Thursday, December 29, 2005

Comedy of Terror


Tony Blair, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld - You're My Prize Guys

by Terry Jones

Well the end of the year is as good a time as any to distribute prizes. And first is the Gary Glitter Cup for Self-Restraint, to Tony Blair. It can't have been an easy couple of years for him, and yet he has somehow managed to keep that smile on his lips and that cheerful sparkle in his eye with a degree of self-restraint that impressed the judges.

Over the past two years, Tony has seen all his Iraq policies turn into unmitigated disasters. Instead of his stated aim of bringing peace and happiness to the people of Iraq, he has brought them chaos, bloodshed, violence and misery. Instead of making Britain safer, his policies have made this country a target for terrorism for the foreseeable future.

And now there is open talk in the Senate of impeaching George Bush; the New York Times accuses him of "recklessness" and claims he "may also have violated the law". Tony must be finding it difficult to sleep. Yet he is able to get up in the morning unassisted! He is able to look at himself in the mirror, shave without damaging his throat, and go to work with every appearance of a man who imagines he's doing a good job.

This achievement richly deserves the Gary Glitter Cup. Well done, Tony!

And now we come to the Dick Cheney "Goblet of Fire" Award for Courage in the Face of Action. And for the sixth successive year, the award goes to ... the vice-president of the US ... Dick Cheney!

This year the judge (who is, once again, Dick Cheney) cites in particular Mr Cheney's fearlessness in speaking with authority on military matters despite the fact that he has never served in the military. In fact Mr Cheney received no less than five deferments rather than serve his country in uniform. Nor has he lost his nerve, despite seeing the death rate of American servicemen and women climb above the 2,000 mark. Those who have already died will be heartened by his courageous determination to risk yet more people's lives.

Well done, Dick. The "Goblet of Fire" is yours once again.

The Kellogg Brown and Root Shield for Corporate Services also goes to Dick Cheney, along with the purse of between $180,000 and $1m (payable annually as "deferred compensation"). KBR is the engineering and construction arm of Halliburton, of which Dick Cheney was CEO from 1995 to 2000 - in which time the value of Halliburton's US government contracts almost doubled from $1.2bn to $2.3bn.

He then became vice-president, and things have got even better for KBR, even though Mr Cheney resigned his company position. As of March 1 2004, KBR has been awarded reconstruction work in Iraq and Afghanistan worth at least $3.9bn.

So step up, Dick Cheney!

We now come to the Abu Ghraib Trophy for Human Rights, and ... yes, it's another triumph for the VP! Dick Cheney has stood firm against a wicked cabal of Republican senators - John Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - who tried to sneak a clause into the 2005 military spending bill that would outlaw "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment" to military prisoners. How can the US champion human rights unless it is allowed unrestrained access to any torture techniques it considers fit, to use against enemies that are both sub-human and have forfeited any rights to be treated as our fellow creatures?

Well done, Dick! I hope the Abu Ghraib Trophy will sit proudly alongside all those others.

We now move on to the Narnia Prize for the Closest Impersonation of Donald Rumsfeld, which this year goes to ... yes, Donald Rumsfeld! Donald has consistently played himself, throughout the unfolding military and public relations disaster in Iraq and the exposure of torture in US military prisons. Eschewing all imitations, he has brought his philosophical double-think and understated, homespun comedy to all affairs of state, no matter how grave. Chaos and lawlessness in Iraq? "Freedom's untidy," says the defence secretary, November 2005. Hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay? "There are a number of people who do go on a diet," says Rummy. Great stuff.

Finally we come to the Apocalypse Now! Award for Redefining the World, which this year goes to the president of the United States, George Bush.

The judges were unanimous. The president claimed that in the second world war, the forces of freedom defeated the ideology of fascism. In the cold war, those same forces defeated communism. "Today, in the Middle East, freedom is contending with ... terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al-Qaida," whose ultimate aim is to "establish a totalitarian Islamic empire that reaches from Indonesia to Spain".

With a simple piece of unnoticed elision, George Bush has recreated the crusades. Rumsfeld and Cheney can rest assured that the arms industry will flourish for years to come. The west has a new enemy: Islam.

Poor Islam. Poor Christianity. Poor us.

George Bush, the Apocalypse Now! award is yours.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

X-mas gifts

To get some idea of what I enjoy (and spend too much time doing), witness a sampling of the Christmas gifts I received this year:

  • 2 new bookcases
  • a Barnes and Noble gift card

I've already went online and ordered the following at B&N:

I really should read fiction once in awhile ... but real life is just more interesting right now.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Syriana


I saw a very good movie last night: Syriana. I won't tell you the characters or what happens. I will tell you that it's about oil:

  • How we do anything to get it. We will support anyone so that we can have ready access to it.
  • We'll grease the wheels of government to get it. And government will gladly acquiesce.
  • We're not interested in elevating ourselves or the people of the Middle East. We're only interested in keeping the oil flowing.
  • Oil companies can and will do anything in the name of increasing their profits.
  • People of integrity and of change are collateral damage. They will be thrown under the bus by the corrupt.
  • How we turn an incredibly complex world situation into a political speech punchline.

The intertwining storylines and documentary style camera work is reminiscent of Traffic, for good reason. The director and writer, Steven Gaghan, was the writer of Traffic. Plus, Clooney and Steven Soderburgh were both producers of Syrianna, as they were with Traffic. The choices in movies and causes that Clooney has made over the last years are admirable. Here is someone who could have put it on auto-pilot and chose to turn out any piece of studio crap to make a quick buck, but chose to use his clout to make personal, political movies like "Good Night and Good Luck" and "Syriana" that could have jeopardized his career. But rather, because of the quality of what he has done, they have strengthened it. This was similar in many ways to Mel Gibson getting the Passion of the Christ made. Though I don't agree with a lot of Gibson's views and don't believe that Passion was as much of a cinematic triumph as it was made out to be, I respect the risk that he took to make a personal film. And I respect George Clooney even more.


There have been several books describing the Middle East situation, oil, our involvement, etc. Imperial Hubris is one. House of Bush, House of Saud is another. I recommend them both. And I recommend this movie.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

War on Christmas ... not!

I will begin this by saying I'm not offended if you say 'Merry Christmas' to me. Despite the irony, I often say Merry Christmas myself. But I'm sick of this horseshit pushed by Fox News and even encouraged by mainstream media that there is a war on Christmas. Many companies, mine included, choose to say Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings. This is for many reasons. It is not a weakness to acknowledge that the whole world is not Christian and to be mindful of that. Also, you have to understand that the holiday has come to mean more (and perhaps less) than what the original Christian intent may have been. Cyberkitten has a great couple of posts on her blog, Seeking a Little Truth, that can do a much better job than I of explaining. So much of Christian mythology is just that ... mythology ... most likely borrowed from earlier civilizations.

Most holidays, whether you like it or not, morph from whatever their meaning may have once meant. And that's OK. Most people don't know what the true meaning of some holidays are. Their true origins would be surprising to most ... especially Christians. The beginnings of Easter, for example, predate Jesus by several centuries and have pagan origins. The celebration began (and continues to be) as a celebration of the fertility of the earth and most of its popular symbols represent that (the chick, the egg, the rabbit, etc.). The Christian church tried to reinterpret the holiday but the persistence of those early symbols attests to their strength.

And right-wing religious nut job organizations like the American Family Association, who purport to be "pro-family", are the ones that manufacture these so-called controversies. Groups like these have the ears of millions of Christians and could do so much good with that power, yet choose it to preach hate and to manufacture non-existent controversies. If I was the owner of any of the companies boycotted by AFA, I would not even give them the time of day. First of all, they do not represent all Christians. Secondly, they are selective if what they deem to be offensive. They will complain about Target having displays that say "Happy Holidays" but they seem to have no problem with Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart destroys small businesses, does not allow workers to have a living wage, descriminates in hiring and in promotions, etc. Please explain to me how those things are Christian.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy Holidays!


All of you have a great Holiday season. Celebrate it in the way in which you see fit. But above all, share it with your families and try to share with those in need.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bush is King


Is it just me or does it feel like we're in the middle of some kind of political thriller? Every day brings me face to face to some new revelation that 5 years ago I could not have even imagined would be happening in our country. In the face of news that the President secretly approved illegal eavesdropping (repeatedly) within our border, he is defiant and insists he will continue to do so. Furthermore, he blames those who revealed the illegal nature of what he was doing:

"The existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports after being improperly given to news organizations," Bush said. "Unauthorized disclosure damages our national security and puts our nation at risk ... Revealing this information is illegal."


Great quote by Senator Russ Feingold in response to Bush's admission:

"The President's shocking admission that he authorized the National Security Agency to spy on American citizens, without going to a court and in violation of the Constitution and laws passed by Congress, further demonstrates the urgent need for these protections. The President believes that he has the power to override the laws that Congress has passed. This is not how our democratic system of government works. The President does not get to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow. He is a president, not a king. On behalf of all Americans who believe in our constitutional system of government, I call on this Administration to stop this program immediately and to fully cooperate with congressional inquiries and investigations. We have had enough of an Administration that puts itself above the law and the Constitution."


It's nice to see that some Senators will call out this President. Also, they've at least temporarily stalled that abomination called the Patriot Act

Sometimes I think the tide is turning. Yesterday, we had a great conversation with a lady parked next to us at Target. She had 2 bumper stickers on her car: an Amnesty International sticker and a sticker that said "Not my president, still my country". Obviously a likeminded person and she complimented us on our bumper stickers. A few years ago, you could not see these kinds of conversations going on ... at least not in conservative Arizona. She also commented that you just don't see as many Bush stickers as you used to.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Eugene McCarthy - William Proxmire


His time was then — and now
Former Senator Proxmire dies at 90

This week saw the passing of two enigmatic Midwestern Democrats of some renown.

The first, Eugene McCarthy, died on December 10th. McCarthy, a longtime congressman and Senator from Minnesota, is best known for challenging Lyndon Johnson in 1968 for the nomination of the Democratic Party. His anti-war stance was popular and ulitmately probably led to Johnson not seeking the nomination.

The second, William Proxmire, died today. Some bit of trivia (courtesy of Wikipedia):

  • In his last two Senate campaigns of 1976 and 1982, Proxmire refused to take any campaign contributions, and spent on each less than $200 out of his own pocket — to cover the expenses related to filing for re-election.
  • Senator Proxmire was elected to fill the remainder of the term vacated due to the death of Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1957
  • Proxmire was famous for issuing his Golden Fleece Awards identifying wasteful government spending between 1975 and 1988. The first one was awarded in 1975 to the National Science Foundation for funding an $84,000 study on "why people fall in love." Proxmire had an unfortunate tendency to issue his awards to basic science projects that led to important breakthroughs, such as the Aspen Movie Map. He was heavily criticized for this by journalist Stewart Brand, but Proxmire later apologized for several of those, including SETI.
  • From 1967 until 1986, Proxmire gave daily speeches noting the necessity of ratifying The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. After giving this speech every day that the Senate was in session for 20 years, resulting in 3,211 speeches, the convention was ratified by the U.S. Senate by a vote on 83-11 on February 11, 1986.

Both of their lives lend some perspective on the current state of politics. McCarthy's defiant anti-war stance is remarkably similar to John Murtha's. History proved McCarthy correct and will ultimately prove Murtha correct.

Proxmire's tireless positions against rampant spending predate similar positions by politicians like John McCain and fellow Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold. His stance against genocide foreshadowed Rwanda and Darfur.

"Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it's important."

"This is, I say, the time for all good men not to go to the aid of their party, but to come to the aid of their country." -- Eugene McCarthy


"Power always has to be kept in check; power exercised in secret, especially under the cloak of national security, is doubly dangerous."

"I have spent my career trying to get Congressmen to spend the people's money as if it were their own. But I have failed." -- William Proxmire

Monday, December 12, 2005

Death Penalty

"Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man's nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out"

"A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green" -- Francis Bacon


The impending execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams will probably ignite the death penalty debate again. When I was younger, I went back and forth on it. In those rare moments of grudgingly supporting it, I felt for the victims of violent crime. But as I've aged, I came to realize that we are not honoring their deaths by continuing the cycle of death.

The arguments for the death penalty simply hold no water. It is not a successful deterrent. Those who commit murders don't expect to get caught and certainly don't usually weigh the possibility of life imprisonment versus the death penalty. States without the death penalty have lower murder rates than those with it. Canada and Europe also have lower murder rates and do not have the death penalty. There are obviously other things involved in those statistics but they do seem to show it is not an effective deterrent.

One could probably make the argument that the death penalty actually causes more murders. What kind of logic posits that you will stop brutality by being brutal?


The disproportionate amount of minorities on death row illustrates that a white death is more valuable that a white one ... a rich one more than a poor one. Certainly Katrina drove that point home.

In my book, it doesn't even matter if a death row inmate has redeemed himself in his actions since being imprisoned, as it certainly appears that Williams has. It's admirable but I don't believe he deserves death regardless. The bloodlust that causes so many to look for someone to kill to pay for 9/11 drives the need for retribution ... "an eye for an eye". Someone innocent has died, so this person must die. That really is at the heart of those who support the death penalty. Even they don't really believe it stops anyone from committing a murder. They just feel that someone should be punished.

"An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind." -- Mohandas Mahatma Ghandi

Political Song of the Day

Ministry - "No W"

If this is really living
Then why am I so unforgiving
Half the world is down the toilet
Half on its way

If I had a dollar for every time he hollers
Trust us with your hearts and minds
Or I'll make you pay

Trust me
Trust me

Ask me why you're feeling screwed
And I'll give you the answer
There's a Colon Dick & Bush
Justa hammerin' away

Ask me why you feel deceived
Stripped of all your liberties
It doesn't take a genius to explain
That today

Trust me
Trust me

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Social Darwinism


Great recent article (from Common Dreams) by one of my favorite progressives, Robert Reich (emphasis mine):

Of Darwinism and Social Darwinism

The Conservative Movement, as its progenitors like to call it, is now mounting a full-throttled attack on Darwinism even as it has thoroughly embraced Darwin’s bastard child, social Darwinism. On the face of it, these positions may appear inconsistent. What unites them is a profound disdain for science, logic, and fact.

In The Origin of the Species, published 150 years ago, Charles Darwin amassed evidence that mankind evolved through the ages from simpler forms of life through a process he called "natural selection." This insight became the foundation of modern biological science. But it also greatly disturbed those who believe the Bible’s account of creation to be literally true. In recent years, as America’s Conservative Movement has grown, some of these people have taken over local and state school boards with the result that, for example, Kansas’s new biology standards now single out evolution as a "controversial theory." Until a few weeks ago, teachers in Dover, Pennsylvania were required to tell their students they should explore "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution. (The good citizens of Dover just booted out the school board responsible for this, summoning a warning from Conservative Coalition broadcaster Pat Robertson that God would wreak disaster on them.)

Social Darwinism was developed some thirty years after Darwin’s famous book by a social thinker named Herbert Spencer. Extending Darwin into a realm Darwin never intended, Spencer and his followers saw society as a competitive struggle where only those with the strongest moral character should survive, or else the society would weaken. It was Spencer, not Darwin, who coined the phrase "survival of the fittest." Social Darwinism thereby offered a perfect moral justification for America’s Gilded Age, when robber barons controlled much of American industry, the gap between rich and poor turned into a chasm, urban slums festered, and politicians were bought off by the wealthy. It allowed John D. Rockefeller, for example, to claim that the fortune he accumulated through the giant Standard Oil Trust was "merely a survival of the fittest, ... the working out of a law of nature and a law of God."

The modern Conservative Movement has embraced social Darwinism with no less fervor than it has condemned Darwinism. Social Darwinism gives a moral justification for rejecting social insurance and supporting tax cuts for the rich. "In America," says Robert Bork, "‘the rich’ are overwhelmingly people – entrepreneurs, small businessmen, corporate executives, doctors, lawyers, etc. – who have gained their higher incomes through intelligence, imagination, and hard work." Any transfer of wealth from rich to poor thereby undermines the nation’s moral fiber. Allow the virtuous rich to keep more of their earnings and pay less in taxes, and they’ll be even more virtuous. Give the non-virtuous poor food stamps, Medicaid, and what’s left of welfare, and they’ll fall into deeper moral torpor.

There is, of course, an ideological inconsistency here. If mankind did not evolve according to Darwinist logic, but began instead with Adam and Eve, then it seems unlikely societies evolve according to the survival-of-the-fittest logic of social Darwinism. By the same token, if you believe one’s economic status is the consequence of an automatic process of natural selection, then, presumably, you’d believe that human beings represent the culmination of a similar process, over the ages. That the conservative mind endures such cognitive dissonance is stunning, but not nearly as remarkable as the repeated attempts of conservative mouthpieces such as the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard to convince readers the conservative movement is intellectually coherent.

The only consistency between the right’s attack on Darwinism and embrace of social Darwinism is the utter fatuousness of both. Darwinism is correct. Scientists who are legitimized by peer review and published research are unanimous in their view that evolution is a fact, not a theory. Social Darwinism, meanwhile, is hogwash. Social scientists have long understood that one’s economic status in society is not a function of one’s moral worth. It depends largely on the economic status of one’s parents, the models of success available while growing up, and educational opportunities along the way.

A democracy is imperiled when large numbers of citizens turn their backs on scientific fact. Half of Americans recently polled say they don’t believe in evolution. Almost as many say they believe income and wealth depend on moral worthiness. At a time when American children are slipping behind on international measures of educational attainment, especially in the sciences; when global competition is intensifying; and when the median incomes of Americans are stagnating and the ranks of the poor are increasing, these ideas, propagated by the so-called Conservative Movement, are moving us rapidly backwards.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Lieberman

Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman's comments a few days ago:

"It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge he'll be commander-in-chief for three more years. We undermine the president's credibility at our nation's peril."

A perfect example of a Washington insider with no feel for what the rank-and-file Democrats of the country believe. I thought that why doesn't he just put himself out of his misery and pull a Zell Miller.

After all, the Democratic party would be better off without a pro-war weasel like him. I don't mind politicans not toeing the party line. After all, on this blog I've applauded Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for his criticisms of this administration. However, Lieberman's recent statements and support of the President are beyond the pale. Now it appears that there may have been a purpose to his ass-kissing:

Rummy exit expected; Lieberman eyed for job

Which, in my eyes, makes it even worse. He'll apparently do anything for political expediency. I'm embarrassed that I ever supported him on Gore's ticket.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Imagine


December 8th marks the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death.

"I think were always attracted to John Lennon because he was someone who truly made a difference. Whether you liked him on the Beatle level or the politically-active level— the songwriting level, the cultural level, he was someone who always spoke his mind, was always honest. And if you remember back to the early Beatle pictures, he was always the one with his tie askew or his jacket unbuttoned. He was different. He was an iconoclast. He didn’t fit the mold. And in so many ways, he broke the mold." -- Max Weinberg, drummer, Bruce Springstreen and the E Street band; Max Weinberg Seven


In 2002, Yoko One donated the rights to Lennon's songs to Amnesty International. Several artists, including one of my favorite bands, the Deftones, are recording some of these songs to raise funds for the organization.

Lennon's honesty is well-documented. Here are a few of my faves:

"ON THE SIXTIES

"If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliche that must have been left behind in the 60s, that's his problem. Love and peace are eternal."

ON RELIGION

"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that, I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."

ON PEACE

"If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace."


But with this group in power, forget about it. Peace isn't profitable. We gotta keep the military-industrial complex rolling.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Truth (with Jokes)

Just found this review of Al Franken's book on Common Dreams. I was planning on reviewing the book, but John Nicols does a much better job than I could:


Franken's 'Truth' is No Joke

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Filthy Words

Conn. Police Fine Students for Cursing:

...Police officers assigned to the schools have fined about two dozen students for cursing in a new program to curtail unruly behavior... "We're sending a message to the parents and to the teachers," said Sandy Cruz-Serrano, senior adviser to Superintendent of Schools Robert Henry. "We are trying to bring back order to the schools."

School administrators and the police put their heads together and this is what they came up with? We are fucked (oops!).

I couldn't help but think of George Carlin's monologue on cussing (apologies ahead of time to anyone who might be offended): Filthy Words

"... And, uh, bastard you can say, and hell and damn so I have to figure out which ones you couldn't and ever and it came down to seven but the list is open to amendment, and in fact, has been changed, uh, by now, ha, a lot of people pointed things out to me, and I noticed some myself. The original seven words were, shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. Those are the ones that will curve your spine, grow hair on your hands and (laughter) maybe, even bring us, God help us, peace without honor (laughter) um, and a bourbon..."


If the words that people say were the only things wrong in this world, it'd be a great world.

What's going on?

Loved the thought-provoking link from Laura at Sarchasm:

Ever wonder what 2,000 looks like?

The words of Marvin Gaye, still seem oddly fitting:

Mother, mother
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today - Ya

Father, father
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what's going on ...