Miss Me Yet?

I think this came out first on some billboards, maybe along a highway in Wyoming. More recently Facebook friends began posting it on their feeds.

Not yet

In case you miss the point, it’s a photo of former president George W. Bush seeming to wave goodbye to us. The caption says “Miss me yet?”

I thought it was well done and also a nice bit of humor. I was delighted. I thought it was a really great joke. I may have mentioned already that I have been wrong before.

Closer examination of the context brought the dawn of light. Somebody was completely serious about this. The interpretation I should have been reading was, “Wonderful President Bush is gone and awful President Obama is in power.” We should wish we had President Bush back again.

Really?

To sort the issue out in my mind I went back to the year 2000 election. It came down to a few hundred votes in Florida, and there was no decision until December. I had not voted for George Bush, but I am not a bad loser. I penned a congratulatory letter, and The Dallas Morning News printed it. And things seemed to go well for the new president, for the first few months.

Then the attacks of 11 September tested the president as few get tested. After the initial comic few seconds when the president learned of the attacks, he seemed to take charge. As commander in chief he had the power and the will, and within a few weeks the people behind the attacks began to feel the sting of American military might. The president rallied the country behind him as seldom before, and the religious fundamentalist who had declared war on us were on the run and hiding out. It was just a matter of time before the chief perpetrator, Osama bin Laden, would be brought to justice.

Of course we all know that a president does not run the whole show. This president had no prior command experience, but he had wise and experienced advisers, and they quickly put together a resourceful military coalition in the order of what President George H. W. Bush had accomplished only ten years previous. It was all good.

Then things began to go a little off track.

President Bush had campaigned as the environmentalist candidate, but we all knew that was just political rhetoric. Sure enough, soon after taking office the environmentalist president was unraveling some environmental set-asides enacted by his predecessor. For example, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was quickly stricken from the national registry and put back at the disposal of developers. Of course, reaction to this was swift, and even red state Utah was not appreciative. President Bush quickly reversed his impulsive decision, and Grand Staircase-Escalante is now a national monument for all to enjoy.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a U.S. National Monument protecting 1,880,461 acres (760,996 ha) of land in southern Utah. There are three main regions: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante – all of which are administered by the Bureau of Land Management as part of the National Landscape Conservation System. President Bill Clinton designated the area as a national monument in 1996 using his authority under the Antiquities Act. Grand Staircase-Escalante encompasses the largest land area of all U.S. National Monuments.

President Bush, like many conservatives, has some heartburn with the Social Security system. Social Security was put in place by liberal President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the thought of government working that closely with the welfare of private citizens has long stuck in the craw of the conservative faction, particularly Republicans.

During his term, President Bush campaigned to privatize Social Security. Instead of having the government collect taxes for Social Security and guarantee payments to beneficiaries, workers would pay money into private investment funds and reap the rewards of a growing economy. To his credit, the president took his argument to the people, crossing the country and pitching it to gathering crowds.

The gathering crowds sat on their hands. Once the idea was explained the proposal was overwhelmingly snubbed. Privatization provided no benefit to people if the economy went into the tank, which was where it had been in 1935 when the law went into effect.

Anyhow, it was a nice try by the president, but it was not something that made him popular with the mass of voters.

Then something happened with the president’s declared “war on terrorism.” After chasing al Qaeda mastermind bin Laden into, supposedly, a cave in eastern Afghanistan, George Bush took his eye off the ball. Other matters attracted his attention. He turned his thoughts and his sights toward an old foe of the United States, Saddam Hussein, de facto dictator of Iraq.

It was suddenly realized that Saddam Hussein, who had lost the war with an American-led coalition back in 1991, had not given up his weapons of mass destruction. This had been one of the stipulations of the war’s cessation. This was an obligation not fulfilled. Saddam Hussein was reneging on his commitment. This required action.

When challenged, Saddam Hussein denied retaining any prohibited weapons, including poison gas, nuclear weapons and weapons materials and long range rockets. From the viewpoint of the Bush administration he was being obstinate, and the threat of war was needed to bring him into line. The threat drew closer to reality as denials brought outside inspections who failed to turn up the alleged war materials. Again and again the case was brought that prohibited weapons had been detected, and every time supposed evidence turned out to be faulty. There was a darker side.

The administration was sure that Iraq had obtained uranium “yellow cake” from a source in Niger. This was supposed to be the smoking gun that would indict Saddam Hussein. This would prove the case for going to war.

The CIA sent Joseph Wilson, husband of CIA operative Valerie Plame, to Niger to determine whether Iraq was obtaining the prohibited uranium. The result was a scandal that roiled the administration for months.

On July 14, 2003, Washington Post journalist Robert Novak, using information obtained from Richard Armitage at the US State Department, effectively ended Valerie Plame’s career with the CIA (from which she later resigned in December 2005) by revealing in his column her identity as a CIA operative. Legal documents published in the course of the CIA leak grand jury investigation, United States v. Libby, and Congressional investigations, establish her classified employment as a covert officer for the CIA at the time that Novak’s column was published in July 2003.

In his press conference of October 28, 2005, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald explained in considerable detail the necessity of secrecy about his grand jury investigation that began in the fall of 2003 — “when it was clear that Valerie Wilson’s cover had been blown” — and the background and consequences of the indictment of then high-ranking Bush Administration official Lewis Libby as it pertains to Valerie E. Wilson.

Fitzgerald’s subsequent replies to reporters’ questions shed further light on the parameters of the leak investigation and what, as its lead prosecutor, bound by the rules of grand jury secrecy, he could and could not reveal legally at the time. Official court documents released later, on April 5, 2006, reveal that Libby testified that “he was specifically authorized in advance” of his meeting with New York Times reporter Judith Miller to disclose the “key judgments” of the October 2002 classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). According to Libby’s testimony, “the Vice President later advised him that the President had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions of the NIE [to Judith Miller].” According to his testimony, the information that Libby was authorized to disclose to Miller “was intended to rebut the allegations of an administration critic, former ambassador Joseph Wilson.” A couple of days after Libby’s meeting with Miller, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told reporters, “We don’t want to try to get into kind of selective declassification” of the NIE, adding, “We’re looking at what can be made available.” A “sanitized version” of the NIE in question was officially declassified on July 18, 2003, ten days after Libby’s contact with Miller, and was presented at a White House background briefing on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. The NIE contains no references to Valerie Plame or her CIA status, but the Special Counsel has suggested that White House actions were part of “a plan to discredit, punish or seek revenge against Mr. Wilson.” President Bush had previously indicated that he would fire whoever had outed Plame.

A court filing by Libby’s defense team argued that Plame was not foremost in the minds of administration officials as they sought to rebut charges – made by her husband – that the White House manipulated intelligence to make a case for invasion. The filing indicated that Libby’s lawyers did not intend to say that he was told to reveal Plame’s identity. The court filing also stated that “Mr. Libby plans to demonstrate that the indictment is wrong when it suggests that he and other government officials viewed Ms. Wilson’s role in sending her husband to Africa as important,” indicating that Libby’s lawyers planned to call Karl Rove to the stand. According to Rove’s lawyer, Fitzgerald decided against pressing charges against Rove. , The five-count indictment of Libby included perjury (two counts), obstruction of justice (one count), and making false statements to federal investigators (two counts). There was, however, no count for disclosing classified information, i.e., Plame’s status as a CIA operative. Indeed, it was already widely known (even by prosecutor Fitzgerald) that the actual “leaker” was Richard Armitage, via columnist Robert Novak. No evidence has ever come to light that Mr. Libby disclosed Plame’s CIA status to Mr. Novak, or anyone else.

News reports at the time indicated that Joseph Wilson had returned a negative result on the case against Iraq, and in a fit of spite it appeared members of the administration hit back at the report by striking out at the investigator—by outing his wife as a CIA operative.

In March 2003 the United States started a war with Iraq, ostensibly to eradicate the weapons of mass destruction. It was a failed coalition that went along on this expedition. France would not comply, citing the lack of any real evidence of prohibited weapons. France became the enemy in the eyes of many fans of the administration. Turkey pulled out, refusing the United States permission to move the 4th Infantry Division and support material through Turkish ports to the Iraqi frontier.

The problem at that point was the American military was already committed. Troops had already been sent to Kuwait, the only neighboring country to throw in its lot with the coalition. The 4th Infantry was supposed to be the western point of a pincer offensive against Iraq. Now the 4th Infantry was required to come by ship all the way from the Mediterranean Sea, through the Suez Canal, around the Arabian Peninsula, up through the Persian Gulf (sometimes called the Arabian Gulf) to the port in Kuwait. The remainder of coalition forces had to start out from Kuwait without the benefit of having the 4th Infantry attacking simultaneously from the west. The 4th Infantry joined the fight when it finally caught up late in the conflict.

And you know what? The offensive against Saddam Hussein went very well. The Iraqi army was quickly defeated, and by April our forces were in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein was on the run somewhere in the country. By the end of the year he had been pulled out of a hole near his home town of Tikrit by American soldiers. In May of 2003 President Bush flew out to an aircraft carrier in the Pacific ocean and declared victory.

Unfortunately not quite.

During the invasion phase coalition losses were less than feared:

In the invasion phase of the war (19 March–April 30), 9,200 Iraqi combatants were killed along with 7,299 civilians, primarily by U.S. air and ground forces. Coalition forces reported the death in combat of 139 U.S. military personnel and 33 UK military personnel.

Then things sort of got out of hand. Lack of control of the after battle and poor management of the conquered country resulted in continued fighting and loss of human loss for years afterward. To this date in the order of 4000 American service personnel have been killed in Iraq, and many additional have become casualties.

And no weapons of mass destruction were ever found. Ultimately the president had to admit there never were any. It had all been a mistake.

The hurricane Katrina catastrophe may have been the low point of President Bush’s administration. The facts are this: In August 2005 a major hurricane was tracked on a course to the Louisiana coast, heading straight toward New Orleans. That city sits right at sea level, with critical parts actually below seal level. Preparations for the disaster at the state and city level were completely in adequate. In truth, a city like New Orleans is not capable of handling such a situation on its own. Also, the state of Louisiana failed to mount an adequate response.

Evacuation was the only recourse for New Orleans, and that city had a large population of people lacking the capability of evacuation on their own.

Prior to the arrival of the storm surge forecasters were predicting as many as 15,000 deaths. As it turned out the storm weakened just prior to landfall, and the 15,000 number was never realized. However, a principal levee failed, flooding much of the city, and thousands of residents had to take shelter in the Superdome sports arena.

The fall back position for a situation would normally be FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This is a government agency charged with handling disasters beyond the capability of local agencies. It was at this time the federal government failed its constituents.

Agencies like FEMA are not much liked by conservative politicians. To many, FEMA represents just another instance of government doing for people what people should be doing for themselves. President Bush’s treatment of his appointments reflected this lack of concern. Instead of an administrator with great experience managing such an entity, the president picked a political hack, George Brown, for the job.

After Bush entered office in January 2001, Brown joined FEMA as General Counsel. He was the first person hired by his long-time friend, then-FEMA director Joe Allbaugh, who also ran Bush’s election campaign in 2000. Allbaugh later named Brown his acting deputy director in September 2001. Bush formally nominated him as deputy director on March 22, 2002, and the Senate confirmed him many months later after the recovery efforts in New York had subsided. Brown oversaw the recovery efforts for New York and surrounding states with the White House Office of Domestic Policy’s Reuben Jeffery III who later became chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. After Bush announced the creation of the Department of Homeland Security Allbaugh left government and Bush nominated Brown again in January 2003 for the directorship. Brown was sworn into his position on April 15, 2003. Prior to his nomination as Under Secretary, the White House appointed Brown to head a transition team creating the Emergency Preparedness & Response Directorate within DHS.

Before that, shortly after the September 11 attacks, Brown served on the Consequence Management Principals’ Committee, which acted as the White House’s policy coordination group for the federal domestic response to the attacks. Later, Bush asked him to head the Consequence Management Working Group to identify and resolve key issues regarding the federal response plan. In August 2002, Bush appointed him to the Transition Planning Office for the new Department of Homeland Security, serving as the transition leader for the EP&R Division. As undersecretary, Brown also directed the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Integration Center, the National Disaster Medical System and the Nuclear Incident Response Team.

On August 31, 2005, following Hurricane Katrina being named an “Incident of National Significance”, Brown was named the Principal Federal Official and placed in charge of the federal government’s response by Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff. On September 7, 2005, then Coast Guard Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Thad Allen was named Brown’s deputy and given operational control of search and rescue and recovery efforts.

On September 9, 2005, Chertoff relieved Brown of all on-site relief duties along the Gulf Coast, officially replacing him with then Vice Admiral Allen. Brown remained Under Secretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response. Brown told the Associated Press that “the press” was making him a scapegoat for the slow federal response to the hurricane.

President Bush’s place in history was sealed when, during the height of the crisis, when it was obvious to all who could see that a major FUBAR was taking place, stood beside George Brown and uttered the immortal words, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” The end.

There was still bad news to come.

Traditionally conservatives, Republicans included, favor a laissez-faire attitude towards business, believing that businesses know best how to run their affairs, and government intervention will only screw things up. To this extent, there was little government oversight when financial institutions, many of them insured by the United States government, began making risky, sometimes fraudulent business transactions. This all came crumbling down in 2008, when Lehman Brothers, a standard of American investment banking since the 19th century, collapsed. This collapse brought down the house of cards that had become so fragile in the past few years, not all of it during the Bush administration. The country plunged into a deep recession, one whose beginnings are now traced back to the previous year.

To his credit, President Bush took swift action, and his administration put in place federal assistance to prop up the industry and forestall a complete melt-down. However, the damage had been done. Millions lost their jobs in the months following, and the conservative brand suffered a severe body blow. Two months after the collapse liberal Democrat Barack Obama was elected president, ahead of an opposition candidate who was a respected conservative and also a war hero.

I reflected on this earlier today as I watched President Obama speak to the press and to the nation. He apologized for the recent failures of his administration and took full responsibility for misleading people with his pledge that the Affordable Care Act would allow people to keep existing insurance policies if they liked them. The president took some harsh questions from the press.

As President Obama engaged in the interchange with reporters his innate capabilities became apparent. He responded straight-forwardly to each question, often citing relevant facts and filling in with explanations that elaborated on the topics in question. He exhibited a mental prowess I had not seen from a president since the term of President Clinton. What was missing were the vacuous responses notable with his predecessor. Here was a person, like his policies or not, like his style or not, who came suited up for the game. Barack Obama has been president for nearly five years, and I continue to remark how refreshing it is to have a commander in chief so mentally in command.

My final evaluation is that George Bush is a person who, sincere at heart that he might have been, was seldom more than capable. That is perhaps the Republican tragedy. Bush campaign operatives had trashed a more capable and experienced candidate when they smeared John McCain in the South Carolina primary for the 2000 election. Even beyond McCain there was and still is more capable conservative presidential material, never to be tapped. Rank ideology has invaded the Party the past few decades, and truly capable candidates are regularly passed over in favor of the perfect ideologue. This was the tragedy of George W. Bush.

So, to answer the question, do I miss George Bush? Maybe I do in a perverse way. I feel that sometimes what this country needs is a good bath, and somebody like George Bush is the one who can give it to us. Without the experience of the Bush administration we would be apt to forget what we are now missing.

Leaves of Grass

A great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The San Antonio Library presented Bruce Alan Noll as Walt Whitman in a one-hour impersonation of 19th century America’s favorite poet.

Whitman claimed that after years of competing for “the usual rewards”, he determined to become a poet. He first experimented with a variety of popular literary genres which appealed to the cultural tastes of the period. As early as 1850, he began writing what would become Leaves of Grass, a collection of poetry which he would continue editing and revising until his death. Whitman intended to write a distinctly American epic and used free verse with a cadence based on the Bible. At the end of June 1855, Whitman surprised his brothers with the already-printed first edition of Leaves of Grass. George “didn’t think it worth reading”.

Noll says he has now retired. He taught at the University of New Mexico in the College of Education. In his presentation he is Whitman, close in dress and person. He says he was inspired to take on the role by actor James Whitmore, who voiced for Mark Twain in the Claymation film The Adventures of Mark Twain. Noll’s performance closely parallels the performances as Mark Twain by actor Hal Holbrook.

The performance at the downtown library was free, but it was necessary to obtain tickets in advance. Barbara Jean instigated the festivities, and our friends Nancy and Gary joined us. After that it was dinner at Huhot to celebrate Gary’s birthday. It’s the kind of thing you do when you’re retired.

Texans On A Roll

Here’s more about the Texas Freedom Network. I previously mentioned their involvement with the on-going textbook selection process.

The big deal was the Texas State Board of Education had hearings on Tuesday, taking comments from citizens. School texts for the 2014 year are up for adoption, and I previously participated in the review process. On Tuesday I took my turn telling the Board what was wrong with the process. I could have just kept my seat. I was in the company of professionals.

Kathy Miller heads up the TFN and was there, of course. Zack Kopplin was there. He’s moved from Louisiana and now lives in Texas. Their loss, our gain. Also Josh Rosenau. And that was not the entire team present standing up for Texas science. On Tuesday the SBOE suffered a severe indictment for its political mechanizations directed at the school curriculum.

It’s not over until it’s over, folks. The TFN is still rolling right along. Tonight they hosted a fund-raiser reception at a home in San Antonio. I coaxed Barbara Jean into coming along, and it was worth the trip.

Badges? What do we need stinking badges for?

Driving over tonight I cautioned Barbara Jean there might be some Democrats at the meeting. How many? “I’m thinking maybe five or ten.” Was I ever wrong.

The house is big, but it was overflowing with Texans concerned about the politicking on the Texas Board of Education. The overflow crowd spilled over into the fantastic rear patio, enjoying the host’s food and drink. Great conversation, too. Barbara Jean went there not knowing anybody, but before the night was out she was enjoying lively conversation about one of her favorite subjects—conservatives and especially the Tea Party faction.

Cathy Miller was there with great news. The TFN is growing, most likely due to Texans’ reaction to the excesses of the Tea Party conservatives. The TFN added 20,000 new members this year alone, bringing their strength to 75,000. It’s what happens when you get Texans riled.

The bad news: it’s not over. On Friday next week the SBOE takes its final vote on the science materials submitted by publishers. So far none of the publishers have caved to the push by politicians to soften the treatment of science in Texas schools. All have resisted including any weasel language related to biological evolution and climate science. However, conservatives on the board have one more shot. If they prevail at the meeting next week they could push some concessions on the publishers. My understanding the only club the politicians have left to wield is the threat of denial. It is possible, but not likely, they can pressure one or more of the publishers to toe the line.

Cathy Miller’s view is positive but not absolute. She believes Texans concerned about science stand an 89% chance of coming out ahead on this one.

Although curriculum materials from the publishers have already been submitted in much their final form, publishers have until May of next year to to submit their final product for review.

Marisa Perez was there, as well. She is one of the SBOE representatives from San Antonio. The other (not there tonight) is Ken Mercer, my representative. Mercer happens to be one of those working to make politics out of Texas public education.

SBOE member Marisa Perez

The other bad news Cathy Miller had for us is that next year the board will review social studies material submitted by publishers. She said that if we thought the science wars were rough, wait until the politicians get hold of social studies. People like David Barton of Aledo, Texas, have the ear of conservative politicians on the Board. Barton is particularly noted for his unworldly take on American history.

Barton collects early American documents, and his official biography describes him as “an expert in historical and constitutional issues”. Barton holds no formal credentials in history or law, and scholars dispute the accuracy and integrity of his assertions about history, accusing him of practicing misleading historical revisionism, “pseudoscholarship” and spreading “outright falsehoods”. According to the New York Times, “many professional historians dismiss Mr. Barton, whose academic degree is in Christian Education from Oral Roberts University, as a biased amateur who cherry-picks quotes from history and the Bible.” Barton’s 2012 book The Jefferson Lies was voted “the least credible history book in print” by the users of the History News Network website. The book’s publisher, the Christian publishing house Thomas Nelson, disavowed the book and withdrew it from sale. A senior executive said that Thomas Nelson could not stand by the book because “basic truths just were not there.”

In all it was a fine outing and a wonderful chance to meet with so many earnest Texans. Now it’s time to get back to work. This is no time to take our eyes off the ball. “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!

Hung Out To Dry

Don’t you just hate it when you put all your marbles on your least trusted source, and then it dries up and leaves you strung out to dry? I do, too. Now you know how Senator Lindsey Graham of South Caroline must feel about now. To his credit, he barely shows his disappointment.

Lindsey Graham from Google Images

Recall September last year when the Middle East Muslim world was up in arms about a video produced by an anti-Muslim American. People rioted. Some died. About that time there was an attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Before it was over four Americans had died, including the American ambassador, Christopher Stevens. Here are some essential facts as reported by CNN:

September 11-12, 2012 Timeline as released by the Pentagon:
September 11: (Events listed in local Benghazi time)
9:42 pm –
Armed men begin their assault on the U.S. Consulate.

9:59 pm – A surveillance drone is directed to fly over the U.S. compound, but it is unarmed.

10:32 pm – The Office of the Secretary Defense and the Joint Staff are notified of the attack by the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon. “The information is quickly passed to Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey.”

11 pm – Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey meet with President Obama at the White House where they discuss the unfolding situation and how to respond. The meeting had been previously scheduled.

11:10 pm – The surveillance drone arrives over the Benghazi facility.

11:30 pm – All surviving U.S. personnel are evacuated from the consulate. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and State Department computer expert Sean Smith were killed in the initial assault.

September 12:
Midnight to 2 am –
Secretary Panetta and other senior leaders discuss possible options for further violence if it were to break out. Panetta gives verbal orders for Marine anti-terrorist teams from Rota, Spain, to prepare to deploy to Tripoli and Benghazi. Panetta also orders a special operations force team training in Croatia and an additional special operations force team in the United States to prepare to deploy to a staging base in southern Italy.

1:30 am – A six-man security team from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli arrives in Benghazi.

2:39 am to 2:53 am – The National Military Command Center gives formal authorization for the deployment of the two special operations force teams from Croatia and the United States.

5:15 am – Attackers launch assault on a second U.S. facility in Benghazi. Two former U.S. Navy SEALs acting as security contractors are killed. They are identified as Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

6:05 am – A C-17 aircraft in Germany is told to prepare to deploy to Libya to evacuate the consulate personnel.

7:40 am – The first wave of Americans are evacuated to Tripoli via airplane.

This appears to be a major government FUBAR that has cost the lives of four government employees. Interestingly, this also seems to be welcome news in some quarters of American politics. That’s because the person in charge of the entire debacle was none other than one of the most disliked women in Democratic politics, former first lady and at the time Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Conservatives obviously sensed blood in the water.

The voices of opposition sighted even more fresh meat a few days later when Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice characterized the Benghazi attack as a mob action rather than a terrorist attack. Even I was impressed by the response of conservative elements in our society.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, no friend of the sitting president, condemned the administration’s failures. My Facebook feed lit up with posts by conservative friends with all sorts of nasty things to say about Rice, the President and the Secretary of State. The commotion never completely died down, even after a year.

Many errors were claimed:

  • Security at the embassy was insufficient and under-funded.
  • The administration feloniously failed to take prompt action to protect personnel at the embassy.
  • The administration was feloniously covering up their misdeeds.

This was over a year ago. At the time, relying upon my vast knowledge of foreign affairs and counter terrorism, I concluded these complaints were mostly all wet.

  • Security could have been stronger.
  • Once the situation became apparent there was no way the government would be able to react in a timely manner to forestall the ensuing disaster.
  • The administration was, as administrations are prone to be, cagey about admitting any failures on its part.
  • The conservative faction, especially the reactionary conservative faction, was leveraging the deaths of government personnel for political gain.

I especially enjoyed reading Facebook posts by my conservative friends, wondering where they obtained their peculiar world view.

Then in October of this year the prestigious news program 60 Minutes on CBS aired a segment critical of the government’s response to the attack. The segment was largely based on an interview with a security contractor working in Libya. My conservative friends expressed even greater joy at this wonderful news:

60 Minutes’ Benghazi report aired the night of October 27. The segment featured the supposed “eyewitness” account of the attacks from British security contractor Dylan Davies, who appeared on the show under the pseudonym “Morgan Jones.”

Davies’ tale included him scaling a 12 foot wall on the side of the diplomatic compound and dispatching a terrorist with his rifle butt. He also told viewers about how he had supposedly seen Ambassador Chris Stevens’ dead body in a local hospital.

In addition to Davies’ story, the 60 Minutes report also rehashed old myths about Benghazi, including invoking the “lingering question” about why no U.S. military forces from outside the country were able to help the embattled diplomatic facilities the night of the attacks. (This was answered long ago.)

The night it aired, conservatives took to Twitter to praise CBS. Fox News contributor Monica Crowley lauded the network for joining Fox News “among the very, very few reporting on this grave & outrageous scandal.” Fellow Fox News contributor Jonah Goldberg also connected CBS’ work to Fox’s reporting on Benghazi, tweeting “This 60 Minutes #benghazi piece corroborates pretty much everything #foxnews has reported so far.”

October 28-30: Conservative Media And Republican Lawmakers Laud CBS

The morning after the 60 Minutes report aired, Fox News hit the ground running promoting it. Over the course of Monday, October 28, Fox would devote more than 13 segments over 11 different shows to the CBS report, totaling more than 47 minutes of coverage.

Much of Fox’s coverage was self-congratulatory, claiming the CBS report had corroborated their network’s coverage of Benghazi. Bret Baier, host of Fox’s flagship news show Special Report, told viewers that “[l]ast night, one of journalism’s heavy hitters reaffirmed what we knew and had reported on.” Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy praised CBS for “finally catching up” to conservative media on the story and proclaimed, “60 Minutes doesn’t cover phony scandals.” The network also predictably used the 60 Minutes story to revive its smear campaign against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over Benghazi.

That was enough for Rupert Murdoch, Fox News and especially South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham went into attack mode:

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is holding firm on a threat to block President Obama’s nominees from being confirmed by the Senate unless the administration makes survivors of the Sept. 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, available to Congress for questioning.

“My request has been going on for a year, to talk to the five survivors,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “I want to perform oversight. I’m not trying to prosecute a crime.”

Graham said he met with the State Department on Thursday about the request. They previously told him in a letter that allowing the witnesses to testify or releasing their statements could jeopardize a criminal investigation. Graham said he met with the State Department Thursday about his request to interview the witnesses.

Oops. Senator Graham appears to have stepped in it, most likely not for the first time:

‘60 Minutes’ retracts, apologizes for Benghazi report; CBS says it was misled by a source

By Paul Farhi, Published: November 8

CBS News’s chairman expressed disappointment and contrition Friday for a mistaken “60 Minutes” report about the Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attacks, but he suggested the program and his network intended to move past the flawed story.

“Credibility is really the most important thing we have,” Jeff Fager, the head of the network’s news division and executive producer of the weekly newsmagazine, said in an interview. “Did we let people down? Yes. Do people expect us to get it right? Of course they do. Do they expect us to be perfect? I don’t think so. When you come forward and admit a mistake, people will understand.”

Fager spoke after CBS correspondent Lara Logan acknowledged Friday morning that her “60 Minutes” story on Oct. 27 about Benghazi was mistaken. After a week in which CBS had defended the story, Logan retracted and apologized for it during a segment of “CBS This Morning.”

Logan said her source, a security contractor named Dylan Davies, had “misled” her by falsely portraying his involvement in the events of Sept. 11, 2012, when the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi came under attack.

Davies, who was employed to protect the compound, told “60 Minutes” that he had scaled a wall of the compound and fought off an attacker. He said he later viewed the body of the American ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, in a hospital. Stevens was one of four Americans killed in the compound siege.

The truth began to emerge last week when The Washington Post reported that Davies had told his employer, a British security company called Blue Mountain Group, that he had been nowhere near the compound on the night it was attacked. The New York Times reported late Thursday that Davies had made similar statements to the FBI, further clouding the account he gave to Logan and CBS. CBS said Davies’s FBI interviews prompted its apology and retraction.

Fox News is a bit reluctant to come around to the dawn of truth:

Fox News: “We Stand By Our Reporting On Benghazi”

Following the collapse of CBS News’ 60 Minutes report on the 2012 Benghazi attacks, Fox News, which cited 60 Minutes’ now-discredited “eyewitness” for some of its Benghazi coverage, is standing by the accuracy of its reporting. CBS News’ withdrawal of the story has been largely ignored by Fox News, even though Fox enthusiastically promoted the 60 Minutes story and boasted that it validated the network’s own reporting on Benghazi.

I do believe they will eventually see the light. Same for my conservative Facebook friends. OK, maybe not. A few days of searching my Facebook feed has revealed no signs of life there.

As for the senator from South Carolina, there is something all of us Souther boys learned early in life. Sometimes you need to be able to tell shit from Shinola.

Bad Movie of the Week

This isn’t such an old movie. It’s about the same age as space exploration. It’s Gunsight Ridge from 1957.

You can tell from the title this is not one of those films nominated for six Academy Awards. This is the title you would expect if a Zane Grey or a Luke Short pulp were made into a movie. It stars Joel McCrea, giving it his wooden best as express company detective Mike Ryan. This was just 16 years after he was a foreign correspondent in Alfred Hitchcock’s spy thriller Foreign Correspondent. McCrea starred in a variety of films, but it’s for his Western features that he’s best known.

Joel McCrea breaks up a wedding in his hunt for some robbers

So, what’s wrong with this movie? It’s the plot again. They should have gotten Zane Grey or Luke Short to write the script. Here’s what goes wrong.

Ryan arrives on the scene after a train ride to desolate Soldier Sprint, apparently in New Mexico or Arizona. Some of the scenery is familiar. He boards a stage coach for the even more desolate town. Bancroft does not even have a telegraph office.

On the stage coach Ryan meets the pretty and very well endowed Molly Jones (Joan Weldon), whom we eventually discover is the daughter of Sheriff Tom Jones in Bancroft. Ryan displays his Irish wit and wise cracking but fails to impress Miss Jones. Things get even worse for Ryan when two bandits hold up the stage coach along the way, and Ryan has to surrender his gun and his money. The sweet young Molly is not impressed.

The robbers take the money box that was on the coach, and afterwards the leader of the two murders his partner, who has been recognized by the coach driver, who is none other than Slim Pickens. Escaping the scene of the robbery, the driver guzzles whiskey and whips the horses into a frenzy as the coach careen wildly along the winding road.

And here is the great scene from the movie that all Slim Pickens fans will appreciate. It’s Pickens as the driver, sitting atop the coach, waving his arm in the air and shouting, “Yahoo!” It’s going to be just seven years later that we will see Pickens as Major T.J. Kong sitting astride a hydrogen bomb as it hurtles to earth, shouting, “Yahoo,” or something very close. I am guessing that Stanley Kubrick watched Gunsight Ridge and said, “We need to get Slim Pickens if only for this scene.”

The plot goes a little crazy after this. The murdering robber turns out to be miner Velvet Clark (Mark Stevens) who lives peacefully among the people of Bancroft by day, committing a string of heists when not playing cards at the saloon. He is also a conflicted pianist, who apparently needs the money from the robberies to fund his music education.

There is also a gang of ruffians from a local ranch, who give the sheriff trouble before Ryan borrows a six-shooter and comes to his assistance. Ryan, his day job kept a secret to all, hires on as the sheriff’s deputy and works to track down the surviving robber, who in the mean time robs the bank manager.

Anyhow, the ruffians at the ranch get fed up with their boss, and they decide to rob the train. But before they leave the ranch for the last time they trash the place, breaking all the dishes and the furniture while the rancher is in town. Then they ride off to stop the train and rob it.

It’s the plot again. What’s the idea of the ranch trashing scene? This bit of action never plays forward into the remainder of the plot. It appears to be something the director threw in to chew up some film and stretch playing time.

The plot unfolds quickly. The Clark decides to make his get-away and packs his earnings in some boxes of explosives back at the mine. Why? He’s making his get-away. Why lug along a load of explosives? Along the trail the sheriff shoots one of the boxes, and all the explosives go off, vaporizing Clark’s pack horse and likely this loot. In exchange Clark kills the sheriff.

Meanwhile, Ryan is hot on the trail of the train robbers and tracks them to a still more remote town where he interrupts a wedding to warn the residents about the approaching bandits and also to advise them of the $1000 reward. Then Ryan rides off looking for the bandits.

After Ryan leaves, the train bandits arrive and get themselves arrested. Then Clark arrives and attempts to con the town residents out of the reward, and the loot, but that doesn’t work out, and he heads off toward Mexico. But on the way he has an encounter with a farm girl, whom he beguiles before heading on—another pointless interlude that only serves to stretch out the plot.

Finally, Gunsight Ridge. Ryan catches up with Clark atop Gunsight Ridge, a particularly rough bit of geography on the way to Mexico. Clack dies in the ensuing gunfight, and we next see sweet Molly, dressed in black in mourning for her father and buxom as ever. Ryan tells sweet Molly his company has asked him to stay on at Bancroft, and Molly says that is perfectly all right with her. We know what’s going to happen later, and Ryan rides off to settle up his business.

The end.

I agree with IMDB.com—not one of Joel McCrea’s best films.

Bait Car

I never had time to watch trash like this while I was working. Anyhow, a little bit of this now breaks up my day. It’s Bait Car.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, then you are probably familiar with the concept of automobile theft. It works like this. You park your car. In your driveway, in the street in front of your house, on the street somewhere, even in your garage. Somebody comes along, gets in your car and drives it off. If you’re one of the idiots who ever gets out of your car leaving your keys in the ignition switch, you are probably already familiar with the concept of automobile theft. Even so, you already likely know that thieves also steal cars that are locked up tight. There’s a movie about this. It’s Gone in 60 Seconds.

Anyhow, police have a limited number of ways of catching car thieves. They can spot somebody stealing a car. They can accept your stolen car report and track down your car and the thieves. Somebody can rat out the thief. In the mean time thieves keep on stealing cars. So what the police have come up with is the idea of putting the fear of God into car thieves. OK, if not the fear of God, then at least the fear of 5 to 10. They do this by setting up traps for potential thieves. Soon the word gets around the police are doing this and the thieves back off and mug old ladies, instead.

But not entrapment:

In criminal law, entrapment is conduct by a law enforcement agent inducing a person to commit an offense that the person would otherwise have been unlikely to commit.[1] In many jurisdictions, entrapment is a possible defense against criminal liability.

Yeh, the police can’t just say, “Why don’t you go steal that car so we can catch you?” They do the next best thing. And that would be the bait car.

Police place a car to be stolen in a location where car theft is likely. But first they kit the car out with all sorts of features to help the catch the thief and to get a conviction. They rig the car with video (sound included) cameras. The cameras must be incredibly small and obscure, because there are close-up views of the driver, the passenger, looking out the back window, the view from the side mirrors. The door locks are special, too. The police can remotely lock all doors (likely windows as well) so the thief can’t escape. And finally they can shut the car down remotely. The result is hilarious.

This screen shot from Bait Car shows a thief driving away in a car he has just stolen. He does not realize his every move is being captured by hidden cameras inside the car and broadcast to the cops. In a few moments, the police will shut down the car remotely and lock the doors so he can’t get out. He is going to jail.

A typical Bait Car video sequence shows views of the bait car parked and waiting for the first thief to strike. There are officers all over in plain cars, communicating with each other over their radios. Presently one or two losers come along and take the bait. A guy (almost never is a chick) takes a look around, maybe even many looks around. Finally the chump gets in, switches on the ignition and drives off toward the hoosegow. Usually the cops string the guy along for a while to weaken any defense the thief may later put up in court. Then they hit the kill switch. You won’t believe this, but car thieves seem to know only one swear word, but they know it very well. Bait Car bleeps out the swear word to keep us from finding out what it is.

The concept of the bait car seems well grounded. I’ve watched a few episodes of the show taped in the Los Angeles area, and it seems the cops seldom have to wait more than a few minutes before the loser of the day shows up.

Also it seems the Los Angeles County cops sweeten the bait by leaving the keys in the ignition switch. They do a little more. They have a couple of floozies drive up in the bait car, abandon it next to a curb while staging a chick fight, and stalk away leaving at least one car door open.

For some reason in the neighborhoods these guys leave the car there always seem to be one or more idle men loitering about on the street with nothing else to do in the middle of the afternoon. That should be a lesson to you about where not to park your car.

There has been a down side to the bait car scheme, as well. Dallas was running such an operation (still do), and things did not work well. The police lost control of the bait car after it was stolen. The car got beyond the range of the remote shut-off, and they could not stop the car. The thief crashed and killed an innocent civilian. Dallas had to pay off at more than $1 million.

Do not think these cops are luring innocent people into becoming thieves. All the thieves I have seen on this show admit to prior arrests. They are all looking to better their finances through somebody else’s property.

License to Kill

Once again, I have Facebook to thank. It’s about the only reason I have a Facebook account. Somebody posted this story:

When Dan Tilkin made plans to go to Idaho, he knew he’d have the awful job of looking at children’s gravestones.

He just didn’t know there’d be so many.

Which led me to this story:

Fallen followers: Investigation finds 10 more dead children of faith healers
By Dan Tilkin, KATU News; Dusty Lane, KATU.com Staff Published: Nov 7, 2013 at 6:31 PM PST Last Updated: Nov 8, 2013 at 9:36 AM PST

BOISE, Idaho – Peaceful Valley Cemetery sits on a windswept hill 30 miles east of Boise.

Some of The Followers of Christ faith healers bury their dead there.

The same last names appear over and again, going back decades. Some – like Beagley – are the same names you’ll see in a similar cemetery in Oregon City.

In 2010, jurors in Clackamas County convicted Jeff and Marci Beagley of letting their son Neal die of an untreated urinary tract infection.

KATU’s Dan Tilkin covered that story, as he has so many faith-healing stories. That’s why he traveled to Idaho to trace the connections between Followers members in both states, and a new trail of dead children.

This story is about religious freedom. This story is about the abuse of religious freedom. This story is about faith healing. It could also be about an epidemic of stupidity, but I will hold that for another time.

One of the children who died was 14-year-old Rockwell Sevy:

Rockwell Sevy also died at a home in Caldwell. His death occurred March 30th. The coroner believes he, like Preston, also died from untreated pneumonia. Rockwell was 14 years old.

Tilkin interviewed Rocky’s father, Dan Sevy:

“What I will talk to you about is the law,” Dan Sevy said. “I would like to remind you this country was founded on religious freedom, and on freedom in general. I would like to say, I picture freedom as a full object. It’s not like you take “a” freedom away. It’s that you chip at the entire thing. Freedom is freedom. Whenever you try to restrict any one person, then you’re chipping away at freedom. Yours and mine.”

That was that. Sevy didn’t want to talk any more about it.

“I told you I’m not going to do that,” he said. “You don’t understand the full story, and I’m not going to stand in front of a camera and give you the whole story. It’s just not going to happen. I see the way these things get edited out.

“All I see is an aggressive campaign against Christianity in general, it’s amazing to me in this day and age where Muslims get soft pedaled and Christians are under attack. It just blows my mind.”

Before delving deeper, here is some background. Prior to the early 20th century human life expectancy was considerably shorter than now. The Wikipedia entry shows life expectancy for “Early Modern Britain” at 25 to 40 years. For “Early 20th Century” the number is 30 years. I recall a number of 39 years for life expectancy in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. World human life expectancy as of 2010 was 67.2, again from Wikipedia.

So, what’s happened? Science has happened. About 150 years ago people began to apply science to the study and practice of medicine. We recognized that many fatal human diseases are caused by micro-organisms, and we started washing our hands, and surgeons started working in a sterile environment. We also discovered anti-microbial drugs. We discovered additional means for preserving health and human life. People who would have routinely died from a disease in 1900 are now expected to recover from the same disease. But only if they receive treatment.

Photo from KATU.com

That’s what’s missing in these Idaho cases. And People are using “religious freedom” as an excuse. So-called “faith healing” seems to be at the core.

1 Corinthians 12
King James Version (KJV)

12 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.

2 Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.

3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.

4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.

6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.

7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.

8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;

9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;

[emphasis added]

Author and magician James (the Amazing) Randi has written the book:

Randi’s book deals a lot with the obvious frauds, such as W.V. Grant and Peter Popoff. Those who might be true believers are Pat Robertson and possibly Oral Roberts. Robertson has the distinction of attempting to resuscitate a dead person.

Author Martin Gardner, writing on the Robertson ministry, found the GSP story easier to accept than one that Robertson himself told in his book Beyond Reason. He reported that a 12-year-old girl had been killed by a car as she ran out of the Mount Vernon, New York, church where he was assistant pastor early in his career. The following day, Robertson led the entire congregation in prayers before the open casket of the embalmed body, praying for her resurrection. I will let Gardner close the story:

Pause a moment to savor this scene. Here is a man who wants to be president. He actually believes that perhaps God, hearing his prayer, will revivify a corpse. Did not Jesus call Lazarus from the grave after his body (as Martha said) “stenkith?” Did he not turn water into wine? It would be no big deal—after all a miracle is a miracle—for Jesus to resurrect the poor girl and turn her embalming fluid into blood of the right blood type.

Robertson sees nothing unusual or funny about this incident. “She did not rise,” he concluded solemnly, “and we buried her on Tuesday.”

James Randi, The Faith Healers, page 205

Oral Roberts, despite a life of preaching faith healing, was no stranger to medical intervention. David Harrel has written Oral Roberts: An American Life. He discusses the death of Roberts’ grandson:

“Within a few hours after his birth, doctors discovered the child was having difficulty breathing. The news, Evelyn recalled, `just tore Oral to pieces.’ For over thirty hours, while doctors fought to save the baby, Oral, Richard, and others prayed. Lindsay was wheeled up to the baby’s side to pray; Kenneth Hagin and his wife, and other ministers, came to pray for healing. When Richard Oral finally died, on January 19, it `devastated Oral.’ He called it the worst tragedy of his scarred life.

Not so much covered are the stories of the true believers, such as the Christian Scientists:

Christian Science is a set of beliefs and practices belonging to the metaphysical–New Thought family of new religious movements. It was developed in the 19th century in the United States by Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910), and was first described in her book Science and Health (1875), the religion’s central text along with the Bible. Four years later Eddy founded The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, Massachusetts.

Like the Christian Science church, the Followers of Christ in Idaho eschew medical intervention, relying on prayer for healing. Especially for their children.

“What really gets to me is the hypocrisy. You’ve got the adults wearing glasses, hearing aids, some of them get dentistry …it really bothers me that nobody will stand up for dying kids.”

Idaho and Oregon are neighboring states, with a difference. Recently Oregon has removed legal protection for parents who allow their children to die for religious reasons. In Idaho negligent parents get a free ride. Protection of religious rights is cited.

There is a problem with a blank check protection for religions beliefs. The problem is that religious beliefs are contrived by people, and ultimately people can include their criminal activities into their religious beliefs.

Currently some business operations are objecting to a requirement that employee health benefits include contraception. These enterprises, typically run by the Catholic Church or by practicing Catholics, contend that contraception is contrary to their religious principles and that the requirement is a violation of their religious rights. I have mentioned this before, but there appears to be a wonderful way to circumvent any law. Establish a church, incorporate into your religious beliefs certain criminal activities, and, presto, you gain immunity from prosecution. For those who argue there is a difference—in the one case the objection is sincere and relatively harmless, in the other case the objection is contrived and harmful to society—I will argue that, poor an actor as I am, I can manufacture sincerity on a scale to rival Mount Everest.

In countries more religious than the United States, where law is based on religion, where the church and the state are locked in a deadly embrace, religious principle is a pass for atrocities:

Saudi preacher gets 8 years for raping, killing daughter

AFP – A Saudi court sentenced a preacher convicted of raping his five-year-old daughter and torturing her to death to eight years in prison and 800 lashes, a lawyer said Tuesday.

In ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, where rape and murder are among several crimes punishable by death, a father cannot be executed for murdering his children, nor can husbands be executed for murdering their wives.

All of which makes me grateful we do not live in a country ruled by religious conservatives. On the same story Andrew Marcus has posted a comment:

Obama/Reid/Pelosi/Durbin and other Democrats compare their fellow Americans to these religious fanatics.

By “Obama/Reid/Pelosi/Durbin” Marcus means President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin. Will somebody please add my name to this list?

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

It’s been a while since I had a religious joke. Here’s another.

A Catholic priest and a Protestant minister were traveling together on the train. The steward came around and asked the two if they would like a drink.

The priest ordered a gin and tonic. Then he asked his friend, “Pastor, would you like one?”

The pastor was incensed. “Drink alcohol? I would just as soon commit fornication.”

The priest was surprised and rose to cancel his order. “I didn’t realize we had a choice.”

TELUS Survey

I found this on my front door mat. There was a return envelope:

T E L U S SURVEY
PO Box 303413
Austin, TX 78703

There was a two page form:

This is a random, independent questionnaire about the Christian Church and Christian beliefs. We hope you  will take a few minutes to let us know how you feel about the role of the Church in today’s world. You are anonymous and will remain so unless you have a question.

We are not associated with any religious group or denomination.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments with us. We’d like very much to hear what you think.

How important is it to you:
1. That everyone in the church service is welcomed in a warm and friendly manner?
Important__ Nice, but not important__ Other answer__
2. That church services bring us closer to God?
Very important__ Important__ Other answer__
3. That you feel at ease in a church service?
Very important__ Important__ Other answer__
4. How often do you attend church services?
Monthly__ Weekly__ Rarely__ Never__ Other answer__
5. What type of Church music program do you like?
Traditional music__Contemporary music__ A mixture__Other answer__
6. There are various Christian groups that meet in private homes, coffee houses and other sites outside the usual church building. Do you think such meetings are desirable?
Yes__ No__ Not sure__ Other answer__
7. Do you think churches do a good job in revealing who God is and how He relates to us?
Yes__ No__ Mostly__ Sometimes__ Other answer__
8. How would you rate the image of the churches in America?
Good__ Mediocre __ Poor __ Other answer__
9. Do you think churches are in touch with the real world?
Yes_ No__ Mostly__ To some extent__ Other answer __
10. Do you think Christians are too judgmental?
Yes__ No __ Sometimes__ Other answer__
II. Do you think that gossip is a problem in churches?
Yes__ No__ Sometimes__ Other answer__
12. Do you think Christians often use words and phrases that are confusing or vague?
Yes__ No__ Sometimes__Other answer__
13. Do you think the Christian message is too complicated?
Yes__ No__ Sometimes__ Other answer__
14. Do you think the Christian message is too simple?
Yes _ No__ Sometimes__ Other answer__

Page 1 (Over for Page 2)

15. Do you think: Christianity, as we know it in America, is up to the challenge of dealing with the world  that is facing intense stress, violence, and uncertainty?
Yes__ No__ Mostly__ Sometimes__ Other answer__
16. Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?
Yes__ No__ Not sure__ Other answer__
17. It has been said that God always answers every prayer. Do you agree?
Yes__ No__ Not sure__ Other answer__
18. Do you think the Bible answers questions about the purpose and meaning of life?
Yes__ No__ Sometimes__ Not Sure__ Other answer__
19. Do you think the Bible is easy to understand?
Yes__ No__ Mostly__ Sometimes __ Other answer__
There are many primary Christian beliefs. Some of these we:
20. God is a good God who yearns for us to come to Him. (II Chronicles 15:2-4; 16:9)
Do you agree?
Yes__ No__ Not Sure__ Other answer__
21. God offers salvation to us as a free gift which cannot be earned by our own efforts (being a church member, giving to the poor, doing good deeds, etc.) (Ephesians 2:8)
Do you agree?
Yes __ No__ Not sure__ Other answer__
22. In John 3:3 Jesus said we can enter heaven only if we are transformed (born again) through the working of the Holy Spirit.
Would you agree?
Yes __ No__ Not sure __Other answer__

Thank you for participating! If you write in an address below, we will send one dollar ($1) for your postage and time. You are welcome to use the return envelope.

Page 2

Needless to say, I was intrigued, and I provided my responses and returned the form in the envelope. I did not provide my address. I might have had I noticed the part about receiving a dollar for my time and postage.

Here is how I responded:

How important is it to you:

1. That everyone in the church service is welcomed in a warm and friendly manner?
I thought this is important.
2. That church services bring us closer to God?
I checked the Other answer response.
3. That you feel at ease in a church service?
I checked the Other answer response.
4. How often do you attend church services?
I checked Never.
5. What type of Church music program do you like?
I checked the Other answer response. I have no preference for what music is played.
6. There are various Christian groups that meet in private homes, coffee houses and other sites outside the usual church building. Do you think such meetings are desirable?
I checked Yes. I think it’s a good idea to hold services in other places.
7. Do you think churches do a good job in revealing who God is and how He relates to us?
I checked No. A good explanation would be that the concept of God is a notion contrived by people to satisfy various primitive instincts, and churches do not do a good job getting that message across.
8. How would you rate the image of the churches in America?
I checked Good. I find that churches in this country are generally popular and enjoy a good image among the population.
9. Do you think churches are in touch with the real world?
I checked No. The religious messages promoted by churches bear down on the idea that myth is reality.
10. Do you think Christians are too judgmental?
I checked Sometimes. An example that came to mind is the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas.
II. Do you think that gossip is a problem in churches?
I checked Other answer. I have no idea if gossip is a problem in churches.
12. Do you think Christians often use words and phrases that are confusing or vague?
I checked Yes. I would be so grateful if somebody could explain the concept of The Trinity to me.
13. Do you think the Christian message is too complicated?
I checked Yes. What’s wrong with just saying “Y’all go forth and do good. Services are dismissed.”
14. Do you think the Christian message is too simple?
I checked No. See the response to number 13.

15. Do you think: Christianity, as we know it in America, is up to the challenge of dealing with the world  that is facing intense stress, violence, and uncertainty?
I checked No. Christianity is too divorced from the real world to be of much help in modern society.
16. Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?
I checked No. Jesus was at best a radical rabbi, one of many during his time, and likely not the only one to be crucified.
17. It has been said that God always answers every prayer. Do you agree?
I checked No. God, being a mythical entity, cannot possibly interact with the physical world, and that would include our own lives.
18. Do you think the Bible answers questions about the purpose and meaning of life?
I checked No. The Bible is confusing and contradictory in its message. It provides no real message about the meaning of life, only a series of tales circulated by some people who lived in the Eastern Mediterranean over 2000 years ago.
19. Do you think the Bible is easy to understand?
I checked No. See the response to number 18.

There are many primary Christian beliefs. Some of these we:
20. God is a good God who yearns for us to come to Him. (II Chronicles 15:2-4; 16:9)
Do you agree?
I checked No. There are ample examples in the Bible to indicate God is vengeful, spiteful, arbitrary and sometimes just absent minded.
21. God offers salvation to us as a free gift which cannot be earned by our own efforts (being a church member, giving to the poor, doing good deeds, etc.) (Ephesians 2:8)
Do you agree?
I checked No. God, being a mythical entity, has no interaction with the real world and can therefore offer the human race nothing of any use.
22. In John 3:3 Jesus said we can enter heaven only if we are transformed (born again) through the working of the Holy Spirit.
Would you agree?
I checked No. Heaven is a mythical place with no known location, and the idea that a person can actually go there is absurd.

Readers are invited to provide their own responses and mail them to me:

John Blanton
10226 Elizabeth Court
San Antonio, TX 78240

Or you can send your responses to the TELUS Survey address above.

Bad Movie of the Week

This flick should have a lot going for it, but it’s really bad. For star power it has Clark Gable and Hedy Lamarr. Especially Hedy Lamarr, one of the hottest babes in Hollywood at the time. The movie is Comrade X.

This film has two major problems: casting and plot. First the casting.

Clark and Hedy are great to look at, and both were fine actors. However, this is supposed to be a comedy, and neither of the two are really great comic actors. It does not help that the writers (Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer) failed to show up with the funny. There are comic situations, hard drinking foreign correspondent McKinley B. Thompson (Gable) is blackmailed into marrying ardent communist street car driver Theodore (Lamarr) so he can spirit her out of the Soviet Union. That’s funny. There is a hair-raising chase involving a battalion of Soviet tanks, and that’s humorous. Real comedienne Eve Arden is wise-talking woman reporter Jane Wilson, and she’s great in the role as she always was in my memory. However, she’s not in the movie enough to lighten it up.

The plot is hideous. It’s 1940 (the film was released in 1940), and a gaggle of foreign correspondents is covering the Kremlin for their papers while World War II is entering its second year. Not mentioned in the script, but understood by all the audience at the time is the fact that Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin has backed Adolph Hitler in his invasion of Poland, which precipitated the war in the first place. Just a few months previous Stalin has staged a massive purge of his army and other politicos.

According to the declassified Soviet archives, during 1937 and 1938, the NKVD detained 1,548,366 victims, of whom 681,692 were shot – an average of 1,000 executions a day (in comparison, the Tsarists executed 3,932 persons for political crimes from 1825 to 1910 – an average of less than 1 execution per week).

Some experts believe the evidence released from the Soviet archives is understated, incomplete, or unreliable. For example, Robert Conquest claims that the probable figure for executions during the years of the Great Purge is not 681,692, but some two and a half times as high. He believes that the KGB was covering its tracks by falsifying the dates and causes of death of rehabilitated victims.

Against this background, the writers worked in the succession of trumped up trials and summary executions that continued until about 1957. The beautiful Theodore is in danger of being executed (to extremely communist), and her father wants Thompson to take her out of the country. Meanwhile party officials and plotters are being marched off to the firing squads in comedic fashion.

The title comes from a character called Comrade X, who is really Thompson. Comrade X is a reporter who is smuggling scandalous news about the Soviet Union to outside newspapers, and the NKVD is hot on his trail. Theodore’s father learns that Thompson is really X and uses this information to apply pressure to Thompson.

There is one really comic scene early on, and that’s when Thompson dupes a German correspondent into thinking Germany has declared war on the Soviet Union. In fact, Hitler did surprise Stalin with a surprise attack and a declaration of war, in approximately that order, but in 1941, the year after this movie hit the screens.

I watched the movie on Turner Classic Movies on cable TV, and I’m thinking TCM did not get a really great print. The film is shot in black and white, which would be ideal if the cinematography were up to the standards available at the time. Most likely what Turner wound up with is a print of a print of a print, because the tones are muddy, and many scenes are entirely too dark. At points the sound track is noisy.

The poster above shows this is from the Warner Brothers Archive Collection, but the movie was produced at MGM Studios in Culver City. Watch this if you enjoy looking at Lamarr and also Gable, perhaps. It’s ironic that both of these fine actors went on to play a part when the United States entered the war the following year. Lamarr, a refugee from the Nazis, help develop spread spectrum technology, intended to improve radar systems. The technology was too advanced to be implemented during the war, but it has since seen use in cellular phone communications. Clark Gable joined the army well into his 40s and flew combat missions as a gunner over Europe. Hitler was a great fan of Gable and offered a bounty to anybody who could capture him alive. That didn’t work out, either.

You can say that again, Senator.

What does it take to be a public speaker these days? Apparently lots of words. Where you get them is another matter:

Sen. Rand Paul seeks to dismiss criticism of Wikipedia plagiarism
Posted: November 4, 2013 – 4:14pm
By ERIK SCHELZIG
Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For days now, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has sought to dismiss criticism over similarities between his speeches and entries in Wikipedia. He is accusing “footnote police” and “hacks and haters” for unfairly criticizing him.

There are reasons he’s been speaking out: in the long run, allegations of plagiarism could be used against him in a presidential campaign. And, in the short term, assailing his critics could fire up his loyal backers — and donors.

It all began last week when MSNBC host Rachel Maddow suggested that the senator lifted passages about the 1997 science fiction film “Gattaca” from the movie’s Wikipedia entry in a recent appearance in Virginia.

The senator from Kentucky has run afoul of a problem that plagues politicians and all manner of public speakers. You have to get your message out, and you have to keep coming up with fresh and imaginative ways of putting it. The problem is with the fresh part, because not every turn of phrase is inspiring, and those that are inspiring often aren’t that fresh. The most famous English-speaking word smith of the 19th century was Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain. He had his own take on the matter:

I know one thing—that a certain amount of pride always goes along with a teaspoonful of brains, and that this pride protects a man from deliberately stealing other people’s ideas. That is what a teaspoonful of brains will do for a man—and admirers had often told me I had nearly a basketful—though they were rather reserved as to the size of the basket.
– “Unconscious Plagiarism” speech, 1879

See, I’ve done it myself. Those aren’t my words up there. Those are the words of Mark Twain. But notice how I did it:

  • I attributed the words (correctly) to the original author.
  • I cited the place where I obtained the text.
  • I did not alter the text in any way, or at least in any way to distort the meaning.

The problem is politicians must campaign hard and press their issues publicly and often. They almost never have time to do their own writing, and they often rely on under-paid or volunteer staffers to come up with the appropriate text. At that point if a politician uses the text in a public presentation, he will be well-advised to 1) check the sources for himself, or 2) require his staff to double check everything before going public with it.

Now Senator Paul is in hot water, and his detractors are not eager to let him off the hook. His best recourse is to say he screwed up, cite the original source, apologize to his audience and to the original source and never ever let it happen again. If there is one thing worse than a plagiarist it’s a repeat plagiarist.

Speaking for myself, I have ample proof I do not plagiarize the works of others. If I did my stuff would be more grammatical. Q.E.D.

Obama’s War on Capitalism

This should be disheartening news for Obama supporters. It turns out that despite all his denials, he really does have an agenda against the wealthy.

The $120,000 farmhouse where Pakistan Taliban chief died

Miranshah (Pakistan) (AFP) – With marble floors, lush green lawns and a towering minaret, the $120,000 farm where feared Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud died in a US drone strike was no grubby mountain cave.

Mehsud spent his days skipping around Pakistan’s rugged tribal areas to avoid the attentions of US drones. But his family, including two wives, had the use of an eight-roomed farmhouse set amid lawns and orchards growing apples, oranges, grapes and pomegranates.

As well as the single-storey house, the compound in Dandey Darpakhel village, five kilometres (three miles) north of Miranshah, was adorned with a tall minaret — purely for decorative purposes.

Militant sources said the property in the North Waziristan tribal area was bought for Mehsud nearly a year ago for $120,000 — a huge sum by Pakistani standards — by close aide Latif Mehsud, who was captured by the US in Afghanistan last month.

So, it turns out that if you are an enemy of the Unites States, and you put out a hit on young girls seeking an education, then you wind up in Obama’s cross hairs. Especially if you’re rich.

What I also learned from this and what is so amazing is the real estate disparity between the Taliban territories and the United States. I don’t know where you live, but in my town $120,000 will not get you much of a house, let alone some acreage. Marble floors? I had to pony up extra change to get just plain tile for my house. And a minaret that’s not used for prayer? I’ve got a concrete bird bath out back by the creek. This guy was the J.P. Morgan of the Middle East. Obama just had to take him out.

Anyhow, I’ve taken a lesson from this. Don’t say bad things about Obama, be nice to school girls and cherish my concrete bird bath.

Institutional Advertising

I got introduced to institutional advertising a long time ago. It came about this way.

I was in a motorcycle club, and we were putting on this race. It was going to be a big affair, and we were printing programs. The person arranging the printing advised us we could include paid advertisements and defray the expense of printing the programs. For example, Coca Cola.

Now, why would Coca Cola pay to advertise in our handout programs? Did they expect to sell a bunch of pop at the race. No, the idea is called institutional advertising. Coca Cola and other large concerns employ institutional advertising just to keep their brand out front. That’s one of the strategies used to maintain market position.

So now I’m watching the news on cable TV, and I see a lot of ads by Norfolk Southern. And these are really glitzy productions. There’s a cute jingle playing over the video (“Helping this here country move ahead as one”), and there are beautifully choreographed sequences of products being moved and trains and powerful locomotives moving in perfect harmony. Steven Spielberg, you need to watch this.

Products moving

Locotomotive ballet

And it’s all so fascinating. But what I find even more fascinating is…

I’m not a Norfolk Southern customer. I never have been. I never will be. If I had 250 thousand tons of barbed wire to ship to North Dakota, I might pick up the phone and make a deal with Norfolk Southern. Except that Norfolk Southern does not serve my location. The closest their line comes to me is Dallas, Texas, 300 miles away. As far as I know Norfolk Southern does not even have a passenger service in case I wanted to go to, Norfolk for example.

And that, dear readers, is what institutional advertising is all about. There is more.

I see wonderful ads by Lockheed Martin. This giant defense contractor makes high-performance fighter airplanes. I have decided to forgo purchasing a high-performance fighter this year, so Lockheed Martin’s ads, though attractive to the senses, do not as yet tug on my purse strings. Same for Northrop Grumman. Keep up the good work, guys, but I’m still not buying.

Wait! I see. I really am buying their products. I just mailed in a tax payment to the United States government, and they are going to use that money to purchase a bunch of B-2 stealth bombers. Or at least an ejection seat handle for one B-2 stealth bomber, which handle I hope never gets used, else the government will be coming back to me with its collective hand out wanting money to replace the B-2 stealth bomber the two pilots just bailed out of.

Anyhow, institutional advertising is used by defense contractors to keep their name in front of the voters, so the next time the appropriations bill comes before your local congressman you will urge him to sign off on it, because you so loved the cute ad on TV. Or at least you can tell your congressman, “Yes, I know who Lockheed Martin is. I saw their ad on TV”

It’s all about institutional advertising.

Not Far From The Tree

Once again I have the Texas Freedom Network for alerting me. This story just will not die.

Rafael Cruz: Evolution Is A Communist Lie, Gay Rights Endanger Children

Rafael Cruz, the father of Ted Cruz and the Texas Senator’s number one surrogate, is a favorite among Tea Party and Religious Right activists with his birther, Christian Nationalist and End Times-focused speeches. Back in June, he spoke to a Texas men’s prayer breakfast where he denounced the theory of evolution as a lie that, along with gay rights, will bring about communism. “There is nothing scientific about evolution,” Cruz said. “Evolution is one of the strongest tools of Marxism because if they can convince you that you came from a monkey, it’s much easier to convince you that God does not exist.”

You know communism or socialism, whatever you want to call it, what is happening in this country is not different than what happened in Cuba; the procedure might be different, they may be a little slower, but it’s the same thing. It is about government control of your lives. You got to realize how Marxist, how socialism works. We need to understand the issues. When you hear all these things about homosexual marriage, this has nothing to do with homosexual rights. Did you know that? The whole objective is the destruction of the traditional family, it has nothing to do with homosexuals, they could care less about homosexuals, they want to destroy the family.

You need to understand, it’s just like evolution. You know most Americans have their head in the sand about evolution. I’ve met so many Christians that tell me ‘evolution is a scientific fact.’ Baloney! I am a scientist, there is nothing scientific about evolution. But you know something, Karl Marx said it, ‘I can use the teachings of Darwin to promote communism.’ Why? Because communism, or call it socialism if you think communism is too hard a word, necessitates for government to be your god and for government to be your god they need to destroy the concept of God. That’s why communism and evolution go hand and hand. Evolution is one of the strongest tools of Marxism because if they can convince you that you came from a monkey, it’s much easier to convince you that God does not exist. Looks good[.]

Rafael Cruz is a scientist? In the same sense I’m an astronaut. Also a quick search of the writings of Karl Marx does not reveal anything like the Karl Marx quote. That seems to have been pulled from the same source as the “scientist” part. Likely from a place where the sun does not shine.

Even though there is no mention of Darwin in The Communist Manifesto, Marx includes two explicit references to Darwin and evolution in the second edition of Das Kapital, in two footnotes where he relates Darwin’s theory to his opinion about production and technology development. In the Volume I, Chapter 14: “The Detail Labourer and his implements”, Section 2, he referred to Darwin’s Origin as an “epoch-making work”, while in Chapter 15, Section I he took on the comparison of organs of plants to animals and tools.

Call Rafael Cruz anything you like, but you really do have to give it to him on imagination. I mentioned this in my previous post:

The failings with geography that Mr. Cruz has exhibited are harder to explain, except that if saying something produces the desired effect, then that’s the thing to do, and truth is of little consequence. Hence, advising President Obama to go back to Kenya. As I have mentioned, these nuts have not fallen very far from the tree. And that explains a lot.

I wonder if anybody believes this is what the Republican Party needs right now—a dribble of contrived rhetoric from a half-baked intellect. Senator Cruz, give the Party a break. Tell your father to stay home for a while.

Not Far From The Tree

There are times I need to apologize. A few days back I made fun of Rafael Cruz. I quoted some comments that originated from an item in Mother Jones.

In September 2012, stumping for Ted Cruz’s Senate campaign, the elder Cruz spoke of sending Obama “back to Kenya.” That’s the land of birth for Obama’s father, though by every authoritative account, the 44th president was born in Hawaii, making him American two ways — by birth on American soil, and because his mother was a natural-born American from Kansas.

Then I connected these comments to positions taken by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. It was not a hard connection to make. Rafael Cruz is the father of Senator Cruz. I alluded the senator’s positions derive from his upbringing. Others point out the connection.

This blog has the title Skeptical Analysis for a reason. Let’s do the analysis part.

Rafael Cruz is from Cuba, and if you are acquainted with a little bit of Western Hemisphere history you are aware that in the 1950s that country was under the control of a dictator named Fulgencio Batista, whom I recall as being little more than a gangster with political swagger. I was among those who cheered Fidel Castro’s military challenge to the Batista regime. Others, as well. A cartoonist for Mad magazine at the time parodied Castro’s victory in 1959, calling it his New Year’s Revolution.

Of course Castro turned out to be a dictator almost as bad as Batista, causing many to exit Cuba. But Rafael Cruz was not one of those. He left earlier, before Castro came to power and revealed his communistic leanings. The Batista government imprisoned the senior Cruz for his association with the revolution, and he escaped and came to the United States. Illegally, of course, but then a lot of people have come from Cuba since then in much the same way.

The meme above indicates Cruz did not know Castro was a communist, but this news item indicates he did know, but did not align himself with the ideology.

It’s a decision he still regrets. His move toward Castro, he explains, was mostly due to his anger with Batista’s government, which at one point imprisoned him and tortured him for his work with the revolutionaries. He says he never shared Castro’s Communism, but, at the time, it was the best way to fight Batista’s oppression. By age 18, in 1957, he knew he needed to get out, and a friend essentially bribed an official to secure him an exit permit.

Those who know will agree that nothing will make a person more passionate for capitalism than some experience with communism. Of course, Mr. Cruz has never suffered communism personally, but his family ties with Cuba have likely given him ample insight into the experience. This can account for his extreme conservative views, views that appear to have passed on to his son.

The failings with geography that Mr. Cruz has exhibited are harder to explain, except that if saying something produces the desired effect, then that’s the thing to do, and truth is of little consequence. Hence, advising President Obama to go back to Kenya. As I have mentioned, these nuts have not fallen very far from the tree. And that explains a lot.

Bad Joke of the Week

Tough weekend. I’m just now getting around to the Bad Joke of the Week. This one is really old. My apologies.

Not yet

A horse walks into a bar. He walks up to the bartender and says “Give me a beer.” The bartender is stunned, so he heads to the back of the bar to speak with the owner.
“Hey boss” he says, “there’s a horse in the bar asking for a beer.”

The bar owner pauses for a second, then replies “Well then give him one, but charge him double. Horses don’t know the price of beer.” So the bartender heads back out front and hands the horse a beer.

“You know,” says the barkeep, “we don’t get many horses around here.”
To which the horse replies, “At these prices I’m not surprised.”