31 August 2005

What is it good for?

Joe Costello has an excellent post on Of By and For on the constantly changing justification for the Iraqi War:

Last week, the inane reasons trifecta came in on why we invaded and occupied Iraq. No WMD, no al Qaeda, and finally the third horse made it passed the wire, no democracy. Of course, that was always the hardest drivel to swallow. What does the political class of this country have to teach any other nation about democracy?

Joe has evidently forgotten about America's manifest destiny. We're more moral than everyone else because God made us that way. And unlike other country's, our nation's politicians are solely motivated by God and patriotism (despite millions of dollars pooring in from corporations.)

So Iraq's and our symbiotic spiral continues. Our president hails the new Iraqi constitution, enshrining religious law, as part of the American tradition. Despite the fact, that in 1787, this republic unprecedently built, as Jefferson stated, "a wall of separation between church and state." This administration attempts to bend all perception to their corrupted and failed unreality, repeatedly trumpeting a disregard for our republic and its traditions. Next, the president reiterated, “as long as I'm the President, we're staying,” revealing another great degradation in our two century old republic – unbridled executive power.

I guess these psuedo-cowboys from Texas ain't into bridles. But aren't these special times. Unlike during the American Revolution when we just had wimpy Britain to deal with, we're really threatened at this point by countries like Iraq and Venezuela.

In 1973 Dr. Thompson wrote, “By the time Richard Milhous Nixon goes on trial in the Senate, the only real reason for trying him will be to understand how he ever became president of the United States at all...and the real defendant, at that point, will be the American Political System.”

Indeed. There was the decrepit underbelly of the American political system exposed: an out of control executive branch stomping on rights here and instigating imperial misadventures abroad; an electoral system in the pocket of big corporate money, an increasingly effete and insular political class; and a complicit media.

But, we didn't have that needed trial in 1973. Instead, we had a pardon and incremental reforms that proved completely ineffective. The deep questions this war beg are not about Iraq, but about the failure of American politics. The hard questions needing to be asked are how do we revitalize this republic and evolve a healthy politics?

We can start by hanging the president and his fellow cronies from the nearest tree. There's a nice tall one just about twenty paces from the White House.

Angry gods

And yet the National Guard is running around the globe as moving recruitment posters and target practice for terrorists. I could think of a place or two where we could use their help right now.

Daddy Shrub will protect you

I feel so secure to see that the daddy of the nation has such rational priorities. The nation's plagued by biblical floods, National Guard troops that would help if they hadn't been sent off to the Middle East, and plummeting public support, but Shrub has decided to tackle the problem of athletes taking steroids. Like every frivilous attention-seeking political move, there's a bit of irony in all this. Shrub, after all, formerly owned a baseball team, and even traded for Jose Canseco, the former Oakland A's star who has emerged as a poster child for steroid abuse. All this aside, I'm so overjoyed to see that Shrub has joined the vast multitude of Americans clammoring for steroid-free athletes in protests throughout the country. Ever since we overcame the threat of Iraqi commandoes storming our beaches, I've been awake every night concerned about testerone-crazed baseball players breaking down my door and whacking me on the head with a baseball bat.

An exceptional blog

At some point, I'd like to put together a list of the really thoughtful blogs--those writers whose posts evince a great deal of deep reflection on a subject. In contrast with all the chatter and re-spinning of CNN gossip, these sites show how far blogs can go in becoming legitimate and important fora for the exchange of ideas in a democracy. A prime example of a thoughtful blogger would be Jodi over at I Cite. Listen to her reflect on the hyperbole offered in a recent newscast:

when everything is exceptional
To get a hit of storm porn, I turned in to Scarborough country on msnbc last night. Not surprisingly, the coverage was aimed at reinforcing authoritarian power. Everyone was a victim. Authorities (particularly FEMA) were controlling the situation. And, for the extra twist of the knife, Americans who sent aid to Tsunami victims were just barely chastized, or guilted into, supporting the victims of America's own tsunami. Even a bit of care or interest in something outside our fragile borders seemed subversive, anti-American. Now Americans need to support their own. Scarborough's ability to politicize, in really awful ways, is impressive.

But perhaps more remarkable was his extreme vocabulary. This will be the most expensive storm ever in US history. With the heat and floods, we have a recipe for disease, nay for pestilence of unseen magnitudes. Nothing has ever before been seen. The whole event is incomparable, unique, we may never know (given the way the event breaks all boundaries with the past) the extent of the damage it has caused.

This language of the exception, if we read Agamben, should remind us its connection with sovereign power. Sovereignty operates by designating states of emergency, sites of exception where law is suspended. The war on terror has opened up many such sites, or, better, participating in the reinscription of societal space such that law and its obscene supplement (Zizek language now) or sovereignty and the space of exception are indistinct, indistinguishable. In its ideological capacity (its capacity to provide the language and images, the intensities and fantasies, through which so many experience their world), media participates in this reinscription as it emphases exceptions, the unsurpassable or immeasurable uniqueness of an event.

30 August 2005

Making the world safe for theocracy

Amidst all this hyperbole about how America the Beautiful is going to gallavant across the world making the world safe for secular democracy, it might be worthwhile to step back for a second and look at the U.S. record on the matter. If we look closely, I think we'll find that the military that has been entrusted with this sacred task has a history of shoving Christianity down the throats of anyone senseless enough to join. During my years in the military, I remember being told to bow my head and pray some Christian prayer during virtually every long ceremony. This doesn't sit right with many of us. We're told not to worry though, because the chaplain corps is diverse. Unfortunately, all this really means is that its a diverse group of monotheists (a la Christianity or Judism).

With this in mind, it's interesting to look at the table published in The Washington Post (A4) today. If your a military member belonging to the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, you can smile and praise the lord because there is one minister for every 1.4 of you. (In other words, every time three people from your church join, the military has to run out and get two chaplains just to keep you fellahs in line.) If you're Roman Catholic, you ain't so lucky. There's only one chaplain for every 832 of your fellow church members. But what happens if you're a member of one of them heathen religions that ain't part of America's Manifest Destiny. Well, if you're one of the 4,371 registered Buddhists, there are zero chaplains for you. All you get is a big goose egg.

Lately, Evangelicals, concerned that they only own 95% of the pie, are making waves inside the ranks, leading to recent problems at the Navy Chaplain School in R.I. and to the departure of Army Rabbi Jeffrey Goldman (listed now as a deserter). These devout rabblerousers range from the the pathetic to the ridiculous. (Don't they realize that when you have a virtual monopoly on things, you've got to keep quiet. Don't fight amongst yourselves! . . . Come to think of it, keep fighting!) Personally, I don't see why a bloody penny of my tax dollars is being spent to pay Christian ministers to lead prayers that non-Christians are required to attend. Instead of sorting out which Christian faction is to gain hegemony, let's save a few more tax dollars and reduce the size of government by canning the entire military chaplain program. Then perhaps conservatives' relentless ranting about China's suppression of Christians or Muslim fundamentalists' protection of Islam might sound just a little less hollow.

Framing debate

The Lonestar Iconoclast has published an interview with Vidali, the producer of the new film "Deflating the Elephant." The film aims to educate the public about framing and the way that conservative political forces have manipulated framing to distort facts and sway public opinion. Based on a book by Lakoff, the film will be preceded by a streaming-on-demand film available via the internet. This will provide essential background for understand the film itself.

I definitely want to see this film. And I'm fascinated at the ways that the internet is slowly becoming intertwined with other media. As a further example of this trend, Newsweek's currently working with Technorati on a project to reflect more blog discussion in their magazine.

Preventing password theft

America Online and E-Trade have come up with a nice strategy to prevent identity theft. In addition to typing in a user name and password, users can obtain a key-chain-sized token with a tiny screen that displays a new six-digit number every minute. The numbers are synchronized with numbers generated at the company's site. The technology makes password theft less inviting since stolen passwords rapidly expire.


I hate to say it, but I've finally been forced to introduce word-verification for my comments. Wherever you go, even in the virtual world, there's a certain class of humanity that feels compelled to toss their empty coke bottles into the commons.

29 August 2005

All that loving

[Post deleted]

Patriotism and belonging

In comments to an early post, Timmer recently said that judging from my statements, I had clearly not done any time in the military. I've gotten this sort of reaction before in blog discussions. Ironically, I have been in the military as have many of my most ardently anti-Bush friends.

There's something about this sort of comment that I find troubling. The message I keep hearing from people is that there's some sort of litmus test for being "a true American" and "belonging here." People need to pass some narrowly defined citizenship test based on patriotic zeal. My own feelings on this is that everyone "belongs" wherever they were born (if not elsewhere as well), whether that be in America or abroad. These people who claim that you have to be patriotic, pro-military or from the "heartland" in order to be a true American have gotten things ass-backwards. Patriotism doesn't trump belonging. Rather, it's the other way around. Belonging to one's land, community, and point in history actually trumps country. "Country" could disappear tomorrow and we'd all still belong here.

To put this in more philosophical terms, patriotism is only good in so-far as a country participates in "the good." Seen in this light, patriotism isn't really good (or bad) at all, since it derives these qualities from something higher. Likewise, our sense of basic dignity as people isn't derived from the laws or institutions that aim to reflect this dignity. Timmer implies that there's something about being in the military (courage? fortitude?) that especially qualifies a person for full citizenship. I would argue that our society boasts many people of courage. A teacher willing to work in a dangerous section of town in order to help disadvantaged youth possesses courage--and probably faces much more physical danger everyday than 99% of the people in the military. No one should imply that I or anyone else do not belong or are not qualified to enter discussions about what's happening here.

The fall of civilizations and asabiya

I recently came across an interesting news article on Turchin and his theory of the rise and fall of civilizations:

. . . he argues the fluctuations in population of pre-industrial societies can be linked to periods of instability and civil war. His theory shows how population growth caused by increased prosperity can itself trigger such social instability, thus sowing the seeds of its own decline. This, says Turchin, is how civilisations and empires collapse. But War and Peace and War is even more ambitious for it attempts to explain some of history's grand narratives: the rise and fall of Rome, the expansion of medieval European powers, the Russian conquest of Siberia. Turchin believes these empires were the product of one factor: social cohesion, the willingness of groups to co-operate against opponents. He calls this asabiya, an Arabic word denoting "mutual affection and willingness to fight and die for each other".

Using modern understanding of how co-operative behaviour develops in groups of organisms, Turchin's models suggest that asabiya becomes particularly strong on the frontiers of empires, where two civilisations confront one another. This, he says, was how a small group of Cossacks was able to defeat a much larger army of Tatars in Siberia in 1582. Thus, the "meta-ethnic faultlines" between civilisations are "asabiya incubators" from which new empires spring. Here, either you unite or you die.

One consequence is that frontier peoples bury their differences and help one another. The downside is that they exaggerate factors that distinguish them from their foes, who become subhuman barbarians, heathens or infidels. Sounds familiar? Turchin points out how, after September 11, 2001, a US radio host referred to Arabs as "nonhumans" and claimed that "conversion to Christianity is the only thing that probably can turn them into human beings". The US has all the hallmarks of an empire, Turchin says, and it is one in which asabiya is showing its dark side in nationalism and xenophobia. "Today the most violent clash of civilisations occurs on the meta-ethnic frontiers of Islam with the Western, Orthodox, Hindu and Sinic civilisations," says Turchin. But if his theory is right, it will be in these conflict zones, such as the borders of Europe, that the next great empires will arise.

28 August 2005

The Final Cut

I just finished watching The Final Cut, starring Robin Williams. I'm surprised I missed this one when it first appeared in theaters. The film has an intriguing, thought-provoking plot and the special effects don't get in the way. I'd definitely recommend it.

Korean teledramas now popular everywhere

An SF Chronicle article talks about the increasing popularity of Korean soaps around the world. The word "soap opera" being used to describe Korean serial TV dramas is a bit misleading. U.S. soaps tend to be these vapid and disjointed narratives in which scores of leisurely wealthy people jump in and out of bed with each other. Korean soaps, by contrast, are positively Victorian in terms of explicit sex scenes. Korean tele-dramas, while touching on perennial topics such as love and marriage, feature characters that are realistically morally ambivalent. Unlike the American soaps showing the clash between good and evil characters, Korean soaps often involve tragedies of fate in which the problems faced are largely unavoidable. The Korean dramas also freely deal with matters of class conflict, which is oddly taboo in the U.S. I'd love to see some country like Korea completely overtake the Hollywood market for daytime entertainment just to demonstrate that a lot of people still prefer plot and complex character development over the nasty backbiting and cheap sexual titillation offered on U.S. daytime T.V.

SOUTH KOREA SOAP OPERAS FIND LARGE AUDIENCESExported television dramas improving nation's image around Asia -- and beyondVanessa Hua, Chronicle Staff Writer Sunday, August 28, 2005
Seoul -- Patients in hospital gowns crowded in with their IV poles. Visitors pressed against glass doors to watch. The crew hovered with lights, camera and microphone. "Ready ... cue," the director barked, then filmed the scene of a young widow undergoing tests to give a kidney to her mother, who had abandoned her as a child. On location at Chung Ang University Hospital, the crew from "Be Strong, Geum-Soon" on the MBC network was filming the latest installment of a hot South Korean export: television dramas. Like the ardent horde at the hospital, millions of fans across Asia began tuning to South Korean soap operas in the late 1990s. Now, the dramas are winning over devotees in the United States. As Americans flee network television in droves, Korean dramas are grabbing audience share. In the Bay Area, "Dae Jang Geum," or "Jewel in the Palace," aired this spring, dubbed in Mandarin on the Chinese-language KTSF. For the finale, more than 100,000 fans tuned in, handing the show higher ratings than ABC's "Extreme Makeover," the WB's "Starlet" or PBS' "Live From Lincoln Center" in that time slot. The "Korean wave" of pop culture -- known in South Korea as hallyu -- is a point of national pride, helping introduce the country to the world and breaking down historical grudges with its neighbors. The soaps have also boosted the popularity of South Korean movies and singing acts. Business leaders are betting on the wave to sell other products, and the government is promoting the trend to attract tourists. Travel agencies in California and across Asia offer package tours of filming sites, which government figures show attracted 200,000 visitors in 2003. Last year, exports of South Korean programs -- mostly dramas -- totaled $71.4 million, up 70 percent over 2003, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

South Korean dramas arose when the country began deregulating its economy in the wake of the 1996 Asian financial crisis. As entrepreneurs remade the entertainment industry, academics say, creativity blossomed in the arts. Along with television dramas, South Korean movies are gaining recognition in the United States. The gritty thriller "Old Boy" earned the 2004 Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. It played at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival earlier this year, along with other South Korean movies now popular on the art-house circuit. The television dramas often start in the childhood of the main characters, who face love triangles, deadly disease, family intrigue, class differences and other obstacles. Most last 20 or 30 episodes, instead of enduring the endless plot twists of U.S. soaps. They tend to have less violence and sex and to emphasize longing and delicate flirtation culminating in a kiss. In South Korea, fans can get their fix of popular shows twice a week, often on consecutive weeknights, and episodes are re-run on weekends. Viewers can also download episodes from the Web, and show producers monitor online fan postings, which can influence the plots.

"Koreans are the No. 1 drama lovers in the world," Lee Byung Hoon, producer of the popular historical epic "Jewel in the Palace," said over a green tea shake at a Seoul cafe favored by politicians. "Korea is surrounded by powerful neighbors. Throughout history, (we) have suffered and endured. Koreans keep hope inside and never give up." Episodes of "Jewel in the Palace" include an evil court lady's plot to a hide a bad luck charm in the kitchen to turn the queen's unborn child into a boy; a competition on how to cook whale meat; and a doctor using his acupuncture kit to save a woman who ate poisoned berries. Produced for $15 million, the tale of an orphaned kitchen cook who went on to become the king's first female physician 500 years ago has pulled in $40 million worldwide since it first aired in 2003. After reaching as many as 57 percent of viewers in South Korea, the series spawned a theme park and restaurants in Hong Kong that serve dishes featured on the show.

At the Korea National Tourism Organization in downtown Seoul, a new team of five marketers is selling the Korean wave, organizing events for overseas fan clubs and appointing actors as "tourism ambassadors." Last month, the government launched hellohall yu.com, which lists information on celebrities, television dramas, movies and filming locales -- in English, Korean and Japanese. In the Korean Entertainment Hall of Fame, Midori Mizoguchi and Yumi Yamada, two sisters on vacation from Japan, giggled and took turns posing in front of a huge photo of Bae Yong Joon, the star of the mega-hit "Winter Sonata." His sensitive look is replicated on billboards, notebooks, knit socks and other products throughout Asia.
Mizoguchi, 36, a hairdresser, said her clients talk about nothing but the Korean stars.
"I thought (South Korea) was a very inflexible or constrained society," she said. "But I find the people kind and enjoyable." Though popular culture naturally circulates among neighboring countries, that flow was disrupted in East Asia for decades after World War II. Bitterness among other Asian countries over Japan's invasions hampered cultural exchange, and China, isolated under communist rule, cut off cultural influx from the rest of the world. Only in 1998 -- more than 50 years after the Japanese occupation ended -- did South Korea gradually lift its ban on cultural imports from Japan.

Greater exchange is likely ahead. "Once that is achieved, people who live in the region are able to gain a better understanding of how other parts of their region live and think," said Michael Kim, an assistant professor of Korean Studies at Yonsei University in Seoul. Su-jin Chun, 28, television columnist for the English-language edition of JoongAng Daily, one of South Korea's biggest newspapers, cautioned that the world portrayed on Korean soaps reflects only a part of society. "Still, it's good that it's hit it big," she said. South Korean dramas air in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., and can be seen nationally on cable channel AZN Television. San Bruno's Yesasia.com sells 20,000 to 30,000 English-subtitled Korean dramas every month, a figure it says is steadily growing. In the first six months of this year, the retailer sold more Korean dramas than in all of 2004.

In Hawaii, the Honolulu Advertiser prints synopses of the shows, which are broadcast there subtitled in English. The University of Hawaii held a conference last year on how South Korean dramas have influenced pop culture worldwide. The Internet also abounds with bulletin boards, where fans from different countries discuss what happened and what they missed, and can view English- subtitled video clips they've made. "I LOVE this drama," writes user "clockworkhorror" in a bulletin board devoted to South Korean soaps available in California. The fan, who describes herself as a "Hispanic girl who likes to watch Korean/Japanese shows," was writing about "My Lovely Sam-soon," South Korea's version of "Bridget Jones." "Kim Sun Ah is great. I'm glad she isn't the typical leading lady. And Hyun Bin's acting has improved a lot. I can see why it's kicking butt in the ratings!" In the Bay Area, South Korean soaps attract fans of both sexes and various ages and ethnicities. Cecilia Chang watched "Jewel in the Palace" with her husband, Dan, who praised the show in a column for Sing Tao, one of the Bay Area's largest Chinese-language dailies. "This is a gentle, feminine woman who is upholding her principles and beliefs, without alienating her family and friends," said Chang, 54, of Fremont, describing the heroine. "She has all the virtues of a woman brought up in Confucian society." Melissa Lo, 25, shares their love of the series. "I was almost dreaming about it, every day anticipating the next episode, " said Lo, who is Chinese American, adding that she often discussed the show with her mother. "I can't think of a single American show that has that sort of pull for me." "My mom said, 'Who knew Koreans were so refined and sophisticated?' " the UC Berkeley graduate added. "She thought they were copycats of Chinese people."

Kevin Roe, 51, a San Jose attorney, appreciates the rich photography, character development and emotionally interesting stories of South Korean dramas. "Korea was sort of overlooked before," Roe said, "but now it's worth investigating."

Intelligent Design: A new theory of everything

In a Swerve Left exclusive interview, the reknown Professor Richtenkopfen, head of divinities at the St. Ebony School of Philosophy, discusses some little-known facts about the theory of Intelligent Design.

Karlo: Professor Richtenkopfen, I just don't get it. How can anyone believe that the Earth is 10,000 years old in this day and age? Isn't Intelligent Design simply a trojan horse, an attempt to turn back the clock on the scientific project aimed towards an objective understanding of our experience?

Professor Richtenkopfen: Karlo, you narrowminded leftist moonbat scumbag. You fail to take into account the full breadth of the Intelligent Design theory. While I normally focus on the religious aspect of ID here at St. Ebony, the theory is nothing short of the long-sought-after theory of everything.

Karlo: With all due respect, Professor, I have no idea what your talking about.

Professor Richtenkopfen: Okay. Let me spell it out for your simplistic brain, so warped by science and relativistic thinking. Intelligent design can be seen vividly in the field of history. For example, God made the Native Americans susceptiple to small pox so that they could die out in large numbers and be slaughtered, raped, and conquered by faithful Christians. Some early Christian pioneers made full use of the science of ID by giving Native Americans blankets laced with smallpox virus.

Karlo: I guess this makes sense, in a very relative sort of way.

Professor Richtenkopfen: And to mention just one more application of the theory, ID has been fruitfully applied to auto-manufacturing. The intelligent design of large gas-guzzling cars has helped exhaust fossil fuel stores that won't be needed after the Second Coming when Earthbound people like yourself will have direct access to the geo-thermal output of the hell-fires.

Karlo: I guess that makes sense. But you still only mentioned history and manufacturing. Isn't the theory a bit narrow in application?

Professor Richtenkopfen: Not at all. ID can be applied to even the most modern technological innovations. Take Microsoft Windows for example. The constant crashes, poor security, and numerous glitches in the system demonstrates poor design. These problems would have never happened had people waited for God to design a software system for them. God doesn't do Windows.

Karlo: I see. Well what about mosquitoes, cockroaches, and ticks. These things don't strike me as being very intelligent additions to creation.

Professor Richtenkopfen: These were created on the Sabbath. You get a few angels goofing around with thunderbolts and DNA sequences and pretty soon everything's a mess.

Child labor laws in Hollywood

A Dutch reality show wants to have a contestant give birth live on the show. This would seem to raise some problematic legal questions. The baby, as a participant, will have to be paid for his or her time on the show. But will the producers only pay the child for the time it has "appeared" on the show? Or if the baby is a person inside the mother's womb, she/he should be paid for the full time including the pre-birth segment. But then this might create some troublesome precedents for actresses who appear on shows when they're pregnant since producers would then have to pay the tiny persons inside of them at least minimum wage.

27 August 2005

Blog to book

In what is a first (at least for me), I saw a book in the bookstore today that was the published version of a blog. The book was of Baghdad Burning by Riverbend--a woman writing about everyday life in Iraq under the occupation. By the way, I noticed that Riverbend's blog hasn't been updated in over a month. Does anyone know why?

26 August 2005

Years of preparation

I couldn't help but chuckle as I read the latest article telling us that "Iraqi forces may need years of preparation" to be ready to take on the insurgents. Let's be for real. Most of the Americans who participated in WWII or Vietnam were trained in a very short time. And the enemy they faced was probably much more organized and well-equipped. I hardly think the problem is "training." The article provides some anecdotes about the abysmal state of the Iraqi force and ends by quoting a soldier saying, "When they have problems, these guys will just leave their uniforms and walk off." This is the bottom line. Shrub's War has been planned so poorly that it hasn't been able to establish strong support among Iraqis and for this and a litany of other reasons, it's increasingly unpopular with Americans. I wonder how many "years of preparation" it will take before the rightwing supporters of the war will be ready to accept the truth.

Can we have our toxic materials back please? (But only after you're through using them.)

There's currently a myth bouncing round the internets that the U.S. did virtually nothing to install or support Saddam. If only this were the case. Unfortunately, many of the same yahoos who oversaw Saddam's crimes against humanity are now entrusted to replace him with someone better. I wish the people I worked with would be so forgiving when I screwed up at my job. Let's take a look at just a few clippings I've kept through the years (emphasis mine):

  • An eight-year-old Senate report confirms that disease-producing and poisonous materials were exported, under U.S. government license, to from 1985 to 1988 during the Iran-Iraq . The report adds that the American-exported materials were identical to micro-organisms destroyed by United Nations inspectors after the Gulf War. These shipments were approved despite allegations that Saddam used biological weapons against Kurdish rebels and (according to the current official U.S. position) initiated war with Iran.
  • While biological warfare exports were approved by the U.S. government, the first President George signed a policy directive proposing "normal" relations with Saddam in the interest of Middle East stability.
  • According to a May 25, 1994, Senate Banking Committee report, in 1985 (five years after the Iraq-Iran war started) and succeeding years, "pathogenic (meaning "disease producing"), toxigenic (meaning "poisonous") and other biological research materials were exported to Iraq, pursuant to application and licensing by the U.S. Department of Commerce." The report added: "These exported biological materials were not attenuated or weakened and were capable of reproduction." The report then details 70 shipments (including anthrax bacillus) from the United States to Iraqi government agencies over three years, concluding, "It was later learned that these microorganisms exported by the United States were identical to those the United Nations inspectors found and recovered from the Iraqi biological warfare program."
  • With Baghdad having survived combat against Iran's revolutionary regime with U.S. help, President George H.W. Bush signed National Security Directive 26 on Oct. 2, 1989. Classified "Secret" but recently declassified, it said: "Normal relations between the United States and Iraq would serve our longer-term interests and promote stability in both the Gulf and the Middle East . . . "
  • Rumsfeld visited Baghdad Dec. 20, 1983, as an expression of U.S. support for Saddam against Iran.
  • Iraq's bioweapons program that President Bush wants to eradicate got its start with help from Uncle Sam two decades ago, according to government records. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent samples directly to several Iraqi sites that U.N. weapons inspectors determined were part of Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program, CDC and congressional records from the early 1990s show. Iraq had ordered the samples, claiming it needed them for legitimate medical research. The CDC and a biological sample company, the American Type Culture Collection, sent strains of all the germs Iraq used to make weapons, including anthrax, the bacteria that make botulinum toxin and the germs that cause gas gangrene, the records show. Iraq also got samples of other deadly pathogens, including the West Nile virus. The transfers came in the 1980s, when the United States supported Iraq in its war against Iran. They were detailed in a 1994 Senate Banking Committee report and a 1995 follow-up letter from the CDC to the Senate. The exports were legal at the time and approved under a program administered by the Commerce Department. The disclosures put the United States in the uncomfortable position of possibly having provided the key ingredients of the weapons America is considering waging war to destroy, said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.
  • Byrd entered the documents into the Congressional Record this month. Byrd asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about the germ transfers at a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Byrd noted that Rumsfeld met Saddam in 1983, when Rumsfeld was President Reagan's Middle East envoy. "Are we, in fact, now facing the possibility of reaping what we have sown?" Byrd asked Rumsfeld after reading parts of a Newsweek article on the transfers. "I have never heard anything like what you've read, I have no knowledge of it whatsoever, and I doubt it," Rumsfeld said. Invoices included in the documents read like shopping lists for biological weapons programs. One 1986 shipment from the Virginia-based American Type Culture Collection included three strains of anthrax, six strains of the bacteria that make botulinum toxin and three strains of the bacteria that cause gas gangrene. Iraq later admitted to the United Nations that it had made weapons out of all three.
  • From an AP article: Dozens of suppliers, most in Europe, the United States and Japan, provided the components and know-how Saddam Hussein needed to build an atomic bomb, according to Iraq's 1996 accounting of its nuclear program. The secret declaration, shown to The Associated Press, is virtually identical to the one submitted to U.N. inspectors on Dec. 7, according to U.N. officials. The reports have not been made public to prevent nuclear know-how from falling into the wrong hands and also to protect the names of companies that wittingly or unwittingly supplied Iraq with the means to make nuclear weapons.

And we're now supposed to believe that Rummy and the other chumps, who have been consistently either incompetent or evil in the past, are going to somehow get it right this time!

Homeopathy a bust

A large meta-study has concluded that homeopathy doesn't work any better than placebos. This surprises me a little. In my own experience, I've seen a case where homeopathy seemed to effect a dramatic cure. But I do feel that much of traditional medicine, East and West, is simply poor science mixed with snake-oil. I've seen few instances of Asian herbal medicine working and I've heard that much of the herbal medicine sold in the U.S. has been prepared the wrong way or is in too weak of doses to have any significant effect. Acupuncture happens to be one happy exception to this--it seems to work in many cases and appears to be particularly effective treating a number of illnesses for which Western medicine doesn't have much to offer.

While traditional medicine is a mixed blessing, I think that traditional Eastern thought has a great deal to offer in terms of preventive medicine--practical steps about diet and life in general that help us to remain physically and psychologically balanced.

Effects of global warming: War over icy rocks?

One mixed blessing of global warming is that it may thaw out part of the vast territories of northern Canada, leaving the Canadian military with a huge job trying to protect the strategic new territory.

Canada sends warships to protect northern boundaries, 25.08.05 by David Usborne - Three Canadian warships were steaming through Arctic waters yesterday as Ottawa displayed a new and almost bellicose determination to protect the sovereignty of its northernmost boundaries. Two vessels, the Shawinigan and the Glace Bay, docked in Churchill on Sunday, marking a return by the Navy to the remote port on the shores of the Hudson Bay for the first time in 30 years. Meanwhile, a third frigate, the HMCS Fredericton, was travelling towards eastern Arctic waters. The Fredericton is ostensibly on patrol to impose fishing regulations but is expected to pass close to a tiny speck of an island that has recently become the subject of diplomatic head-butting between Canada and Denmark. Both countries are claiming the barren rock, named Hans Island, as theirs. For years, Canada has taken its control of the vast northern region mostly for granted. But with the melting of polar ice providing new access for shipping, the government is anxious about possible territorial rivalries, not just with Denmark, but also with Norway, Russia and the United States . . .

(Perhaps we'll see the day when Americans, trying to escape the hot stretches of the vast American desert, are trying to cross the fence into Canada!)

25 August 2005

Robertson and the Divine Doctrine of Pre-emption

In the latest comedy of errors, Robertson "apologizes" for his comments:

"Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement," Robertson said. "I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him."

But he compared Chavez to Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler and quoted German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "[That if a madman were] driving a car into a group of innocent bystanders, then I can't, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe and then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver."

Here we have the divine doctrine of pre-emption. And we're told that Chavez, a leader of a poor third-world country who has been elected for his pro-worker policies, is similar to Hitler!? So we must stop him now before he takes over the world!? These visions of the right wing are either complete lunacy or are miraculously prescient. Does Robertson have a crystal ball telling him how Venezuela will expand and conquer the Earth 200 years from now, led by Chavez's great-great-great-grandson atop the Four Horses of the Apocolypse? But if this is the case, maybe we can kill the fertilized egg in his great-grand-daughter's womb. And then we can go on to kill all those other foetuses who will be warriors in the great Chavez the Fourth's army. Perhaps we could pre-empt the entire invasion with a small shipment of morning-after pills.

    Some other Robertson quotes:

  • "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist. I can love the people who hold false opinions but I don't have to be nice to them." - Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991
  • "I am bound by the laws of the United States and all 50 states...I am not bound by any case or any court to which I myself am not a party...I don't think the Congress of the United States is subservient to the courts...They can ignore a Supreme Court ruling if they so choose."--Pat Robertson, Washington Post, June 27,1986

  • (talking about apartheid South Africa) "I think 'one man, one vote,' just unrestricted democracy, would not be wise. There needs to be some kind of protection for the minority which the white people represent now, a minority, and they need and have a right to demand a protection of their rights."--Pat Robertson, "The 700 Club," 3/18/92
    (This last one might have some profound implications of transposed onto the American context!)

Ship of fools 2

Despite the Pollyanic prophesies of rightwingers like Chrenkoff, most Americans continue to get that sinking feeling about Iraq. According to the latest poll numbers in today's Wall Street Journal Online:

Half of U.S. adults now believe insurgents are getting the upper hand in Iraq, a recent Harris poll finds, compared with 41% who felt that way in a June 2005 survey. At the same time, 46% of those polled believe security of Iraqi civilians is getting worse, compared with 37% in June. And more than a third of Americans feel the "overall infrastructure of Iraq" is worsening, compared with 29% in the previous poll. As in June, most Americans (61%) favor bringing a large number of U.S. troops home from Iraq in the next year, the poll shows. That's up sharply from 47% in a November 2004 poll. In comparison, 36% of those polled say they want to keep troops in Iraq until a stable government is established there, down from 50% in November, the poll shows. The Aug. 9-16, 2005 poll of 2,717 U.S. adults also shows a decline from November in the number of Americans who feel the invasion of Iraq has helped to protect the U.S. Thirty-eight percent now agree that it helped the U.S., down from 46% in 2004. Skepticism of Iraq's ability to set up a stable government has also grown; 56% now say they aren't confident Iraq will be successful in developing a stable and reasonably democratic government, up from 51% in June.

Ship of fools

We've been told time and again that we need to get behind the president. From Shrub's perspective, there's certainly a need for such exhortations now--since Americans of virtually every stripe are abandoning the nation's captain just as the ship begins to sink. Poll after poll shows that Americans clearly disapprove of the Iraq War, think it was a mistake, and are aware that we've been deceived. Shrub's approval ratings currently stand at 36% compared with Nixon's 39% support AT THE HEIGHT OF WATERGATE! Or to take another example, Bill Clinton's approval rate when he left office (after he besmirched the sacred office of the presidency) was 66% and it stood at 72% on the day of his impeachment (Dec. 19, 1998)! In other words, Bill Clinton’s popularity on the day of his impeachment was twice as high as Shrub’s popularity! And this, in spite of Republican control of every branch of government. The stunning numbers shows that Fox and other mathematically-challenged corporate news stations have definitely been as left behind as the president.

I suppose the surest sign of Shrub's demise is that even rightwing politicos and bloggers have begun to hedge their statements: "While I don't approve of the president, I do support . . . " It's okay. We don't blame you for abandoning the sinking ship. But it would have been nice if you hadn't dragged the rest us out to sea for two-terms of this idiot.

24 August 2005

Robertson: Another sad victim of misinterpretation

Pat Robertson now tells us he was misinterpreted, that he did not call for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, despite comments broadcast on his program two days earlier.

"I didn't say 'assassination,'" Robertson said Wednesday on his Christian Broadcast Network show "The 700 Club" about remarks reported by The Associated Press and other media outlets. "I said our special forces should 'take him out. "

Evidently, Robertson simply wanted to take the Venezuelan out for dinner but the press with their liberal bias and anti-American agenda misquoted him. Unfortunately for Robertson, a video of Monday's telecast shows that Robertson's exact words were:

"You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war, and I don't think any oil shipments will stop." . . . "We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."

Hold on. Don't get excited. I'm sure there's a perfectly sound explanation for this. People forget what they say all the time. You know how it is, you make 8 or 9 death threats in a day and pretty soon they all run together and you can't forget which person you're threatening to kill and which one you're threatening to kidnap and torture. A lot of Christian ministers and moral authorities have this problem. Wasn't Ghandi and Martin Luther King threatening to kill people about every other speech? . . . They weren't? Oh, well. I'm sure Robertson meant well. He is a true-blooded Christian American after all.

Need for more spies in churches

In Australia, PM Howard says he supports sending spies into Mosques to make sure none of the Muslims are up to any nefarious schemes. After hearing 's remark, I'm thinking we might need to send spies into churches to make sure none of these Christian extremists are engaged in international terrorist plots to assassinate foreign leaders.

Reflections on the Draft of the Iraqi Constitution

Today on Swerve Left, I thought we'd turn our thoughts to the once more, and glance over the shoulders of the Jeffersons and Hancocks currently drafting the Iraqi Constitution:

Article (17):
1st -- Each person has the right to personal privacy as long as it does not violate the rights of others or general morality.

"General morality" sounds so general that you could drive a general's truck through it. Oh, well. Privacy is like so-o-o twentieth century anyway.

2nd -- The sanctity of homes is protected. They cannot be entered or searched or violated except by judicial decision and in accordance with the law.

Now here's a novel idea. Perhaps we can institute this in the U.S. with the repeal of the Patriot Act. (Or would that be unpatriotic...)

2nd -- There is no crime and no punishment except by the text (of law).

What will they do with the teenagers held at Abu Ghraib? Does the Army have a retraining program for their former torturers?

3rd -- Trial by judiciary is a right protected and guaranteed to all.

Another novel idea. I bet Padilla wish he could be in after the Constitution's signed.

4th -- The right to defense is holy and guaranteed in all stages of investigation and trial.

Maybe Padillo can slip out of his cell and across the Iraqi border to the land where "defense is holy." (Or will this be amended to the American version--"defense is wholly a fiction.")

5th -- The accused is innocent until his guilt is proven in a just, legal court.

This could lead to the demise of the U.S. Army's international prison system! Where will the U.S. build its international prisons? The prisons back home are already filled up.

6th -- Every individual has the right to be treated in a just manner in all judicial and administrative procedures.

Will "just" include electrodes and suffocation, or will such measures only be used "just" part of the time.

7th -- Court sessions will be open unless the court decides to make them secret.

I'm glad they included this. In other words, court sessions will be open, or uh they'll be secret. Hmmmm. And this whole enterprise will be a success, or perhaps a failure. And tomorrow we'll have sunshine, or clouds.

22 August 2005

Don't worry, be happy

Here is a little song I wrote
It's much better than My Pet Goat
Don't worry be happy

In every life we have some trouble
When you worry you make it double
Don't worry, be happy...

Ain't got no place to lay your head
Katrina swept away your bed
Don't worry, be happy.

The FEMA fellahs arrived too late
But what the hell, the poor can wait
Don't worry, be happy.

Look at me I am happy
Don't worry, be happy

To ease your problems and heal your aches
I'll give the rich some giant tax breaks
Don't worry, be happy

Ain't got no cash, ain't got no style
Ain't got no girl to make you smile
But don't worry be happy

Cause when you worry
Your face will frown
And that will bring my poll numbers down
So don't worry, be happy (now)...

There is this little song I wrote
I hope you learn it note for note
Like good little children
Don't worry, be happy
Listen to what I say

In your life expect some trouble
But when you worry
You make it double
Don't worry, be happy...
Don't worry don't do it, be happy

Put a smile on your face
Don't bring everybody down like this
Don't worry, it will soon pass

Whatever it is
Don't worry, be happy!

Convoluted logic and opposition to affirmative action

On Nashville Truth, Glen criticizes affirmative action. His post begins with a quote by John Roberts:

"..... it is constitutionally impermissible to grant preferential treatment solely on the basis of race to those who have not been proven to be victims of illegal discrimination." - John Roberts (1984 memo)

Glen continues:

The first letter to the editor that I ever wrote, at the age of 12, was on the subject of affirmative action. I believe now as I believed then, that giving preferential treatment to one group of people over another group of people, solely on the basis of skin color, is discrimination. It is not reverse discrimination, it is discrimination. I just don't understand how the very people who fought so hard to end discrimination would seek to create a system that discriminates.

The argument for affirmative reaction is that it's required in order to right a historical wrong. A number of people, and indeed the nation as a whole, benefitted significantly from virtually free labor during the slave era. Since the slaves didn't receive any of their money, their descendants were also cheated out of the money that rightfully should have been paid for that labor. I assume that Glen and others would approve of the general principle I'm alluding to, namely, that if I live in the house that my grandfather stole from your grandfather, I need to return the house to its rightful heirs. Of course, some may disapprove of the general application of this principle in an imprecise way (hence, the Roberts quote).

This is all fine. But let's then consider this: The current war in Iraq is targeting people in a very general way. Even in the best case scenario in which the current war is targeting the right areas for the right reasons (highly dubious, but anyway), by the time this is over, thousands of innocents will have been killed due to general actions aimed (purportedly) at restoring justice. While such actions may (if you swallow Bush's line) restore justice, they won't restore much justice for the innocent child killed by a bomb who had (to borrow a few words from Roberts) "not been proven" to be a terrorist.

The only conclusion I can reach from the anti-affirmative action stance is that general solutions to the restoration of justice are idiotic if they result in a loss of our money but brilliant if they increase our access to money or oil (even though they result in the loss of other's lives.) None of this strikes me as very principled.

In a sense, the demand for reparations is more principled than affirmative action. American blacks aren't asking for a hand-out: they're asking for money that is rightfully theirs. This isn't a radical notion. Reparations have been paid to victims all over the globe. On the other hand, affirmative action made good practical sense in that it provided incentives that led to long-term change. There's much to debate here regarding the particular merits of any program, but the fundamental principle of entitlement to stolen wages is rock solid.

21 August 2005

Republican Senator Hagel on Shrub's War

Even leading politicians from the Republican side are conceding that Shrub's War is a mess. Apart from the morality of the war or current U.S. policy in the , I think that more and more people are waking up to the fact that the war is failing to achieve any of its stated objectives. In today's news, we read:

A leading Republican senator and prospective presidential candidate said Sunday that the war in Iraq has destabilized the Middle East and is looking more like the Vietnam conflict from a generation ago. Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, who received two Purple Hearts and other military honors for his service in Vietnam, reiterated his position that the United States needs to develop a strategy to leave Iraq. Hagel scoffed at the idea that U.S. troops could be in Iraq four years from now at levels above 100,000, a contingency for which the Pentagon is preparing.

"We should start figuring out how we get out of there," Hagel said on "This Week" on ABC. "But with this understanding, we cannot leave a vacuum that further destabilizes the Middle East. I think our involvement there has destabilized the Middle East. And the longer we stay there, I think the further destabilization will occur."

Hagel said "stay the course" is not a policy. "By any standard, when you analyze 2 1/2 years in Iraq ... we're not winning," he said.

Chicks wearing no clothes at all!

First of all, before you look beyond this sentence, are you 18? Okay, you can open your eyes now . . . I hate to pander to popular tastes, but I figured I needed to do something to make this site more exciting.

20 August 2005

At long last

All I can say is it's about time. CNN will air a documentary "Dead Wrong" that will discuss the intelligence "meltdown" leading up to Shrub's War. I have watched a number of experts, both on TV and in person, absolutely tear apart the story given to the public. According to these experts, Powell's U.N. presentation was so far-fetched that anyone and everyone on the ground in Iraq couldn't watch it with a straight face. The CNN documentary will present Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a former top aide to Colin Powell, who describes his involvement in the former secretary of state's presentation to the United Nations on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction as "the lowest point" in his life. With such a heartfelt confession, the American people may be able to absolve these lower-level accomplices of their wrong-doing. The people at the top are another story. The corruption is so deep in the current administration that I think the only way we'll ever get to the bottom of it is through an impeachment process that ends with Bush serving time along with his co-conspirators. Or if all the "curveballs" and cooked intel came solely from the CIA to a naive administration, the high officials in the CIA should be arrested. Personally, I don't think this happened, but an administration witch hunt in the CIA might turn up the heat enough that some CIA operatives would be willing to break rank and tell the story of who was ultimately responsible for the lies.

19 August 2005

Beam me up Scotty

For further proof that fact is stranger than fiction (even science fiction!), look no further than Ellen Ladowsky's story that recently appeared on the Huffington Post. Ladowsky's article discusses an LA Times story about the Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit and the hyperwarped statistic: that of the more than 100 offenders the unit has arrested over the last four years, "all but one" has been "a hard-core Trekkie."

This is such a bizarre statement that I have a really hard time accepting it. I guess part of my shock stems from the fact that I've always been a great Star Trek fan (but rest assured, no starships or trekkie posters in my room.) Evidently, I'm not the only one: Ernest Miller at Corante actually double-checked the statement and was told that the officers involved at the unit fully stood by it. Fortunately (for my sake), they added:

It is important to note that they are not saying that every Star Trek fan is a pedophile -- just that it was a surprisingly common element among those they had arrested. The investigators said that many suspects were into other fantasy or role-playing games, and that it wasn't only Star Trek that caught their interest . . .

Ladowsky's article continues:

In fact, Star Trek paraphernalia has so routinely been found at the homes of the pedophiles they've arrested that it has become a gruesome joke in the squad room.

. . . So why would sexual deviants be attracted to Star Trek? The link between Star Trek and pedophilia is obscure, even to the detectives in the sex crimes unit: "It has something to do with a fantasy world where mutants and monsters have power and where the usual rules don't apply . . .

A CNN commentator on the BTK killer today made a similar statement of the killers detachment from both the victims and his own inner feelings of rage.

Ladowsky then discusses the odd sexuality on Star Trek:

After reviewing a bunch of episodes from the original Star Trek series, what became apparent is that sexuality on the Enterprise is pretty peculiar. At first blush, the crew might seem kind of sexy -- big-breasted, scantily clad female crew members, men in skin-tight uniforms, and Captain Kirk ripping off his shirt at the slightest hint of heat -- but the features of their sexuality are exaggerated in the manner of a comic book, creating a hygienic distance from anything to do with real sexuality. Despite the cartoonish trappings of sexiness, there are, in fact, no sexual or romantic relationships aboard the Enterprise. The male crew members demurely ignore the sexually enticing (if antiseptic) female crew members. There seems to be a tacit agreement that any sexual relationships would destroy the unity of the crew.

I've noticed the same thing. If you get male crew members, sexy Klingon women, and Romulan Ale together, you'd expect either some fireworks or some unexplained deaths, but there tends to be neither. This can be explained in a number of ways. Star Trek, as a show that struggled to be progressive (and often failed), often found itself on the forefront of cultural questions, and sexual mores were no exception. (Didn't the first inter-racial kiss on TV appear on Star Trek?) Yet in some respects, I think the show, rather than pointing to the future, tells us something interesting about the present (or at least the "present" during the so-called sexual revolution). In a sense, the show demonstrates how the Women's Liberation Movement, while coming up with an ideal of the independent woman, failed to envision (or perhaps failed to communicate to the culture at large) a new idea of romance and sexuality to replace the previous notions.

Ladowsky points out the emotional coolness of Starship sexuality:

And when it comes to relationships off the ship, Captain Kirk displays a truly astonishing emotional poverty. He goes from planet to planet, having trysts with an assortment of nubile women, but never forms any real attachments. By the next episode, the last female partner is forgotten. (Although we don't know all that much about pedophilic sexual offenders, one thing we do know is that they have trouble forming authentic adult romantic relationships.)
Despite this apparent promiscuity, Kirk's sexuality is anything but clear. His relationships are certainly never based on his own wants or desires. If he seduces a woman, it's usually in order to escape danger on behalf of his crew, or else he's overtaken by some alien power that makes him behave like a sex fiend. (e.g., a woman's tears contain a love potion that causes Kirk to become amorous).

This may be true, but more recent Star Trek films seem to do a better job of showing emotionally-rich relationships and families. At the same time, there is an odd sexual tension about the Starship as people who are obviously attracted to each other seem to go to great lengths to repress their desires. (And we all thought the future would be like an STD-free nudist camp! So much for that idea.)

At the end of the article, Ladowsky offers some insightful analysis:

So if the pedophiles are identifying with the crew members, who do the monsters represent? Possibly aspects of the pedophile's mind that are split off because they are unthinkable, and projected into someone else. On the Enterprise, aggressive impulses aren't battling it out with libidinal ones as they are here on earth. In the Star Trek universe, every "bad" impulse is attributed to an external force. When it comes to sex, for example, it's always an outside influence that takes possession of the crew's minds and bodies, causing them to behave in erotically driven ways. Child molesters have a similar mechanism at work. They deny having any sexual impulses themselves; they frequently claim that it was the children who seduced them.

Other interesting articles:

Sex and the Star Trek Woman by Laura Goodwin
Women Portrayed as Dummies: A good discussion of sexism in the original series.

18 August 2005

No to elephants, yes to tigers

A plan has been put forth buy a group of prominent ecologists to transplant lions and elephants to the Great Plains of North America in order to save some species from extinction in Africa, where protection is spotty and habitats are vanishing. The argument is that the relocated animals would help restore the biodiversity in North America to a condition closer to what it was before humans entered the continent. Most modern African species, of course, never lived on the American prairie, but some of their biological cousins like mastodons, camels and saber-toothed cats, roamed for more than 1 million years alongside antelope and herds of bison until Ice Age glaciers retreated and humans arrived with spears and an appetite for Flinstonian steaks.

Myself, I find the idea of introducing elephants a bit wacky. Elephants, metaphorical or real, tend to be destructive creatures. Rather than pachyderms, I'd rather see them introduce some Siberian tigers. I am aware that these giants meat-crunching felines might devour the occasional hitchhiker. But who can resist the charm of these giant cats. And hiking amidst deadly predators would heighten the back-to-nature experience during that next hike through the Rockies.

Reflections on The Alamo (2004)

Last night, I watched the 2004 film the Alamo on DVD. Its an entertaining film. The actors in the main roles are all good (I especially liked Billy Bob Thornton's portrayal of Davy Crockett). In the fighting scenes, everyone dies an unrealistically clean death (no people wandering around the battlefield with missing fingers or the side of their face shot off) but the film does do a good job of showing realistic reactions to killing up close.

The historical perspective, on the other hand, was something I found outlandish. My guess is that if you gave a hundred Americans a history quiz, 75% would respond that the Alamo was an unprovoked Mexican attack on an American town. The Mexican government had in fact offered citizenship to anyone willing to immigrate to the excessively unpopulated Mexican territory and the uprising was therefore a rebellion, pure and simple. In the film, the Americans all appear as inspired by high and noble ideals whereas the Mexicans come across as devoid of human ideals or feelings. Yet the reviews often criticize this film precisely because it went too far in painting the Mexican rebels (oops, I mean, true-blood Americans fighting for freedom) with realist strokes.

Other comments on the film can be found at: The Alamo site, a negative review of the movie, and other film reviews.

So you say you want a revolution...

Lenin's Tomb has an uncharacteristically short post on real revolutions versus the corporate versions.

One of the more curious weapons in the arsenal of contemporary imperialism is the so called "democratic revolution" - a simulacrum of revolution, funded and backed by the US, that removes a regime that is no longer conducive to its interests: witness Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon and (to a lesser extent) Kyrgyzstan.These simulacra pose a problem for revolutionaries. By definition they resemble real revolutions, and moreover there can be a genuinuely revolutionary dynamic within them, albeit one overdetermined by the interests of capital.

This is an interesting point to ponder regarding all revolutionary movements. Money, violence, and information create exponentially more powerful forces that either oppose revolutionary forces or hijack the revolution once its under way.

In a supererogatory comment to the post, Tom Doyle discusses the relatively large size of antiwar protests in support of Cindy Sheehan.

Earlier this evening (Wed., Aug. 17, 2005) I saw an item on-line which mentioned that there would be Cindy Sheehan support vigils around the USA tonight. I googled and found a site where you could enter your zip code and a distance, and it told you all the CS vigils within that distance. I was surprised to see that there was one in my town, in front of the town hall, starting in five minutes, so I went. There were about 200 people at the vigil. That's a lot for my my town, a small, generally republican voting town (2004 Bush-7700; Kerry-6500 (approx.) )in New England. There were 53 other vigils within a 50 mile radius. I don't know how the turnout went elsewhere.

I reflected on this comment and similar reports of unreported protests in rural California and then I thought about the polls showing abysmal support for the war, and it occurred to me that MacMedia has been oddly silent about the extent of opposition to Shrub's War. With this in mind, I think I'd add something to Lenin's Tomb's post on the criteria for a real revolution. In order to subvert the powers that be, it's essential that a real revolution have extensive grassroots support, is organized, and is mobilized. An authentic revolution isn't dreamed up by small groups of intellectuals who plan to dictate directives to the working class (as happened with Lenin's revolution in Russia) and it sure in the hell ain't led by groups of CIA-sponsored thugs razing villages. True blue revolution will come when ordinary people, like Sheehan and her fellow protesters, stand up against the government, having clearly seen that their interests and the interest of those they love diverge sharply from those of Shrub and his cabal of oil tycoons.

P.S. The final part of this post refuses to post onto the blog. This is my fourth try. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might conclude that the Department of Homeland Security has finally got their software up and working.

17 August 2005

Virtual reality TV virtually a reality

The Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications will set up an industry-academia-government research and development unit this year that will work to commercialize virtual reality television by 2020. VRTV will allow three-dimensional images that can be viewed from any angle with a quality equivalent to that offered by high-definition TVs, in addition to letting viewers feel and smell the objects they are watching.

Personally, I'd like to see them develop TV that we'd have to interact with, something hooked up to some sort of exercise apparatus. After this has been done, they could create programs that deal with history or classical literature, enabling us to do a sports class and classical lit class at the same time.

15 August 2005

"No" to Walken: America Can Do Better

There's been all this talk about 's run for the White House. Personally, I think we could do a lot better if we tapped into the diversity America has to offer. For example, we could elect Kim Possible. Everything about Kim, including her name, suggests a positive outlook. She's kind of like Hillary Clinton crossed with a rightwing militia terrorist. And best of all, she kicks butt on all those weird foreigners.
If not Kim, we might nominate Underdog. This loyal pup, after all, fully represents the way that our great nation, while outpacing the military budgets of virtually every nation on the globe (combined!), is still somehow the "underdog." And if some mad scientist tried to stir up trouble with talk of stuff like global warming or evolution, Underdog would just like totally kick their ass.

Or there's Barney from the Flintstones. Barney offers us a return to America's golden past, when people lived off pre-Biblical reptiles and slave labor. With blond-haired Saturday-night bowling Barney, we can all rest assured that we aren't going to have any newfangled multiculturalism shoved down our throats.
For those who would like to see the electoral process opened up to people of color, I suggest that we nominate the Pink Panther. While the name suggests leftist tendencies long-discredited after the McCarthy Era, Pink does have the advantage of being an animal of color, and a rare species at that. And we could use a silent and strong sort in the White House.

On the other hand, if we hope to continue the current Republican legacy of providing opportunity to the rich and uptrodden, there's no one more attune with today's zeitgeist than our own Uncle Scrooge. Scrooge, as someone outside of the Beltway, can encourage us all to tighten our belts to ensure that the wheels of American plutocracy keep purring along. But then again, many Americans may have become attached to the Bush style, those constant disfluencies and verbal meanderings along with the endless chasing after underground terrorists. For these people, the natural choice would be Elmer Fudd, a candidate who ain't afraid to shoot now and ask questions later, even if the barrel is pointed back at himself.

14 August 2005

Libertarianism and the Republican Party

Nashville Truth and Emigre with a Digital Cluebat are two bloggers that are avowed libertarians and have espoused the creed a number of times in our discussions. Actually, one of the first books I ever read on economics (perhaps the only economics book I've ever finished, come to think of it) was Friedman's "Free to Choose." I was about 17 at the time and the book made a deep impression on me. Friedman's radical free-market ideas at first glance all seem extremely sensible. But since then, I've become much more skeptical about the libertarian agenda for several reasons.

First, there's no discussion of how the market can account for externalities associated with specific economic activities. The paradigmatic case is the company that opens a mine, extracts some minerals making the company president millions, and then fails to clean up the mess afterwards. When sued decades later, the company simply goes bankrupt. My own grandfather was personally involved in this as a geologist in the northwest. He made his boss rich (and brought home a decent paycheck while doing so) but two generations later, the mines are still leaching salt and other crap into the local environment and will continue to do so for centuries. The U.S. taxpayer is now picking up the bill.

Second, there's an assumption that the market rewards people's economic contribution in an equitable manner. In Libertarianism, this assumption has taken on the status of an axiom--the money one receives in a free-market is considered to be inherently fair. Yet this is demonstratively false. Any large enterprise requires diversification of labor. Everyone at Microsoft wouldn't become CEOs if they simply worked as hard as Bill Gates. Even if it were somehow possible to churn out Bill Gates doubles on some mad scientist's assembly line, the natural need for diversified labor simply wouldn't support a thousand CEOs. Someone would still have to sweep the floors and fill the toilet-paper dispensers. Since all these people are filling essential roles within an integrated process, you'd think they'd get similar pay, but this doesn't happen.

I guess I might feel more sympathy for the Libertarian movement if it targeted corporate welfare first, with the idea that subsidies to the poor would form the next agenda for their political program. Libertarians have largely allied themselves with the Republican Party, but the Republicans, with their hand-outs to the wealthy, are hardly champions of the free market. Whenever we send an aircraft carrier to the gulf, it isn't there to protect the interest of the poor but rather the business interests of the wealthy elite. Likewise, all the professional organizations, as for example those that limit the number of doctors and so on, are all great friends of the Republican Party. Why don't Libertarians attack such anti-market organizations with the same zeal they reserve for the poor underclass? I think the reason is that the free-market apologists have become lackeys of the Republican Party who are all for free-markets--but only when they benefit the wealthy, their most coveted constituency.

13 August 2005

Having our friends for dinner

According to the Guardian, researchers have described a new technique enabling scientists to culture meat in laboratory vats. The scientists have adapted the cutting-edge medical technique of tissue engineering, where individual cells are made to multiply to form whole tissues. The technology would potentially create more environmentally friendly meat with improved nutrient content and reduced risk of food-borne diseases. Vegetarians who avoid meat because of sensitivity to the killing of animals might accept such meat that is created without harm to the animal. One group of researchers have even worked on the more practical problems of mass production, claiming that such meat could be produced large-scale with muscle cells growing on huge sheets that would be regularly stretched to exercise the cells as they grow. Once enough cells develop, they would be scraped off and shaped into processed meat products. While spam-like products seem to be relatively easy to develop, products that look like steak and other textured meats would pose more difficulties.

So now I've got some questions for all of you. What if they succeed in culturing meat, but instead of taking the cells from an animal, took them from a human? I imagine human meat would be ideal nutritionally, being so close to the protein already in our body. What if the cells came from our own bodies? We could literally eat a steak of ourselves everyday! Or what about meat from our friends? While there might be a bizarre specialty market for such cuts, I'd imagine the real money would be in selling the meat made from the cells of movie stars. We could then cut up and eat the celebrities we dislike. Or the ones we like. Expressions like "a Martha Stewart recipe" might take on a whole new meaning.

Along less gruesome lines, this new technology may provide a way to deal with the Chinese and Korean penchant for devouring the world's endangered mammals. We could simply take a few cells from a Siberian tiger and duplicate them in giant factories so that everyone in China could have their tiger steak every morning for breakfast. We would of course reciprocate by duplicating our own human cells so that we could feed the tigers human meat every morning as well.

12 August 2005

Cindy Sheehan

Having spent the last few days away from the idiotbox, I've been out of the loop on Cindy Sheehan. And to be honest with you, I'd hoped to remain above the fray--this endless parading of personalities in front of the eye of the public with the idea that this is somehow "news" is ridiculous in the extreme. But then I figured, what the hell. Reasoned arguments seem to have no effect on the Joe-5-pack crowd or the corporate puppeteers pulling their strings, so we on the left need to produce images and talking points that can be digested by a nation of channel-surfers.

So this time, instead of all the generals and military families shown waving flags or discussing how Iraq is now turning the corner ("This time it's really happening. I'm serious."), the idiotbox presents us with Cindy Sheehan who wants to know why her son needed to die in Iraq. This is a damn good question. After listening to the constantly-revised litany of reasons put forth by the Washington oil cabal, we all would like to know why people are dying to make a bad situation worse.

The rightwing reaction has taken on a number of predictably despicable forms. Thus we have talk show host Phil Hendrie calling "another ignorant cow” and Eric at RS calling Ms. Sheehan a "media whore." Does this make all the troops trotted out in front of cameras in support of the war belligerent sheep? Or perhaps media pimps? In an excellent post (with a nice classical quotation!), f. kwan points out that what's good for the goose is good for the gander:

Ms. Sheehan is using the media for all its worth to get her message across, because that's what the ruling party has always done, and what the American people appear to desire, or what Karl Rove and the mythmakers created and thus the people craved. After 9/11 they created a just-folks, God-fearing warrior to make the country safe from Terrorism from the disjointed bits of The Impaired One. Ms. Sheehan is just doing the same thing for a good cause: peace, and her role trumps even the warrior. Her role is Mom . . . Trouble ahead and trouble behind. The news laps up stories about white women in trouble, so Ms. Sheehan gives us a white woman who is trouble. No matter whether you agree with her or not, you can not deny the grief a mother has for her dead child.

One rightwing meme is that Ms. Sheehan's statement "cheapens" the sacrifice of troops in Iraq. Evidently, we should simply be good sheeple and follow behind the prez wherever he leads us, shouting baaa-aaa-aaad at all the sheeple who step out of line.

Other discussion can be found at: Right-Left Story, TacJammer, Broken Windows, Ramblings from my Mind, and Huffington Post.

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Do news anchors leave legacies?

With the passing of , the networks are abuzz with stories celebrating one of their own. I'm reminded of rock stars writing silly songs about the hardships of being on the road, as if millions of dollars of compensation isn't enough and we're to have sympathy for their occasionally-endured hardships as well. One of the TV networks that I recently channel-surfed past had something on "Peter Jenning's legacy." Do even news anchors have legacies these days? I guess I just don't have a very good sense of how news and the mass media works. I always imagined news anchors simply reading from news monitors. Do they really, like, get out there and talk to the man-in-the-street? Or when off-screen, do they stay up late each night editing the daily news, making important decisions on which stories they'll read that night and which one's they'll cut? Somehow, I imagine their jobs as being much more mundane. But maybe I've got it all wrong. I turned to Wikipedia to clear up my confusion and came across the following:

A common dogma among the general public equates "news" and "news media" with "journalism", and this typically carries over to news anchors as well — associating media personalities with journalists — much to the consternation of many print journalists. In the current age of mass media and consolidation, news anchors tend to be viewed as belonging to the infotainment or news trades, rather than to the journalism profession.

Of course, we'd all like to be formed of the stuff of legends so that we, like the news anchors and presidents, could leave "legacies"--something beyond a list of outstanding debts held at some bank.

Korean dreams

CNN tonight had a short piece on how the U.S. is falling way behind South Korea and other countries in terms of its internet infrastructure. Anyone familiar with the lightning-swift efficiency of the internet elsewhere can attest to the fact that this is clearly the case. As important as the internet has become to everyday work and international commerce, I find it odd that the U.S. has failed to invest even a modest amount of money. This is one area where a Gore victory in 2000 would have probably made a world of difference.

11 August 2005

Crooked men on crooked paths

The story of Four-star General Byrnes getting fired for some peccadillo has rightfully raised a few eyebrows on the Left. Don't get me wrong. We'd all love to live in a country where sexual infidelity or transgressions by people in uniform are swiftly punished by the most draconian methods possible, where wayward weekend warriors get their wankers (or at least their ballocks) wacked for engaging in hanky-panky with prostitutes or extramarital partners. In short, we'd love to build a nation with the stability and calm so characteristic of Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan under the Taliban. But if we are to walk down this path of purity, shouldn't we be applying the rules in a more consistent manner. The Huffington Post hits its head on the nail in its discussion of perverted priorities:

[Excerpt] Four-star General Kevin Byrnes, the third most senior of the Army’s 11 four-star generals, was sacked over allegations that he had an extramarital affair. Meanwhile, Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, the senior commander in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib torture and abuse scandal, is being considered for promotion to, yep, four-star general.

Talk about your utterly perverted priorities.

Now, it long ago became clear that the Bushies inhabit a bizarro, topsy-turvy universe -- a place where being utterly wrong about slam-dunk WMD earns you a Medal of Freedom, dismissing a “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in U.S.” memo earns you a promotion to Secretary of State, signing off on torture makes you AG material, another 123 American soldiers being blown up is the mark of an enemy in its “last throes”, and outing an undercover CIA agent (and then lying about it) merits a vote of confidence instead of a pink slip.

So let's get this straight, you can oversee repeated acts of forced sodomy and rape of young teens and you'll get a pat on the back, but if you're caught engaging in consensual sex with a lover, you'll get demoted. It would be nice if Shrub and Rummy could be more explicit about their promotion critieria so that our boys in uniform would know just who is a safe target for their connubial desires. But don't lose too much sleep over this, Shrub. I wouldn't want to disturb your vacation. If you don't want to tell me the whole story, it's okay. I won't ask.

10 August 2005

Inadequate science versus all-knowing religion

Pandagon, discussing the Creationism debate, is refreshingly blunt:

There's a reason God doesn't belong in a science class: it's not science. I don't go to Mass to learn particle physics, I don't go to calculus to learn about Tolstoy, and I don't go to biology class to learn about Jesus. If the going definition for science is that it's not science unless it explains everything (remember yesterday, when it wasn't evolution because we couldn't directly prove macro-evolution?), then science has officially never existed, and will never exist. Perhaps that's the key to all of this - take a body of academic study based entirely on not knowing everything, and disqualify it immediately on those very grounds.

It's a fun thought experiment to consider what would happen if we added Creationism to the classroom curriculum. In reality, such an addition would never manage to somehow graft Creationism to the body of scientific thought. Science, by definition, is a body of knowledge derived through a rigorous method. So in essence, the addition would mean adding faith and belief to the curriculum. But then how should it be taught. Since it isn't science, should we insist that students believe it on the basis of religious authority or texts? Will tests assess our students ability to conjure up faith in the content of instruction?

While some people take umbrage at the Creationists attempt to weasel their way into the classroom, I sometimes have to let out an evil leftist guffaw. Because in the end, these people are painting themselves into a corner. It they insist on joining the scientific community then it isn't evolution that will have to pass scientific muster (it's already done so) but rather Christianity. So let them drag Christianity under the microscope. Let's be scientific about all this and search for evidence for a 10,000-year-old Earth, a planet initially occupied by the animals we all now know of but oddly void of dinosaurs, hyaenadons, entelodonts, indricotheres and other species found in the fossil record.

That 1980s show

Someone on CNN yesterday made the comment that current fuel consumption of the average automobile in the U.S. has fallen below 1980s levels. So much for the technological fix that we've been waiting for during the last quarter century. The statistic brings to light the way that corporation-run governance utterly fails to deal with pressing problems that in a more perfect world would be entirely amenable to proper leadership. Instead we get the Shrub energy plan--heavy on pork but completely lacking in vision.