Monday, March 31, 2008

Why do you think they call it 'screwed'?

The woebegone account that follows,
as published Sunday in the Omaha World-Herald, might be the most depressing -- and infuriating -- thing you read all day. Consider this fair warning.

Now, on to a tale of complete cultural meltdown:

Both Keyana and her mom, Samona Jones, were pregnant before high school. Samona was 13; Keyana, 14.

Samona dropped out of eighth grade, never married and had more babies.

Keyana adores her mom but dreams of a different life. She wants to travel. Move to a bigger city. Maybe become a lawyer.

She can't do that with a house full of kids.

"Who's got my brush?" Samona yells.

Today mom and daughter are both getting ready.

Keyana is taking daughter Lauren for her 18-month well checkup.

Samona also is seeing a doctor. She's 31 and soon to deliver her 12th child.


And more than 75 percent of blacks in Douglas County who gave birth were not married. That compares with 24 percent for whites and about 49 percent for Hispanics.

In 2002, the most recent year for which comparisons are available, the Omaha area ranked seventh worst in teen births among blacks. More than 22 percent of blacks who had babies were teens, a share that beat New Orleans and Chicago.

Of about 800 births to Douglas County teens in 2007, 36 percent, or 283, were to black teens. Overall, the county's population is about 13 percent black.

Says Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research: "As long as half of black families with children under 18 are headed by a lone female and as long as a quarter of young black males who are out of prison and out of school are not even looking for work, the poverty numbers for blacks are not going to come down much, no matter how good the economy is and no matter what new social programs the politicians try."

Teenage pregnancy has become so accepted, sometimes even planned, that a counseling center in north Omaha dropped crisis from its name. Ads now emphasize its quality medical professionals.
I DON'T THINK you can overstress how dysfunctional every aspect of life has become among this country's underclass. Of course, it always has been thus. Now it's that and the kitchen sink.

Not only that, but I don't think you can overstress how it also undermines the foundations of the larger society. For example, the popular culture's glorification -- in its never-ending quest for "edginess," fashion points and amoral profit -- of the "gangsta" and hip-hop culture.

To an extent, the relative wealth of "middle-class, white America" counteracts some of the worst consequences of a chaotic embrace of thuggery, baby-mamas and baby-daddies. But it can't not steadily undermine those things that make a bourgeois life possible in a modern society -- self-restraint, education, a strong work ethic, the support of a relatively cohesive family unit.

Sooner or later, with the foundation undermined, our societal house will collapse upon itself. It can't not happen.

Again, from the World-Herald:
The Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy reports that a baby is nine times more likely to grow up poor if mom is unmarried, a teen and a high school dropout than if none of those factors exists.

Bottom line, says the Children's Defense Fund, odds are greater that poor children will lag in health and educational achievement. They're more likely to get in trouble with the law.

Omaha suffers from a toxic poverty blend that goes beyond money woes, said Franklin Thompson, a city councilman who teaches about race at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

He said the black community is gripped by a "culture of poverty" in which the so-called gangsta side of hip-hop marketing brainwashes youngsters into believing, for example, that speaking intelligently is "acting white."

So encompassing is the culture that those in it settle for less and adapt to an underclass lifestyle, Thompson said.

A strong generation of upwardly mobile minorities could help reverse such self-destruction with role modeling.

But, Thompson said, "Omaha lacks a sizable homegrown black middle class to help mentor children and undo some of the damage that has been done."
WHEN FACED WITH the complete collapse of a social structure -- when deviance become normative, in societal terms -- it seems to me that we have nothing in our secular civic or governmental toolboxes that can effectively address the problem.

We are shooting spitballs at Godzilla. All we can do -- even with model public-policy initiatives, superior schools and effective social-welfare programs -- is chip away at the edges of intractable poverty and deviance. Through heroic effort, both by the community at large and by the striving poor themselves, a few might be saved from the abyss.

And there goes Tokyo. Still.

Of course, it nevertheless is the duty of the larger society -- despite the grave challenges -- to make the effort. It's our duty to provide social services, formulate better policies and provide first-rate public schools.

It's our duty to do that if only a single child, in the end, might escape to a better life. But we have to recognize it's not enough. Our best social-welfare and policy tools can, at best, only provide a firm foundation for some future "killer application."

IRONICALLY, that "killer app"-- the societal "troop surge," if you will -- is the only weapon we have left . . . or at least the only one we have left with wonder-working power.

It's the "blood of the Lamb." It's a massive outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It's that whole triune God thing, via its local distributor, the church.

If it's sin that makes you stupid -- and I think rutting like jackrabbits out of wedlock historically has been considered sinful, not to mention societally disruptive -- we need something that overcomes the power of sin. I humbly would submit that's the power of God.

And, unfortunately, that's about the most unacceptable notion of all in these troubled times. Even within large swaths of the church itself, alas.

I LOOK AT the sad example of Keyana and Samona Jones, and I am tempted to think all is lost. That there is no hope.

But on the other hand, I also am fairly confident that the seemingly hopeless conundrum of our inner cities could be brought to heel in a generation or two. All we would need is a sizable number of Jesuits under the age of 90 who still believed in a God that actually mattered.

We're screwed.

Barring a miracle, of course. Fortunately, as an Easter people, miracles are something we have come to rely upon . . . and regularly receive.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The third hosing is the charm

First comes Katrina and a demonstration of just how well the feds build levees and floodwalls.

Then comes the unending bureaucratic nightmare involved in trying to rebuild what Uncle Sam destroyed.

And just when you think you see that light at the end of the tunnel . . . it turns out to be the 8:15 to Houston, it has a full head of steam, and the engineer is drunk at the throttle.

That's right boys and girls, the Road Home program bites Louisianians in the ass yet again, as reported here by The Associated Press:
Imagine that your home was reduced to mold-covered wood framing by Hurricane Katrina. Desperate for money to rebuild, you engage in a frustrating bureaucratic process, and after months of living in a government provided-trailer that gives off formaldehyde fumes you finally win a federal grant.

Then a collector announces that you have to pay back thousands of dollars.

For thousands of Katrina victims, this may be a reality.

A private contractor under investigation for the compensation it received to run the Road Home grant program for Katrina victims says that in the rush to deliver aid to homeowners in need some people got too much. Now it wants to hire a separate company to collect millions in grant overpayments.

The contractor, ICF International of Fairfax, Va., revealed the extent of the overpayments when it issued a March 11 request for bids from companies willing to handle "approximately 1,000 to 5,000 cases that will necessitate collection effort."

The bid invitation said: "The average amount to be collected is estimated to be approximately $35,000, but in some cases may be as high as $100,000 to $150,000."

The biggest grant amount allowed by the Road Home program is $150,000, so ICF believes it paid some recipients the maximum when they should not have received a penny. If ICF's highest estimate of 5,000 collection cases — overpaid by an average of $35,000 — proves to be true, that means applicants will have to pay back a total of $175 million.

One-third of qualified applicants for Road Home help had yet to receive any rebuilding check as of this past week. The program, which has come to symbolize the lurching Katrina recovery effort, has $11 billion in federal funds.

ICF spokeswoman Gentry Brann said in an e-mail Friday that the overpayment recovery effort was made inevitable when insurance and other aid to Katrina victims was eventually measured against what an applicant received from the Road Home program.

Brann said there was a sense of urgency in paying Road Home applicants, and ICF knew applicants might eventually have to return some money.

"The choice was either to process grants immediately or wait until the March 2008 deadline (for submitting Road Home applications) before disbursing any funds," Brann said in her e-mail.

Brann pointed out that 5,000 collections cases would represent a 4-percent error rate for the Road Home that is "quite good for large federal programs."
EVERY TIME I try to formulate a comment on this, I just keep falling into black-hearted, seeing-red fury and thoughts that mass violence might be an appropriate response, given that this follows nearly two years of red tape, bureaucratic bungling and extreme delays in getting compensation for anyone.

James Kunstler would name -- has named, actually -- a blog after just the sort of mess contractor ICF has made the Road Home program into. And now this.

And the hell of it is, professional liars (or so it would seem, at least) employed by the contractor expect us to believe the company has done a bang-up job with the whole thing.

If I'm Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, here's my response: I call all the top ICF executives to Baton Rouge for "urgent consultations" on the program. Make it mandatory that all the top executives of the company attend to "hash things out."

When they arrive at the governor's office for the meeting, state troopers immediately take them into custody. Fraud charges are filed. Bail is denied.

And then the state prosecutes with all the speed ICF has exhibited in paying out awards to flooded-out Louisiana homeowners. As those execs sit in the general population of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.

Justice requires it.

Will cell-phone jones fry your brain?

If a prominent British cancer expert is right, young people are doomed. They basically live life with microwave ovens permanently attached to their ears.

scary story from London is in today's Independent (and note that the British term "mobile phone" equals the American term "cell phone"):
Mobile phones could kill far more people than smoking or asbestos, a study by an award-winning cancer expert has concluded. He says people should avoid using them wherever possible and that governments and the mobile phone industry must take "immediate steps" to reduce exposure to their radiation.

The study, by Dr Vini Khurana, is the most devastating indictment yet published of the health risks.

It draws on growing evidence – exclusively reported in the IoS in October – that using handsets for 10 years or more can double the risk of brain cancer. Cancers take at least a decade to develop, invalidating official safety assurances based on earlier studies which included few, if any, people who had used the phones for that long.

Earlier this year, the French government warned against the use of mobile phones, especially by children. Germany also advises its people to minimise handset use, and the European Environment Agency has called for exposures to be reduced.

Professor Khurana – a top neurosurgeon who has received 14 awards over the past 16 years, has published more than three dozen scientific papers – reviewed more than 100 studies on the effects of mobile phones. He has put the results on a brain surgery website, and a paper based on the research is currently being peer-reviewed for publication in a scientific journal.

He admits that mobiles can save lives in emergencies, but concludes that "there is a significant and increasing body of evidence for a link between mobile phone usage and certain brain tumours". He believes this will be "definitively proven" in the next decade.
TALK ABOUT your sobering articles. I now am so glad that I have a big enough aversion to the telephone in general that I've never wanted to have a cell phone around, except for emergencies. Almost never use one of the damn things.

But I do fear for all the young people I know, for whom the cell-phone jones hardly could be more intractable than those for meth or nicotine. You just don't need to be that bloody "connected" -- you just don't.

There is value in being alone with your thoughts. That is, beyond reducing one's brain-cancer risk.

And the brain-cancer thing is horrific struff indeed. My father died of brain cancer. You don't want to go that way . . . and you don't want to see a loved one go that way.

Trust me on this one.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hot boudin . . . cold cush cush!
C'mon Tigers, shoot, shoot, shoot!

State legislatures need to come with "black box" warnings, much like pharmaceuticals with potentially deadly side effects -- when stupid people get a hold of them, really bad things can happen.

And with Ernest Wooten in occupying a desk in the Louisiana House, that black box ought to cover an entire side of the 34-story state capitol. This story in the Baton Rouge Advocate is scary testimony to that:

Proposed state legislation would make it legal for some students and faculty to carry handguns on college campuses as a “deterrent” against the wave of college shootings in Baton Rouge and nationwide.

State Rep. Ernest Wooten, R-Belle Chasse, is proposing the controversial bill that could arm more people on campuses from dormitories to classrooms.

“We’ve got a problem,” Wooten said, “and maybe it’ll be a deterrent if one of these disturbed persons or whackos thinks, ‘If I go in shooting, they may shoot back.’”

In the last few months, two international students at LSU were murdered in their on-campus apartment. Weeks later, a Louisiana Technical College student in Baton Rouge murdered two students in a classroom before killing herself.

The recent string of college murders nationwide began with the rampage murders of 33 Virginia Tech students last year.

State Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Savoie said Wooten’s proposal is going in the wrong direction. There should be fewer guns at colleges, not more, Savoie said.

Too many young people are still emotional and immature when it comes to firearms, he said, noting that campuses have already beefed up security measures statewide.

“It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to arm a bunch of excitable students,” Savoie said.

Wooten’s House Bill 199 would make it legal to carry licensed concealed handguns on all state colleges, from technical schools to universities.

Not only that, but the bill also would forbid colleges from enacting policies to limit the rights of gun owners from carrying concealed handguns on campuses.

FOR. THE. LOVE. OF. GOD. I mean, really. Is there really anybody with half a brain who thinks that it would be a good thing to have a bunch of college kids packing heat?


Obviously, not all college kids are the same, and not all are excitable doofuses. On the other hand, if we can't always trust students to do something as simple as behave at football games -- or not drink themselves into oblivion long before their 21st birthdays -- isn't it pretty safe to assume it's probably not a good idea to arm a bunch of kids who still await maturation of the risk-aversion part of their brains?

College bars have double-drunk Tuesdays for a reason, people. It's called "getting rich."

Can't wait until all the boys from Kappa Tappa Kegga -- armed to the teeth, because it's the "cool" thing to be -- stream out of Friday-afternoon classes and into a Friday-night alcoholic haze. Maybe if Rep. Wooten is lucky, one of them will accidentally shoot and kill America's Next Campus Shooter.

Or maybe they'll just kill some poor Phi Beta Kappa as they show off their chrome-plated manhood while trying to impress some girl.

Oh, and while I'm thinking of it: Wooten thinks pistol-packing collegians would be a "deterrent" to the next Seung-Hui Cho.

“We’ve got a problem,” Wooten said in The Advocate story, “and maybe it’ll be a deterrent if one of these disturbed persons or whackos thinks, ‘If I go in shooting, they may shoot back.’”

Uhhhhhh . . . why would that be, when all the recent campus shooters ended their rampages by putting a bullet IN THEIR OWN HEADS? For future reference, the threat of death is no deterrent to suicidal whackos.

The key word being "whacko" . . . or "suicidal" -- take your pick.

Unfortunately, neither is stupidity a deterrent for some people seeking public office . . . or the voters who put them there. It really doesn't take a MENSA candidate to figure out that if you want more armed people on campus to deal with crazed killers, you hire more campus cops.

It's as simple as that. Unless you're paid to make the laws.

3 Chords & the Truth: Squiggles in the smoke

Inspired by the unveiling Friday of the oldest known sound recording -- dating back to 1860 -- I decided to record this week's episode of 3 Chords & the Truth with a phonautograph, just like the one French inventor Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville used to make those first "records" of sound so long ago.

ALL IT TOOK was a functioning phonautograph, "borrowed" from a museum, and 3,000 feet of soot-covered rag paper. What you hear on the Big Show this week emanates from only the finest scratchings onto the sooty medium, faithfully reproduced by a top-secret laboratory process.

I think it came out all right, if I do say so myself.

You be the judge. It's hip, it's now, it's happenin' . . . and it's historical, too.

It's 3 Chords & the Truth, is what it is. Be there. Aloha.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Taking graft for granite?

You can call this little story from the New Orleans Times-Picayune proof that even a stone-cold kook can swing a sweetheart deal in exchange for a little sumpin' sumpin'.

You know what I'm sayin', dog?
Mayor Ray Nagin told reporters Tuesday that he and his family have done nothing wrong in landing a deal to install granite countertops for four local Home Depot stores as the giant retailer was negotiating a tax break and other concessions from the city for a planned new store in Central City.

In a radio interview, Nagin said a Sunday Times-Picayune article describing the arrangement was "deceptively written to suggest that there was something unethical being done."

Before the article appeared, the mayor declined on multiple occasions to comment on his role in Stone Age LLC, a company he and his sons Jeremy, 23, and Jarin, 21, formed in 2005. On Tuesday, he described himself as the company's "financier" but otherwise shed little light on his involvement in the firm or its dealings with Home Depot.

Dane Ciolino, a Loyola Law School professor who specializes in ethics questions, said Nagin might have violated state ethics laws that bar city officials from being paid by entities that have or seek "business or financial relationships" with the city. Home Depot's efforts to purchase a group of streets from the city would meet that definition, Ciolino said.

Ciolino said the prohibition would be triggered only if Nagin owns a share of Stone Age totaling 25 percent or more.

Nagin on Tuesday declined to specify his stake in the firm.

"My sons own the majority of the company, I basically -- you know, it's my sons' -- so I'm pretty much the financier for the company," Nagin said.

In response to another question, he replied: "I own less than a majority of the company. My wife and I own a percentage of the company."

Asked the size of the percentage, Nagin said, "I'm not getting into that."

State records list Nagin and his two sons as the company's three members. The law does not require ownership shares to be divulged.

Nagin also was asked Tuesday about his appearance, listed on his 2007 planner, at a meeting with Home Depot officials at Stone Age's offices in February 2007. Stone Age landed the Home Depot installation deal two months later.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Four Songs: Signing off

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I'm talking about the bite-sized offering from the Revolution 21 empire, Four Songs. Obviously, you had a different opinion.

And Four Songs is no more. The bottom line is that it didn't increase listenership. Thus, there's no point in continuing. So there you go.

The other audio offering from Revolution 21, 3 Chords & the Truth, will be sticking around. For now.

I'm doing a lot of reassessing nowadays. I had thought there was an opening for a "Catholic" media effort that was cultural in focus, rather than explicitly apologetic and rooted deep in the Catholic ghetto. Now I am not so sure, because I have come to believe that Christians -- particularly Catholics -- just don't "get it."

I don't think Christians, as a whole, grasp the importance of engaging the culture and trying to bend it -- even if it's just by a little -- via means other than voting for Republican shysters (How has that worked out for you so far?) and staging "sound-and-fury" protests and boycotts of all manner of infidel crapola.

Again, how's that working out for you?

Catholics and other Christians have become known primarily for what we're against. No one knows what we're for . . . including us, at least a lot of the time.

Trouble is, we say we serve a Savior who got Himself crucified for what he was for. Because of Who He said He was.

Well, Catholics, you can have your ghetto. Delude yourselves about the tremendous impact you've had on American culture . . . as everything you allege you stand for gets shoved further and further into the "lunatic-fringe" margins of American society.

Me, I'm going to keep trying to find a way to do what I do while maintaining a clear conscience. And I'm going to try to do it while being who and what I am. Above all, that would be Catholic.

And I don't know how that's going to work out.

Dial 'S' for stupid

Hi, you've reached the voice mail of Ruben the Robber. I'm not available to hold up your place of business right now, but if you leave your name and address at the beep, I'll be over to take your money and cap yo' ass as soon as possible.

Have a nice day, homes.


Yes, stick-up artists on the go now rely on callbacks to more efficiently relieve marks of their hard-earned cash . . . sort of like "If you've got the money, honey, give me a ring-a-ding-ding."

Chicago police say Ruben the alleged robber couldn't wait around all day for a muffler-shop manager -- the guy who could let him into a safe where the "big money" was -- so he left his cell-phone number with some shop employees Monday, along with strict instructions to call him when the manager got back.

AND CALL the would-be victims did . . . following the strict instructions of police officers. But unfortunately for the suspected dial-a-crook, waiting cops had no intention of letting him have that "big money" when he showed up.

They did let him have a slug in the leg, however.

I'm not making this up. Look, it's in the Chicago Tribune:

Ruben Zarate of the 5100 of West Schubert Avenue was charged Tuesday with attempted armed robbery and aggravated assault of a police officer, the Cook County state's attorney's office said.

The incident started about 8 a.m., when the masked man, armed with a revolver, came in to Velasquez Mufflers For Less at 2600 N. Laramie Ave. and began demanding money, said Jose Sida, 37, a mechanic.

Employees told him they had little money and couldn't open the safe, so the man left two phone numbers for them to call when the owner returned with the combination, Sida said.

"He said, 'You guys better call me because otherwise I'm going to come back to shoot you,'" Sida said.

Instead, an employee called Chicago police.

Officers dressed in plainclothes came to the shop and told employees to call the man, Sida said. The man returned about noon, wearing the same mask and black clothing and officers told the employees to get to the back of the shop, Sida said.

A police source said the teen pulled a gun from his hooded sweat shirt and at least one officer opened fire. Zarate's injury was not thought to be life-threatening, the source said.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

She 'misspoke.' Yeah, that's the ticket!

George W. Bush lied us into a disastrous and unjust war in Iraq. Do we really want to replace such "truthiness" with the lies of someone who can't even make the ridiculous sound plausible but keeps trying to, anyway?

From The Associated Press:
Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign said she "misspoke" when saying last week she had landed under sniper fire during a trip to Bosnia as first lady in March 1996. She later characterized the episode as a "misstatement" and a "minor blip."

The Obama campaign suggested the statement was a deliberate exaggeration by Clinton, who often cites the goodwill trip with her daughter and several celebrities as an example of her foreign policy experience.

During a speech last Monday on Iraq, she said of the Bosnia trip: "I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."

According to an Associated Press story at the time, Clinton was placed under no extraordinary risks on the trip. And one of her companions, comedian Sinbad, told The Washington Post he has no recollection either of the threat or reality of gunfire.

When asked Monday about the New York senator's remarks about the trip, Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson pointed to Clinton's written account of it in her book, "Living History," in which she described a shortened welcoming ceremony at Tuzla Air Base, Bosnia-Herzegovina.


I went to 80 countries, you know. I gave contemporaneous accounts, I wrote about a lot of this in my book. You know, I think that, a minor blip, you know, if I said something that, you know, I say a lot of things -- millions of words a day -- so if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement," she said.
REMEMBER Jon Lovitz' pathological-liar character on Saturday Night Live, Tommy Flanagan? Exactly.

Hillary's explanation could have been lifted straight from an old SNL script: "I went to 80 coun -- 800 countries, you know. I wrote a lot of this in my book -- it sold three cop . . . three billion copies. You know, if I said something that, you know, I say a lot of things -- millions, uh, trillions, yeah, that's it -- trillions of words every day. So if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement. Yeah, that's the ticket!"

Is anybody with half a brain buying this attempt at papering over an incompetent attempt at pulling off the kind of bald-faced lie that even Bill would shy away from?

HILLARY! has no good way out of this mess of her own desperate making. Either she was trying to get away with telling a blatant lie -- and a stunningly stupid one, given the videotape evidence -- or she knowingly took her then-15-year-old daughter into a dangerous war zone, where the child was, to hear the candidate tell it, forced to run for her life, ducking Serb sniper rounds.

Or, if she didn't knowingly take her daughter into a active-combat zone, why didn't she know? Is she that dense? Does she have a habit of trusting her life -- and her daughter's -- to a bunch of rank incompetents of exceedingly questionable judgment?

Or . . . if she didn't get shot at in Bosnia, exactly where did she get shot at? I mean, getting shot at is something you don't easily forget. Or "misspeak" about.

After all, you have to be careful in choosing who'll be answering those 3 a.m. phone calls.

You can fool all the people some of the time . . .

I remember when I first came to the wilds of eastern Nebraska 20 years ago . . . the wife an' me polin' our flatboat up the Missouri River to a spot where we could unload our gear just upstream of the rough settlement of Omaha.

FROM THERE, we would stake out our little homestead a few miles to the west. Yeah, we did have a little skirmish with some hostile savages, but their bows and arrows were no match for the missus' and my bolt-action 30.06 deer rifles.

We built a nice sod house out here on the prairie . . . only had to live in our buffalo-skin teepee for three or four months that winter. It's amazin' how warm a wigwam can be when you have 30-foot snowdrifts for windbreak and icy insulation.

Ah, I miss the homesteadin' days of '88. It hasn't been the same since we got runnin' water, e-lectric lights and a flush toilet.

Who knows? Maybe with my resume of sod-bustin', Injun fightin' and conquerin' the wild frontier, I could get myself e-lected president.

Monday, March 24, 2008

And they think Christians are nuts. . . .

"Intolerant Christian fundamentalists" seem insane to "the world" solely because of perspective. The delusional always think it's everybody else who are nuts.

With the
following story from Canada's National Post, I find myself unsure who's the more deluded party -- the transgendered "man" who is with child, or the newspaper reporter who can write this with a straight face. Or is that a "transgendered" face?

An Oregon man who used to be a woman says he is pregnant with a baby girl.

Thomas Beatie's first-person story appears in a recent issue of The Advocate, a Los Angeles-based newsmagazine for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people.

According to the story, Thomas was born a woman but decided to become a transgender male and legally changed his sex to male. He had his breasts surgically removed and started bimonthly testosterone injections, but kept his vagina.

Now identifying as male, Thomas legally married Nancy, the story says. The pair wanted a biological baby but Nancy was unable to carry a child. So they decided Thomas would.

"How does it feel to be a pregnant man?" Thomas writes in the article. "Incredible. Despite the fact that my belly is growing with a new life inside me, I am stable and confident being the man that I am. In a technical sense I see myself as my own surrogate, though my gender identity as male is constant. To Nancy, I am her husband carrying our child . . . I will be my daughter's father, and Nancy will be her mother. We will be a family."
IT'S A FEARSOME and amazing thing how politcal correctness now triumphs basic biology and physiology -- in short, male mammals don't get pregnant. Female mammals get pregnant.

Unless you're Billy Crystal. But that was just in a bad movie.

I'm just saying, as I celebrate my 47th birthday and live to see another crazy-ass abomination that I never dreamed I'd ever live to see.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Politics makes you stupid

This, from the New York Times, is a perfect example of why I have an almost visceral negative reaction to political activists of any sort.

It is, in a word, "idolatry":
But Mr. Richardson stopped returning Mr. Clinton’s calls days ago, Mr. Clinton’s aides said. And as of Friday, Mr. Richardson said, he had yet to pick up the phone to tell Mr. Clinton of his decision.

The reaction of some of Mr. Clinton’s allies suggests that might have been a wise decision. “An act of betrayal,” said James Carville, an adviser to Mrs. Clinton and a friend of Mr. Clinton.

“Mr. Richardson’s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic,” Mr. Carville said, referring to Holy Week.

Mr. Richardson said he called Mrs. Clinton late on Thursday to inform her that he would be appearing with Mr. Obama on Friday to lend his support.

“It was cordial, but a little heated,” Mr. Richardson said in an interview.
BETRAYAL? JUDAS ISCARIOT? That kind of nuclear language over a freakin' political endorsement?

James Carville -- and, frankly, the rest of Washington, D.C., too -- needs to get a damn life. What we have here is a failure of perspective.

It's not like Richardson betrayed his lord and savior. One, Hillary Clinton -- it is obvious -- cannot even save herself, and her ex-prez hubby ain't gonna raise her campaign from the dead.

Two, Barack Obama ain't the savior, either. Saviors have no need of Bill Richardson's endorsement.

Three, Carville needs to go home, pour himself a double of something mighty fine, pat his child on the head, put on some sweet music, make out with his wife and thank God for his blessings. In that is found the meaning of life.

In the Washington fever swamps is found a bad case of nothing good.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Chapter 28

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.
His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow.
The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.
Then the angel said to the women in reply, "Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.
He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.' Behold, I have told you."
Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples.
And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.
Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."
While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had happened.
They assembled with the elders and took counsel; then they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers,
telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep.'
And if this gets to the ears of the governor, we will satisfy (him) and keep you out of trouble."
The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has circulated among the Jews to the present (day).
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Psalm 22 . . . a prophecy of the Passion

EDITOR'S NOTE: A psalm for today, Good Friday, when we commemorate our crucified Savior. Have a blessed end to Holy Week.

To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar, A Psalm of David.

1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?* why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head saying,
8 He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.
10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.
11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
19 But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
23 Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.
26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
28 For the kingdom is the LORD’S: and he is the governor among the nations.
29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.
30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

* See Matthew 27:46

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Four Songs: Yesterday Once More

This week on Four Songs: five songs. It was necessary -- one of the songs is by John Denver, and a "make good" was in order.

IN MY DEFENSE, I didn't pick the music. That was done according to what was hot with the record-buying public . . . in April 1975. Unfortunately, John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" was big back then.

Unsurprisingly, I would have picked differently. But they don't let 14-year-old kids program Top-40 radio stations, and that's how old I was when this episode of Four Songs was done. Live. Through the facilities of the Big 91, WLCS radio in Baton Rouge, La.

In all its amplitude-modulated glory.

And glorious it was. So glorious that I was sitting at the kitchen table, early the morning of April 17, 1975, with my portable reel-to-reel tape recorder patched into the earphone jack of my clock radio to preserve a piece of WLCS forever.

It was a Thursday. Gary King was the morning man.

WLCS was one of Baton Rouge's two Top-40 blowtorches. Radio 13 -- WIBR -- was the other. 'IBR had some great jocks, and a friend of mine even was a part-timer there when I was in high school . . . but I was an 'LCS man.

No offense to WIBR.

Of course, by 1976, I was firmly in the camp of Loose Radio (WFMF during its album-oriented rock salad days). But I'll always love Double-U ELLLLLLL CEE Ess . . . even though it died in 1983, a few months 1984, a year after I married a KOIL woman from Omaha.

And if you're under, say, 30, you're not getting this conversation at all, are you?

LET ME EXPLAIN. Once upon a time, there was this thing called radio -- AM radio -- and we listened to it on "transistors," which were like iPods, only affordable. And better.

An iPod only can bring you the few hundred songs you load into it after illegally downloading them off the Internet or legally buying them on iTunes. But a transistor radio, that could bring you the world, baby.

All for free. And without the threat of a lawsuit by the music cops.

The world first came to my bedroom on a transistor radio tuned to WLCS. I also could tune in the whole wide world on WIBR, or maybe WTIX in New Orleans -- and sometimes KAAY through the ether from Little Rock at night -- but I mostly dug those rhythm and blues . . . and rock 'n' roll . . . and countrypolitan . . . and a bit of ring-a-ding-ding, too, on the Big 91.

What it was, was the breadth of American popular culture at my fingertips. And British Invasion, too.

Never was education so fun. I turned on the radio just to listen to some tunes, and I found myself under the spell of a thousand different tutors -- friendly voices from morning to overnight -- playing for me the breadth of musical expression . . . or at least the musical expression that charted well. It is because of 'LCS, 'IBR, 'TIX (and later, 'FMF) that this Catholic Boy has catholic tastes.

Your iPod is cool and all, but it can't do that.

SEE, THE DEAL IS that I can't repay the debt I owe to WLCS, for one. I can't repay the debt I owe to Gary King, that friendly morning voice on this episode of Four Songs.

For a spell there, King's was the voice I woke up to, got ready for school to and ate breakfast to. He played the hits and told me what the weather was outside, and Gene Perry gave the news at the top and bottom of the hour.

Back in the day, radio was a well-rounded affair.

King's also was the friendly voice that answered the studio line when an awkward teen-ager in junior-high hell would call to request a song. And his was the friendly voice that would take time to chat for a bit when that kid -- or his mother -- sometimes thought he had nothing better to do . . . like put on a morning show.

I didn't know it then, and Gary King (real name: Gary Cox) probably didn't know it, either, but what he was doing was being Christ, in a sense, to a lonely kid and his -- come to think of it -- lonely mother. I shudder to think what one of today's "morning zoo" shows would do with rich material like me and Mama.

That is, if the zoo crew answered the studio line at all.

Via the AM airwaves, I made a human connection with WLCS and Gary King. I needed that. We all need that. And you can't get that from your iPod, though some of us will try to give it, because you have to work with what you have.

BEFORE APRIL 1975 was done, Gary King was gone. He originally was from Kentucky, and one day the call came from WAKY, the Top-40 powerhouse in Louisville that Gary grew up listening to.

On his last show, Gary's ending bit was "convincing" Gene Perry that he could catch a bullet in his teeth if the newsman would just help him out on the gun end. It didn't work as planned . . . which means it worked perfectly in radio's "theater of the mind."

I think I shed a tear or two.

And a couple of years later, I was learning the ropes at WBRH, Baton Rouge High's student-run FM station. And 33 years later -- after various pit stops on the air and hot off the press -- here we are at Revolution 21, trying to figure out what "radio" will be in this new millennium . . . right here on the Internet.

Thanks, Gary. I can't repay you in full, but maybe this will make a nice down payment.

Southerners know exactly what this is

Andrew Sullivan, over at his Daily Dish, thinks the above anti-Barack Obama video is an instance of GOP "swift-boating" of the Democratic presidential candidate in the wake of the hullabaloo over his ex-pastor's sometimes-incendiary sermons.

It's not that.

"Swift-boating," named for the ginned-up controversy over 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry's days as a Navy "swift boat" commander in Vietnam, is an ideological assassination. The above hit on Obama is racial.

That makes it race-baiting, not "swift-boating." Down in Oxford, Miss. -- home of one of the video's creators, former Laura Ingraham Show producer Lee Habeeb, now an executive with the right-wing Salem Radio Network -- there is a more "colorful" term for the tactic, which is as old as Jim Crow.

The difference between "swift-boating" and race-baiting boils down to what we don't see in that odious little YouTube offering -- a single white face.

IF HABEEB and his cronies merely meant to send the message that the U.S. senator from Illinois is a wild-eyed, unpatriotic lefty, why not juxtapose the video of Obama's interviews and Wright's red-hot rhetoric with egregious clips of at least a few egregious white people through the ages?

You know, like hippie anti-war protesters from the '60s waving Viet Cong flags. Like Abbie Hoffman. Like Jerry Rubin. Like Jane Fonda in Hanoi. Or Sean Penn with Saddam.

Like the Dixie Chicks on foreign soil cracking on the neocons' lord and savior, George W. Bush.

No, instead we get "unpatriotic" images of "ingrate" black men -- Tommie Smith and John Carlos, fists raised at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City . . . Malcolm X . . . all to a Public Enemy rap soundtrack. All we needed to make the argument ideological and not racial was just a single honky.


We didn't get one.

And Habeeb and his fellow anonymous White Citizens' Council wannabes aren't fooling this Southern boy with bull hockey like this. From Jonathan Martin's blog on the Politico web site:

Asked directly if he believes Obama is a patriotic American, Habeeb said "absolutely." But he added that "his patriotism is not my kind of patriotism."

"I believe he is hiding his Marxism from the American people," Habeeb said.

And despite the inclusion of Malcolm X, the black Olympians and a rap song by Public Enemy, Habeeb claimed he was not being suggestive.

"I didn’t do this to make him like a scary black man."

LOOK FOR the head fake. The White Citizens' Councils were all about fighting commies and pinkos . . . whose tactics, we were to believe, centered on wrecking America from within through the mixing of the races.

This YouTube video was all about the "scary black man." And you can blame it all on some scary white men.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Jeremiah Wright is not 'out there'

This guy in Harlem ATLAH is the real Out There deal.

the Hon. James David Manning, Ph.D., really, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY hates Barack Obama, whom he calls a "long-legged freak," adding "Obama pimps white women and black woman."

Not that that's casting aspersions or anything. From the video:

I haven't trashed Obama. His African in-heat father went a whoring after a trashy white woman. He was born trash. I said he was born trash. I didn't trash him. I'm speaking the truth about him. . . . I got a word in my mouth. I said I got the word of God in my mouth. And God's not afraid of Obama or anybody else.
AND AS YOU MAY have noticed above, Harlem isn't Harlem anymore. God said.

The good reverend tells us that Harlem is now ATLAH, which means --
at least according to the Deity -- "the land where the people shall walk barefoot, because the land is holy ground."

Well, at least the Apollo Theater.

Glimpses of humanity

Once upon a time -- at least for a kid growing up in the Deep South with Jim Crow as the crazy-angry, crazy-hateful uncle in the attic -- television actually had the power, and the moral imagination, to point to a way out of madness.

I KNOW this seems crazy by today's standards, but TV once offered glimpses of a better world beyond parochialism, segregation and hate. Everyone in the Treasure House was so happy, and Captain Kangaroo was the benevolent ruler of a make-believe place where moose could dance with bear, where Tom was always Terrific, and where Green Jeans always were in fashion.

And Fred could just be Fred -- sans apology and secure in his electronic blobitude.

Meanwhile, after dinner, the 21-inch Magnavox showed us "colored" nurses -- nurses?!? -- like Julia, cool spies like Bill Cosby and variety stars like "Flip" Wilson. In later years, the Sony portable in my bedroom would take me to places like Walt Whitman High School on Room 222, where integration wasn't a big deal at all. And who wouldn't want to have a teacher just like Pete Dixon.

Oh, right. Half of the class . . . and their parents . . . back in the Real World.

EVEN NOW, some four decades past, I still wish I could turn back the hands of Grandfather Clock and flee into the arms of the better angels of the Treasure House.

Maybe Mother McCain coulda fielded that one

Remember the pathetic spectacle of Ronald Reagan, in videotaped depositions, trying to keep straight exactly what the hell had gone on in the Iran-Contra affair?

Well, at least the poor old man knew that it involved a) the Iranians and b) the Contras in Nicaragua. This gives the late president a leg up on presidential wannabe Sen. John McCain, who has demonstrated he has absolutely, positively no idea what the hell is going on in our latest Middle Eastern mess.

The New York Times
reports on why we ought to be very, very afraid:

Senator John McCain’s trip overseas was supposed to highlight his foreign policy acumen, and his supporters hoped that it would showcase him in a series of statesmanlike meetings with world leaders throughout the Middle East and Europe while the Democratic candidates continued to squabble back home.

But all did not go according to plan on Tuesday in Amman, Jordan, when Mr. McCain, fresh from a visit to Iraq, misidentified some of the main players in the Iraq war.

Mr. McCain said several times in his visit to Jordan — in a news conference and in a radio interview — that he was concerned that Iran was training Al Qaeda in Iraq. The United States believes that Iran, a Shiite country, has been training and financing Shiite extremists in Iraq, but not Al Qaeda, which is a Sunni insurgent group.

Mr. McCain said at a news conference in Amman that he continued to be concerned about Iranians “taking Al Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back.” Asked about that statement, Mr. McCain said: “Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.”

It was not until he got a quiet word of correction in his ear from Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who was traveling with Mr. McCain as part of a Congressional delegation on a nearly weeklong trip, that Mr. McCain corrected himself.

“I’m sorry,” Mr. McCain said, “the Iranians are training extremists, not Al Qaeda.”

Mr. McCain has based his campaign in large part on his assertion that he is the candidate best prepared to deal with Iraq, and the Democrats wasted little time in jumping on his misstatement to question his knowledge and judgment.
I KNOW THE GOP wants to be taken seriously -- despite its track record of corruption, cronyism, horndoggedness and staggering incompetence in governance.

Putting forth a presidential nominee that leaves thinking voters unsure of whether to start laughing hysterically or start thinking seriously about emigration is not the way to recover lost respect.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Back when I was 4 . . . and cruel

I am why the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is so angry.

I also am why it's such a tragedy that Barack Obama's friend and former pastor has let his anger -- and he does have every good reason to be damned angry -- define him.

I am white. I grew up in, and was indoctrinated by, the segregated South. I went to a legally segregated public school until fourth grade. And, as a child, everybody I knew was about as racist as a late-June day is long.

Black folks were "niggers" -- at least in the lexicon of the common . . . like me and mine. You didn't go to school with them, it was illegal to marry them, they got all the jobs that were "beneath" white people and -- when it was your time to go -- you didn't get sent on your way via the same church, funeral home or graveyard.

It's just the way things were in Baton Rouge, La., when I came on the scene 47 years ago next Monday. It remained that way, in slowly diminishing thoroughness, up to the time I reached adulthood. And some of it hangs on to this day.

THIS MORNING, the Democratic presidential candidate -- in so much hot water over what his pastor said and when did Obama know he said it -- gave a masterful speech on race relations in America. It may have been the most blunt and honest speech on the matter I've ever heard a politician give.

Louisiana Gov. Earl Long may have given a more succinct, more colorful, more imperfect and more courageous version of that speech before a wild-eyed bunch of segregationists in the state Senate, but that was nearly two years before I was born. It got him thrown in a Texas nuthouse . . . so he couldn't exercise his gubernatorial power from his rubber room.

Barack Obama, at long last, has said what so long has needed to be said . . . in the manner it needed to be said. It's important, and his life -- and my life -- testify to why it's so important.

Having been born into a racist family in a segregated state, I was indoctrinated into America's original sin from my first moments of awareness. I did about the worst thing you could do to an African-American man -- at least, the worst thing short of murder or extreme physical violence -- by the time I was 4 years old.

I remember that I was sick, and that the doctor had called in a prescription to Andrew's Rexall Drugs. In the mid-1960s, drugstores still delivered. And we all know who the "delivery boys" were, at least in the segregated South.

SOON ENOUGH, there was a knock at the door. Back then, our house had no air conditioning. On that warm day, all the windows were wide open, and there was little fear that someone was going to burst through the screen door to rob, rape and kill you.

So the delivery man heard well when I ran toward the kitchen, yelling at the top of my lungs.

"Mama, the drugstore nigger's here!"

I think my mother had decency enough to be embarrassed as the man took her money and handed over the prescription as he muttered, "I'm not a nigger." I wonder what that poor man must have felt -- what a man old enough to be my father felt -- when this little white boy was blithely, naturally as he breathed in the air, running around the house announcing the presence of the fill-in-the-blank "nigger."

What does it do to a man to be so cavalierly dehumanized even by a small child? What does it do to a small child to so cavalierly dehumanize a man he ought to be calling "sir"? At least in a more rightly ordered society.

What does it do to a country when so much of what is considered "normality" is in reality cruel and inhuman?

It warps it, is what it does. It perpetuates an endless feedback loop of dysfunction.

I grew up in a sick society, as have many in this country. It takes a lifetime of hard work, introspection and (frankly) grace to overcome that. I'm still working on it.

Barack Obama's working on it, albeit from a different angle than I am. So is, I suspect, Jeremiah Wright, who comes from the perspective of that ill-fated drugstore delivery man . . . though it's obvious he has more work to do. Hurtful things -- the immense human tragedy of America's original sin -- have molded the retired pastor and led to anger that is righteous . . . to an extent.

BUT WHEN IT defines a man -- when it defines large segments of society -- it is no longer righteous. It just adds to the tragedy. Like the tragedy of a presidential candidate potentially going down in flames because he gave an angry old friend the benefit of the doubt.

Race (and racism) always has been a complicated matter in this country. And nowhere in this country has it been more complicated than in the Deep South.

I, the Caucasian son of racist children of racist parents in a racist land, just might be -- for all I know -- related to the angry (and black) Rev. Wright. I mean, if Barack Obama is kin to Dick Cheney, anything is possible.

A great uncle of mine was disowned by his family for marrying a Creole woman in New Orleans. Disowned by my grandfather who, I'm told, used to laugh about sleeping with black women who were good enough as sexual playthings but just not good enough to be a wife.

Or to treat as a human being.

I JUST FOUND OUT I have a black first cousin on the other side of the family. I wonder how many African-American aunts or uncles I might have on the philandering grandfather's.

And I wonder whether, in some cruel twist of fate, I might have been calling my own flesh and blood "nigger" when I was 4 -- back when evil was normative.

Revolution 21 breaking news alert

We interrupt your regularly scheduled program for this Revolution 21 special report. From our New York studios, here's finance correspondent Phillipa Fallon with breaking news on the U.S. economy.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Are you not the Fed? Save yourself and us.

Our nation's financial system is teetering on the edge of something. Something most assuredly not good.

Many think the stock market is about to respond accordingly. Try to avoid walking on Wall Street sidewalks today, but if that isn't an option, wear a hard hat and keep an eye on upper-floor windows.

From Bloomberg this early a.m.:

U.S. stocks are on the brink of the broadest bear market in four decades as investors ignore the strongest buy signals in almost 20 years.

The retreat by all 10 industries in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index pushed the measure down 18 percent since its Oct. 9 record and 12 percent since the start of the decade. The plunge resembles declines in the 1970s and 1930s, the two worst periods for U.S. equities in the past 80 years. The last six times the index has fallen by 20 percent, only once -- on Black Monday in 1987 -- has the sell-off been so encompassing.

``I tend to agree with the fellow who says, `Hey, this is the greatest financial crisis since World War II,''' said Jean- Marie Eveillard, 68, who runs the $21.3 billion First Eagle Global Fund in New York. The fund, which has returned an average 15.2 percent each year this decade compared with a less than 0.1 percent annualized gain for the S&P 500, has about 25 percent in cash and gold, more than its holdings in U.S. stocks. ``Investors who take the attitude that the economy will be slow in the first half and then it will turn around, they're probably dreaming.''

The declines have left companies in the S&P 500 trading at the cheapest levels in more than 18 years to forecast profits, while valuations versus 10-year Treasuries are the lowest in at least two decades. Investors aren't acting on the traditional buy signals in the midst of the worst housing slump since the Great Depression, $200 billion in bank losses tied to mortgages and the bailout of Bear Stearns Cos. last week by the Federal Reserve and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

JPMorgan Chase agreed today to buy Bear Stearns for about $240 million, less than a 10th of its value last week.

WHAT DOES it all mean? I don't know (apart from Probably Nothing Good), being that I am not an economist, and I don't play one on TV.

But I do have a question for you.

If it all falls apart -- the American economy and America's weatlth as a nation, that is -- who are we? Who are you?

Why are we?

And if any of the answers differ from what they were when we were all tap dancing atop our economic "bubbles," what does that say about us? Or, more specifically, about what we value?

Just asking some hard questions for hard times. That all this is coming to a head during Holy Week may not be an accident, because it's just too damned appropriate.

As we begin yet another commemoration of Christ's Passion, death and resurrection this week, we were reminding members our Catholic church's youth group Sunday night of one important thing: If you don't know suffering, you don't know Jesus.

Not really, you don't.

Such an alien concept in our spoiled, crass, vapid and gilded age. Could be our operating conceptualization is in for a big recontextualization, and we're going to have a big "come to Jesus" moment.

If we're lucky.