Thursday, November 30, 2006

Rice: War Between the States "Not a Civil War"

Washington (AP)

Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice re-affirmed today that the war between the Union and the Confederacy was ‘not a civil war.’

“This administration understands that patriotic Americans can disagree,” said Secretary Rice.

“The conflict between the Yankees and the Rebels may have looked like a civil war to a lot of people. But we believe it’s too soon to tell.”

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Xenu Loves You and Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life

I’m pretty interested in why people—particularly a lot of really smart folks—believe seemingly fantastical religious stories and myths.

The myths behind Scientology, for example, make the Mormon stories seem prosaic and level headed.

You’ve got a Galactic ruler Xenu who trillions of years ago solved planetary overcrowding by shipping trillions of humanoids across the galaxy in ships like DC-8’s and stacking them like cordwood around volcanoes on the earth and then killing them all by nuking 'em, and, well, you get the idea. Yet somehow a whole bunch of bright and talented post-modern people accept this nonsense as a part of their faith.

Current religious faith is obviously a complicated topic, but let me throw out a take on why so many smart people buy this kind of stuff:

People buy into religions right now for their ‘practical’ benefits and aren’t too concerned about the myths and theologies behind those benefits.

Basically, post-modern believers don’t lose a lot of sleep over the coherency or truth of theology or foundational mythologies. In every religious group you’ve got folks who devote themselves to parsing theology and mythology and defending the faith, but for the most part, I just don’t think most people really care one way or the other whether God turned the lost tribe of Israel in America into ‘redskins’ because of their evil deeds or whether Xenu used earth as a galactic dumping ground. In fact, in Scientology a believer isn’t even introduced to those myths and stories until they’ve reached a fairly advanced level within the church.

It comes down to practical emotional and spiritual support, a good atmosphere for families, a cohesive and encouraging community, and a decent and effective base for moral strength and growth. Any religion that provides some or most of those things will grow and attract lots of followers—including smart and creative people—no matter how crazy and loopy their theology and mythology may be.

In a way that shouldn’t be surprising. The ‘truth’ of religious faith has always been as much about emotion, community and practical morality as it has about ‘abstract, objective truth.’ It’s praxis more than propositions. Post-modernism simply enhances that effect because it so strongly downplays objective truth and makes entertaining any take on the world--no matter how improbable or seemingly unhinged--a moral duty.

In fact, I’ve come to believe that in our present environment, the more ‘out there’ the theology and foundational myths the better, as long as the religion can deliver the practical goods. Whatever you say about the stories and myths of Mormonism and Scientology, they’re way creative and address some current existential and cultural realities more directly than myths and stories from the Iron Age probably can.

If you want a mythology that directly supports the spiritual, cultural and political ‘chosen-ness’ of America you’d have a hard time coming up with something better than Mormonism. I think that’s pretty appealing to a lot of people here and even overseas where lots of people highly value American culture even if they’re not too pumped about our present political leaders.

And if you likee the sci fi sensibility and want salvation heavy on the psychological healing, ya gotta go with Xenu and Scientology. Lots of people in the market for those goods.

Of course, downplaying the 'truth' of denominations and doctrine and myths and stories is relatively new and a big change from most of western religious history when praxis and propositional truth were both critically important. But I think it's here to stay.

I'm just waiting for some high end game designer to create a new worldwide religion out of some virtual online universe he conjures up. Can't wait to hear that storyline :^)....

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Wacky Tales

Mega Angel Moroni

Religions are crazy stuff.

Not the morality. Most religions share similar ethical codes.

But the foundational stories and myths are almost always wacky miraculous tales with some deeper meanings that can take a lifetime to grasp.

More tomorrow on why a lot of smart people believe this kind of thing in spite of the nonsensical stories. And why they believe it because of the nonsense too.

The Mormons have got some of the loopiest religious stories around.

No need to get into detail when you’ve got South Park to explain it all.

The Founding of Mormonism (ignore the brief intro by the teenager who uploaded this SP episode onto YouTube). This is pretty much the real story. Wow.

The Current Practical Meaning of Mormonism and Religious Tolerance (if you’re easily offended by profanity, remember, this is South Park).

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sacred Briefs and the Oval Office

Boston (CNN)

Leading Republican presidential hopeful and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney reassured voters today that his Mormon faith was ‘in the Judeo-Christian mainstream’ and wouldn’t negatively affect his ability to govern from the Oval Office.

Speaking at a noontime press conference, Romney addressed concerns raised by Time magazine columnist Andrew Sullivan, one of the nation’s leading political bloggers, who ignited an online firestorm in a series of recent posts about Romney’s Mormon faith. Sullivan raised doubts about Romney’s viability with “the theocons”
who make up a significant portion of the Republican Party’s base.

“Mormonism is as American as apple pie and long, drawn out military quagmires, “said Romney. “I believe my faith is a particularly American version of Christianity and when conservative religious voters understand that I share their same values of hard work, family, and overeating I believe they will support my candidacy. I look forward to working with them to impose our version of moralism on the entire country.”

Some of Romney’s critics on both left and right have challenged what they believe are Mormonism’s recent history of overt racism, unusual religious practices such as wearing ‘sacred underwear’ covered in religious symbolism, and the religion’s ‘strange’ theology and founding story. Romney’s critics have expressed concern about the viability of a candidate or president who holds such unorthodox views and have wondered about Romney’s independence from Latter Day Saints leadership.

“I think many of us remember the opposition John Kennedy received when he ran for president in 1960 as a Catholic. I believe the opposition I’m receiving right now comes from the same source. It’s simply unenlightened prejudice combined with jealousy over my youthful yet seasoned appearance,” asserted Romney.

“I mean, it’s true that my church systematically excluded blacks from the priesthood and from all Mormon temples until 1978. But who remembers or cares now? Come on, ‘Fantasy Island’ and ‘Dallas’ were still on TV. We’re talking ancient history here.”

“And what’s so ‘out of the mainstream’ or ‘un-Judeo-Christian’ about believing that God lives on a planet near the star Kolob or that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from ‘Reformed Egyptian’ by peering through a pair of magical stones? Loopy religion? If you want loopy check out Tom Cruise jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch. In any case, what does any of this have to do with my ability to govern?”

A Romney spokesperson, Brigham Younger, took reporters’ questions after the speech and addressed the issue of the Governor’s underwear. “Actually, Governor Romney favors silk briefs that give him a kind of luxuriant tactile sensation throughout a long day of campaigning.”

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Back Monday

More posts next Monday. Happy T Day! And happy November 23-26 for those of you outside the states who may not know a turkey from a cranberry.

A couple of videos to encourage any grass roots idealists who see things slant.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Freeing Idealism

I argued yesterday that idealism gone bad is nasty stuff, but that strong idealism is necessary for any kind of progressive change. For folks interested in that kind of change, figuring out how to make idealism work well becomes an important priority.

How do you keep idealism from getting wacky and negative?

Well, most of all I think idealists need some checks and balances to keep their idealism healthy and constructive. A few thoughts on those checks and balances:

Idealists have gotta listen to the critiques of realists and take ‘em into account

I think this quote by Reinhold Niebuhr, the important 20th century Christian theologian, sort of sums it up:

I think there ought to be a club in which preachers and journalists could come together and have the idealistic sentimentality of the one matched with the cynicism of the other. That ought to bring them pretty close to the truth.

I’d add only one thing to that idea. The preachers (idealists) have actually gotta listen.

In general, Niebuhr taught that idealistic morality without realism is naive or worse, and realism without idealistic morality is cynicism or worse. In light of experience and history, I’d say idealistic morality without realism is naïve or much worse, particularly when that idealistic morality gets organized and ideological.

Idealists need to get their facts straight

This one is a little different than my first point. “Realists’ can sometimes reject idealistic ideas purely out of a deep skepticism about change in general. So while idealists may listen to that type of realist critique, they may not want to take it too seriously.

On the other hand, the strength of realism at its best is a focus on the facts. One of the most striking weaknesses of pretty much all forms of idealism--at their worst--is their willful ignorance of facts or the twisting of facts to suit their ideological purposes.

Idealistic military crusades into countries we don’t know much about aren't generally a good idea. Ignoring well established science isn’t either. Actually understanding the systems you’re trying to change can also be helpful :^)

Idealists need patience

A significant part of the damage that idealisms tend to cause come out of a basic lack of patience. Change gets forced onto situations and people before they’re ready to own and accept those changes.

Idealists must recognize that they aren’t as good as their ideals

The history of moral idealism, especially in its organized and ideological forms, is mostly the history of moral triumphalism and every kind of oppression and violence justified by the supposed moral superiority of the idealists.

This sense of moral superiority is the most poisonous element of idealism and does even more damage than the tendency of idealisms to ignore facts. It gives idealists license to oppress, and also lets them eventually ignore and overlook their own obvious shortcomings in living up to their ideals or accomplishing truly useful outcomes.

Basically, what I’m talking about is good old humility and a sense of perspective. Christians might say we’re talking about a basic sense of human sinfulness and frailty.

I think if you look at destructive idealisms, almost without exception you see an unwillingness to listen to critics, a playing fast and loose with the facts, and an obvious lack of humility and patience. When you combine those elements with the immense power that idealism has to move people into action, and you add organization and coercive power, well, you’ve got something potentially pretty destructive on your hands.

No need to take time here to look at positive and negative examples of organized idealisms and how they fit the grid I'm laying out. You can do the analyzing in your free time :^)

For progressives, keeping idealism healthy and functioning constructively is job one. We’re blessed culturally to have a pretty high respect for the scientific method, for democratic political checks and balances, and an emphasis on humility in the country’s primary religions, all of which tend to help mitigate the more damaging elements of idealism. We’ve just got to take advantage of those blessings a lot more than we’ve been doing lately.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sympathy for Idealists

Pragmatic realism is back.

People and positions that used to be called ‘ruthless’ and ‘amoral’ are taking on a newfound romantic sheen.

In politics guys like James Baker and even Henry Kissinger are looking a lot better to a whole lot of people. Hard core idealists like Christopher Hitchens have trashed Kissinger for years as an amoral monster, but all of the sudden they've gotten a whole lot quieter. Cold blooded pragmatists who pursue more morally limited and less ideological goals are rock stars right now.

No surprise in all that as far as I’m concerned. We talk about a business cycle, but I think an idealism/realism cycle is just as real. What goes around comes around.

Seems to be in the nature of things that idealists start out as a well meaning bunch, usually in reaction to some real injustice or evil. And often in reaction to the percieved cynicism of realists.

Then they get hardened into an ideological stance meant to combat that injustice or evil. Then as time goes by they get arrogant and lose their sense of perspective and balance. Actually, sometimes they start out arrogant and without a sense of balance, but I’m trying to be nice to idealists today :^)

Sometimes they actually attain political or military power. That’s when the real fun begins. Eventually, they often embark on efforts and are willing to use methods that do as much damage or more than the original evil or injustice they are trying to combat. Those efforts and methods normally betray the principles of their idealism.

And, of course, idealists themselves are never as good as their best ideas or ideology. Early on those shortcomings have to be hidden from fellow idealists, though as the ideological crusade goes on you get a lot more ‘wink wink nudge nudge’ blind eyes cast on the wayward. When organized idealism gets far enough along, verbal adherence to the ideals becomes the main thing. Actually accomplishing constructive goals becomes secondary. Retaining power and position end up as the main thing.

You see this kind of thing all the time in non-profit agencies, which tend to be more idealistic. Lack of accomplishment and a lack of accountability are often accepted as long as the organization and its members verbally promote the ideals. In Christian circles this is often euphemistically referred to as “being a prophetic presence.” What that often means is that the organization accomplishes little and doesn’t hold its members accountable but sees itself as a sort of abstract ‘witness’ to the wider Church which doesn’t adhere to the values of the supposedly progressive non-profit.

What can make idealism so dangerous though, especially in its organized forms, is the intensity and power of the whole thing and the eventual willingness in many cases to use almost any means—including violence and intrusive coercion—to pursue its goals.

Ran across this quote by Leon Wieseltier: “More people have died at the hands of idealists than at the hands of realists.”

Yeah, pretty much.

And the worst and most dangerous kind of organized idealism is organized religious idealism. If I can add my own thought to Wieseltier’s, more people have been oppressed and died at the hands of religious idealists than at the hands of all other kinds of idealists and realists combined.

Once a form of organized idealism goes bad and begins to implode, stark realism starts to look a whole lot more attractive. I think that’s part of what’s going on culturally right now here in the US. Neo-conservative thought—which in my mind is the epitome of well intentioned but violent and destructive idealism—and the Religious Right--a pretty text book example of self-righteous and dangerous religious idealism—have been usefully exposed and have created a kind of ‘pragmatic realism’ backlash. And of course, the spectre of current Islamic fundamentalism--an even more virulent form of religious idealism--drives a lot of people into the arms of the realists.

Hey, I said I was going to be nice to idealists today. I’m finally getting around to it :^)

In spite of all the dangers of idealism I mentioned above, we’ve gotta have it.

Cold blooded pragmatism--as attractive as it can be after you’ve been hit upside the head with the downside of organized idealism—turns out in the end to be little more than the straightforward protection of self-interest and often the status quo.

Important progressive change rarely springs out of pragmatic realism. Idealists are rightly motivated by how screwed up things are. And things are screwed up,that's for certain.

But to get it right, progressives of any stripe have gotta have moral and intellectual idealism tempered by powerful checks and balances.


• Checks and balances that can set progressive idealism free to be constructive rather than destructive

Monday, November 20, 2006

Kinder, Gentler Voodoo

Not Your Father's Witch Doctor

Guess Shrub Dubya is in Indonesia today for a 7 hour visit. Still, officials are so worried about the intense anti-Americanism there that 20,000 police and security agents will be on the streets ‘to protect the president,’ according to an AP report.

I mean, if you’ve traveled a lot internationally you know 7 hours is hardly enough time to get out of the airport. Guess they’ll assign about 15,000 of those agents to the baggage claim area.

Anyway, here’s the best part of the story. An Indonesian shaman apparently put the whammy on Bush in a black magic ritual performed last week. The whole thing required the blood of a snake, a goat and a crow. Guess they don’t use ‘eye of newt’ in those parts.

The terrible goal of the curse? Local Indonesian Shaman Ki Gendeng Pamungkas explains:

“My curse will make him bloat like broccoli. Bush will feel unease during his visit.”

Excuse me, but what kind of lame-ass curse is that?

Since when do witch doctors wield their big, bad voodoo daddy deal to give you gas?

Whatever happened to the good old days of real curses?

You know. Financial ruin for you and your family. Shrinking your head from a men’s size 7 down to an extra small. Turning you into a warthog. The good stuff. The full bodied stuff.

It's enough to make you lose confidence in this younger generation....

Saturday, November 18, 2006

BCS Crystal Ball

Ohio State V Michigan. Great game.

Both offenses were impressive.

But both defenses sort of whimped.

I thought I was watching Boise State and BYU. Could have played that game in the WAC and nobody would have known the difference.

I guess a lot of people think Michigan is so good they should get a rematch in the national title game.

But their defense gave up 42 points and over 500 yards. Ohio State’s O is good but not that good.

Tons of hype about that game. Big 10 and SEC types always get hyperventilated about their conferences and teams. Most of the nation’s sportswriters and population still work east of the Mississippi.

SC held one of the best offensives in the country to one touchdown while beating Cal.

They’ll face another strong offense next week with Notre Dame. I’m guessing they’ll shut them down too. ND doesn’t play defense. Is that a Midwest thing this year? I expect SC will roll.

SC spent most of the season sleepwalking through their schedule. The loss at Oregon State obviously woke ‘em up. Finally.

Rutgers blew up tonite and ended any Big East hope. Arkansas will beat Florida in the SEC title game. USC beat Arkansas 50-14 earlier this year. Enough said.

SC has no right to play for the title. They had to have the stars align and tons of upsets to have a chance. The stars aligned. The upsets happened.

I’ve got SC against Ohio State in the BCS championship game. Ohio State is clearly the best team in the country. Yet Ohio State won’t have played for almost two months when that game kicks off. And the master game planner Carroll will have a month to figure out how to stuff OSU.

Who knows :^)?

Bad Marriage

I’ll come back to the usual light weekend stuff tomorrow.

Thought this Bill Maher interview of David Kuo, the one time Bush White House deputy head of Faith Based Initiatives, was remarkable. Funny and sobering.

After the recent election I’ve lost some of my confidence that white evangelicals can get beyond the unholy marriage of Christian faith and right wing politics.

Kuo and Maher break it down prophetically in a way pastors and non-profit religious leaders should have been doing all along. Not as nuanced as it could have been, but prophetic straight shooting is rarely subtle.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Hang Saddam

My hit count dropped 60% after the "Spare Saddam" post.

Never seen anything like that in almost two years of posting.

Hey, I'm a market oriented, democratic kind of guy who respects the consumer and the voter.

Hang that son of a bitch :^)!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Respectable Christians

Confirmation Class

My son Andrew did his first skate punk concert last night at The Bluebird here in Denver. Agent Orange and The Restraining Orders were on the bill.

He’s 13 going on 14. Bar Mitzvah time if we were Jewish.

Pretty much the age for black and white, cut and dried music.

And morality. And religion. And politics too.

If you’ve raised a teen or two you know what I’m talking about. Black and white takes are a necessary step along the way.

Gotta give ‘em some room to work through those adolescent polarities. If you don’t you'll end with a member of the Religious Right or the President of Venezuela.

Andrew went with one of his buddies and his friend's mom who acted as chaperone. I'm so glad she was willing to go. She's in her 30's. I'm a little too old these days to pass for anything but a DEA agent in the mosh pit.

Andrew told me afterwards that some older spiked guy told him, “Wish my mom had come along when I was your age.”

I’ve been taking Andrew through the parables of Jesus. He’s old enough to get what’s going on.

Jesus spent most of his time with prostitutes and punks. Not much attention for the well-scrubbed and comfortable.

Gotta introduce your kids early to the real old time religion if you want ‘em to be respectable Christians when they grow up :^)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Spare Saddam

Saddam will probably swing.

Wish they wouldn’t do it, though.

Yeah, he’s a monster. If anybody deserves a long drop on a short rope he does.

But still can’t figure out the long lasting upside of killing bad guys in spite of all the understandable emotional reasons for doing that very final deed.

Can most of us agree that governments usually have too much power? And that killing people rarely if ever produces a good outcome?

Why encourage governments to exercise the power to kill convicted criminals?

I mean, lots of folks here in the states believe that governments are normally so incompetent and self-advancing that they can’t be trusted with tax dollars or with regulating business or personal morality.

How come most of those same people are so enthusiastic about giving such an incompetent state the power to take people’s lives?

And wouldn't exercising mercy toward people who showed no mercy to others demonstrate the greater moral legitimacy and greater power--from a Christian point of view--of the state?

Wouldn’t life imprisonment in isolation do the retributive justice trick while at the same time making an important statement about the limits of state power?

Spare Saddam.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Dead Men Tell No Tales

Washington (AP)

At a State Department press conference Monday morning, Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice responded publicly for the first time to last week’s resounding Democratic election victory.

“We want the American people to know that this administration hears you loud and clear.”

“I have the President’s authorization to announce today the end of our previous commitment to ‘Cowboy Diplomacy.’”

“From now on all of us--Republican and Democrat alike--can take pride in our new emphasis on ‘Pirate Diplomacy.’”

“We will replace what many have characterized as a ‘shoot from the hip’ style with a more measured and prudent approach. That means a new foreign policy based on fewer crude insults combined with our more traditional threats of reckless violence,” said Secretary Rice.

“We recognize that our previous slogan ‘Stay The Course’ no longer addresses the delicate demands of the present political moment. Therefore, we will replace 'Stay The Course' with the more intuitively effective phrase, 'Aaaaargggghh!!! Aaaaaaarrggghhh!!!'"

When asked whether the dismissal of ex-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was intended primarily to dodge potentially embarrassing questions about the war in Iraq at the hands of hostile Democratic congressmen, Rice smiled before anwering.

"Dead men tell no tales," explained the Secretary of State.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Focus On The Entrails

Missoula, Montana (CNN)

American Conservative Neo-Druid leader Rhames Hobson announced today that “turning away from traditional religious values led to the defeat of the Republican Party in last week’s mid-term election.”

Hobson, president and founder of “Focus on the Entrails,” spoke at a press conference held at the organization’s Montana headquarters. Conservative Neo-Druid and Pagan leaders from around the country gathered there to sacrifice chickens, deconstruct the meaning of last week’s election, and plot the political future of the conservative religious cause.

“We’re the most traditional religious group in the world,” said Hobson. “We worshipped trees, shrubbery and decorative ground cover long before there was a Pharaoh. Creeping liberalism threatens us all.”

Hobson began “Focus on the Entrails” in 1979 in an attempt to "spread the gospel" of magic mushrooms and deciphering animal guts. After a decade of positive public response to his original mission, Hobson eventually steered “Focus” onto a partisan political path aimed at supporting religious conservatism.

Billy Bob Odin, Vice Shaman of the Southern Pagan Convention, agreed with Hobson that a rejection of traditional values led to the Republican humiliation.

“When Republicans stray from a full commitment to Mother Earth, the consistent sacrifice of poultry, and the traditional use of hallucinogenic 'shrooms, can anyone really be surprised with this kind of outcome?"

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Mud Chuck

Friday, November 10, 2006

More Election Reflections

• 70% of white evangelicals voted Tuesday for the current version of the Republicans once again. Same old, same old.

Loyalty can be commendable. But sometimes it demonstrates a lack of observation. C.S Lewis considered it the least of the virtues.

• The evangelical left made a difference this time around.

I don’t like the term evangelical left very much. Anybody in the church who doesn’t buy the right wing thing is a ‘leftist’ these days.

Let me rephrase my point. Christians who don’t buy the right wing thing made a difference this time around.

Not so much by persuading the majority of white evangelical Christians to vote in a more honest and less ideological way. That didn’t happen unfortunately.

But I think the new found commitment and sophistication of church folk who reject the Religious Right gave moderates of both parties and independents greater confidence to challenge the self-righteous folks who have been running the show for too long. I credit Jim Wallis and the crew at Sojourners for some of that new confidence.

• Most intelligent evangelicals understand that the current version of the Religious Right is unsustainable both religiously and politically. A good ass kicking sometimes concentrates the mind and makes an obvious point even clearer.

Ran across this timely essay by Michael Gerson.

At one time Gerson wrote speeches for President Bush. This is the guy who made Bush seem articulate from time to time. An impressive person, needless to say.

He makes a strong case for a new kind of evangelical social engagement that conserves the very few good things the Religious Right has accomplished but leaves it behind for a more authentically Christian and human agenda. Powerful and pretty relevant.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Election Reflection

I'm feeling Shrub Dubya.

Both of us got censored this week.

I did an Oprah/Saddam Hussein satire on Monday that somebody in the Blogger universe decided wasn't fit for public consumption. Some of you may have seen it. It's gone into the cyber void.

Can't figure out why the Blogger administrators deleted my post.

Could have been the complaints of gays, Republicans, Oprah fans, Batthist sympathisers, Shia militiamen, supporters of therepeutic psychology, Catholics, the Irish, or neo-cons.

I'm betting on some Oprah fan in the conservatory with the lead pipe :^)

Re the election my only comment is "What took so long?"

Actually, that's not my only comment. My other comment is, "Nice."

The Republicans got their butts kicked for reasons that were pretty apparent back in the 2004 election. Oh well, better late than never.

A few reasons to be glad:

--In spite of what the conservative chicken littles claimed during the election, the Democratic control of the House and Senate won't mean sodomy and sushi in the streets of Iowa City. Nor will it mean crazy protectionist trade policies or huge tax increases or vengeful witch hunts to ruin Bush and his cronies. And it certainly won't mean an irreponsible pull out from Iraq--Bush has created such a fiasco there that people on both sides of the aisle will be trying to figure out how to limit the damage and salvage something positive.

The D's will want to position themselves to gain the whole enchilada in 2008 so I think you'll see a constructive and common sense approach over the next two years.

The Republicans treated them like garbage in Congress for 12 years in an historically unprecedented display of animus and arrogance, so I expect there will be some reprisals. But I think self-interest will win out.

Also, Democrats had to run to the center to win. Colorado went from purple to deep blue because the Democrats here marginalized their crazies. Democrats now control virtually every significant public office and political institution in Colorado. Believe me, that couldn't have happened unless they proved themselves to be moderates. I think the national election followed that same pattern. The Demo victory around the country was largely a victory of moderation against ideological extremism and an inability to admit mistakes or compromise.

--Common sense immigration reform will probably pass now. Bush could never have gotten his sensible thinking on that topic enacted with an extremist Republican House.

--We'll get some accountability for the first time in 6 years. The Republican congress failed to play their constitutional role. With the change we'll see fewer lackies and yes men. Bush will have to actually listen and snap out of his 'unique' take on the world.

--As a nation we gained instant credibility around the world yesterday. In my travels I noticed that few people in other countries blamed Americans for Bush's first term even though people overseas largely loathe Bush. They chalked that election up to Republican elites stealing the election with bogus voting in Florida and a straight ticket partisan Supreme Court decision.

We lost major cred overseas with the 2004 election. People I talked to were shocked Americans would put Bush and the Republicans back in power. I was sort of shocked too at the time, but I tried to explain the power of fear post 9/11. My international friends were listening but they weren't buying.

I'm guessing a large percentage of world opinion thinks we came to our senses yesterday. That's a good thing for our future foreign policy and influence in the world.

--We'll have the first woman Speaker of the House in our history. That's no small thing.

--At one time Bush was an accomplished compromiser as Governor of Texas. That was the guy Americans originally elected back in 2000. Maybe he can regain his old rhythm and stroke and actually get some important stuff done.

--Karl Rove got his ass kicked down the block. Not just nice. Very nice. Good to see amoral people who damage the democratic process get some payback.

--Rumsfeld fell on his sword as a result of the election results. On one level I feel for the guy because I think he's quite a bit brighter and more talented than Bush but somebody's gotta be the scapegoat. We still can't quite bring ourselves to admit that we have a president that's in subtantially over his head.

On the other hand, given yesterday's election results, maybe we can. :^)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

When Your Right Wing Evangelical Leader Is Probably Gay

More on the election thing tomorrow and Friday.

Wanted to touch base again on the Ted Haggard scandal.

American conservative Christians are sort of fixated on sex. Maybe that’s not a revelation :^)

When a religious movement that purports to follow Jesus gets too fascinated with the homo or hetero jiggy while downplaying service to the poor and remaining largely silent about challenging the love of money you know something has gotten pretty spiritually out of whack

Hard to imagine what it would be like to be one of the leaders of the American evangelical movement and also be gay, or at least struggling to come to terms with your sexual orientation. I truly feel for Haggard.

Currrent Republican politics is based in part on bashing gays. Most of these evangelical and fundamentalist leaders support right wing Republican causes in an almost knee-jerk fashion.

James Dobson, the disturbing (to me) evangelical head of Focus on the Family, sent an email to voters across the state of Colorado a few days ago. He wanted to ‘out’ Democratic congressional Ed Perlmutter because Perlmutter allowed gay people to participate in his political campaign.

The combination of current fundamentalist sexual and political fixations strikes me as pretty unhealthy. Fundamentalism has always been about a black and white, simple-minded escape from the real world. Tempting, but a dead end nonetheless.

How could any person struggling to make sense of their sexual orientation feel the slightest freedom to speak honestly in that kind of church environment?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Taking Responsibility in Colorado Springs

Had some fun yesterday with the current Oprah sized, American style take on accountability.

I’d love to hear a public figure in the US admit once in a while that they made a mistake without all the explanations and denials and delving into their psyches in order to get sympathy. Non-denial denials and non-confession confessions have evolved into a fine art form. And we've even got a whole segment of the TV industry set up to help people practice that fine art.

Sorry to see the Ted Haggard scandal blow up down in Colorado Springs. For those of you who aren’t following the news he was the founder and pastor of a mega-church in Colorado Springs who was also the head of the National Association of Evangelicals. He was dismissed from his pastorate and the leadership of the nation’s largest and most respected evangelical organization because of “sexual immorality.”

I don’t want to get into a discussion of homosexuality right now though I understand why some of you would probably like to get into it given the nature of the scandal. I’ll delete any comments along those lines so don’t even think about it :^)

Thanks. Time to get back to the post.

I was pretty impressed with the way his congregation, New Life Church, responded to the whole thing.

I know some folks in that church. Seems like most of them understood the church wasn’t a personality cult. They were willing to accept that Haggard lied to them and acted under false pretenses for years as their pastor. They also showed a deep and obvious affection for him and were willing to forgive him. But they also wanted to make sure he was held accountable. Different.

Haggard himself set up an accountability system that gave respected Christian leaders outside of his own church the power to decide his fate if his fitness to lead was ever questioned. That system worked quickly and well. They dismissed him.

Members of his congregation and the outside pastoral panel believe Haggard is still unwilling to be honest about himself. They’ve been willing to speak publicly and on the record about that.

I’ve been in and around churches and Christian communities for many years and I can’t remember a church responding more honestly and publicly to the dishonesty of a Christian leader before. Or more forgivingly. Even more impressive, they haven't tried to demonize the guy who brought the whole situation to light.

Whatever you think of homosexuality or the way conservative Christians respond to it, everybody understands that leaders in any community have gotta be honest. And if they aren’t, they’ve gotta be held accountable.

Haggard himself started out with the kinds of transparently silly denials that people make when they fear losing everything. But since then he’s been willing to admit—at least on some level--his pattern of dishonesty. And when you look at the way his congregation responded and the kinds of effective accountability systems he set up, it makes you doubly sad to see him forced out of ministry.

Our political leaders seem genuinely afraid of being honest about their failures. Why that's true is the subject for another post.

But you’ve gotta be impressed with the way the folks in Colorado Springs handled the whole situation. Honesty combined with forgiveness and accountability. That’ll get it done. Might even be a good model for the political realm.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Gettin' Back To Lovetron

Dunk You Very Much

Now that I'm sortin' out the NBA, whatever happened to cool, old skool NBA player nicknames? Other than Shaq's 'Diesel' and 'The Daddy,' nicknames have gone out of style in the league. Chick Hearn must be spinning in his grave.

You've got to go back to the 70's and 80's to get the classics.

George Gervin was the "IceMan," Julius Erving was "Dr J," James Worthy was "Big Game James," Charles Barkley was "The Round Mound of Rebound," and Jerry West was "Zeek From Cabin Creek" and "Mr. Clutch."

You had Hakeem "the Dream" Olajuwon and Clyde "the Glide" Drexler who both played for the University of Houston "Phi Slamma Jamma" teams before they got to the NBA. You had "Downtown Freddy Brown" jacking up treys before they counted as treys.

Daryl Dawkins even gave nicknames to his dunks. The two best? Get Out of the Wayin', Backboard Swayin', Game Delayin' Jam and Chocolate Thunder Flyin', Victory Denyin', Little Babies Cryin', Backboard Glass Flyin' I Am Jam! When asked where he went to school before getting to the NBA he claimed he was from "The Planet Lovetron."

I mean, back in the early 80's Lloyd Free actually changed his real name to "World B. Free," which has gotta be my favorite NBA name of all time.

The league changed the rules recently to restrict defenses so we'll get fan pleasing 70's and 80's style scoring orgies once again. While they're at it, why not bring back the nicknames too?

Plenty of good material to work with out there. Where are the clever sportswriters and sportscasters when you need 'em? We need you more than ever, Chickie Baby....


Not The Best Player?

Here’s my take on the NBA MVP award after 2 games around the league. What’s the point of being patient and waiting for more evidence in the age of gut intuition? Let’s let ‘er rip.

Most NBA general managers and coaches seem to think Kobe Bryant is the best player in the league. Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni says ‘it’s not even close.’ But Kobe's a cultural bad guy right now with high marketing negatives. And he plays on a mediocre team.

So he obviously can’t be the best player :^)

The MVP award, though, isn’t necessarily about being the best.

Gotta go with The Lebrons. He’s a great player with a better team around him this season. He’ll probably have less pressure to carry the offense which might allow him to actually play some defense. And with Wise Lebron, Business Lebron, and Kid Lebron in his Nike posse how can he possibly lose? I like the Cleveland team a lot. They could get pretty deep into the playoffs.

No way Steve Nash wins a third straight MVP award. Especially since he looks like Beaver Cleaver now after cutting off his stringy long hair. But if Amare Stoudamire is really healthy you’ve gotta like Phoenix’s chances in the West.

Shaq is Jabba the Hut with a sense of humor. No mo awards.

Dwayne Wade’s got too much mileage on the odometer after playing into June and then doing the national team thing. He’ll come on in the second half of the season but it will be too little too late.

Nowitzki? I think he’s peaked. Don’t think the Mavs will win it even though they got better. Other teams in the west got a lot better.

Tim Duncan? If he’s healthy all year no question he could be the MVP. Lots of folks talk about the Spurs as if they’re an old team when in fact they’re pretty young. I think they’ve got a title or two left in ‘em.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Political Tasty Bits

Parting shots before the election:

** The dean of American conservative journalists, George Will, deconstructs Iraq.

** Fareed Zakaria explains how to salvage something in Iraq and avoid total defeat.

** Why scientists are
praying for new national leadership

** Borat satirizes the dangerous clowns who run Kazakhstan.
How come we can't get a home grown comedian to do this same kind of guerilla comedy aimed at our own current leaders? Check out how the professional White House journalists respond to Borat's news conference. Hilarious.

Cool Political Stuff That Won't Happen

Gag This Man

Geez, would somebody tie up John Kerry and stick him in the attic until after the election? He's the gift that keeps on giving to the folks who deserve to have their clocks cleaned in the upcoming election. The man's gotta genius for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. At least he was willing to offer a clear public apology for a mistake, something no one among our present leaders has been willing to do for 6 years. Bush just announced he wants Rumsfeld to remain in his job through 2008. Unbelievable. No, check that. It goes beyond unbelievable into the twilight zone.

Always fun to imagine a different political reality during those brief moments of clarity at the coffee break. Here's some cool stuff that won't happen:

• Obama Runs for President in 2008

Definitely nawgahappen. Would be cool to see a black man with no baggage get a shot after a couple of more years in the Senate under his belt. Hey, I said "get a shot," not "get shot." He’s got the role of religion in politics prophetically figured out.

• Hillary Runs With Obama

Definitely nawgahappen. White woman and black man seek to run the show. The extra large fear buttons would get pushed. Win or lose though, good for the country.

• McCain Refuses to Pander to the Religious Right

Nawgahappen. McCain is one of those old school libertarian conservatives I tend to dig. It’s obvious he holds his nose in the vicinity of the Religious Right but he’ll get whacked in the nomination process by the believers if he doesn’t run with somebody the Southern Baptists are willing to take grape juice with during communion.

• McCain and Hillary Run A Civil and Encouraging Campaign

Absolutely nawgahappen.

Even though they clearly like and respect each other a lot.

When was the last time you could say that about the presumptive presidential candidates in an American election? 41 versus Bill in 1992? Not really. Poppy Bush Loves Bubba now but thought he was trailer trash in ’92.

The 'independent' political committees will throw feces into the fan no matter what the candidates do. The political Moore’s Law states that campaigns double in viciousness every 2 years. No reason to doubt those physics.

• McCain or Hillary Win and Appoint ‘The Enemy” to Their Cabinet

Probably nawgahappen but you never know :^)

McCain could appoint Al Gore to the post of Secretary of Global Warming and drive the conservative true believers ape-shit. I’d pay cash money to see that.

Or Hillary could defeat McCain and then appoint him Secretary of Defense. Cool.

It’s not as far fetched as you think. That kind of thing used to be fairly common until pretty recently. Lincoln filled his cabinet with his political enemies because he thought they were the best men available and believed the country needed the very best during the Civil War. Almost impossible to imagine given our current leaders, but there's always hope.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Rocky Mountain Blues

Hard to say what’s going to happen Tuesday and in the next few years in national politics.

I love Bush’s comment that the Democrats are “dancing in the end zone when they’re still on the 15 yard line.” Exactly. Winning in US politics long ago became more about organization, money and machinery than about better people or ideas. Politics has rarely been either 'civil' or a 'discourse.'And whatever you think of the relative merits of the Democratic or Republican vision or approach, the Republicans have an advantage in the areas that really count.

But Colorado may end up as a bellwether for things to come in the US. We’ve got some fascinating and possibly ‘tectonic’ political shifts goin’ on right now:

• Coloradans have historically voted Republican and registered Republicans outnumber Democrats here by a wide margin. Yet, both the state Senate and House are firmly in the hands of the Democrats, we’re about to elect a Democratic governor in a landslide vote, and our US congressional delegation will likely be strongly Democratic after next Tuesday.

• Polls show that white evangelicals are still the Republican Party’s most solid constituency in Colorado as they are across the nation, but support among that group for Republicans has been dropping steadily for four or five years from almost 70% to about 55% right now. Again, that drop more or less mirrors what’s been going on around the country.

How come Colorado is turning purple/blue? A coupla quick thoughts:

• Bush. The worst congress ever? Enough said.

• Democrats here in Colorado have pushed their nutty folks to the margins while the Republicans here continue to embrace and pander to their wackies. You’ve got Democratic candidates who speak knowledgably about the economy and business while pushing a socially moderate approach. By contrast, the Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor recently said she thought giving gays the right to form civil unions will lead to sex with animals. Compare and contrast.

• Lots of folks here--including quite a few evangelicals if the polls can be trusted--have run out of patience with evangelical Christian leaders who have lost their sense of perspective or political balance. Colorado Springs is often referred to as ‘The Evangelical Vatican” because we’ve got so many conservative Christian organizations—including Focus on the Family--with their headquarters there. James Dobson, the head of FOTF, started out like a lot of well meaning evangelicals who wanted to encourage Christians to get more involved in politics. Good idea.

But at some point he and many other conservative Christian leaders moved beyond encouraging involvement into taking a hardened and extreme partisan position. Dobson was once widely respected in Colorado but now he’s become the butt of jokes and a political liability for many Republican candidates who are trying to appeal to more reasonable and/or independent voters. He’s at it again. Many conservatives here lean libertarian and the constant Christian Right attempt to shape public morality around a couple of narrow issues is starting to wear thin. Seems like this same dynamic may be playing itself out around the country too.

Maybe the combo of reasonable and moderate Democrats, the growing backlash against conservative extremism and the Christian Right, and the defection of previous members of the Christian Right who are fed up, will end up shifting national politics in a major way over the next couple of years. I guess we’ll start getting some answers pretty quick....