Fred Phelps is going to hell, but not immediately

Everyone’s favorite anti-gay preacher/hatemonger wants to put up a monument in Matthew Shepard’s hometown of Caspar, Wyoming that reads “MATTHEW SHEPARD, Entered Hell October 12, 1998, in Defiance of God’s Warning: ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.’ Leviticus 18:22.”

In an attempt to avoid my knee-jerk reaction, which includes screaming obscenities and grinding my teeth until bits of dentition come loose, let me make the measured observation that the preacher’s grasp of basic Christian theology is severely lacking. Much as we might like them to, bad people (Republicans included) don’t go “straight to hell” any more than good people (or all dogs) go “straight to heaven.” There is the small matter of the Final Judgment, which any good fundamentalist will know can’t have happened yet, because Jesus has not yet rocketed back down to Earth orbit in a blaze of glory. The Bible is not entirely clear as to where the dead are– sleeping? in a bus station in Alpha Centauri?– but they have not yet met their maker, or their final judgment.

Sure, pop culture shows the recently dead sprouting haloes or horns and spiriting off. But pop culture also shows gay men and lesbians forming stable relationships and raising happy families (and even helping schlumps look better), and that apparently upsets Phelps. If he wants to be a fire-and-brimstone freak, he should be held to a higher standard than feel-good religionists. Personally, I think he’s going to burn in Hell not only for his hatefulness, but for his lack of faithfulness as a preacher to Christian doctrine. If you are going to split hairs, get a sharp razor.

Also, there is the matter of Phelps’ syntax. People go to Hell “in defiance” of God’s demands? Clearly, this man is not a genius, but can not one of his posse structure a simple declarative sentence?

As for Matthew Shepard, may he rest in peace.

What Libertarianism is Not

OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve heard a few people, especially on blogs and message boards and stuff, describe themselves as Libertarians, but beyond the freedom-is-good-government-is-bad-just-let-me-be mantra, I never really understood what it was, really. I did take the World’s Smallest Political Quiz though, once, but it didn’t make me a convert despite its bias.

Sometimes, you can learn most clearly what something is by being told what it is not. This Non-Libertarian FAQ demonstrates that point. I now know enough about it that it just ain’t viable. This quote from the author of the FAQ is pretty telling, for me:

Why do you spend so much time trying to debunk?
As I told creationists who wondered why I bothered, it’s interesting to me to study unusual beliefs for the same reason it’s interesting for doctors to study pathologies. You don’t have to catch a disease to be able to understand it, fight it, or vaccinate against it.

Comparing Libertarians with Creationists is the ultimate damnation.

Whatever happened to investigative journalism?

Greg Palast, journalist for Salon and the UK Guardian, has a website for the new edition of his book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. The story of the many irregularities of the Florida election, which most likely handed the election to Bush, is kinda old hat now. There’s really not much we can do about it until 2004. But of more interest to me was Greg’s story, which you can read online in Chapter 1, of how the mainstream US media refused to pick up the story (despite it being widely reported in print and TV in the UK). CBS news, for example, didn’t run it because the only check they did was to call Jeb Bush’s office and, surprise, surprise, he denied the facts of the story.

Is investigative journalism simply non-existent in this country? Greg attributes the lack of follow-up on this story to the fact that the media would actually have to investigate to validate the story, and this would cost time and money. In fact, the only reporting that was done was after the US Civil Rights Commission had delivered their report six months after the fact. Seems like it’s easier just to wait for someone else to investigate and report the results.

The chapter mentions two of my favourite news sources: the Guardian and BBC2’s Newsnight. I’ve spoken of my love for the Guardian before, but I never knew it was owned by a non-profit corporation. Newsnight is a British intitution, an occasional (2-4 times weekly) evening news program, which spends 45 minutes discussing 2-3 (and sometimes just one) current news story in detail. Often it involves a live interview by the inimitable Jeremy Paxman with an MP or CEO, and it’s generally a no-holds-barred affair (but not in a 60-minutes way). Jeremy asks the tough questions, and it’s a joy to see the politicians squirm. (There was a famous incident when he asked the then Home Secretary the same question: “Did you overrule the director of the prison services” fourteen times before finally getting an answer, by which time it was kinda redundant, since not answering 14 times makes it pretty clear what the answer was.) But Newsnight, and in particular Paxman, is held in such high regard, that for it to be stated that you “declined to be interviewed for this program” so obviously means that you have something to hide that it’s a bigger expenditure of political capital not to appear. Why aren’t there any programs like that on US TV?

They Rule

Here’s a cool little Flash app. Check how board members of the Fortune 100 interrelate. Be sure to click “Load Map” in the lower left to see some pre-canned examples.

Here’s the link: They Rule

Fashion Fascista

Are the kids trying to look like their favorite rap star? Maybe the little miss is turning herself out like Christina Aguilera? Well, Mumsy and Dads, now you can go to and pick out the latest in Kid Gear from the President’s online store. You can make sure that you won’t be embarrassed at the next fund raiser and that the profit will go to enriching the campaign for the re-election of W and Cheney. This Internet thing is just great.

It isn’t bad enough that POTUS and his campaign staff have jumped on the blogging bandwagon (although the site is really more of a personal spin site for the W campaign) now they want to condemn millions of upper-middle-class teens to perpetual loserdom. I understand the campaign bumpersticker, hat and button. But a knit hat that should have the name or logo of a band or skateboard company is not the place for a W.

Pollitt defends The Doctor

The Nation’s Katha Pollitt is not always my favorite colmnist (nor is The Nation always my favorite poltical rag), but she’s for Dean– and how. In her article Selling Dean Short she has one of the best and most rousing grafs in recent memory:

Every time the press pooh-poohs his chances, every time they gloat over some trivial misstatement, every time they make fun of Vermont and describe his supporters as “Birkenstocked” “Deanyboppers,” I think about the free ride the media give Bush, who says more false and foolish things in an afternoon than Dean has said in a lifetime, who is unmaking everything good about this country from Head Start to habeas corpus, who is stacking the government with faith healers and fanatics, my fingers itch to write Dean another check.

She fairly well debones the current media idée fixe that liberals will defect from the Dean camp when the realize that he’s actually a centrist. (Which creates, in the big picture, this weird contradictory argument when you think about it–the mainstream media deem Dean “too liberal” to win, but it is his “centrist thinking” that will eventually scare away his hard-core supporters. Hmmm.)

Anyway, Pollitt closes with this point, which can’t be made too forcefully to anyone who doesn’t get Dean’s appeal:

Right now, Dean is the only viable candidate who speaks to the anger, fear and loathing a large number of ordinary citizens feel about the direction Bush has taken the country, while the mainstream media blandly kowtow and the Democratic Party twiddles its thumbs. He has gone out and actually asked for the help of these citizens, rather than taking them for granted. That is why 70,000 people have sent him money, and why 84,000 have shown up to work for him, and why tens of thousands of volunteers wrote personal letters to Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats and independents urging them to support Dean. His willingness to challenge Bush without looking over his shoulder at the last undecided voter in Ohio is the big story–not whether he signed Vermont’s civil union legislation in a private ceremony to avoid publicity, or even whether he insisted on balancing Vermont’s budget at the expense of worthy social programs.

In other words, Dean is so engaging–and so threatening to the status quo that has the media so blinkered–because he has based his campaign around truly democratic (that’s small-“d” democratic) principles instead of poll-tested tinctures of party platform. Perhaps the best model for this is not an American politician at all, but Lula, the former labor-union leader now running Brazil. Both are reformers who are rescuing human-scale politics from the jaws of media spectacle, and both have policies that put the needs of real people ahead of the niceties of ideological categorization.

Mr. Blah

I know it’s completely inappropriate to think that anything about the Liberian situation is funny, but has anyone else noticed that the Liberian former vice-president, now president, is called Mr. Blah? It makes it difficult for me to read the news articles without picturing him as a cartoon character who suffers from ennui and is drawn with indistinct borders, kind of like Pig Pen, only more existential.

Consider this statement: “If Blah takes over, we will fight back.” This was spoken by a senior member of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, a group otherwise known as LURD. Really, LURD. I think Liberians need better branding. Jay, do you want to get on this? At least they are already snappy dressers.

Bearing False Witness

So I don’t expect a lot from the “faith-based” social-programs crowd that orbits W– call me cynical, but if you’re doing the Lord’s work why come to the Feds for a handout? What I find intolerable from these holier-than-thou folks is out and out misrepresentation of data. In my verson of Christianity, we call that lying. Something about “Thou shalt bear no false witness to thy neighbor.”

In case you don’t know Charles Colson (which would exclude anyone in my family, most of whom idolize the man) he is one of the lucky few Watergate alums who actually went to jail. Where he was born-again, into a lucrative career as speaker, writer, think-tank proselytizer, and general darling of the far right. (While I respect the effort needed for Nixon’s “evil genius” to get some religion, his convert’s zeal could use a little more love.)

So in an effort to get federal funding for his InnerChange “prison fellowship” program, his group is flogging a press release that almost entirely misrepresents the first scientific study of the results. While the inmates in InnerChange actaully did WORSE than non-Bible-reading inmates–more recidivism and more reincarceration at a statistically significant level–InnerChange has the audacity to paint itself as a success. The headline of the press release: “Graduates of Faith-Based Prison Program Less Likely to Return to Prison: Univ. of Pennsylvania Study Shows Inmates Who Graduate From Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative are Less Likely to Return to Incarceration.” The study tells the real truth. You don’t have to get past page four to read “Considering all participants, including those inmates who did and did not complete all phases of the program, 36.2% of IFI participants were arrested compared to 35% of the matched group during the two-year tracking period. Among the total number of IFI participants, 24.3% were incarcerated compared to 20.3% of the comparison group during the two-year post-release period.” The trick is “graduates,” which excludes everyone who doesn’t get a job, or doesn’t stick with “the program” even after release. Talk about “creaming the data.” It’s as if they decided only to count the inmates Jesus really loves.

This excellent article in Slate sets the story straight. But with the WSJ editorial page and the White House Press Office picking up the spin and not the data, there’s a real risk this will become another one of those pseudo-facts that the Christian Right endlessly flogs in its battle to take over the public sphere along with the private.

Terror futures and “open source intelligence”

Ooooh, cool… I get to write a long post about a topic I really love that I don’t think I’ve ever discussed with any of you! (I talk so much that it’s rare to come across a secret passion of mine.)

While the DoD’s insta-shitcanned “terror futures” market was pretty stupid and incredibly poorly handled, it stems from a generally reputable idea. Here’s hoping the Feds won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

So here’s the baby, as it were: Markets do more than just assign value to goods. Markets represent a form of knowledge, and futures-style trading does consolidate and maximize that knowledge. The Hollywood Stock Exchange is a great example of this. HSX is often far more accurate in predicting opening-weekend grosses than Variety is. Basically, research into this field has proven that people in groups are smarter than any single person in that group; an efficient market (based on accurate and transparent underlying data) magnifies this effect. So as offensive and unsettling as its ramifications may be, a worldwide network of well-read amatuer and professional predictors might be more accurate at assessing and predicting threats than even the sharpest spook in Langley. (This Slate article is a decent half-defense of the Policy Analysis Market, or PAM, that just went down in flames, though it misses the most obvious way to ensure that terrorist don’t profit by manipulating the results: make it a “closed-end fund” open only to thoroughly vetted individuals– a few thousand to start with, sprinkled around the globe.)

The realization that bountiful intelligence information is available in the public sphere but is nonetheless undervalued and underanalyzed has given birth to the idea of “open source intelligence.”
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