Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Palin is SMART!

We just watched the most recent Couric/Palin interview clip, and found it revealing.  

First off, and pace the McCain campaign, it most certainly was not "gotcha journalism."  Couric asked broad, reasonable questions, and when Palin dodged them (which was often), gently restated them once or twice before letting the matter drop.  

That said, we are disappointed by the heavy editing.  What we saw was basically a series of jagged clips -- some on a plane, some in a hallway, etc. -- which leaves open the question of whether what was omitted would have been flattering or unflattering to the candidate.  Sort of like The Colbert Report, except that (a) we all know those are edited to be unflattering to both parties, and (b) it's fake news anyway.  We realize that Gov. Palin is a busy woman right now, and may not have time to sit down, face to face, and talk at leisure, and we realize that Couric is thrilled to have scored such a rare interview.  But we can't help thinking that both women, as well as viewers, would have been better served by longer portions, shown without editing so that we could better evaluate both the reporter's fairness and the candidate's answers. 

Now as to those evasions, we noticed a pattern worth mentioning.  When asked about various hot-button issues, Palin would consistently (a) work hard to avoid answering, and when pressed would (b) offer a strange demurral to distance herself from the answer she did give (e.g., "I'm not speaking for the McCain/Palin campaign here," which makes leaves us wondering who does), and finally (c) offer a half-way answer, which sounds reasonable but leaves open a less reasonable alternative.

Watch, for example, the section in which she is asked about abortion.  She (a) says, clearly, that she is pro-life, which is a philosophical position admitting several varied policy positions.  But when pushed, she (b) starts talking not about laws or public policies, but about personal advice she might give a friend facing an unwanted pregnancy.  Well, sure, Couric says in effect; but what about the law?  At which point, Gov. Palin says, "If you're asking whether I think somebody should go to jail because she has had an abortion, the answer is no."  Refreshing, yes?  But Couric fails to ask the follow-up question, something like, "Actually, Governor, I was asking whether you believe that doctors and nurses who perform abortions should go to jail."

She does something similar with evolution:  "It's an accepted scientific principle ... [and] science should be taught in science class."  Sounds promising, but we can't help thinking she may have left something out here.

But all this said and done, we have to admit that in one place Gov. Palin does give a straight answer and it is stunning.  Couric asks what newspapers and magazines she reads, and her first answer is "most of them," which -- given the number of newspapers and magazines -- is an impressive claim.  But it gets better.  Couric asks her to be specific, to name one of the newspapers or magazines.  Palin doesn't, which those mean-spirited liberal thugs at HuffPo see as a hint that she doesn't in fact read anything.  But they have missed the point of her actual response:

"Um, all of them."

That's right, people:  Gov. Palin reads all the newspapers and magazines.  This impresses the hell out of us at the Egg, who are hard pressed to the side panel on a cereal box these days.  Now we wish we were governors.   For example, we really, really like the Chicago Tribune, by the way, but our newsstand doesn't carry it; governors can probably get their papers flown in by plane.  That's surely how she gets the New Orleans Times-Picayune, which has easily got the best name of any American paper (rivalled internationally only by Le Canard Enchaine, which we would also read if we had either the time or the paper).  Magazines?  Well, we're two years behind on both National Geographic and the Journal of Hydrologic Engineering, not to mention Vigiliae Christianae and the old Zeitschrift fur Theologie und Kirche.

So, yeah, we're impressed.  Apparently glasses, even the stylish little ones, really do make you smarter.

The Somali Coast Guard

The pirates holding a Ukrainian ship full of tanks and other weapons, surrounded by US warships, have explained that they aren't actually sea bandits, but a sort of irregular Coast Guard.  Sure.  Whatever, guys.  

But, even as the Russians take their time steaming in, the pirates are still holding out for a ransom -- $20 million cash, currently the rough value of the American economy.  You have to admire their entreprenuerial spirit.

Per the Times, Western powers are calling for the Navy to "storm the ship."  This is stupid, and we hope the Navy doesn't waste its time, or potentially the lives of its sailors, in any such commando operation.  Yes, we know that the hostages are human beings, and that their lives are valuable.  But so are the lives of the people who will be killed by those tanks, whether they wind up in Kenya or in the Sudan.  And if the tanks were intended for the latter, it is entirely possible that these hostages were abetting an illegal shipment of arms in the first place.

The tanks need to wind up underwater anyway, and the pirates need to learn a lesson.  So sink the ship, and rescue anybody who gets off.  Then give them their choice:  Gitmo, a Russian prison, or walking the plank.

Rich Guys in Trouble

Sullivan doesn;t know what to think about the failure of the bailout, and neither do we.  But we appreciate this remark:  

It's funny, isn't it, that when it comes to poor black women, the ethos is always welfare to work. But when it comes to millionaire white men, it's always work to welfare. Maybe a little welfare reform on Wall Street is overdue.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Dinosaurs!

We love 'em. One of our deepest regrets is that they became extinct 65 million years before human beings came into existence, so that our ancestors could not have wrangled and ridden them.   

Good news from Alaska, though.  According to Gov. Palin, we have been misinformed; per the LA Times, she believes that human beings and dinosaurs did coexist.  She has even seen fossilized footprints that somehow prove this.  (Don't ask about the details.  You don't want to know.)

(Click here for GetReligion's somewhat testy explanation of why the story is bad journalism.  Spoilsports.)

We are very excited by this, and hope that Gwen Ifill asks lots and lots of questions about it.  And why shouldn't she?  It's not foreign policy.

Fox Preps for the Veep Debate

They are afraid that mean old Gwen Ifill is going to ask the candidates about foreign affairs.

Funny:  Watching the anchor almost say "and everybody knows she doesn;t know squat about foreign affairs," and then catch himself, saying "everyone knows that's Joe Biden's forte."

Less Funny:  Watching the McCain staffer try to tell Ifill to ask more domestic-policy questions or watch her back. 

New York: Still Sleazy After All These Years

Back in the day, these Minor Outlying Islands had a well-deserved reputation as the place you didn't want your daughter to visit with her traveling choir.  Times Square was a national byword for prostitution, pornography and ninja knives.  The subways were prone to mini-blackouts, when a car would lose its lights -- nobody will ever know how many women were groped by strange hands in the subterranean darkness.

It's all better now, depending on your definition of "better."  Times Square is an extension of Disneyland, and the subways, despite some recent financial trouble, are vastly safer and cleaner.  But don;'t kid yourself:  human beings, including New Yorkers, are still sinners.  And a lot of our sins are just gross and stupid.

Today's local news brings two good examples:

#1:  A nurse's assistant at Lutheran Medical Center, in Brooklyn, claims that she was repeatedly smacked on the buttocks by colleagues and supervisors, and that when she complained, they told her to wear looser scrubs and lab coat.  (Instead of, say, volunteering to keep their hands to themselves).  Seriously, people?  In the 21st century? What kind of idiots are you? 

She's suing for $6 million, enough to build her own 1970s cyborg.  The only thing that makes us doubt the outcome of the case is the fact that she is apparently being represented by Superman's distorted twin, attorney Laurie Bizzarro.  (Who is probably sick of that stupid joke by now, huh?  We apologize.) (And a tip o' the biretta to Fr. W.E.B., for pointing this one out).

#2:  A fellow named Aaron Olivieri has been arrested on the allegation that he used his cellphone camera to take upskirt pictures of a woman on the subway stairs.  The victim used her own phone to take his picture, which she gave to the police.  If in fact he is guilty, Mr. Olivieri is a dope and a sleazebag.  But either way, we think we may have a teensy-weensy crush on his attorney, Rigodis Appling

So, look, America:  the boom years didn't soften us up completely.  New York still has it all -- sexual harassment, unsafe mass transit, alluring lawyers (just like on TV!) and lecherous clergymen (just like on TV!).  Oh, and until the term limits kick in, our mayor is still way richer than yours.  Make your vacation plans now.

Captain Blood, Part 2

As of this writing, the Somali pirates have been effectively surrounded by US warships.  The pirates are inside the territorial waters of Somalia, which -- give that nation's lack of a functioning government -- is no real bar to action.  One suspects that the Americans haven't sunk the ship yet only because the pirates have hostages, a 21-member Russian and Ukrainian crew.

But here comes the game changer:  the Russian navy is on its way.

The tanks themselves, all 33 of them, along with unspecified other weapons, are arguably still Ukrainian property, or perhaps the property of Kenya (or, if you believe the rumors, of the Sudanese monsters).  In any case, we expect the Americans would sink the ship, tanks and all, and not worry too much about property rights.  

But what will Russia do?  On one hand, Russia and the Ukraine have a tense relationship these days, as the latter waits to be reconquered by the former.  A little defense of Ukrainian sovereignty might be a useful symbol, a way of reassuring the Ukrainians that having the Bear at their back is like having a big strong older brother, ready to defend you against playground bullies.

On the other hand, we are talking about Putin's Russia.  Despite what President Bush saw in his supposed soul, Putin has shown himself to be uninterested in negotiated solutions to hostage crises.  Remember the Moscow theatre incident, in which he gassed both the Chechen rebels and the hostages themselves?  Killed up to 50 rebels, and an undisclosed number of hostages, thought to be between 120-200.

So do not expect much negotiation once the Russians arrive.  We hope the hostages have life jackets.  And gas masks.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy?

PBS is conducting a thoroughly unscientific online poll, asking people if they think Sarah Palin is qualified to be Veep.  We recognize that this is unscientific, but are nonetheless astonished that the Yes and No columns are currently dead even.

Either there has been some funny business organized by her supporters, or readers of the PBS website are considerably dumber than we give them credit for.  Perhaps they should drop Masterpiece Theatre in favor of Laverne and Shirley reruns. 

Mormons vs. Christians, Yet Again

"Ar Mormons Christins?"  We've covered this question before, and consider it largely a matter of semantics -- what, precisely, is a "Christian"?  But we draw your attention not only to the brief blog post linked above, but also to the comments, which are revealing.  

One obvious skeptic answered, "It's like asking who's stronger, Hercules or Thor."  Should we feel guilty because that one cracked us up?  Another argued that "Mormons don't need the approval of other Christians regarding their Christianity and shouldn't really care."  

This is absolutely true.  And it would be a great relief to the rest of us if they would establish a corporate policy of not caring, so that we could say what we believe without giving offense -- that they most certainly are not Christians, by any definition informed by history or traditional doctrine.  But instead of agreeing not to care what we think, they seem to keep complaining about it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Notes from the Debate - 4

In closing, McCain tried to promote his experience, and Obama was too much of a gentleman to exploit the opening.  Experience of what, exactly?  McCain likes to say he "knows" things -- in this case, how to heal the wounds of war.  And where did he learn that?  Healing the wounds of Vietnam, which are still open through our culture even as its actual veterans shuffle off to Miami?

Obama never mentioned the Keating 5, which is another kind of economic experience.  Or the neat way that he has experienced both sides of nearly every issue he's ever dealt with, up to and including the issue of whether to show up for the debate tonight.

Obama's own closing was a sweet, but somewhat dull, reminder that the US is the greatest country in the world, which it is -- but we all knew that going in, didn't we?

The talking heads are going at it right now on both NPR and CNN, because Father A. is a multitasker.  But we'll let them fight out the results, which we call a near-draw, ever so slightly in Obama's favor.

We need our beauty rest, so that we can rise bright and chipper to teach deacons the history of the Mass.

Notes from the Debate - 3

What kind of idiot is Lehrer?  he just asked them to predict the future.  "What is the likelihood of another attack?"

The answer, of course, is:  There will be attacks.  Our job is to prevent as many as we can, intercept as many as possible, minimize the damage from the ones that arrive and avenge the hell out of anything.

McCain's answer was "we're safer than we used to be," and toi approve the Bush adminsistration's addition of extra bureaucracy to the national security apparatus.

Obama says we haven't done enough, although he seems to think that suitcase nukes exist.  (They don't.  Science fiction, as I understand it.)  But he's the one who talks about going after Al Qaeda, just as he is the one who reserves the right to chase those SOBs over the pakistani border any freaking time he wants to, while McCain thinks we have to wait until the pakistanis are willing to welcome us as liberators.

For once, the Democrat is the tough guy on this stuff.

As for Iraq, Johnny mac is clearly reaching, and trying to support Bush's post facto justification of our continued presence there.  he thinks it's 'the central issue of our time," which is bullshit. I mean, the Sunni militias versus the Shi'a majority?  Really?  How about economics?  China and India?    

Notes from the Debate - 2

On Russia, McCain made sense.  Somebody else will need to check on whether he represented Obama correctly on the Georgia thing.

Obama has a repeated trope tonight, less irritating than McCain's:  "I told you so."  He did it with the Wall Street mess ("I wrote a letter warning Paulson...") and just now with the Georgia incursion.

He just changed topics to energy.  Not a big stretch from Russia, but I don't think it was the assigned topic.

McCain took the bait.  He just called offshorte drilling a "bridge."  That was Paris Hilton's idea, remember?  And he also opened up the problem with nuclear waste storage and reprocessing, which (as everybody knows) is the colossal unresolved problem with nuclear power.

Notes from the Debate - 1

McCain is being a jerk.  Over and over, he says "Senator Obama doesn;t understand ..." things that Obama obviously does understand.  It's a memorized talking point.

Meanwhile, he can't pronounce Ahmedinejad.  And he insists on smiling at inappropriate times.

As I was typing, he accused Obama of "parsing words," when citing Henry Kissinger.  Obama was not "parsing," as any student of grammar in the inflected languages could see.  He was talking about a much-publicized statement by Kissinger and several other foreign-policy experts, including Powell.  Seems McCain didn;t get the memo.

"I Don't Care About the Economy," Part 2

Here's what we meant to say the first time:

It must be easy to not care about the economy -- perhaps seductively so -- when your job is effectively insulated from market forces.  There are very few such jobs, and most of them belong to government employees.  The most effectively insulated, both from cost-cutters and from Monica Goodling-style political correctness, are those in the military.

So maybe that's why a career officer in the middle ranks can say he doesn't care about the next president's economic policies or advisors.  But the rest of us cannot.

Brace Yourself for "Pulpit Freedom Sunday"

The Alliance Defense Fund, a legal organization advocating for soi disant "conservative" Christians, has arranged for 35 or more pastors across the country to use their sermon time this week to endorse candidates for office.  

The stated objective is to challenge the IRS rules against electioneering in the pulpit, which the ADF considers to be an unconstitutional limitation upon free speech.  There may in fact be a legal point here worth considering, but we are more interested in the liturgical one.  

Seriously, guys.  God gives you ten minutes to preach the Gospel, and this is how you want to spend it?  Okay, for a lot of these churches, it may clock in at more like 45 minutes, but the principle remains the same.  Every sermon is a precious opportunity to reach people -- jaded oldtimers, spiritually desperate newcomers, the hungry and the heartbroken -- and it seems like a waste to use that opportunity to rehash last week's Olbermann or, more likely, O'Reilly.

Or, to put it another way:  You have a room full of people who have come for no other reason than to hear about Jesus, and you think it is more important for them to hear about Senator Bob and Governor Sam?  Really?

For the record, we at the Egg began blogging in order to help us resist this worldly temptation. We try not to talk about politics in the pulpit, except by way of passing illustrations. And we try not be snarky.  When we fail in these efforts (and we do sometimes fail) it is a mistake, for which church members occasionally, and rightly, chastise us.  Our goal is to use this page to get out most of the current-events-bile during the week, so that on Sunday we are free to talk about the only thing that really matters:  Christ, and him crucified.

And that is Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

Captain Blood Meets General Patton

Seagoing Somali pirates have seized a ship carrying Ukrainian tanks.  This is a true story, but we know the movie is coming soon.  From the screenplay:

"Jack Sparrow, you magnificent bastard!  I've read your treasure map!"

"Evangelist" Arrested

We live such a sheltered life.  We'd heard the name "Tony Alamo" once or twice before, but didn't connect it with anything.  We felt a little sorry for the guy, sharing his last name with a famous massacre.

Turns out the guy is a freak.  And he's probably going down -- again.

Per the AP, Alamo was arrested for multiple violations of the Mann Act -- transporting children across state lines for sexual purposes.  He is suspected of involvement in child pornography.  He has already spent for years in the federal pen for tax evasion.  The Southern Poverty Law center describes his "ministry" as a cult, and it might also qualify as hate group for its ranting about Roman Catholics, gays and the government.  Oh, and he kept his dead wife on display in glass box for six months.  Like Lenin or Snow White, we suppose.

Needless to say, Alamo protests his innocence, and claims he has been framed by "the anti-Christ government" and "the Catholics."

Worst of all, he was born with a perfectly serviceable name -- Bernie Lazar Hoffman.  He actually changed it to the name of a famous massacre.

"I Don't Care About the Economy."

Some months ago, as we have already mentioned, Father Anonymous spent a leisurely afternoon in the country, which included a long conversation about politics with a career military officer.  As these things will, the conversation got a bit testy, and both parties probably said things to which they would not want to be held later.

Nonetheless, we have chosen to forget our own rhetorical excesses, and focus on his.

In a conversation about the presidential candidates, the officer declared that his only criteria for choosing a president were military matters and foreign affairs, areas in which he considered John McCain to be by far the better choice.  He argued that Obama offered no serious foreign-policy ideas, and that the idea of talking to Iran without preconditions was dangerous.  

Among the many things that he said which struck us at the time, one particular seems relevant these days.  Concerning his choice of candidates, he said, "I don't care about the economy."

We suspect that this idea -- a president doesn't need to have deal with economic matters -- may be fairly common, especially on the right.  (Or friend Father Ron has said much the same thing on occasion.)  And why not?  That certainly does seem to be the thrust of the Constitution.  Art 2, sec. 2 is all about the military, treaties and ambassadors.  

But then there is that pesky remark about "principal officers of the [otherwise undefined] executive departments," or what we call a Cabinet.  And as our government has put flesh and muscle over the bare-bones outline devised by the Founders, those "executive departments" and their principal officers have come to be very important indeed.

Consider, for example, Henry Paulson, our Secretary of the Treasury.  Or the Office of Management and Budget, headed by Jim Nussle.  Or the governors of the Federal Reserve, who -- like ambassadors or justices -- are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.  Not to mention the economic impact of the various regulatory agencies -- FDA, OSHA, EPA -- controlled by the chief executive. 

All told, it seems obvious that in reality (as opposed to Ron-Paul-style fantasies about a different government based on the same Constitution), the President of the United States plays a very significant role in the economic life of the nation.  Therefore, factoring sound judgment in economic matters out of a presidential campaign is short-sighted.  As recent events have demonstrated, it is almost suicidally so.

A president with a philosophical commitment to deregulation, or passive-aggressive non-enforcement of existing regulations, is probably not the best choice for steering us out of a disaster caused, in large part, by regulatory failure.  Nor can we place much hope in a president who has shown measured support for regulation (like, say, the McCain-Feingold law) but also needs to placate a party base that distrusts him for just that reason.

Nor can we trust the cabinet secretaries and bank governors who is notorious for his impulsive decisions (like, say, choosing a running mate he has barely met).

Just thought we'd mention this.

Palin: "Henry Kissinger is Naive."

She basically said that to Couric.  Henry Kissinger.

Sure, Governor.  And, let's see, LBJ was a courtly gentleman, Reagan was a rocket scientist, and David Addington admires Congress above all other institutions.

The issue in question is about opening negotiating with Iran.  Palin is against it; Kissinger, Powell, and Obama are in favor.  If we know Palin like we are beginning to think we know Palin, watch for a whisper campaign that only black guys and Jews are soft on Ahmadinejad.

McCain is Chicken

He tried to duck the debate.  Obama wouldn't budge, so McCain caved.

Click for Sullivan's terse condemnation, along with an apt cartoon.

Our favorite part of the brief drama has been the McCain campaign's bizarre pretense that their man is somehow essential to saving the economy. Why?  Because of how well-loved he is on both sides of the aisle?  (Remember, "maverick"=no friends).  Or because of his mastery of economic minutiae? (Remember, he wants to fire a guy he can't fire, who runs an agency he can't name).

But silly us; we have forgotten Steve Schmidt's inevitable rejoinder, which is even now probably circulating somewhere:  "Hey -- this is a man who didn't have aisles or economies in the Hanoi Hilton."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bailout Mania

About the bailout:  Our immediate reaction was, and remains, faintly favorable.  We don't know much about economics, but it appears that this is the sort of thing governments do, on a smaller scale, to prop up their economic systems.  They pour cash into the thing to keep it going, much like a car owner pouring cash into, say, his '91 Mercedes 190E with fairly low mileage and some emissions issues (which is, by the way, available for sale to interested parties).

Yeah.  We know that, pace George Will, it isn't socialism.  We know that it is probably the right thing to do.  And we know that this is a big deal, the sort of play you really don't want to call wrong.

But here's the problem:  the Bush Administration is telling us to do it.  And we just don't trust them anymore.  Not even a little bit.  Not even on matters as seemingly basic as preventing a nationwide depression. 

They have -- and the President personally has -- completely exhausted any reservoir of credibility.  Eight years of secrecy, lies and denial have finally brought us to a place where we simply don't believe a thing that comes out of the Executive Branch any more. 

How deep is this distrust of the executive branch, you ask?  Well, obviously we disbelieve the White House itself, as well as all the various national-security agencies.  But that's only the tip of the iceberg.   The military, for all its principled efforts to stay neutral, had its top leadership selected for years by Donald Rumsfeld, while the middle ranks are slowly turning into a Christianist phalanx.  Given what we know about the Department of Justice, we can't trust any senior people in federal law-enforcement -- not even Elliott Ness himself.  The Education Department has spent seven years selling us a national program of which professional educators seem unanimous in contempt.    Do we need to explain why, at this juncture, no sane person can trust the secretaries of State, Treasury or Energy?

No.  Here's how bad it is.  When we drive on interstate highways, we don't trust the exit signs anymore.  Why?  Because Bush's Department of Transportation puts them up. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Oscar Wilde Liked Books

Books were "the single greatest influence" on Oscar Wilde's life, according to a new biography by Thomas Wright.  Really?  And of how many writers, pray tell, is that statement not true?

Apart from this Dept. of No Surprise feature, the bio, as reviewed by Brenda Maddox, sounds quite good.  Wright has sought out the auction record of Wilde's personal library, as well as the list of books he requested during his imprisonment.  There are a lot of them, and close study will no doubt give considerable insight into his art.  We once saw a list of Hemingway's library, and were fascinated in much the same way.  (Oh, and have we ever shared our theory that Hem was way gayer than Oscar?)

One terrible fact which jumps out is that Wilde's first prison, Pentonville, prisoners were forbidden to speak to one another, and given virtually no access to books.  Hard as it must have been for Wilde, imagine the loss to his fellow prisoners -- to have among them the most brilliant conversationalist of the age, and no chance of conversation to sparkle in their darkness.  

But this same fact sheds light on Wilde's best poem.  The only books permitted in Pentonville were a Bible, a prayer book and a hymnal.  Reading this, we snapped our fingers and muttered, "Of course."  What more than a hymnal informs the strong rhythms and plain diction of Ballad of Reading Gaol?  

One does not think of Wilde as a hymn-writer, of course.  But consider T.S. Eliot's description of Kipling's famous Recessional:  

... it is one of the poems in which something breaks through from a deeper level than that of the mind of the conscious observer of political and social affairs -- something which has the true prophetic inspiration.

That is true of Reading Gaol, as of little else that Wilde ever wrote.  (His poetry, like Kipling's, consists mostly of what Eliot calls "verse," struggling from the effort not to precede the word with "mere").    In both poems, the authors speak with a new moral authority, which comes directly from what readers already know about their lives. Kipling, the bard of Empire, turns at a crucial moment of history call for humility and repentance.  And Wilde writes about love, sin, suffering and redemption.

Anyway, the book sounds good.  But we also need to point out that Mr Wright himself sounds a bit creepy.  By 15, he had read Dorian Grey twenty times; as an adult, he wanted not only to read all the books that Wilde read, but to touch Wilde's own copies.  Ick.  But then, what would a book on Wilde be without a touch of compulsive sensuality?

McCain is a Leftist

And he's not the only one.

Let's be clear:  columnist George Will is an utter ass, further proof of our oft-made case that men who wear bowties are normally snickering twerps.  (Except with a tux, of course, when they are James Bond).

That said, Will has endeared himself to us, over the years, on precisely three occasions:  

(1) In or around 1987, when a bunch of Sunday-morning-talking-heads stopped debating Reagan long enough to take turns predicting the outcome of that day's Superbowl.  When the camera turned to Will, he screwed up his face like a prune and said, in effect, "You're all missing the real story.  Who cares about some ... super-thingie?  Spring training begins this week."

(2)  With his repeated claim (the truth of which we cannot verify) that when asked why he doesn't write a novel, his usual response is, "Well, you see, I've read Middlemarch, so I know how it's supposed to be done." 

(3)  Just lately, with his scathing denunciations of both John McCain and Sarah Palin.  Will has left readers with no doubt that he considers both halves of the Republican ticket to be incompetent, if for different reasons.  Palin, in his opinion, is just what everybody figures:  a dim, shallow opportunist with neither the knowledge nor the skills to handle a job of any magnitude.  But his argument against McCain, as revealed in a recent column, is far more creative.  It takes the usual conservative argument ("McCain is a Republican in Name Only") and ratchets up the intensity.  To Will, McCain is basically Lenin without the facial hair.

Referring to McCain personally, Will argues his many recent blunders, particularly regarding the Wall Street mess, have left him "looking like a flustered rookie playing in a league way to high."  In other words, he doesn't really know what he's talking about, a point McCain has proven pretty routinely throughout the campaign, on matters of the military and foreign affairs as well as finance.  Also, he has "a dismaying temperament," meaning he's a hot-headed moralist.

But then Will does something tricky, and not entirely fair.  Apropos of the pending bailout, he writes that:

The political left always aims to expand the permeation of economic life by politics. Today, the efficient means to that end is government control of capital. So, is not McCain's party now conducting the most leftist administration in American history? 

Pause right there, and read that last sentence again.  The rest is anticlimax:  

The New Deal never acted so precipitously on such a scale. Treasury Secretary Paulson, asked about conservative complaints that his rescue program amounts to socialism, said, essentially: This is not socialism, this is necessary. That non sequitur might be politically necessary, but remember that government control of capital is government control of capitalism. Does McCain have qualms about this, or only quarrels?

See what he did there?  The column is about McCain.  But of course, McCain didn't come up with the bailout idea; his party did. Will has just accused Bernanke and Paulson in particular, and Republicans in general, of Socialism.  McCain, because his objections to their plan have thus far been matters of detail rather than principle, is also a Socialist.  

Fair enough, except that calling this "McCain's party" is a gratuitous slur.  Neither McCain nor his advisors came up with the plan.  It was Bush's advisors.  So if it is indeed time for some back-to-school Red-baiting, logic would suggest looking at the incumbent rather than the candidate.  What Will meant, but did not say, is that George Bush and his pals are a bunch of Commies


Palin: "My Opponent is a Secret Jew"

When Sarah Palin was running to unseat the incumbent, John Stein, her campaign claimed that if elected she would be "Wasilla's first Christian mayor."  

Stein is described by Salon's David Talbot as "a Protestant Christian from a Pennsylvania Dutch background."  Stein's own rather charitable interpretation is that "they were redefining Christianity to mean born-agains."  Some of his supporters interpreted it as a none-too-subtle attempt to suggest that he was Jewish.  Y'know, with a name like Stein and all. 

The anecdote raises a lot of issues, primarily around what it means to be "a Christian."  For some people (say, Pope Pius IX), it means nothing more than to have been baptized -- that was his rationale for kidnaping a child who would otherwise have ben raised Jewish.  For others, it means professing Christian beliefs, or -- and this is not the same thing -- participating regularly in Christian worship.  And yes, for many Christians, especially among what we Lutherans call the Schwaermer, it means sharing the peculiar beliefs of one particular sect.  (So that, for example, the members of Third Holiness Kingdom of Mercy, a storefront church in Detroit, pray weekly for the day when Roman Catholics and Presbyterians will see the light and become "Christians.")

Obviously, this story makes us wonder about the level of tacit anti-Semitism in Wasilla.

It also raises significant questions about Gov. Palin herself.  Stein, a fellow Republican, had been one of her political mentors, and their families were apparently friendly.  So Palin surely knew something about their religious views.  She also, surely, knew that Stein and his wife were legally married, despite the rumors to the contrary that her campaign launched.  It seems that cozying up to more powerful men before turning on them is a recurring theme in Palin's history, a fact which ought to keep Sen. McCain on his toes).  

She may also have realized that, despite their emotional appeal to some voters, the hot-button issues of "God, guns and abortion" had little to do with the work of a small-town mayor, even as she injected them into the race.  That's another recurring theme -- or perhaps you didn't hear her speech at the convention?

But it also raises questions about bigger things than own Alaska's All About Eve.  It points to a difference between two kinds of politics, and two kinds of politicians.  There are the earnest types, who think that the issues which matter are the ones directly pertaining to their office, and the rabble-rousers, who think that any words which will excite a voter's passion can legitimately be considered "issues."  The first type -- let's call them "statesmen" -- talk about sewers, highways, and (at more elevated levels) fiscal policy.   The second type -- let's call them "demagogues" -- prefer to let an election hang on Darwin, gay people and the Second Amendment.  

For many years, John McCain was a good example of the first type; after his primary defeat by the second type, in 2000, he went over to the Dark Side. 

And this brings us to Sen. Obama.  It seems unlikely that Palin ever sat down with McCain or his flunkies and said, "Hey, y'know what works great when you're running against somebody who knows more about the issues than you do?  Calling him a Jew.  Or a Muslim."  There is no evidence that McCain had ever met Palin, or for that matter heard her name, when the slurs against Obama began to fly.  It seems, instead, that the campaign against Obama has been demagogic nearly from the start, to roughly the degree that his has been statesmanlike.  And the fact that Palin had once run a  similar campaign against her friend and mentor is just a happy coincidence.

In a sense, then. McCain may be right hen he claims that Palin is his "soul mate."  In the sense that neither has much of a soul.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Down the Tubes

The talking heads tell us that a new Great Depression is not in the offing.  Hooray!  That said, it is certain that the end of American investment banking will reshape the US economy, and devastate ours here in the Minor Outlying Islands.

When Morgan Stanley and Goldman, Sachs, sought and received permission to transform themselves from investment banks into commercial bank holding companies -- what most of us actually mean by the word "bank" -- it marked "the end of Wall Street as we know it", in the words of former FDIC head William Isaacs.  And Wall Street has long been an enormous part of life in the Big Apple -- the engine behind our service industries, real estate market, law firms, even our museums and theatres.

We have lost an entire American industry here.  This is no less shocking than if Ford, Chrysler and GM shut their doors within weeks of each other, or announced plans to make asphalt shingle instead of automobiles.  Actually, it is more shocking, since the US auto industry has been shriveling for decades, while even a few months ago, these investment bankers still seemed like (in an old phrase) "Masters of the Universe."

Right now, in the midst of it all, nobody knows how severe the local repercussions will get.  It is likely that as philanthropic donations taper off, our massive arts institutions -- Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum -- will take a big hit, right up front, buffered only by what we hope are significant endowments.  But after that?  How many buildings under construction will be abandoned halfway up, as the funding disappears?  As the city and state tax bases change, what will happen to our already-ailing mass transit system?  Eventually, as public services diminish and the job market constricts, crime will begin to edge back up again.

We're not talking apocalyptic dystopia, mind you.  New York was an interesting place to live in the 1930s, and in the 1970s; it will still be an interesting place to live if the money drains out again. But it may be a poorer, dirtier, and more violent place. 

All that said, we are a bit concerned by John McCain's apparent lack of economic savvy.  Not only does he think the "fundamentals are sound," but he has, just recently, suggested that as president he would "fire" the head of the SEC, something the president does not have the power to do, and apparently confused the SEC with the FEC, or Federal Elections Committee.  Oh, and in a single day he reversed course on the AIG bailout, apparently because he didn't understand what it was.  It's all a bit unnerving, don't you think?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Better Know a Lobbyist

From Mother Jones:

The Democratic National Committee, using publicly available records, has identified 177 lobbyists working for the McCain campaign as either aides, policy advisers, or fundraisers. Of those 177 lobbyists, at least 83 have in recent years lobbied for the financial industry McCain now attacks.


Click above for the original story. It includes a list of lobbyists, by name, along with their clients.  Check to see if you know any!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Three-Quarters of a TRILLION Dollars

That is roughly what President Bush wants to spend to bail out the banks by purchasing their bad, and stupid, mortgage-based securities.

Sigh.  We suppose there's not much alternative.  But here's a thought:  can we get a refund on some of the money he spent on things we didn't need?  Like a war in Iraq?

First-Quality Work, Too

Per the News:  "The Alaska lawmaker in charge of the abuse of power probe of Sarah Palin promises the investigation will be finished by Oct. 10, even though key witnesses won't testify."

We're sure it will be thorough and revealing. Just as we are sure that Gov. Palin is a well-educated, deeply experienced, introspective and profoundly honest public servant.

Torture is Not Mentally Healthy

Sounds obvious when you say it that way, doesn't it?  Not healthy for the tortured or the torturing.

And as a witness to this fact which, although obvious, seems to elude the Bush Administration and its remaining admirers (both the crooked ones and the stupid ones, which are what is left), the American Psychological Association has chosen to bar its members from assisting the military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay.

Apparently, this decision was a revolt by the membership at large of America's main psychological fraternity, against a gutless 2005 statement by its own leadership.  The APA is now more nearly in line with the American Medical Association and the American psychiatric Association.

Thus far, the ban lacks an enforcement mechanism.  If  it is added to the association's ethical code, however, they will be able to kick out violators.  We hope that it is, and that they do, post haste.

The Worst Play Ever

A Violation of the Steinfels Rule

In a piece we admired below, Peter Steinfels warned reporters against using "orthodox" carelessly.  Here's a case in point, from the U.K.'s Telegraph

The Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh, Robert Duncan, was on the verge of leading his diocese out of PECUSA and into the Southern Cone.  In what must have been a very dramatic meeting, the Episcopalians voted to defrock him.  Martin Beckford, whose byline identifies him as the Telegraph's "Religious Affairs Correspondent," writes thus about Duncan:

The Rt Rev Robert Duncan, the Bishop of Pittsburgh, is the head of a group of orthodox clergy who turned against the Episcopal Church of the USA after it elected an openly gay bishop in defiance of scripture and tradition.

Really?  He's "orthodox"?  Is Beckford prepared to defend that claim theologically?  Because, while schismatics are not necessarily heretical, church history views most of them with considerable doubt.  In the case of Anglicanism, it can be argued that such orthodoxy as Anglicans enjoy is rooted -- absent a strong tradition of doctrinal theology -- in two things: liturgical uniformity and institutional unity.  Again, we point to the Elizabethan Settlement, in which parties that disagreed violently on doctrine agreed to be united by worship (sort of) and by a chain of authority.  A bishop who breaks communion with the church in which he was raised must provide a strong argument, which must convince the appropriate ecclesiastical authorities, if he is to be called orthodox by these criteria.

In the particular case of the Episcopal Church, there is also the argument that Bishop Robinson was elected not in defiance of Scripture and tradition, but because of a strong commitment to them, as understood by those who elected him.   Others may disagree, but the dispute is a matter for theologians, not reporters -- and has not yet been resolved by the Anglican Communion's internal processes.  

So unless Martin Beckford of the Telegraph intends to surrender his journalistic objectivity and  take sides in an ongoing internal Anglican dispute, it seems to us that he is well-advised to avoid making judgments on the orthodoxy of either side.

Liberal Christians Are Gullible Dopes

A survey by Baylor University released this week reveals some surprising numbers.  We frankly do not believe some of them -- other evidence has shown, for example, that it is just not true that 30% of Americans are in worship each week, no matter what Baylor's Rodney Stark says.  And Mr. Stark is mistaken when he says that Vatican II told Roman Catholics it was no longer a sin to skip worship -- it didn't.

But here are some numbers that we admit, with great sadness, ring true:

The survey, which has a margin of error of four percentage points, also revealed that theological liberals are more apt to believe in the paranormal and the occult - haunted houses, UFOs, communicating with the dead and astrology - than do conservatives. Women (35 percent), blacks (41 percent), those younger than 30 (40 percent), Democrats (40 percent) and singles who are cohabitating (49 percent) were more likely to believe, the survey said.

On the surface, this seems like it must be a mistake.  Our natural assumption is that secular people -- like those godless Democrats -- are more hardheaded about metaphysical matters than religious believers, and that the more secular one becomes, the more hard-headed and committed to materialism and evidence.  After all, these are the people who were weaned on Locke and Marx, who consort with the atheistical Frenchies (14%, highest level of unbelief in the world).   Push liberal Christianity far enough, and you meet people who barely believe in God -- so they can't really be the same people who believe in haunted houses.  Can they?

Apparently so.  Years ago, Father A. hosted a small gathering of local colleagues, for Bible study and mutual support.  We were all ELCA Lutherans, and so theologically "liberal" by somebody's classification, although every one of us seemed Biblically astute and creedally oriented.   At some point, the conversation turned to what was then a popular television show -- it featured a young man who claimed he could talk to your dead family members. 

"My sister knew him in high school," somebody said.  "She swears he had the gift even then."  Other people chimed in, talking about hat a marvelous ability it was.

"Uh, yeah," Father Anonymous said.  "It would be great, if it weren't completely bogus."  He talked about a  close friend who was a talented stage magician, and who had recently developed a mentalism act.  They had talked for hours about the traditions of onstage mind-reading and, yes, necromancy -- how a few clues, a few prompts and some well-documented algorithms could turn you, too, into "Mentallismo the Magnificent, the Ghost Whisperer." 

Your correspondent expected a few chuckles and a change of subject.  What he got was a quick, hostile response:  How could he say such things? my sister swears this guy is legit.  And even if he isn't, somebody is, right?  Somebody out there can conjure the spirits of the dead.  Right?

Out of five or six priests (or as the ELCA quaintly puts it, "rostered persons"), all with college and seminary educations, all otherwise apparently sane and sensible, it turns out that Father A. was the only one who didn't believe in this, um, horseshit.

So, yes, we suspect that the Baylor survey is mistaken about church attendance, and that the director is misinformed about the Catholic Catechism.  But we fear that the most shocking revelation may be accurate:  there are a lot of Christians who don't believe in the Immaculate Conception or the Perpetual Virginity, but will believe in pretty much anything else.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Is James Bond Religious?

Click the link for a brief consideration of the case on a London Times blog.  The religious angle is thin, but serves as our pretext for directing your eyes (only) to the paper's Bond timeline.

The feature includes a map of "Bond's London," which doesn't do us much good stuck here in the Minor Outlying Islands.  But one of these days, we will get around to ordering oyster stew and a Miller beer at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central, which Bond (and Fleming, in a newspaper column we once read) held to be the best meal available in NYC at any price.

For the Last Freakin' Time: Don't Write About Muhammad!

Not if you want to live.  Or get rich.

Some months ago, The Jewel of Medinaan historical novel about Muhammad's wife A'isha was withdrawn before publication, apparently because the good people at Random House were afraid for their lives.  Depending upon the details of her contract, this may have cost the author, Sherry Jones, as much as $100,000.  

Longtime readers (those with, ahem, Egg on their face) will no doubt recall our howls of outrage against those who protested the Danish cartoons.  We are something close to free-speech absolutists around here, certainly with regard to either political or artistic speech.  So you might expect us to howl with similar volume about Random House's craven capitulation in this case.

And we would howl against the rabid Islamist protesters who threatened Random House and Sherry Jones, except that -- according to Carlin Romano's fascinating version of the story, adapted from an article by Asra Q. Nomani -- there really weren't any.  Not the flag-burning, death-to-America kind of protests.  Just a lone American college professor,  Denise Spellberg, a Random House author and an historian at the University of Texas, Austin. When the book was sent to her for a blurb, she responded with both scholarly disdain, which any historical novelist must expect, and with considerable alarm about the possible danger from possibly aggrieved Muslims.  Apparently, this was all the publishers needed.   (Spellberg later called Jewel "a very ugly, stupid piece of work," and it isn't clear whether this is an historical, literary or political judgment).

But still, as Stanley Fish has pointed out, this isn't censorship, in which a government tells citizens what they may or may not write.  (And Romano's supposed point about "the metaphorization" of censorship is just silly). Random House is not guided by ideology, much less by a pristine moral vision; nor does it have the sort of obligation to the public that newspapers might. It is in the book-publishing business, and its choice not to publish a novel, for whatever reason, is a business decision. It infuriates us that Islamic extremism has created an environment in which the safety of employees and distributors has become one of the factors a publisher has to take into account, but, well, you can't just pretend the gorilla isn't sitting at your table.

So, no, we aren't mad at Random House.  But of course, the goal of terrorism is to change people's behavior by scaring them.  So we are a little sad that, aided by an historian posing as a literary critic and a security expert, the terrorists won this round.

Ooops.

An amulet dug up near the English town of Shepton Mallet, bearing the chi-rho in silver, has for almost twenty years been hailed as one of the most ancient relics of Christianity in Britain.  They named a street after it, and Archbishop Carey wore a copy at his enthronement.  Turns out to have been a modern forgery, most likely planted by some protesters seeking to prevent real estate development.

A little sad, we suppose.  And yet we also have to admit that a good hoax is both more entertaining and more memorable than yet another bit of archaeological trivia.  The Piltdown Man will always be more interesting than some new australopithocene, won't he?  Just the way Bigfoot is more interesting than a monkey.  Our recent vacation in the vicinity of Cooperstown was marred only by the fact that we couldn't make it to the Farmer's Museum, home of the Cardiff Giant.  We have wanted to see it since we were a mere tot, wearing diapers below the cassock.

Still, it does remind us why Luther objected to the trade in relics.  It's not that, say, the knuckle of St. Lucy, preserved in amber, isn't interesting, in a ghoulish way; it's merely that you don't want people to place their faith in it, especially when the evidence suggests that St. Lucy had 11,000 knuckles.

On the same subject, Father A. recalls, years ago, sitting up late one night with a young priest, who until recently had worked as a Vatican functionary.  Conversation turned to the ceremonial gifts given to friends and donors; one of these, it happened, were beautiful silver boxes containing the ashes of the Vietnamese martyrs.

"They're mostly cigarette butts these days," the young priest said.  And then, in response to a look of horror, he said, "Come on, you're a Lutheran.  You know it isn't the relic itself that matters, only the faith it inspires."  And he assured Father A. that the boxes themselves were the best to be had in the whole city.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Hasids versus the Hotties"

That's the NY Post's typically tasteful lede, for a story about Jews in Brooklyn who object to the city's new bike lanes and want them removed.  

They have an almost legitimate concern about safety -- bikers are notoriously reckless on city streets, which is one of the reasons that it makes such good sense to restrict them to their own lanes.

But the main issue is the "scantily clad cyclists - especially sexy women" who ride through the neighborhood, and who distract the supposedly observant men from their supposedly lustless prayers, thoughts and business dealings.

We have two thoughts on this typically stupid New York story.  First thought:  Suck it up, guys.  The truth is that we live in a world full of pretty women, and (most) men are hardwired by nature to find them distracting.  As long as there are women, you will be tempted to lust; as long as there are women to whom you are not married, you will be tempted to adulterous lust.  The true spiritual challenge which faces you is not to build a wall against temptation, but to resist it.

Second thought:  It isn't the government's job to assist in your spiritual quest.  It is the government's job to accommodate the diverse needs of a diverse city, which -- given NYC's overcrowded streets and  paucity of bikeable paths -- most certainly includes the creation of more bike lanes.  

(A tip of the biretta to Father G. Hussein Thomas, for drawing our attention to one more assaut on secular society).

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Orthodoxy"?

Kudos to Peter Steinfels for a recent bit of religious-press criticism in the Times.  

He points out how confusing it is when reporters use the word orthodox, in sentences such as "Pope John Paul II interpreted Vatican II along more orthodox lines."  This is just a f'rinstance, but here's how it works:  Being a council, Vatican II was (at least in the thinking of the Roman Church which convened it) the arbiter of orthodoxy.  While its interpretation and the execution of its mandates matter very deeply, they cannot by definition be more or less orthodox.  Except, as Steinfels points out, by the definition of marginal groups (like the Lefebvrist schismatics, or Mel Gibson's father) who consider Vatican II (and sometimes Vatican I) to have been illegitimate, and the Roman See to have been vacant for forty or even 100-some years.

In other words, within Christianity and within any individual Christian community, there will always be groups that accuse one another of heterodoxy, and argue over the marks or orthodoxy.  It should not be reporter's job to take sides, even tacitly, in these internal disputes.  But that is just what happens when -- as seems often to be the case -- sloppy reporters use orthodox as a synonym for conservative.  

This has become especially frustrating of late, in reporting on the Great Anglican Schism.  Are the GAFCon bishops "orthodox," because they seek to prevent the ordination of non-celibate gays (and, in some cases, women)?  Or are the PECUSA bishops "orthodox," because they seek to maintain a traditional ecclesiology (reflected, for example, by not ordaining priests or bishops for another province)?  Cases can be made either way, but unless a reporter intends to write an opinion piece, and one that is especially well-informed in matters of doctrine and church history, it would seem wise not to impute orthodoxy to one sire or the other.

Incidentally, this is a nuance which seems to escape even the usually astute observers at GetReligion.org.  The site's editors and many of its commenters seem to have a very mild conservative bias, which makes it difficult for them to recognize the problem.  (We have tried).  It might help Christian readers to ask themselves whether, in an ostensibly objective article on the Middle East, they would be comfortable with a reporter who spoke easily of "orthodox" Shi'ia versus "heretical" Sunnis.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

More McCain Lies

About Palin, naturally.  Sullivan is on a rampage with this stuff, as well he should be, so we're just going to steal stuff from him for a while.  The latest is the campaign's repeated claim that Gov. Palin has visited "a military outpost" in Iraq, and entered the Iraqi battle zone.  As Sulivan says:

This was another simple lie. Not a distortion, a lie. But, as we know, the McCain-Palin campaign tells massive lies and when called on them, first tr[ies] a dodge, rather than the truth.

When you cut through the bushwah, you learn that she visited Kuwait.  It is close to Iraq, so we suppose the campaign gets credit for a better grasp of geography than most Americans.  But still.  (In all fairness, she visited a border crossing, so she may have reached a foot over from time to time.  But she was nowhere near a "battle zone.")  All of this reminds us of Sen. Clinton's infamous tale of landing under fire in Bosnia -- and yet the same people who lashed out at Clinton are letting Palin slide.

They also say Palin has been to Ireland, which she has -- for a refueling stop. She never left the plane. 

These lies are not merely innocent misstatements of fact; they are, day after day, amounting to a deliberate strategy of deceit.  And let's be clear:  the popular the saying about all being fair in love and war is not true.  In both love and war, honesty matters; that is why spies, for example, are treated more harshly than uniformed POWs.  by the same token, despite the cynical acknowledgment that all politicians have a tortured relationship with facts, outright falsehoods (as opposed to dubious interpretations, figures of speech, or honest mistakes) are -- or should be -- punished with particular force by popular opinion up to and including the election booth. 

For Christians, lying is an especially heinous thing.  Lies about somebody else -- "false witness against thy neighbor" -- are expressly forbidden by the Ten Commandments.   Somebody ought to remind the McCain campaign that this is true even when thy neighbor is Sen. Obama.  But other lies are also a serious moral problem, both because they damage the fabric of trust upon which all human society is built, and also -- primarily -- because, God being Truth itself, they damage the image of God within the liar.  

St. Augustine had a lot to say on the subject.  If the McCain team has any doubts about this, they should make time on the bus to read his De Mendacio and Contra Mendacium.  

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cocaine-Dealing Priest Reveals Flaw in Theological Education

Per the AP, a 33-year-old Roman Catholic priest named Christopher Layden has pled guilty to selling modest amounts of cocaine in his own rectory.

This is one of those stories that will probably disappear soon, and never be heard from again.  But it certainly leaves us wondering what happened, and what will eventually happen. Father A., sputtering with rage and confusion just now, blurted out "Hey, didn't they talk to you about this in seminary?"

To which the always more thoughtful Mrs. A. responded, "Well, did anybody talk to you about it in seminary?"  And she's right:  the subject never came up.  Not once.

Ugly Is As Ugly Does

It is a grim reflection on American democracy that the McCain campaign has only begun to ignite after abandoning Sen. McCain's own values.

The choice of America Ferrara as his running mate was a bizarre step away from the moderate conservatism that has marked much of McCain's political life, and particularly from his resistance to the Religious Right and his principled contention that the religious views of political leaders are and ought to remain private.  (This saddened us, as it was the thing we had liked best about him.)

The campaign has begun spreading, and defending, a series of ever-more offensive lies.  These begin with misrepresentations of Gov. Palin's record -- claiming that she never sought earmarks, when as mayor she hired a lobbyist to pursue them, and as governor she sought $200 million worth; insisting that she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere, when in fact she supported it until the stage at which it was a dead idea anyway.

It escalated dramatically with a witless attack on Sen. Obama, claiming that his use of the folksy  expression "you can put lipstick on a pig and it's still a pig" was somehow directed at Palin.  Even the most casual listener, hearing the remark in context, can hear that he is speaking of McCain's somewhat specious offer of "change" from the Bush Administration, made while supporting most of its policies.  McCain himself has often used the same expression, notably in reference to Sen. Clinton's proposed health-care reforms.

Challenged about this on The View, McCain's response was worth noting.  He claimed (a) "they're not lies," which is simply another lie; and added that (b) "Senator Obama chooses his words very carefully."  He considered this idea so important that he repeated it.  Why?

Obviously, (1) he wants us to believe that Obama was speaking in a sort of subliminal sexist code, which could only be heard by the sexist Democrats in his audience -- until McCain cracked the code.  This is nonsense.  McCain may have been (2) attempting some sort of jujitsu move, in an effort to use Obama's superior communication skills against him.  After all, one might infer, if the remark were offensive -- which it patently is not, in this context -- Obama clearly intended it to be so, because he is so articulate; but McCain's own use must be forgiveable, either because he is  so woefully inarticulate or because he is a doddering old man this close to losing his marbles.

(Those last charges things are not true, of course.  But they are the sort of charges to which this foolish strategy leaves McCain exposed, if Obama lowers himself to them.  But of course, if acolytes of Rove who are obviously running McCain's operation now can really piss Obama off, they will have struck gold.  After all, there's nothing easier to run against than an angry black man.) 

It's getting worse.  McCain HQ is now spewing filth like a pressure hose.  The most reprehensible of today's lies (and we know there will be more tomorrow) is the accusation that piece of Illinois legislation Obama sponsored to protect children from sexual predators was really about forcing sex ed on kindergarteners.   Here's a video review, along with Andrew Sullivan's commentary.

Sullivan suggests that McCain has "checked out," leaving campaign strategy to his strategists, even when they tell him to do stupid, evil things. This may be true. Sullivan also proposes that McCain "has mis-timed his lies," swinging right as the country goes left, and dirty as the country yearns for clean. We pray that this is so. But even if neither of these proves true, there is one claim upon which we agree with Sullivan entirely: "John McCain is now for ever a despicable and dishonest and dishonorable man. He has destroyed his reputation."

Dennis Baxley is a Moron

Mr. Baxley is the director of the Christian Coalition of Florida, and recently told the Miami Herald that Obama "is pretty scary to us," because of his "Muslim roots and training," but also because he believes that the Illinois senator is a godless Communist:  

He wants to tax the rich more and redistribute wealth to other people -- where I come from, that's socialism.  Karl Marx was not a Christian.

Sigh.  The next couple of weeks are going to drag, aren't they?  At this point, anybody who can read knows that Obama is not a Muslim, never was a Muslim, and has no Muslim "training" of any sort.  Claims or aspersions to the contrary are signs of either stupidity or  disingenuity.  

Baxley wonders how living in Indonesia for a few years "influences [Obama's] thinking,"  and we have to laugh.  There is a certain kind of American for whom the rest of the world is such a profoundly scary place that they cannot fully trust anybody who has visited, much less lived there.  For them, a sophomore year in Italy is as dangerous as shooting heroin.  But anybody who has watched the foreign policy disasters of the past eight years can see clearly what happens when we choose leaders with no experience of the world.

As for redistribution of wealth, well, let's be honest:  that's what taxes do, pretty much by definition.  The question is whether you want to tax the rich for the benefit of the middle class, as Obama does, or tax the middle class for the benefit of the super-rich, which has been the strategy of the Bush tax cuts which McCain claims to favor.  Baxley, apparently, owns a yacht.

For our part, we at the Egg wonder whether Baxley is illiterate or duplicitous, since he must surely be one or the other -- and which of those was the characteristic that qualified him to speak on behalf of Florida's soi-disant Christians.   

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Are We Dead Yet?

Apparently not.  Once again, it seems, the prophets of imminent doom have proven to be mistaken.  Early this morning, just over the French border into Switzerland, scientists at CERN switched on their Large Hadron Collider to begin the search for the Higgs boson.  

Preliminary reports indicate that the Earth has not yet been swallowed by a black hole.  Although -- and this is true -- we heard something on the radio about a dog which began barking strangely in the field above the underground collider.

In any case, we are delighted that, in this singular case, the doomsayers were actual scientists, rather than religious fanatics.  It had to happen once, right?  And religious fanatics, for their part, seem strangely uninterested in the LHC project, despite the frequent (and so-off-base-it-makes-you-laugh) description of the Higgs boson as "the god particle."  One senses that, as we approach the bicentennial of Darwin's birth, they are simply feeling overwhelmed.  They are still pissing about evolution even as scientists get closer to a vision of the Big Bang. The actual mysteries and majesties of nature are so vast and complex that those who insist upon a reductionist fantasy world simply cannot keep up.

Perversely, the defeat of the fanatic God-shouters is a victory for God, at least in the eyes of those of us (and we are, ahem, legion) who believe that the truths of the Christian faith do not depend upon a simple-minded reading of Scripture, and that the natural world provides a spectacular testimony to God's wisdom, power and providence.

"Drill Here, Drill Now"

We were surprised when the GOP Convention adopted this brazenly sexual motto.  It just didn't sound like the chubby middle-aged people in hats shaped like blocks of cheese that we were seeing on television.  Let's face it:  Republicans aren't an especially sexy bunch.  Right?

Wrong.  Turns out that a key Bush Administration office has fostered "a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity," which is now under investigation.  Officials at the Minerals Management Service, which collects the fees on oil and gas which are the government's largest source of income after taxes, “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.”

Nor is this a matter of purely personal morality.  Investigators, as quoted in the Times, describe incident after incident in which oil companies were permitted to revise their bids downward after signing contracts -- thus cheating taxpayers out of  the fair value of natural resources which belong, in the end, to that American people our politicians like to yammer on about.  

So if the lies, drunkenness and fornication don't offend you, please stop to consider the financial mismanagement which has been so typical of these past eight years.  And the next time you see a Republican shouting "Drill, baby, drill," we suggest that you run like hell.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Michelle Obama has a cousin who is a rabbi.  His name is Capers Funnye.

It's pronounced Fun-YAY, and we're not kidding.  In all seriousness (something we are having a little trouble mustering just now), Rabbi Funnye's ministry serves to remind us of the small and little-known world of black Jews, who ....

Sorry.  It's late at night, and the Egg pressroom has become a giddy place.  But we swear that if we wanted to write a comic novel about life in Chicago (if we were, say, Saul Bellow or a transplanted John Kennedy Toole), one of the most important minor characters would be a black rabbi named Capers Funnye.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

McCain Admires Welfare State

This, at least, is a reasonable conclusion to draw from his selection of Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a running mate.  

After all, she comes from Alaska, a state in which the great bulk of public funding, including direct payments to citizens by the government, is supported by two things:  (a) oil companies, and (b) Washington.

As Michael Kinsley explains in Time, the Last Frontier is a fiscal conservative's nightmare. It ranks #1 in taxes per resident, and #1 in spending per resident.  Alaska both taxes and spends at more than double the national average. 

But there's a catch, and this catch is what allows Alaskans to maintain the Potemkin-village veneer of rugged conservatism.  Most of those taxes are paid by somebody else -- specifically, by us in the Lower 48.  Alaska's treasury collects a staggering 75% of the value of each barrel of oil before it leaves the state.  That can only increase the cost of oil to the rest of us.  Probably not by much, for the same structural reasons that more drilling in Alaska won't lower our prices by much.  But still -- when each Alaskan gets a whopping $2,200 annual check from the government, that is money paid by drivers in the rest of the country. 

And yes, those direct payments have gone up substantially because of rising gas prices.

The money from Washington can be measured as a surplus of federal spending above federal taxes; Alaska ranks second or third per capita, and first in actual dollars.  This is basically a transfer of wealth from other states -- specifically, states that begin with the letter "N" -- New Jersey, Nevada, and New Hampshire.  Go figure.  (To find out how much your own state pays Washington versus how much it receives, click here.)

In other words, Alaska is a massive welfare state, supported by corporate taxation, high gas prices, and federal handouts.  We're not sure that governing it would prepare anybody to deal with the colossal deficits racked up by the fiscal profligacy of the Bush administration.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Disturbing Thought

If all those conservative Republicans (as opposed to the other kind, who these days call themselves "of no party or clique") hated McCain before he chose Tina Fey to be his running mate ....

And if the Vice President's job is actually what the Constitution says (break ties in the Senate, check on the President's health) ....

Does that mean that conservative Republicans all over America, many of them ostensibly Christians, are prepared to vote their party line this November only in the hope that John McCain will die in office?

Palin's Church: "Pray Away the Gay"

Your devoted correspondent is still on vacation, and so has not yet had time to post concerning the surprise nomination of Tina Fey for Vice President.  But we loved her on Weekend Update, and quite enjoy that show with Alec Baldwin.

In other news, somebody named Sarah Palin apparently attends a church in Alaska that promotes convincing gay people that they are really straight through the power of prayer.  Just thought you should know.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Odor of Sanctity

Dr. Fred Hass is a devout Catholic with an interest in historic perfumes.  At least that's the cover story behind "The Pope's Cologne," which purports to be the private formula of Pius IX himself.

Although the wag who runs American Papist argues that "if anything deserves to be on the Syllabus of Errors, this is it," we disagree.  Fragrances associated with historical figures can be kind of cool.  Some time ago, we experimented with Caswell-Massey #6, reputed to have been shared by George Washington and the Marquis De Lafayette.  It was good stuff, even though in the end, we decided that we didn't want to smell like a dead war-hero.

This stuff claims to be a formula passed on by the family of the late Pope's friend and commander of the Papal Guard, Gen. Charles Charette.  Perhaps more to the point, it promises notes of violet and citrus -- classy stuff, although Father A. is more of a Bangalore sandalwood man.

Our problem isn't with the cologne, it's with Pio Nono.  Something about the disdain for modernity.  Or maybe it was the anti-Semitism.