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All content © 2002-2005 Anne Zook

June 25, 2004
Light It Up

Light Up the Sky on August 30.

Posted by AnneZook at 01:44 PM | Comments (0)
Pledge
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

In 1924, that's where we stood with the Pledge.

It wasn't all wine and roses, though. Plenty of people had a problem with the increasing tendency to require recitation of a pledge of allegiance.

In 1940, the first religious conflict over this practice took place. Two children from a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses were expelled from a Pennsylvania public school for refusing to participate in the daily salute to the Flag. They maintained that such activities were prohibited by their religion, and the case eventually reached the United States Supreme Court.

Eventually the Supreme Court decided that protecting the religious freedom of people other than mainstream 'Christians' wasn't important and they decided it was okay to expel the students.

In 1954, Congress ignored the requirements of the constitution and shoved "god" into the Pledge to affirm that this country wasn't inhabited by 'godless' communists.

In 1955 that the law was changed to require "in god we trust" to be displayed on all of the country's money.

In 1956, they made the same phrase our "country motto."

I think it's about time we rid ourselves of these remnants of the hateful and hate-full McCarthy era. Too many people in this country are forgetting that these symbols of some of the population's beliefs were foisted upon us by reactionary, hate-mongering, fear-filled bigots.

About June 26, 2002.

On June 26, 2002, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in Newdow vs. U.S. Congress that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The 2-1 ruling sparked immediate reaction from many corners. President Bush, then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and other leading politicians criticized the court's ruling. The Senate voted 99-0 and the House of Representatives voted 416-3 to reaffirm the words "under God" in the Pledge. The American Center for Law and Justice criticized the Ninth Circuit's ruling as flawed while the American Civil Liberties Union praised the decision as "consistent with recent Supreme Court rulings invalidating prayer at school events."

The Elk Grove School District and the United States petitioned for rehearing of the case by the three-judge panel and by the full Ninth Circuit. On February 28, 2003, the court amended its earlier ruling and announced that neither the panel nor the full Ninth Circuit would rehear the case. The amended opinion affirmed the earlier ruling that the school district's policy of teacher-led recitation of the Pledge with the inclusion of the words "under God" was unconstitutional, but it pulled back from its earlier conclusion that the 1954 Act adding the words "under God" to the Pledge was unconstitutional. The ruling was subsequently stayed, allowing schools in Western states to continue public recitations of the Pledge. Petitions for writ of certiorari were filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Court agreed to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the school district's Pledge policy on October 14.

[…]

U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olsen and Elk Grove School District Attorney Terence J. Cassidy defended the teacher-led recitation of the current Pledge of Allegiance on behalf of the Elk Grove school district. Mr. Olsen characterized the phrase "under God" as "descriptive" and "ceremonial" rather than a prayer or "religious invocation."

I like that last bit. "Yeah, we're making everyone say it, but it doesn't really mean anything, so it's okay. That rather fits my perception of the hypocrisy of many of the 'Christians' I've known.

On June 14, 2004, the Supreme Court issued a decision in the Pledge of Allegiance case, Elk Grove v. Newdow, No. 02-1624. The Court reversed an earlier ruling by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that teacher-led recitation of the Pledge, when it contained the words "under God," was unconstitutional.

The Court ruled that Michael Newdow, the California atheist who brought suit on behalf of his daughter, lacked standing to sue because the child's mother, Sandra Banning, has "what amounts to a tie-breaking vote" on issues related to the child's education.

Three justices, William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas, concurred in the judgment reversing the Ninth Circuit. They did so, however, on the grounds that Newdow did have standing to sue but that teacher-led recitation of the Pledge did not violate the First Amendment.

Well, it's probably no surprise that I disagree with the last three. I think that forcing people to recite pledges affirming this country's subordination to an imaginary deity is and should be unconstitutional.

People shouldn't be allowed to foist their personal superstitions off on others at all, much less institutionalize them.

I'm a bit uncomfortable posting this. Recently I've found myself doing a bit of self-censoring of my opinion of organized religion. I don't actually want to offend anyone, no matter how obsolete and useless I think their belief system is. (Well, that was pretty offensive, wasn't it?)

(A lot of people who consider themselves "religious" wouldn't dream of using their personal beliefs to oppress and subjugate others and I know that. It's just that when I get to writing, it's always the other type of religious person that comes to mind.)

But my point remains. This country wasn't founded by people who wanted us all to be free to believe their way. It was founded by people who wanted freedom of belief and, by extension, that has to include both freedom not to believe and freedom not to have someone else's religious symbolism pushed down your throat.

I'm not pledging allegiance to this country or anything else "under god" because in my view (there is no such thing as "god") that negates the entire pledge, so if I recite the pledge, I'm just standing there babbling semantic nonsense.

If I want to "pledge some "allegiance" to this country, I'll do it in a way that isn't semantically null.

If I want to babble nonsense, I'm sure I can find a more entertaining topic to babble about.

Posted by AnneZook at 01:31 PM | Comments (4)
Tried. Betrayed.

I try to give almost everyone the benefit of the doubt. Especially if I disagree with them. I try to make certain I'm not being unfair.

So, when those on the Right were arguing that just because a "legal opinion" about what makes torture and what don't was solicited and prepared didn't prove that the Bush Administration had ordered or directed the use of torture, I agreed with them. Requesting an opinion is not the same as delivering an order.

But then, as happens so often when I give this Administration the benefit of the doubt, I found out that their hands weren't as clean as their supporters were hoping…or pretending.

Questions also remain about how the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere came about. The documents confirm that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved a number of harsh interrogation techniques for use in Guantanamo in December 2002, including hooding, requiring nudity, placing prisoners in stress positions and using dogs. After military lawyers objected that these violated international law, Mr. Rumsfeld suspended their use a month later. But all these techniques, as well as the restricted practices now approved for Guantanamo, appeared in an interrogation policy issued for Iraq by command of Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez in September 2003. Nearly word for word, the harsh methods detailed in memos signed by Mr. Rumsfeld -- which even administration lawyers considered violations of the Geneva Conventions -- were then distributed to interrogators at Abu Ghraib. The procedures in turn could be read to cover much of what is seen in the photographs that have scandalized the world. How did this spread of improper and illegal practices occur? The Bush administration has yet to offer a convincing answer -- or hold anyone accountable for it.

I'm tired of offering the benefit of the doubt and pretty much ready to start assuming that, should the Bush Administration wind up doing anything right, it's purely by accident.

(Which reminds me that I heard the Administration has, so far, spent $350M of the $15B Bush promised for AIDS. What's that? 2% or something?)

Posted by AnneZook at 07:32 AM | Comments (3)
A Little Lighter

You think you have it bad? Imagine working here. (Although, to be fair, I have no actual objection to the idea of being permanently trapped in a library. Without the fire, of course.)

And this is just fabulous. (Although I'm torn between the realization that preservation of the baroque false ceiling means the fresco will have to remain unexposed.)

You can be a mega-corporation without being evil. Here's proof.

Always remember that it's much more important to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars telling people in other countries not to have sex than it is to use that kind of money to do something actually positive here at home.

From QuickTakes:

Reality's island

Auditions have been announced in Boston for a TV reality show based on "Gilligan's Island."

Hee.Hee. I know someone who was invited to try out for the show.

Posted by AnneZook at 07:02 AM | Comments (0)
June 24, 2004
Still Reading

Passenger Privacy Worries Grow

More airlines than previously disclosed gave personal data on passengers to the government for testing a computerized background-check project, acting Transportation Security Administration chief David Stone said Wednesday.

US war crimes immunity bid fails

The US has given up trying to win its soldiers immunity from prosecution at the new International Criminal Court.

But not to worry.

Even though US troops abroad may now be subject to prosecution at the court in The Hague, Washington has already signed bilateral agreements with 89 countries to ensure they do not bring cases against its personnel.

Read that again.

Got it? Unhappy with the idea that USofA soldiers could be held accountable for war crimes or human rights abuses in international courts (if the USofA does not choose to prosecute such cases itself), we've signed agreements with 89 countries. Agreements that we won't bring each others' troops to trial.

I'm just saying. When you find yourself wondering why the UN is a mess, think about this.

The UN doesn't have any real power, any real authority, and any ability to prevent atrocities because countries like the USofA are working pretty hard against such an outcome.

But don't let the idiots get you down. They don't always win.

For instance, it's highly unlikely I'll go see Michael Moore's new movie. I don't want to spend the next six months trying to separate 9/11 fact from 9/11 fiction.

And I love Bradbury's writing. I own easily 30 of his books and have read and re-read them over the years with much pleasure, including Fahrenheit 451.

At the same time, I feel compelled to point out that Mr. Bradbury does not, in fact, own the word, "Fahrenheit. I'm pretty sure it was around and in the public domain for a significant amount of time before his birth.

Getting into a public snit he's not the only one who has used a public word describing a measure of heat to describe…a measure of heat, is more than a trifle absurd.

In that spirit, I suggest you go read David Ehrenstein's post at the Fablog, about what the Marx Brothers did in a similar situation.

Posted by AnneZook at 02:11 PM | Comments (0)
Bombings

We didn't have internet access at the office today until about two minutes ago, so I just saw this story.

A wave of insurgent bombings and ambushes in key Iraqi cities Thursday killed 92 people, officials said, and terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has emerged as a key suspect.

And this.

Istanbul — A bomb exploded on an Istanbul bus Thursday, killing at least four people and wounding 14, and another bomb went off in front of the Ankara hotel where U.S. President George W. Bush is to stay before Monday's NATO summit, wounding three.

I find myself puzzled. If Islamic extremists really do want, as they claim to, to get the USofA out of Iraq, then why are they more and more violent, the closer we get to the time when the USofA will theoretically be handing over power sovereignty?

Posted by AnneZook at 07:13 AM | Comments (2)
June 23, 2004
Stop Picking On Ralph?

This whole "bashing Ralph Nader" thing is getting weird. I heard a report about that meeting on NPR last night. They said people were shouting at Nader to stay out of the race.

I don't want a Republican victory in November, but this is a free country, you know. Nader can run for president if he wants to.

People choose their candidates in the polling booth. If they don't choose Kerry, then he just didn't get the job done of convincing them. I don't want to see that happen but that's how the system works.

I mean, yeah, Ralph's delusional, pretending he's going to "split" the Republican vote (if he really believes that) but that doesn't matter. He's entitled to run. (Well, as far as that goes, I guess there's nothing illegal about people shouting at him because they don't want him to run, but it seems a bit obnoxious. If you want people to vote for someone else, get out there and advertise and support the someone else.)

I'm thinking maybe he's been fooled into thinking he has real votes on the Right. I mean, since prominent Republicans have donated to his campaign, he may be fantasizing that they'd actually vote for him and refusing to admit that they're just funding him to make sure he keeps hanging around "spoiling" elections by splitting the votes on the Left.

Let me point out that while such behavior isn't illegal or anything, doing things solely to muddy the electoral process is just wrong. It's unethical and immoral. Underhanded and two-faced. It's just a sneakier way of running a negative campaign.

I think that honest politics is about running on the issues and a candidate's position on them, not just about winning at all costs. Deciding to give financial support to someone just because you think they will siphon votes away from your opponent (or your candidate's opponent) is a long way from showing support for your own beliefs.

And no matter how you pretend otherwise, dirty tricks are dirty tricks. When you're trying to decide who stoops the lowest in "playing politics with the issues," remember this kind of thing.

Posted by AnneZook at 01:31 PM | Comments (2)
Afghanistan

Remember Afghanistan? It's now the place where Afghan soldiers did…or did not…behead Taliban prisoners in retaliation for the murder of an Afghan soldier and an interpreter.

As always, it pays to read to the end of the story.

Mansager said seven rocket-propelled grenades were fired Tuesday at a U.S. military base in the southeastern town of Khost, slightly wounding two soldiers and three Afghan interpreters.

No one thinks about Afghanistan any more, but there's still a war going on there*. A war with the actual kind of terrorists we're pretending we went into Iraq in search of.

Afghanistan is also the place where our allies are now saying they've discovered that USofA troops were torturing prisoners.

(Of course, abusing prisoners and 'detainees' here on our own soil isn't that uncommon.)

( * To be fair, we should mention that some people remember Afghanistan, because some people are still fighting there. Or dying in other ways.)

Oh, well. Maybe we'll get hit by an asteroid and it will all be moot.

Posted by AnneZook at 07:41 AM | Comments (0)
Watching John

When you look at it, the stuff Ashcroft does and doesn't choose to hold press conferences about are a bit odd, isn't it?

the small town of Noonday, Tex., F.B.I. agents discovered a weapons cache containing fully automatic machine guns, remote-controlled explosive devices disguised as briefcases, 60 pipe bombs and a chemical weapon — a cyanide bomb — big enough to kill everyone in a 30,000-square-foot building.

Finally, a win for the Right! There are terrorists and they're planning to kill us!

Strangely, though, the attorney general didn't call a press conference to announce the discovery of the weapons cache, or the arrest of William Krar, its owner. He didn't even issue a press release. This was, to say the least, out of character. Jose Padilla, the accused "dirty bomber," didn't have any bomb-making material or even a plausible way to acquire such material, yet Mr. Ashcroft put him on front pages around the world. Mr. Krar was caught with an actual chemical bomb, yet Mr. Ashcroft acted as if nothing had happened.

I wonder why 98% of the country has probably never heard of this dastardly plot?

Yet it's hard to believe that William Krar wouldn't have become a household name if he had been a Muslim, or even a leftist. Was Mr. Ashcroft, who once gave an interview with Southern Partisan magazine in which he praised "Southern patriots" like Jefferson Davis, reluctant to publicize the case of a terrorist who happened to be a white supremacist?

This dangerous refusal to admit that some of the terrorists most dangerous to the public may be home-grown could spell disaster.

The discovery of the Texas cyanide bomb should have served as a wake-up call: 9/11 has focused our attention on the threat from Islamic radicals, but murderous right-wing fanatics are still out there. The concerns of the Justice Department, however, appear to lie elsewhere. Two weeks ago a representative of the F.B.I. appealed to an industry group for help in combating what, he told the audience, the F.B.I. regards as the country's leading domestic terrorist threat: ecological and animal rights extremists.

Yeah, because PETA is all about building chemical bombs and killing massive numbers of people, and the ecologists are just itching to create an ecological disaster by destroying a city or two. NOT.

Even in the fight against foreign terrorists, Mr. Ashcroft's political leanings have distorted policy. Mr. Ashcroft is very close to the gun lobby — and these ties evidently trump public protection. After 9/11, he ordered that all government lists — including voter registration, immigration and driver's license lists — be checked for links to terrorists. All government lists, that is, except one: he specifically prohibited the F.B.I. from examining background checks on gun purchasers.

Mr. Ashcroft told Congress that the law prohibits the use of those background checks for other purposes — but he didn't tell Congress that his own staff had concluded that no such prohibition exists. Mr. Ashcroft issued a directive, later put into law, requiring that records of background checks on gun buyers be destroyed after only one business day.

I suppose he'd say that "personal privacy" was the real issue here, but….

[…] a few months ago he took the unprecedented step of subpoenaing the hospital records of women who have had late-term abortions.

As we see, he's really only interested in some people's privacy.

Posted by AnneZook at 07:19 AM | Comments (0)
June 22, 2004
Darfur

Via Modern Physician (intrusive registration required):

Polio could break out again in Africa: WHO

Africa is on the brink of the biggest polio epidemic in years, with the crippling disease hitting Nigeria hard and re-emerging in Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region, the World Health Organization said today.

The number of polio cases globally has reached 333 so far this year, almost double the number for the same period last year. Total cases last year reached 783.

In Nigeria, where Muslim leaders have refused to participate in immunization programs, 257 cases have been reported this year.

[...]

Some Islamic leaders claimed that the vaccines were part of a U.S.-led plot to spread infertility and AIDS among African Muslims. Nigerian federal officials and the United Nations deny the claims.

This isn't the first I've heard of the AIDS conspiracy theory, but this is the first time I've heard that something like the polio vaccine is also viewed with suspicion.

I wish I could say it's outrageous and that this country has never used infertility as a means of eliminating "unwanted" populations, but I can't.

Epidemiologists now fear a major epidemic this fall, the start of the polio "high season." The disease has appeared already in nine sub-Saharan African countries, after being limited to only two at the beginning of last year.

"Right now we're at the end of the low season of polio," Bruce Aylward, who coordinates the polio initiative at WHO, told reporters. "This is right when polio should be at its lowest level. It suggests that the virus is gathering steam to come roaring out."

WHO confirmed that a child was paralyzed by polio on May 20 in Darfur, the first case in Sudan in more than three years.

Health experts have long warned of epidemics in Darfur, where thousands have been killed and more than 1 million left homeless in a 15-month conflict between government-backed Arab militias and the black African Muslim population.

[…]

The disease has also been found in previously polio-free Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad and Ivory Coast. Botswana reported its first new infection in February.

Four other countries -- Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India -- are on schedule to eradicate the disease before the end of the year, WHO said.

Note that it's difficult to "eradicate" the disease in a country when it's flourishing next door.

The U.N. agency said it urgently needs $25 million to launch a vaccination campaign across 22 African nations in October. Officials said they could meet a Jan. 1 deadline to eradicate the disease if they succeed in immunizing 74 million children this fall.

Even if we find the money, who will convince the leaders of these countries that it's not a USofA plot to destroy them?

Posted by AnneZook at 03:05 PM | Comments (0)
Wanted: Expert Assistance

Darfur. Genocide watch.

Not long ago, someone asked me (in the comments) precisely what I wanted to do about Darfur, since I keep mentioning it. I've been considering that and I have an answer.

I don't know.

Seriously. I don't have any idea. I don't know why people rampage around killing each other and I don't know how to stop it.

I don't understand ethnic cleansing, it's foreign to my brain to hate someone just because they look differently than I do or because they have a different belief system.

I don't understand what's behind these constant battles countries and ethnic groups have with each other.

I haven't the faintest idea how to' fix' this kind of thing. I don't know if it can be fixed.

My problem is that I'm the product of a white, middle-American, Midwestern upbringing. I've never been traumatized by racial discrimination and I've never lived with violence. I'm well aware that this hampers me rather badly when I'm trying to understand the world's problems.

We're a violent species and if some of us weren't killing others of us over ancient superstitions or differences in height or skin color, we'd find something else to commit mass murder about and I haven't the faintest idea of how to stop it from happening.

The bottom line is that we're primitive savages. We've built up a structure of "civilization" but that doesn't change human nature, does it?

Do people resort to violence only as a last resort, when they feel that they're actually powerless to bring about any positive change in their own lives, because it seems easier than any of their other options, or just because they feel violent?

I just don't know.

Read the Africa Pundit.

Posted by AnneZook at 01:19 PM | Comments (6)
More Minor Thoughts

Maybe it's just that Bush doesn't really understand democracy. Is it possible anyone could be as dumb as he seems?

Molly Ivins is talking about Clean Elections.

Looks like USofA soldiers may be about to lose their immunity from prosecution for war crimes during "peacekeeping" missions.

What needs to be prosecuted is murder.

I'm not impressed by how the military has "too many lines of supervision on any operation we do" for things like this to happen. Things like this do happen and they always have. That's kind of one of the main reasons so many of us oppose war, you know. The way it brutalizes everyone involved.

I mean, take a look at this:

It was not clear why the interrogation of Bawi took place in his house, rather than at an American base after his arrest.

Questions like that prove that there was a bit of a glitch in the old chain of command, don't they?

And we have all of those rumors of prisoner mistreatment in other, more secret 'detention facilities' and elsewhere to show us how much good the "supervision" is. I mean, unless someone would like to argue that these soldiers are, in fact supervised and are doing precisely what they've been told to do?

And then there are the other stories of mistreatment of Iraqi civilians that have floated up from time to time over the last year, I'm sure we remember those. Civilians beaten and murdered by what seem to be random groups of soldiers. Reminds me of the old days..stories that came out of Vietnam.

I'm just saying. I'm no expert, but it seems to me that the actual soldiers are being let down by those supposed to command them, and in a really big way.

They went in to fight a war. Most of the army they were supposed to fight collapsed as they approached. Their main human targets disappeared into the ground and have since been killed or captured. Now they're fighting a new enemy who may or may not be citizens of the country they invaded but who have no organized "army" and who offer no clear "line of battle."

It's a nightmare.

Posted by AnneZook at 01:05 PM | Comments (0)
Aren't We Special?

It's amazingly good to be the leader of the so-called Free World, isn't it?

I mean, if it wasn't for us and our legal niggling and our suggestions on how to bypass international law, pro-torture regimes might be having a tough time of it these days.

As it is, they have us to show them the way.

"What may be new here is that it's become fashionable to refer to Abu Ghraib in prisons. The idea behind referring to Abu Ghraib now is to tell the victims that they have no hope, that they are really in the remotest part of the world, that nobody will hear or care about them, just like Abu Ghraib."

"Give him the Abu Ghraib."

Yet another stellar USofA contribution to world civilization.

Posted by AnneZook at 12:36 PM | Comments (0)
June 21, 2004
Don't wait up for me

It's not that I don't understand the value that tourism dollars have to a small town or community, because I do. But I find commercializing murder a little disconcerting.

I'm sorry for the light blogging schedule over the last week, as well as my inattention to comments and some of the discussions going on.

We had a fancy new phone system installed here at the office just over a week ago and for the last week I've done nothing but work on phone problems. (I started to rant about it, but then I realized none of this is your fault, so I deleted the rant. You're welcome.)

In the meantime, just go read everything Avedon Carol is talking about.

Or Jeralyn.

Or go read Bad Attitudes and then worry about when your local pharmacist might also start refusing to dispense drugs for STDs or AIDs based on his religious beliefs.

Or go try and help Jeanne figure out exactly what the Bush Administration's morality is.

Posted by AnneZook at 02:11 PM | Comments (0)