Friday, April 23, 2004

Various and Sundry

The Scorpion and the Turtle: The Middle East and Despair
The best approximate justice possible should be sought for the State of Israel and the Palestinian people. It would help enormously if the United States could say outright that Israel is an oppressor and an occupying power. Unfortunately political realities make it impossible to acknowledge that what the United States did to Native Americans, Israel has done twice in Palestine. The Book of Joshua tells the first story, and the second occurred mainly in 1948 and 1967. Israel insists that the Palestinians must stop the violence before progress can be made toward a Palestinian state. But this assumes that Israel and the Palestinians start as moral equals, forgetting that Israel is an unjust occupier of Palestinian territory. Irresponsibility is exclusive to neither party. The political process is driven by the extremists on both sides, robbing moderates of a prevailing influence. Reasonable, fair-minded Israelis and Palestinians are sick of the suffering and want peace in a practical settlement that will please no one completely but will partially redeem the tragedy of the Middle East.

Is there any hope? The scorpion asked the turtle for a ride across the stream, saying “I cannot swim.” The turtle refused out of fear of being stung by the scorpion. “Don’t be silly,” said the scorpion. “If I sting you, we will both die.” So the turtle gave the scorpion a ride. In mid-stream, the scorpion stung the turtle on the neck. “Now we will both die. Why did you do that,” said the turtle in despair. Replied the scorpion, “Well, that’s the Middle East for you.”

Quasi-Acerbic Oddities 1
Shame on CBS for showing pictures of the dying Princess Diana. But is it not hypocritical for the British tabloids that hounded her for years to be outraged at this violation of her dignity?

The ads for Levitra are getting so explicit they border on the scandalous. Poor Levitra, it has no advantage over Viagra and cannot claim to work for thirty-six hours like Cialis. So what can Levitra do but get more sexy, since everybody knows, sex sells.

Give President Bush credit for setting aside more wetlands, but is it not ironic, not to say annoying, to have him speak on Earth Day -- he who has done everything possible to benefit corporate polluters by trimming back on environmental controls?

Of course, the Bush Administration does not want us to see pictures of coffins containing dead soldiers. It would spoil the illusion they want to foster that this war is almost painless, nearly costless, calling for no sacrifice for non-military families and allowing for generous tax cuts for the wealthy.

What is it with us Americans that we get so upset over Janet Jackson's momentary "wardrobe malfunction" and are so complacent, so accepting, of the constant, pervasive, gross, gratuitous violence in movies and video games and on TV? Why are we so offended by the nano-second sighting of a female breast and so oblivious to the dangers associated with the easy access to guns?

Why are so many Democrats so enthusiastic about a possible presidential run for Hillary Clinton given that she is increasingly a hawk close to Bush on Iraq and military matters? (New York Times, April 23, 2004)

The Bush record at home and abroad should allow Kerry to toss grenades into the President's candidacy. Am I the only one who thinks Kerry keeps throwing cotton balls? Is Kevin Phillips right that Kerry is not capable -- in substance and style -- of going for the jugular, partly because he is himself such a part of the wealthy corporate class whose play-house needs upsetting?

Petty annoyances of daily life
Saturday, April 24, 2004
No one who designs packaging will get into heaven until after they have spent a thousand years trying to open their own products.

Why do companies ask you to put the amount sent in a little box right after amount due? The bill is $23.67, so why don't I say, well, how about maybe $14.54? Look at the check, dummy. It is for the amount due, what did you expect?

And what about all the junky stuffy that comes along with the bill? I put it back in with my payment. Let them dispose of their own trash.

And what about those flaps on the payment envelopes that have to be torn off that ask for your change of address ? I move once for about every 100 of those useless flaps.

And how many things do you have to tear off before you can send bill and payment back? It saves them money, and you do the work. I wish those responsible well while they tear off stuff working beside the package designers for a thousand years purging their sin.

Wednesday, 21 April 2004
Gas Tax So Sensible It Has No Chance.

The one dollar a gallon gas tax proposed by Andrew Sullivan (Time,April 19, 2004,104) is so eminently wise and has so many medium and long-term benefits for the country that it will be soundly ignored, denounced, and screamed at by the Congress, the President, and the bulk of the American public because of our short-sightedness, self-centeredness, and shallow thinking. I would, however, propose a gradual increment of ten cents a gallon over time and maybe consider a fifty cent maximum at the moment to reduce the economic shock.

Hey, there's a war on. What about a little sacrifice on everybody's part instead of placing the burden on middle and lower middle class, low income folks and minorities who fight our wars, shed blood, and die -- often for the foolish schemes of our leaders whose own children get MBA's and law degrees in classes with the offspring of the wealthy instead of dying in battle? Maybe a draft with a minimum of non-health exemptions might sober us up to the costs of war. Just a thought.

Updated: Wednesday, 21 April 2004 6:36 PM EST
Tuesday, 20 April 2004

Woodward and the War, Bush and Bandar

A lot of double-talk and clever seizing of ambiguities of language has taken place since the Woodward book came out.

1. Woodward says Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia was told of the decision to go to war before Colin Powell was. Powell says he was in on the war planning. So both can claim to be right.

2. Prince Bandar is a clever soul and can wiggle himself out of most anything. He is as slippery as a cat fish fresh out of water. He acknowledged that Woodward was right about the hope to lower oil prices before the election but not, mind you, to influence the election but for the good of the world economy. Never mind that he also said the Saudis hoped that every incumbent would win, not that they ever wanted to influence an election, indicating that similar statements had been made to Carter and the first White House Bush.

These details aside, Woodward confirms what Richard Clark and Paul O'Neill have said: the Bush Administration early on was eager to find a reason to topple Saddam Hussein. They seized on every bit of evidence and interpreted (manipulated?) it to serve their cause from the beginning. Cheney was especially obsessed, having been the Secretary of Defense during the first war against Iraq and had unfinished business with that regime. And are we to believe that the younger Bush had no feelings about the guy who tried to kill his Dad, namely, Saddam himself, and that only thoroughly rational strategic considerations entered into his thinking?

Many of us think that decision was tragically wrong. The Bush Administration changed its rationale every time the prevailing one was demolished by the facts. No evidence showed that, even if Saddam had WMD, that he was on the verge of using them, which would have been the only justification for a preemptive strike.

Updated: Friday, 23 April 2004 10:49 AM EST
Sunday, 18 April 2004
How to Relate Religious Faith to Politics

Jesus and Jefferson

1. Religion and politics is not the same issue as church and state. 2. We must distinguish between religious faith and its political implications. 3. It is legitimate for citizens express the social ideals and principles rooted in their religious faith in the political arena, but they should express them in language and values located in secular American history and traditions, especially those articulated in the founding documents.

Church and State
The problem of church and state has to do with institutions and practices. Neither must trespass the boundaries that define its legitiimate sphere of action. Here the concept of separation is valid.

Religion and Politics
Religion and politics has to do with two spheres of activities in the life of the same persons. Citizens who belong to religious groups are also members of the secular society, and this dual association generates complications. Religious beliefs have moral and social implications, and it is appropriate for people of faith to express these through their activities as citizens in the political order. The fact that ethical convictions are rooted in religious faith does not disqualify them from the political realm. However, they do not have secular validity merely because they are thought by their exponents to be religiously authorized. They must be argued for in appropriate social and political terms in harmony with national values.

1. It is sometimes said that it is all right for religious people to have private beliefs about social and political issues, but it is not appropriate for them to try to seek legislation that imposes them on everybody else. This simplistic notion fails to recognize that all attempts to get laws passed are efforts to impose the beliefs of some on everybody, since not many laws have universal consent.

2. Every belief that citizens try to express politically is rooted in some philosophy or religion or some set of assumptions about society and its well-being and, if pressed far enough, about the ultimate nature of things. Ethical convictions do not come from out of nowhere. Reason and conscience are informed by something that is foundational for both.

3. Ideally and in principle, religious believers should not seek to get laws passed on religious grounds but because they express the values of the secular society as defined by its founding documents and traditions as they have come to be embedded in the common life.

4. A two-sided critique is required. Against religious people who explicitly support political policies on religious grounds peculiar to a particular denomination (the Bible, the Pope, church doctrine, and the like), we must insist that our government does not rest as such on the principles of particular religions, denominations, or sects. In this sense, we are a secular state. Against some secular zealots we must insist that religious people have as much right to express the social and ethical implications of their faith in political terms as they have to express their non-religious or atheist philosophies.

5. In practical terms, however, if believers actually convince other voters to support legislation because the Bible, the Pope, or church doctrine mandates it, not much can be done about it except to make an effort to persuade citizens there is a better way.

6. Churches must determine on the basis of their polity and doctrine whether it is legitimate or wise for a church official, congregation, or Denominational body to endorse a particular policy or candidate. But the state must determine whether partisan political activities engaged in officially by religious institutions jeopardize their tax exemption, since it then becomes a matter of church and state.

A more detailed version on this subject can be found at:

Updated: Monday, 19 April 2004 9:08 AM EST
Saturday, 17 April 2004
Ralph Nader: Naked Messiah


1. has a Messiah complex. He believes himself to be the chosen one to restore justice and goodness to the nation.

2. has a fundamentalist mentality. Only he has the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. No deviations from his inspired word are permitted, since those outside his world-view have only distortions of the truth.

3. is a fanatic. He is willing to do untold damage to institutions and people for the sake of pursuing his shining goal. No appeals that he may help elect Bush. who will continue the assault on his dream sway him in the least.

4. is a prophet. He deserves much credit for speaking truth to power for decades. He exposes the painful, disgusting fact that both parties are close to being to bought off by corporate power. He sees clearly what most politicians deny and what most people are not angry enough about. He has been a voice in the wilderness proclaiming the truth that most others miss or try to avoid and has been able to do so because he is not dependent on the predators for his support.

5. is a failure as a politician. Politics is the art of the possible involving compromise and trade-offs and is beset with baffling ambiguities. Politics is the pursuit of the better when the best is impossible to attain, at least right now. It will sometimes settle for the least of two evils when necessary in order to avoid the worst. Nader will have none of this. He has a moral clarity that is illusory in the messy world of government where competing interests struggle with adversaries for a margin of power. He does not know how to combine his idealism with a realism that can actually get something done. He has not learned the lesson taught by Reinhold Niebuhr that sometimes a slightly more just policy than available alternatives may make a great deal of difference for good in the lives of many people. Nader is willing to forgo small gains and to risk even greater injustice in the fanatical pursuit of his fundamentalist vision as the chosen one for this age.

Nader as a prophet is a national treasure. As a messianic politician, he is a disaster. There is a time and place for an ideal moral vision beyond imminent achievement. There is a time to be morally uncompromising, for independent candidates, for idealists in pursuit of a vision not power, BUT NOT IN 2004, when the compelling moral task is to get rid of George W. Bush and to replace him with a better if not perfect alternative.

For more on Nader, see