Where Have You Gone, Conn Conagher? 
Monday, June 5, 2006, 11:37 AM
“Hey mister, who gave you that shiner?”
“Nobody gave it to me, son – I fought for it.”

To get the full effect of that exchange between young Laban Teale and the rangy, rough-hewn cowhand Conn Conagher, it's best to imagine the wry reply being delivered in
Sam Elliott's sandpaper-on-leather drawl.

Like nearly all the heroes brought to life by the pen of the incomparable Louis L'Amour, Conagher was an unpretentious man who fought when he had to, but only to defend the innocent and vindicate the claims of honor – never to gratify his ego or in search of illicit gain. He had better things to do with his time than fighting, particularly when killing was involved.

The man who gave Conagher that shiner – and got much worse in exchange – was a turbulent criminal named Kiowa Staples. (The fight, not seen in the film, is described in the novel in detail and involves a whip.) Asked by a prospective employer about his “bust-up” with Staples, Conagher offers the most subtle of grins and explains: “We had a difficulty.”

He displays similar laconic restraint when asked at a trading post about two rifles he obtained fighting off a Comanche ambush. After Conagher explained that one of the assailants had escaped, one of the cowhands at the post – who had listened to Conn's account with envious skepticism – sarcastically asked why he hadn't pursued the Indian and killed him.

“Mister, nobody but a fool goes into the rocks after a wounded Comanche,” Conagher replies, his voice quietly contemptuous.

Conagher signs on to work with rancher Seaborn Tay, and discovers that a rival rancher has paid off several of the other hands – including a combustible bully named Chris Mahler – have been stealing Tay's livestock. Mahler knows that it's pointless to invite Conagher to join in the larceny, but he tries to browbeat him into “doing his job” -- meaning look the other way. Neither impressed nor intimidated by Mahler, Conagher drives him out of the outfit, setting up the brutal barroom fist-fight at the story's climax.

Thrust into a conflict with the rustlers, Conagher deals out his share of lead, and eventually takes a couple of rounds himself. “A man who kills when he doesn't have to is a damned fool,” he explains to a younger hand during a lull in one battle.

L'Amour's heroes could be described as fictional only in biographical details. A self-educated man who lived a life much more interesting than any of the stories he told, L'Amour knew scores of men like Conagher, Chick Bowdrie, and the others who populate his writing: Stoic, honorable men with great capacity for violence but the character to avoid it unless it was justified and necessary.

Authentic cowboys aren't braggarts or blatherskites. This is one of countless reasons I'm nauseated every time someone refers to the Connecticut-born Skull & Bonesman George W. Bush as a “cowboy.”

“My heroes have always been cowboys,” proclaims a bumpersticker popular with the GOP's Kool-Aid drinkers; the phrase serves as a caption to photos of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, neither of whom is a legitimate specimen of the breed. (It should be pointed out that Reagan, unlike Bush, actually worked for a living before going into politics and climbed from poverty to success on the strength of his own talents and labor.)

Bush's chief claim to heroic status consists of an ability to win elections and a penchant for dressing up in tough-guy drag. But nobody embodies the ersatz machismo favored by contemporary conservatism better than Bill O'Reilly, Fox “News” Channel's self-appointed tough guy.

During a recent interview on Fox's The Lineup, O'Reilly revisited his February 4, 2003 interview with Jeremy Glick,a peace activist whose father was killed during the September 11 attacks on New York City.

Diminutive, meek, and well-spoken, Glick quietly stated as much of his case against the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as O'Reilly would let him, and yielded not a single millimeter in the face of the harassment, interruptions, and attempted intimidation from the host. O'Reilly repeatedly told Glick to “shut up” and ended the “interview” by telling the off-screen crew to “cut his mic.” The segment ends with O'Reilly gesturing to off-screen security guards to escort Glick from the set.

Immortalized in the documentary Outfoxed, the Jeremy Glick segment clearly shows a bully getting the worst of a scrap he did everything to provoke. That's not how O'Reilly sees the episode when he replays it in the theater of his mind, of course.

“I am glad I gave him what-for,”
he boasted to his Fox cohorts on The Lineup.
“I did give him what-for, you might remember that. I'm glad I did.”

Imagine a High School senior boasting about fighting his eight-year-old sister to a draw, emerging from the tussle with a shiner while leaving the little girl's face unmarked, and you'd have a fair approximation of the repulsive spectacle O'Reilly offers.

Of course, from O'Reilly's perspective (which, to be fair, in his derangement is probably the version he really recalls), it was Glick who was “out of control,” a rampaging bully intimidating everybody on the set, and O'Reilly was ready – really! -- to unload on him: “If I could have whacked him, I would have.”

At the time of the interview, O'Reilly's fan-boys at at Freerepublic.com – sort of an on-line opium den for people hopelessly addicted to vicarious machismo – were eager to play the part of schoolyard sycophants to the class bully.

“I'd like to punch out the little POS!” exclaimed one heroic Freeper. “That Glick punk should be slapped silly,” agreed a second. “That kids needs a good punch!” chimed a third. “The best part was when they were going to commercial and the O'Reilly music came on -- Bill O'Reilly motioned to one of his guys off camera to throw the kid out!” swooned yet another.

Yes, few things scream “tough guy” louder than gesturing to hired goons to deal with a small, well-mannered pacifist.

Few things better capture the Freeper syndrome better than this comment from the thread about the O'Reilly-Glick fracas: “I was watching it. I could never do live TV. I would have been in a fistfight, and I would have won. I would have whupped his a--.”

Conn Conagher – a fictional character drawn faithfully on the model of thousands of real-life Americans – wasn't inclined to boast about battle scars honorably won in single combat. Heroism as defined by O'Reilly and Freeper-style conservatives is a little less demanding.

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As If We Didn't Have Enough to Worry About... 
Saturday, June 3, 2006, 09:24 AM
... a physicist in India believes that earth may be undergoing an extra-terrestrial invasion at the microbial level:

“Godfrey Louis’s laboratory in southern India may hold, well, aliens. In April, Louis, a solid-state physicist at Mahatma Gandhi University, published a paper in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Astrophysics and Space Science in which he hypothesizes that the samples—water taken from the mysterious blood-colored showers that fell sporadically across Louis’s home state of Kerala in the summer of 2001—contain microbes from outer space.”

Louis has isolated a group of “strange, thick-walled, red-tinted cell structures about 10 micros in size” that lack identifiable DNA, yet appear to be replicating themselves, and survive in water heated to 600 degrees.

Dr. Louis has suggested that the particles “could be extraterrestrial bacteria adapted to the harsh conditions of space and that the microbes hitched a ride on a comet or meteorite that later broke apart in the upper atmosphere and mixed with rain clouds above India” before precipitating to the surface in “mysterious blood-colored showers” that occurred in Kerala during the summer of 2001.

Last winter, Louis sent a sample of the anomalous cells to astronomer Chandra Wickramasinghe at Cardiff University in Wales. Wicramasinghe is the co-author of “the modern theory of panspermia, which posts that baceria-riddled space rocks seeded life on earth. `If it's true that life was introduced by comets four billion years ago,' the astronomer says, `one would expect tha microorganisms are still injected into our environment from time to time. This could be one of those events.'”

Of course, it's possible that a less exotic explanation for the cells could be found. If Dr. Louis's suspicions are correct, opines Popular Science, “the cells would be the first confirmed evidence of alien life and, as such, could yield tantalizing new clues to the origins of life on Earth.”

As one who accepts the Genesis account of our origins, I'll follow this story with a certain interested detachment. As a long-time consumer of science fiction, including borderline apocalyptic works like Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain, I devoutly hope the scientists examining those cells are exceptionally fastidious about containment protocols.

In Diseases from Space, a 1979 collaboration with Dr. Fred Hoyle, Dr. Wickramasinghe suggested that the Black Death that ravaged fourteenth century Europe resulted from “vertical transmission” of extraterrestrial diseases that were then “horizontally” transmitted among humans and animals. Under this theory, earth is subject to periodic showers of space-borne organic material.

“For Hoyle and Wicramasinghe the history of human disease is a kind of `pathogenic test' of this rain of organic matter from space,” summarizes New York University medievalist Norman Cantor in his 2001 book In the Wake of The Plague: The Black Death and the World it Made. “In their view all diseases ultimately have an extraterrestrial origin.... Once introduced, a vertically transmitted disease can establish reservoirs of contagion, which can sustain it for a period, potentially even for centuries, without further intervention by non-terrestrial sources. Tuberculosis is seen as such an ever-present disease. Other diseases establish reservoirs but diminish in potency until boosted by a further fall of extraterrestrial pathogens. Smallpox is an example of such an illness.”

Under this model, bubonic plague “is a prime example of a disease chiefly attributed to vertical transmission,” Dr. Cantor continues, because it appears in sudden bursts separated by many centuries.” The last outbreak took place in China in 1894 before spreading to India.

On a brighter note...

I love stories like this:

“A two-year-old Caldwell [Idaho] boy was found safe Wednesday [May 31] after spending the night alone in a remote desert area of Malheur County.”

Bryce Hinton, who had slept under the stars clad only in a t-shirt, pants, and tennis shoes, was found by two women on horseback near Oregon's Mud Flat area. An intensive search had begun when Bryce went missing from his family after dinner. The Malheur County Sheriff's Office and Search and Rescue Team was aided by state police, the Bureau of Land Management, elements of the Idaho National Guard, numerous local residents and four aircraft (two of them choppers) were all involved in the hunt for little Bryce.

In addition to temperatures that plunged into the upper 30s, Bryce was in danger from a cougar that was prowling the area. Bryce was found near a stock pond, another potentially lethal hazard to the toddler. “We were thrilled this child was found alive,” exulted Malheur County Sheriff Andy Bentz.

As I've shared earlier, our son Jefferson – four at the time -- briefly went missing earlier this year, only to be found curled up in a very secure hiding place in our home. No nightmare can compare to the prospect of losing a child. And no blessing can compare to finding a child once thought to be lost.

God be praised that little Bryce was found, alive and unharmed.

And may God comfort those parents of lost children who have not known that blessing.
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Of "Core Values" and Unjust War 
Thursday, June 1, 2006, 12:41 PM
Imagine a blind man offering his services as an art instructor, and you'll get some sense of the futility of the Pentagon offering “core values training” to the US soldiers deployed in Iraq.

As the official inquiry into the reported massacre in Haditha unfolds, all US military personnel in Iraq “will view a slide presentation with vignettes that highlight the importance of adhering to legal, moral and ethical standards on the battlefield,” reports ABC News. “The directive emphasizes professional military values, the importance of disciplined professional conduct in combat and an explanation of what to expect of Iraqi culture.”

I am willing to bet a month's salary that the discussion of “what to expect of Iraqi culture” will not include this self-evident truth:

When people find themselves on the receiving end of an unwarranted foreign attack, they will get angry and fight back against the invaders in any way they can – and they are entitled to. Were our nation invaded by a foreign power possessing an overwhelming military advantage, Americans would set roadside bombs, seek refuge in civilian dwellings, and kill the enemy without remorse. It wouldn't matter to us one bit if the invaders justified the invasion in humanitarian terms, or invoked their “superior” political and cultural insights. We would fight as hard as we could, for as long as it takes, to expel the foreign invaders from our home soil.

That is true about any human culture – American, Iraqi, whatever. The defense of one's family, home, and homeland from foreign aggression is a “core value” all people instinctively understand. It is getting people to forget or ignore that reality that requires the type of indoctrination our troops will have to undergo.

The critical question about the Iraq war is this: Which side in that conflict is fighting the type of war described above, the only type of war that can be morally justified?

If you are fighting on your home soil, with your family at your back, against an invader whom you have not materially wronged in any way, your war is justified.

Is that a description of the war our government is waging in Iraq? Or of the war that some (by no means all) Iraqis are waging against our government in that country?

There is a moral center of gravity in every human being. Christians understand this to be the law inscribed on our hearts by the Creator. Part of that law dictates that it is wrong to allow harm to come to innocent people, if it resides within the power and responsibility of the individual to prevent it. For this reason, as a father and head of a home, I am required, by God's law, to prevent harm to my wife and children. When defending them from mortal harm requires that blood be shed, killing is justified.

The only time it is permissible for a man to kill, in my view, is when neglecting to do so would leave innocent people for whom he is responsible exposed to immediate lethal danger. This doesn't mean that I can go bust a cap in my neighbor because he could someday pose a threat. But it does mean that if an armed invader violates the sanctity of my home and puts my family at risk I am entirely justified -- before God's law, and before men where God's law is respected – in killing that invader by any means at my disposal.

While I am an American – something for which I thank God every day, and that will never change – I recognize that the same moral law would apply were I a Mexican, an Iraqi, or any other variety of human being.

One appropriate illustration of the moral inversion at work in the Iraq war is found in a term of art coined by the Bush regime's propagandists to describe irregular Iraqi forces fighting against the US-led occupation: According to Washington, those guerrillas are “anti-Iraqi forces.” That label is suitable to describe foreign Jihadis who now infest Iraq. But how can a native-born Iraqi man, fighting in his own neighborhood to expel a foreign enemy, be honestly described as part of an “anti-Iraqi” force?

It is a universal, God-given right to use lethal force to defend one's home.

The overwhelming majority of US fighting men in Iraq not only understand that principle, but were prompted to join the military because it was so strongly understood by them.

This is manifestly not the case regarding the loathsome individuals – the word “men” doesn't apply here – who preside over our government. They have thrust our soldiers, most of whom are essentially decent and patriotic men, into a situation in which they are the aggressors, invading the communities and homes of people who have done our country no injury.

In combat – from what I understand as a student, not a participant – the dominant impulse is to protect one's buddies, with a passionate, instinctive fury akin to that of a father defending his home.

So – what happens when decent men are ordered by dishonorable politicians to invade and occupy distant communities? The invaders come under attack from people defending their homes, and retaliate in predictable fashion when their buddies are killed. And here is where it gets really nasty: The commendable instinct of American soldiers to protect their buddies collides with the equally instinctive recognition that the insurgents are doing exactly what Americans would do if the roles were reversed.

What happens, most likely, is a complete moral meltdown – of the sort that apparently happened in Haditha.

The war in Iraq is a crime against our Constitution, against God and Man – and in a very specific sense a crime against the honor of the men who volunteer to serve in defense of our country. Putting the criminals responsible in charge of recalibrating the “core values” of our fighting men would compound that crime beyond measure. It would place the moral onus of this un-Godly, illegal war on the soldiers, not the politicians who have betrayed them – which pretty much sums up the policy of the depraved people running the Bush regime.

There simply is no moral and decent way to prosecute an immoral and indecent war of aggression.

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Congressional Hypocrisy 101 
Wednesday, May 31, 2006, 10:03 AM
It is very rare when our “public servants” actually render a service to the public, and when this happens it is almost always unintentional.

Such is the case with the quite ironic service provided by Wisconsin Republican Representative James Sensenbrenner through his flatigious hypocrisy over civil liberties.

Almost exactly one year ago, Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, “gaveled a hearing to a close and walked out while Democrats continued to testify” during a hearing about the artlessly mis-named PATRIOT Act.

On the previous day, Sensenbrenner had been a study in tranquility as a conga line of Republican shills endorsed the Bush regime's demand that the PATRIOT [sic] Act be renewed. By way of response, committee Democrats – acting out of partisan motives, of course, but at this point any attempt to slow down the garrison state juggernaut is welcome – attempted re-cast the debate by discussing the regime's escalating assault on civil liberties in general.

“We ought to stick to the subject,” groused Sensenbrenner. “The Patriot [sic] Act has nothing to do with Guantanamo Bay. The Patriot [sic] Act has nothing to do with enemy combatants. The Patriot [sic!!!] Act has nothing to do with indefinite detention.”

After hurling a few additional words of rebuke in the direction of the witnesses, Sensenbrenner banged his gavel and – in a touch reminiscent of the Soviet Politburo -- ordered the microphones to be cut off before waddling out of the Rayburn House Office Building, leaving the choking stench of lawless arrogance in his wake.

As I said, that was Sensenbrenner, circa June 2005.

Yesterday (May 30), Sensenbrenner convened another Judiciary Committee hearing, this time to hold the administration accountable for what he considers an unconscionable abuse of police power: The May 20 FBI raid on the Capitol Hill office of Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), who is the focus of a bribery investigation. That raid, according to Sensenbrenner, represented an assault by the executive branch on the rights of the legislative branch.

Sensenbrenner, along with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), insists that while no tangible damage has been done – yet – as a result of the raid, there's a critical principle involved:

“A constitutional question is raised when communications between Members of Congress and their constituents, documents having nothing to do with any crime – are seized by the Executive Branch without constitutional authority. This seizure occurred without so much as lawyers or representatives of Congress being allowed to simply observe the search and how it was conducted. Neither was anyone representing the institutional interests of Congress allowed to make a case before a judge raising these important separation of powers issues.”

This is the same Sensenbrenner, mind you, that just a few weeks ago attached his name to a ghost-written USA Today op-ed column that demanded we take the Bush regime's word for it that no violations of civil liberties had occurred on account of the PATRIOT [sic] Act.

“Six reports by the Justice Department's independent inspector general ... found no violations,” Sensenbrenner's aide, writing in his boss's voice, insisted. “Intense public scrutiny has yet to find a single civil liberty abuse. Despite many challenges, no federal court has declared unconstitutional any Patriot [sic] Act provisions Congress is renewing.”

The problem with those assurances, as Republican Senator Larry Craig (Idaho) and Democrat Senator Dick Durbin (Illinois) point out (as summarized by the Washington Post), is that the act “makes it nearly impossible for Congress to provide thorough oversight and investigate possible misuses of the law.”

Which means that Sensenbrenner couldn't offer an honest and adequate assessment of the PATRIOT [sic] Act's impact on the civil liberties of the citizenry, were he inclined to pursue the truth, which he manifestly isn't.

Ah, but when Congress is in the crosshairs – well ....

Suddenly we hear Sensenbrenner inveighing against unaccountable power, and we see him listening politely to testimony from liberal Democrats like Rep. John Conyers of Michigan – and behold, in rapt astonishment, the spectacle of Sensenbrenner, who dutifully served as surrogate mother for the PATRIOT [sic] Act, threatening subpoena Attorney General Gonzalez and FBI Director Mueller to be interrogated about the raid on Rep. Jefferson's office.

All of this outrage was provoked by the possibility that the raid on the offices of a corrupt Congressman (with the tiniest of exceptions, to say the latter is to imply the former) may have interfered with legitimate communications between the Representative and his constituents.

Had Sensenbrenner displayed so much as a visible tremor of concern over civil liberties issues in the past, he might have a particle of credibility now. But he did perform a useful service by making vivid the political class's corruption, self-regard, and contempt for the public weal.

Any worthwhile discussion of civil liberties must begin with James Madison's precautionary principle of government power, as expressed in his Memorial and Remonstrance: “The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself in exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle; and they avoided the consequence by denying the principle.”

From Madison's perspective, it doesn't matter whether abuses are presently occurring; the question is whether a grant of power to government can facilitate abuse, and if so, how to immunize the public against those abuses – assuming, of course, that government should receive that grant of power in the first place.

Right now – once again, for largely if not exclusively cynical reasons – Democrats have embraced Madison's approach. Republicans, on the other hand, treat such concerns as distant kindred to treason.

But congressional Donkeys and Elephants have no difficulty reaching across the narrow partisan divide to form a common front in defense of their own status.

It's tempting to think that this whole controversy was concocted as a way to offer protective coloration for House Republicans: It gives them a chance to belch out a few defiant soundbites condemning the abuse of civil liberties by the Bush regime, while doing nothing to impede the rollout of America's version of the V'Cheka.

It's clear that the GOP congressional leadership is following exactly that approach regarding the proposed Bush amnesty for illegal immigrants: House Republicans get to play Horatius at the bridge, beating back the Bush-abetted alien invasion. They get to distance themselves from a president who is polling just above dysentery. The White House is willing to play along in the interest of keeping at least one chamber of Congress in Republican hands as impeachment insurance. And best of all, from the perspective of statists of all hues, the immigration debate is framed in a way that almost guarantees a larger, more invasive government.

To reiterate and enlarge upon a point I've made before: While we must gain control over our borders, we would gain nothing, and lose practically everything, if we have secure borders around our country, and a police state within.

Right now, the entire conservative movement, without exception, is eagerly playing its scripted role in the GOP's little border control tragi-comedy. The real tragedy here is that there is not so much as one conservative or constitutionalist organization that has placed the preservation of individual liberty at the center of its agenda.
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Notes and Natterings 
Saturday, May 27, 2006, 06:17 PM
"Retconning” the Iraq War

As an unabashed sci-fi geek, I am familiar with the narrative trick called “retconning,” or “retroactive continuity.”

It has become increasingly common for writers and producers to iron out contradictions and clarify ambiguities in films, TV series, and comic serials by inserting critical details into prequels, or even in revised versions of existing productions. Particularly egregious examples of this practice can be found in the revised versions of the original Star Wars films.

Retconning is rampant in Star Trek and Star Wars fan fiction and commentaries, much of it inspired by the mystifying need some people have to vindicate the infallible wisdom of Gene Roddenberry or George Lucas.

Retconning a lot of pointless, harmless fun – at least where science fiction is concerned. The same can't be said for people who insist on confecting post-facto justifications for wars of aggression.

Defenders of the Bush administration – and a more desperate and dishonest lot you'll never find – are trying to pull the same trick with respect to Bush's war in Iraq.

Richard Miniter's recent column in Investor's Business Daily, purporting to demonstrate significant pre-911 ties between Saddam's regime and al-Qaeda, is a useful example of “retconning” the Iraq war.

Rummaging through an omnium gatherum of now-discredited Bush administration assertions, dubious testimony from defectors and Chalabi-style “sources,” and speculative media reports, Miniter concludes that “al-Qaida and the Iraqis certainly had a lot of meetings, money changed hands, some terrorist training seems to have occurred in Iraq, a lot of personnel—including Zarqawi— moved freely through the Iraqi police state. In other words, there are connections.”

Ah. “Connections.” Faint, tenuous, largely hypothetical in some cases, but sufficient to the needs of an apologist unburdened by ethics or conscience – the sort of folks who are just as out of place in the “reality-based community” as unhinged Star Trek fans who claim to be citizens of the United Federation of Planets, or Star Wars fanboys who list “Jedi” as their religious affiliation.

“On the strength of much weaker evidence, Saudi Arabia is "connected" to al-Qaida,” whines Miniter in his conclusion. “Why is Iraq the one nation given the benefit of the doubt?”

Iraq got the “benefit of the doubt”? That's funny – I'd gotten the impression that Iraq, rather than Saudi Arabia, had been invaded and occupied.

Of course, there are those of us who cling to the idea that we should list and carefully scrutinize the reasons for war before we attack, as part of a congressional debate over a declaration of war, just as the Constitution specifies.

“It has become fashionable in recent months to say that the US invaded Iraq for `lots of reasons,'” comments Neal B. Freeman of the Blackwell Group in the current issue of American Spectator. Freeman, a recently retired member of National Review's Board of Directors, discusses the pre-war debates at the magazine prior to the war.

“The notion that we invaded Iraq for `lots of reasons' ... misses the point. There was only one `reason' thatpermitted the President to take the country to war: the presence of weapons of mass destruction.”

Freeman, who has deep and decades-long connections with elite defense, intelligence, and diplomatic agencies, spoke at length with his contacts in the months leading up to the war. “What struck me was that, over the course of the 18 months between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, I never encountered a single professional who knew that the case for WMD had been established,” he recalls. Yet at National Review's board meetings there “were no takers for my brief,” and the magazine offered an unqualified endorsement for the war, later excommunicating unbelievers as “unpatriotic conservatives.”

Pat Robertson: The World's Strongest Man ...?

So Pat Robertson claims to have leg-pressed a ton, with the the help of a secret youth elixir of his invention.

This was reportedly done with the good Reverend was 73 years old,which would mean that at an age when most men have outlived their warranty, Robertson was setting world records.

Although there's no reliable photographic or video chronicle of that record-setting feat, which is all the more remarkable, since leg press sleds aren't designed to hold 2,000 pounds of weight plates.

Big whoop. Hindu mystic Sri Chinmoy, guru to virtuoso guitarists like John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana, spiritual adviser to the United Nations, composer of a “peace blossom” poem that briefly disfigured the Statue of Liberty, a figure regarded as a divine avatar by his followers – he can lift three and a half tons over his head.
With one hand.

Hey, I'm not kidding – check out the photographic evidence for yourself.

Like the Rev. Robertson, Sri Chinmoy gives credit for his achievements to divine aid, and his own special nutritional supplements. Using the same training protocols and lifting techniques, Chinmoy has also lifted elephants, automobiles, and even aircraft.

Of course, Chinmoy's “lifts” are performed with the aid of an apparatus that does most of the work.

And Robertson's “leg press” method, as captured on video during a session working up to 1,000 pounds, is actually a very sloppy partial movement involving a great deal of momentum.

In a legitimate leg press, the lifter's knees will be curled up against his chest. Robertson's knees barely flex, and in performing the exercise he cheats by pressing against his knees with his hands. The range of motion involved in the movement – shall we call it a “Marion Lift,” in recognition of the Reverend's real first name? -- is a few inches.

But hey – all of us guys like to pad our lifting totals just a little, don't we?

I've leg-pressed more than 1,000 pounds, and I'm familiar with the body type of those who perform that exercise in loads of that magnitude. Most of them share my basic configuration: Short legs, very large thighs, and a barrel chest. Pat Robertson, a tall, slender man in his 70s, does not have the physical infrastructure to withstand any significant fraction of the weight he claims to have lifted. This should be obvious to anybody with two functioning eyes and a capacity for critical thought.

The same is true of the case against the Iraq war, of course. If people are going to indulge in willful self-delusion, I would vastly prefer that they swallow the weightlifting claims of Robertson and Chinmoy, rather than the murderous – and even more patently obvious – lies peddled by the regime in defense of its demented wars of aggression.

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