31 January 2005

Iraqi Elections

Iraq has finished the first phase of its ballot count. The voting has been counted a success by some. And who wouldn't like to be optimistic. In the end though, the proof will be in the pudding. And much will have to take place for Iraq to have a system even faintly resembling a democracy. Personally, I don't see how a country can have heavy outside (= U.S.) involvement and still have a democracy. Of course, this isn't just an Iraqi problem but rather a world problem--and one that comes from a failure of people around the world to embrace internationalist ideals and institutions. But it's a problem that won't go away. Undoubtedly, there are CIA agents at this very moment (along with their Iranian, Israeli, and Saudi counterparts) handing envelopes heavy with cash to their favorite political party. Some proxies working for some other CIA agent, meanwhile, are undoubtedly slitting the throat of some other populist politicians that are failing to read Uncle Sam's script. And yet we're told that the simple act of voting is sure to lucidly reflect the will of the Iraqi demos.

My guess is that if the Iraqi demos ever rises up and challenges the American playbook, they'll suddenly find themselves playing for the opposing team, in which case, the numbers won't matter any more than they did when Saddam was quarterback.

Other blogments on the elections include some more optimistic comments at Far East (Japanese), Random Thoughts, and Emigre with a Digital Cluebat. Also check out Dohiyi Mir and Juan Cole.

Extended half-life?

A number of key scientists are now investigating recent historical revisionism in an attempt to establish a definite half-life to government lies. Previously, government deception was thought to last only a couple decades, but the U.S. government's continual denials of the dangers of Agent Orange or depleted uranium have led some to suggest that U.S. government lies are a purer form of deception that can continue to radiate darkness and confusion for extended periods of time.

Check out Denver's article on spent uranium (found via Trailing Edge Blog).

The Marmot's Hole has the following interesting piece that touches on both Agent Orange and Iraq: In a telephone interview with OhMyNews, Hwang Myong-ch'eol, head of the Central Committee for the Korean Vietnam War Veteran's Association, said that, "speaking just as one citizen, I can agree in theory with the dispatch of forces to Iraq. When you take into account the post-war reconstruction business in oil-rich Iraq, there's a national interest there," but he stressed that "sending combat troops is not an easy matter."

Hwang said that he does not want the children of those who suffered in Vietnam to know the same kind of pain. "Will the American and Korean governments, which never apologized to the victims of Agent Orange, compensate those who fight in Iraq? After the government looks into the problem of compensation, the government must make a decision about the troop dispatch prudently."

In particular, Hwang showed concern for the effects certain American weapons like depleted uranium shells could have on Korean soldiers fighting in Iraq. "The Americans will test various kinds of weapons, including depleted uranium shells. The effects of these weapons appear after the war, and serious problems like those encountered with Agent Orange will occur," Hwang predicted.

Discussing some of the differences between Vietnam and what can be expected in Iraq, Hwang explains, "during the Vietnam War, Korea aquired foreign currency as a result, but in Iraq, we will have to participate at our own expense. Plus, unlike Vietnam, which like Korea is in Asia, Iraq's geography and climate is much different, so it will be difficult for Korean soldiers to adjust." Nevertheless, Hwang goes on to say that the two wars have much in common. "Since there is a guerilla war unfolding, there isn't a huge difference between the situations in the two nations. Like in Vietnam, once you start sending troops, you can't help but continue to send more troops. You won't know when the war will end. In Vietnam, it started with one or two years, but when it finally finished, eight years and eight months had gone."

Finishing up his telephone interview, Hwang said, "The debt we owed to the United States was already paid in full during Vietnam," and "the government must take into account the national interest and the pain of the combat soldiers and make a final decision."

The second half of the OhMyNews piece is a talk with director of the Peaceful Unification Citizens' Solidarity Group and Vietnam War vet Yun Young-jeon, which is also of interest and I will translate a little later - but now, my day job awaits.


Then there's this at Rhino's Blog.

NEW MASS STUDENT MOVEMENT BUILDING AGAINST DOW CHEMICAL:
LARGEST SINCE THE VIETNAM WAR
The International Campaign For Justice In Bhopal, 12/3/04

Students from more than 60 colleges, universities, and high schools worldwide have organized events this week to mark the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, and to demand that Dow Chemical resolve its legal and moral responsibilities for the Hiroshima of the chemical industry. The events, organized by Students for Bhopal, Association for India's Development (AID) chapters, the Campus Greens and the Environmental Justice Program of the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC), represent the first mass student movement Dow has faced since its production of Agent Orange and Napalm during the Vietnam War...

26 January 2005

Alternative Bumper Stickers

Have you ever seen those bumber stickers that proclaim GOD BLESS AMERICA. This has always struck me as an odd sentiment. Why would Christians be urging God to bless America? With hearts full of altruistic compassion, you'd think they'd be asking God to turn his attention to more troubled parts of the planet, to Sierra Leone or perhaps Bangladesh. Apparently, God operates much like the Republicans, constantly giving blessings to the well-heeled while harassing the poor with war and pestilence. For this reason, I propose that we make some alternative bumber stickers. For example:

Avalokitesvara Bless Botswana


or


Ganesh Bless Guinea


10x10

An interesting new search engine called 10x10 scans and analyzes RSS feeds and produces a hundred pictures depicting the current memes dominating the internet.

Here's how it works:

Every hour, 10x10 scans the RSS feeds of several leading international news sources, and performs an elaborate process of weighted linguistic analysis on the text contained in their top news stories. After this process, conclusions are automatically drawn about the hour's most important words. The top 100 words are chosen, along with 100 corresponding images, culled from the source news stories. At the end of each day, month, and year, 10x10 looks back through its archives to conclude the top 100 words for the given time period. In this way, a constantly evolving record of our world is formed, based on prominent world events, without any human input.
So, you can scroll down the sides for a word that looks interesting, or wander among the thumbnail pictures; click on something you like and you are taken to a detailed version of the picture along with the stories that are relevant to that word.

21 January 2005

Bush inaugural

Below I've copied a full text of Bush's inaugural address (my comments are in red):

Prepared copy of President George W. Bush's inaugural address:
Vice President Cheney, Mr. Chief Justice, President Carter, President Bush, President Clinton, reverend clergy, distinguished guests, fellow citizens:

On this day, prescribed by law and marked by ceremony, we celebrate the durable wisdom of our Constitution, and recall the deep commitments that unite our country. I am grateful for the honor of this hour, mindful of the consequential times in which we live, and determined to fulfill the oath that I have sworn and you have witnessed.

"Wisdom of our consitution!" This, from the president who has probably done more than any other to tear down the protections that the constitution offers.

At this second gathering, our duties are defined not by the words I use, but by the history we have seen together. For a half century, America defended our own freedom by standing watch on distant borders. After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical - and then there came a day of fire.

Our forefathers didn't just "stand watch" on distant borders. They expanded U.S. borders and attacked other countries based on contrived incidents and intelligence. In this sense, Bush definitely stands in the mainstream of U.S. history.

We have seen our vulnerability - and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny - prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder - violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat. There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.

I'm confused. When referring to "tryants," does Bush mean the tyrants in Saudi Arabia, or those in Uzbekistan or the Soviet Union? Or how about Egypt (a major recipient of U.S. aid)? Or the apartheid government in Israel?

We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

There's something very Christian about this: The meme, converted to a religious context, would be that the salvation of your soul somehow depends on you running around the world converting other souls. And killing those who won't go along with the project.

America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time.

Uh uhm. Me, in the back. I don't share your belief that is "now one." I have rights because I insist on them. Not because of your God or your religion.

So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

Wow! This would certainly represent a sharp break with the past. So we're going to now start supporting democratic governments? Where? In Saudi Arabia? In Kuwait? In Israel? In China?

This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.

I see. (Wink, wink.) The Saudi royal family has nothing to worry about--those words about starting democracies all over the place weren't meant for them. The Saudis have different "customs" after all.

The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations. The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it. America's influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed, America's influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom's cause.

Yes. America's influence is certainly considerable. Which would make one wonder why we are feeling so threatened, right?

My most solemn duty is to protect this nation and its people against further attacks and emerging threats. Some have unwisely chosen to test America's resolve, and have found it firm.

Attacks, threats, resolve, firm...firm...nice masculine words. I'm so glad we have one of those tough masculine leaders, not one of those whimpy ones that is troubled by moral qualms or concerns about the poor and down-trodden.

We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right. America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies.

So let me get this straight. We support the overthrow of Communist Afghanistan--where women had unparalleled economic and political equality within the Islamic world--and we activly worked to overthrow Saddam's secular dictatorship--where women were active in society, and at the same time, we support Saudi Arabia where women can't even drive a car. Hmmm.

We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.

Of course, if you're picked up anywhere in the world by anyone in the U.S. military who doesn't like the way you look, you will be held incognito without a trial until your U.S. captors decide to free you. But don't worry, take heart: the U.S. leader believes in human dignity. (He said so himself!)

Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty - though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.

Liberty certainly seems to have lost its appeal in the U.S., having been replaced by calls for vengeance.

Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world:

All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.

And who do people turn to when America is the oppressor?

Democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile can know: America sees you for who you are: the future leaders of your free country.

The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did: "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it."

Lincoln's little blurb is just long enough to fit on America's tombstone a couple decades from now.

The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people you must learn to trust them. Start on this journey of progress and justice, and America will walk at your side.

And all the allies of the United States can know: we honor your friendship, we rely on your counsel, and we depend on your help. Division among free nations is a primary goal of freedom's enemies. The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies' defeat.

Are we supposed to magically forget that Bush has done all he could to tear down multilateral security arrangements, multilateral approaches to environmental problems, and worldwide courts that apply to all citizens of all nations? Someone hand me another pill, quick. My amnesia is wearing off.

Today, I also speak anew to my fellow citizens:

From all of you, I have asked patience in the hard task of securing America, which you have granted in good measure. Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill, and would be dishonorable to abandon. Yet because we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens of millions have achieved their freedom. And as hope kindles hope, millions more will find it. By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well - a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.

Yes. This fire seems to be reaching all corners of the world. Many of these corners would like to receive less fire.

A few Americans have accepted the hardest duties in this cause - in the quiet work of intelligence and diplomacy ... the idealistic work of helping raise up free governments ... the dangerous and necessary work of fighting our enemies. Some have shown their devotion to our country in deaths that honored their whole lives - and we will always honor their names and their sacrifice.

All Americans have witnessed this idealism, and some for the first time. I ask our youngest citizens to believe the evidence of your eyes. You have seen duty and allegiance in the determined faces of our soldiers. You have seen that life is fragile, and evil is real, and courage triumphs. Make the choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself - and in your days you will add not just to the wealth of our country, but to its character.

Interpretation: Bush and cronies will worry about the wealth; you go be cannon fodder. Since Halliburton can't pay your wages, go work for Halliburton out of your love for the flag.

America has need of idealism and courage, because we have essential work at home - the unfinished work of American freedom. In a world moving toward liberty, we are determined to show the meaning and promise of liberty.

In America's ideal of freedom, citizens find the dignity and security of economic independence, instead of laboring on the edge of subsistence. This is the broader definition of liberty that motivated the Homestead Act, the Social Security Act, and the G.I. Bill of Rights. And now we will extend this vision by reforming great institutions to serve the needs of our time. To give every American a stake in the promise and future of our country, we will bring the highest standards to our schools, and build an ownership society. We will widen the ownership of homes and businesses, retirement savings and health insurance - preparing our people for the challenges of life in a free society. By making every citizen an agent of his or her own destiny, we will give our fellow Americans greater freedom from want and fear, and make our society more prosperous and just and equal.

"Build" an ownership society? We have an ownership society. The problem is that only one group owns just about everything and everyone else ends up working for them for starvation wages.

In America's ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character - on integrity, and tolerance toward others, and the rule of conscience in our own lives. Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self. That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran, and the varied faiths of our people. Americans move forward in every generation by reaffirming all that is good and true that came before - ideals of justice and conduct that are the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Fascism depends on private character, moving speeches, patriotism, and the like. Democracy depends on the opposite, on boring rules and ideas of justice that apply to all people (foreign and domestic) alike.

In America's ideal of freedom, the exercise of rights is ennobled by service, and mercy, and a heart for the weak. Liberty for all does not mean independence from one another. Our nation relies on men and women who look after a neighbor and surround the lost with love. Americans, at our best, value the life we see in one another, and must always remember that even the unwanted have worth. And our country must abandon all the habits of racism, because we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time.

I'm glad that you guys up their in your mansions love us down here in the street. It makes me feel all fuzzy and warm inside even though I'm not wearing a coat down here.

From the perspective of a single day, including this day of dedication, the issues and questions before our country are many. From the viewpoint of centuries, the questions that come to us are narrowed and few. Did our generation advance the cause of freedom? And did our character bring credit to that cause?

These questions that judge us also unite us, because Americans of every party and background, Americans by choice and by birth, are bound to one another in the cause of freedom. We have known divisions, which must be healed to move forward in great purposes - and I will strive in good faith to heal them. Yet those divisions do not define America. We felt the unity and fellowship of our nation when freedom came under attack, and our response came like a single hand over a single heart. And we can feel that same unity and pride whenever America acts for good, and the victims of disaster are given hope, and the unjust encounter justice, and the captives are set free.

We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul. When our Founders declared a new order of the ages; when soldiers died in wave upon wave for a union based on liberty; when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner "Freedom Now" - they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled. History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty.

So history does not run on wheels but it has a direction. I see...A little Fukuyama here, Marx there, and we'll have all the ingredients for a good stew.

When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public and the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration, a witness said, "It rang as if it meant something." In our time it means something still. America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof. Renewed in our strength - tested, but not weary - we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom.

May God bless you, and may He watch over the United States of America.


Other blogments on the Billionaires Ball can be found at 12th Harmonic and Red Harvest.

20 January 2005

Homeless find a home (for a day or two)

In a sudden outpouring of conservative compassion, the Shrub administration has apparently arranged for the homeless in D.C. to be taken care of by relief agencies--during the inauguration. I guess we can't have any bums walking around drunk hobnobbing with the drunk billionaires at the Bush bash.

19 January 2005

Into the Blogosphere

I recently came across an interesting essay on blogs titled Into the Blogosphere that examines the potential impact of weblogs on the public sphere. Using a model put forth by Habermas, the author concludes that weblogs are, in a sense, an idealized public sphere since they provide inclusive access, a disregard for external rank, and the potential for rational debate. The author goes on to discuss a number of the blogosphere's drawbacks: i.e. the time commitment required top build a reputation (leading to an over-representation of journalists and others who have an "in"), the influence of personal networks and of so-called A-list bloggers, and the inability of current ranking technologies to take account of negative appraisals of sites to which one links. The author seems to see the blogosphere's salvation in more democratically incline search-engines.

Personally, I don't think any search engine will ever be entirely fair, nor should we rely on some centralized technology to determine what we read. Rather the development of lateral networks (in other words, personal links) are the best way to promote a healthy public sphere. With this in mind, I encourage everyone to take time to create their own links via other weblogs' links and not to simply link to the "top" bloggers or to blogs listed prominently on blog ranking sites.

17 January 2005

Into the Wild

I recently read Into the Wild by Krakauer. The book chronicles the fatal 1992 journey of Christopher McCandless, a well-educated young idealist from an upper middle-class East Coast family. After nomadic wanderings around the West, McCandless hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. On his journey there, he gave his money ($25,000?) to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, and burned all the cash in his wallet, while inventing a new life for himself (partly inspired by Tolstoy and others). Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter.



Krakauer, who previously wrote an article on McCandless for Outdoor Magazine, painstakingly traces the young man's years on the road as he went through various jobs and adventures. Hearing of McCandless's lack of preparation as he travelled through various deserts and into the Alaskan wilderness, many readers regard the young greenhorn as a naive dare-devil. Having done some lesser versions of McCandless's vision quest in my 20s, I can personally understand the psychology that moved him (And does anyone in their 20s prepare for anything?), particularly the call of the solitary life in nature and the challenge of living off the land.

Since the book reads something like a detective story, I won't spoil the plot by giving the conclusion--suffice it to say that McCandless actually did a pretty good job of living off the land but eventually died--probably due to a few very minor errors. I suppose the lesson to all wilderness lovers and hermit wannabes is that there isn't a great margin for error when your out in the woods alone. I like Krakauer's book. It's nice to read something for once about a person who isn't on the treadmill of success--a unique individual who's able to decide how to live their own life without reference to TV advertisements.

While I'm at it, I'd like to put a plug in for Book Crossing. Although I've never tried it, the site allows people to intentionally "forget" books on park benches so that others can pick them up. It sounds like my sort of thing--a market economy minus bosses and the exchange of money.

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Day: What a great holiday celebrating a truly great man. Comments from around the blogosphere:

Joe Felice at Music for America: I think our community would feel some regard for anybody who had been to jail for his activism, who fought evils in the system and won, and who died for his convictions. But I am sadly suspicious that there's something about Martin that is just not sexy enough to really penetrate youth culture any more.

Then there's this biting remark at Ben Blog:
Forty years ago today, 250,000 people marched on Washington DC to demand equal rights. It's one of the most famous marches in modern history, for one of the best causes. Equality, in this humble weblogger's opinion, really is worth fighting for, and those 250,000 people set out to accomplish what must have seemed like an impossible task - but of course, they eventually succeeded and segregation is now illegal. In contrast, this February over a million people took to the streets to try and stop an illegal war, and accomplished exactly fuck all. I'm not trying to compare the Iraq demonstrations with the civil rights movement - that'd be insane, and I wouldn't in any way want to diminish what they did. But what's interesting to me is how this February's protest was four times the size of that march, and we were completely ignored, even though it's looking more and more like we were right. God bless democracy, eh?




An excerpt from King's 1967 speech criticizing the Vietnam War:

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

Also check out: Bruner Blog, Talk Left, P!, and Dialogic.

Gumption as a left-wing value

Mick has rightfully chastised me for my previous post listing the assorted medley of my favorite films. The list--put forth in a tongue-and-cheek manner--certainly doesn't represent any high-brow considerations of art but rather is a rating purely based on what I happened to enjoy. However, I take issue with his comments on Forrest Gump in that I think that the idea that the movie merely touts a Republican message is a bit harsh. When I hear the film referred to as "Republican," I can't help but feel that we on the left have allowed the right to hijack the left's rightful place as the politics of those who work. I want to tear my hair out when I hear working-class people calling into talk shows supporting Bush because they feel that the Republican Party supports the working man, the average Joe who overcomes his troubles through gumption instead of relying on others. The left needs to reinlist the Forrest Gumps of the popular imagination in support of its own cause. The left isn't some mamby-pamby group of lazy slobs asking for a hand-out. Historically, it's the political faction that has supported the hard-working people who have built the material edifice of society. The lazy slobs are the Bush's of the world--the aristocratic elites who feel that they should receive endless hand-outs from everyone else simply out of respect for their position as owners of capital.

14 January 2005

All Time 10 Best Movies

    Following a lengthy discussion over on Ratboy's Anvil, I've decided to post what I believe were the 10 Best Movies Ever:

  1. Waking Life (2001)

    A wonderfully dreamy, thought-provoking film about a person's lucid dream-journey, full of philosophical discussions with some of the great modern minds. The film's animation is unique, having been created by drawing over actual shots of actors. (Each segment was drawn by a different artist and therefore exhibits a different style.)

  2. The Matrix (1999)

    The first film was brilliant. The sequels unfortunately suffered from excessive funds. (What do you do when you spend thousands on creating a startling new effect? You play it repeatedly for 5 long minutes, even if it detracts from the plot). A Buddhist friend of mine who saw the first film repeatedly, remarked how the plot was a wonderful metaphor for the Bodhisattva path as put forth in Mahayana Buddhism.

  3. Hair (1979)

    You should really go see the musical first, but the movie is great too. It does a great job of capturing the exuberance and idealism of the 60s and correctly situates what was happening within the tense atmosphere of the Vietnam War and the draft. The entire movie centers around a couple days that a patriotic mid-western all-American kid spends in Brooklyn with a group of draft-dodging hippies.

  4. Gattaca (1997)

    I always felt that this was a great example of a science fiction film that didn't blow all its money on needless effects but instead relied on an intriguing and absolutely realistic plot.

  5. Quest for Fire (1981)

    I'm sure no one else will agree with this pick but I loved the boldness of this film for its serious attempt to show primitive humans in a realistic manner. The film follows a couple members of a tribe that goes out on a "quest for fire" after losing their fire (taken from a fire occurring in nature) in the aftermath of a battle. Throughout the film, the characters speak a reconstructed Indo-European tongue (without subtitles).

  6. Vanilla Sky (2001)

    I realize that this was a remake of the Spanish Abre Los Ojos, which most film officionados found superior. But sometimes I love the dreamy Hollywood visuals and wonderful sound-tracks.

  7. There's Something Special About Mary

    By far, the funniest comedy I've ever seen. The film has a lot of over-the-top sexual comedy but unlike most American films, it never devolves into crass prison-humor. Anyone who likes this film should also see the less well-known My Best Friend's Wedding.

  8. Jacob's Ladder

    This film's not for everyone. It's one of those bewildering movies that you have to be in the mood to watch. The film is enigmatic with few people agreeing on the significance of its conclusion.

  9. Titanic (1997)

    Perhaps this is Hollywood fluff but sometimes we must give credit where credit's due. Who could resist this great epic told in grand style with the beautiful Kate Winslet starring along side Di Capprio, who seems to have been born to play the role of the romantic young American?

  10. Forrest Gump (1994)

    This film incorporated a huge number of scenes which were well integrated into a central story. The film's hilarious, but beyond the humor, I felt it had a wonderful message. I remember critics tearing it up as a manifestation of American anti-intellectualism, but I saw it more as praising a particular personality type, the type of person who is always able to make lemon-aid from lemons.


I'll give honorable mention to The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980), Memento (a great pschological thriller), and The Game.

13 January 2005

The Little Red-White-and-Blue Book

At Ease has snuck over the right-side fence to listen in on what the shrubling boys are whisperin' about in their clubhouse. It appears that they are having connipshun fits over a recent comment by St. Mel (Gibson) praising the eeeevul Michael Moore (that oversized domestic terrorist who has successfully avoided the dragnets of Homeland Security.) Adding salt to open wounds, Mel has compounded his error by questioning the war in Iraq (actual questioning!) To prevent such ideological error from reoccurring in the future, I suggest that the right wing issue a little red-white-and-blue book full of Bush's wisdom (it would be a very little book, mind you), witticisms, and malapropisms. We could have David Savage edit the book. As required reading for aspiring young neocons, the book would perhaps prevent some of us from falling into ideological error.

Music for America has a good post on the St. Mel ideological error titled "What Would Jesus Film?" quoted in full below:


Either the world is getting more bizarre by the day, or my brain is starting to short circuit, but yesterday at the People's Choice Awards both Mel Gibson and Michael Moore praised each other's controversial movies.


From the AP via Yahoo
PASADENA, Calif. - Mel Gibson and Michael Moore have been used as shorthand for cultural and political divisions among Americans, but how do the filmmakers feel about each other? Cue the Hollywood ending — it's hugs all around.

Here's What Mel had to say:
"I saw the film. I liked it," Gibson told AP Radio Sunday at the 31st Annual People's Choice Awards, countering the contention that "Fahrenheit 9/11" fans and "The Passion of the Christ" enthusiasts are mutually exclusive groups.

"I feel a kind of strange kinship with Michael," Gibson said. I mean, they're trying to pit us against each other in the press, but this is all just a hologram, you know. They've really got nothing to do with one another. They were used as some kind of divisive left-right thing."

As for Moore, he:
said he saw Gibson's film twice, and even took his father to see it.

"I thought it was a powerful piece of filmmaking," Moore told AP Radio Sunday. "I'm a practicing Catholic, and you know I think Mel and I may be from different wings of the Catholic Church. My film might have been called 'The Compassion of the Christ.'"


So you mean people can oppose the Iraq war and be Christian at the same time? The hell you say!

If you want a real laugh- go over to nutcase central FreeRepublic and read those simple minded cretons rip Mel a new one. I mean didn't that wacky ass liberal read the part of the bible where it says "thou shalt support the president of the united states, even though he's dumb as a pet goat, and created the biggest foreign blunder in US history"? Mel just bought himself a one way ticket to hell (where he'll meet all the Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Agnostics, Queers, and Shriners).

12 January 2005

Eternal vigilance!

All you librals keep harpin' away about how nun of them WMDs were found but let me tell ya--you better not let yer guard down. Cause any day now them Iraqi frogmen will be appearing out of cold Oregon surf, WMDs in one hand and the Koran in the other, ready to blow up our sand dunes. Or even if they don't quite make it to Oregon, they might just sell weapons such as mace or box-cutters to terrorists who will then use these highly controlled items to take over planes and knock down our buildings just because they don't like freedom. So you better keep vigilant. Hell, the only reason are country's free right now is because brave men in the past (not any of ya scardy-cat librals) were willing to go over and massacre native Americans, attack Mexico, kill Phillipinos and bomb Vietnamese rice farmers. If they hadn't stepped up to the plate, our country would now be filled with Mexicans, Phillipinos and Vietnamese . . . er, I mean even more of them. So be afraid of everyone. Be violent. Attack. Attack!

Exclusive Swerve Left sighting of Iraqi commandoes taking an Oregon beach head.

No Picasso left behind

Mick Arran has a great post over on Net Politik about the war on the arts in American schools. To quote one excerpt from the long and well-reasoned post:

In other words, the arts are antithetical to the style of education we've decided to favor. They oppose it, undermine it, and often show it up as a fraud. Teenagers are drawn to the arts not just because they're 'glamorous' although that's certainly part of the attraction, but because they confirm what many of the kids feel: that high school doesn't have a whole lot to do with their real lives or the issues they struggle with every day. Arts don't make rebellion more manageable, they give it teeth and sharp claws. If you can keep the arts off in a corner somewhere, like a sort of educational leper colony, you can keep them from infecting the rest of the system with their loathsome openness and endless questioning.

11 January 2005

Should pharmacists be allowed to say No?

Chad over at Freak Machine Press has point me to an article published in the Monterey Herald, regarding a bill that would require pharmacists to sell contraceptives, even if it went against their beliefs. The bill is being vehemently opposed by organizations such as Pharmacists for Life. (Levine is also putting forth a law that would allow physician-assisted suicide.)


By HARRISON SHEPPARD

SACRAMENTO - Pharmacists would be required to fill prescriptions for contraceptives even when it goes against their religious or moral beliefs under a bill proposed by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys.

The issue has become increasingly controversial across the country, particularly in more conservative areas of the South and Midwest, where some pharmacists have refused to dispense birth-control or ''morning-after'' pills, and about a dozen states have passed laws to protect them.

While the debate has yet to ignite in California, Levine is looking to tackle the issue before it does.

''A pharmacist's job is to fill the prescription that a doctor prescribes for a patient,'' Levine said. ''The relationship is between the doctor and patient, not the pharmacist and patient. If we allow them to decide which prescriptions to fill and not to fill, it creates a whole lot of problems.''

The bill is still in early form and would not penalize pharmacists who refuse to provide contraceptives.

A group representing pharmacists objecting to contraceptives said pharmacists should retain the right to make their own decisions based on their beliefs and their clinical judgments.

''California will get the pharmacist shortage it deserves if you all pass that bill,'' said Karen Brauer, president of Pharmacists For Life International. ''Because if you want to take away the pharmacist's dispensing authority -- the pharmacist's ability to make clinical decisions -- you won't need any pharmacists out there.''

Brauer added that she opposes birth control because she does not feel the hormone-based pills are safe for women and she objects to the social consequences.

''Birth control serves to make women sexually available to men at the convenience of men and not at the most convenient time necessarily for women. It's really to place women at the service of men.''

Assembly Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, said the state shouldn't decide what pharmacists should or should not sell.

''Now the state government is going to start dictating what we have in pharmacies?'' he said. ''I don't think we're the best to do that. I think the consumer and the free market have determined what sells inside a business. I'm not into telling pharmacies what they have to sell.''

Around the blogosphere

This morning I took a look at some of the blogs that really delve into current issues. A Theory of Power has an interesting discussion of the potential of federalism in Iraq. Panda's Thumb has some good posts discussing the recent upswing in Creationism across the country and some dialogue with its advocates. Democracy for California has a post (with a great picture!) on surviving the tsunami with Stone Age instincts. Global Guerrillas has some interesting posts on the anti-U.S. forces in Iraq. The War Against Error discusses recent torture charges brought against King Shrub. Lastly, there's a thought-provoking essay on P! about the chances that real change will come out of the Democratic Party.

10 January 2005

Bloggers Against Catblogging (BAC)

Swerve Left has started a new organization fighting the sudden wave of cat-blogging that is corrupting the purity of the blogosphere. Please send your money to Karlo at Swerve Left. He will put it to good use trying to rid the internet of the infiltrating felines. Many corners of the internet have always been infested with these phrrrballs, but now we're starting to see them take over perfectly serious political blogs such as écritures bleues, At Ease, Redwood Dragon, Elisa Camahort, and Trish Wilson's Blog. Join BAC now! Stop the cat infestation!

Mammoths not extinct!

As proof that persistence trumps talent within the blogosphere, I have become a large mammal in the TLB Ecosystem. To be precise, I have become a woolly mammoth.

There's got to be a morning after...

Bush vs. Choice had the following post:

Most of you already know that the FDA is once again considering making Plan B (emergency contraception) available over-the-counter, after a study showed what we all knew: making EC more accessible “reduce(s) the number of unwanted pregnancies while posing no apparent risk to women.” Duh!

Personally, I don't see how the government is going to prevent morning-after pills since a woman can simply take a couple birth-control pills and achieve the same results. But then, who knows. Perhaps decades from now, in a Talibanized Christian America, unpregnant women of child-bearing age will be held in stocks as crowds of God-fearing town folk cast stones at them.

8 January 2005

The right to ignore rights

Thoughts of an Average Woman has an excellent post on the U.S. detainees. This is such an important issue that I'll take the liberty of quoting her post in full:

The US is holding at least 325 foreign fighters, of which none are entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions.

Think about this for a few minutes...if you have someone locked up for a year, two years, three years (like we have at Gitmo) how up-to-date do you think any information that we might possibly get, after that amount of time, would be? And don't you think OLD OUT-DATED information would put our troops in harms way just as much as false or no information? But, I digress.

This nugget of information comes to public light during the Gonzales confirmation hearings. The same man that brought us the conclusion that these human's don't have protections under the Geneva Convention, and asserted as much during his testimony this week (as well in his pre-released prepared testimony).

Asked about the review of non-Iraqi prisoners now under way, the officials have left open the possibility that more could be transferred to secret facilities run by the C.I.A. outside the United States. Those facilities are believed to house a total of about two dozen suspected high-ranking officials of Al Qaeda, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and others.

When administration officials first described the legal opinion on detainees in Iraq in October, they acknowledged that the transfer of non-Iraqis by the C.I.A. had already taken place.

Until last fall, the administration had asserted that the full protections of Geneva, including the prohibition on the transfer of prisoners, applied broadly to the conflict in Iraq, and had given no indication that any exception was being made for non-Iraqis.

Altogether, the United States military still holds about 8,500 prisoners in Iraq, including about 7,500 at three main prisons in Iraq and an 1,000 or so at temporary battlefield detention centers. All are classified as security detainees, American military officials say.

Based on current actions, we will be holding these 8500 people indefinately. That means feeding them and housing them. And, if there is NO PROOF that an individual detainee has any actual link to Al Queda, they will remain in limbo, their mothers and wives wondering if they are dead or alive, until someone has the sense to let them go.


Also check out the new post on this topic by Heart, Soul, and Humor.

7 January 2005

Back-bone donors needed!

Listening to the Gonzales hearings, I was appalled by his evasive answers and lack of leadership. When asked if it were okay if other countries tortured U.S. citizens to collect vital intelligence, all he could do was to respond that he wasn't familiar with other countries' laws! If he's appointed, we'll have to do an immediate bone transplant because Alberto clearly doesn't have a single bone in his body (certainly no backbone).

Amnesty International and other rights groups have run an ad in the NY Times asking US attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales: "Of all the questions you'll face today, Judge Gonzales, this is the simplest: Will you sign our declaration to stop torture?"

Of course he won't. Torture's "fine." The Bush administration stands for the law of the jungle. Might makes right. Moral arguments and for suckers.



See also some excellent legal commentary by Jesselyn Radack, How Appealing's excellent set of links, Sentencing Law and Policy, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan press briefing discussing the hearings, Talk Left's post, NY Times article, Duluth News Tribune article on Kohl and Feingold's questions, The Vast Right-wing Conspiracy, AD, Suburban Geurrilla, Wonkette, and excerpts.

Comment of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass)
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: Now, the Post article states you chaired several meetings of which various interrogation techniques were discussed. These techniques included the threat of live burial and “water boarding,” whereby the detainee is strapped to a board, forcibly pushed under water wrapped in a wet towel and made to believe he might drown. The article states that you raised no objections. Now, without consulting military and state department experts, they were not consulted, they were not invited to important meetings, that might have been important to some, but we know of what Secretary Taft has said about his exclusion from these. Experts in laws of torture and war prove the resulting memos gave C.I.A. interrogators the legal blessings they sought. Now was it the C.I.A. That asked you?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Sir, I don't have a specific recollection -- I read the same article. I don't know whether or not it was the C.I.A. What I can say is that after this war began, against this new kind of threat, this new kind of enemy, we realized that there was a premium on receiving information. In many ways this war on terror is a war about information. If we have information, we can defeat the enemy. We had captured some really bad people, who we were concerned had information that might prevent the loss of American lives in the future. It was important to receive that information, and people -- the agencies wanted to be sure that they would not do anything that would violate our legal obligations. So, they did the right thing. They asked questions: What is lawful conduct? Because we don't want to do anything that violates the law. Now –

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: So, the legal -- you asked at their request, as I understand it. If this is incorrect, then correct me. I'm not attempting -- or if there are provisions in that comment I meant here that are inaccurate, I want to be corrected. I want to be fair on this, but it's my understanding, certainly was in the report, that the C.I.A. came you to, asked for the clarification. You went to the O.L.C. I want to ask you, did you ever talk to any members of the O.L.C. while they were drafting the memoranda? Did you ever suggest to them that they ought to lean forward on this issue about supporting the extreme uses of torture. Did you ever, as reported in the newspaper?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Sir, I don't recall ever using the term sort of “leaning forward”, in terms of stretching what the law is –

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: Did you talk to the O.L.C. During the drafting?

ALBERTO GONZALES: There is always discussions -- not always discussions -- but there is often discussions between the Department of Justice and O.L.C. and the Counsel's Office regarding legal issues. I think this is perfectly appropriate. This was an issue that the White House cared very much about to insure that the agencies were not engaged in conduct-

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: What were you urging them? What were you urging. They are, as I understand, charged to interpret the law. They -- we have the series of different -- six or seven of the laws on the conventions on torture and on the rest of that. They are charged to develop and say what the statute is. Now, what -- what did you believe your role was in talking with the O.L.C. And recommending –

ALBERTO GONZALES: To understand their -- to understand their views about the interpretation.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: Weren't you going to get the document? Weren't you going to get their document? Why did you have to talk to them during the time of the drafting? It suggests in here that you were urging them to go as far as they possibly could. That's what the newspaper report -- your testimony is that you did talk to them, but you can't remember what you told them?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Sir, I'm sure there was a discussion about the analysis about a very tough statute, a new statute, as I have said repeatedly that had never been interpreted by our courts. We wanted to make sure we got it right.


And then there was this questioning by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont:

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I'd like to ask you a few questions about the torture memo dated in August 1, 2002, signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bibey. He's now a federal appellate court judge. The memo is addressed to you. It was written at your request. This is actually the memo here. It's a fairly lengthy memo, but addressed memorandum for Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the president. It says, "for an act to violate the torture statute, it must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." in August, 2002, did you agree with that conclusion?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Senator, in connection with that opinion, I did my job as Counsel to the president to ask the question.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I just want to know, did you agree -- we can spend an hour with that answer, but frankly, it would be very simple. Did you agree with that interpretation of the torture statute back in August, 2002?

ALBERTO GONZALES: If i may, sir, let me try to give you a quick answer, but I'd like to put a little bit of context. There obviously we were interpreting a statute that had never been reviewed in the courts, a statute drafted by Congress. We were trying to interppret the standard set by Congress. There was discussion between the White House and Department of Justice as well as other agencies about what does this statute mean? It was a very, very difficult -- I don't recall today whether or not I was in agreement with all of the analysis, but I don't have a disagreement with the conclusions then reached by the department. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the department to tell us what the law means, Senator.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: And do you agree today that for an act to violate the torture statute, it must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death?

ALBERTO GONZALES: I do not, sir, that does not represent the position of the executive branch, as you know..

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: But --

ALBERTO GONZALES: Let me finish.

SPEAKER: Let him finish the answer.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: But it wasn't your position in 2002.

SPEAKER: Let him finish his answer.

ALBERTO GONZALES: Sir, what you are asking the Counsel to do is interject himself and direct the Department of Justice, who is supposed to be free of any kind of political influence in reaching a legal interpretation of the law passed by Congress. I certainly give my views. There was, of course, conversation and a give and take discussion about what does the law mean, but ultimately, by statute, the Department of Justice is charged by congress to provide legal advice on behalf of the president. We asked the question. That memo represented the position of the executive branch at the time it was issued.


And finally, the questions of Senator Lindsey Graham, a conservative Pepublicon from South Carolina:

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: The Department Of Justice memo that we're all talking about now was in my opinion, Judge Gonzales, not a little bit wrong, but entirely wrong in its focus. Because it excluded another body of law called the Uniform Code Of Military Justice. Mr. Chairman, I have asked since October for memos from the working group by Judge Advocate General representatives that commented on this Department Of Justice policy, and I have yet to get those memos. I have read those memos. They're classified for some bizarre reason. But generally speaking, those memos talk about that if you go down the road suggested, you're making a u-turn as a nation, that you are going to lose the moral high ground, but more importantly, some of the techniques and legal reasoning being employed into what torture is, which is an honest thing to talk about, it's okay to ask for legal advice. You should ask for legal advice. But this legal memo, I think, put our troops at jeopardy because the Uniform Code of Military Justice specifically makes it a crime for a member of our uniformed forces to abuse a detainee. It is a specific article of the Uniformed Code Of Military Justice for a purpose -- because we want to show our troops, not just in words, but in deeds that you have an obligation to follow the law. I would like for you to comment, if you could, and I would like you to reject, if you would, the reasoning in that memo when it came time to give a torturers view of torture. Will you be willing to do that here today?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Senator, there is a lot to respond to in your statement. I would respectfully disagree with your statement that we're becoming more like our enemy. We are nothing like our enemy, Senator. While we are struggling to try to find out at Abu Ghraib, they're beheading people like Danny Pearl and Nick Berg. We are nothing like our enemy.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Can I suggest to you that I didn't say that we are like our enemy, that the worst thing we did when you compare it to Saddam Hussein was a good day there. But we're not like who we want to be, and who we have been. That's the point I'm trying to make. That when you start looking at torture statutes, and you look at ways around the spirit of the law, that you're losing the moral high ground, and that was the counsel from the Secretary Of State's office that once you start down this road, that it's very hard to come back. So, I do believe we have lost our way, and my challenge to you as a leader of this nation is to help us find our way without giving up our obligation and right to fight our enemy.

5 January 2005

Seeking sympathy votes

Swerve Left has been nominated for Best Overall Blog (by a Non-Professional) over at Wampum. The competition's fierce with the likes of Suburban Geurrilla, Feministe, and Majikthise, as well as the erudite Pharyngula. Swerving through such giants, poor Karlo has not a chance. So here's your chance to do a good deed. Go give me a vote out of loyalty. Make up some compliment. And at least help keep me from finishing the race at the back of the pack! (Particularly not behind any fetching blondes--they're already on my case about my Dumb Blondes post.)

The 10,000 mark

Amidst increased violence in the run up to the elections, the Pentagon now tells us that more than 10,000 US military personnel have been wounded in Iraq since the conflict began in March 2003, with more than 5,000 of the wounded unable to return to duty. Many have been left with serious injuries that will mark them for life. The death toll for US troops is now over 1,300. Of course, these numbers are miniscule compared to the number of dead Iraqi children and other civilians.

3 January 2005

Dumb blondes crowding the altar

Dumb blonde jokes might not be PC, but a new study supports the conventional stereotype of the attractive air-head. The study found that smart women, unlike their brainy male counterparts, have a hard time getting hitched. (I suppose one alternative conclusion not considered by this study would be that smart women don't want to get married!)

LONDON (AFP) - A high IQ is a hindrance for women wanting to get married while it is an asset for men, according to a study by four British universities published in The Sunday Times newspaper. The study found the likelihood of marriage increased by 35 percent for boys for each 16-point increase in IQ. But for girls, there is a 40-percent drop for each 16-point rise, according to the survey by the universities of Aberdeen, Bristol, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The study is based on the IQs of 900 men and women between their 10th and 40th birthdays. "Women in their late 30s who have gone for careers after the first flush of university and who are among the brightest of their generation are finding that men are just not interesting enough," said psychologist and professor at Nottingham University Paul Brown in The Sunday Times.

Claire Rayner, writer and broadcaster, said in the article that intelligent men often prefered a less brainy partner. "A chap with a high IQ is going to get a demanding job that is going to take up a lot of his energy and time. In many ways he wants a woman who is an old-fashioned wife and looks after the home, a copy of his mum in a way."