Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Bridge to Terabithia: An Appreciation

Bridge to Terabithia
An Appreciation

Maybe I’m a crank; possibly I’m just rooting for the underdog; I, however, like to think I have a finely tuned fannish sensibility.

Back when Steven Spielberg’s ET (the film about the good aliens) was setting a box-office record that would stand for a decade, I was fonder of a movie that got lost in the shuffle: the remake of The Thing (the bad-alien movie), starring Kurt Russell and based on John W. Campbell’s classic short story “Who Goes There?”.

Then when the world was going ga-ga over The Matrix, I kept pleading in vain for people to also see what I considered to be a better artificial-reality film, The 13th Floor, starring the underappreciated Gretchen Mol and based on the science-fiction novel Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye.

It’s happened again. In the last year there have been 2 big-budget films aimed squarely at the young-adult market: Narnia and Eragon. Now along comes a similar film with an FX budget that was probably put together with the spare change swept off the accounting-room floor from those other 2: Bridge to Terabithia, based on the novel by Katherine Paterson.

(And maybe we’re getting lucky. I have yet to see The Last Mimzy, based on “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” by Lewis Padgett [really Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore], but I was favorably impressed by the brief clips shown on Ebert & Roeper and reassured by the fact that Richard Roeper didn’t get it.)

Yes, Terabithia is aimed at the youth market. And, yes, this is evidenced by the fact that over 90% of its screen time is devoted to its 2 young leads, Josh Hutcherson as Jesse Aarons and AnnaSophia Robb as Leslie Burke. They play school kids in about 6th or 7th grade. There is no sex. Notwithstanding all of this, it is a love story, and I believe adults will find it as deeply moving as teens, perhaps more so.

Ostensibly, of course, it’s a fantasy, but it’s a fantasy grounded in a world of solid reality. Jesse is the lone boy among 5 kids in a hardscrabble family in a losing battle with the mortgage. His parents love him in a kind of distracted, distant way. He’s a quiet kid who’d rather be alone with his drawings of imaginary worlds and creatures.

Leslie is the new girl in town. Her parents are writers, and they’re currently wrapped up in their new book project and have little time for her. She’s had kind of a bohemian upbringing, dresses funny, and isn’t at all concerned with social conventions. (She’s perfectly willing, for example, to join in a footrace with the boys, something that’s evidently Not Done Here.)

These 2 are the butt of jokes and pranks. Jesse’s folks are always telling him to get more down to Earth, to get his head out of the clouds. But they at least pay attention; Leslie’s mom and dad are practically invisible. Nobody really understands these kids, and their loneliness is palpable.

They are fans.

They never use the term, of course, because they haven’t discovered science fiction or fandom. But they both have vivid imaginations, and once they meet (shyly, awkwardly), they give each other license to let those imaginations flourish. They live just down the road from each other, and nearby is a creek with a rope swing that they use to cross over to a wooded area that becomes their fantasy land, which they name Terabithia. Here their flights of fancy come to life. Squirrels become ogres, pinecones become grenades, hornets become miniature armored warriors, and a gnarly old tree becomes a giant troll. A deserted tree house becomes their castle. And you see it all magically transform itself thru their eyes.

Because this is a movie about people, not razzle-dazzle, the limited and subtle use of CGI is all the more effective for judiciously picking its moments. It’s just a lovely scene when Leslie is standing in front of the class, reading aloud her essay on scuba diving, and Jesse visualizes the bubbles emerging from her nose and fish swimming past her eyes.

These are folks as real as the ones next door. In small roles as roving music teacher Ms. Edmonds and Jesse’s younger sister Maybelle, Zooey Deschanel and little Bailee Madison strike just the right notes. And Robert Patrick has never been better than here as Jesse’s hard-working, no-nonsense father.

No empires rise or fall here. Nobody travels faster than light. The rent still comes due, and no magic makes it all better. Destiny will not turn on the events depicted.

Bridge to Terabithia is a small film, but one that never strikes a false note. It goes straight to the heart and gets it right every time.

By the time Jesse and Leslie realize that they love each other, I had come to love them both.

I think you will too.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Teach the ENTIRE Bible

2007 Mar. 26

Letters to the Editor

As an ardent, activist atheist, I wish to add my hearty second to David Van Biema’s proposal (April 2 issue) to add the Bible to the curriculum of our public high schools. I do so for the same reason I support teaching English, keyboarding, and the US Constitution: because it’s useful knowledge for informed citizens in a democracy.

My only caution (aside from the obvious “teach it, don’t preach it”, which Van Biema covered well) is this: Teach it ALL!

We wouldn’t pick just bits and pieces of, say, Macbeth, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, 1984, or Catch-22 in a literature class. We’d expect the students to read the entire work, cover to cover. Just so with the Bible.

I’d want a guarantee that students would be exposed not merely to the pleasing platitudes that preachers cherry-pick for their Sunday sermons each week. They should also see all the stupidity, cruelty, arrogance, contradictions, pettiness, racism, and sexism that the Bible has in abundance. Many teachers of literature justly extol the soaring poetry and stately cadences of some of the Bible’s finer writing, but they too often skip over their least favorite parts -- the mindlessly dreary, plodding “begats” and other passages that the average teenager would rightly liken to spending spring break in Snooze-Out City, just prior to asking “Is THIS the best that divine inspiration could produce?”. It would be swell if students were encouraged to ask why God had it in for graven images, but somehow “Treat women and black people as fellow human beings.” didn’t make it into his Top 10.

Van Biema quoted a couple of religiously motivated sources of pedagogical information about the Bible. It’s too bad he didn’t do a simple web search to come up with 2 invaluable resources:
that provide exactly what their parent organization (OABITAR) claims: Objectivity, Accuracy, and Balance In Teaching About Religion.

I must confess that my enthusiasm for this proposal is not entirely selfless. As an atheist, I totally subscribe to the position espoused by the late, great Isaac Asimov: “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”

Let’s get started!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bush Says "Trust Me"

Don't worry about possible corruption or influence-peddling in the firing of the US attorneys. Why not? Well, we have it on literally the highest authority -- Dear Leader George W. Bush -- that there were no irregularities. "We did nothing wrong.", he insists.

Subpoenas? We don't need no stinkin' subpoenas! Can't we just settle this like gentlemen, with a little quiet conversation? Behind closed doors? Without witnesses? Or notes?

The subtext: "Trust me."

It's probably never going to happen unless he starts hitting the sauce again*, but O how I would love to hear these words falling from his lips on national TV: "Would I lie to you?".

- - - - - -
* a non-trivial possibility, given the way things are going

= = = = = =
If George W. Bush said the Sun rises in the east, I’d be up tomoro at dawn with a compass in my hand.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

An Open Letter to the UW Women's Hockey Team

You are the champions. You have reached the pinnacle — the top honor in your sport. You worked hard to get to this moment, so savor it, bask in it, glory in it, relish it for every possible second, and don't let anything detract from it.

Including this essay. Stop reading now, clip it out, file it away, and wait a year before reading it.

OK, back again? Let me add a little perspective.

When you won the NCAA Championship in Lake Placid, you undoubtedly heard that the place where you were playing, the Herb Brooks Ice Arena, was the site of the famous "Miracle on Ice" — the 1980 Olympics where Team USA beat the mighty Soviet Union. You've probably heard it referred to as the greatest moment in hockey.

More than that, tho. It was the greatest moment in sports.

Any sport.


Better than the Ice Bowl in Green Bay.

Better than Secretariat's Triple Crown.

Better than Michael Jordan's buzzer-beating jumper to win his 6th NBA title.

Better than baseball's "shot heard round the world".

Better than the yacht America heading for the finish line in the 1851 trans-Atlantic regatta, with a hopeful British sovereign asking "And who is in 2nd place?", only to be told "There is no 2nd, your majesty."

Still, the actual event happened well before any of you were born, so it may be that your best knowledge of it comes from the 2004 movie "Miracle", starring Kurt Russell as Coach Herb Brooks. While it is an excellent film, it does have one weakness: It doesn't adequately convey just how amazingly good the Soviet hockey team was.

Let me fill in that blank a bit.

You may have heard that every Catholic high school in America is a farm team for Notre Dame football. Imagine, if you will, that we are talking not just the parochial schools but EVERY high school, in a country larger than the US. There is no football in this country to serve as a distraction. There is some basketball, but, with a climate like Canada's, kids heading out to play in April and September aren't shooting hoops in the driveway, they're strapping on the skates to slap the puck around a little. Hockey is a birthright and a way of life.

This is the Soviet Union of the late Cold War. It's a fairly grim place. There are few colleges and universities to aspire to. Since it's a socialist dictatorship, without free enterprise, you can't get rich at ANY occupation, let alone sports.

It's a good thing for the Russian players that they have pride of accomplishment, because they don't have much else. The national team ranges in age from early 20s to mid-30s, but many of them are still bachelors, having lived most of their lives in dorms and barracks.

You know what life is like at the University of Wisconsin. There are hockey practices and games, of course, but also classes and schoolwork, a social life, boyfriends, finding a place to live, roommate issues, trips home, vacations, and a dozen other distractions. Not nearly so much of that for the members of the Soviet team. They don't get a well rounded liberal-arts education. They are hockey specialists.

And they don't seem to get much pleasure out of it, either. Unlike the pictures of you and your teammates in the paper — beaming with joy, jumping up and down, grinning from ear to ear as you hold that championship trophy on high — you will never find a picture of the Russian players so much as smiling.

In the Soviet Union there are rigid social expectations. If you show any promise at all in sports, you get routed into a rigorous training program than funnels its very best players into the national team.

That's "team", singular. The talent isn't spread around among a bunch of ruffly equal squads in a league intended to entertain the fans. Soviet hockey is a propaganda tool to show the superiority of a Communist society, intended to awe and intimidate.

Contract negotiations? There are no contract negotiations. Every member of the Soviet team is an "amateur", on leave from the Red Army, where his military duty consists of ... playing hockey. 350 days a year. (No religious holidays, of course, but even the Red Army granted 2 weeks' annual leave.)

And if a hot new kid comes up thru the ranks, there's no dewy-eyed nostalgia about "good old Dmitri, who's meant so much to this program thru the years". Dmitri's out; Sergei's in; let's get back to work.

Ruthless, efficient, and very, very effective. The Russians didn't just PLAY hockey; they OWNED it. They didn't just BEAT their opponents, they CRUSHED them. They annihilated them. In a sport where a typical score is 2-1, the Russians regularly ran up double digits.

And most other teams (including NHL All-Star teams put together for the specific purpose of beating the Soviets in exhibition games) considered it a moral victory if they scored AT ALL against Vladislav Tretiak, widely considered to be the best goalie ever to play the game.

This was the team that the USSR sent to Lake Placid in 1980.

The film does give some glimmer of how unbelievably dominant it was. The game is winding down, with the Americans clinging to a 1-point lead as the increasingly desperate Russians mount a ferocious assault. (For the game, they had 39 shots on goal to Team USA's 16.) The US coaches are laying plans for how to respond after Russian Coach Viktor Tikhonov pulls his goalie. But the seconds continue to tick away, and Tikhonov just stands there, frozen, facing the rink in disbelief.

In the audience, we start to wonder "My God! Is he afraid that if he loses his family will be shot?". Then one of the assistant coaches whispers in wonder "He doesn't know what to do!". And you realize that the REASON he doesn't know what to do is because he's never been in this situation before. He's never been trailing at the end of a game. He's never lost. Never!

The final seconds expire. Announcer Al Michaels asks "Do you believe in miracles?" And almost everybody thot they had just witnessed one.

It wasn't really a miracle, of course. It was lots and lots and lots of hard work (you understand that part), incredible dedication, smart coaching, and a few lucky breaks.

Now, with all due respect, your own championship consisted of beating other college hockey teams, consisting entirely of amateurs who will not make a living in the sport, operating in a 4-year window of opportunity, from a talent pool that's spread all around the continent. And, if you followed my advice and waited a year to read this, you know that by now they've handed out another trophy. If you've built well, you will have started a dynasty, and the 2008 team will also be wearing cardinal and white with wave "W"s. But maybe not. In any event, your own achievements will be last year's news.

But there's something else you achieved, and I want to be sure you understand how important it is.

At the end of the 1980 Olympics, the magnificent USSR hockey team had scored 3 goals. Team USA had scored 4. And you know that nice guy on the bench behind you? Your coach, Mark Johnson? He had 2 of them.

Your championship was terrific. Congratulations again.

But, more than that, you have been in the presence of greatness. I hope you appreciate that.

I do.

And I don't even LIKE hockey.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Boys' Names These Days

283 Names from the rosters of the 20 teams participating in the
2007 Wisconsin State Boys' High School Basketball Tournament

"Richard" and "Russell" are totally missing, and "Steven" is holding on by its fingernails.

2 Aaron
3 Adam
2 Alex
2 Andrew
1 Andy
1 Armon
1 Augie
1 Austin
1 Beau
5 Ben
1 Bernie
1 Blake
1 Bobbie
1 Brad
1 Brady
2 Brandon
1 Brent
1 Bret
1 Brett
2 Brian
1 Brock
2 Bryan
1 Bryant
1 Bryquis
1 Cameron
1 Chase
4 Chris
1 Christopher
2 Cody
1 Cole
1 Colin
1 Collin
1 Conner
1 Connor
1 Corey
2 Cory
3 Dan
1 Daniel
1 Darius
1 Darryn
1 Daryl
1 David
1 Debonair
1 Delmarius
2 Derek
1 Derick
1 Derk
1 Devon
1 Devonte
1 Diante
1 Dominique
1 Donne
1 Dwayne
1 Dylan
1 Ed
1 EJ
5 Eric
2 Ethan
1 Fred
3 Greg
1 Hans
1 Isaac
1 Jack
2 Jacob
1 Jade
6 Jake
2 James
1 Jamie
1 Jamison
4 Jared
1 Jarvis
3 Jason
1 Javar
1 Jay
1 Jayme
1 Jeronne
1 Jesse
1 Jimmy
2 Joe
1 Joel
5 John
2 Jon
1 Jonny
3 Jordan
7 Josh
2 Justin
1 Kahelote
1 Karl
1 Kasey
1 Keaton
1 Kendall
1 Kenny
2 Kevin
1 Kilian
1 Kirk
1 Klint
1 Kris
1 Kurt
3 Kyle
1 Kyler
1 Laddie
1 Lance
1 Landon
1 LaQuan
1 Latrell
1 Lee
2 Lucas
4 Luke
2 Marc
3 Mark
2 Marty
1 Marvin
8 Matt
6 Michael
9 Mike
5 Mitch
1 Mitchell
3 Nate
3 Nathan
8 Nick
1 Noah
2 Patrick
3 Paul
1 Quintin
1 Ray
2 Rob
1 Robby
1 Robert
1 Ronnie
1 Ross
1 Roy
10 Ryan
1 Rylan
4 Sam
3 Scott
1 Sean-Patrick
1 Shane
1 Shawn
1 Sky
1 Skylar
1 Stephen
3 Steve
1 Steven
1 Teddy
1 Tim
1 Tom
1 Tony
1 Travis
2 Trent
2 Trevor
1 Tristan
1 Tyler
1 WQuinton
1 Xavier
1 Yusef
1 Zac
4 Zach
1 Zack

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Recently Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, commented publicly that the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy with regard to gays and lesbians was a good idea, because homosexuality is immoral.

Did I miss something? Isn't this "expert" on immorality the top dude in a huge governmental agency whose primary job is killing people?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Girls' Names These Days

273 names from the rosters of the 20 teams participating in the
2007 WIAA State Girls' High School Basketball Tournament

1 Abbey
4 Abby
1 Alex
1 Alexa
1 Alexis
1 Ali
1 Alison
1 Allie
3 Allison
1 Ally
1 Allyssa
1 Alysha
2 Alyssa
4 Amanda
1 Amy
3 Andrea
1 Angela
6 Anna
2 April
1 Aryn
9 Ashley
1 Ayla
1 Becky
2 Beth
1 Briana
1 Brianna
1 Brianne
1 Britney
1 Britta
4 Brittany
2 Brittney
1 Brooke
1 Caitlin
1 Caitlyn
1 Callie
1 Carly
1 Carol
1 Caroline
1 Carolyn
1 Casie
1 Cassie
1 Celsey
1 Chelan
1 Chelsea
1 Chelsey
1 Christina
2 Claire
3 Courtney
1 Dana
1 Danielle
1 Delaney
1 Destinee
2 Dominique
1 Eileen
1 Ellen
1 Ellyn
1 Elyse
5 Emily
1 Erika
2 Erin
1 Fynese
1 Gina
1 Hailey
1 Halie
1 Hannah
2 Heather
1 Hilary
2 Holly
1 J'ana
2 Jackie
1 Jade
1 Jamie
1 Janelle
1 Jasmyne
1 Jazzmine
1 Jen
1 Jena
1 Jenn
1 Jenna
2 Jennifer
2 Jenny
1 Jess
4 Jessica
1 Jessy
1 Jordana
1 Julia
1 Julie
1 Kaitlyn
1 Kalynn
1 Kara
1 Karlie
1 Karly
1 Kassi
3 Kate
1 Katey
8 Katie
3 Kayla
1 Kaylee
1 Kelesy
1 Kelli
1 Kellly
5 Kelsey
1 Kim
1 Korina
2 Krista
1 Kristen
1 Kristin
1 Kristine
8 Laura
1 Lauren
1 Leah
1 Letaya
1 Lindsay
2 Lindsey
1 Liz
1 MaeKenzy
1 Mallori
1 Mallory
1 Margaret
1 Marie
1 Marissa
1 Marlee
2 Mary
1 Marybeth
5 Megan
2 Melissa
1 Merissa
5 Michelle
1 MJ
2 Molly
2 Morgan
1 Myranda
3 Nicole
1 Nimerya
1 Olivia
1 Opal
2 Paige
2 Rachael
4 Rachel
1 Radonna
1 Ramanda
1 Renee
3 Sam
1 Samanatha
1 Samantha
1 Samara
3 Sarah
1 Shalina
1 Shaniqua
1 Shannon
2 Shauna
1 Sheila
1 Shelby
1 Ssarina
1 Stacy
1 Steph
2 Stephanie
1 Susan
1 Tami
1 Tamika
1 Taryn
1 Tasha
1 Tashawna
2 Taylor
1 Teri
1 Tia
1 Toni
1 Tori
1 Val
1 Valerie
1 Vanessa
1 Veronica
1 Victoria
1 Whitley
2 Whitney

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

In Praise of George Washington

I had hoped to post this essay on Presidents' Day, but it got crowded out by other activities. Better late than never, I suppose.

The other day a friend was showing me some of the new golden dollar coins. You will recall that the silver-colored Susan B. Anthony coins never caut on, nor did their successors, the gold-colored Sacagawea coins. Some people blame this on the fact that they depicted women. I blame it on the fact that they were competing with -- and losing to -- $1 bills. We won't have a successful $1 coin in this country until the government retires that denomination, and all the vending machines and parking meters and laundromats start accepting the coins out of necessity.

This logic has not proved persuasive to the US Treasury, which is trying for a 3rd time to find the magic formula for acceptance. Building on the success of the state-quarter program, they have started to issue $1 coins with the likenesses of all the presidents, in order, starting this year with George Washington.

They have made a few other improvements as well. To keep the design clean, they've moved a lot of the minor stuff to the edge of the coin. Thus the US's real motto "E Pluribus Unum", its fake mccarthyite motto "In God We Trust", the year of minting, and the initial letter of the mint city all appear around the outer edge of the coin, where you would normally expect to find milling.

Aside: Centuries ago, when the value of a coin was closely related to the value of the metal in it, the unscrupulous would use a sharp, sturdy blade to shave away some of the metal around the circumference. Do this often enuf, and you eventually have a little pile of valuable metal shavings that can be melted down for their intrinsic value, thereby turning a tidy profit on nothing more than having had a lot of coins pass thru your possession. To foil this practice, mints began scribing tiny vertical lines -- called "milling" -- on the edges of coins, so a person could tell at a glance whether it had been shaved. (The modern US penny and nickel don't have milling, because nobody is dumb enuf to try to shave them for the value of their copper and nickel, but all the others do.)

The best improvement on the new $1 coin is one that will probably go totally unappreciated by US citizens: It contains a digit. Yes, a real number, the only US coin to have one. (Dig into your pocket, pull out a handful of change, and imagine you're a tourist from, say, the Czech Republic trying to figure out which coin is worth how much. And don't expect to be able to tell based on their size, either.)

Anyway, all of the foregoing is merely a sidelight to the real thing I'd like to write about today. When my friend showed me that $1 coin, my first reaction was to remark on how grumpy George Washington looked. And that's a shame, because it's going to color the impressions a lot of Americans will hold about him.

We stand in serious danger of taking George Washington for granted. And we should not.

Yes, it sometimes seems as if half of America is named for him: our capital city, a state, a county in each state, a big bridge in New York, a giant phallic symbol in DC, a university, and more. His face appears on both a coin (the quarter) and a bill (the 1) as well as Mount Rushmore and half the grade-school classrooms in America.

But this very ubiquity makes him seem common and ordinary -- part of the background noise, like cicadas on a summer day, easy to tune out. And there's always the nagging suspicion that this universality was not due to any innate qualities but simply due to the accident that somebody had to be 1st, and he was it.

I will shortly get to listing some of Washington's actual virtues and accomplishments, but let me start by pointing out the degree of the esteem accorded to him by his contemporaries. On any number of occasions, the people who were assembling our nation from disparate components, dueling philosophies, and giant egos had occasion to choose from among themselves someone whose stature commanded the kind of respect that could ensure real discussion (instead of haggling and posturing) and inspire people to put duty above privilege or personality.

There were many worthy candidates for leadership positions. A roster of them is rather staggering. These weren't just a few stars, not even a major constellation -- this was a galaxy of immensely competent, intelligent, talented, and accomplished individuals: Richard Henry Lee, George Mason, Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, John Jay, Edmund Randolph, Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson.

Yet, of all of these, who was picked as president of the Constitutional Convention? George Washington. Unanimously. And whom did the Electoral College pick as 1st president of the United States? George Washington. Unanimously. And, after his 1st term of office was up, and he'd had to make the sort of hard decisions that were pretty much guaranteed to piss at least some people off, whom did the Electoral College pick to succeed him? George Washington. Unanimously.

Not for nothing did Henry Lee eulogize him at his funeral as "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."

Washington was a physically imposing man -- a sturdy, strapping 188 cm (6'2") tall in an era when people were shorter than today. His early life as a surveyor in Virginia and soldier on the western frontier reinforced his genetics with well honed muscle.

In 1755's Battle of the Monongohela on the western frontier, on a day that was pretty much a disaster for the British regulars and the Virginia colonials serving with them, Washington had 2 horses shot out from under him and had 4 bullets pass thru his coat. Yet, unharmed, he rallied the troops and organized an orderly retreat. His reputation was well underway and well earned.

As the commanding general of American forces in the Revolutionary War, he didn't just send his soldiers into battle, he led them -- at Boston, at Valley Forge, crossing the Delaware, and finally at Yorktown. Even as president, when he could have sent someone else to put down the Whiskey Rebellion, he rode at the head of the troops. Small wonder that he inspired fanatical loyalty among those who served under him. At the end of the Revolutionary War, as he resigned his commission to return to the life of a gentleman farmer in Virginia, many of his officers wept openly.

He could have been king. Offended at the very idea that a war fought to found a republic should result in a monarchy, he emphatically refused.

But, when the Articles of Confederation proved unequal to the task of governing the wild new land, George Washington was willing to lead it in a different manner. He left his life of relative ease on his Virginia plantation in Mount Vernon to once again answer the call of duty. He presided over the Constitutional Convention and served 2 terms as president. Ever vigilant against the merest hint of monarchy, the only honorific he felt appropriate for the position was the lowest-common-denominator "Mr. President".

During his tenure, he created the federal government essentially from scratch.

He named to his cabinet individuals who were highly competent in their own fields -- Hamilton at Treasury, Jefferson at State, Randolph as attorney general, Jay as Chief Justice -- despite the fact that many of them were political rivals and really didn't like each other very much. But they were willing to work together under Washington. Who would dare not to?

Under his administration, the United States engaged in financial responsibility. It could have repudiated the war debt, which had been authorized by 2 different pre-Constitutional governments. He did not. To him it was a debt not only of money but of honor. He and Hamilton saw to it that the money issued by the United States was worth what it claimed to be, no small matter for a newborn nation.

Under Washington's guidance, the original 13 colonies gave up their land claims beyond the Alleghenies. During his administration, 2 of those territories -- Kentucky and Tennessee -- became states in their own rights, setting a pattern that would eventually raise the number of states from the original 13 to the current 50.

He regularized relations with England, our former colonial masters, and oversaw the openings of diplomatic relations with many other countries, as America took its place among the community of nations.

Many other precedents Washington set then are still with us today. Foremost among them was the idea that one should not hold onto power too long. Just as he had resigned his generalship after the war was won, so too did he call it quits after the government was well launched, at the end of his 2nd term. He was then only 65.

His farewell address (actually a letter, not a speech) spoke forcefully in favor of national unity, of putting patriotism above regionalism or political differences. He reinforced the idea that the US should be a nation of laws, not men. Spend prudently, he cautioned, and do not abuse national credit, but always be willing to spend adequately to prepare for danger. "Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all." But, he added, beware of foreign entanglements. Don't choose sides in the wars and disputes of Europe.

Washington was not perfect. He had his failings. He was, like most of his contemporary founders, a slave owner. As president, he could have vetoed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, but he signed it. He wasn't a particularly eloquent speaker or writer, tho everybody listened when he had something to say. As a general, he didn't win every battle he chose to fight. Himself irreligious, he thot that religion among the common people was a boon to morality, which made him a bit hypocritical on that point. But these are quibbles.

George Washington died at Mount Vernon in 1799, after contracting pneumonia from riding around all day in the rain, inspecting his farms. Efforts to save him by leeching 5 pints of blood from him proved fruitless. He was 67.

Since then, 41 other native-born white men have held his office, and many among them -- Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Jefferson, Jackson -- have been suggested as candidates for being the best president ever. These are, after all, people who have risen to the top job in a dynamic country full of enormously energetic and competent people.

But I think a closer examination of each of their claims to fame will show that they're mainly based on living out the ideals that Washington himself had exemplified and set as national standards. They may have been good copies, but there was only one original.

There was only one George Washington.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

My Letter to "The Randi Rhodes Show"

Randi, near the end of your show on Friday, you made a statement which absolutely croggled me. You were discussing why it is that a die-hard 30% of the American public still supports the spectacularly failed presidency of George W. Bush, and you speculated that "It's because he's a fine Christian man." But then you went on to say "But they were ALL fine Christian men."

Leapin' lizards, holy hallelujah, and jumpin' jehosaphat, I sure hope you don't actually BELIEVE that!

For years and years, the Radical Religious Right has been pushing the Big Lie that this is a Christian country, because it was founded by Christian patriots, operating with Christian values, governed by Christian principles, and led by Christian men.

And it's an absolute, bald-faced, 100% preposterous, total LIE!!!

Preposterous and pernicious tho it may be, Josef Goebbels was right. Repeat it often enuf, and it becomes pervasive and popular. SO popular, in fact, that it has made atheists (like me) the most disfavored minority group in America (ahead of, perhaps, child molesters, whom the survey didn't ask about).

"Would you vote for an otherwise well qualified candidate for President if he or she happened to be X?" That's what sociologists at the University of Minnesota asked.
The results:
For X = Jewish, 94%
For X = Catholic, 93%
For X = African American, 91%
For X = homosexual, 59%
For X = atheist, 49%

"Would it be OK for your daughter to marry an X?"
For X = conservative Christian, yes = 86.5%
For X = homosexual, yes = 77.4%
For X = Muslim, yes = 73.7%
For X = atheist, yes = 60.4%

And the galling thing about this is that the country was FOUNDED by atheists. (Well, not 100% pure atheists. They were actually deists. But deists are much, much closer to atheists than they are to Christians. The only reason deists saw a need for a God at all was because they couldn't otherwise explain how the Universe came to be. So they said "All right, we need a God to explain THAT, but after he was done, he walked away and never looked back.")

In fact, we should be eternally grateful that our presidents have NOT been "good Christian men". Like most Christians in these (relatively) enlightened times, their beliefs in the teachings of the Christian Bible have been tempered by reason and good sense. For REAL Christian men, who actually did what the Bible told them to do, you have to turn to role models like Robespierre, Savonarola, and Torquemada.

Below I am reproducing an essay that provides some salient evidence about the religious attitudes of our earliest presidents. But, before you get to that, allow me a moment to implore you to do what right-wing talk-radio hosts would never DREAM of doing: Admit you were wrong. On the air. Issue a correction, then a retraction.

I certainly don't expect an apology. I was involved in forensics in high school, and I know what a challenge a 5-minute extemporaneous speech was. I can't imagine what a 3-HOUR extemporaneous speech (every day) must be like, especially when you can't knock off and leave 5 minutes of dead air while you do your research.

But the advantage of a civilized society is that all of us together are smarter than any one of us individually. You don't need to do your own research when you've got audience members (like me) who are willing to pitch in and help out.

But please, please, please don't continue to perpetuate the RRR's lying stereotypes about unbelievers and non-Christians.

And if you are also among those who thotlessly accept the old canard that "There are no atheists in foxholes.", check out the website of the atheists who WERE in foxholes, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers:

And now some research done by ANOTHER truth seeker:

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By William Edelen

One of my favorite times of the year is the Presidents’ month of February. Why? Because it gives me an annual opportunity to make a dent in the historical and religious ignorance of the political and Christian knee jerk right wingers. They spend almost full time in perverting American history claiming that the bible and Christianity were at the foundation of this nation. What total hogwash. Once a year I get to bring a few undisputed facts to their attention.

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA, 1968, vol.2, p.420, quote: "One of the embarrassing problems for the nineteenth-century champions of the Christian faith was the fact that NOT ONE of the first six presidents of the United States was a Christian. They were Deists."

In Deism there is no personal God, only an impersonal "force" or "energy" or "natures God" or "providence". In Deism, the bible is nothing but literature, and bad literature at that. Jefferson and Paine both called it "a dunghill". Others of our founders used the same language. In Deism, Jesus was nothing more than a nomadic teacher. I will now let these men speak for themselves:

GEORGE WASHINGTON: "Being no bigot, I am disposed to humor Christian ministers and the church" looking for servants, he said: "I will be happy to have atheists, Jews, Christians or Mohammedans." In 1831, Episcopalian minister Bird Wilson said in a sermon: "Washington is no more than a Unitarian, if anything." Washington refused to take communion, looking upon it as superstition. He refused to ever kneel in church according to his wife and minister, James Abercrombie. The Treaty of Tripoli, under Washington, Article 11 begins: "As the government of the United States is NOT IN ANY SENSE founded on the Christian religion." This Treaty was ratified by the senate in 1797 under Adams, without a SINGLE OBJECTION...

THOMAS JEFFERSON: Author of the Declaration of Independence. "I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children since the introduction of Christianity have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. And to support roguery and error all over the earth."

JAMES MADISON: Author of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. "A just government instituted to perpetuate liberty, does not need the church or the clergy. During almost 15 centuries the legal establishment of Christianity has been on trial. What have been been its fruits? These are the fruits in all places: pride and indolence in the clergy ... ignorance and servility in the laity ... and in both clergy and laity superstition, bigotry and persecution." Madison passionately objected to state supported chaplains in Congress and the military, as well as the exemption of churches from taxation. And rightly so. They should be taxed.

JOHN ADAMS: "The doctrine of the divinity of Jesus has made a convenient cover for absurdity" Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which states that the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion. Episcopalian minister Bird Wilson, in a sermon of October 1831, summed up the religion of our founding presidents in these words: "Among all of our Presidents, from Washington downward, not one was a professor of Christianity."

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: Not a founding president but a giant who shared exactly the same religious views: quote: "Christianity is not my religion and the bible is not my book. I have never united myself in any church because I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian doctrine and dogma." Lincoln never joined any church and was never baptized, looking upon it as superstition. His wife said: "my husband is not a Christian, but is a spiritual man I think." The most magnificent Pulitzer-Prize biography of this giant is Carl Sandburg's"Abraham Lincoln." And as Sandburg put it: "His views were such as would place him entirely outside of Christianity."

Thomas Jefferson put in one succinct sentence what they all believed. "The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by a supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." (letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823)

Why are these facts of American history not being taught in our high schools? What forces are at work in our society to keep historical truth from our young people? We get all hot and sweaty about censoring movies and television. A far, far more lethal virus that is at work is the censorship of the religious views of our first six presidents, our Founding Fathers. Why is this not being taught? Why is your minister not telling you about it, assuming he is historically literate?

The genius Goethe said it best: "Nothing is more terrifying than...ignorance in action."

= = = = = =
9/11 was the ultimate faith-based initiative.

Monday, March 05, 2007

My Aunt Margaret's Funeral

A couple of weeks ago I attended the funeral for my Aunt Margaret (wife of my father's brother Floyd, known as George). She was 100 years old.

The funeral was here in Madison, where I've lived for 35 years. My Aunt Margaret had also lived here most of her life, except that she left town in 1997 to be closer to her dotter Mary Ann in Inverness, Illinois. She had died there but had been brot back to Madison for burial.

I really never knew her very well growing up and hadn't seen her since my Uncle George was alive. (He died somewhere around 1960.) But I felt I should put in an appearance for the sake of propriety.

I arrived about 15 minutes before the service was due to start. Fortunately, I had a lot of black clothes I could draw on for the occasion, so I looked properly sober, somber, and respectful.

My 3 1st cousins (1 dotter of Margaret and George + 2 dotters of Kenneth -- another of my father's brothers -- who had apparently driven down from the ancestral home town of Cambria, some 35 miles away) seemed pleasantly surprised to see me and gave me nice hugs. As usual, I was at a complete loss for names. (My mother took fiendish delight, when I was a kid, in saying "You remember who this is, don't you?". And of course I never did and probably developed some sort of complex about it.) I thot I was doing well to at least remember how we were related.

I mumbled my way thru the hellos, condolences, and introductions, dropped off my overcoat in the child-care room with the big picture window looking out into the sanctuary, and went to gaze upon the remains of my departed aunt. She looked like a nice lady, not at all as wrinkled as one would expect of someone with a century under her belt. She'd been powdered, and her hands were crossed upon her breast. She wore a plain dress of a pleasant pastel shade and a simple necklace. I didn't remember her at all. I resisted the urge to poke her to make sure she was really dead. I silently chastised myself for insufficient reverence.

By this time, people were filing into pews for the service. I picked Pew #4, completely empty and right behind 3 rows of what appeared to be Aunt Margaret's direct descendants (3 grandchildren, 6 great-grandsons, assorted SOs). After a bit, another lady filed into my pew and nodded to me. I didn't recognize her at all. I think she was just a regular parishioner. I nodded back.

The congregants clustered entirely on the left-hand side of the main aisle, which was the side closest to the church's main entrance. I spent some time gazing around at all the stylized ornamentation and thinking that I should spend my time productively taking mental notes on a common aspect of Western culture that I'm rarely exposed to.

Here's the program they handed out as we approached our seats, with commentary:

= = = = = =

The Funeral Mass +
[Yeah, that plus sign was on the program. I'm not sure why.]
February 13, 2007

Margaret Monika Russell
May 4, 1906 – February 9, 2007

Saint Bernard Church
Reverend Monsignor Mike Hippee, Pastor


Greeting (Please stand)

Sprinkling with Holy Water

Water in nature is a source of life and Jesus used this life giving symbol in the sacrament of baptism. It is through this sacrament that we become children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. Water is also a reminder of eternal life. As water is sprinkled on Margaret's coffin, we are reminded of her baptism and eternal life.

Placing of the Pall

The gesture of Mary Ann [Margaret and George's dotter] and Ron [her husband] covering Margaret's coffin with a pall is a reminder of the garment she put on at her baptism when she was clothed with Christ. The pall, which is the same white garment no matter who is being buried, serves as a reminder that the baptized are brothers and sisters, and all of the world's distinctions are put aside at the time of death and burial.

Placing of the Christian Symbols

The gospel proclaims that Jesus must be lifted up so that all who believe may have eternal life in him. It is by the cross that Margaret has been saved from her sins. The cross placed on Margaret's coffin by Mary Ann, is the glorious sign of Margaret's being a Christian.

Gathering Song (Missalette #255 "On Eagle's WIngs")

[The "Missalette" is a pulp paperback magazine, apparently good for 3 months, that tells Catholics what prayers to pray, hymns to sing, devotions to do, saints to venerate, etc. for each and every day of the time period covered. There were at least 100 copies -- showing the effects of several months' wear and tear, since their coverage had started in early December -- available for the audience. For some odd reason, the songs they picked for the service had only lyrics, no music, even tho most of the songs in the book DID have both. I would've thot that funerals would be MORE likely than regular services to pull in non-Catholics who didn't have all this stuff memorized.]

Opening Prayer


Reading 1 (Please sit)

Responsorial Psalm ("The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.")

[The Bible they were using was all in the vernacular, a far cry not only from the Latin much beloved of Catholic conservatives but also from the King James Version of my youth and many Protestant denominations to this day.]

Reading 2

Gospel (Please stand) Monsignor Hippee

Homily (Please sit) Monsignor Hippee

General Intercession (Please stand)


Offertory Procession (Please sit) Margaret's grandchildren
(Missalette #227 "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say")

[Contrary to what I expected from the word "offertory", this did not entail passing the collection plate for donations. Instead it involved carrying a bowl and chalice from a small table near the front of the church up to the altar, followed shortly thereafter by an odd ceremony that I can only characterize as The Admiration of the Tortilla.]

Preparation of the Gifts

Invitation to Prayer (Please stand)

[A lot of upping and downing here, I suppose to keep people from dozing off. And when the audience wasn't doing vertical bobs, the priest kept up a steady pace of hithering and yonning, with occasional stopovers of 30 seconds or so in a chair placed behind and a bit to the right (his left) of the altar. During these stopovers, no word was spoken, and he usually had his eyes closed, tho it really wasn't all that bright.]

Prayer Over the Gifts


Eucharistic Prayer (Please kneel or sit)

[Almost all of the people on the pews in front of me -- Aunt Margaret's descendants and their spouses -- chose the former. I guess this means that she'd succeeded in growing a nice little crop of Catholics. My dad's family, including Uncle George, were of a sort of indifferent generic Protestantism.]

Lord's Prayer (Please stand)

[Why is it that clergy people can't talk in normal voices? Often it's throwing in extra syllables (Jee AY Zuss, the Lord Goddd-uh) or being unduly sing-songy. This guy had the weird habit of drawing out the last syllable of each sentence or of key words (Chriiiiist, depaaaaaarted).]

Prayers Before Communion (Please kneel)

Reception of Communion (Missalette #209 "Hail Mary, Gentle Woman")

[The civilian music director, who conducted the choir from his seat at the organ, when he wasn't running back and forth to fetch or deposit various sacramental artifacts, had a pretty good voice, individually as loud as the 20-person choir combined. His hand signals seemed to imply that the choir had no sense of rhythm and would be hopelessly off the beat if it weren't for his stern but fair guidance. He was obviously the baron of his little domain within this kingdom.]

[At this point, the folx in front of me filed forward to receive communion. After their pews were all emptied, I looked at the woman to my left, raised my eyebrows, and gestured toward the main aisle. She nodded, so I exited into the main aisle long enuf for her to slip past me, then I returned to my seat.]


Invitation to Prayer

Sign of Farewell

Margaret's coffin is incensed. [They mean with smoking weeds, not that the casket was pissed off.] In the psalms and in the book of Revelation, incense represents the prayer of the people rising to God. [This took about 3 minutes, as the guy in the dress walked slowly all around the bier, and resulted in quite the cloud -- mildly pungent, neither as pleasant as home cookin' nor as bad as cigaret smoke -- which was still hanging in the church after the service was over.]

Song of Farewell

Refrain: Come home, come home, for love is waiting there. In the stillness we will hear God's voice: Come home, come home.

May the angels welcome you; may the saints come to your aid. May they lead you into paradise and present your soul to God. Refrain

May Christ Jesus take you home; may you have eternal rest. May you dwell forever in God's peace; may you live in eternal light. Refrain

Prayer of Commendation

[For those of you keeping score at home, we are now up to 7 prayers total in about an hour, without a shred of evidence that any of them have ever had any effect whatsoever.]

Recessional ("Jesus, Remember Me")

[This is where they finally roll the coffin out.]


The burial service will take place at Roselawn Memorial Park Cemetery.

= = = = = =

It was cold outside as they loaded the casket into the hearse. There was snow on the ground, and a brisk breeze was swirling, but no more snow was falling from the appropriately gray, overcast skies. My cousins from 3 generations were milling around, mixing with maybe a dozen parishioners from the congregation to which my Aunt Margaret had devoted 75 years of her life. None of them were speaking very much. I quietly made my way to my car and drove out the opposite end of the parking lot from the driveway where the cortege was pointed.

I hate funerals.

Why do we have them? Well, philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, in his recent book Breaking the Spell, speculates thus:

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When somebody we love or even just know well dies, we suddenly are confronted with a major task of cognitive updating: revising all our habits of thought to fit a world with one less familiar intentional system in it. "I wonder if she'd like ...," "Does she know I'm ...," "Oh, look, this is something she always wanted ...". A considerable portion of the pain and confusion we suffer when confronting a death is caused by the frequent, even obsessive, reminders that our intentional-stance habits throw up at us like annoying pop-up ads but much, much worse. We can't just delete the file in our memory banks, and, besides, we wouldn't want to be able to do so. What keeps many habits in place is the pleasure we take from indulging in them. And so we dwell on them, drawn to them like a moth to a candle. We preserve relics and other reminders of the deceased persons, and make images of them, and tell stories about them, to prolong these habits of mind even as they start to fade.

But there is a problem: a corpse is a potent source of disease, and we have evolved a strong compensatory innate disgust mechanism to make us keep our distance. Pulled by longing and pushed back by disgust, we are in turmoil when we confront the corpse of a loved one. Small wonder that this crisis should play so central a role in the birth of religions everywhere. As Boyer (2001, p. 203) stresses, something must be done with a corpse, and it has to be something that satisfies or allays competing innate urges of dictatorial power. What seems to have evolved everywhere, a Good Trick for dealing with a desperate situation, is an elaborate ceremony that removes the dangerous body from the daily environment either by burial or burning combined with the interpretation of the persistent firing of the intentional-stance habits shared by all who knew the deceased as the unseen presence of the agent as a spirit, a sort of virtual person created by the survivors' troubled mind-sets, and almost as vivid and robust as a live person.

= = = = = =

Yeah, well that would all have been well and good if anybody who actually KNEW my Aunt Margaret had had a chance to say something about her, but they left all the talking up to the priest, who gave a eulogy just as generic as the rest of the ceremony.

This was supposed to be a funeral for my Aunt Margaret. But it wasn't about her, it was all about Catholicism. She was just the excuse.

What struck me the most about the whole sad affair was the amount of repetition involved. Religious people are apparently so terribly, terribly insecure that they have to keep hearing the same balderdash over and over and over again to keep them in line and protect them against all the evidence of their senses. It's necessary to keep repeating that the deceased is now with Jesus in Heaven -- and keep hammering away on that theme again and again -- against the off chance that somebody might start to engage in a little independent thot along the lines of "How do you know? For that matter, why do you think that there even IS such a place as Heaven? Has anybody ever seen it? Let alone sent back video clips?".

At least they DID manage to get the body packed away properly before it started to rot.

I am informed by customarily reliable sources that Wisconsin has no law requiring bodies to be interred in cemeteries or with coffins. You can, it is said, just dig a hole in your back yard and drop the remains in there if you wish. This strikes me as an excellent idea. After the docs remove all of my vital organs that could possibly be of help to someone else, that would be a swell place to put what's left of me. (I'd actually prefer to be dropped in a forest somewhere for the critters to snack on a free meal, but I wouldn't want my skeleton to be a source of startlement for future hunters or hikers.)

Anyway, such are my musings on death here at the still lively age of 62.

Have a cheerful day, everyone.

= = = = = =
Even the best of friends cannot attend each other's funeral.
-- Kehlog Albran

Sunday, March 04, 2007

March Fourth!

Today is the only day of the year that constitutes a command: March fourth!

I remember this every year because this was the day that Kathryn Clarenbach chose to die. As always, she had some good advice, even as she was leaving.

Kay Clarenbach was one of the grand dames of feminism. She was a co-founder of BOTH the National Organization for Women and the National Women's Political Caucus and for 15 years chaired the Wisconsin Commission on the Status of Women. She was executive director of the National Comomission for International Women's Yeaer (1977). She earned her PhD in political science at the University of Wisconsin and served as professor of governmental affairs here for decades. She helped to change state laws on sexual assault, divorce, and marital property.

As a worker on her son David's Congressional campaign, I had a couple of chances to meet Kay in the last year of her life (1920-1994). By then emphysema had taken its toll. She was having trouble getting around and had to haul an oxygen tank with her. She didn't get out much. David and his sister Sara confided that it was hard to see her so frail and limited, since she had always been a dynamic force as long as they could remember her.

Rather than let the disease control her passing, Kay took control herself. She went out at a time and in a manner of her own choosing.

And now I inveigh against the sadists of the Roman Catholic Church, the founders and heirs of the Inquisition, who, if they had their way -- and so far, they have -- would make it as difficult as possible for people like Kay Clarenbach to own their own bodies. To them, as to Torquemada, suffering is just God's will, and the screaming, writhing, bleeding, broken agonies of mortal flesh are as nothing to the purity of the eternal soul.

That these fiends, who arrogate to themselves the pious label "pro-life" (short for "proliferators"), would deny THEMSELVES a peaceful and painless death is absurd and confounding, but it is certainly their right to do so. But I scream in rage at their insistence that OTHERS must do likewise, and that we cannot have euthanasia ("good death") administered by a competent and caring physician. Instead, those who are still able to take matters into their own hands (shaky tho they may be) are at the mercy of amateurs: themselves. And best not wait too long, lest you lose the capability to act at all.

The world justly recoils in horror at Muslim fundamentalists, who fly airplanes into skyscrapers and blow themselves up in crowded marketplaces and schools. Yet these fanatics at least deal quick death.

It remains to our own domestic fanatics, the Catholics, to hold that mere death does not suffice. These torturers insist that first you must suffer.

Kay Clarenbach had 2 words for those who, like me, loathe the superstitious torturers and their misbegotten glorification of pain: March fourth!

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Pro-Military Party: Democrats!

Are we about to see another historically significant seismic shift in political allegiances?

After the Civil War, black people voted solidly Republican (the party of Lincoln) for nearly a century. Meanwhile, the states of the old Confederacy, still dominated by whites, were known as the Solid South, because they always went Democratic.

But the Republicans did squat for black people. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and other activists succeeded in arousing the conscience not of Republicans but of DEMOCRATS, like George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, and Bobby Kennedy.

So, starting around 1960, we had the Civil Rights Era, with Democrats putting their political careers on the line to do the right thing simply because it WAS the right thing. 20 years later, with the election of Ronald Reagan, the Solid South had become solidly Republican, but black people had turned into the Democrats' most loyal and reliable constituency.

Which brings us to the present.

The military, veterans, and their dependents and families have traditionally voted Republican -- just as black people used to do. They've done so out of a sense of patriotism, the belief that Republicans are pro-military, and a psychological comfort with top-down decision-making.

But the Elephants are screwing these people up one side and down the other. Walter Reed is just the latest example, but we can also cite lack of armor, endless rotations, cutting back on dependents' housing, reducing veterans' benefits, and on and on and on.

The only party that REALLY supports the troops -- in a tangible, material fashion -- is the Democratic Party.

So, whaddya think? Are we about to see the kind of massive shift of allegiances that happened with black people during the 1960s and 1970s? Will the future bring the attitude that it's the DEMOCRATS who are the friends of the troops? Will our soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen become reliable Democratic voters? (After all, most of them come from working-class backgrounds, and the Republicans sure as hell haven't gone out of their way to make life easier on the folx back home.)

One thing for sure: It ain't gonna happen unless the Dems step up and point out the facts to their potential new best friends.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Know Your Constitution

Our local progressive-talk radio station, The Mic 92.1, was on the verge of being replaced by a local-sports format last year. Fortunately, a concerted campaign by loyal listeners caused station management to reconsider and keep progressive talk alive.

Probably helping in the effort was the news that Air America -- then in bankruptcy proceedings -- had found a financial backer with deep pockets. Air America is the source for about 75% of The Mic's programming.

But that still left the station in kind of shaky condition, in part because it wasn't drawing a lot of support from local advertisers.

One of the regular programs on The Mic is "The Ed Schultz Show". Ed's a plain-spoken guy from Fargo ND, and he's on the Jones Radio Network, not Air America. He always says "If you support progressive talk radio, buy an ad.". I decided to follow his advice.

The problem was that I'm just an ordinary citizen. I'm not running for office, I don't have a business, and I'm not peddling any goods or services. What I DID want to push, I decided, were ideas. More specifically, I am profoundly impressed with the United States Constitution -- surely among the most admirable and monumental works ever devised by human minds and hands.

So I contacted The Mic and arranged for a month-long ad campaign -- a series called "Know Your Constitution". Each day during March they carry 2 30-second spots of me reading the Constitutional amendment with that day's number. I polish it off on March 28 with an excerpt from Article 6 of the Constitution itself, then on March 29 I explain why I did it. The production entailed about half an hour of studio time for me and cost $100. The air time ran $1125.

Charlie, the production engineer (who added a nice trumpet voluntary in the background), supplied me with a CD of all 29 spots in MP3 format, and I've uploaded it to my computer, where I can play them on iTunes.

If you're at all interested, I can e-mail a copy to you. It runs 15 MB in zipped form. Just contact me at

Blessings of liberty!