Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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The Bigger Story Behind Anti-Semitism in Texas

| Fri Dec. 10, 2010 7:00 AM EST

It's been an inspired couple of months for Texas conservatives. Gov. Rick Perry launched his national book tour by asserting his right to secede from Social Security; a state representative introduced a bill demanding that President Obama release his birth certificate; another state rep squatted in the capitol for two days and two nights to introduce immigration reform. Oh, and this photo happened. And now, after a historic landslide at the polls last month, Republican activists have taken aim at one of their own: House speaker Joe Straus. Straus is a moderate. He's also Jewish. Maybe you can see where this is headed.

Here's what John Cook, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, told the Texas Observer:

"I want to make sure that a person I'm supporting is going to have my values. It's not anything about Jews and whether I think their religion is right or Muslims and whether I think their religion is right...I got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office. They're the people that do the best jobs over all..."

Cook said his opposition was not about Straus' religion, although he prefers Christian candidates.

"They're some of my best friends," he said of Jews, naming two friends of his. "I'm not bigoted at all; I'm not racist."

Cook's something of a loon, as evidenced by his fantastically oblivious "some of my best friends" defense. But all of the cries of anti-Semitism do sort of seem to be glossing over one very obvious thing: Conservative Christian political activists generally think that being a conservative Christian makes you better qualified to hold public office. That's sort of the point.

To be clear, there's pretty compelling evidence that at least some of Straus' opponents have focused on his Judaism. But if he were a social-justice Catholic, or a moderate main-liner, or a progressive evangelical, he would still face a pretty intense push from conservative activists arguing that he is not a true Christian, or at least not a true conservative Christian. This has been a theme in just about every major contested election for the last few decades, and it's a sentiment that's well entrenched in the conservative movement. That he is literally not a Christian in this case is just a technicality.

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Julian Assange: Coming to a Nativity Scene Near You

| Thu Dec. 9, 2010 9:00 AM EST

Looking for the perfect holiday decoration to one-up that neighbor who synced his Christmas lights to Slayer? How about a statuette of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for your nativity scene. Seriously. Inspired by the silver-haired Australian's online escapades, a Naples creche creator has crafted an Assange figurine (holding a laptop, naturally) to go along with the more traditional Mary, Joseph, and Jesus ensemble. It's a Christmas miracle.

Reuters:

"I included him to poke a little fun at the world and have a good time," said Di Virgilio, 29, whose family has been making nativity statuettes and ornate creches since 1830. "In a sense, Assange is the man of the year," said Di Virgilio

There is only one copy of the Assange statuette, which costs 130 euros. Di Virgilio says he will make others on request. There are, however, multiple copies of statuettes of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that Italians can place in the manger with the Holy Family, the wise men, the ox and the sheep.

MoJo's profile of Assange last June suggested that he brings only a rucksack when he travels, so perhaps the laptop is a little ambitious.

The prospect of Assange attending the Nativity did make us wonder, though: What would a leaked State Department cable of the big event look like? After all, if this is how they report on a wedding in Dagestan, one can only imagine how the Roman ambassador might react to the birth of the Lord and one true savior:

SUBJECT: A BABY SHOWER IN BETHLEHEM

ROME 00000241200 001 OUT OF 001

SUMMARY

---------

On December 24th, attended an impromptu summit in Bethlehem, a midsized city under the control of King Herod. Herod projects a public image as a family man, although there have been reports he murdered no fewer than two of his children, and at least one wife. Opposition members have argued that Herod may suffer from fits of acute paranoia, citing his controversial proposal to summarily kill every first-born son in his kingdom. Analysts say the measure, if enacted, could lead to economic contraction in the near future, as the kingdom reacts to a dwindling labor supply and a suddenly aging populace.

[redacted]

As the newborn lay in the traditional oaken manger, the welcoming commitee, which included a cow, two sheep, one camel, and a quartet of cherubs, were seen to be looking on with unusual interest bordering on reverence. The adoration of the cherubs, however, did little to dispel whispered rumors about the identity of the child's biological father [redacted]. Visiting dignitaries arrived conspicuously late, lavishing gifts such as [redacted], [redacted], and [redacted] that seemed more appropriate for a deity than a first-time mother.

And MoJo copy editor, and resident WikiLeak guru, Adam Weinstein takes his stab below the jump.

Kentucky Offers Tax Breaks for Noah's Ark Theme Park

| Wed Dec. 1, 2010 6:00 PM EST

At a press conference in Frankfort today, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear announced his unlikely plan to save the state's economy—by offering a massive tax incentive to the planners of Ark Encounter, an eco-friendly Noah's Ark theme park to be built outside Cincinnati. Building a Genesis-based theme park, during a recession? Shouldn't he be focusing on Job?

Per the Herald-Leader:

During the news conference, Beshear was asked several questions regarding the separation of church and state and whether support of the project was constitutional.

He said the law does not allow him to discriminate against a for-profit business because of the subject matter. Not everyone supports NASCAR, the governor said, but that did not stop him for providing incentives to allow Kentucky Speedway to hold a Sprint cup race next year.

He said there was nothing "remotely unconstitutional" about the business and the economic impact it would have on the state.

A Noah's Ark theme park actually sounds like a lot of fun—animals (x2), water, "replica of the Tower of Babel"—and if it can replicate the success of the nearby Creation Museum (run by the same group, Answers in Genesis), it promises to be an economic boon. Eighty percent of the museum's visitors come from out of state, which means that, sinkholes permitting, they're likely to cram as much into their visit to Kentucky as possible. Beshear's justifications seem legally airtight—even American Atheists couldn't come up with any objections.

But it also amounts to a giveaway (as much as $37.5 million) to AiG, an organization that's committed to defeating secular science education; (the park promises educational exhibits to go with its amusements). And while Beshear says he'd be open to the same kind of deal with any for-profit religious organization, is there any realistic chance of anyone besides AiG creating something of this stature? The market for a Hijra-themed resort in Paducah seems a little dry right now.

What if Western States Were Organized by Water?

| Mon Nov. 29, 2010 3:35 PM EST

Map courtesy of USGSMap courtesy of USGSIt is a matter of public record that I'm an avid fan of weird maps. And over at the appropriately named Strange Maps blog, Frank Jacobs has unearthed a pretty neat one: John Wesley Powell's proposal to divide the western United States into a series of amoeba-like blobs amoeba-like water districts. Powell, the one-armed geologist who first mapped the Grand Canyon, believed that water management was the single most important issue facing regional development, and therefore the West should be governed accordingly. Per Jacobs:

Powell's warning at an irrigation congress in 1883 seems particularly prescient: "Gentlemen, you are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply the land." Powell must have been frustrated by the contrast between the way his achievements were lauded, and his warnings ignored...

Like Jefferson's states, the units proposed by Powell seem, well, the wrong shape. From a purely cartophile point of view, they don't work as well as the states that did eventually make the cut. Ironically, they lack the normality of the present batch of straight-border states. Or is that just the force of habit talking?

To jump to Powell's defense, I'd say the whole thing actually has a sort of Central Asian feel to it; you won't find any box-like Wyomings hovering around the Hindu Kush. The biggest problem, though, seems to be that these places would be even less populated than our existing western states. The southwestern corner New Mexico, for instance, gets its own hypothetical state/district, even though no one actually lives, or ever has lived, southwest of Las Cruces.

Anyways, Powell was prescient in that he understood that management of natural resources and environmental limits were going to be preeminent issues facing the nation a century hence. But he was obviously shortsighted in thinking that 21st-century (or 20th-century, or 19th-century) leaders might ever be moved to do anything about it. To wit: His amoeba plan was scrapped at the behest of...the railroad industry.

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