Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Obama's Gas Tax Ad

Gas Price Fixes that Won't

May 2, 2008

McCain, Clinton call for gas tax relief that really isn't, while Bush dredges up old ideas with a variety of problems.


Hillary Clinton and John McCain are offering overburdened motorists a federal "gasoline tax holiday." But economists say that the proposal is unlikely to actually lower the price of gasoline. McCain's plan would essentially give federal funds to oil refineries, while the net effect of Clinton's plan probably wouldn't be much at all, although it would create a lot of new administrative work.

President Bush took another tack, dusting off a couple of golden oldies that he said would help halt the escalation in motorists' costs: allowing companies to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and encouraging construction of more refineries.

But opening up ANWR would lead to a negligible bump in world oil supply, and would provide barely five percent of what the U.S. consumes today. The spigot wouldn't even be fully opened until the mid 2020's -- if Congress acts now, which isn't at all likely. And Bush fails to acknowledge that investors aren't interested in building refineries for strong business reasons that go beyond the tangled permitting process.

Further details at

Baloon Juice on Jeremiah Wright

I like this. [Reader advisory: coarse language ahead...]

And so it is with Jeremiah Wright. Is he a jerk? I don’t think there is any argument to be made that lately he hasn’t in fact been one big, giant, puckered asshole. His ego tour the past few days was all about him, but so what? I blame the media as much as I blame him. Is it an offensive notion that the government created aids? Absolutely, but I refuse to get all bent out of shape about it, because the government that tortures people and ran the Tuskegee experiment and wiretapped MLK for years opens itself up to crazy accusations like that.

So Jeremiah Wright has acted like a jackass the past few days, and he may have acted supremely selfishly by hurting Obama’s electoral chances. Regardless, he may be a flawed man, but that does not undo all the good he has done over the years. I don’t know of any bloggers with thirty years of service to the poor and the indigent. Get back to me when Chris Matthews feeds hungry people for three decades. And even with all his flaws, Jeremiah Wright did give us this quality bit of entertainment, and I have to admit to enjoying someone treat the media with the respect they deserve (which is to be mocked, have eyes rolled at them, and taunted as Wright did yesterday at the Press Club).

Maybe it is because I am totally and unrepentantly in the tank for Obama, but I just can’t get worked up over what his pastor said. Maybe it is because I am not religious, and I am used to religious people saying things that sound crazy. Or maybe I just refuse to spend any more time and energy getting worked up over and denouncing, distancing, and rejecting the wrong people- people who really don’t matter in the big scheme of things. If you have a memo from Jeremiah Wright to John Yoo showing how we should become a rogue nation, let me know. If you have pictures of Jeremiah Wright voting against the GI Bill, send it to me. If you have evidence of Jeremiah Wright training junior soldiers on the finer aspects of stacking and torturing naked Iraqi captives, pass them on.

Until then, I just can’t seem to get all worked up about the crazy scary black preacher that Obama has to “throw under the bus.”

H/T The Dove

Monday, April 28, 2008

My sentiments regarding Jeremiah Wright

I saw Jeremiah Wright a couple of days ago on C-SPAN. He was speaking to an NAACP meeting. The man displays one of the most adroit intellects I have ever seen. His command of a multitude of social and historical facts is impressive. And he's not only smart, he's also in-your-face candid. I didn't hear anything all that controversial, but I'm sure he said enough to give endless soundbites to his critics.

Ours is an age of reductionism, not reflection. I have observed that most people cannot think in paragraphs. A sentence with two ideas is about as complicated as it gets for the average person. And those two ideas are typically the opinion they hold and its opposite, against which they argue. Sad. Very sad, indeed.

I'm not going to waste more space with this subject. Here is the post from Digby's blog that inspired me to write this much.

...he's not some cheesy plastic replicant out of a fifties fantasy of what America should be.

If the man who spoke to Moyers - and who's shown in long excerpts (for tv, that is) of his sermons - is who Jeremiah Wright really is, the rightwing likely has committed a spectacular blunder in trying to demonize him - and by extension, Obama. The more opportunities given Wright to reach a national audience, the harder it will be to counteract him, let alone brand him as some America-hating black power radical. So, as far as I'm concerned, the more the right wants to make an issue out of him, the better.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pittsburgh's 14th Ward -- an Obama Grassroots Success

Dr. R. Charli Carpenter blogs at Duck of Minerva. She works in Pittsburgh and knows whereof she speaks. This is how to run a campaign.

...While Clinton won the state 54.6/45.4, Obama won the 14th ward 60/40. Why? Was this a black neighborhood? No - 85% white. Surely then it was a neighborhood full of well-educated, liberal whites? Partly - 46.5% work in education, health and social services. But it is also a neighborhood of unionized teachers and dominated heavily by Jewish families, both populations in which Hillary is supposed to have an edge.

What may have distinguished the 14th Ward from other neighborhoods in Pittsburgh - and from the Hillary campaign, accounting for its win - was effective grassroots mobilization.

Consider a simple indicator of grassroots support for Obama: yard signs. I drove around the 14th ward and the adjacent 15th ward, primarily a white working class neighborhood, the weekend before the primary. I counted approximately 45 different Obama signs, but only three Hillary signs (I didn't count the sign some Hillary staffer had planted [illegally I think] at the ramp to Highway 376). On primary day, it became clear where the Hillary signs were: the campaign had hoarded them to place instead at polling stations throughout the city. This is a simple example of a general difference between the two campaigns and the two candidates' leadership styles - Hillary organizes from the top down, Obama organizes from the bottom up. At least in theory.

But why did Hillary win the state anyway? And why, conversely, the great variation in results across neighborhoods in Pittsburgh? The 14th Ward didn't stop with yard signs. The leadership used email lists, Google groups and word of mouth in such a way as to make it easy for many individuals both within the neighborhood and from nearby areas to get involved in small ways. It decentralized leadership positions to the extent that inelegant but important tasks (like securing water bottles for canvassers and voters standing in line) never fell through the cracks. It drew on grassroots knowledge and capacities to solve problems (like getting Obama's headquarters wired in the early, chaotic days of the campaign before staff had arrived in the state) spontaneously, without direction or resources from above.

Perhaps most fundamentally, the 14th Ward opened up a satellite office in Greenfield that became the focal point of grassroots Obama activism for the 14th and three adjacent neighborhoods. It brought visibility to the Presidential race in an area that was underserved by both campaigns. Numerous volunteers were roped in to doing simple, non-time-consuming but morale-building tasks like bringing hot meals to those staffing the office. Many got into the spirit and stayed on to phonebank, run errands, or deliver messages.

None of this was funded by the Obama campaign itself: neighbors pitched in money to rent the empty office space on a busy street corner near an ice-cream shop for ten days. Volunteers phone-banked and canvassed tirelessly while enjoying the comraderie of a neighborhood office where there was plenty of beer and pizza. On election day, when Hillary's yard-sign strategy became suddenly apparent, an army of volunteers was ready in shifts to collect signs from yards throughout the 14th and 15th wards and relocate them to polling stations.

Volunteers in the 14th ward fought, often against defensive paid campaign staffers, to get resources and attention from campaign headquarters in Pittsburgh and for 'permission' to disseminate lessons learned to organizers in other neighborhoods. The lesson of PA '08 for both campaigns is that if they want to take grassroots organizing seriously (which Obama claims to want to do and Clinton should consider while she remains in the race), staffers must be encouraged to overcome their suspicion of the common folk and embrace a decentralized organizational style such as the satellite office model that worked so well in the 14th Ward. Had the Obama campaign actively encouraged this model, it might have materialized in many other Pittsburgh neighborhoods and made all the difference.

I can't wait for the general election. This is the best-organized political campaign in my lifetime. And the best part is the energy coming from the bottom...not the top. As a manager I have always presumed energy from the top. It is energy from below that is damn hard to inspire. Let's hope the lesson was learned.

More from Prairie Erth

I'm still slowly making my way through Prairie Erth.
This stood out today...
This is like hard candy. It works best to read slowly and let it melt.

October 10: [notebook entry]
I'm sitting on a knobby hill with at least a six-mile view in every direction, the afternoon without winds as if they had been bound up, the grass stock-still, and I cannot see the slightest movement of anything anywhere: in the visible hundred-and-some square miles nothing is happening. It's as if the entire scene has been cast in a Steuben crystal sculpture and has been stopped except for the tiny scratching of my pencil across this notebook page -- good god, I'm the only thing happening here. Ten minutes later: no -- in my miniature vision I have been watching for visible events, not unseen processes. Significant "happening" is process occurring behind a screen of mere, if overwhelming, presences. What I see as stasis is, in fact, moving and if my pen wiggles along faster than the fractional creepings of the continental plate and rooted mats below me that are a slow and grand erasing of what I see now, its movement counts for little when compared against the imperceptibilities going on here, forces completely remaking this place second by second, inch by inch. A traveler (who cannot even remotely detect the thousand-mils-an-hour spinning of the planet he rides through space at sixty-seven thousand miles an hour, to say nothing of its solar and galactic movements and its precession) writes in his notebook nothing is happening. Man muses, God guffaws.

William Least Heat-Moon, Prairie Erth, page 293

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sullivan nails it...

I hate to be a wet blanket but Andrew Sullivan makes some good points. And he's a big fan of Barack Obama.

[In the Pennsylvania primary] Obama lost every cohort over 40; Clinton lost every cohort under 40. Race also affects the generations in turn: 67 percent of whites over 60 voted for Clinton - a massive 24 point advantage. Among the younger generation, there is much less racial polarization: under 30, whites split evenly. This is a fascinating result. It appears to me as the future struggling to overcome the past. On the process, I stick to my view that she needed double digits to have reason to stay in. Right now, she doesn't have it. But she won't leave. She will never leave. Ceding to someone younger is unthinkable to her. It's a form of death for her.

But here's what she does have: total shamelessness, and an absolute belief that she is the rightful nominee. Shamelessness: the appropriation of the message and even the words of her opponent; the portrayal of one of the most privileged and advantaged candidates in memory as an insurgent underdog; the eager embrace of the tactics - and message! - of the Rove right if it could help in any way; the picture of a candidate who saw a 20 - 25 point lead dissipate into single figures as a candidate for momentum. What sustains her is this deep, deep sense of entitlement and an absolute refusal to let the next generation take over. She will take this to the last day of the convention if necessary.

If Obama thinks he has a right to actually be nominated by the Clinton Democrats because he has won more votes, more states and more delegates, he is sadly mistaken. They will never let such a person win without a death struggle. And that is where the Democrats are now headed.

Add this to Tom Watson's points and Obama's future starts to look grim.

Stem Cells from Menstrual Blood?

Today's science surprise...

Researchers seeking new and more abundant sources of stem cells for use in regenerative medicine have identified a potentially unlimited, noncontroversial, easily collectable, and inexpensive source -- menstrual blood.

Stromal stem cells - cells that are present in connective tissues - have recently been identified in endometrial tissues of the uterus. When the fresh growth of tissue and blood vessels is shed during each menstrual cycle, some cells with regenerative capabilities are present and collectable. While collecting menstrual blood stromal cells (MenSCs) directly from tissue would be invasive, retrieving them during the menstrual cycle would not be.
There's even a company that's begun menstrual blood banking!

H/T Jill Fallon

Fox interviews a priest regarding Jeremiah Wright

This is getting tiresome.

I don't have the energy to argue, but for benefit of those who like to drink the Fox News Kool-ade here is a dose of medicine from an articulate white Catholic priest. [Ed. I don't expect this in prime time if it is aired again.]

Part One

Part Two

Hat Tip to Young Anabaptist Radicals for the link (and more...go check out their excellent blog).
Jeremiah Wright and Black Liberation Theology

Media and the Gospel Message

If the medium affects the message, how will the Christian message be affected by the new media?

Responding to a symposium profiled at Evangelical Outpost, Ilona addresses this and other questions for modern Christians, followed by some reflections and observations worth reading.

...A living organic message, such as the gospel, is limited... A single statement does not a life pathway make. The limitation of internet media, which is our own medium as bloggers, is its disconnection with aspects and relationships of a physical presence. It has a living give and take, but without the context by which we gauge the veracity of the message or person- without the checkpoints of hard copy writing, without the cues of a person’s actions....
In media, the temptation is to show the world who Christ is according our wisdom. Our culture, so informed by marketing, most values the image. Its incarnation as its own entity- quite apart from what it is to represent- is the idol held up for our example and estimation. So Jesus is made to be “winsome”, “macho”, ”revolutionary” in response to the taste du jour of the crowd. Cloaked under buzz themes of “seeker-friendly”, “our partner”, or whatever justification is desired to polish up the image of Jesus, AKA Christianity”, rather than the One True God who has torn through the veil of flesh to meet with us, both as He is and as we are. That sort of intimacy with a Holy God just doesn’t hold the same shiny promise of mass moving, viral ‘branding’.

Billy Graham and others notwithstanding, something about broadcast evangelism causes what some call a "check in my spirit." I can't put my finger on it and I know a lot of viewers and listners have been materially helped by this means of spreading the Word. I recall watching Oral Roberts in the fifties inviting people to put hands on the television to receive the full benefit of his healing ministry and wondering as a youngster if medical problems could be resolved that way.

Read her full essay and think about it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

" many people should die in Bangladesh for the sake of an ethanol mandate?"


Bernard Avishai on Obama the Elitist

Bernard Avishai, Contributing Editor of Harvard Business Review, splits his time between Jerusalem and Wilmot, New Hampshire. He’s taught at Duke, MIT, and was director of the Zell Entrepreneurship Program at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel.

Read his comments about Barack Obama's "elitist" remarks, words that Obama himself called "clumsy."

...IMAGINE that Orwell ran for Parliament in a working-class district after the war, and gave an interview in which he said that poor people sometimes cling to religious dogmas or xenophobia to try to make sense of their world. Imagine his Tory opponent—knowing full well that few people in the working-class actually read essays or books—suggested that Orwell, that author, was elitist. Imagine that a columnist for (of all places) the Times of London picked up the story and accused Orwell of being—how did Dowd put it?—less a candidate than an anthropologist.

I guess the idea is that if you are brilliant enough to write, and write movingly, about your years in poverty, your gratitude for the transcendent life of the mind, your decision to organize against despair with compassion and mentoring, your years defending people downtrodden by forces they cannot control, your loved ones in far-flung parts of the world, pitting their magic against alcohol—indeed, if you can write anything without a ghostwriter—then you must think you are smarter than ordinary people, and must therefore be “out of touch.” (On the other hand, if you are accustomed to privilege, and educated to triangulation, so that you know how to buy a ghost writer who'll make you appear a populist, then, by definition, you don’t think you’re so smart, and must therefore be close to ordinary people.)

So here is an anthropological question for you. What do you say about the future of a democracy that buys this stuff?

"...more Americans have voted for Hillary Clinton in this presidential election cycle than any other candidate."

Reality check time.
Tom Watson makes a compelling observation that takes some of the air out of Obamamania.
Realpolitik, not smoke.

...I know that the votes in Florida and Michigan generally aren't counted in the popular vote total. So I know it's not a generally accepted measurement. But human beings went to those polling places and voted in the outlaw states. There's no denying that more Americans have voted for Clinton than for Senator Obama since the snows of Iowa - after last night, she holds a tiny .4% lead over Obama.

Last night changed this race. It doesn't mean Clinton has a clear path to the election, but a big victory in Pennsylvania - when she was massively outspent in media - may be the equivalent of a large undersea earthquake: the big waves may just hit the beach in North Carolina and Indiana.

And there's another metric from the last 24 hours that shows a bit of that tremor. Clinton raised $10 million since the networks called the Keystone race last night - that's an Obama-like haul, if I may compliment the Illinois senator's fabulous fundraising operation.

Two big numbers, and this thing goes on. I still find it fascinating, though that six-week gap was wearying indeed. And the longer Clinton hangs in, the more the superdelegates pause, and the better the chance for what I'd really like to see - yeah, one ticket.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

FLDS -- A Closer Look

Sara Robinson continues her extended examination of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints communal group(s) now in the news.

My earlier post links to her timely initial comments. Refer to those links for a better understanding of what appears next.

Today's more general description of this very old, widespread cult are a study in adaptive group behavior with toxic results.

...Throughout its 60-year history, the FLDS has dealt with prosecution (or persecution) by seeding itself into new states, laying down roots for new communities that it can migrate to. (Eldorado itself started out as one of these.) New compounds are coming together now in Idaho and South Dakota; and there are rumors of others being staked out in Colorado and Nevada as well. Hildale/Colorado City may have been effectively taken over by the state of Utah, and Eldorado is in crisis; but with somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 adherents, this is a group that's not going to pass from the American scene any time soon.
...the group's women and children get much of their primary care from people who feel no accountability to established medical standards of practice, state record-keeping requirements, or any of the existing mandated reporter laws. (Most people in these communities have no idea these laws even exist.) The spotty record-keeping that results is why the state of Texas has made the wise decision to do DNA testing on all the kids: it cannot be taken for granted that their birth certificates are accurate (or, in some places, exist at all).

The FLDs has also co-opted mental health services into another form of wife abuse. ...the fear of being labeled insane and shut away in an institution is one of the most potent threats the community has used to keep women in their place.

Of course, this misuse of mental health care has turned into one non-obvious but critically important cultural land mine for the Texas authorities who are trying to figure out how to deal with their FLDS wards. Along with everything else, they're trying to work with women who've learned to see mental health evaluations as tantamount to an incarceration threat -- are thus predisposed to regard gentile doctors or social workers as a mortal enemy. It's not making things easier.
Much of the power of the prophets has been drawn from the fact that they historically controlled both the cops and the courts that served the Hildale/Colorado City area. Though these were officially chartered law enforcement agencies and nominally public courts, they weren't concerned with civil law. Instead, their task was to enforce the law according to the FLDS and its Prophet. The people in these communities had no effective recourse to the laws the rest of us live under. They could be arrested, fined, jailed, and have their property seized by nominally "official" cops and courts, acting under full authority of civil government, for violating church laws.

Like African-Americans in the slavery era, women who tried to run were captured by these police and returned to their husbands for punishment -- or taken to the hospital for the dreaded mental health evaluation. The police force's main job is to be the muscle that enforces the Prophet's control of the entire community....
These communities also bury their own dead (and at least one has its own crematorium), which opens the way to record-keeping anomalies with death certificates -- and ensures that no questions will ever be asked, and no autopsies will ever be performed. Given the genetic instability and volatile control issues within this group, it may not be wise for them to have the means to dispose of dead bodies without official oversight. We need to be asking questions about who's in their cemeteries and crematoria, how they got there, and what kinds of records are being kept.

One of the most striking things about the FLDS is that certain surnames -- Jeffs, Blackmore, Fischer, Jessop, Barlow, Steed -- occur over and over again. In a community of over 40,000 people -- many of whom share fathers, grandfathers, or uncles -- the degree of blood relationship between any two people is likely to be very close indeed. In fact, over half the people in Hildale/Colorado City are blood relatives. So it's not surprising that, starting in 1980, the tragic results of three generations of tight inbreeding began to appear.

That was the year the first Colorado City child was diagnosed with fumarase deficiency -- a genetic disease so rare that only a handful of cases had ever been diagnosed worldwide....
There are also signs of widespread hereditary eye problems among the current crop of children, along with evidence that that the community has a higher-than-average infant mortality rate. Arizona coroners recently -- and finally -- got involved in investigating these....

Looks like the tip of a very big iceberg.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Charlie Green on Britain's Got Talent

What's with these kids from the UK?
This one's another Connie Talbot, except he's ten years old instead of six.
And yes, Simon Cowell likes him, too.

Here's the competition.
Go get a box of kleenex.

From the You Tube description...

Six months ago she flew out to Britain in the hope of creating a better life for herself and two young daughters. Agonisingly she had to leave her precious children behind with their grandparents in the Philippines, until she had raised enough money to send for them.

Her rendition of I Will Always Love You brought a collective lump to the auditorium's throat.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sara Robinson on the FLDS group, Eldorado, Texas (Updated)

Today's continuation of Sara Robinson's observations of the FLDS group in Texas makes for page-turning excitement. Events there caught a lot of people unaware, but without knowing what was about to happen, Sara Robinson finished her homework just in time for the news. Her fresh familiarity with what she calls the "backstory" places her well ahead of even the best of reporters. This is not an indictment of the reportage (well, yes, it is...) but the reader who wants to be properly informed has a responsibility to do better than scan the headlines and swallow soundbite summaries uncritically.

One of the most perceptive and tenacious reporters covering these developments as been Daphne Bramham of the Vancouver Sun. (A collection of her reporting on the FLDS over the past several years can be found online here.) Bramham's focus has been on the remote 2500-member Bountiful compound just outside Creston, BC, which was founded in 1947 by Roy Blackmore and a group from one of Canada's largest historical Mormon settlements in Cardston, AB. Roy's son Winston Blackmore inherited the role of patriarch for the community until Warren Jeffs cheated him out of control in 2002.
The problem, as Bramham portrays it, comes down to one issue. Nobody -- not in Utah, nor Arizona, nor British Columbia -- has yet dared to challenge the FLDS on the basic legality of polygamy itself. Where prosecutions have succeeded, they've been on other charges: Brenda Lafferty's murder, Warren Jeffs' role in facilitating statutory rape, and the more general economic exploitation of the church's members. These efforts have done much to undermine the church's functioning (especially the latter one, which I'll get to in an upcoming post). But they've all been criminal and financial assaults that dance around the deepest question at the heart of this church's existence: Is polygamy acceptable in modern North American culture?
In choosing Eldorado, Jeffs may have, at long last, picked the wrong place to hide. Texas doesn't harbor the ghosts of Mormon pioneers or FLDS martyrs. Any liberal Texan will tell you that the Lone Star State is not cursed, as BC is, with an overbroad sense of religious freedom. What does lurk in its memetic closet is the memory of Waco -- another closed, secretive, sexually abusive cult that was left to fester unattended too long, with horrific consequences. Many of the people who are dealing with the FLDS had enough of an up-close-and-personal view of the 1993 disaster with the Branch Davidians to know what they're dealing with here.

There's no shortage of people in the media trying to make this a debate about religious freedom, which is fair enough. But the question they're not asking -- and the one that is central to that debate, in my mind -- is how we can reasonably and justly incorporate America's historical ideas about religious freedom with what we know now about how to identify and chart the prognosis of dangerous cults. ...

[April 17 post starts here:]

Read Sara Robinson's insights about the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints group now in the news.

The problem, as it so often is with the mainstream media, is that absolutely everybody involved with reporting or commenting on this story has been airlifted into it in the past few days. (You'd think somebody would have at least taken the time on the plane flight to skim Krakauer's book and get up to speed. You'd be wrong.) And this is just one example of the ways that ignorance of the backstory cheats the rest of us out of a real understanding of what's going on here.

Because, by the definition offered by these experts, the FLDS is very coercive indeed.

Almost every feature of these women's lives is determined by someone else. They do not choose what they wear, whom they live with, when and whom they marry, or when and with whom they have sex. From the day they're born, they can be reassigned at a moment's notice to another father or husband, another household, or another community. Most will have no educational choices (FLDS kids are taught in church-run schools, usually only through about tenth grade -- by which point they girls are usually married and pregnant). Everything they produce goes into a trust controlled by the patriarch: they do not even own their own labor. If they object to any of this, they're subject to losing access to the resources they need to raise their kids: they can be moved to a trailer with no heat, and given less food than more compliant wives, until they learn to "keep sweet."

At the very least, women who do decide to leave the sect leave without money, skills, or a friend in the world. Most of them have no choice but to leave large numbers of children behind -- children who are the property of the patriarch, and whom many of them will never see again. If a woman is even suspected of wanting to leave, she's likely to be sent away from her kids to another compound far yonder as punishment for her rebelliousness. For a woman who's been taught all her life that motherhood is her only destiny and has no real intimacy with her husband, being separated from her children this way is a sacrifice akin to death.

At the very worst, death is indeed what awaits them. The FLDS preaches "blood atonement" -- the right of the patriarchs to kill apostates who dare to defy them, usually by slitting their throats. And they've done it: Krakauer hung his entire book on the murder of Brenda Lafferty and her year-old daughter, who were both killed by her husband's brothers because Brenda rejected (and mocked) her husband's desire to take plural wives. (Warren Jeffs also liked to rouse people out of their beds in the middle of the night for dramatic mass meetings testing their readiness for the Final Judgment -- meetings that had dark shades of Jonestown.) Brenda is the only one known to have been killed, but others who've left report being threatened with the same fate.

So ABC's reporters blather on about how these women aren't really brainwashed, because that would require coercion and being held physically against their will. One hopes that if they understood that they're holding forth about a group that routinely controls women by threatening to take away their kids -- and tells them that God justifies the slaying of wayward brides and their babies -- they'd change their minds and admit that this isn't just another odd, quaint sect on the American religious scene. Without that information, though, everything else that's going on in Texas loses much of its context.

This story is not pretty. The people are tragic. The magnitude of the depravity by any civilized metric is breathtaking. Background links here...

Link to a 2004 article by Jon Krakauer, to whom the author Mrs. Robinson refers.

He has done the homework already.
The YFZ Ranch is the focal point of events in the news. YFZ stands for "Yearning for Zion."

Jon Krakauer is the author of the best selling book "Under the Banner of Heaven." Primarily due to his exposure to the Fundamentalist Mormon community while writing the book, Krakauer has taken an active interest in the stories of the YFZ Ranch and the FLDS Church. He is also a survivor of the 1996 Mount Everest expedition that claimed the lives of four climbers and which later became the basis for another of his bestsellers "Into Thin Air." He also wrote "Into the Wild" and "Eiger Dreams."

Backgound article from The Independent (UK).

The police and child protection services knew as soon as the Eldorado ranch was built in 2004 that the fundamentalists were polygamists, with a track record of marrying off girls as young as 14 or 15 to church elders who might be in their 70s or 80s. They knew the only reason the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – or FLDS for short – had set up in Texas at all was because the law was bearing down, at last, on their long-standing settlement in the twin cities of Hildale and Colorado City on the Utah-Arizona border.

They even had an informant – almost certainly a former FLDS member – letting them know what was going on behind the walls of Yearning for Zion. Without a direct witness account, however, they did not have probable cause to make a move. Now they had it, and they didn't waste a second.

A detachment of Texas Rangers, along with local officers, swooped on the ranch 10 days ago – just ahead of the 6 April anniversary of the founding of the Mormon religion – and told the acting leader, Merrill Jessop, that they intended to search the place from top to bottom "at whatever cost that may be".
Those were not idle words. Rumours had been flying for years that the FLDS members at Eldorado were armed to the teeth, and that they had installed a high-grade incinerator for the express purpose of destroying human remains. Their "prophet" and leader Warren Jeffs, now serving prison time for his role in arranging the forced marriage of a teenage girl in Utah, has a reputation as a hardliner and a man who inspired great fear even in his own followers.

Nobody in America, meanwhile, could launch a raid on a fringe religious group without remembering the Waco disaster of 1993, when the FBI managed to set fire to a ranch belonging to the Branch Davidian sect at the end of a tense 51-day siege, killing 80 people.

All that Jessop and his followers offered, however, was passive resistance. Perhaps it would have been a different story if Jeffs were still there; perhaps the stories about him were exaggerated. About 60 church members fell to their knees sobbing and formed a ring around the large temple building at the centre of their community. Jessop refused to unlock the heavily bolted temple door, obliging police to call in experts who forced it open with the help of hydraulic tools.

The Mormons also played an elaborate shell-game with their children, moving them from house to house in a futile attempt to prevent at least some of them from being taken away. Their attitude, carefully cultivated by the leadership, was that any outsider to the community was an agent of Satan, so they certainly weren't about to co-operate, or even talk. The authorities ended up spending six days clearing the ranch of all but a few dozen adult males, who are staying put for now.
Of all the physical evidence gathered by investigators – genealogical records, financial accounts, computers, safes and so on – perhaps most eerie was a series of bedrooms on the third floor of the temple where the church's "spiritual" marriages are believed to have been consummated. On one of the beds they recovered a female hair, which they hope will help to bolster their case that the entire church operation is essentially a racket to turn teenage girls into sex slaves.

Tawdry stuff. There is a lot of ping-pong in Sara Robinson's comment thread with the word "brainwashing." Semantic irrelevance it seems to me. Someone characterized the group-think with a frog's being boiled alive because he didn't jump as the water got hotter. Mrs. Robinson's comment is priceless: No need to boil frogs. Just keep the tadpoles coming.

"Forty-five Minutes"

No, the video is only four minutes.
Forty-five minutes is how long it took a Clinton/Obama "debate" to address substantive questions.

"Florida sees $4 gas, and higher soon"

Read it and weep.

A recent government report predicts fuel prices will peak nationwide in June at $3.60 a gallon, up 60 cents from a summer ago. That will be enough to reduce overall gas consumption during the summer driving season -- a rarity not seen since the 1991 recession and one with broad implications for South Florida's tourism industry.

The Florida Keys depend on vacationers making the long drive down the island chain, and tourism officials there are already blaming high gas prices for a slowdown there. Broward depends on drive-in vacationers from around Florida in the summer, though Europeans are expected to cushion the blow for Miami-Dade hotels.

Max Alvarez has seen the higher prices cut into revenue at the dozens of stations his company owns and manages throughout South Florida. Demand is down about 15 percent over a year ago as motorists cut back on fill-ups.

''The motoring public is trying to save gas as much as they possibly can,'' said Alvarez, owner of Sunshine Gasoline Distributors. ``They're not so willing to drive around as they once were.''

Alvarez said his stations have not passed on the almost daily increases they're seeing in wholesale fuel prices for fear of driving down demand more. The closest any of his stations have gotten to the $4 mark is $3.79 for premium.

That's below the regional average of $3.88 for premium. If South Florida prices stay on pace with the past 30 days, premium will hit $4 a gallon sometime around May 8.

Oh, and do pay attention to John McCain.

...we are in very challenging times. We all recognize that. Families are sitting around the kitchen table this evening and figuring out whether they're going to be able to keep their home or not. They're figuring out whether they're - why it is that suddenly and recently someone in their family or their neighbor has lost their job. There's no doubt that we are in enormous difficulties.

I think if you look at the overall record and millions of jobs have been created, et cetera, et cetera, you could make an argument that there's been great progress economically over that period of time. But that's no comfort. That's no comfort to families now that are facing these tremendous economic challenges.

But let me just add, Peter, the fundamentals of America's economy are strong. We're the greatest exporter, the greatest importer, the greatest innovator, the greatest producer, still the greatest economic engine in the world. And, by the way, exports and free trade are a key element in economic recovery. But these are tough times, tough times, and nobody knows that more than American families including in small towns of Pennsylvania. They haven't lost their fundamental religious beliefs, their respect for the Constitution, their right to bear arms. They are still - keep America as a beacon of hope and freedom throughout the world.

Excuse me, but didn't Senator Obama say something like that and get into deep doo-doo?

I don't want to put words into the Senator's mouth, but even though McCain didn't use words like bitter and cling, his message and inferences were exactly the same.

Pot. Kettle. Black.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I Miss New York

Thanks, Abbas

...and check out the thumbnails.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Leila Abu-Saba on Forgiveness

Leila Abu-Saba is one of the gems in my blogroll. Her posts are better than a tall cup of hot chocolate. Her essay on forgiveness is one of the best explanations for this core value of Christianity that I have read lately.

If someone has done something you think is absolutely wrong, and you harbor anger and resentment, your feelings will cause you harm. Does repressed resentment cause illness? I don't have scientific data for it, but resentment causes all kinds of emotional problems, and those can cause illness. People in physical crisis are often asked to practice forgiving old angers and resentments as part of gaining peace of mind, which contributes to healing.

You could try to forgive your enemies out of a sense of duty or moral righteousness: "to be a good person, I must forgive this criminal." But many of us might question why? Why bother with this charade?

If you only forgive in order to feel that you are doing the right thing, you won't get the benefit of forgiveness. It will be a kind of performance, a fake, an act in the sense of doing something that is not felt sincerely, in order to please or entertain others.
In forgiving, you renounce anger or resentment against someone else. The act of forgiveness, genuine forgiveness, causes a change in the forgiver. Try it. Personally, I have felt a physical release from practicing forgiveness. I also feel emotional relief.

Judy in comments below asks how are we to forgive (for instance) Israelis who cause such suffering to Palestinians in Gaza today? Perhaps an Israeli suffering from the aftereffects of a bombing may ask the same - how to forgive Palestinians who cause his neighbors pain?

This question matters a great deal to me, because I am struggling with metastatic cancer to my liver, and believe that forgiving my enemies will help me heal. My father died in September of 2006, just after the Israeli attack on Lebanon. This war seemed to accelerate his final illness, which proceeded with terrifying rapidity.

The barrage of cluster bombs Israel left upon the fields and mountainsides of South Lebanon has felt like an unforgivable sin to me. Somehow the seeding of the land of Lebanon with a million pellets of death has appeared the most insurmountable obstacle to forgiving and moving on. I associate it with the whole horror of that war and my father's sudden decline and death. The land of Lebanon was poisoned, my father died of poison/cancer, and now here I am fighting innumerable tiny lesions in my liver, like mirrors of the cluster bombs embedded into my organs. Some things feel unforgivable; for me, this is one.

She's just getting warmed up. Go read the whole thing...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Torture in Your Name, Mister or Missus American

Torture? What?
We're better than that!
Just a few bad apples, they said.
But the bad apples weren't at the bottom of the barrel.
They were right on top.

Digby lays it out...

There was a time when the Village clucked and screeched about "defiling the white house" with an extra marital affair or hosting fund raising coffees. I would say this leaves a far greater stain on that institution than any sexual act could ever do. They did this in your name, Americans.

The vice president, national security advisor and members of the president's cabinet sat around the white house "choreographing" the torture and the president approved it. I have to say that even in my most vivid imaginings about this torture scheme it didn't occur to me that the highest levels of the cabinet were personally involved... much less that we would reach a point where the president of the United States would shrug his shoulders and say he approved.

Read the whole thing if you have the stomach. I'm already in the choir so she's not preaching to me. As an American I'm already embarrassed.

Basra Note, 2008

The U.S. occupation of Iraq is one of the longest military engagements in our history, longer than either world war or the Civil War. My view from a couple of years ago is that our children and grandchildren will be paying taxes to maintain troops in Iraq, rather like we do in Korea and other parts of the world. National interests, don't you know. (Make that read "petroleum.") I am not misled by the political positioning of any of the candidates running for president. I think most of my fellow Americans are living in a dream world. Those who think that taking out the troops will end our problems don't have a clue. And those who imagine that words like victory, win and finish the job have meaning are even more deluded.

Meantime, as the picture becomes increasingly complicated, here is a good summary from Zayed, one of Iraq's most durable and clear-minded bloggers. He is a dentist by trade, and his blog is Healing Iraq.

This would be amusing if it were not so tragic. The US military, knowingly or not, is fighting Iran's wars for them in Iraq, not against Iran. SIIC and Da'wa (Iran's strongest allies in Iraq) are determined to retain control of the Shi'ite south, and the crackdown against the Sadrists, which caused them to revolt, is a feeble attempt to prevent them from taking over in the upcoming provincial elections. And to describe this ongoing intra-Shi'ite conflict as "the government of Iraq against criminals" is ludicrous at best, as the so-called "government of Iraq" had no problem in the near past when those hordes of criminals were taking to the streets cleansing Baghdad and the south from Sunnis with the active participation of "Iraqi security forces." But as we say in Arabic: 'If you know then it is a calamity. If you don't know then it is a greater one.'

Before you dig into the links, be aware that there is a lot to learn. I lost track some time ago trying to keep up with the various Iraqi parties, tribes, groups and regional interests. This part of the world had an ancient history before Rome was built so it is very hard for a modern American to understand what's happening there.

I have seen how GI's behave in an ancient land because I was a draftee who was sent to Korea in 1966. That was during the Vietnam Era and Korea was at peace. Even so, it is not a pretty picture. My peers, for the most part, were well-behaved, but in the eyes of respectable Koreans were mostly regarded as a crowd of Philistines. I cannot imagine that what remains of Iraqi respectable society has any better view of their US military "peace keepers."

Expert: Current Iraq fighting not good guys vs bad

How can our leaders celebrate this diffusion of power as effective state building? More accurately described, it has placed the United States astride several civil wars. And it allows all sides to consolidate, rearm, and refill their financial coffers at the US expense.

To sum up, we face a deteriorating political situation with an over extended army. When the administration's witnesses appear before you, you should make them clarify how long the army and marines can sustain this band-aid strategy.

The only sensible strategy is to withdraw rapidly but in good order. Only that step can break the paralysis now gripping US strategy in the region.

Link to General Odom's testimony last week.

...on more than one occasion that the problems with this narrative arise when the Bush administration believes its own propaganda and then formulates policy as if it were true. That's an endemic problem with the neocon War party - as the lack of post-invasion planning attendant on the belief that "we will be greeted like liberators" or the almost year-long lag in addressing the general Sunni insurgency brought about by their insistence that any and all insurgents must be foreign fighters attested.

In their rush to catapult their preferred narrative - one that essentially gives Iran and its main allies a free hand in Iraq - both the Bush administration and its neocon Wormtongued advisors are deliberately forgetting even their own previous narrative.

Iraq, Iran And The Memory Hole

Contrasting old and new societies reminds me of something I heard years ago. Few people now remember Harry Golden, maverick Jewish publisher from the Sixties who wrote the Carolina Israelite. Very witty guy. I heard him speak once when I was in college. He delivered a great line: When Europeans were still roaming the forests, painting their bodies green, the Jews already had diabetes.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Let Them Eat Dirt

When farm products are used to make fuel instead of food the price of food goes up.
This is not rocket science. It's supply and demand at its most basic.
Is anyone connecting the dots?
The price of food in poor countries is skyrocketing around the world and the so-called "developed" world doesn't have a clue.
Some development.

For most Americans, the rising prices at the supermarket are definitely an annoyance, but hardly a threat to life and health. It's a different story in countries like Haiti, where food inflation has led to real hunger and, last week, to riots.

News reports say the poorest Haitians are trying to get by on cookies made with dirt, vegetable oil and salt. Food riots also have roiled Egypt and led to a general strike in Burkina Faso in West Africa. The high cost of corn, wheat, soybeans and other basics of the world's diet could soon start bringing down governments.

Investor's Business Daily...more at the link.

It was lunchtime in one of Haiti’s worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud.

With food prices rising, Haiti’s poorest can’t afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies.

Charlene, 16 with a one-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country’s central plateau.

The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.

“When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day,” Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking slightly thinner than the slim 6 pounds 3 ounces he weighed at birth.

Though she likes their buttery, salty taste, Charlene said the cookies also give her stomach pains. “When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky too,” she said.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is increasingly concerned about food prices, which are up as much as 40 percent on some Caribbean islands. Floods and crop damage from the 2007 hurricane season forced the agency to declare states of emergency in Haiti and several other countries.

Health Sentinel

Here's another one from The Independent (UK):

The other global crisis: rush to biofuels is driving up price of food

There have been riots in Niger, Senegal, Cameroon and Burkina Faso and protests in Mauritania, Ivory Coast, Egypt and Morocco. Mexico has had "tortilla riots" and, in Yemen, children have marched to draw attention to their hunger.

The global price of wheat has risen by 130 per cent in the past year. Rice has rocketed by 74 per cent in the same period. It went up by more than 10 per cent in a single day last Friday – to an all-time high as African and Asian importers competed for the diminishing supply on international markets in an attempt to head off the mounting social unrest. The International Rice Research Institute warned yesterday that prices will keep going up.

The buffers stocks of staple foods that governments once held are being steadily exhausted.

American Idol sings "Shout to the Lord"

This. Is. Important.

I have complained on this blog about pop theology that is a mile wide but inches deep. I stand by those complaints because too many feel-good, cheap grace messages can do more harm than good to Christ's Church.

But to that reservation I have to add that when you're in a desert some water is better than no water at all. I remember reading an interview with Billy Graham in which he said that as an evangelist his mission was very specific: bring the Good News to those who have not heard it and move on to the next venue. Lee Buck was the only world class evangelist I had the honor to know personally and he showed everyone he came near the importance of that ministry. See how he lived the "five foot rule."

Evangelism is a ministry of rifle shots, not shotgun blasts. When the target is hit, local congregations must then see to it that new Christians are properly cared for.

This American Idol production last night was a rifle shot.

Let's pray that congregations all over the place are ready for what can happen next.

While we're at it, here is another video I watched this morning while surfing. I came across it after revisiting an old post about Days of Elijah I put together in October, 2007

Here is a version by Paul Wilbur who I think is a Messianic Jew.
Enjoy (and listen).


The post is less than three hours old and the first comment is from a self-described atheist who feels the song is inappropriate and doesn't like "shoving this propaganda down my child's throat." I guess one kind of evangelism calls for another. Sigh.

Oh, and Christians are complaining that the name of Jesus was edited out, too. No matter what you do, some people will never be satisfied.

I'm remined of what someone said about the Puritan fear that someone, somewhere might be happy. We have come to an advanced stage of civilization where we now have Puritan Atheists.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

"Over the Rainbow" by Jason Castro

Regular readers here know my affection and interest in this tune.

It all started with a video of a pug and a baby growing up together. Israel Kamakawiwo's music was the background and Dr. Bob picked up on it right away.
The rest is in the archives.

Best Friends Video -- Pug and Toddler

Israel Kamakawiwo Sings Over the Rainbow

Connie Talbot Sings "Over the Rainbow" (Updated)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

CPDRC Concepts -- Philippine prison management (Update)

I can't figure out how videos puzzle together with prison management, but it seems to be working in the Phillippines. I came across the dancing inmates last year and was caught by a voyeuristic impulse.

CPDRC Concepts -- Philippine prison management

This most recent release seems to be something of a political protest. Someone disrespected the local Cardinal and this video was put together in "protest."

Prisoners of Cebu Province are angry at Rodolfo Noel “Jun” Lozada Jr. for his statements against the Archdiocese of Cebu and its leader, Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, according to Capitol Security Consultant Byron Garcia.

To show their outrage, inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center will hold a dance presentation tomorrow to send Lozada the message. It will be viewable by the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“The inmates got irked after they saw on TV how he talked about the Cardinal,” Garcia said.

Garcia said the inmates love the Cardinal, especially after the prelate took time to hold Mass and talk to the prisoners last December.

Garcia said Nilo Quirante, leader of the inmates, informed him of the inmates’ idea of a dance. The aim was to tell Lozada “not to bring his thirst for publicity to Cebu” and to show support for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whom Lozada has accused of corruption.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Clarence Jones on C-SPAN

This morning's Washington Journal featured a segment with Clarence Jones, former attorney and speechwriter for Martin Luther King, Jr. What was planned as a routine Q & A of an author of a new book became instead one of the most engaging twenty minute segment I have ever seen on C-SPAN. Mr. Jones tells the story of how he was recruited into the Civil Rights movement by Dr. King.

This man is a national treasure and his story is not to be missed. In a clear and exciting narrative he leads the listener through one of the best first-person accounts of how he was led to make a personal commitment to King's historic movement.

I wish there were a way to embed the segment, but the reader will have to go to the C-SPAN link and watch it there.

Here is the link to today's show....

Drag the timer to the last twenty minutes of the program (2:40:00).

Wednesday, April 02, 2008