Friday, December 30, 2005

There's a War On

It turns out that the NSA has eavesdropped on more conversations than orginally thought. Democrats are up in arms and want Bush impeached. No one else seems to care. Possibly one reason is that legal scholars can argue the case either way. The fact that Bush has not backed down indicates that he thinks he is in the right.

According to this poll, 64% of the country supports wiretaps on suspected terrorists. That's bad news for the pro-impeachment crowd. Worse news for Howard Dean, 51% of Democrats are in favor of the wiretaps.

Many Democrats have spent the last four years insisting that we are not part of an international war with militant Islam. They have spent the last three years insisting that Iraq is not part of the War on Terror (which doesn't exists, anyway). In an interview with Newsweek, the DailyKos's founder, Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga, has this to say about the 2006 election:
Is the Iraq war the key campaign issue, or something else?
I think as long as Iraq is on the plate it is the issue. You don’t see a lot of talk about the war in the national media. Six people get killed in an IED [improvised explosive device] attack and it’s put on page 37. But every one of those casualties becomes a big media event for local press, and that’s why people are turning against the war. You go to places like Montana and when a local son gets killed, it is an all-week news event—front page on the day he is killed. They talk to his parents, his high-school coach. They cover the funeral. For a long time it was just us bloggers opposing the war, but that’s changing.

How will the Democrats use the war issue?
This is a little frustrating for me. Here’s a perfect opportunity for Democrats to have led on an issue, and they haven’t. The problem is that part of the Democratic caucus thinks it’s manly and tough to be for the war. They are afraid to basically state what the reality on the ground is.

Here again is a Democratic consultant calling for surrender in Iraq to the terrorists. With most of the country recognizing that we are at war and that wartime measures are needed, how will the Democrats win any elections?

BTW, ZĂșniga needs to get out more. Every paper I've seen has the death toll in Iraq on the front page every day. How is this not in the national media?

Monday, December 26, 2005

Last Thoughts on Christmas

(at least for this year).

The Christmas/Holiday question seems to break on party lines. Liberals are quite happy changing the name, conservatives and libertarians think that the holiday should be called by its real name. This is an interesting split and shows that the issue is part of a larger culture war.

On the conservative side, the argument is simple - the holiday is Christmas. Call it that. The defense from the other side are varied. One is that this is an attempt to commercialize Christmas even more. This is silly. The commercialization is there regardless.

The best argument for "holidays" is that we are increasingly becoming a multi-cultural society and we need to amend our customs so as not to offend our new citizens.

This sounds great in theory but that theory includes a couple of assumptions. One is that the Christian element of Christmas offends most non-Christians. If this is so then the anti-Christmas people should be fighting against American Mosques broadcasting prayers over loudspeakers several times a day. If a Christmas tree on public land is offensive then a call to prayer audible in the same public land must be even worse. Funny thing, though. The anti-Christmas people fight for the rights of Muslims to blare out prayers.

Many liberals look to Europe, especially France, as a guide for modern society. The Europeans are mainly secular. Most are Catholic and most are non-believers.

So what does a secular society do about Christmas and how does its 10% Muslim population react? It turns out that they celebrate Christmas, even the Muslims.

If secular France doesn't have a problem with Christmas then why do we?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Let's Change the Subject

The economy is doing well. Iraq held another election and is close to having a real government. All parts of Iraq had significant voter turnout this time giving the government real legitimacy. Also, many former insurgents are now participating in the election.

It must be time to change the subject. Otherwise people might think that Bush is doing a good job. The new subject for the week is government wiretapping. Nothing else will be discussed.

The initial story gave the impression that calls made from one citizen to another within the country were routinely being monitored.

Actually, it was only communications from the US to another country. It was only used in 30 cases. And it started in 2002.

And the media knew about it for the last year.

So why release it now? The two most obvious reasons are to discredit the Patriot Act as it comes up for renewal or to discredit the President. Or to do both at once.

George Will asks why Bush didn't ask Congress for permission? In 2002 he could have gotten it easily. The obvious answer is that he believed that he already had it. Between his authority as Commander in Chief and the special powers given him by Congress to fight the War on Terror, he didn't need to ask for more.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Democrats Vote 2-1 Against Victory


The House had another vote on a resolution in favor of leaving the troops in Iraq until we acheive victory. The vote was 279-109 with Democrats voting against it 2-1. While cut-and-run leaders such as John Murtha quibbled over the lack of definition given for "victory", this vote will be hard to justify in November, 2006.

We Thought So!

If you support the President's efforts in Iraq then you have to wonder how fairly the press is covering it? MSNBC's Tucker Carlson answers this question:
[...] There's a consensus among the media that the war was a mistake from the beginning and that Bush's handling of it has been inept. I share that view. As a result -- and also because Iraq stories get terrible ratings - Thursday's elections were all but ignored in cable news and under-covered in print.
He goes on to quote someone else as saying:
If Bush ends up being right about Iraq, it will be through luck and accident and God's grace, not through any skillful calculation of his own. Success there will make him a great president the way Powerball makes crackheads rich: they have the money to show for it, but they're not fooling anyone.
Talk about a no-win situation! If things go badly, it's all Bush's Fault. If they turn out well then Bush had nothing to do with it.

One big question is how much of this feeds on itself? How much of Carlson's opinion is based on biased coverage? How much does his bias color his own reporting?

This is what conservatives have been complaining about for years but the press seldom admits it. Instead they insist that their training keeps them impartial. Here's an insider who says otherwise.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Giving Counter

A few years ago cable channel AMC used to run an original show called "remember WENN" about a radio station in Pittsburgh in the late 1930s. In one episode the station got a new owner who lost a loved one on Christmas. She decreed that the station would be a "No Christmas" zone. This lead one character to ask, "What's December without Christmas?" The answer - "January".

It is no secret that December is a major month for charities. While buying gifts for family and friends, people are likely to give to needy strangers, also.

With this in mind, a school in Wisconsin put up a "Giving Tree". It was an artificial pine tree with paper mittens on it. On the mittens were gift ideas for charity. Children could take a mitten home and return with a present.

This sounds properly politically correct but there was a problem. The tree had a star at the top. That made it a Christmas Tree. So the school principal hid the star with a bow.

Not good enough. It was still "a symbol of Christianity."

So the tree was taken down and the mittens moved to a counter. The counter is now labeled the "Giving Counter".

Like January, a counter does not inspire much seasonal good will. Besides, isn't charity a Christian virtue? The whole thing should be scrapped. It was too religious to expect anyone to donate to charity in the first place.

It is undeniable that a tree is a symbol of Christmas but is it a Christian symbol? Where did it come from and how did it become part of Christmas?

The anti-Christmas Christians say that it is mentioned in the bible as pagan and dates back thousands of years. While it is true that there is a passage in the bible that mentions decorating a tree, there is no direct connection between the trees. The first modern mention of a Christmas Tree is from the late 16th century.

There is a better explanation. December 24 is Adam and Eve day. In the middle ages it was celebrated by setting up a tree in the church and decorating it with apples, paper roses, and such. They used evergreen trees because an apple tree in December is pretty depressing and because the bible does not actually say it was an apple tree. Because the tree was still up the next day it came to be associated with Christmas.

After Luther and the Reformation, people stopped celebrating most saints' days including Adam and Eve day. Luther liked Christmas so it was still celebrated and many other December customs moved to Christmas. People liked the idea of the tree that had been set up in church and started putting them up at home. This was pretty much confined to Lutheran Germans until the 19th century when an influx of Germans brought the custom to America and Victoria's German husband brought it to England.

Santa and gift-giving have their own strange paths to Christmas but that's more than I want to get into here.

Anyway, the idea that the Christmas Tree is a symbol of Christianity is ignorant. If you don't agree then try bringing out a Christmas Tree at Easter and see how people react.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

It's Cold Out There

So far this December has been colder and snowier than normal. The last I heard, were were running about twice the average snowfall and the month is only half over.

It's not just Ohio according to this:
All told, he said, "the current look and pace may bring December 2005 in as a top 10 month for cold Decembers nationwide since the late 1800s."

"The cold is widespread, with below-normal temperatures recorded from eastern Washington and Oregon south into Texas and into the Northeast," said the weather service.
This would be a great time for someone to announce a new theory on global cooling.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More on the Christmas Wars

Last night MSNBC did a story on the fight for Christmas (Print version here). For an opposing view they quoted Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. They have an open letter to Jerry Falwell that reads in part (emphasis added):

Even as I write this, millions of Americans are erecting Christmas trees and nativity scenes at their homes, and thousands of churches are planning special Christmas services.
Years ago Reason Magazine had an interview with the president of the ACLU. She was asked why they ignore the 2nd Amendement. Her answer was that they were not guided by constitutional liberites. Their board descided which liberties they would fight for. They used the Bill of Rights but they did not endorse it.

"Americans United" is set up the same way. They are not interested in Constitutional issues of separation of church and state. They have their own definition. You can see it in their open letter. They are not really about separation of church and state, they are about separation of religion from public life. They are fine with Christmas as long as you keep it behind closed doors. "Don't ask, don't tell."

Consider this section of the open letter:
Contrary to your wild allegations, Jerry, neither Americans United, nor any other civil liberties organization that I know of, is waging any kind of war on Christmas. The First Amendment of our Constitution ensures every American’s right to observe religious holidays or to refrain from doing so. We can wish each other a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” and it’s really none of your business which term we choose. We can call our decorated tree a “Christmas tree” or a “holiday tree,” and that’s our right. (We can observe the holidays of other traditions as well.)
But, when organizations such as "Americans United" start telling officials that they have to use the term "Holiday tree" (or "Winter break" instead of "Christmas break") you are forcing Americans to refrain from observing a religious holiday.

Some of the current controversy is over chain stores telling employees to use "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas". Where does "Americans United" stand on this issue? It is clearly obstructing people's rights. Also, the constitution allows boycotts. That is part of freedom of speech.

The big question is why are groups like "Americans United" fighting back? This seems like such a little thing - calling a federal holiday by its given name.

For a contrasting view, here is a statement from the First Amendment Center:
Although other issues get lost in the silly, over-the-top arguments over innocuous holiday salutations and what to call the tree, Gibson, Falwell and other Christmas warriors do raise more substantive concerns. When government and school officials decide that being “inclusive” means including everything but the religious Christmas, they take concern for diversity to absurd lengths. Ignoring religion isn’t being neutral; it comes across as hostility.
"Americans United" doesn't see it that way. Here's their view of the controversy:
I think we all know what’s really going on with your campaign. You want an America where there is no separation of church and state and where your rather narrow interpretation of Christianity is forced on everyone. If you can convince Americans that their cherished Christmas traditions are under fire, you think maybe they will join your nefarious crusade to tear down the protective church-state wall that guarantees our freedoms.
"There are people on both sides of these fights," says Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center, "that have a stake in keeping the culture war going. They raise money, they raise emotion."

I've been noticing a common thread across the left - places such as the Huffington Post, The DailyKos, and the Democratic Underground. They are all convinced that Bush is trying to set up a theocracy. Some of them see the Christmas fight as the first step.

This is absurd. as recently as the 1990s cities still has Christmas trees. Stores were still promoting Christmas shopping even more recently. I first really started noticing it last year. Were we a theocracy through the 1980s?

Another problem - fighting back like this may whip up supporters and bring in money but it convinces the other side that there really is a conspiracy.

The dumb thing about the push back is that you don't have to be a believer to celebrate Christmas any more than you have to believe in ghosts to celebrate Halloween. Singing Christmas carols, even the occasional religious one, is acceptable and no threat to someone's religious beliefs according to the Supreme Court.

So why draw the line here? As many as 95% of the population celebrates Christmas is some fashion. Also, Christmas is not a particularly religious holiday as celebrated in America. It is about giving - both presents and charity, about being with family, and nice decorations and music. The religious part is pretty much limited to Christmas Eve. It as been pointed out by both sides that Christmas is not even a biblical holiday.

So why the fuss? Why not go ahead and concede? Make some statements about how most Christmas customs aren't religious anyway and back off.

I disagree with Falwell on a lot of issues. I think that prayer in school (led by a teacher, not said quietly before a test) is wrong. I think that abortion should be legal (although I don't like it and I think that things like waiting periods and parental notification are proper). By rights I should be siding with "Americans United" but I'm not. They have taken such an extreme position that I'm siding with Falwell. The same thing happened when the ACLU started attacking Christmas in the 1980s. I went from supporting them to opposing them.

In the culture wars, you have to be careful not to alienate too many people. The harder they fight against resonable compromise the fewer supporters they will have for real issues.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Conspiracy Theories

Yesterday I linked to an interview on the Huffington Post about election fraud. Today a top post on the Democratic Underground is on the same subject.
Small wonder! Republicans build the voting machines, Republicans write the secret software, Republicans count and compile the totals. The Republican machines allow no auditing of the vote totals they report. So Republicans have the ability to "win" elections, regardless of the will of the voters. There is compelling evidence that they have done just that.
This has become the accepted wisdom in some circles in the Democratic Party. It has its roots in the 2000 election. When Gore's supporters were looking for more votes they were stymied in districts where electronic voting machines were used. Rather than producing punched cards where each card could be individually challenged, the officials pressed some keys and repeated the original figures.

Skip forward to the 2004 election. The site had a state-by-state breakdown based on the average of the most recent polls. It showed Bush ahead most of the time from Labor Day through the day before the election. In fact, Bush did slightly poorer than this site predicted. Two states that had shown weak support for Bush voted for Kerry. Bush did not win and Kerry states.

Now, this should be proof that the election was fair and honest.

The trouble is that the anti-Bush people were so committed and so insular (the Kerry support tended to come from high-concentrated areas) that they could not believe their loss. While polls in general had shown Bush winning, they had done some picking and choosing on which polls they believed. Combined with flawed exit poll results, they decided that they must have won.

The trouble was that every place that had the new machines with no audit trail Kerry did better than expected. The places Bush did best had punch cards. For a couple of months in 2004 some Democrats insisted that tabulating software on equipment 10-20 years old must be the problem. Never mind that these machines counted auditable punched cards.

In 2005, Republicans lost two contested governor's races and voter reform measures in Ohio and California were defeated. Somehow that became more proof. The governor's races weren't important. The California measures were supported by Arnold Schwarzenegger so they don't count. Only the Ohio ballot issues count, mainly because they were supported by the left (and only by the left) and because an early poll showed them ahead.

This isn't much evidence to build a conspiracy theory on but there we are. The disturbing thing is how often this is being repeated.

Some of it is Bush Derangement Syndrome. The Bush-haters will put nothing past him:
Get real! We are speaking here of a pack of scoundrels who have lied to the public in order to launch an illegal war costing tens of thousands of innocent lives, who have openly violated treaties and condoned war crimes, who have suspended the civil liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, who have absconded with the national treasury and have put our children and their children in permanent hock, who have sullied the good name and reputation of the United States before the community of nations. In the face of such manifest evil, stolen elections are moral chump change
Some of it is a simple refusal to accept that the nation as a whole does not share "blue state" values. Some of it is the bubble that the left lives in. While they complain about the right, they have their own echo chambers - places like the DailyKos, the Democratic Underground, and the Huffington Post. All of these sites push conspiracy theories.

There is a price to pay for this. Last week NBC correspondent Tucker Carleson was writing about Katrina conspiracy theories and said this:
False theories like this terrorize you, make you suspicious and angry. In the end they make your life less happy.
The corrosive effects of election conspiracy theories do not help the Democrats. They still have a major problem with their message but the conspiracy mongers are telling them that their message is fine, they just need to fight harder. Candidates who try a more moderate message are treated as traitors.

This will help the Republicans win elections but it also produces long-term discord. It is difficult to govern when the other side refuses to accept your legitimacy.

Pro-Christmas = Anti-Semitic?

According to this writer, anyone who is upset by the disappearance of the word "Christmas" from public discourse is really attacking the jews.
I suppose there are individual Jews (or Muslims, or others) who prefer to be wished “happy holidays,” but that is simply neither here nor there. As for the secular liberal groups making war on the term, they don’t exist either. The whole issue was invented by the far right to divide Americans from one another, at Christmastime no less. As the Christmas warriors probably know, the reason businesses have adopted the term “the holidays” in place of Christmas is that Christmas is one day, December 25th. “The holidays” suggests a period that runs from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, more time for shopping and exchanging. Anti-Christmas animus is a myth.

[...]t may also be why, when asked who the power was behind the “war on Christmas”, he answered, “Now the reason this is happening is because of the ACLU and George Soros, Peter Lewis. Just a reminder: George Soros and Peter Lewis are the far-left, secular progressive billionaires who have funded -- they pour money into the ACLU, they pour money into the smear websites, you know, they buy up a lot of the media time. And they basically want to change the country from a Christian-based philosophical country to a secular progressive country like they have in Western Europe.” Soros is a Holocaust survivor, in addition to being a billionaire who backs liberal causes. Lewis, also a billionaire, is a major donor to progressive and Jewish causes.

This week O’Reilly really went to town. After showing a clip from John Stewart’s late night show which extolled separation of church and state, O’Reilly said. “There you go, Jon Stewart….We know what he’s doing over there [on Comedy Central]. And it’s not just Stewart. You know, 90 percent of quote unquote entertainers are secular progressives…And a Merry Christmas to you John Stewart. As I said in my newspaper column this week, three wise men showed up to honor the baby Jesus way back when. And if corporate executives are not wise enough to emulate that, well, those of us who respect Christmas might look elsewhere.”

Presumably, O’Reilly knows that Stewart is Jewish. And that may be why a few days later he brought on Jewish comedian Jackie Mason, who endorsed everything O’Reilly said about the anti-Christmas war and added that he was founding a new organization called “Jews Against the Defamation of Christmas.” Mason, who recently refused to perform in a show because an Arab-American was on the bill and who makes little effort to disguise his racism (he once called Mayor Dinkins of New York a “fancy shvartze with a moustache”) said he was horrified that “if you want to say something good, talk about love and brotherhood by recognizing Christ as the savior…all this is not allowed.” He also joined O’Reilly in his denunciation of George Soros and others like him as “sick people” whose goal is to “destroy Christmas.”

Several points here. First, I know that at least one chain gave the excuse about "Holidays" representing Thanksgiving through New Years but there is only one holiday in that spread that 95% of the population commemorates by giving gifts. Starting the weekend after Halloween, stores are decorated in a way associated exclusively with Christmas especially the infamous holiday tree.

Second, the ACLU is disproportionatly jewish and is the vanguard against public celebration of Christmas. I don't believe in jewish conspiraces but I do see a lot of liberal jews involved in the fight.

Yes, Jon Stewart is jewish. He also made fun of the pro-Christmas people. He injected himself into the debate.

I'm not sure why they ring Jackie Mason's name up. They recite hs credentials as an intolerant jew. If the anti-Christmas thing bothers him then it must really be over the top.

Over at the Huffington Post, this writer thinks that the whole issue was manufactured by evangelicals. I'm not sure where the Catholic League fits into this theory.

Evangelicals keep coming up whenever someone defends the "holidays". Granted Jerry Falwell is involved but there is a big antipathy between liberals and the religious. It comes up over and over. For example, here is another entry in today's Huffington Post.
[...] one thing I've written a lot about is the religious right. You went to great lengths in Cruel and Unusual to expose what you called the Christo-fascist movement in America and how it extends to the highest levels of our government. How much of this movement is truly about Jesus and Christianity and how much of the movement is simply about consolidation of power under the guise of biblical morality?
If you Google "christ0-fascist" you find that it is a popular term on the left. Over at the Daily Kos last week, someone posted an account of an anti-creationist professor being beaten up (there has since been some question about what actually happened). The comments quickly started alternating between attacks on religion and calls for armed rebellion (the site is down for maintenance right now so I can't post any examples).

It comes down to this:

  1. There really is an informal movement in this country to remove all public references to Christmas.
  2. There really are people on the left who are rabidly against Christians.
Personally I think that Falwell and crew have gone overboard. President Bush's holiday card is an example. At the same time, there is some truth to their charges.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Cold in the Night

The song "Silent Night" is possibly the most popular ever written. It is the most published song in history. It has been recorded innumerable times in all major languages. At one point it was suggested that God himself must have written it (seriously), or at least Mozart. But it has those pesky religious lyrics. Ridgeway Elementary School in Dodgeville, WI solved this with new lyrics.
Cold in the night, no one in sight, winter winds whirl and bite, how I wish I were happy and warm, safe with my family out of the storm.
The school defends the "Winter Program" by pointing out that students also decorated the classroom with Santa Clause, Kwanza, Menorahs, and Labafana.

This is only a single school but I still worry when life imitates Saturday Night Live. On their December 3 show opening bit they sang a number of carols with all references to Christmas taken out.

Jerry Falwell thinks that this is an unconstitutional example of hostility to religion. I don't think that he has much of a case. Lots of melodies have changed meaning as new lyrics were applied. Our national anthem started as a drinking song. "What Child is This" started as a love song about a woman whose dress had green sleeves. The Irish dance show "Lord of the Dance" got its title melody from the Shaker "Simple Gifts" (and the Shakers don't dance).

Still, the school administration has a tin ear. There are lots of Christmas carols that have nothing to do with Christmas (Jingle Bells, Winter Wonderland, Sleigh Ride, Frosty the Snowman).

Note - if you are like me you never heard of "Labafana". She is actually "La Befana", an old woman who was given a chance to accompany the Wise Men on their way to see the infant Jesus. It was a cold night so she waited until the next day and found the manger empty. She has spent the last 2,000 years checking on children and giving them presents in case one of them is Jesus. You can read about her here and here.

I don't know if the mis-spelling of Santa Claus, Kwanzaa, and La Befana was from the school's press release or if Falwell's group needs a proof-reader.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Ellen Goodman Misses the Point

In her December 8 column, syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman weighs in on the fight for Christmas. Not surprisingly, the liberal Ms Goodman thinks that the "holiday" treatment is just fine. I'd like to engage in a bit of fisking.

Goodman starts off with an anecdote about druids ending with
In short, the sacred and co-opted evergreens of the Druids have become the symbols of the purist Christmas Christians. Somebody hug a tree for me, here we go again.
First mistake - the Druids' sacred tree was the oak. She is thinking of mistletoe which was important to the Druids.

She continues:
There are a dwindling number of battling days until Christmas. The malls are filled with so much Christmas Muzak that we are all longing for a silent night. Nevertheless, we are again treated to the notion that Christmas is beleaguered and besieged and battered by the forces of diversity and secularism.
[...] On the one hand, the Christmas defense team is portraying its side as the overwhelming majority, the 90 percent who celebrate Christmas. On the other hand they are describing themselves as oppressed, indeed victimized.

[...] On the one hand they want more Christ in Christmas; on the other hand they want more Christmas in the marketplace. It makes one long for the screeds against commercialism.

She is deliberately missing the point here. The point is not to commercialize Christmas. The point is that refusing to even use the word "Christmas" is the ultimate commercialization. It is wringing everything out of the holiday except for the gift-giving.

Next she throws out a few red herrings:

The last real war against Christmas was, in fact, a religious war. It was waged in my hometown by Puritans who banned mince pies and plum puddings and declared that celebrating Christmas was a criminal offense. In 1711, Cotton Mather gave his famous lecture against ``mad mirth,'' ``long-eating,'' hard-drinking and reveling ``fit for not but a Saturn or Bacchus.''

As for American history, let us remember that Congress convened on the first Christmas of the new Republic, Dec. 25, 1789. Christmas wasn't a federal holiday until 1870.

Mince pies (but not plum puddings) were banned in England, not America. The Puritans controlled England during the 1640s and 50s. During that period they banned everything they disapproved of including Christmas, plays, and the Church of England. They also hung witches. Nothing that the Puritans did is relevant to the USA.

While it is true that Christmas was not declared a federal holiday until 1870, this is meaningless. In 1870, Congress passed the first federal law recognizing holidays. These were Christmas, New Years Day, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving. Prior to 1870 there were no federal holidays, only state holidays.

I admit to being bemused with today's one-size-fits-all ``holiday'' season. How did the celebration of the birth of Christ elevate Hanukkah from minor to major league status?

But living in an extended family as well as a country that celebrates holidays that range from Hanukkah and Christmas to the Chinese New Year with stops along the way for Druidism, I also understand why ``holiday'' appears on everything from the president's greeting card -- with three pets frolicking in the snow -- to the office party. Conversely, one of the hallmarks of the culture wars is the way tolerance of diverse beliefs is reframed as intolerance for the majority.

And how many of those diverse groups celebrates their winter holiday by decorating a pine tree? Has any aspect of anyone else's religion been renamed for diversity?

But this year's blow-up over church and store? A battle between Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays? I thought religion was supposed to remind us that there's a separation between pew and marketplace
When did the separation between church and state become separation between church and retailer? No one is asking retailers to convert or to push religion and they are already pushing Christmas merchandise. They aren't calling it by its real name but that's what they are doing. Goodman is parroting the position of the ACLU - that religion should be confined to the home.

For a closing, Goodman goes on the attack:
If the religious right is worrying about the erosion of Christmas, maybe they should focus more on the megachurches around the country that colluded to close on Sunday, Dec. 25, for fear they wouldn't have enough customers. Christmas, they demurred, is a family day. Happy Familyday to you?
"Colluded?" That's a strange word and a misrepresentation of what is happening. By tradition, Christmas starts as sunset on December 24 which is why Christmas Eve is important in the first place. Anyone who goes to a Christmas Eve service would be going to church twice in one day.

Its not just the megachurches that decided to close on Christmas, either so this was a gratuitous attack on a group that Goodman apparently dislikes.

As a defender of the "Holidays", Goodman comes up short.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Party of Defeat

To paraphrase John Kerry, we won Viet Nam before we lost it. By the time that we pulled out we had established a stable government in South Viet Nam that was able to defend itself with modest arms and financial support from the US. If we had kept up funding and support and had attempted to get the USSR to abide by restrictions in support then South Viet Nam would still be here and we would be considering it a costly victory, much like Korea

Instead, in 1975, congressional Democrats pulled all support for South Viet Nam and made it clear that no new help would be forthcoming. North Viet Nam invaded and overran the south.

Several leading Democrats want to speed this timetable up in Iraq and go straight to the abandonment phase. It started when the previously-unknown John Murtha called for an immediate pull-out (technically a six month pull-out to start immediately). Last week House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi signed on. Democratic National committee leader Howard Dean made a similar endorsement.

What they are saying is that the strongest nation in the world with a force of 150,000 cannot win against a determined insurgency of 10,000.

This is a self-fulfilling prophesy. We cannot win if we believe that we have already lost. Worse, the other side will not give up if they hear us saying that we cannot win.

The Democrats are in damage control over Dean's comments. The current story is that they were taken out of context. Listen for yourself. There is a recording of the interview here. I listened to it and I clearly heard Dean call for an immediate pullout of 80,000 reservists. He also wants 20,000 regular troops moved to Afghanistan and the remainder moved to a friendly country where they can deal with Zarqawi. (How they will deal with him while he is in Iraq is only one of many questions.)

Is this mean anti-Bush posturing or do Dean and the others really mean it? One clue is the group Code Pink. They have not only been after President Bush, they also try to shout down Hillary Clinton. This group is also affiliated with Cindy Sheehan. Pictures of Howard Dean holding Code Pink T-shirts in each hand have appeared on their web site implying that he supports their agenda. Dean is so supportive of the anti-war movement that he supports them as they attack the Democrats' front-runner for the White House.

What would happen if we do declare defeat and slink home? Michael Moore suggested that we do just that and "live with our shame".

It is the Iraqis who would do the dying, at least at first. There is little doubt that a full-scale civil war would break out.

Worse, if we lose this war it will be a century before we win another one. We pulled out of Viet Man over 30 years ago and it is still being given as an excuse to cut and run.

This has global ramifications. During the 1990s we did the heavy lifting in peace-keeping missions. A lot of countries expect us to protect them from aggressive neighbors. If they decide that we are undependable then they might re-arm. This would not help world stability.

Then there is the terrorist threat. Bin Lauden said that they struck us at home because they thought we were weak. If we prove them right they will strike here again and again.

Can we win in Iraq? Polls taken in Iraq show that they think so. So does the military. This not only shows up in polls but in the re-enlistment rate which has been above goals for some time. Why would someone who has been in Iraq go back unless he thinks that we are winning?

When the war first started a number of people on the far left said that it was important for the US to lose. They consider the US (not just Bush but the United States in general) to be the biggest threat to world peace and a loss will make us less likely to attack anyone else.

This attitude used to be confined to the fringe elements but it is now infecting top Democrats.

And they wonder why we don't trust them to defend the country?

UPDATE: Here is a link to the picure of Dean with the tshirts and an account of Code Pink protesting Hillary.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

He Can Dish It Out But He Can't Take It

Saddam complained that his treatment amounts to terrorism.
NBC News reported that he also complained that he had been wearing the same shirt and underwear for three days and deprived of shower and exercise facilities. "This is terrorism," he said.
That's quite a disconnect from the testimony given today in his trial:
"Witness A" told the court how she and dozens of other families from the town of Dujail were arrested in a crackdown after a 1982 assassination attempt against Saddam.

Wadah al-Sheik, an Iraqi intelligence officer who died of cancer last month, ordered her to take off her clothes, she said, testifying from behind a light blue cloth curtain.

"I was forced to take off my clothes, and he raised my legs up and tied up my hands. He continued administering electric shocks and beating me," she said.

Several times, the woman broke down in tears, at one point moaning, "God is great. Oh, my Lord." She strongly suggested she had been raped, but did not say so outright.

When the judge asked her about the "assault," she said: "I was beaten up and tortured by electrical shocks."

The witness, who was 16 at the time of her arrest, repeated that she had been ordered to undress. She also said al-Sheik fired a gun at the wall to scare her.

"I begged them, but they hit with their pistols," she said. "They made me put my legs up. There were five or more and they treated me like a banquet. Is that what happens to the virtuous woman that Saddam speaks about?"

His victims were stripped, beaten, and raped but he complains abotu having to wear three-day-old underwear. Maybe he's going for an insanity defence.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Democratic Agenda

According to HuffPost blogger, Bob Burnett, the current draft of the new Democratic agenda is called "Together, We Can Do Better". Its contents are a laundry list of platforms that are supposed to appeal to the voters.
"Among the proposals are: real security for America through stronger investments in U.S. armed forces and benchmarks for determining when to bring troops home from Iraq; affordable health insurance for all Americans; energy independence in 10 years; an economic package that includes an increase in the minimum wage and budget restrictions to end deficit spending; and universal college education through scholarships and grants as well as funding for the No Child Left Behind act. Democrats will also promise to return ethical standards to Washington through bipartisan ethics oversight and tighter lobbying restrictions, increase assistance to Katrina disaster victims through Medicaid and housing vouchers, save Social Security from privatization and tighten pension laws.” We’re told the agenda will also include a new national institute for science and technology as well as a healthcare plan for working Americans and a bipartisan summit on the budget.
According to rumor this document is hung up while the Democrats wrangle out their final position on Iraq. That implies that the rest of this mess is acceptable to them.

The trouble is that it will nto be acceptable to the American people, at least not as a whole. Democrats might be able to push one or two of these items into a winning movement but I count at least 17 points here, some of them are mutually exclusive.

They are going to end deficit spending and have a sumit on the budget. That means tax increases and spending cuts. The size of the tax increases depends on the spending cuts.

Does that agenda mention anyplace in the budget that will be cut? Traditionally Democrats cut the military in order to pay for other spending but they promise to "stronger investments in U.S. Armed Forces" so that option is out.

Health care is expensive and they are calling for all sorts of new spending there. College costs are outrageous. Rebuilding from Katrina will account for a few more hundred billion.

So where will the money come from? A clue is the call for energy independance in ten years. With at least half of our oil coming from imports and with the Democrats being historically against opening new areas for drilling, the only option is to make energy so expensive that people have to cut back. The left has been longing for additional taxes on oils for some time. How does $4-5/gallon sound? Expect them to tax vehicles some way, also. An SUV tax seems like something that would appeal to the Democrat rank-and-file.

That's not much of a winning formula, though - "Vote for us and lose your SUV."

The agenda also ignores security. That's a pretty low point on people's radar right now but another bombing in London could put it back up at the top. Democrats have been saying for years that Bush was fighting the wrong war. Now they are going to stop fighting any wars and hope that the terrorists leave us alone.

There is nothing in there about the environment, one of the Democrats' normal strong points.

I can't see this agenda helping the Democrats next Novemeber but if they should regain control somehow here is what will actually happen:

  • Health care will fail. It's big, it's costly, and it's been a disaster in Canada and England.
  • Sending everyone to college will fail. It's big, it's costly, there aren't enough colleges to hold everyone, and college is a waste of time for at least half the population.
  • The minimum wage will be raised and unemployment among teenagers will rise.
  • There will be some programs passed to deal with Katrina. The money will be squandered.
  • They will try to add a $2/gallon tax on gas and settle for $.50
  • There will be a lot of talks about ethics but any new legislation will have large loopholes.
  • The deficit will increase.
  • There will be noises about Social Security but nothing will happen thus "saving it from privitization" and keeping it on the road to total collapse.
Sound appealing?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Christmas Reborn

A number of jews have come out in support of Christmas (also here and here). This makes sense. The excuse for most of the anti-Christmas actions have been on behalf of the jews and others who do not celebrate Christmas. As far as I know, most jews are ok with the fact that they are a minority. Banning Christmas on their behalf makes it appear can only lead to anti-semitism.

The whole campaign is working. Macy's announced that they will return to telling people Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays. Lowes is following suit and renaming their stock of holiday trees, Christmas trees. Not everyone is happy about the news. The Huffington Post has the news release here. It is followed by many angry posts and some obscene Jesus jokes.

Speaking of Lowes, this is the first I have heard about their policy. As of this moment (January 2, 2005), their web site lists 18 items with "Christmas" in the name. These are tree stands, trees, and ornaments. They also have 213 items with "holiday" in the name. These include trees, lights, storage boxes and inflatable decorations but not a single menorah. This is the first company I have seen to actually sell "holiday trees".

Anyway, there is a section of the far left that is very anti-Christ/Christian. These are the people who wanted the "blue states" to join Canada and rename the rest "Jesusland". They sometimes refer to "Jebus". A lot of them seem to flock around the Huffington Post. Currently there are two (negative) posts about Christian leaders and one about Christianity. This last one was written by Deepak Chopra.
Taking the Bible literally makes no sense to moderate and liberal Christians, and one of the most urgent tenets of literalism, that Jesus will soon return to Earth to render judgment and save the righteous, seems like a fantasy. Secular society has no need for Jesus to return. It leaves each citizen to privately choose a religion, or not to choose one, and all other maters fall outside the realm of faith.
In a mainly political blog like this, having a Hindu questioning the tenets of Christianity seems wildly out of place. At least the comments on this one leave out the Christ jokes, but they again show that elite liberals think it polite to disparage the beliefs of others in public.

That is what the whole fight for Christmas comes down to - respect. The left says that out of respect for other cultures we have to hide our religious celebrations - call them by other names, play up the pagan aspects of the season, and hide the religious parts. These same people would never think of asking jews or muslems to hide their holy days. They would find it insulting if someone tried to rename Chanukah or Ramadan in favor of inclusiveness.

Rather than summarize, I'll swipe a sumamry from someone else.

Religion is meant to be a bond for people. These harmless icons do nothing to promote religious interpretations or any sort of theology — especially Christmas trees. If you look in the whole of the New Testament, you won’t find mention of a Christmas tree. There was not one at the last supper; Jesus did not demand the adding of lights to pine as a requirement to achieve salvation.

It is important for us to be respectful of others’ religions. It is also important that actual religion does not enter into the realm of public judgment. But the icons are useful and harmless. They educate children about other religions and ideas and help foster happiness and a feeling of tradition. They bring people together.

And I, for one, am not offended by others’ beliefs. People comfortable with their own philosophy can gaze upon icons from other religions without feeling their own values are under attack.

And the lights are just so damn pretty.