Archive for March 29th, 2007|Daily archive page

Heads Up – Homemaker

I’d like to a quick heads up to Lizard Eater for her support of the much abused term ‘homemaker’.

I’m coming up on 9 years of being a full-time homemaker. I am at odds with the other 99% of liberal women who are mothers and not employed outside the home, in that I call myself a “homemaker,” not a stay-at-home-mom. But after about 5 years of being a SAHM, I came to think that a) “stay-at-home-mom” is a perjorative, and an incorrect one — I WISH I could just “stay home,” but we’re far too busy and b) SAHM is a demotion. I don’t just stay home with my kids, and I’m not just a mom. At present, old-fashioned as it sounds, I make a house a home. I make wholesome meals and try to keep the house clean, and repair things and even occasionally sew something. And I spend time tending to the spirituality of our home, planning family rituals and opportunities to talk about our values. But it’s just semantics. Whatever you want to call yourself, go right ahead. And by the same token, I call employed mothers “working mothers.” I don’t feel that it implies I don’t work. Sometimes, I refer to myself and others as “full-time mothers.” That doesn’t mean I think working mothers cease to be mothers at 8 am.

Go read it in full. Bravo!

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Neo-Hope

Andrew Sullivan posted a reader comment to his blog yesterday. It was a mixture of mea culpa and cheerleading to a football team down 7 to 28 with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The comment started with a standard neo-con statement of fact. A statement of fact that with just a little editing becomes a far left wing call to arms. Let’s see…

The basic liberal premise for going getting the Republicans out of office is to effect democratic political and social change in Washington and in America, where the ruling kleptocracies and totalitarian evangelicals have crushed all hope in the general population and created a rancid environment in which hate and extremism is rampant. This basic premise – that the root of the problem in America lies with its dysfunctional ruling classes – is correct as far as it goes. It of course, needs to be more honest and further note that much of the present structure of Washington is rooted in its historical culture and social development going back literally hundreds of years, and is one in which Christianism and its lack of a church/state divide is a major contributing factor. Nevertheless, the intervention into Washington politics is being made with the prospects of bringing, by demonstrations and by softer means, a change in this governing ethos in America.

Now look at the original.

I’ll make a neo-conservative critique of Iraq that is honest. The basic neo-conservative premise for going into Iraq was to effect democratic political and social change in the Arab world and in the Middle East, where the ruling kleptocracies and totalitarian states have crushed all hope in the general population and created a rancid environment in which hate and extremism is rampant. This basic premise – that the root of the problem in the Middle East lies with its dysfunctional ruling classes – is correct as far as it goes. It of course, needs to be more honest and further note that much of the present structure of the Middle East is rooted in its historical culture and social development going back literally thousands of years, and is one in which Islam and its lack of a chuch/state divide is a major contributing factor. Nevertheless, the intervention into Iraq was made with the prospects of bringing, by force and by softer means, a change in this governing ethos in the Middle East.

Interesting huh? Neo-con blathering – indeed political blathering of any color – is simply a case of effective search and replace with the correct wording. * Sigh * Politics and content –the two shall n’er meet.

But the commenter tries to point out that he while he was a little naïve in thinking that a change in policy would be easy, the basic premise was sound.

The reader argues that there were a couple of factors that created the current quagmire. First, years of dictatorship under Saddam Hussein destroyed any infrastructure and any real opportunity for success. That coupled with failures in the current administration caused the current chaos. It was Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush, their incompetence and lack of realistic post conflict planning that lead the great “Iraq experiment” astray.

A couple of things this reader seems to have completely forgotten.First, calls for a realistic post conflict plan were few and far between, not just from the right but from the left. Any attempt to inject realism into the political process in that pre-election, post 9/11 wave of nationalism, excuse me, patriotism were quickly hushed. The poster comments that General Shinseki, chairman of the JCS, was sacked for giving a realistic estimate of the number of troops (“several hundred thousand”) necessary for rebuilding Iraq. He (she?) forgets that the reluctant comment was only in response to the pointed probing from a single Democratic senator, Carl Levin. The next day Wolfowitz, (neo-con extraordinaire) casually dismissed the idea. None of the neo-con pundits questioned the idea that nation-building would be necessary.

The Free Republic analysed the situation on February 28, 2003 thusly –

All of this points at a core problem. The Bush administration’s desire to make Iraq appear a stand-alone operation, without any strategic purpose behind getting rid of a very bad man, is highly vulnerable to attack from many directions. It’s only virtue is that it keeps the administration from getting involved in complex questions that can complicate the war. It also makes officials look — at one and the same time — simplistic, devious and incompetent. When the deputy secretary of defense and the chief of staff of the Army cannot, within 48 hours of each other, provide Congress with consistent information — and Wolfowitz must cover the strategy by making Shinseki look like he doesn’t know what he is doing — the situation is getting out of hand.

Once the war is concluded, if it is concluded well, these contradictions will be forgotten and the next strategic steps will unfold — or so the administration’s theory goes. That may be correct, and indeed, much of this is simply Washington chatter, of no consequence outside of Washington. Nevertheless, the intense strains of unarticulated strategic plans are showing.

Sullivan’s reader conveniently ignores the classic neo-con plank – that nation-building as such is wrong. That the military should not be used to rebuild democracy. The reader simply forgets those heady days in the 1990’s when democracy would just pop into existence – Poland, Germany, Hungary.

Oh. Yeah. There was that Kosovo thing. From James Baker’s classic “We don’t have a dog in that fight” to Bush “I’m worried about an opponent who uses nation building and the military in the same sentence.” There would never have been support for an ‘Iraq experiment’ if more than a few troops were involved and nation-building a strategic objective.

Hindsight now is like saying that you shouldn’t have been wearing that blindfold while driving. Mea culpa? Yeah right. I just get tired of the same ol’ – same ol’. “Wrong place, wrong time”? No WRONG REALITY! The world doesn’t allow itself to be reduced to a few soundbites, pundits and Power Point presentations. The real world is messy. The ‘experiment’ could never have worked because democracies don’t flower – they evolve.

Why does this person still stake a claim to any hope for the future after having been so blind in the past? The current debate of whether America should leave Iraq is flawed. Iraq is lost. A very few Americans are paying the price for this chaos now. The current moves by Saudi Arabia in recent days show a realistic attempt to keep the region under control while isolating Iraq (and the US) show just how far the situation has deteriorated.

It took Germany many tries, each more bloody and damaging than the previous, to finally reach some measure of Western democracy. The Middle East and Iraq specifically is no different.

It would do the neo-cons or post-cons or mea-cons good to remember that.

GSA = Global Straightforward Amnesia?

Oh. Poor Lurita Doan.

All she did was go to lunch (brown bagging it – wasn’t the Administration able to even get salaries that would let these people afford to be able to send out for Chinese? ).

Now she has to answer questions about a little power point presentation held during government office hours using government equipment. One slide titled “2008 House GOP Defense” does seem just a little parisan but it was lunch!

Watch the poor woman squirm.

Or watch the whole hearing at the GSA website here. (I think Henry Waxman is having a ball holding all these hearings.)

On the other hand, the Democrats now know what the White House is worried about.

(Hat Tip: Paul Kiel/TMPMuckraker.com)

A Defense of Faith

I finally got around to reading [Sam] Harris’s End of Faith.

On the one hand, it is an astounding document, a frontal assault on religion and faith. On the other, it is clear that Harris is writing from the heart. (I am sure he would resent my using the phrase ‘with heart and soul’ but it would reflect my opinion.) He seems most concerned that the irrationality of religious beliefs is not only dangerous but the most fearful threat facing mankind today.

He spends half the book with broadside after broadside directed at religion; Christianity and Islam being the primary targets. Judaism is attacked primarily as a precursor to these two and Hinduism is only mentioned in passing. Buddhism as a belief structure is left largely unscathed and Apollo, Zeus and Athena merely dismissed as myths. Wiccans are left unmentioned.

I found this part of the book to be the least balanced. Perhaps I will devote another post to the problems I see in that part of the book, problems which are far too numerous to be listed here. His main attacks seem based on a literal reading of the various holy works. He therefore makes the connection, since the scriptures are not consistent, not only are beliefs based on them irrational, but any idea taken from them dangerous. He seems fascinated by the more graphic portions both of the Bible and the Koran and dedicates page after page to debunking any belief that could use these works as a basis. Fine.

In the second half of the text, Harris looks at the connection between ethics and religion and asks the important question of whether research will be able to find a science of good and evil; a clear delineation between what is right and wrong without discourse to holy books (or constitutions). Further he looks at the connection between spiritually and consciousness arguing that spiritually and mysticism are possible without the fetters of religion. These chapters are designed to show a path out of the horrors of dogma and into a more structured and intellectual understanding of the world.

This part of the book was more balanced and less polemic; he wants to reconstruct the social order torn down by the removal of religion. I found Harris treading well understood ground here, he studies neuroscience. In the acknowledgements, he mentions two chapters on the brain that were cut from the final version of the book. While I think this would have explained both Harris’s impatience with religion and his hope for the future, they were probably too complicated and erudite for the audience Harris reached otherwise.

As a bridge between the attack and the reconstruction, Harris shows two of examples of how dangerous religions can become – the Inquisition and the Christian origins of anti-Semitism as a precursor to the Holocaust. I think both of these examples show Harris’s distortion of truth and use of polemic to make marginal or invalid points.

He describes the Inquisition as an example of the tortures used to extract confessions from innocent, religious prisoners while leaving out the fact that similar methods were used to extract information from secular prisoners as well. The idea that pain and suffering might induce people to give incorrect or misleading information wasn’t religious doctrine but common knowledge at the time. Trial by fire was not merely a platitude in the middle ages. The only thing particularly spectacular about the Inquisition was its targeting of a relatively peaceful and prosperous segment of the population. And note, the emphasis is on prosperous. Most pogroms were carried out for financial and not purely religious reasons.

Harris’s explanation that Nazi anti-Semitism was rooted in Christian faith is as true as it is trivial. The Nazi’s were chasing a mythical racial purity that had nothing to do with faith as such. Indeed one of the principal goals of the Nazi’s was to replace existing religions with a new (or as they pretended – old) religion. This wasn’t out of any dogmatic belief but because the Nazis knew the power of using that from of emotion. The racial discrimination that has been and is being carried out in the United States is arguably not of religious nature. The concentration camps set up in Colorado during the Second World War had little to do with Christianity but a lot to do with race. While the group selected by the Nazis was based on age old religious predudices, the problem wasn’t the religion but the predjudice.

Harris might be described as a neocon to religion looking for dogmatic WMDs wherever they might be found and disregarding any evidence to the contrary.

The neocons were certain Sadaam and Iraq presented a threat and played up every possible hint of danger while passing over any evidence that it might not be so. While getting Sadaam out of power might have been a good idea, the neocon ‘strategy’ was focused on the destruction of a dangerous regime and on the democracy that would bloom in its place. The fuzzy part was the path from dictatorship to democracy and it is that fuzziness that is what is ending life after life in the Fertile Crescent today.

Harris makes a similar mistake. While he points to a proud new world, a world of science of ethics and an understanding of how and where feelings of spirituality can be nurtured and supported, he makes no concession to reality. Not only does he not tell us how to achieve these goals; it is unclear whether there is a ‘there’ there. In a sense Harris sees religion as a kind of social WMD. Extremists driven by frenzy of religion will seek not metaphorical WMD’s but real ones and the world will be destroyed. I would argue that lacking religion, any of the other traditional excuses – race, nationality, etc. – will be used to foment hate and dissent.

The book makes a startling and excellent case for the danger the world is in today. Wherever peoples with differing religions come into conflict, the religion will be used to magnify and define the suffering. But if the only option is to condemn all religious thought, to ‘outlaw’ beliefs and myths, then we are doomed and no book can save us; not Harris’s, not the Bible, not the Vedas, not the writings of Confucius – none. We are doomed.

We live in a world where we are permanently bombarded with the message that, we should be satisfied with our lives (but are not) and that dissatisfaction is a condition to be combated, something to be exercised – preferably through conspicuous consumption and greed. The feeling that dissatisfaction is ‘curable’ leaves the human mind open for anything that offers relief. There are those few blessed with the ability to fill that void with intellectual pursuits: Eugenie Scott, PZ Meyers and Richard Dawkins to name a few. There are others less fortunate who use alcohol and other substances to deaden the ache. But nature does indeed abhor a vacuum, and religion and belief are used by many to fill the gap.

If Harris does not offer a substitute for belief, his attempts at dismantling organised faith, if successful, would leave a chaos making Baghdad look like a children’s party.

There is no doubt that spirituality and belief are experiencing a renaissance in the world today. Not only are religions growing, but belief in New Age silliness like Integral thought and Therapeutic Touch are increasingly trusted despite the rational arguments of scientists.

I would argue the true danger to the world is not religion per say but the use of extremism in any form. To portray religion as the driving factor in all the world’s woes and conflicts, either implicitly or explicitly, is mendacious. Dogma did not drive Napoleon to Waterloo; the American Civil War was not a conflict driven by faith; neither WWI nor WWII were set in motion by theological discourse; the Soviet purges and the McCarthy show trials were not done for God.

For me, someone who is firmly in the strong agnostic camp (not only do we not know whether God exists, I feel the question is unanswerable as such), I would have to say I found Harris’s book reprehensible

I found his descriptions of religion to be cartoonish and his use of exaggeration, polemic, and a combination of truth and well spun opinions presented as truth distasteful. Harris discounts all theological activities performed in the last 300 years. He carefully mixes generalisations about the beliefs held by splinter groups with the larger group of moderates.

His rhetoric is often flawless, attacked on any specific point he can truthfully explain that no, go back and read that passage exactly – any resemblance to what you understood and what he wrote is solely the responsibility of the reader. I felt I was reading denialist literature of the highest calibre.

But I did have a personal revelation while reading Harris’s book – don’t take a break and watch cable news. During a report about the latest Iranian/UN tug of war, the CNN announcer pointed out that Iran claims that all its nuclear efforts are peaceful. Then, in a tone dripping in irony, he pointed out that Iran also “claims that CNN is simply a propaganda arm of the American government.” I found myself yelling at the screen “But you are an American propaganda tool!” Harris’s book and tolerance do not mix.

I believe the CNN announcer would have as little use for my comment as Harris will for the rest of my comments. But both are only beliefs. And I will hold faithfully to them.