Monday, December 25, 2006

Traditional Christmas Post

It's Christmas, boys and girls. Let's not be political today.

OK, one thing. There is no "War on Christmas." And anyone who says so is not, themselves, a good Christian. Know why?
Matthew 22:37 Jesus said unto him "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
But here in America, we have people trying to start fights based on preventing their neighbor from celebrating Hanukkah, Ramadan, the Hindu festival Makar Sankranti, Shakyamuni Buddha Day, or a day to meditate on the Tantric Bodhisattva Goddess Red Tara, or basically any holiday other than Christmas.

That's not "loving," that’s "discriminating." It's a subtle difference, but I'm pretty sure that it's one that Christ would have made, too.

Anyway, let's talk about movies.

I was watching the kids of some friends of ours, and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" came on. The real one, not the Jim Carrey bastardization.

I'm willing to say that two out of three Jim Carrey movies are worth watching. His Grinch is a nice homage to the original, but it isn't as good as watching Chuck Jones' animation, and listening to Boris Karloff reading the story and Tony the Tiger (Thurl Ravenscroft) singing. It just doesn't get any better than that.

But, as I said, the real Grinch came on, and I told the boys that "this is the best Christmas movie ever made." There was a little fussing at first (Spongebob Squarepants was coming on, after all), but within seconds, they were hooked.

Grinch, however, was followed by A Christmas Story. And, you know something? I've never seen that movie. I know dozens of people who can quote lines by heart, and who see it every year. So I tried to watch it.

You know something? I think that I'm too old to watch it. You had to be a certain age, and interested in a certain type of humor, to see it the first time (or maybe to be old enough to remember when life in America was like that), and apparently I don't fall into the right era or something. I was bored.

I tried to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas this year, too. Again, I was bored. Maybe I've seen it too many times. It was cute, but it didn't do much for me.

On the other hand, some of the Christmas specials I watched as a child probably wouldn't do much for me anymore, either. And in that category, I count pretty much all of the Rankin/Bass collection ("The Little Drummer Boy" disappeared many years ago from the major networks - did you know that José Ferrer was one of the featured voices in that? - but I'm willing to bet that it's available on one of the religious cable channels).

Every few years, I watch It's a Wonderful Life again. If you don't watch it too often, it's good - it holds up a lot better than most movies from 1946. I'm pretty sure that it would get old if I watched it every year, but I know people who do just that.

I mean, if you're seriously looking for a new holiday movie, let me just give you a few choices. Try The Nightmare Before Christmas (which Disney wouldn't release under their own imprint because Michael Eisner felt it was "too dark for children" - it ended up being released under Touchstone).

There's always the obviously-named Christmas Vacation - definitely the best of a played-out series. Chevy Chase does the slapstick and deadpan acting that would have made him rich (if it wasn't for the drugs, anyway). This movie actually can (and probably should) be watched without ever seeing any of the other movies in the Vacation series. (This movie, by the way, includes the last screen appearance of Mae Questal, the voice of the original Betty Boop).

If you're in the mood for an action film, you can't really beat Die Hard (although God knows they tried to beat it to death with the sequels).

However, for the most recent "Christmas Classic," I'd say that my money would have to be on Denis Leary's The Ref, an amazingly funny movie about dysfunctional people running full-speed into each other.

There. That pretty much covers it. Except, of course, for the movies I completely ignored. Maybe I'll talk about them some other time. Maybe not.

Deal with it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Well, if it isn't Christ, then it must be...

Let's look at the latest bit of insanity being propagated by our friends on the Far Right.

For a long time, there has been a war against science by the Religious Right. It started back before it was even considered a Right/Left issue. The early Catholic church kept their services in Latin, and ensured that there were no copies of the Bible translated out of Latin, in order to keep power over the uneducated.

It's a simple rule: if the people can't understand it, then they can't argue against it. And looking around, we find that same philosophy cropping up in politics again.

You would think that evolution is a dead argument (so to speak). It isn't really a "theory" (in the sense that it might be the way things happened, but there's an equal chance that it didn't). It's called the "theory of evolution" in the sense that we haven't been alive and sentient for 5 billion years, and so there are parts of it that we can't explain fully.

On the other hand, evolution is the structure that far too much of science is built around. We can point to massive amounts of evidence that shows that evolution is at work in the world today. We can prove that evolution is continuing (OK, everywhere except in Kansas and the Crystal Cathedral).

We can even show that evolution is perfectly in line with Christian belief - the book of Genesis says that God built the world in seven days. We'll ignore that whole "no sun, no days" argument here, and accept that "day" was a metaphor for an uncounted period of time (they covered that in Inherit the Wind, didn't they?). We'll just ask one simple question. Where does Genesis state that evolution wasn't the mechanism that God used to create life? Are you saying that God has to stick to some human timetable?

And my wife pointed out an interesting argument. If you really want to get picky, go back to the King James version of the Bible. God gets all the time He needs to get the job done right.
"These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens." Genesis 2:4
They screwed that up in other translations - "This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created" (NIV) - but old Jamie Rex has the answer for you right there: time isn't a fixed concept for God. Just for Man. (It's the only thing my wife remembers from Sunday School. Her teacher must have been so proud.)

And oddly enough, there are a large number of people who can accept the fact that evolution and God can be in the same room without starting a fight.

Meanwhile, though, if you wander through the South (and particularly in Baptist churches), you keep hearing about "Eee-evil-utionists," and how they're trying to keep God out of our children's lives.

It's the same old story. If there's something complicated (like evolution), and you can keep people in the dark about how it works, then you can lie to them about it, and twist the truth to fit your agenda.

The same can be said about homosexuality. It's the one issue that people refuse to agree on. You've got people who find it disgusting (and people who find it enticing but have been trained to believe that it's disgusting), who cannot accept that there are some people who are attracted to people of the same sex.

OK, let's rephrase that last sentence. It should read like this: "You've got people who cannot accept that there are men who are attracted to other men."

Because, for the most part, lesbians aren't disgusting - it's more like "Yeah, women should like other women, until they get a real man like me, in there between 'em..." And then the whole fantasy breaks down into a lot of sweaty, steamy panting.

Let's be real for a minute. Guys, listen up.
They aren't called "lesbians" because they like guys! They're lesbians because they don't want you in the room with them!

And most of the time, they can beat you up if you try to join in, too!
Sorry, that's kind of off the topic. What we're supposed to be talking about is the War on Science.

This is one of those places where the Religious Right coincides with the Political Right. Both sides want to keep science as one of those Big, Scary Things That Nobody Understands. Because it helps them. On the religious side, people are more accepting of the Bible as "the unaltered Word of God" if they haven't read it.

On the political side, people won't believe in "global warming" if they don't have a high school education, and can't understand how pollutants in the atmosphere might alter how the sunlight affects the earth.

Ignorance helps both groups, so they work together to keep people ignorant. Which brings us to today's topic.

Our friends at the World News Daily have a new theory they'd like to bounce off of you. Soy makes you gay.

Feel free to read the article. It's fascinating. It contains enough crap per paragraph to poison an entire crop of spinach. The author, Jim Rutz (who is not a doctor, by the way - he's a minister) wants you to know that not only does soy "feminize" men, it makes everybody fat! (The McDonalds' "Dollar Menu" has nothing to do with that, right?) And it causes leukemia, too! (No, really. It does. Trust us.)

Oh, by the way, you don't need to worry about soy sauce. "Unlike soy milk, it's perfectly safe because it's fermented, which changes its molecular structure. Miso, natto and tempeh are also OK, but avoid tofu." (Have you ever seen natto? Nasty stuff - let's not even get into it.) This is a simple correction, but it means that the soy product that most people have in their cupboards, soy sauce, is nothing they need to worry about. It makes the masses feel better about ordering Chinese food, I guess.

Now, why do we find this particular line of crap in a far right, religious website? It's simple. See, the "perfect" televangelist is, himself, perfect. Like the Pope, he can't be questioned, because God talks through him.

But just lately, too many evangelical leaders are showing themselves to be gay. Ted Haggard, for example, was not only seeing a gay prostitute, but tweaking on crystal meth at the time. (This is nothing new, by the way. Look up the story of Jim Bakker sometime.)

But if the leaders of the evangelical movement are gay, and they've been preaching against gay sex, then what are the people to believe?

Well, if you listen to Jim Rutz and his soy theory, it isn't their fault! They aren't gay! They just had too much soy!

Sadly for him, people are gradually starting to realize that maybe the Word being preached doesn't necessarily come from the Lord. Jesus Christ preached about helping the poor, feeding the hungry, and not screwing up the world the God created.

Maybe, if more people read the New Testament (and actually thought about what those words in red were trying to say), they'd start to wonder whose word Jerry Falwell was actually preaching.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I've been rude this week

Apparently, I stopped being polite to people at some point. (Not that politeness have ever been a hallmark of my attitude, but... well, you know, we try to do better...)

First, I saw this story in the Washington Post, and decided to email Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA). Admittedly, he isn't my Representative (by all appearances, she is still going to be Heather Wilson, sadly), but he pissed me off anyway. I gave it the subject line "Congratulations on the publicity."
Dear Representative Kingston,

I just read the story in the December 6 Washington Post where you complain about the unreasonable strain working five days a week would put on your homelife.

"Keeping us up here eats away at families," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who typically flies home on Thursdays and returns to Washington on Tuesdays. "Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families -- that's what this says."

I’m fortunate, in that I can make it (barely) on a job working eight hours a day, five days a week. I know far too many people who work long hours, or two jobs (didn’t Bush call a lady working three jobs “uniquely American” two years ago?). I was in the military for 21 years, and while there, I was most often working 14-hour days, sometimes seven days per week (when we weren’t on call and essentially working 24-hour days).

And you have the unmitigated gall to complain about working more than three days per week? You worked all of 103 days this session. This tells me that you have absolutely no work ethic.

On top of which, you’re earning a six-figure income for this minimal effort. You might as well be stealing directly from your constituent’s wallets – you definitely aren’t doing enough work for the salary you’re pocketing.

If you’re going to complain about the unfairness of your overpaid job, it’s time to quit and return to the private sector. We need government representatives willing to work for us.

I’ll sign off now. I have more to say on this subject, but I don’t have time to write it out for you.

I have work to do.
I can't say that I'm surprised that Jackie didn't write me back. But he did post a blog entry where (imagine my shock) this whole mess was the fault of the Democrats and the liberal Washington Post. (OK, admittedly, it's entitled "Jack's Blog," but I'm going to hope that it's written by an aide. Because otherwise, Jack talks about himself in the third person, and that's just weird.)

Jackie-boy, that argument doesn't hold water, since what you said was "Keeping us up here eats away at families. Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families -- that's what this says."

You didn't say "I have important work to do at home." You basically said "I wanna be with my wife a lot more than I wanna be in Washington."

But then, last night, my father emailed me. Now, understand that my father is a life-long Republican. And, knowing the political affiliations of my sister and I, he likes to occasionally send us Rush Limbaugh-style jokes and rants that he's found somewhere. Usually, I scan them to make sure that they aren't anything original to him, and delete them. Not this time.

It wasn't even something particularly insulting. Usually, I might read it for the irony, and then move on. Not this time - he hit me in just the wrong mood, I guess.
For My Democrat Friends:

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere . Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

By accepting these greetings, you are accepting the aforementioned terms as stated. This greeting is not subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wishor to actually implement any of the wishes for herself/himself/others, and is void where prohibited by law and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wishor.

For My Republican Friends:
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Yeah. High humor, there. So anyway, I sent the following reply.
For my (strangely, despite the pride I once had in his ethics and good sense) Republican father, try to stay comfortable despite all evidence that the world is insane.

Remember, ignore all science. Global warming is a lie. Stem cells hold no promise. Evolution is a myth.

Ignore history. Invasions of other countries can work. Diplomacy is a stupid idea - you can't negotiate with your enemies. And a government composed entirely of people who dodged the draft can plan a war. (Except Rumsfeld - he trained fighters for a while, four or five decades ago. Of course, he quit, didn't he? Or was he fired? It's hard to tell.) And it's not a civil war.

Ignore common sense. Staying in Iraq is good. We can't win if we quit. And they're only attacking our troops because they want to affect the outcome of the election... oh, wait...

And ignore personalities. Pretend that your son has frequently filled his language with useless, empty syllables, for any reason other than humorous effect.

For my Democrat sister:
Peace out
And, you know, I think I showed great restraint. His new wife is a Catholic, so I didn't say anything about having to ignore the fact that the Pope was once a member of the Hitler Youth (and then a member of the German infantry). That might have been over the top.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

If you think that, you don't know Dick...

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, November gave us a victory for freedom and the American Way, right? The Democrats were swept into office by a wave of people who finally got tired of being lied to, and for the next two years, Bush and his cronies are going to find their hands tied, right? They won't be able to launch any bizarre neocon plots, and butterflies and puppies will rain down on the people of this once-great land, right?

Don't be too sure.

Yes, Democrats now have a majority in both houses of Congress, but don't think that's going to change anything. The next two years are probably going to be one fight after another, with George Bush trying to do something, Congress shooting him down, and Bush going ahead and doing it anyway. And why?

Two words: Dick Cheney.

Cheney has been a big supporter of the President-as-King theory of democracy (or, in the more graceful Republican-talk, the "unitary executive") for much of his career. Or, at least, that part of his career where he served under Republicans, anyway.

You see, that's the rough part about being a politician. Your life becomes public record. And people like Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe can turn up all kinds of fun facts about you. Like the time in July 1987, when Cheney was talking about the Boland Amendment, which banned aide to anti-Marxist militants in Nicaragua. To be exact, Cheney said "I personally do not believe the Boland Amendment applied to the president, nor to his immediate staff."

You remember that point in the Reagan administration? It was called "Iran-Contra" - a bunch of the president's aides were selling arms to one group of terrorists in Iran, so that they could funnel money to another group of terrorists in Nicaragua. And Cheney said to the committee investigating Iran-Contra that the president didn't have to follow the laws passed by Congress.

Before that, in December 1974, during the Ford administration (with Cheney as Deputy Chief of Staff), Seymour Hersh, writing for the New York Times, disclosed that the CIA was tapping phones, opening mail, and breaking into the homes of anti-war protesters. (Sound familiar? That's what Bush keeps trying to do.) And when Democrat Frank Church of Idaho headed up a Senate committee that started investigating the CIA's role in all of this, Cheney wrote that they needed to head off "congressional efforts to further encroach on the executive branch."

A few months later, when Hersh wrote an article about US subs spying on the Soviet Union, Cheney wanted to have Hersh arrested.
Making an example out of Hersh, Cheney wrote, would "create an environment" that might intimidate both the press and Congress. "Can we take advantage of it to bolster our position on the Church Committee investigation? To point out the need for limits on the scope of the investigations?" Cheney wrote. The idea, however, was scrapped to avoid attracting the Soviets' attention to Hersh's article.
And later, as Bush 41's defense secretary, Cheney didn't like the idea of telling Congress that troops were about to attack Iraqi's in Kuwait. In the 1996 PBS Frontline documentary, Cheney explained "I was not enthusiastic about going to Congress for an additional grant of authority. I was concerned that they might well vote 'no' and that would make life more difficult for us... From a constitutional standpoint, we had all the authority we needed. If we'd lost the vote in Congress, I would certainly have recommended to the president that we go forward anyway."

That's the way Cheney thinks. He honestly believes, just like Nixon, that "when the president does it, that means it's not illegal." Cheney said on ABC This Week in January 2002, "in 34 years, I have repeatedly seen an erosion of the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job." And he wants to do all he can to make the president all-powerful. (Do you really think that a C-student and frat-boy came up with the idea of the "signing statement" on his own?)

And he's doing it again. In the November 27 issue of the New Yorker, Hersh reported that, a month before the midterm elections, Cheney was in a national security roundtable.
"If the Democrats won on November 7th, the vice president said, that victory would not stop the administration from pursuing a military option with Iran," Hersh wrote, citing a source familiar with the discussion.

Cheney said the White House would circumvent any legislative restrictions "and thus stop Congress from getting in its way," he said.
So, unless Congress is willing to take firm action and get oversight on everything that the president and vice president do, we could very well get into another endless war in the Middle East. And there are still people out there who'd support it, too.

There is one thing that we can do. It will never become law, because very few politicians are willing to have their names attached to it, but the first thing we need to do is institute a draft. Because Charlie Rangel (D-NY) has it right: the only way that a lot of the American public are going to oppose going to war is if their children are definitely going to be in the foxholes. War is good for business - look how much money companies like Halliburton (and, uh... former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney...) have made off this last one.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Deep Water in a Shallow "Fountain"

* * * Warning!! * * *

The following review doesn't even try to avoid spoilers. There's no way to talk about this film without revealing entirely too much. And I'm not even going to try. I recommend not reading any farther until you've seen the movie The Fountain.

I will say that it's worth seeing at least once, but not necessarily at full price, and definitely not if you're a single guy. For the average guy, this is a movie to take a girl to - preferably a girl who enjoys having long philosophical talks about the meaning of what you've just seen. If both of you watch Nascar and reruns of Beverly Hillbillies or the Munsters, just move on now.

Go. This is not the movie for you. Borat is playing at the other end of the Cineplex. Just go there. Trust me. You'll be much happier.

We have now stopped making "safe" comments about The Fountain. You have been warned.

Yesterday, we went to see The Fountain, a new film staring Wolverine and that lady from the Mummy movies. This is one of the few times I wished that I smoked pot - I suspect that the best way to see this movie is to be stoned out of your mind.

The ads say that it's "a love story that spans 3,000 years!" That may or may not be true. From my vantage point, though, what we had were two stories and a symbolic metaphor, all twisted together into an hour-and-a-half-long rope.

There's no real coherent, linear story line here, nor is there a standard "happy ending." I suppose that some people might leave the theater feeling that this was a life-changing movie. Those same people probably also get more out of the works of Deepak Chopra than I do.

It was a beautiful movie, a giant, throbbing romance novel of a movie. The modern-day love story between the dying woman and the research scientist is a real heart-render. Some people might even think that this movie was deep and meaningful. However, if you've already come to terms with the fact that everybody dies, you aren't likely to find your view of the universe altered by The Fountain - it's shallow, in the same way that a model earnestly explaining a self-help concept she'd read about: easy to watch, but in the end, you come away slightly confused by some of the concepts that had been washing over you.

Hugh Jackman was given the opportunity to emote like a champ. His character goes through the entire range of human emotion, and he did it with style. He might very well garner an Academy Award nomination for his work in this film. I'll be surprised if Ms. Weisz does the same, though.

Between The Fountain and his stints in the various X-Men movies (and the upcoming Wolverine, for that matter), did you notice that Hugh Jackman is apparently making a career out of potentially immortal characters?

It all ties together pretty well. In the future, the bald Wolverine is shepherding an ancient tree toward a nebula called Sebulba, he talks to the tree as if it were a dead lover, and he keeps seeing the present-day Mrs. Mummy as a hallucination. In the present, the dying Mummy-lady shows Dr. Wolverine the nebula Sebulba through her telescope, he's trying to cure cancer with the bark of a newly-discovered old-growth tree from Central America, and she has written a book about the Conquistador Wolverine. In the past (or in her book, or maybe both), Conquistador Wolverine (or would that be Carcayú?) is on a quest through the Mayan empire trying to find the Tree of Life.

I'm really not clear whether the last scene of the Conquistador storyline, where he flowers to death, was the abrupt end of a relatively abrupt man, or a hallucination caused by the Tree Sap of Life ripping through his body. I can go either way on that question. (My wife, by the way, leaned over at that point and whispered, "See? That's why you shouldn't swallow apple seeds.") Although the fact that Conquistador Wolverine turned into a shrub, and Bald Wolverine was pushing a tree through space in a snow-globe is an interesting coincidence. And Dr. Wolverine planted a seed on top of her grave when she died, which means that the tree he's trucking through the stars might just be the tree that she grew into from... oh, Christ, forget it. It's not worth the headache.

There were a number of recurring themes in The Fountain. A vaguely Moorish lattice-work, golden light, the cross, and (obviously) the Tree of Life all recur frequently. Interestingly, so do small hairs and gummy saliva.

In this film, we had an Australian man and a British woman starring in the main roles of a film shot in New York and Canada. Throughout the modern and futuristic portions of the film, they sounded generically Midwest-American. However, in the early part of the film (when they're both playing Spaniards), they used vaguely British accents.

Some hard-core Christians are going to be upset about the way this movie intertwines Christian, Buddhist and pagan imagery, and even a touch of Mayan and Muslim, if you look hard enough. But they'd have a hard time with the central concept of this movie: that this man either lived forever, or kept getting reincarnated, or was a symbol for eternal life.

I think that my son Luke had the best summation of the movie. He thought that the target demographic for this movie was potheads and people who don't understand movie trailers. Which seems close enough, but I think he left out New Agey types and people who read romance novels.

Having seen The Fountain, I have to say that I don't think it will make a great deal of money in the theaters. But I also won't be surprised if the first run of DVDs sells out within days.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Who was the Walrus again?

It was forty years ago today, when... OK, forty years ago yesterday... I've been busy, OK? Anyway, it was November 8, 1966, when Paul McCartney died in a car crash. At least, that's what some people believed in 1969, and some of them possibly still believe today. While most of the world has accepted that Paul McCartney survived to see his 64th birthday this year, there are always people who will continue to believe something else, against all evidence.

Wikipedia summarized the legend of Paul's death like this:
The most common belief is that late in the evening on Tuesday, November 8, 1966 (a "stupid, bloody Tuesday"), McCartney, while working on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, stormed out of a recording session after an argument with the other Beatles, and rode off in his Austin-Healey. "He didn't notice that the lights had changed" ("A Day in the Life") because he was busy watching the pretty girl on the sidewalk ("Lovely Rita") after narrowly missing her dressed in blue (she's the blur on the back of Abbey Road) jaywalking ("Blue Jay Way"). He then crashed into a light pole (a car crash sound is heard in "Revolution 9") and, dying from massive head injuries, his hair and face burned (having "lost (his) hair" according to "Don't Pass Me By"). He was pronounced dead on a "Wednesday morning at 5 o'clock as the day begins" (the day and time mentioned in "She's Leaving Home"). A funeral procession was held days later (as implied in the Abbey Road album cover), with John presiding over the service and gravedigger George burying the body.
According to believers, McCartney had been replaced with the winner of a McCartney look-alike contest. The name of this look-alike has been recorded as William Shears Campbell, Billy Shears (the name of the fictitious leader of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - a role actually played by Ringo Starr), William Sheppard (based on the inspiration for the Beatle song "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"), or some combination of the names. According to legend purists, William Shears was given plastic surgery, but they failed to repair a scar on his lip (or it was a result of the surgery), and that's how you can tell the difference between the two Pauls. According to some students of the bass guitar, the style of his playing changed after Sergeant Pepper.

Having died during post-production on Sergeant Pepper, the most clues to his death are said to be found there.

The reality is harder to pin down - was it a publicity stunt by the Beatles or their record company? Overzealous fans with both too much imagination and too much time on their hands? Or did Paul actually die, and these clues point to one of the greatest conspiracies in rock music?

A Detroit disc jockey named Russ Gibb was the first known kickstart of the rumor on a major-market outlet. Several books have been written on the subject (both on Paul's death, and on the hoax about Paul's death), and radio and TV shows have examined the controversy from both sides.

Overall, this can be considered to be one of the major conspiracy theories of the twentieth century. Perhaps without the world-changing implications of the death of, say, a world leader, but a self-propelled behemoth of urban mythology nonetheless.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Why Should You Vote Democrat Tomorrow?

A woman from Athens, Georgia, wanted to express herself earlier this year. To tell the world her opinions, she did what a lot of people do — she used a bumper sticker. Denise Grier, 47, was given a $100 ticket last March after a DeKalb County police officer spotted the profane, anti-Bush bumper sticker. In this case, her sticker read "I'm Tired of All the BUSH*T."

Even though the courts threw out the ticket in April — the state's "lewd decal" law was declared unconstitutional in 1990 — Grier has now filed a lawsuit in federal court against the county and its officials. Working with the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, she is not only seeking damages from DeKalb County for emotional distress, but also a declaration in federal court that her bumper sticker is considered constitutionally protected speech. According to the lawsuit, Grier says she is "uncertain and insecure regarding her right to display her bumper sticker in DeKalb County."

It has been noted previously that the Republican-controlled government has been gradually restricting American's right to Freedom of Speech for several years. Even politely telling the Vice President that you disagree with him can lead to the possibility of arrest (yes, he politely disagreed with the Vice President - while the word "reprehensible" is possibly impolite, he didn't yell, or even raise his voice). While expression of free speech can occasionally lead to consequences, it is a dangerous precedent for government officials to be allowed to stifle rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

Grier's bumper sticker ticket is not the first time that law enforcement in Georgia have overreacted to anti-Republican vehicle adornments. As it has been over a decade and a half since Georgia had a "lewd decal" law, it seems odd that the police officer would try to ticket her on that basis.

And this isn't the first time these proto-fascists have tried this kind of thing. There's only one solution. We need to vote them out. If you vote for a single Republican tomorrow, you're just voting for more of the same. More people trying to prevent you from expressing your opinion.

Even the New York Times is breaking with their usual tradition, and refusing to support even a single Republican candidate. And yes, despite what you hear on Fox News, the New York Times is not a "bastion of liberal thinking." They're normally bipartisan. Except for this election.

So vote tomorrow. Think about it, and vote smart. Because there's only one thing we can expect from a government opposed to Freedom of Speech.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Cutting Edge of Research

A survey of 3,069 students on the campuses of Cornell University and Princeton University, has arrived at a conclusion that some might find shocking: Fully 17 percent of these Ivy League college students have cut, burned, carved or otherwise harmed themselves. Less than 7 percent have ever sought medical help for their self-inflicted injuries.

The study by researchers at Cornell and Princeton is billed as the largest study on self-injurious behavior (SIB) in the United States to date. "Self-injurious behavior is defined as inflicting harm to one's body without the obvious intent of committing suicide," Janis Whitlock, director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behaviors in the Family Life Development Center (FLDC) at Cornell and lead author of the study, said in a news release. SIB also may include such behaviors as ripping or pulling skin or hair, biting, bruising and breaking bones, she said.

They are also coming together on the Internet. "Internet message boards provide a powerful vehicle for bringing self-injurious adolescents together, and to a great extent, they provide a safe forum and a source of valuable support for teens who might otherwise feel marginalized and who may be struggling with shame," said Whitlock. However, while the majority of the postings are supportive in nature, some reinforce self-injury behaviors and could create a "social contagion" effect, the researchers warned.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Death of Civil Discourse

It's difficult, here in a swing state, to watch TV without seeing at least one political commercial. And both sides are busy going negative - there's no mistaking that. But on the Democrat side, that's only reasonable. If the Republicans have proved anything in the last decade or so, it's that "going negative" works.

When I talk about this to anyone, they say that the attack ads make them want to vote for the other side, just out of spite. But people who work in a hospital (like I do) aren't the demographic being targeted by the negative ads. It's the average, uneducated, non-reading public they're trying to sway.

I know this because, unlike most of America, I volunteer for our Democratic Congressional candidate (there's a story there, but I don't feel like going over it right now). And one of the most soul-crushing things you can do when you're volunteering is phone-banking. You're cold-calling people you've never met, trying to pass along your candidate's viewpoint, and they usually don't want to hear it. Most people have already made up their minds - you're just trying to randomly hit one of the ones who haven't.

But some of the winners you get to talk to are proud of their stupidity and ignorance. You have dedicated Republicans, who will vote along party lines and refuse to listen to anything you have to say. You have one-issue voters, who will ignore every other factor, as long as their candidate is willing to (for example) make the abortion punishable by the death penalty. And you have a lot of hang-ups.

But some of the worst calls you get to suffer through are the enthusiastically blind. I've talked about Heather Wilson's ads that try to paint Patricia Madrid as being easily bribed. And I had the opportunity to talk to a woman who'd bought the whole story - "I couldn't vote for her. Not after she took all that money from the casino owners."

Once the idiots make up their minds, it isn't easy to crowbar any facts into there.

And it's only going to get worse, too. David Brooks points out that many of the vulnerable Republicans during this upcoming midterm election are moderates. And once we eliminate the moderates, the GOP will have nobody left but the loonies. The people who have abandoned every principle of conservatism and given themselves over to the Far Right. The lunatic fringe of the Republican Party will have become the middle of the GOP road.

Darth Cheney lives.

President Bush and his advisors certainly have no reason to make peace between the two sides of the political coin. They've advanced as far as they have by widening partisan rifts, and declaring anyone who disagrees with them a traitor.

Keith Olberman, the Edward R. Murrow of the current news choices, said it best a few weeks ago.
While the leadership in Congress has self-destructed over the revelations of an unmatched, and unrelieved, march through a cesspool ...

While the leadership inside the White House has self-destructed over the revelations of a book with a glowing red cover ...

The president of the United States - unbowed, undeterred and unconnected to reality - has continued his extraordinary trek through our country rooting out the enemies of freedom: the Democrats.

Yesterday at a fundraiser for an Arizona congressman, Mr. Bush claimed, quote, “177 of the opposition party said, 'You know, we don't think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists.' "

The hell they did.

One hundred seventy-seven Democrats opposed the president's seizure of another part of the Constitution. Not even the White House press office could actually name a single Democrat who had ever said the government shouldn’t be listening to the conversations of terrorists.

President Bush hears what he wants.

Tuesday, at another fundraiser in California, he had said, "Democrats take a law enforcement approach to terrorism. That means America will wait until we're attacked again before we respond."

Mr. Bush fabricated that, too. And evidently he has begun to fancy himself as a mind reader.

"If you listen closely to some of the leaders of the Democratic Party," the president said at another fundraiser Monday in Nevada, "it sounds like they think the best way to protect the American people is - wait until we're attacked again."

The president doesn't just hear what he wants. He hears things that only he can hear.

It defies belief that this president and his administration could continue to find new unexplored political gutters into which they could wallow. Yet they do.

It is startling enough that such things could be said out loud by any president of this nation. Rhetorically, it is about an inch short of Mr. Bush accusing Democratic leaders, Democrats, the majority of Americans who disagree with his policies of treason.

But it is the context that truly makes the head spin. Just 25 days ago, on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, this same man spoke to this nation and insisted, "We must put aside our differences and work together to meet the test that history has given us."

Mr. Bush, this is a test you have already failed.

If your commitment to 'put aside differences and work together' is replaced in the span of just three weeks by claiming your political opponents prefer to wait to see this country attacked again, and by spewing fabrications about what they've said, then the questions your critics need to be asking are no longer about your policies. They are, instead, solemn and even terrible questions, about your fitness to fulfill the responsibilities of your office.

No Democrat, sir, has ever said anything approaching the suggestion that the best means of self-defense is to "wait until we're attacked again."

No critic, no commentator, no reluctant Republican in the Senate has ever said anything that any responsible person could even have exaggerated into the slander you spoke in Nevada on Monday night, nor the slander you spoke in California on Tuesday, nor the slander you spoke in Arizona on Wednesday ... nor whatever is next.
You have dishonored your party, sir; you have dishonored your supporters; you have dishonored yourself.

But tonight the stark question we must face is — why?

Why has the ferocity of your venom against the Democrats now exceeded the ferocity of your venom against the terrorists?

Why have you chosen to go down in history as the president who made things up?
I can't see that how the political scene is likely to be anything but ugly for the next few years.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Situational Morals

Let's talk about morality. And priorities, really. To be precise, let's once again talk about Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R-NM).

Heather seems to have a problem with human sexual intercourse. During her first year in office, she voted to have Bill Clinton impeached for having consensual sexual relations with a 22-year-old woman.

Six years later, she became something of an embarrassment to any reasonable adult in New Mexico, by practically bursting into tears over the momentary, grainy exposure of a female breast during a Superbowl halftime show.
"You knew what you were doing," said Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., her voice cracking. "You knew that shock and indecency creates a buzz that moves market share and lines your pockets."
But then, faced with a Republican Congressman like Mark Foley (R-FL) who had an inappropriate fondness for teenaged boys, what's her reaction? She plans to donate the money she got from him to charity.

It would be crude and unkind of anyone to point out that Heather Wilson only seems to object to heterosexual adult relations, wouldn't it? So let's not get into that.

Instead, let's consider a point made by Ms. Wilson's opponent, Patricia Madrid: Heather, you see, was on the House Page Board from 2001 to 2004. Would it be unfair to say that she was one of the people in charge of protecting the pages from predatory congressmen? That was, after all, the reason the Board was set up.
The House Page Board was created after a scandal in 1983 in which two members of Congress were censured after admitting having sexual relations with pages.
Of course, when Ms. Madrid pointed this out, Heather's spokesman, Enrique Carlos Knell, indignantly blustered that "Patsy Madrid's charges go well over the top and don't have any credibility, and she should be ashamed of herself even suggesting such a malicious thing."

(They like to call her "Patsy" - it's a diminutive. They're classy that way.)

But nobody seems to want to ask one question of Mr. Knell. Heather was on a five-person board that was specifically created to prevent congressmen from having sex with a small group of teenaged boys. And she had no idea that there was a congressman out there who wanted to have sex with those same teenaged boys.

So what, exactly, was she doing during her four years on that board? How is it unfair to point out that she wasn't doing her job?

Let's compare that with ads saying that Patricia Madrid, as Attorney General, was responsible for a pervert named Matthew Ward getting "back on our streets"? I mean, correct me if I'm wrong here, but I believe it's the judge who gets to decide a man's sentence, isn't it? At least, when I'm watching Boston Legal or LA Law, I don't remember the prosecutor getting to do that, anyway.

Hell, let's compare the two cases. Matthew Ward, thinking that he's talking to a 14-year-old girl, tries to get together and have sex with her. Mark Foley, who actually is talking to sixteen-year-old boys, tries to get together and have sex with them. One gets probation and is now a registered sex offender. The other... is in rehab.

Oh, yeah. By the way, in Foley's case (at least according to conservative talking heads like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage), the whole thing is obviously a case of entrapment by those teenaged sexually predators against a fine, upstanding Republican congressman.

Go figure.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Talkin' To The Man

Our United States Senate just voted to allow torture of prisoners. That noise you hear is coming from the East Coast. It's the remains of our Founding Fathers, spinning in their graves.

Around two hundred and thirty years ago, thirteen colonies split off from England because a group of brave men felt that their rights were not being properly represented in the government that controlled them. And they felt strongly enough about these "rights" that they put them to paper and made them the basis for a new form of government; they enshrined these words to the extent that they could, telling the world that, in this new country at least, the common man could not be unfairly treated by the government.

Now, though, because our elected representatives are too cowardly to tell a nascent dictator that torture is wrong, our government now has the right to swoop down on any person at any time and take him into custody, and that person doesn't have the right to a trial to determine whether he (or she) is guilty. No evidence needs to be presented. A person can now be arrested on no evidence, held for as long as the government deems neccessary, and no court in the land will argue that this person should be free.

The name for this particular right, by the way, is habeas corpus, and it's defined like this:
habeas corpus (hā'bē'us kôr'pus) [Lat.,=you should have the body], writ directed by a judge to some person who is detaining another, commanding him to bring the body of the person in his custody at a specified time to a specified place for a specified purpose. The writ's sole function is to release an individual from unlawful imprisonment; through this use it has come to be regarded as the great writ of liberty. The writ tests only whether a prisoner has been accorded due process, not whether he is guilty...

The term is mentioned as early as the 14th cent. in England, and was formalized in the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679. The privilege of the use of this writ as a safeguard against illegal imprisonment was highly regarded by the British colonists in America, and wrongful refusals to issue the writ were one of the grievances before the American Revolution. As a result, the Constitution of the United States provides that "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it" (Article 1, Section 9).
Here in New Mexico, our Senators split evenly on the issue of habeas corpus. Republican Pete Domenici voted to continue shredding the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and Democrat Jeff Bingaman voted on the side of Goodness and Light.

To Senator Bingaman, who I contacted fairly easily at, I wrote a short message of support.
For your vote against the destruction of habeus corpus, you have shown that you understand what our forefathers were trying to create in this fledgling country some 225 years ago.

You have just earned my vote, unlike your counterpart, Senator Domenici. Keep it up.

Thank you.
I spent a little more time on our other senator.

First, he doesn't support the idea of open communication. He requires that you go to his website and fill in a "contact form." (The closest he could come to demanding papers, I guess - the electronic equivalent of "Ihre papieren, bitte!")

When I finished, a little message came up on the screen. "Thank you for using our form!" I liked the exclamation point. God knows that forms should be exciting.

Incidentally, considering Domenici's apparent attitudes, if you don't hear from me for a while, it might be best to pretend you don't know me. Here's the message I sent to Pete Domenici on his exhilarating little form.
Senator Domenici,

You are a disappointment to me, sir. I did not always agree with your politics, but at some point, I felt that you might at least hold our forefathers in higher regard. Somewhere, in my twenty years in the military, I like to think that I absorbed at least a small amount of American history, and some knowledge of what it means to be an American.

You have just voted against habeas corpus. One of the central rights supported by that group of honorable men who gathered together in 1781 to create a country. You trampled it into the dirt with a simple wave of your hand and a single syllable.

Humorously enough, the front page of talks about "Celebrating the Constitution." You need to consider having your webmaster locked away for "unreasonable sarcasm."

Consider the facts. An "enemy combatant" is now defined as any non-citizen whom the president says is an enemy combatant, and he can be arrested and held for as long as authorities wish without any right of appeal to a court of law to examine the matter.

Now, suppose an American tourist in Cairo or Casablanca or Bangkok is arrested for some feebly-defined "crime against the state." At what point is that foreign government going to release our tourist? And what will they be able to do to him, legally, while they're holding him?

Or let's bring it a little closer to home. Suppose my cousin, a Special Forces corporal, is wounded during a reconnaissance near the border to Syria, and taken captive by soldiers from that country. What will happen to him?

What happened to the theory that we should treat prisoners the way we would wish to be treated?

The theory, as the president explains it, is that the terrorists wish to destroy our way of life because they "hate our freedom." So why are you giving the terrorists what they want?

If there is such a thing as a single philosophy that makes us American, it is that we are better than our enemy. Are you proud of destroying that ideal, Senator? Do you sleep better at night, having done exactly what Osama bin Laden wanted?

Is that the action of a hero? Is the act of capitulation considered brave in these dark days? You were a lawyer once. What is the definition of "precedent" again?

So keep it in mind. "Good Americans" aren't in danger, are they? Just the Jews, the gypsies and the homosexuals. And anyone declared by our Leader as being an "enemy of the state."

You have just lost any chance of my voting for you ever again, sir. I only vote for people who can show that they understand the American ideal. People who oppose tyranny.

I only vote for real Americans.
It didn't do a damned bit of good. Although, within 24 hours, he sent me a form letter thanking me for contacting him. That made me feel all warm and cozy.

November can't come too soon. Let's vote these bastards out.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Heather and the Smear Merchants

Looking through the news can yield up all kinds of interesting trivia. Try this one, for example:
Republicans are planning to spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest in the final 60 days of the campaign attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies, GOP officials said.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which this year assigned six operatives to comb through tax, court and other records looking for damaging information on Democratic candidates, plans to spend more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget on what officials described as negative ads.
Gee, I wonder why they'd do that? I mean, couldn't Republicans run on the overwhelming victories in Iraq and the flowering of democracy all over the Middle East?

...OK, maybe not...

But we've improved conditions in Afghanistan and kicked out the Taliban, right? Well, technically, we've only improved things for the opium farmers and given them a bumper crop of heroin. And the Taliban is still pretty strong over there, too. So maybe we shouldn't bring that up, either.

But they could run on how they've made government smaller and more efficient, and saved American tax dollars! Well, technically, our Republican-controlled Congress took a record-breaking surplus and turned it into a record-breaking deficit. And those pesky Democrats keep bringing up little things like the Alaskan "Bridge to Nowhere" (a Republican-led, federally funded, $223 million dollar bridge that would link fifty people on the Alaskan island of Ketchikan to the mainland).

So what does this leave them? Well, pretty much just personal attacks on their opponents. When you don't have a record to run on, you demonize the other side.

Which brings us to the Patricia Madrid/Heather Wilson fight.

Heather likes to call herself "independent" - it’s right there at the top of her website: "Independent. Honest. Effective." She likes that word so much that it’s on her bio page six times. But her voting record doesn’t support that idea - she votes pretty much a straight Republican ticket. (Which kind of makes you wonder about the "honest" part of that soundbite, doesn't it? Especially if you remember her claim that the Democrats love her so much that they keep asking her to join their party.)

But since Heather isn’t willing to talk about her record (like her long-standing support of the Iraq war), she’s fired off a series of attack ads. One of them claims that Patricia Madrid received donations from a casino owner, and the legal problems of that casino magically disappeared. Which sounds pretty bad, until you consider what actually happened.

It's a pretty simple story, really. You see, the problem was that, every so often, a tribe wants to build a casino outside of their reservation, and declare it reservation land "in trust." Madrid pointed out that the sovreignity of the Native American tribes on their reservations was the loophole that allowed them to build casinos. But our friends in the Republican Party don't want you to know unimportant things like facts in this case - they prefer the libelous impression that they want to give you.

Heather also tries to smear Ms. Madrid for "interfering with the investigation" into former State Treasurer Robert Vigil on 24 separate charges of corruption. Strangely enough, Heather can never quite explain how Patricia "interfered" - perhaps the problem was that Patricia, as a trained lawyer, could see how the evidence was a little flimsy? In fact, it was so flimsy that a jury this weekend acquitted Vigil of twenty-three out of the twenty-four charges. (I wonder if we're going to see that fascinating fact in any of Heather's future ads?)

But hey, it seems only fair to reverse that little mirror, doesn't it? I wonder who gives money to Heather?

Well, if you check out the groups that donate to her, you find that she’s one of the top recipients of money from oil and gas companies, and she’s gotten a surprisingly large amount of cash from the electronics and defense industries - in fact, the corporation that threw the largest amount of money to her was Lockheed Martin.

Hmm... Isn't it amazing? Heather has consistently voted in favor of allowing our troops to be shot at in Iraq, and the companies that are making the most profit out of this little Middle East dust-up are giving Heather money.

I’d hesitate to use words like "kickback," but it's a fascinating coincidence, don't you think? Definitely a fine example of that old political maxim "one hand washes the other."

Didn’t Pontius Pilate wash his hands, too?

Even better, let's look at who Heather’s best friends are. She’s taken thousands of dollars from Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, the recently-outed pedophile Mark Foley, Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney.

Isn't that cute? Heather Wilson is in the pockets of the top convicted criminals in the Republican Party (OK, they haven’t convicted Foley yet - but they need to). Doesn't that feel make you feel all warm inside?

Of course, Heather wants to look clean, so she returned donations from Bob Ney and Duke Cunningham. She also claimed to have returned all of the money she got from Delay, even though she only gave back around a fifth of it - ten thousand out of the almost forty-seven thousand dollars ($46,959) she took from him (that’s the easily-documented amount – some sources place the figure closer to sixty-five thousand).

There’s a phrase my late, lamented momma taught me - "you’re judged by the company you keep."

And looking at it that way, Heather, you’re a dirty, dirty girl.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

What are our "Traditional Values"?

In the 1930s and 40s, gays, Jews and gypsies in Germany were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. They were never given a trial and never allowed legal representation.

In the Thirties through the Nineties, gulags, or labor camps in the former Soviet Union, were established to house common criminals, corrupt officials, "counterrevolutionaries," and occasionally the victims of arbitrary mass arrests of ordinary citizens.

At the start of the Twenty-First Century, the government of the United States of America set up a number of camps around the world (including one in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba) to house people they had identified as "terrorists." None of people locked up in these camps was ever convicted by a court of law. Many of the prisoners (possibly a majority of them) were locked away, not because they had committed any crime, but because they were sold to the Americans by someone who hated them.

That last link is a .pdf document, by the way. If you have a problem with those, it's a report by a lawyer, a Seton Hall professor and a bunch of student aides, entitled "REPORT ON GUANTANAMO DETAINEES - A Profile of 517 Detainees through Analysis of Department of Defense Data." The important part of the text, in this case, reads as follows:
Only 5% of the detainees were captured by United States forces. 86% of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody. This 86% of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were handed over to the United States at a time in which the United States offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies.
I'll leave you to do the math for yourself. Or actually read the report - it's only 28 pages long, and a fascinating look at the "evidence" used to incarcerate our Guantanamo residents. Enjoy.

But now, because the comparisons to fascist regimes don't go far enough yet, the White House wants us to pass laws that would allow them to torture prisoners.

Stephen Colbert explained it as follows (and I'm going from memory here, so I'm not even going to try to quote him): One - torture is against the law. Two - the United States is a country of laws. So, three - we have to change the law.

One fascinating group that has come out in favor of torture is the Traditional Values Coalition. Their leader, Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, told Senator John McCain that, if he continued to oppose the torture of prisoners, he could wave goodbye to the conservative evangelical community. I have to say, this confuses me. I thought the conservative evangelical community went to see The Passion of the Christ because it showed them how much Jesus suffered for them, not because it was a primer for the treatment of prisoners. Obviously, I was mistaken.

I have only one question for Reverend Sheldon. And I urge everyone arguing against torture to take it up as their mantra. "What would Jesus think?" Consider how He died, Reverend. You claim to be hoping for His return. So what's He going to say to you for joining with the Pharisees?

McCain, along with Senators Lindsay Graham and Senator John Warner, are a trio of Republicans with the courage, or perhaps just the humanity and common decency, to have come out against torture.

What is wrong with America when you can make headlines for coming out against torture? Shouldn't the 24-point font and the exclamation marks be directed against people in favor of torture? What sort of twisted, perverted view of America are we living in, where the acceptance of torture is the norm, and opposition to it is newsworthy?

However, even McCain, who was himself tortured in Vietnam, eventually backed down and compromised with the President. Of course, this agreement, as far as some people can tell, is that the Republicans will pretend that nobody is being tortured. So I'm not sure this is a victory for the forces of righteousness after all.

Bush actually went out in public and tried to justify himself:
In its ruling on military commissions, the Court determined that a provision of the Geneva Conventions known as "Common Article Three" applies to our war with al Qaeda. This article includes provisions that prohibit "outrages upon personal dignity" and "humiliating and degrading treatment." The problem is that these and other provisions of Common Article Three are vague and undefined, and each could be interpreted in different ways by American or foreign judges.
And that statement is so disingenuous that it makes your head spin.

How is it that the people who have no problem identifying pornography - an equally "vague and undefined" concept - are having such a hard time with the concept of torture?

I want to be very clear on one thing. Whether showing pictures of a prisoner in his cell is "humiliating and degrading" or an "outrage on personal dignity" can be argued. However, some things are, without question, illegal, immoral and qualify as torture. Waterboarding, beating with sticks, cattle prods, hanging from walls - these are torture.

Forced public nudity, forced masturbation, items shoved into prisoner's rectums, and most of the other things we all got to see in the sadomasochistic, oddly homoerotic Abu Ghraib photos - these are not only torture, they're also the mark of sexual deviance. And again, I'm having a hard time figuring out how the conservative evangelicals can fit these ideas into their concept of "traditional values."

So let's make a deal. I want President Bush to tell me what methods of "aggressive questioning" are allowed. And then I want him to submit to them, for as long as I'm willing to continue to administer them.

Because I have some questions I want answered, too.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Why Do They Love The Nazis?

Let's consider the evidence.

Everybody's favorite Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was talking to the American Legion and explained that people who disagreed with the president on his handling of the war were suffering from "moral or intellectual confusion," and weren't recognizing the "new type of fascism."

Unfortunately for him, I can recognize fascism. And unlike our friends in the White House, I remember that, first of all, not all Muslims are terrorists. And on top of that, "fascism" requires little things like... well, a government.

But terrorists don't really support the idea of a strong government. So logically, the phrase "islamo-fascism" doesn't make a lot of sense.

On the other hand, a government trying desperately to remove all freedoms from its people, trying to impose its own moral code, trying to suppress all resistance to its rule… well, that, we can certainly understand to be falling in line with the concept of fascism.

But what little fact does this underline?

Well, if you disagree with the Administration, they'll accuse you of the worst thing that they can think of. However, they don't have a lot of imagination. So they keep harkening back to WWII. By carefully avoiding Vietnam (after all, John Kerry fought there) and Korea (uh… what was that about, again?), they get to raise the spectre of an Evil That Spanned The Globe!

Unfortunately, a lot of area has to get covered by this same argument.

First, Bush can't seem to help himself. He jumped all over the Nazi rhetoric, saying that "Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them." Which is nice. Ignores the facts of history, but a nice argument. But that's not the only place where we can find Republicans waving the swastika.

Let's not forget the Neverending Struggle Against Science. Al Gore takes the worst of that fight. He gets compared to Hitler because of the movie "An Inconvenient Truth." Glenn Beck (small-time radio guy and habitual liar) tried to say that Al Gore was "just like Hitler" for making this movie. (Yeah. Al Gore and the cattle cars. Right.)

And a guy named Sterling Burnett (who gets his paychecks from Exxon, by the way), compared Al Gore to Joseph Goebbels, just because Al Gore happened to point out that Exxon might have something to do with global warming. Nice bit of logic, there.

I'll just assume that you're starting to see a pattern building up.

So, anybody want to lay odds that we'll be seeing more of these comparisons as we get closer to 2008? Personally, I'm thinking that there will be a spate of fascist/Nazi comparisons for the next two months. Anybody want to take that bet?

Monday, August 28, 2006

The True Face of Abortion Opponents

Sometimes, I gotta concentrate on work a little more than others. So, rather than doing something original, let me just point you toward another blog that goes by the name of Needlenose:
It will be most interesting to hear the reaction of anti-abortion groups to the FDA's decision yesterday to allow Plan-B "morning after" pills to be sold over the counter (limited to those over-18). The most often cited reason for these groups opposing anything related to abortion (clinics, pills, etc.) is that they are doing it to protect the life of a helpless child. But Plan-B contains doses of the hormone Progestin which prevents the release or fertilization of an egg. In other words it keeps a woman's reproductive system out of the reproductive lottery. Thanks to Science the whole raison d'etre of abortion groups is rendered moot.

No released eggs means no fertilization, no fetus, nothing. So this leaves these groups with three options:

1. Concede that science may have finally found a way to eliminate abortions, pack up their bags and go home.
2. Stick their fingers in their ears and go la la la la...
3. Admit that their objection isn't really to abortion, but to contraception -- or better yet, to people having sex.

Some of them are making a valiant attempt at a fourth option: to change the definition of an 'embryo' (i.e. what they're trying to protect) from a fertilized egg implanted in a woman's womb and undergoing cell division to a plain old fertilized egg, just floating around. The idea is that anything that gets in the way of this whole sperm + egg -> fertilization -> implantation -> cell-division process is tantamount to abortion and therefore qualifies as an object of their ire. But it's a real grasping at straws based on a single sentence in the manufacturer's fine print. Besides the FDA's decision to allow over-the-counter sales has let the cat out of the bag. Now they have to take a position that is consistent with the fact that abortion clinics may very well stop performing abortions altogether because nobody needs them any more.

That takes us back to the three options. I'm not holding my breath for #1 to happen any time soon and they can get away with #2 for only so long before they run out of air. Sooner or later they'll have to admit #3 -- that at the root of their objection is that they just hate it for unmarried people to have sex, that their blood starts boiling whenever they picture their daughter getting jiggy with the neighbor's son -- even if both of them are over eighteen.

That, of course, puts them on the same wavelength as the Taliban and the rest of the Sharia-loving crowd -- and if there's one thing that makes these people angrier than women exercising control over their own bodies, it's being compared to a bunch of Muslims.

So thanks Dr. Science, for driving a nice little wedge between these people and their nasty little judgemental causes and ripping away their thinly-veiled morality facade (oops, did I say veiled?)

I don't like abortions either. Nobody does. I wish they could be avoided altogether -- and it looks like they very well may be.

Monday, August 21, 2006

And the Racism Continues...

Let's revisit racism. Yeah, it seems like just last month, I was babbling about our friends with ethnicity issues. (OK, it was just three weeks ago... and... uh... three weeks before that... man, I do go on sometimes, don't I?) But let's see what else has crawled out from under the rock since then.

Our boy Senator George Allen (R-VA) got in a little trouble a while back for displaying a noose in his office and a Confederate flag at home. Well, this time, he was caught on tape referring to S.R. Sidarth, a young man of Indian descent, as "Macaca." He clearly said the word twice, so at least nobody has tried to claim he was misunderstood. Well, nobody but Allen.

His exact words were:
"This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent. He's following us around everywhere. And it's just great... Let's give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."
Allen's first answer, when asked about his use of the word "macaca," was the basic defensive response: "I don't know what it means." Then he tried to claim that it was a reference to the man's hair, as in "Mohawk" - oddly enough, a cut that is only barely related to the mullet sported by our cameraman, in that they both involve hair.

Now, blogger Jeffrey Feldman did a little research, and discovered that the word was used by white supremacists to refer to black men (mostly when "nigger" seems redundant, apparently). His links are a little hard to follow: in the face of the controversy, Stormfront seems to have scrubbed their pages, and I somehow didn't feel like logging in to Vanguard News Network.

Mr Feldman also wasn't as careful as he could have been: he was referring to one post in a thread, but gave the link for the mother post it was responding to.

But the word is out there, and it doesn't mean "I respect you and don't object to your skin tone."

Since Mr. Sidarth was born and raised in Fairfax County, Virginia, it seems a little unreasonable of Allen to have welcomed him to either America or Virginia. Perhaps having realized that, Allen met with a number of Indian-American leaders to apologize for being an ass. They weren't impressed. "We expect better from our leaders... We're working toward getting satisfied; it is a work in progress."

Racism seems to be rearing its ugly head everywhere lately. The President dismisses every Muslim in the world as an "islamofascist," and Michelle Malkin, the Queen Bee of pop-culture bigotry, chimes in with a theory that all Muslims are the same and the race war is on.

Where does it lead? Well, in Maryland, we get bigots standing outside the home of Saqib Ali, a candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates, wearing a T-shirt reading "this mind is an Allah-free zone" and holding up a hand-lettered "Islam sucks" sign. That's always a good way to spend your day, right?

In the UK, two Muslim men were forced off of a flight for “acting suspiciously” and “speaking Arabic.” That's all they did. They talked quietly to each other, possibly in Arabic (the news stories haven't established what language they were speaking), and they didn't proceed directly to their seat. So they were obviously terrorists, right?

A British man named Azar Iqbal, travelling to Disneyland with his wife and three children, was detained at the Atlanta airport, questioned about whether he knew anything about a terror plot, told that "we didn't ask you to come to America," and denied entry into the United States. Because, after all, nobody of Middle Eastern descent would take their children to "the Happiest Place on Earth," would they? Everybody knows that Arabs don't love their children. Even if they're British citizens.

Here's the way it works. If it's OK to discriminate against one type of people based on their race or religion, then suddenly, it can become easier to discriminate against another race. So, what are we going to see next?

How about major movie stars getting in touch with their inner anti-Semite? (OK, let's get real, folks. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, it doesn't create new thought patterns. A drunk might blurt out things already in his mind, but he isn't likely to spontaneously create a new, original line of thought.)

How about Republican Congressional candidate's talking about how "blacks aren't the best swimmers or may not even know how to swim," or White House press secretaries using the term "tar baby" in a press conference?

Or you can do a Google news search on "Klan," and discover that they seem to be resurfacing, with rallies in Texas and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. And showing up at a Harper's Ferry discussion of race relations. And even trying to gain a little press by adopting a Missouri highway. (You can even buy Klan and Nazi memorabilia at county fairs in Pennsylvania these days. Go figure.)

Keep an eye on this kind of thing. I think we'll be seeing more of it in the near future.

But one more thing about our friend George Felix Allen. Sidarth had introduced himself to Allen earlier in the week. Now, Allen had heard Sidarth's name and felt that it was appropriate to make fun of it, this could show that he doesn't respect people and their cultures. Or perhaps he just likes to give people of other races nonsense names (I wonder if he likes to call all Asians "Ching Chong" or all Middle Easterners "Abdul") - that's one of the marks of a racist.

Either way, it isn't something I'd want coming out of my Senator's mouth. Maybe it's a good thing I don't live in Virginia.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Shadow Republican

Let's talk about Joe Lieberman. (Hell, everybody else is doing it. Why shouldn't I?)

Let’s be clear on what we have here. Joe Lieberman, a man who once said, while talking about the 2004 elections, "Senator Kerry got a lot of votes, 56 million votes, more than any Democratic candidate for president in history, but there's no prizes for second place in American politics."

Suddenly, because he doesn’t like how things turned out, that idea is out the window. Where he once wanted people to accept the results of an election, now he wants to ignore it completely. He wants to be handed the prize for coming in second.

Well, I’m sorry, Joe, but look at the bigger picture. The polling group Zogby International asked around, and discovered that almost four out of five Democrats are happy to see you go. I'm sorry if you don't like those numbers, Joe, but that's reality.

It's fascinating that most of Lieberman's support right now is coming, not from Democrats, but from Republicans. People like Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, White House press secretary Tony Snow and Vice President Dick Cheney are all making statements about Lieberman's defeat being a great national tragedy. In fact, Karl Rove apparently called Joe to say "The boss wants to help. Whatever we can do, we will do."

Or, to be fair, maybe he didn't say it. The White House denied it almost immediately, so there's really no proof either way. (On the third hand, there's an old joke: "How can you tell when insert politician here is lying? His lips are moving.")

(I'm going to indulge in a little speculation at this point, though. Consider the GOP's love of Lieberman. And then consider that we now have evidence that the White House was pressuring the British to arrest their liquid-explosive-laden terror suspects right away. Is it beyond belief that the Administration wanted the arrests to occur before the Connecticut primary? And in resisting the pressure, the British police actually threw off Karl Rove's timetable, and the arrests happened a few too days late to help out their boy Joe? Like I said, speculation. But not hard to believe, when you think about this White House's record.)

You know who's getting ignored in all this? A guy named Alan Schlesinger. He's the actual Republican running against Ned Lamont in Connecticut. A man who's pretty much ignored by his party right about now. It must suck to be him, huh?

So why would the Republicans want to support a Democratic... oh, sorry, an Independent candidate? Well, that one's easy. First, they see him as a Democrat who supports Republican ideals. (An attitude that begs the question, "What do you call someone who firmly supports the major points of the Republican party?" Answer - a Republican.)

Secondly, they see the possibility of Lieberman acting as a spoiler in the Connecticut Senate race. Every vote for Lieberman is a vote that didn't go to Lamont. And that thought must make Karl Rove wet himself with pleasure every time he thinks about it.

But why would Lieberman want to do that? Could it be that he's just following the orders given to him by the White House? Or is it something a little more basic?

I like the theory that it's simple human nature on Lieberman's part. He likes to claim that he's one of the "common people," but he's more of a child of privilege. He was born in Stamford, Connecticut, which isn't exactly Compton or South Philly. And he went to Yale, not the local community college.

Every time anybody mentions Ned Lamont, they like to add the adjective "millionaire" in front of his name, in the same place that the word "Senator" gets place in front of Lieberman. But that ignores the fact that Joe Lieberman, in his 2003 financial disclosure form, showed that he had a net worth of somewhere between $482,000 to $1.8 million. The man isn't exactly worrying about whether he can make the rent this month.

That's how I see it. Joe Lieberman thinks that he deserves to be a Senator. It's his right. He feels that he was elected three times, so he's entitled to the job now. He earned it. This attitude, of course, ignores the fact that he wasn't elected this time, but Joe isn't paying attention to that little fact now. He's like a sulky two-year-old - if reality doesn't fit with what he wants, that reality must be wrong.

That's a strangely Republican viewpoint, really. Does anybody recall Ron Suskind's little tale about his meeting with a senior Bush advisor?
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community... That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities"
So take it as you will. Some people prefer the idea that Joe is a puppet, acting out the bidding of his Republican masters. I prefer the idea that Joe is an elitist, unwilling to admit that he doesn't deserve to be in the job, even though the Democrats of Connecticut voted to replace him. Because obviously, the Connecticut Democrats aren't smartest voters in the world, or they wouldn't have voted to have him removed.

Or as Stephen Colbert put it, "Ned Lamont may have won the primary but his supporters are not mainstream Democrats. They’re against the Iraq war. A position so extreme that only 86% of Democrats agree with him" (It's possible that statistic is correct. It's possible that Stephen made it up. But it feels right, doesn't it?)

It's time for Joe to admit the truth, though. He needs to just take his ball and go home.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Well, I guess it's a good sign...

You know, it's odd. When you're clicking around randomly on YouTube, you might come across Al Gore's Penguin Army, which includes the tagline "What is Al Gore's new movie, An Inconvenient Truth, all about? Global Warming? The Environment? Or something much more BORING? See Al Gore's Penguin Army learn how crazy this flick really is..." It even has a link to a MySpace page (which, as it turns out, is pretty much just a placeholder for the movie).

And if you're really bored, you might make the mistake of watching the thing. And that's when you realize that this video is evidence of why some people are neither professional comedy writers or animators. It's boring. The animation is crap.
It has one joke (which isn't even funny - the penguins fall asleep because Al Gore is boring), and it goes on for WAY too long. (OK, it's only two minutes and change. But it seems like a lot longer, somehow...)

But, hey, somebody went to the trouble of making it and posting it, which is more than you've done, right? Well, that's where it gets a little tricky. Because, as it turns out, this little piece was produced by a company called DCI, a public relations firm working for Exxon-Mobil.

And strangely enough, would you like to guess which left-wing rag uncovered this? Mother Jones magazine? Nature? Again, that's where it get's tricky. Because the member of the Giant Liberal Conspiracy who found this out turns out to be the Wall Street Journal, which has long been an arm of the Democratic party, right?

So that leaves us with only two questions. First, isn't Big Oil supposed to be some kind of supervillian bent on world domination? Then why are they acting like high school kids?

And second, with trillions of dollars at their disposal, this is the best they can come up with? Something that even Conan O'Brien wouldn't think was funny? Yes, bad animation can be forgiven in an amateur video. But for maximum effect, there should be some humor involved. After all, the purpose of the video is that people should want to see it. And should want to show it to their friends. And maybe, should absorb, at least subconsciously, part of the message.

But if the video is stupid, it's got limited replay value, which destroys the entire purpose.

Suddenly, I'm feeling a lot better about the future of the environment, if these guys are the ones trying to destroy it.

I'm also wondering if Linux is going to sue, since the PR firm stole their penguins.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Racism in America

Quick disclaimer. I'm white.

I'm sorry. I can't help it. It's just the way I was born. And some people might think that this pigmentation deficiency of mine might make me unfit to comment on racism. But you know what? I don't care. I'm going to do that anyway...
You know, it's odd. I see things like (a few months ago) the controversy over a Spanish version of "the Star Spangled Banner," and I think "racism." After all, it's related to the argument over illegal aliens, which stems from a fear of people coming over and taking your job...

At least, if you happen to pick fruit for less than minimum wage, they'll be taking your job... Not that many of us do that...

But anyway, racism is alive and well in America. Four years ago, while I was still in the Air Force, I was involved in kicking a couple of Klan members out of the service, because their "personal beliefs" had started to interfere with their ability to operate in...

OK, let's just get real. We kicked them out because they were racist. Maybe soon I'll tell you why it all came to a head. But that's not the point I'm trying to get to. So let's move on.

I will be the first to admit that there are some people who see racism entirely too easily, of course. My sister's boyfriend (oh, yeah. By the way, he's black. Sorry, I'd have brought it up before, but it's not something I tend to think about. Not that he'd be willing to admit that. But that's also another story. Let's move on...)

Where was I? Oh, right. My sister's boyfriend. He thinks that the latest version of King Kong was a racist movie. See, the natives were black, and they were shown in a negative light. And the gorilla? Well, he's big and black, so he's the symbol of the strong black man. And when he dies in the end, it's symbolic of the white man triumphing over the black man. Makes it a happy ending, so all the little blond girls can sleep well...

Or something like that, anyway.

I can't agree. The natives were, if you look, painted black. Because they worshipped Kong, and wanted to be like him. And as for Kong himself, well, he's... um.... geez, how to put this delicately...

King Kong is a gorilla. They tend to be black.

There's a lot more I could say, about how this is a reimagining of a movie from the 30's, which stays fairly true to the socio-political realities of the 30's, but I don't feel like getting into that. Let's just put it this way: sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.

But there's a wider point here. Let me turn this thing over to someone older and wiser than I am. New Mexico State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino.
The Race Card
by Jerry Ortiz y Pino

It is now apparently a given in American civic dialogue that racism no longer exists in America … if indeed it ever did.

If a minority group member asserts that racism still exists in this country, that incautious soul will immediately be lashed for "playing the race card" and all further rational discussion of the topic will cease.

In fact, the minority group member who rashly points to some tangible bit of evidence that a heck of a lot more than "vestigial" racism persists here will almost certainly get slapped upside the head and charged with being a "reverse racist" … whatever that means.

So vehement is the reflexive denunciation of anyone who dares to question our national record on race that it has succeeded in silencing much of the discussion on this issue. We are laboring under the impossible delusion that "race is not a factor" in our society, that we have become truly, monumentally "colorblind."

Don’t believe any of it. We continue to drag around an enormous ball and chain firmly attached to our collective ankle, the legacy of pervasive racism. It is still easier for a white ex-con in the United States today to get a job than it is for a black person without a criminal record. And when it comes to education, the notion of racial parity increasingly sounds like nothing more than a joke.

It wasn’t always that way. In fact, as recently as the early '80s, data showed we had made some amazing gains in closing the gap between white student achievement and that of minorities. Parity in literacy, high school graduation rates, college admission and even college graduation seemed tantalizingly within our grasp. We were close to having created a society with true equality of educational opportunity.

Then, maddeningly, it began slipping backward. With the Reagan administration, the two lines charting whites and non-whites in our schools, which had been converging slowly over a 20-year period, began drifting apart. They continue to diverge today, with nothing to indicate that the disparity has even made it onto the national radar, let alone sparked any outrage.

In a recent article, Jonathan Kozol notes that American public schools are today, in 2006, more racially segregated than they were at the time of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court Decision of the mid-'50s that supposedly ended our "separate but equal" public school systems. That’s an incredible indictment.

Worse, all the numbers are shocking. Minority students drop out of high school at a higher rate than whites, graduate at a lower rate, get suspended more often than whites (even for identical offenses), and have a harder time getting into college, especially the elite upper-echelon schools that for a time actively courted minority students.

What happened? For starters, the courts have backed away from affirmative action programs in university admissions, with the consequence that fewer blacks, Latinos or Native Americans are getting in.

And in a particularly insidious move, Congress has gradually but inexorably, ever since Ronald Reagan, been "trimming" social programs for the poor. "After all, the numbers were getting better all through the '60s and '70s," so the rationale went, "so we can afford to start paring back on the props that made those improved numbers possible."

Scholarship programs were turned into loans - or into nothing. Tutoring and mentoring supportive efforts were morphed into "volunteer faith-based initiatives" … or completely wiped out. Job programs like summer youth employment, Neighborhood Youth Corps, Youth Tutoring Youth—were all axed after being labeled "ineffective."

Democrats like Bill Clinton jumped on the bandwagon, too. The carnage created by his so-called Welfare Reform and Workforce Investment legislation cannot be ignored when you start totaling up the causes for our current malaise in minority education.

In exchange for losing billions of dollars in supportive assistance programs, minorities got a "No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law that has further widened the gap between the educational haves and have-nots. (In a future column, I’ll share some specific case studies that identify how NCLB is failing minority youth.)

Instead of the straight-forward traditional indicators of how we are doing educationally (drop-out and graduation rates; college admissions; literacy levels), NCLB has substituted a nightmarish complex of tests and comparisons that seem exquisitely designed to ensure that white student success will not be challenged in any way and that minority students will be kept in their place.

NCLB is up for re-authorization by Congress this year. It would be altogether appropriate for the issue of parity in public education to be raised during that crucial debate, but to do so would first require an acknowledgment that we still have a vast amount of work before us if we have any hope of converting this into a truly colorblind society.

Meanwhile, looming on the horizon, waiting its turn for our attention, is an even more difficult educational challenge: the assimilation and education of the 11 million predominately Spanish-speaking undocumented immigrants already in this country.

Healing the wounds of racism; assimilating and preparing undocumented workers and their families—these are not minor bumps in the road to be dealt with through casual indifference or as an afterthought. We need to get to work. Both Congress and the president should be digging in for some heavy lifting. Instead, they piddle around. I’m getting very worried.
So there you have it. Sometimes, a gorilla is just a gorilla. But sometimes, the gorilla is actually the elephant in the room that nobody is willing to talk about.