Friday, December 13, 2002


Oh lordy. This is Trent's big announcement -- he's going to spend an hour on BET to talk about his "hopes and dreams for America"?

More later ...

UPDATE: As of this posting, BET's Web site has no mention of Trent Lott's plans to appear on the network. It does, however, include this special report on the Lott affair. Including an article entitlted "Black Republicans Appalled, Want Lott to Step Aside."

Even Ward Connerly is calling on Lott to step down.

posted by Fred Clark 5:42 PM


Why is it that the incidental music on CNN's "Headline News" sounds so much like the incidental music for Monty Python and the Holy Grail?
posted by Fred Clark 2:36 PM


Finally caved in and registered with the Los Angeles Times.

They collect all that Poindexter-ish information when you register, then they still hit you with multiple pop-ups on their home page. I lied about my household income when registering. I said it was >$150,000/year -- curious to see if I get a higher-quality of pop-up ad.

What I really need, registration-wise, is someplace I can go to register that I will never, ever, purchase a miniature digital camera. Any advertising attempting to sell me such an item is simply wasted money.

posted by Fred Clark 5:44 AM


This is something that happens.

ATHENS -- A shower of tiny fish rained down on the village of Korona in the mountains of northern Greece late on Tuesday, Greek television reported on Wednesday, attributing the incident to a mini-tornado.

Villagers discovered the unexpected catch on the banks of Lake Doirani, which lies on the Greek border with the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, following a spell of rough weather.

According to a weather expert at the university of Salonica, in northern Greece, the fish were probably skimmed up from the surface of the lake by a mini-tornado formed during a thunderstorm -- a rare but not unknown phenomenon.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

There are stories of coincidence and chance and intersections and strange things told and which is which and who only knows ... and we generally say, "Well if that was in movie I wouldn't believe it." Someone's so and so meet someone else's so and so and so on --

And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that these strange things happen all the time ...

-- from Paul Thomas Anderson's original script for Magnolia.

posted by Fred Clark 3:52 AM



The Washington Post piles on today with this piece by Thomas Edsall and Darryl Fears1 laying out some of the evidence that Trent Lott's recent remarks were not an aberration. The creepy nostalgia for segregation -- and the pained, grudgingly coughed up facade of an apology2 denouncing segregation -- reflect the very core of Trent Lott's ethos, and the very core of the party he represents, the party that has shaped itself over the past 50 years to reflect this stunted ethos of resentful, white, CHINO3 Southerners.

Meanwhile, President Bush was desperately spinning away in Philadelphia,4 trying to convince the world that Lott's attitudes -- the exact ugly attitudes which won Mr. Bush the Republican nomination in South Carolina5 -- are an aberration in the party of the very-dead Abraham Lincoln.

Mr. Bush attempted simultaneously to condemn Lott for appearance's sake, while keeping it clear that the Republican party is a big-tent with plenty of room in it for a segregationist Senate majority leader.

The president's remarks, "White House officials said ... were orchestrated to distance Bush and his party from Lott's remarks while giving Lott a chance to retain his leadership post" (from this reg-req L.A. Times story).

How nice of the White House to reassure the public that the president's comments, while intended to appear heartfelt, were actually the result of cynical, political calculation, and that the president's long-delayed response on this matter was crafted with a careful and fearful eye on the polls. (Didn't DiIulio get in trouble for saying exactly this?)

- - - - - - - - - - - -

1. Edsall and Fears may have -- like Dr. Robert Gallo -- conducted independent research that just happened to arrive independently where others had arrived the week before. Or they may just have failed to cite several of their sources.

2. Philip Kennicott's Washington Post essay pegs exactly why Lott's first several attempts at an apology failed, and why, following them, his additional attempts ring hollow:

His apologies have been, in many ways, more ambiguous than the words for which he is apologizing. Most apologies are implicitly an attempt to explain, defend or excuse the wrong, and Lott's apologies have done all three.

Mr. Bush's apology, while less ambiguous, was so grossly delayed as to appear reluctant, and seemed given as a pro forma prerequisite that allowed the president to move on to explaining, defending and excusing. Both Lott and Bush could have learned much about the meaning of apologies from John DiIulio -- a brilliant and honorable man whose own recent apology was perceived by many as too unambiguous, and was widely criticized for failing to account for the many reasons his statements were explainable, defensible and, frankly, laudable.

"Whether completely culpable or not," DiIulio wrote, "And whether there are complicated mitigating if not exonerating motivations and circumstances or not, you do not express honest, heartfelt remorse for wrong by quibbling over how the wronged person or persons characterize it."

The Mayberry Machiavellis don't seem to understand that, either.

3. Christian In Name Only.

4. I'd have gone to see him speak, but I was afraid I might end up in jail for three years.

5. From the same Ron Suskind Esquire article in which Mr. DiIulio's criticisms appeared:

As for the Waterloo of South Carolina, most of the facts are well-known, and among this group of Republicans, what happened has taken on the air of an unsolved crime, a cold case, with Karl Rove being the prime suspect. Bush loyalists, maybe working for the campaign, maybe just representing its interests, claimed in parking-lot handouts and telephone "push polls" and whisper campaigns that McCain’s wife, Cindy, was a drug addict, that McCain might be mentally unstable from his captivity in Vietnam, and that the senator had fathered a black child with a prostitute. Callers push-polled members of a South Carolina right-to-life organization and other groups, asking if the black baby might influence their vote. Now here’s the twist, the part that drives McCain admirers insane to this very day: That last rumor took seed because the McCains had done an especially admirable thing. Years back they’d adopted a baby from a Mother Teresa orphanage in Bangladesh. Bridget, now eleven years old, waved along with the rest of the McCain brood from stages across the state, a dark-skinned child inadvertently providing a photo op for slander. The attacks were of a level and vitriol that even McCain, who was regularly beaten in captivity, could not ignore. He began to answer the slights, strayed off message about how he would lead the nation if he got the chance, and lost the war for South Carolina. Bush emerged from the showdown upright and victorious . . . and onward he marched.

Whether Mr. Bush was directly behind this despicable, sinful, racist behavior or not, these things are clear:

a. Bush knew about it.

b. Bush benefited from it -- and would not be president had it not been for this racist appeal.

c. Bush has never, ever publicly apologized for it. ("Technical difficulties" indeed.)

posted by Fred Clark 2:40 AM

Thursday, December 12, 2002


I do not wish, in any way, to defend Kim Jong Il (whose name looks awkward in sans-serif). He seems by all accounts to be one of those petty dictators who holds such unquestioned sway in his little kingdom that he is utterly unable to comprehend how the rest of the planet works, how he relates in the grand scheme of things, and how ridiculous and evil he appears to the rest of the world. He has done so much to promote misery, fear, poverty and hunger among his people that he might as well appoint the four horsemen of the Apocalypse as cabinet ministers.

But having said that ...

Jimmy Carter brokered an agreement in 1994 that defused hostilities on the Korean peninsula. The country agreed to shut down a Soviet-designed nuclear power plant that it was suspected of using to develop nuclear weapons, and to end its plans for such weapons. In exchange, the U.S. would ensure that two modern, light-water reactors (i.e., the kind that can't be easily used in the development of nuclear weapons) would be built in North Korea to replace the energy previously supplied by the big Soviet reactor.

Earlier this year -- eight years after the deal was struck -- North Korea just sort of blurted out that "Oh, by the way, we're back at work on the nukes." This was frightening news. The semi-sane and none-too-bright petty dictator with delusions of godhood was now a semi-sane and none-too-bright dictator with delusions of godhood and a nuclear weapon.

In retaliation -- despite imminent winter -- the U.S. suspended shipments of oil to North Korea.

Why, you might ask, was the U.S. sending oil to North Korea? That was also part of the 1994 agreement. The U.S. agreed to send 500,000 tons of oil to North Korea annually until construction of the two reactors -- you remember, the two reactors we promised we would build as our end of the deal -- was complete.

After eight years, ground-breaking began on the two reactors in August. Between 1994 and August, 2002, we hadn't so much as turned over a spadeful of soil towards holding up our end of the bargain.

Here's the lede from Christopher Torchia's AP story today on North Korea's latest move:

North Korea said Thursday it will immediately revive a Soviet-designed nuclear power plant the United States suspects was being used to develop nuclear weapons before it was frozen in 1994. A dismayed South Korea urged its neighbor to reverse the decision.

And here's the final paragraph, buried at the bottom and tacked on at the end, as it has been on every single news story on North Korea this year:

Under the 1994 pact, North Korea agreed to freeze the plutonium program in return for two modern, light-water reactors built by a U.S.-led consortium and 500,000 tons of heavy oil a year until the reactors are built. North Korea often complained about delays in construction of the reactors, which are several years behind schedule.

"Several years behind schedule" is an understatement. No one in North Korea can be sure they will live to see completion of these reactors that we promised to build them in 1994.

People who don't like Jimmy Carter pounced on the fact that the pact he brokered in 1994 crumbled in 2002. But Jimmy made that pact supported by the good faith of the American government, and it was that good faith -- not Jimmy Carter -- that faltered.

Again, I'm not defending North Korea or its actions, but maybe their boisterous violations of the 1994 agreement are their ill-advised, clumsy way of reminding us that we haven't lived up to our promises either. (North Korea, remember, is an isolated country lacking in social skills. Its diplomatic actions are made clumsy not just by a language-gap or a culture-gap, but by a freedom-gap.)

"The announcement flies in the face of international consensus that the North Korea regime must fulfill all its commitments, in particular dismantling its nuclear weapons program," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said.

"Must fulfill all its commitments" applies to us as well.

Whether its with North Korea or with post-Taliban Afghanistan, the United States' failure to fulfill its commitments and live up to its word only serves to make the world a more dangerous place.

It's also less than honorable.

UPDATE: Doug Struck's Washington Post story blathers on for 19 paragraphs before mentioning, almost in passing:

... In return, the United States, Japan, South Korea and, later, the European Union agreed to build two light-water reactors, from which weapons-grade nuclear fuel is hard to extract. Until the new plants were finished, the United States was to ship North Korea 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil each year. The first plant was to have been completed in 2003, but is at least five years behind schedule, prompting North Korea to complain bitterly that the United States had violated the Framework Agreement.

The plant we promised to build is a lot more than five years behind schedule. How far behind is it? Well, let's see, it was supposed to be built by 2003, and we've got it scheduled to be done by ... never. So what's the difference between 2003 and never?

posted by Fred Clark 3:42 PM

Wednesday, December 11, 2002


For the last half-century, the Republican party has determinedly eliminated every remaining vestige of "The Party of Lincoln" and reshaped itself as the Party of People Who Don't Want Their Kids in School With Black People. (It's actually the party of the Super-rich, but since there aren't enough of those to create an electoral majority, they've turned to an easily manipulated voter base of Stupid White People.)

The great danger in the current affair over Trent Lott's recent comments is that Lott will be made the scapegoat -- he will bear the sins of the party, be sacrificed on the party's behalf, and the party will continue on, its sins forgiven and forgotten by the public.

This would allow the GOP to escape a public accounting for the fact that it has become an aggressively segregationist and racist political force.

The Republican spin on this (a version of which I just heard on CNN, reported as news) is that the story has "legs" because "conservative Republicans" want to be sure to root out such attitudes from their party. What they would like America to believe is that any racist behavior by the party is the result of a few "bad eggs" like Lott in leadership positions. Remove those bad eggs and the problem is solved, they say.

But the GOP is not segregationist because Trent Lott is its majority leader. Trent Lott rose to become majority leader because the party is segregationist.

Trent Lott is a symptom, not the whole disease.

posted by Fred Clark 5:53 PM


Picked up the first issue of a new magazine called Budget Living. The tag line on the cover reads "Spend Smart. Live Rich."

It's an intriguing little bundle of contradictions -- a big, glossy consumer magazine that purports to help readers avoid the expenses associated with a big, glossy consumer lifestyle.

The result is a lot of advice like this: Find a sofa and chair set at a thrift store for $150, then spend "... another $1,000 to have them fitted with Lucite legs and re-covered in a luxurious beige mohair." The result is "a custom look for about $1,200, much less than a new furniture store set would have cost."

For many of us, the words "budget living" means seeing a $150 price tag at the thrift store and saying "Whoa, that ugly olive green one with the stain is only $25 -- let's get that." For the sake of elegance, we may reupholster the thing with bedsheets and/or a canvas dropcloth. Or we might splurge and go to Ikea (for what Douglas Coupland calls "disposable Swedish furniture").

If you're really interested in budget living, talk to the Mennonites.

NOTE: David Carr, writing in The New York Times says that Budget Living is just one of several new magazines "going for grit, not glamour" (link via Ms.). And nothing says "gritty" like $1,000 worth of fine beige mohair.

posted by Fred Clark 4:34 PM


Caught the talented and lovely Sheryl Crow on "Good Morning America" (where I'd fled to escape Maria Carey live at the Mall of America -- gyeh! -- on "Today").

Ms. Crow, in fine voice for the early hour, sang "Soak up the Sun." The reason this is worth mentioning here is the T-shirt she wore. It read:


posted by Fred Clark 4:03 PM

Tuesday, December 10, 2002


1. (To repeat) Anne Lamott on Salon.

2. "I am large. I contain multitudes." This was a really cool mural on the side of a building at 40th Street and Powelton in Philadelphia. It's a young boy standing with one arm upraised -- based on a detail from a Sidney Goodman painting -- with the quote from Whitman alongside.

About a year ago, construction began on a building in the vacant lot in front of the mural, blocking it from sight. Even though it couldn't be seen any more, it was still voted one of people's favorite murals in the city.

But it's back, this time on the new building. Bravo!

3. All this, and Ted Barlow is finally back from hiatus.

posted by Fred Clark 7:07 PM


"Fundamentalists Losing Favor with Public" the headline says over at Datalounge, for an article that drew enough traffic to be blogdexed.

Like most people -- and most Christians -- I saw this as good news. Of course, many fundamentalists would also see this as good news. Status as a persecuted minority -- separate and distinct from, and despised by, the world -- is at the heart of fundamentalism's self-image. That's part of what separates fundamentalists from evangelicals.

Datalounge doesn't understand this. They equate the terms "fundamentalist" and "evangelical' and treat them as interchangeable. This makes their reporting on the survey (and the survey itself) of questionable use.

This is not a subtle distinction or a petty, intramural dispute. Confusing the two is a bit like saying "Sufi, sunni ... whatever." Or "Yankees fan, Mets fan ... whatever, they're both teams from New York."

SO -- because nothing drums up traffic for this Web site more than the inside-baseball discussions of American theology -- here's a brief explanation of the very important difference between fundies and evangelicals.

Bob Jones University and Pensacola College are fundamentalist.

Wheaton College and Calvin College are evangelical.

H.R. Niebuhr's Christ and Culture provides perhaps the best framework for understanding this distinction. (Although the book itself misplaces fundamentalism in its framework, as evangelical scholar and Notre Dame professor George Marsden argues here.)

Applying Niebuhr's categories to the history of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (I'm an alum, class of '96) sheds much-needed light on the difference between fundies and evangelicals. The seminary was founded in 1925, during the thick of the fundamentalist/modernist controversy. That conflict, which divided nearly all of America's mainline Protestant denominations, was creating schisms among Northern Baptists.

One the one hand you had your modernists -- "Christ of Culture" types, those who felt the church should accommodate itself to the culture. On the other hand you had your fundamentalists -- "Christ Against Culture" types, who rejected the Babylon of modern culture. The evangelical founders of EBTS did not depart the denomination with the fundies, but they set about to change it from within by founding their seminary. This is typical of evangelicals -- "Christ Transforming Culture" types who seek to be "in but not of the world" and to work to redeem that world as best they can.

Further reading:

The Variety of American Evangelicalism, by Donald W. Dayton and Robert K. Johnston.

The Scattered Voice: Christians at Odds in the Public Square, by James W. Skillen.

Anything else by Dayton, Marsden, Mark Noll or Martin Marty ...

posted by Fred Clark 6:00 PM


Anne Lamott returns to Salon! Of course, they're going to charge money to read her, but still, it's good news. Publishing Anne again almost makes up for both Sullivan and Horowitz.

posted by Fred Clark 3:28 PM


"She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy."

The Supreme Court is reviewing Texas' anti-sodomy law (see story).

Imagine you were unfamiliar with this bizarre modern usage of the word "sodomy." Imagine that all you had to interpret this word was its etymology -- the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. What would you deduce such a law might involve?

Sodom, the story tells us, was a city full of bad people. The closest thing they had to a "righteous man" was Abraham's nephew Lot -- an incestuous drunkard who knocked up two of his daughters. Ultimately, God destroys the city with a rain of burning sulfur.

So, one might think, the anti-sodomy statute must outlaw raining fire down on the cities of the evildoers. But clearly Texas has no such law. Our president, a former governor of Texas, believes there is no greater purpose in life than to rain fire down on the city of the evildoers.

Perhaps the law is more specific. In Genesis 19 we read that the men of Sodom used gang-rape as an instrument of war against the alien and the outsiders. Perhaps this is the crime that anti-sodomy laws are meant to punish. Dozens of Serbs and Rwandans are, even now, awaiting trial in the Hague for precisely these brutal crimes.

But then again, our Texan president doesn't support the international criminal court that's prosecuting those who used gang-rape as an instrument of ethnic cleansing. So that can't be it, either.

Fortunately, if you continue reading through the Old Testament, you will eventually come across a concise and precise definition of "sodomy" from the mad street prophet and performance artist Ezekiel. Here's Ezekiel 16:49-50:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

Sodomy, as defined by the Bible, is to be "arrogant, overfed and unconcerned" and to refuse to help "the poor and needy."

According to the Bible, then, Texas is Sodom.

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

So how in holy hell did the word "sodomy" come to refer to "non-reproductive, non-commercial, sex between adults in private"? (Definition via this resource site.) As ever, bad theology makes for bad policy.

UPDATE: Brendan I. Koerner offers this Slate explainer on "What Is Sodomy?"

posted by Fred Clark 3:20 PM


I was thrown off by a CNN transcript in which the Unrev. Jerry Falwell, seeking biblical support for his Sept.-11-as-God's-judgement-on-homosexual-America nonsense, told Rep. Barney Frank to "Read the story of Solomon and Mirah (ph)" (see this post).

Mirah? I don't remember any "Mirah." Was Jerry just making stuff up?

Chris S. suggested perhaps this was a reference to "Marah" -- since there aren't vowels in much of the Hebrew Scriptures, it's an interchangeable word. Marah means "bitter," it was the place where Moses turned the bitter water into sweet water so the thirsty Israelites could drink (Exodus 15:22-27).

This is a cool story, but it smacks more of grace ("I am the LORD , who heals you") than of apocalyptic judgement.

(Tangent: "Marah" is also the name of a pretty cool rock and roll band from Philadelphia.)

Fortunately, Andrew Hagen, Arthur S. and James Lindley were able to solve this riddle:

"Solomon and Mirah (ph)" = "Sodom and Gomorrah"

Aha. Mr. Falwell was merely trying to say that, like the fire and brimstone that fell on the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 19), the terrorist hijackers were divine agents chosen by God to carry out his will. For Falwell, these 19 murderers served almost as angelic messengers.

Explain to me again why this jerk keeps getting invited back onto CNN.

posted by Fred Clark 2:35 PM


Okay, so United Airlines has filed for bankruptcy, just like US Airways.

This despite a $10 billion bail out last year and scads more in loan guarantees to keep these "private" companies afloat. Large airlines -- like passenger railroad west of, say, Harrisburg, Pa. -- have become an essential service for many Americans. But like passenger rail, they seem unable to survive without support and subsidies from the government.

As it stands now, taxpayers foot the bill whenever these airlines are struggling ($10 billion here, $10 billion there, pretty soon you're talking real money). Yet when they experience their occasional boom times, taxpayers see none of the benefit. This in turn shields airline executives from the consequences of their decisions, promoting risk-taking and shoddy management. So:

Since the taxpaying public deserves a return on the investment of its subsidies for airlines ...

Since public subsidies have probably already surpassed the total cash value of stock in the three major airlines ...

Since the need for heightened security has already federalized many key functions of airports and airlines ...

Since the largest airlines are already named "American," "United" and "US Air" ...

Why not just nationalize these three airlines and make it official?

posted by Fred Clark 1:52 PM

Monday, December 09, 2002

BLACK & BLUE (cont'd.)


Isiah Thomas is an NBA hall-of-famer who played his college ball in Indiana for coach Bobby Knight. He now coaches the Indiana Pacers. Hoops-loving Hoosiers ought to know this man by sight.

Thomas' Pacers lost to the Nuggets in Denver Saturday night and after flying back to Indianapolis, Thomas was on his way home on I-465 when he was pulled over at 3:30 a.m. by a sergeant from the Marion County Sheriff's Department (see the AP story) for driving in a lane that had been closed due to an accident.

When the officer asked to see Thomas' driver's license, Thomas refused and was removed from his car and briefly handcuffed, said Joseph McAtee, the department's deputy chief. ...

While officers were searching for Thomas' wallet, they found a large amount of cash. McAtee said the money, the time of night and Thomas' behavior prompted officers to call for a drug-sniffing dog. The dog found no hint of drugs.

Ohhhhh. They handcuffed one of their cities most prominent personalities and called in the drug sniffing dogs because of "the money" and "the time of night." That's all. Perfectly normal. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Mr. McAtee can spin this however he likes, but the biggest factor in all of this -- bigger than time of night, bigger than Thomas' driving in a lane temporarily closed, bigger than his apparently being pissed off at getting handcuffed -- is never mentioned in the AP story. The authorities in the Marion County Sheriff's Department would be shocked -- shocked! -- and would express extreme indignation and offense at the very suggestion that this factor had anything at all to do with this incident.

In defense of the Marion County Sheriff's Department, however, please note that the drug-sniffing dog performed its duties without any hint of bias or prejudicial profiling.

posted by Fred Clark 3:48 PM


This is one of the most goofily endearing things I have ever seen. Choongha bachong! (8 MB quicktime movie with sound)

posted by Fred Clark 1:20 PM


WASHINGTON — President Bush is expected to name CSX Chairman John Snow as Treasury secretary after a shake-up of Bush’s economic team amid growing White House alarm about the economy.
A senior administration official confirmed late Sunday that Snow, who served in the Ford administration, would be appointed to replace Paul O’Neill as Bush prepares to unveil a package of targeted tax cuts within the next few weeks.
Stephen Friedman, former co-chairman of investment bank Goldman Sachs, is also set to replace Larry Lindsey as Bush’s top White House economic adviser, officials say.

If Mr. Snow and Mr. Friedman were being named by a Democratic leader, the opposition-research machine would be in full attack mode. A dossier on both gentlemen -- where they went to school, their nannies' countries of origin, how much they pay to have their hair cut, anything else that might be spun in an unflattering light -- would be e-mailed around in time to shape the national spin. The flaws (real, imagined, maliciously imaginary) of both men would be enumerated and prioritized, ensuring a uniform and effective hatchet job.

Reporters, dutifully interviewing sources from both parties, would dutifully pass on the alleged dirt -- convinced that journalistic ethics required them to quote both sides, but not to verify or confirm what they were quoting.

The appointees, smacked down in the starting blocks, would be hobbled by the smears and negative associations long after the allegations were disproven or debunked.

I don't wish to see the Democrats emulate this sleaze-machine, but I do wish they learned from their opponents the importance of a unified message, widely repeated and widely reported.

Somebody on the Democratic side should be researching Mr. Snow and Mr. Friedman to learn about their histories.
While they're at it, they may also want to look into other recent Bush appointees -- like that Kissinger guy or that Poindexter fellow -- you know, just to see if maybe there's something unseemly in their past. Perhaps a $75 haircut ... or a secret, criminal bombing campaign ... or a felony conviction for lying to Congress and trampling on the Constitution ... or maybe even an $85 haircut.

UPDATE: Okay, now that I've seen a picture of Mr. Snow (suddenly I'm humming tunes from Carousel) I realize that asking where he gets his hair cut isn't all that pertinent. How about where he gets his eyebrows cut?

Counterspin has a lot more on our new treasury secretary.

posted by Fred Clark 12:58 AM

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