks in which Ma and Pa Conservative get their revenge on drug-addled homicidal hippies, as in "Last House On The Left".

These right-wing power fantasies do make the Libertas list, but a couple of other choices caught my interest.

For instance, the #1 film on this list was The Exorcist. Libertas comments:

A Hollywood actress realizes there is a God. A Priest who doesn’t molest children finds his faith and sacrifices himself for another. And Jesus saves the day! How did this one slip through?

Cute. It's true that The Exorcist takes a very straightforward approach to theology: God and Satan are real, demon possession is quite literally true, and the only ones who can cast out the demon are Catholic priests.

However, the Catholic church wasn't exactly thrilled with the movie when it came out. Exorcism is not something that the church wants to advertise, and the gruesome details of young Regan Greene's possession -- shrieking with an inhuman voice, projectile-vomiting green slime, ramming a crucifix into her vagina, cackling to her mother that Jesus wants to fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, were deemed so shocking in 1973 that conservatives pointed to the movie as evidence of America's cultural decay.

But what to make of Libertas' #3 film on the list, The Omega Man? Here's how Libertas describes it:

Who’s the sole-survivor in New York after a plague turns men into vamipres? Is it the effete anti-gun crowd? No. It’s survivalist, gun toting, shoot first screw the questions all together CHUCK HESTON, that’s who.

And what’s the most terrifying part of Heston’s ordeal? The only movie he can watch is Woodstock.

Kill. Me. Now.

Ah, The Omega Man. One of my favorite movies as a kid. And it's certainly a conservative movie -- though not perhaps in the way Libertas thinks.

Now, if you're not familiar with The Omega Man, shame on you. The movie is set in Los Angeles (not New York, Libertas; pay attention) three years after a nasty bioweapon has been inadvertently released on the world. The few people who didn't immediately die of the plague were turned into deranged albinos! (how thrilling this was to me as a kid!) They blame technology and 20th century society for their torments and take their rage out on research scientist Charlton Heston, the only normal human left. Carrying torches and wearing medieval robes, they surround Heston's fortified enclave every night and plot ways to bring him down from his "honky paradise".

But in spite of their numerical advantage, they reject the use of any technology more advanced than the wheel and the pulley; and for this reason Heston can fend them off with relative ease. By day, when the albinos sleep, he drives aimlessly around the ruins of the city; by night he bitterly watches from inside his house as the albinos ransack museums and libraries, setting fire to the art and culture of western civilization.

The context of this film -- released in 1971 -- is obvious. To the hippie-like albinos, Heston is The Man, a symbol of the outmoded Establishment, a living fossil. As the albino leader says:

You call us barbarians, Neville. Very well, it's an honorable name. We mean to cancel the world you made. We will simply erase history from the time that machinery and weapons began to threaten more than they offered.

The movie might as well have been titled The Last Conservative On Earth. And yet the screenwriters, afraid of making Heston's character too unsympathetic, hedge their bets somewhat. The hero's favorite movie is, inexplicably, Woodstock (apparently they wanted him to seem cool to the youth audience; a better choice would have been The Maltese Falcon or My Darling Clementine or an MGM musical). Near the end of the film when discussing with Dutch the location for the new society he wants to build, he describes the place as

Somewhere no one bothered with before, on a river nobody dammed, in mountains that were too far to build highways to. Where everything we do will be the first time it's been done there.
To which Dutch replies:

Like we were starting all over again in the Garden of Eden. Only this time we don't trust no snakes.

For Heston's character to believe that society needs to "start over" is a jarring change from what we've already seen; almost as jarring as the revelation that Dutch -- a hippie-type who rides a chopper and who wears a student strike emblem on the back of his denim jacket -- was in his final year of medical school, and contemplating post-doctoral work in a bioweapons lab.

So in this way the cultural message ran off the rails; yet it's clearly established that art and science and culture are all things cherished by conservatives. In 1971 this was still true. But it isn't true today.

Today, conservatives view art and science and culture with the same contempt that the albinos in the movie do. Colleges and universities are pilloried as enclaves of heretical thought. Science is derided as anti-religious, a club of elitists who make up "facts" in order to confuse the faithful. Art is seen as meaningless and decadent. All forms of high culture, from classical music to opera to theater, are regarded with suspicion if not outright contempt.

These days, conservatives are closer to the albinos than they are to Chuck Heston. A point missed by Libertas, who couldn't be bothered to think about the movie for five minutes.

Which, I suspect, is part of the problem.

Monday, November 13, 2006
Eating The Seed Corn
Jefferson Davis called them "the seed corn of the Confederacy".

They were cadets at the Virginia Military Institute in 1864 -- just kids really, not yet ready to shave, let alone fight. They were meant to be the South's next generation of military leaders. But the South was losing the war, running out of time and running short of fighting men.

Bowing to outside pressure, Davis agreed to release the VMI cadets for military service during the last, chaotic months of conflict. The desperate Confederates ground up their seed corn for the sake of short-term survival.

But it made no difference. There would be no survival for the Confederacy, short-term or otherwise.

Look back over the last month of the 2006 election campaign and you will see that the GOP did much the same thing. All the grand Republican plans to cultivate the black and Hispanic vote in order to create a permanent majority were tossed aside out of desperate necessity. Instead, blacks and Hispanics were cynically used as props: in Tennesee, blatant appeals to race put Corker ahead of Ford in the final hours. In Virginia, George Allen used race as a centerpiece of his macaca-ized re-election bid. Across the sunbelt states, Republican candidates used immigration as a wedge issue to mobilize their base.

It made no difference. In spite of their worst efforts, the Republican majority fell. And now the architects of defeat face a bitter truth: the vaunted firewall strategy to retain Senate control used up the seed corn.

Getting it back will take time and patience. But the Republicans have already started the process. Seeking a replacement for outgoing RNC chair Ken Mehlman, they floated Michael Steele's name first, hoping to whip up enthusiasm among blacks -- enthusiasm that never existed.

Then they named Florida Sen. Mel Martinez to the post. Will the appointment of Martinez score points with disaffected Hispanics? Maybe. But judging from the reaction at Red State, the conservative base is the next constituency that the RNC will have to cultivate.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006
What A Day, What A Day
I was offline yesterday, working as an election judge in Ramsey County. It was a long day (6 am to 10 pm) but for me, a very positive experience.

I got home, dog tired, to find the Democrats had regained control of the House and possibly the Senate. Commentators were already suggesting that Donald Rumsfeld was gonna get fired. "Forget Bush's committment to keep Rumsfeld on through January of 2009" was the typical comment. "It's a new day".

No way, I said. Rumsfeld and Cheney were the guys who brung Bush to this dance. Bush would get rid of Barney and Laura before he gave up Rumsfeld or Cheney.

But hey presto, the President announced moments ago that Rumsfeld is stepping down, to be replaced by former CIA head Robert Gates.

So far the most amusing moment of the Bush press conference today was Bush's explanation of why he told the press last week that Rumsfeld was staying on through the end of his administration.

He essentially said that he wanted the reporters to move on to another subject, so he lied.


Monday, November 06, 2006
Writing For The National Review Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry
Some time ago I posted an email exchange I had with Jonah Goldberg, in which I complained about the National Review's claims that Martin Luther King, Jr, would be a Republican if he were alive today.

I sent Jonah some articles written by NR during the height of King's prominence. It's ugly stuff; National Review writers alternately accused King of being a communist agitator and a naive rabble-rouser who threatened the "cake of custom" at the root of American civilization.

Goldberg replied tersely that "nobody believes that stuff anymore".

That sentence, I am certain, will one day stand as the epitaph of the conservative movement: Nobody believes that stuff anymore.

But in a sense Goldberg is right, because conservatives have mostly abandoned those old bigotries. But there are exciting new bigotries that conservatives are exploring today. Here is David Klinghoffer, arguing that Rev. Ted Haggard's fall from grace was caused by -- wait for it -- the liberals, the pro-homosexual lobby, and Charles Darwin:

Gay advocates reason that because a man has a temptation to homosexuality, he has little moral choice other than to obey it. This view of morality goes back to Darwin, who reduced behavior to biologically determined instincts. In The Descent of Man he wrote, “At the moment of action, man will no doubt be apt to follow the stronger impulse; and though this may occasionally prompt him to the noblest deeds, it will far more commonly lead him to gratify his own desires at the expense of other men.” In his private notebooks, Darwin was more blunt, commenting that “the general delusion about free will [is] obvious.”

In the Ted Haggard affair, then, we are confronted with questions not only of right and wrong but, more fundamentally, of moral responsibility versus biological determinism. Conservatives, not only religious ones, need to be very clear where we come down on this.

For surely the greatest intellectual and spiritual corruption is not the failure to fight off your demons, but the decision to urge upon other people a view that tells them they are justified in giving up their own moral fight.

I disagree with your premise, David -- and don't call me Shirley.

It seems to me that the greatest intellectual and spiritual corruption is the willingness to make innocent people live in fear and self-hatred because it serves your political ends to make them do so.

I don't know what percentage of Americans would buy Klinghoffer's arguments today. I don't even know if Klinghoffer himself believes it.

But there's a big difference between arguing that gays should be forbidden the sacrament of marriage -- a position many Americans support -- and arguing that homosexuality itself is a form of depravity, a mental illness on a par with alcoholism, or at best a trendy vice popularized by Darwinian-fueled moral relativism.

The immorality of communism was its willingness to put the interests of the state over the interest of the real men and women who had to live within its borders. Similarly, the immorality of conservativism is its willingness to force groups of people -- sometimes large groups of people -- to live anguished and fearful lives, to be denied countless rights and freedoms, simply in order to pad the feeling of smug superiority enjoyed by those few who inhabit that society's apex.

That same immorality runs through every issue of the National Review, a half-century of poison pen letters to the human race. But the human race has been around longer than 50 years. And it will be here long after the National Review -- and the so-called "conservative movement" -- has been relegated to the dustbin of history.

Saturday, November 04, 2006
Bamboozling Andrew Sullivan
Apparently Sullivan-bamboozlement is not that hard. Here he is declaring victory because neocon Prince of Darkness Richard Perle has now turned against the Iraq war:

I'm just beginning to absorb the full impact of the fact that Richard Perle and my good friend Ken Adelman have just unleashed a critique of the Bush administration that is as brutal as anything I have been writing for the past three years. Coming from them, it's the equivalent of "no confidence" in the Bush administration. From the neocons.

Andrew's all worked up because Perle has supposedly admitted that he was wrong about the war in an interview with Vanity Fair. But, umm, that's not exactly what Perle said:

Huge mistakes were made, and I want to be very clear on this: They were not made by neoconservatives, who had almost no voice in what happened, and certainly almost no voice in what happened after the downfall of the regime in Baghdad. I'm getting damn tired of being described as an architect of the war. I was in favor of bringing down Saddam. Nobody said, 'Go design the campaign to do that.' I had no responsibility for that.
Well, Richard, I want to be clear on this too: you ain't getting off this easy. I understand why a rat scurries to get off a sinking ship, but it doesn't make me feel better about the rat.

Neocons had "almost no voice in what happened"? What a laugh. I seem to remember a debate in December 2003 between Perle and blogger Josh Marshall, in which Perle crowed about the triumph of the neocon agenda.

And the epicenter of that triumph? Iraq, of course.

Friday, November 03, 2006
Snatching Defeat From The Jaws Of Victory
I've been out of commission for the last week or so, so I haven't posted yet on this increasingly weird final phase of the campaign.

We had, of course, the bizarre John Kerry "joke" and the resulting deployment of the Big Right-Wing Wurlitzer -- aided and abetted by CNN, which gave the story the same amount of play you might give to an alien invasion, or the discovery of a civilization of intelligent raccoons living at the Earth's core.

While Kerry had his defenders (Josh Marshall felt he had nothing to apologize for) it was actually a splendid reminder to Dems who might have been toying with the idea of giving Kerry another shot at the brass ring. Truth is, the guy is a one-man political disaster area. He spends too much time explaining what he actually meant by what he said earlier; and the Democrats will be well rid of him.

The Kerry flap seems to have run its course, and Democrats nationwide are still very optimistic that they'll take the House and perhaps the Senate.

But here in Minnesota, the governor's race has taken a bizarre final turn. And I believe it will cost the Democrats dearly statewide.

For the last couple of months, Democrat Mike Hatch has been holding a slim lead over incumbent governor Tim Pawlenty. Hatch was running a smart and disciplined campaign, and it looked for a while as if Hatch just might pull out a victory -- something that would have been unthinkable just six months ago.

But in the last 24 hours the Hatch campaign inexplicably began to self-destruct.

First, Hatch's running mate Judi Dutcher was asked by a reporter a fairly routine question about E-85. Dutcher's response was a blank look, a long pause, and the wrong answer: "What's E-85"?

E-85, of course, is a gasoline-ethanol blend that's very popular with corn producers in this state, of whom there are many, and many of whom vote.

I've never met any reasonably intelligent Minnesotan who didn't know what E-85 was, let alone one who didn't have an opinion about it.

It's especially baffling since Judi Dutcher is not a ditz or a moron. She's the former state auditor who ran for the Democratic nomination for governor four years ago (in fact, I was a Dutcher delegate at the state convention).

Republicans jumped gleefully on the news, and so did the media -- especially KSTP-TV in Minneapolis, which spent a huge amount of time on last night's newscast on the Dutcher gaffe. This was clearly because long-time Hatch nemesis Stan Hubbard owns KSTP.

And that was how the Hatch campaign stumbled onto an even bigger landmine.

When a KSTP reporter approached Hatch, he accused all the reporters at that station of being "Republican hacks", accused Stan Hubbard of being a "Republican hack" and referred to reporters as "whores".

So let's review.

Yesterday Dutcher's image was that of a smart and competent insider, and Hatch's was that of a tough and tenacious fighter for the people of Minnesota.

Now Dutcher looks like an idiot and Hatch looks like a thin-skinned clown. Not the kind of image you want to project four days before the election.

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