Saturday, March 19, 2005

Getting better?

Some years ago (before I began writing here), I suddenly noticed that on Thursday nights pedestrian traffic in my neigborhood of Manhattan (the Flatiron District, where there are a fair number of clubs and restaurants) had become unusually heavy, and I speculated at the time that "Thursday was the new Friday" (or something pithy like that), with people going out to eat and party in a volume of activity almost as great as on Friday nights, if not as much as on Saturdays. It seemed then that we were poised for an unofficial expansion of the weekend.

Having lost my archives of writing from back then, I can't say for certain when it was that I made that observation, but I'm fairly sure it was during the Clinton years, and positive that it was before September 11th, 2001. Since then, the combined effects of receession, the Bush deficits, and (at least here in New York) the economic impact of 9/11 served to push Thursday back to its regular mid-week status. I no longer noticed a lot of walking traffic on that day, and the weekends themselves seemed less busy than before.

So it was with some interest that I noted when I went out for groceries on Thursday night (our refrigerator is on the fritz and we have to keep restocking it on a daily basis) that there were a lot of people out as well. Sidewalks were fairly crowded with youngish people in small single- and multi-gendered groups, typical of the kind of groupings you see in my neighborhood on the weekends. It wasn't quite as hectic as I had noticed before -- I'm not sure that I would have said "Thursdays are the new Fridays" based on what I saw on that night alone -- but it was certainly more than I've been on a Thursday night in a while.

Maybe it's just the gradual improvement in the weather, and the slow climb of the mercury back into more comfortable readings, or maybe its a harbringer, an informal indicator that the economy's picking up again, at least a little.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/19/2005 03:31:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Positive engagement

The modern history of nations as different as South Korea, Russia, and South Africa suggests that when the United States engages countries politically and economically, they move toward democracy. Countries that the United States treats as pariahs, like Cuba, do not.
Stephen Kinzer
"Clouds Over Iran"
New York Review of Books (3/24/2005)
[review of In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs:
A Memoir of Iran
by Christopher de Bellaigue]

On the specific topic of Iran, Kinzer goes on to say that "By subjecting Iran to constant denunciation and unilateral sanctions, American leaders are making the transition to democracy there more difficult," which seems like a reasonable evaluation.

The article also points out that the last time the US attempted "regime change" in Iran was the overthrow in 1953, by the CIA, of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, the "eccentric but brilliant natonalist" who was the country's best hope for establishing a secular democracy. The overthrow (one of the CIA's first, approved by Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles) resulted in the iron reign of the Pahlavis as self-appointed Shahs, the brutality of which led directly to Khomeini's Islamic revolution and the current state of things in Iran.

Kinzer concludes:

Last year a task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and chaired by two prominent members of the American foreign policy establishment, former CIA director Robert Gates and former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, recommended "a revised strategic approach to Iran." In their report they concluded:
It is in the interests of the United States to engage selectively with Iran to promote regional stability, dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, preserve reliable energy supplies, reduce the threat of terror, and address the "democracy deficit" that pervades the Middle East.... A basic statement of principles, along the lines of the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué signed by the United States and China, could be developed to outline the parameters for US– Iranian engagement, establish the overarching objectives for dialogue, and reassure relevant domestic political constituencies on both sides.
["Iran: Time for a New Approach" (Council on Foreign Relations, 2004)]
There is every possibility that in time, Iran will return to the democratic course from which the United States so violently forced it in 1953. If Americans allow events there to proceed at their own pace, they will finally see the result for which they hope. It is also the result most Iranians want: an Iran that respects the will of its people and helps to stabilize a dangerously unstable region. By lending their support and power to the European negotiating effort, Americans might reach a "grand bargain" with Iran that would address not only the nuclear issue but also concerns about human rights, terrorism, and Middle East security. Without active American participation, these negotiations are unlikely to achieve anything important.


Zealots who hold power in Washington and Tehran are not known for their interest in poetry, but they might ponder that verse. For the United States to continue treating Iran as a pariah will produce no positive result. Seeking to destabilize it will intensify its leaders' sense of isolation. Attacking it will turn its remarkably pro-American population into America-haters once again. Military interven-tion could set off a wave of patriotic indignation that will solidify the mullahs' regime rather than weaken it, and would probably set the cause of democracy back a generation. "Regime change" would probably not even turn Iran off its nuclear course, since most Iranians of all persuasions agree that their country has at least as much right to nuclear power as Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea. Treating Iran as a member of the world community with its own set of reasonable hopes and fears, however, might lead it toward responsibility, peace with its neighbors, and perhaps even democracy.

Such an outcome would hardly be a foregone conclusion. Issues that divide the two countries are serious, and ideologues on both sides have invested great amounts of psychic and political energy in the idea of continuing confrontation between Washington and Tehran. But, as de Bellaigue has written, there is no more promising option than serious dialogue.

P.S. It's also worth noting that the American economic sanctions against Iran are being circumvented by Russia, Pakistan and China, as well as European, Japanese and even American companies:

Among them is a Halliburton subsidiary, Halliburton Products & Services Ltd., which is registered in the Cayman Islands and has its headquarters in Dubai. It is bidding for a lucrative contract to develop an Iranian gas field called South Pars, said to be the biggest in the world. [Link added. - Ed]

In a way, I suppose the fact that Halliburton is already poised to feed off of Iran might actually work in favor of Bush taking a less stringent position there than he was willing to in Iraq -- but, then, when has reasonableness, logic or engagement with reality been a hallmark of Bush's foreign policy?

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/19/2005 02:25:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, March 18, 2005

It's just like... um...

I can't put my finger on precisely why, but Billmon's fantasy about the World Bank under Wolfowitz building a pipeline and bridge across the Caspian Sea seems awfully familiar -- it's almost as if something just like it happened in the real world within the past couple of years.

Damned if I can figure it out, though.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/18/2005 10:44:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, March 17, 2005

More on Scalia

I've been thinking a bit more about Scalia's declaration that "government comes -- derives its authority from God," and wondering where in his grand scheme of things is there a place for democracy?

I've always understood that the legitimacy of democracy as our political system was founded on the idea that sovereignity derives from the people collectively. With the people being sovereign, democracy (whether direct or indirect) makes sense because it's a way to determine what the will of the people is, and by this legitimacy is transferred to the government that comes about in response to that will.

Once you remove popular soverignity from the political equation, and derive the authority of government directly from God, how can democracy be considered a legitimate system of governance at all? There's little or no reason to think that the people, collectively, can determine what the will of God is any better than certain select individuals whom God choses to work through can, so how, then, can a democratically elected government be considered to be legitimate? If a government's authority derives from God, but the government derives from the will of the people, there's no inherent connection between the source of legitimacy and the government. Democratic elections are an unnecessary and, in fact, intrusive step in the process. Better, therefore, in order to preserve the authority and legitimacy of the government, to have God's authority expressed through chosen individuals who directly or indirectly perceive His will.

Clearly, this leads us either to a theocracy or to the divine right of kings -- and, strangely enough, I don't really think that either is so very disconnected from the Bush administration:

  • Certainly, a large part of Bush's popular backing comes from evangelicals and other religious fundamentalists who would prefer to see the deliberately secular nature of the American system torn down to make way for a more theocractic one. Some are upfront about this, and other simply imply it by the policies they prefer.

  • On the other hand, in Dubya himself the Bush family tradition of noblesse oblige seems to have mutated into something very much like a modern equivalent of the divine right of kings. Bush (by his arrogance alone, if nothing else) certainly appears to believe that ruling the country is his natural right, and he is (to all appearances) unaffected by any evidence that he doesn't have unequivocal popular support. (The reader is reminded that Bush was returned to the White House by a margin that was the very smallest for any incumbent full-term President since 1892 -- hardly a ringing endorsement.)

So, it's interesting to speculate what Scalia thinks about democracy, and whether, in the secret places of his mind he doesn't let anyone in to, he believes in ruling by divine right.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/17/2005 02:28:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



This kind of thing drives me crazy (from The Week, specific item apparently not available online):

Victoria Beckham, the former Posh Spice, bought her son Brooklyn a pair of $47,500 diamond earrings for his sixth birthday, says the San Francisco Chronicle. The trinkets match a $142,500 pair worn by the boy's father, David Beckham. "Brooklyn adores his father and always wants everything his dad has got," a family friend tells the newspaper.

Call it envy if you want, but stuff like that, underlining the gross inequities and unfairness of a world in which some people can throw money around without thinking twice about it, while others (myself included) work their asses off and barely manage to eke out a decent living, manages to really piss me off.

Effective immediately, I'm selling all my Spice Girls stuff.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/17/2005 12:13:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Wasted time

It is now 3 1/2 years since the attacks of 9/11/01 -- why is it that we're just now getting an accounting of our national vulnerabilities? Why did Bush wait under his adminsitration was heavily criticized for not focusing its antiterrorism funding and activities in the right places to ask for such a list to be developed, and why did it take 15 months for it to be put together? I'll bet that 30 days after 9/11 you could have called together various experts and gotten essentially the same enumeration right there and then, and the next 41 months could have been spent on implementing it.

Tell me again how Bush has made us safer?

The moral danger from a woman's exposed breast warrants an immediate response by the government, but when it comes to actually protecting us from real danger, and sorting out the real from the imaginary or implausible (just as important), Bush's minions can't be bothered to act in a timely manner.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/16/2005 04:54:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Flat earth

The Green Knight chooses precisely the same reductio ad absurdum I would have used in decrying C-SPAN's bizarre attempt to achieve "balance" by giving wider dissemination to the opinions of a Holocaust denier.

Who are the relativists, again?

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/16/2005 01:19:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


'Tain't so

If you're looking for evidence that the United States was founded as an explicitly Christian country, you apparently won't find it in Joseph J. Ellis' new biography, His Excellency: George Washington, at least according to Garry Wills:

Washington's death was marked, Ellis says, by a significant absence. The director of Mount Vernon, James Rees, tells me that members of the religious right complain that not enough is made of Washington's religion in the displays and literature at his plantation. It is a firm tenet of many evangelicals that Washington was as godly as Jefferson was godless. The first president is their best display that this nation was born "under God." But Washington never referred to Jesus or to Christ, rarely to God, most often to Providence. It is not surprising, then, that Ellis notes "a missing presence at the deathbed":

There were no ministers in the room, no prayers uttered, no Christian rituals offering the solace of everlasting life. The inevitable renderings of Washington's death by nineteenth-century artists often added religious symbols to the scene, frequently depicting his body ascending into heaven surrounded by a chorus of angels. The historical evidence suggests that Washington did not think much about heaven or angels; the only place he knew his body was going was into the ground, and as for his soul, its ultimate location was unknowable. He died as a Roman stoic rather than a Christian saint.

(More on whether the USA is or was intended to be Christian can be found here, here, here, and here, among other places.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/16/2005 05:29:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A Dear Joe letter

Dear Senator Biden:

I'm so sorry to read, once again, that you, once again, have Presidential ambitions. I would have thought that after all these years you might have a loved one or a trusted advisor who could see through the miasma in Washington and give you the straight poop, but maybe that's not the case, so here goes --

It ain't never gonna happen, Joe, you are never going to be the President of the United States, nor is there a chance in hell of your being the Democratic candidate for the job.

Period. Full stop. End of sentence, end of thought, end of discussion.

There, that about wraps it up. If you want more detailed reasons for this obvious fact of life... well, the mere fact that you apparently don't know this to be true just underlines and reinforces its validity.

I hope you take this in the spirit in which it is offered -- simply an observation about the actual political world we live in. I express no view here about whether it's a good or bad thing, or whether you'd be a good President or not, or a good candidate for the Democratic party. (I have my opinions, but it seems churlish to share them given that it's a foregone conclusion that you're never even going to get close to being selected for either job.)

Please let it drop, and spare yourself and the party the embarrassement of forcibly rubbing your nose in reality.

Ed Fitzgerald

P.S. An aisde to the blogosphere: the 6 minutes I spent writing this is really the maximum amount of time that should be spent dwelling on this particular topic, there's no need to expend any more man-minutes on it.


Ed Fitzgerald | 3/16/2005 04:06:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


When is a majority not a majority?

On Gadflyer, Paul T. von Hippel reminds us that "Although they hold a majority of Senate seats, Republicans do not represent a majority of voters or a majority of the population."

That's something we should keep in mind when those tedious and tiresome arguments about the "minority" Democrats thwarting the "will of the people" arise, as they inevitably do whenever the GOP tries to steamroll the opposition by changing the rules yet again. As Hunter Thompson wrote, "Politics is the art of controlling your environment," and the Republicans, realizing that they cannot possibly survive on a level playing field, with fair and equitable treatment for all involved, have become experts at shaping the political and media environment to their benefit and the continuation of their political hegemony.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/16/2005 02:39:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Scalia: UnAmerican

Brad DeLong on Antonin Scalia:

Nino Scalia's views ["that government comes — derives its authority from God"] are profoundly--there is no other word for it--UnAmerican. Here in the United States, we are all children of Thomas Jefferson. God does not give us rulers. Instead, God gives us rights: to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We then institute governments to secure these rights, and they derive their just powers from our consent, not from God's decree. Moreover, it is not the YHWH of Revealed Religion but instead "Nature's God" and Nature itself that are the source of these rights.


What is the payoff from this belief of Scalia's that power comes from above? In his speech "God's Justice and Ours," Scalia says that God hates not just crime and open revolt but peaceful campaigns of civil disobedience which are, in Scalia's view, based on the false assumption that "what the individual citizen considers an unjust law... need not be obeyed."

Thus from Scalia's point of view for Blacks to sit at an all-White lunch counter when the law decrees they shall not--that is not just a crime but a sin. And the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday--a celebration of his civil disobedience campaigns--is blasphemous: hateful to God, because it teaches people that there are circumstances in which they should disobey those whom God has commanded them to obey.

Now this is a free country. And Nino Scalia is allowed to break with those like Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln who think that legitimate power ascends from the consent of the people. It's a free country. He can take his stand with those like James I Stuart, Innocent III, and Khomeini who think that legitimate power descends from God.

But does such a guy have any business being a Justice of the Supreme Court of a free country? No.

Update (3/17): More thoughts on Scalia -- Does he believe in the legitimacy of democracy?; Is he a secret supporter of the divine right of kings? -- here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/16/2005 02:14:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Overheard this evening

There must be security for all, or no one is secure.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (film, 1951)
written by Edward H. North,
based on the story
"Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates
directed by Robert Wise
spoken by the character "Klaatu,"
played by Michael Rennie

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/15/2005 05:36:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The play's the thing

I'd be derelict in my responsibility as a man of the theatre if I didn't plug Publius' newest histrionic encapsulatory endeavor, a one-act called "Compromise."

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/15/2005 05:02:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Survival value

Via Eliot Gelwan's Follow Me Here, this Guardian article speculates that religious belief may have evolutionary survival value.

I don't doubt that it did at one time (nothing so powerful, pervasive, endemic and sometimes perverse would be likely to continue to exist if it didn't), but, then again, so did our predilection for sweets and fats when they were hard to come by and stocking up on them when we could was a good thing. Now, when sweets and fats are easy to get, it leads us to overindulge, to our detriment.

Not everything that provided a survival edge when our basic human nature was being forged continues to do so under the drastically different circumstances of the modern world.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/15/2005 03:20:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, March 14, 2005

Using DeLay

On MyDD, Chris Bowers has what I think is a remarkably good idea: Democrats should take advantage of Tom DeLay's continuing (and growing) ethics and legal problems by using him as the exemplar of all that's bad about the GOP, and in this way nationalizing Congressional campaigns by creating a foil to work against. After an ad campaign to soften up the opposition and raise DeLay's national ID, we should use all the techniques that have worked so well for the right-wing (morphing the local candidate's face with DeLay's, using grainy footage and the least flattering photos available, etc.) to demonize a man who well deserves that fate.

Let's go all the way with this (and I agree with commentators who want to speed up Chris' timetable and start immediately -- now, when the media is starting to notice DeLay's problems, is the time to begin, not next year), with the exception that I will not countenance the kind of outright fabrication and lying employed by the GOP. That's where I draw the line, but I don't see that as much of a disadvantage, given how corrupt, controlling and devious DeLay is in all reality. Pure facts (and their proper framing) should be more than enough to set this guy up for the fall, and gain some traction as we step off his (metaphorically) limp and lifeless body.

(Bitter? I'm not bitter!)

Howard Dean! DCCC! Are you listening? Get on this, it can't miss.

Update: Paul Waldman agrees -- make the 2006 election all about DeLay (if he sticks around that long).

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/14/2005 09:32:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Bloggers as synthethists

Donald Hogan is a character in John Brunner's seminal work of SF, Stand On Zanzibar (1968). To his friends and acquaintances, he appears to be a self-employed dilettante, but in actuality he's got a rare skill, "the gift of making right guesses."

Some mechanism at the back of his mind seemed ceaselessly to be shifting around factors from the surrounding world, hunting for patterns in them, and when such a pattern arose a silent bell would ring inside his skull.

Hogan uses this ability in his job as a "synthethist," working for the government, someone who excels at connecting the dots, "making cross references from one enclosed corner of research to another."

Five mornings a week doing nothing but read, under no compulsion to produce any kind of results -- merely requested to mention by mail any association or connection he had spotted which he had reason to believe migt prove helpful to somebody: advise an astronomer that a market research organization had a new statistical sampling technique, for instance, or suggest that an entomologist be informed about a new air-pollution problem.

Without intending to indulge in the least bit of blog triumphalism, this sounds to me very much like what blogging at its best can be: connecting the dots, making associations public that weren't otherwise apparent, finding links between things when they exist and debunking them when they don't -- and if individual bloggers (most of us, anyway, with a few exceptions) are not talented, gifted or lucky enough to be able to do this by themselves, the total system of bloggers, working more or less without coordination (at least on the liberal side of the blogosphere), can sometimes do it, as individual bloggers take seperate steps in interesting directions, and the next person builds upon that work to take things yet another step.

(Of course in Brunner's novel, Hogan's deal with the government, to be well-paid for being curious and doing research, is a Faustian bargain, as it turns out they eventually have a more active intelligence-gathering and black ops role in mind for him, but, specifics of Brunner's plot aside, wouldn't it have been nice to have more Donald Hogans working for our intelligence agencies back before 9/11, connecting all those dots that remained known but unconnected?)

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/14/2005 08:23:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The burden

Terry Ratzmann, who killed 7 people the other day in Wisconsin, firing 22 bullets from a 9mm handgun in a matter of a minute or less, was a member of the congregation that was meeting that day, part of the "Living Church of God." According to the Times:

The Living Church of God was founded in the mid-1990's by Roderick C. Meredith after he was kicked out of one of the many groups that splintered from the Worldwide Church of God upon the death of its leader, Herbert W. Armstrong. It claims 7,000 members in 288 congregations. Many of them, like the one here, meet in hotels or other public spaces with itinerant pastors.

The Living Church holds that people from Northwest Europe are descendants of the Bible's 10 lost tribes of Israel, "possessors of the birthright promises and accompanying blessings" of Abraham's descendants, according to a statement of beliefs from its Web site. It observes the Sabbath on Saturday and counsels members to remain apart from the secular world by not participating in juries, politics or the military.

The church's view of history, which asserts that humankind is moving inexorably toward the "end times," when the world will go through a series of cataclysms before the second coming of Christ, is not uncommon among evangelicals. While most evangelicals eschew specific predictions about "end times," however, Dr. Meredith preached in a recent sermon broadcast internationally that the apocalypse was close, warning members to pay off credit-card debt and hoard savings in preparation for the United States' coming financial collapse.

But what else does the leader of the Living Church of God preach? Well, here was his take on the 9/11 attacks:

Yes, God will give us corrective punishment to wake us up from our sins. We have turned away from God. We are getting into more and more abortion—the murder of little unborn children. We are getting into more perverted sex, wild scenes of sex and wretchedness on our television and in our movies. In every way, we are a degenerate people. More and more we are turning away from God, and bringing shame on the name of God, yet we put on our coins and bills "In God We Trust." Shame on us! God says: "‘But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished’" (Jeremiah 30:11).

Yes, God will have to correct us, my friends, and wake us up! These terrorist activities—along with coming terrible storms and earthquakes—are preparatory to a final attack and captivity of our people, who will be taken away from their land into literal slavery, where they will finally repent and then come back weeping in repentance to God. That is prophesied in many places in your Bible...

No, "these things" are not just carried out by Arab terrorists or other kinds of terrorists. God is going to use many different people — and many different nations —to wake us up!

A little later, on the same subject of the 9/11 attacks:

If there is a "real" God—a God of total power—then why did He allow this horrifying tragedy?

At any step along the way, He could have intervened. He could have stopped it!

Am I saying that God did this?

No, not at all! But He very obviously allowed very sick and hate-filled individuals to carry out the most heinous attack on the United States in decades—if not in its entire history!

Again, why?

Let me explain: If you were God, would you bless and protect a nation which claimed to trust in You and yet broke and smashed your spiritual laws with absolute impunity? A nation which has exterminated 35 to 40 million unborn children in the last few decades?

A nation filled with liars, thieves, drunkards, drug addicts and sex perverts?

A nation which legally protects foul mouthed individuals who are blaspheming and cursing God’s very Name on the public media?

What kind of a "God" would bless and protect a nation that did all of these things—and much more?

Do you get the picture?

God did not directly cause these recent tragedies! Rather, as our personal and national sins have increased, He has "removed" His protective hand from the United States, Britain and Canada!

We are not truly "Christian" nations anymore—not by any honest definition of "Christianity"!

Clearly, we had it coming to us.

Other teachings of Meredith:

  • According to this site, during the 60's, when he wrote for Herbert Artmstrong's The Plain Truth, Meredith "promoted the idea that God had ordained racial segregation in the Bible."

  • The recent earthquake and tsunami: " not a "once in every 40 years" incident! Unfortunately, it is only among the very first of an entire series of natural disasters which are destined to shake the entire world in a manner never before experienced!" In other words, it's harbinger of the "end times", as are the series of hurricanes which recently hit the Southeast US.

  • The same is true of tornadoes in Kansas and Oklahoma -- the end times are upon us!

  • What about NATO's Kosovo operation? It's an indication that we're coming up to the end times.

  • Are there many different religions in the world, that disagree with each other and cannot, in some instances, peacefully coexist? Never mind, "[Jesus] will come — SOON — to rescue the world from religious confusion and conflict."

And so on and so forth -- there's not much doctrinal complexity about Meredith's ideology: we're bad, the end is coming, we're fucked, repent.

I thought this was interesting -- it's a description of the lifestyle of the memebers of Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God, the group that the Living Church of God broke away from when the original group became more mainstream and less evangelical:

With only 200 congregations of the Worldwide Church of God available, the average member did not live in a town or city where such a congregation met. Most were "commuters," travelling long distances at least once a week to meet with others of similar belief. "Long distances" might include 100 miles or more one way, since some states had only a handful of congregations.

The denomination, by deliberate choice of [Armstrong], did not own any church buildings except those at the campuses of Ambassador College. Therefore, congregations all met in rented facilities. Common options were public school cafeterias and auditoriums, and Masonic lodges. Weekly activities in most larger congregations included a two-hour (or more) Sabbath service on Saturday morning or afternoon—including a sermon of an hour or more, mid-week Bible Study sessions on Wednesday evenings, and a men's public speaking club called "Spokesman's Club" on another week night. For those who lived an hour or more away, this could get to be a very hectic schedule for individuals and families to maintain. For those involved in such further activities as choir practice or deacons meetings, it was very grueling indeed. But it was typical for the vast majority of church families to attempt to attend every official gathering of the Church.

All finances for the local congregations except for a small fund for emergencies and the like were handled from the central headquarters in Pasadena. No collections were ever taken up at weekly church services—all members sent their tithes and offerings directly to [Church headquarters in] Pasadena. Almost all expenses for the local congregations, including ministerial salaries and hall rental, were doled out directly from Pasadena.

Members were expected to save a full tithe (ten percent) of their gross income (designated "first tithe") and send it in periodically to Pasadena. They were expected to save a full tithe (designated "second tithe") of their gross income to use to go to the annual Feast of Tabernacles conventions of the WCG in the fall. In addition, every third and sixth year of a seven year cycle, members were expected to send in an additional tithe (designated "third tithe") on their gross income for a fund that supposedly was dedicated to helping widows and orphans and the poor in the church. Unfortunately, documentation has shown that there were times in the history of the organization that a certain amount of this fund was not spent for the purposes stated. See the bibliography at the end of this section for documentation about this matter.

"Second tithe" money was to be used only for food and lodging and travel expenses during the eight days of the Feast of Tabernacles, and for travel expenses there and back. (There were times when regional or national meetings were also held for the other annual observances of the Church, and it was assumed that second tithe could also be used for expenses for those gatherings also.) Using the tithe even for gifts for children or other family members during the Feast was frowned upon (although some members no doubt ignored this and bought such gifts anyway.) And any "excess" tithe, unused for the stated purposes, was to be turned in at the end of the Feast to Pasadena. In later years, members were even encouraged to "estimate" how much they might have extra and send it in ahead of time. Offerings were also taken up during worship services on the first and last days of the Feast, but members were strictly warned that money for these offerings should not come from the tithe they had brought for the Feast. They were expected to save up for an offering out of their income above and beyond the tithes.

In addition to the regular tithes which members were required to pay, they were encouraged to donate amounts above and beyond that money to a variety of special projects. These particularly included the never-ending building projects Armstrong embarked on for the college campuses and the church headquarters in Pasadena. Reading through the "coworker" and "member" letters that Armstrong regularly sent out back in those days, it is obvious that he continuously committed the organization to expenditures beyond the regular income from tithes, and then declared "emergencies" periodically, badgering the membership to "sacrifice as never before" in order to meet the obligations.

Obviously, this is not a specific description of Meredith's group, but it seems likely that, since his breaking away was an attempt to go back to the original practices of Armstrong, Meredith would have used this system as a model for his own church. If that's true, that's a pretty tremendous financial (and devotional) burden to put on someone, especially when times are tough.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/14/2005 08:25:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Bankruptcies and red states

Using data from the American Bankruptcy Institute, MOK on Julie Saltman's weblog has put together a color-coded chart of state-by-state rankings of bankruptcy filings per 1000 households. (Scroll down to the entry "Republicans and bankruptcy" on March 10th.) The point being made is that, generally speaking, "red" states (which voted for Bush) have more bankruptcy filings per 1000 households than "blue" states do, so that the citizens of those states are not being well-served by their elected representatives, who voted against their constituents' best interests in voting for the bankruptcy bill.

That's a good point, but it's hardly earth-shattering news that Republican Congressmen and Senators have a tendency to represent the interests of corporations and the rich rather than those of the people who voted for them. (It goes along with their tendency towards hypocrisy and outrageous bald-faced lying.)

What I found interesting in looking more closely at the data, is that there is, once again, a strong correlation between higher bankruptcy filings per state, and the percentage of people in each state who voted for Bush:

Clearly, the "redder" a state is, the more bankruptcy filings it has relative to the number of households in the state.

[via Martini Republic -- Thanks to Shirley for the link]

Update: Via Rittenhouse Review, check out Tom Tomorrow.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/14/2005 01:09:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Fire answers fire

Digby's got some interesting observations on the subtle (and not so subtle) ways in which the right wing media machine portrays Democrats as unmanly and effeminate and, therefore, weak on national security:

All of this is to say that there has long been a campaign to emasculate Democrats. (I suspect that there is a corollary in the defeminization of Democratic women as well.) This is powerful stuff and we'd best admit that it is going on so that we can formulate a response that actually works. Right now, we either try to out-manly them or we laugh it off, neither of which are working. (The worst advice that Paul Begala ever took was when Tucker Carlson told him to laugh when these kind of insults are hurled. He often sounds like a nervous hyena they come so fast and furiously and it has the effect of making him appear slightly unhinged.)

I think this tactic plays into many people's anxiety about changing social and gender roles in our fast moving society. A lot of folks out there are genuinely freaked out by the rapid pace of change and because of it are very susceptible to rigid stereotypes. They just feel more comfortable on the side of the fence where the macho high school boys and the girls who love them are. It's very hard to even get them to peek over and see what's on the other side.

And all people refuse vote for someone whom they think of as weak. It goes to the very essence of what leadership is. Half the country is obviously able to see past this little high school game and evaluate the strength of a candidates on the basis of something other than image and macho rhetoric. The other half is clearly in thrall to the manufactured Hollywood image of manly leadership.

I'm not entirely sure what to do about this, but I think dealing with it is far more important than any single stand we take on foreign policy. The people who Peter Beinart thinks to reach are not going to be impressed with historical references to faceless "fighting liberals" of the 50's. This aversion to voting for Democrats on the basis of national security is much more primal than that and it needs to be dealt with in the same way.

Any ideas?

Yes, I had some ideas along these lines in November, just after the election:

...I think a significant percentage of Bush's vote went to him because of the persona he projects, and which, to those people who aren't apt to think in critical or skeptical terms, is strongly received and significantly influenced their vote. To these people, Bush appears to be a strong leader who knows what he wants to do and lets nothing get in the way of doing it. At the same time, he seems to them to be close enough to a "regular guy" that they believe they'd be comfortable sitting down next to him and having a beer, or having him over to the house for dinner.

Needless to say, these aspects of Bush's perceived persona are carefully crafted and almost certainly false. I've got no special personal knowledge of Bush's true character, but it's possible that my years of working in the theatre, watching and helping actors adopt, build, alter and finesse the characters they present to their audience may have trained me to be able to look behind the superficial presentation to see some of the true personality behind it. Or, perhaps I'm simply kidding myself -- but it is nonetheless true that I see behind Bush's projected personality a very different person, a hard, cruel and selfish man. I see it in his posture and body language, in the way he walks and his facial expressions. (I find that watching him with the sound off is one of the best ways to get in touch with the reality underneath the surface.)

So, if Bush's perceived personality was a significant factor in his victory, and I think it was, it leads to an obvious factor which is not, at least that I can currently see, being seriously considered as something we need to do to win the next Presidential election, and it has to do with the type of person we select as our candidate.

I think that the Democrats had better start looking outside the normal ranks of the party for their next Presidential candidate.


I look at Bush's persona advantage over Kerry, and I look at the reception that Schwazenegger got in Japan when he was on a trade mission there, and I look at Reagan and (to a certain extent) Ventura, and my conclusion is that the best hope we have of breaking the right-wing stranglehold on national politics is to run an actor for President.

What we need to do, I think, is to consider casting the role of President.

Yep, I'm advocating that we give in utterly and completely to the triumph of style over substance and groom a figurehead that people will like and vote for.


In 2008, we can't allow another persona gap with the Republicans.

There are, of course, other iconic archtypes that project strength and manliness beside the cowboy (Bush's chosen image reference -- the Texas ranch bought as a stage prop, "clearing brush" on vacation, etc.): the military leader, the hard-boiled detective, the strong businessman as rugged individualist, and so on. The mistake we made with Kerry (to the extent that it was a mistake -- I'll remind everyone that we lost the election by a nose) was that Kerry was a war hero, but he didn't look like one, and the prime lesson of modern politics is that it's a lot easier to break down facts (one simply lies outrageously and shamelessly over and over until your lies start to be preferred to the actual truth) than it is to break down image, which re-enforces itself minute by minute, day by day.

Ask any director who has to choose between two equally good actors for a role, which of them is most likely to get the part, and the answer will be the actor who looks right (or, as we say in the theatre, who "reads" the best).

The best of all possible worlds for our political purposes is, of course, someone who both looks and is the part -- an actual war hero who looks like a war hero; but if one cannot have both, then the hard lesson of contemporary American politics, one we've yet to completely learn (because, to our credit, we don't really want it to be true) is that the guy who looks the part is a better choice than the guy who is just better qualified for it.

So, really, the thing we can do next time around is fight fire with fire, and answer Bush's perceived persona of strength with another, equally strong one, and we need to cast our candidate with this in mind. No one who doesn't, in some manner, project strength, stability, steadfastness and the willingness and ability to use power when necessary need apply.

Update: From the Voice

[Thanks to Nathanael]

Update (3/17): More on the Republican campaign to portray Democrats as unmanly or effeminate here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/13/2005 03:02:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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