It Looks Like This (sorry, no ice cream) 

Whacking at Straw Men

Yes, as you may have guessed by the title, this entry is about Ann Coulter.

In a recent column, Ann Coulter bashes secularists. Nothing new there. Whatís interesting, though again, not new, is she bashes them not for anything theyíve done or said, but for what she imagines them to feel. She believes we are, or at least ought to be, as secularists, disapproving of Ashley Smithís disarming of Brian Nichols. She thinks (or wants us to believe she does; itís almost inconceivable that any sentient being could really believe the simple-minded blathering she produces) that weíre disapproving of any actions that reveal or are driven by somebodyís spiritual beliefs. Such people no doubt exist, though Ms. Coulter probably cannot produce any evidence of them, but they are certainly far rarer than those who are mortally offended by those of us who choose not to and resist the use of the bible and other religious texts to promote intolerance and bigotry.

Most people recognize and accept without being offended, or really even giving it much thought, that peopleís religious beliefs may animate and guide their actions. Many of us though, Christian and non-Christian alike, arenít impressed by those who feel the need to overtly display their religiosity. Some, like me, may have come to feel this way through exposure to this,

ďAnd when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.Ē

I know, thatís just crazy talk.

The other interesting thing about this is that there is nothing in Annís writings or actions to indicate that she actually holds or is compelled by Christian religious beliefs; their existence in others just make a handy cudgel with which she can beat those people whose actions she disapproves of. Of course, most of these people, and their actions, exist mostly only in Annís mind.

Dogtown and Z-Boys

Dogtown and Z-Boys is a 2001 documentary about the revolutionary Zephyr skating team, hatched in a Venice, CA surf shop. It describes and, through archival footage, illustrates a segment of the seventies surf and skate culture. A large part of the filmís appeal to me is that it blows away the stereotype of the laid-back California surfer. The kids in this film are dedicated, driven, competitive, and territorial, to say nothing of outright gifted. Written and directed by Stacy Peralta, one of the Z-Boys (who also wrote and directed last yearís Riding Giants), the film, narrated by Sean Penn, in addition to exposing a little seen slice of the California experience, has a compelling natural dramatic arc. See it.

I had been meaning to write about this film for some time. I grew up in Northern California, where the beaches are often cloudy, windy, and chilly, and the water is 10 to 15 cooler than in Southern California. The sun-blessed music of the Beach Boys and the beach movies of Frankie and Annette were as relevant to my life as they were to some kid in Des Moines, yet that was the life my cousins in Michigan thought we lived (to be fair, I suspect those songs and movies really didnít do much justice to real life in Southern Cal either). The surfers at Santa Cruz were (and may still be) notoriously territorial, given to fighting kids who came over the hill from the valley who dared surf ďtheirĒ waves. This movie comes closer to depicting the life I knew growing up in California than any other film, book, or music Iíve come across.

The reason I write about this now is because a feature movie based on the documentary is scheduled for release this summer. Called Lords of Dogtown, it stars Heath Ledger, Sofia Vergara, and a host of people Iíve never heard of. It may be good, but Iím not optimistic. See the doc. I saw it on IFC and Iíd be surprised if it doesnít resurface around the time of the feature filmís release. Itís also available at Amazon and, I imagine, at your finer video rental outlets.

Zero Tolerance Strikes Again

Is it fair to say that "zero tolerance" can almost always be read as "zero judgement," as school administrators across the country have imposed rigid guidelines for infractions, without regard for context? How many times in the last ten years have we heard of students being suspended for bringing aspirin or butter knives to school? To that sad history we can now add the story of Frasier McCart, a ten-year old fifth grader from Gladstone, Missouri.

While waiting for the bus to pick him up for school in the morning, Frasier spotted what appeared to be a handgun that was "bent open." Rather than leave it on the ground, Frasier put it in his backpack and immediately upon arriving at school went to the principal's office to turn it in. For his troubles he was suspended for a day for bringing a gun (which turned out to be a toy) onto school property. The school principal, Marla Wasserman, said the punishment was necessary to teach him better judgement. Frasier had mentioned to other students on the bus that he had found and had with him a gun. He wasn't trying to scare them, but he couldn't keep a secret. For this "poor judgement" on his part Ms. Wasserman chose the "light punishment" of the one-day suspension, saying "Where I think that he could have made a better decision was in not saying anything to other children and causing them concern and worry."

I'm not sure these are the people to be teaching our children about judgement.

Is That a Spine We See?

It says here that not a single Senate Democrat will support any effort by the Republicans to redirect current Social Security withholding to private accounts.

Promises to Keep

An article in the January 31 Newsweek describes the brouhaha over the proposed shuttering of some older VA hospitals around the country, including one near Waco and the President's Crawford estate. This hospital happens to have the only VA post traumatic stress disorder ward in Texas. Though there are other VA hospitals in the state, none are set up to handle the potential 1000 new PTSD cases that Texas alone is likely to see as a result of the Iraq war. Bush's advice to VA director Anthony Principi was to not worry about politics in making his decision, but rather to do what's right.

That sounds like the right answer, but you have to keep in mind the President's perspective. The "politics" he referred to was the hue and cry of veterans' groups and state and National Texas legislators objecting to the closure. "What's right" in Bush's mind would be what would save the most money.

This is an issue that every keyboard-flogging magnetic-yellow-ribbon-on-the-car flag-waving Bush-voting I-support-the-troops-boasting right-wing pundit out there ought to be getting behind, loudly and often. This one is a no-brainer. At any time, but particularly in a time of war, when newly injured soldiers are being minted every day, the lid should come off the VA budget. It doesn't make sense to me that, as it was phrased in the article, the VA budget "has not kept pace with inflation and rising costs." Inflation and rising costs? Those are their worries? What about increased long-term demand for VA services? When the President can send a request for $100 billion to Capitol Hill to finance the Iraq disaster without feeling the least bit remorseful or at least sheepish, there should be no objection from anybody in any branch of government to providing the VA with what it needs to perform its mission.

I have a friend whose son, a Marine Lieutenant, is currently stationed near Mosul. Last year, while still stationed near San Diego, he learned from a friend working in a VA hospital back east that soldiers in her ward were sharing old broken down television sets, or in many cases, just doing without entertainment. He got on line and started finding and buying inexpensive TVs and VCRs and having them shipped to his friend's hospital. His initiative and generosity are admirable, but it seems to me that they should have been unnecessary. We owe nobody a greater debt than those who have shed blood in our name. More people who support our President and his war, both in and out of government, need to learn this lesson.

The hospital in Texas will stay open for now, along with other threatened VA hospitals throughout the country. A $9.6 million study has been commissioned, to be completed next year, to evaluate whether and which hospitals should be closed. The choice shouldn't be based on what the government can afford, however. It should be based on how most effectively and efficiently the various VA hospitals and clinics around the country can serve their patients. When we, and by this I mean the US Government, sends our young men and women overseas to fight, we make a promise to them that we will take care of them, that injuries they suffer will be treated by the finest care available. This is a lesson men like Bush and Cheney need to learn before sending troops into harm's way.

Selective Service Registration

Stop the Draft

When I was 20 years old, in 1980, I joined a demonstration at the US Capital protesting the reinstatement of Selective Service Registration. At the time I was too old, by three months, to have to register myself, but many of my friends had to register. Now I find that the children of many of my friends have to register and, although we do not have a draft and we are constantly assured that we will not have one, it's time, I think, to put an end to this.

Contact your Representatives in Congress and urge them to support HR 4746, which will end Selective Service Registration. If there really is no need for a draft and nobody wants one, what do we have to lose by ending the registration requirement?

Time to Move

It's moving day. There are some things I like about this blog, primarily its ease of use, but it also has some limitations that I think I can overcome at blogspot. So follow me to the new place.

McCain and Liberalism - Where's the Link?

For you liberals who are inexplicably enamored of John McCain ( I guess that includes you, John Kerry), check this chart from Americans for Democratic Action (thanks to The Lennon Report for the link).

Culture War Folderol

Visit John at blogenlust for a nice discussion of the "culture wars."

Reject Gonzales

Introducing his nominee to replace John Ashcroft as Attorney General, George Bush said of Alberto Gonzales "he has an unwavering principle of respect for the law."

Oh, really?

According to Newsweek, Gonzales convened the meetings that resulted in the Justice Department memo that held that laws prohibiting torture do not apply to the President's detention and interrogation of enemy combatants. In another memo he wrote, he described Geneva Convention limitations on interrogation methods that could be used on prisoners of war as "quaint."

While working for Bush in Texas, Gonzales prepared for Governor Bush memos describing the crimes, trials and appeals of condemned prisoners for the Governor to review while deciding whether to extend clemency. Notably absent from all of these memos were mention of quality of counsel, exculpatory evidence, or mitigating circumstances. As a Texas Supreme Court Justice, Gonzales displayed the kind of indifference to the appearance of conflict of interest that has characterized Dick Cheney, happily accepting campaign contributions from corporations that were litigants in matters before his court.

I understand that the President has the prerogative to select to his cabinet those people whom he believes will best and most effectively carry out his programs and goals. Each Senator, however, has taken an oath to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States of America. Gonzales' record serving under Bush so far offers strong evidence that as Attorney General he will threaten the individual freedoms guaranteed to Americans by the Constitution. The Senate questioning of Gonzales should require Gonzales to explain, if he can, how his previous actions have been consistent with the principals of lilberty and freedom that Americans have fought to establish and preserve for more than two centuries.

This confirmation is a test for the Democrats in the Senate (well, the Republicans too, but we all know already how they'll do). They can, as they did for much of Bush's first term, bend over and let him have his way with them, or they can to the job we sent them to Washington to do. As for my own Senators, I have no doubt that Barbara Boxer will do the right thing. I have little faith in Diane Feinstein.

(Perhaps I'm being overly harsh with Feinstein; she did not vote to confirm Ashcroft, after all. We'll see.)

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