30 September 2005

Response to a Knox's letter

A soldier in Iraq recently penned the following letter, which probably does a pretty good job of expressing rightwing thought on the war. After being directly admonished by Delftsman to read it, I did. Here's the pertinent excerpt with my response:

I’m finding that perhaps I don’t agree with how the Administration is handling everything over here. But I also realize that it’s a hell of a lot easier to analyze after the fact.

Actually, it was pretty easy to analyze before the fact. You and millions of other Americans simply chose to ignore this analysis. Lifelong conservatives, including those with lifetime military (e.g., Bacevich) or intel careers (e.g., Ray McGovern), were openly stating that the administration was lying to the U.S. people and completely out of touch with the situation. I was out in the street physically protesting this war before it happened.

It would appear that, yes, we probably should have started this invasion with more troops (more bombs, and significantly more planned destruction, by the way. Should’ve pummeled this place until we had complete submission and started rebuilding from there.)

This "analysis" assumes that the U.S. hasn't killed enough Iraqis and so that's why there are currently problems. I'd like to maintain an objective tone but I must say this plainly--this is an absolutely assanine comment. The reason the U.S. will find this war unwinnable is simply because it won't be able to get enough support from the average Iraqi. You somehow think more civilian casualties would have given the U.S. more support. Of course, there is always a "final solution" in these situations. One can just go in and kill everyone. Both Hitler and the Mongols tried this at certain points. It doesn't bode well for the maintainence of a longterm, multicultural civilization.

We probably should have anticipated presently resulting issues to some extent….the foreign insurgency, the Iranian and Syrian support, the fleeing former regime elements, civilian looting and destruction, corruption in the ranks of the new Iraqi Army and police, collaboration of some these same with insurgent elements for personal or ideological gain, and most importantly, the potential for a close working relationship between a predominantly Shiite government with Iran.

These things were anticipated. The Bush administration simply chose to ignore them.

So, there are some unforeseen problems that maybe should have been expected previously and planned for. Didn’t happen. What do we do now? Go home and say it just didn’t work out? No. Go home and continually tell Americans till the end of time that this is a quagmire and it’s George’s fault? This would be the plan of most Bush-haters. But thank God (by the way, you are allowed to do this too, because of the American soldier, but maybe not for long with the US Constitution being rewritten by our judiciary) that at least you have this President in there, a man of conviction, morals and Christian faith, not the wishy-washy, mealy-mouthed putz who perhaps would be handling these difficulties more wisely? Not likely. And Bush, with these characteristics has been a wonderful example to our all servicemembers here, all of whom take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States (as written), believe in the grand importance of what they’re willingly doing and most of whom still pray to God while wearing a government provided uniform and being paid by that government.

Sometimes I find people spouting such bizarre idiocy that I have to wonder what the point is of attempting conversation. Who told you that Bush is a God-fearing Christian with deep convictions? Bush? Do you believe what everyone tells you? Is there a single event that we know about Bush's life that would suggest that he has a single conviction, moral feeling, or an ounce of faith? As we watch him nervously shift back and forth behind the podium, is there the slightest reason to assume that this idiot has a single leadership quality (beyond his aristocratic blood)? Do the actions of Bush's team make you think he gives a damn about the Constitution? The Patriot Act and everything else he's done (regardless as to how you feel about these things) would suggest just the opposite.

Also, most of them will have been here more than three and a half months before going home and without plans to protest! Who got me started? Anyway, we’ve got work to do and a lot yet to accomplish. Part of my point is that an awful lot has been successfully accomplished already and the efforts continue. By far the biggest obstacle to a more speedy success and return home to the States is this liberal media, the academic and Hollywood freaks who have no clue or purposely misrepresent or ignore the truth to push forth their own agendas.

Why are liberals a threat? They don't run things. You've got your man as president; you control both houses; you now own the Supreme Court; and you've even got your own news channel. This is your war. You bought it, paid for it (actually our children will pay for it, but you get the point), and own it. Don't blame this on liberals. If things go awry, the blame will fall squarely on your shoulders.

Continue to watch ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS, and read the NY Times and Washington Post if you want to be manipulated and let them form your opinion. Start ignoring them or, better yet, challenging them if you truly do “support the troops”! The last thing these guys over here need is all that two-faced “we support the troops” hoopla when people don’t.

I fully agree that people should turn off their TVs and think for themselves. But do you really think Fox is telling it like it is? They could be making movies for all it matters. The show provides less intelligent insight in 24 hours that my barber does in 5 minutes.

If you’re not behind the mission, you’re not behind the troops. If you can’t acknowledge what they’re doing is important and necessary, then you’re belittling their efforts and sacrifice. They don’t need and want that.

I don't support the troops. I don't think the U.S. will be better off if U.S. troops are occupying countries around the globe. I don't think that what you're doing will lead to much positive. I'm very sure that democracy, if it is to last, is almost always home-grown. Your efforts and sacrifice may very well be making matters much worse than they would be otherwise. I realize that this uncomfortable reality makes your job much more difficult, but that's the way it goes. I didn't ask you to go over there. If your actions end up taking a bad situation and making it much worse, I'll blame Bush, his supporters, and you who have chosen to fight this war.

So, thank you to all who truly do “support the troops”.One last item. Don’t believe any of this crap about Islam being a “religion of peace”. There are obviously peaceful and spiritual Muslims, but they do not follow Mohammed’s teachings and lifestyle. Read the unabridged Koran. Compare and contrast Christ and Mohammed. Study your history regarding the Crusades and learn that the Muslims were trying to convert the world, not the Christians. Decide for yourself where knee-bending respect and tolerance of Islam is going to lead. And it spreads. France, Spain, Britain, Denmark, Sweden, most of northern Africa, where thousands upon thousands of Christians are brutally murdered in Mohammed’s name without so much as a peep from anyone.

Here in a nutshell, you've provided a very good reason why the U.S. shouldn't be over there. Islam has co-existed peacefully with other cultures and religions for much of its history and it continues to do so in many places in the world. Attitudes and actions like yours only contribute to its radicalization. Left to its own, radical Islam would be left to fight an uphill battle to maintain its message amidst the secularizing forces at work in the modern world. You've provide it with a superb justification, essentially tossing an archaic, illogical, and doomed movement a life-raft just as it was about to sink below the waves.

$100 labtops

In a classic case of life imitating art, someone is coming out with a hundred dollar labtop, made to be more affordable to the poor. (I watched a comedy with precisely this premise.) It sounds like an amazing machine for the price: It will include a hand-operated recharger, a system that runs off of Linux, and wi-fi connectivity. I might need to invest in one of these things. (Hat-tip to Cursed by a Classical Education for this story.)

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Gumption and the left

I've been wanting to comment on an earlier post of Glen's over at Nashville Truth but havent' gotten around to it until now. In the post, Glen lambasts liberals for their desire to give handouts to everyone--killing the incentive people have to work. What makes Glen's post poignant is that he argues on the basis of his own past experience [exerpt]:

My first residence was a recovery/halfway house. My first job was as a cook at Shoneys making $6.00 an hour. Although I had a college degree, I was willing to lower myself to living in a halfway house and working for $6.00 an hour. Now I make much more money and I have a much better job, I am married to a very beautiful woman and I have a seven month old son whom I adore, I own my own home, and I am 11 weeks away from completing a Masters in Business Administration. I would not have any of those blessings if I had not made the decision to stop accepting "help" from my enablers. If I would have continued to accept help from my enablers, help from the government, or if I had listened to all of the people who told me that it wasn't my fault and that I was some sort of victim, I wouldn't have any of the things I have now. So please, Mr. and Mrs. Big Government Liberal don't try that "don't care about the poor people" nonsense with me.

In the comments, Glen got a lot of flack for this statement but I think it contains more than a kernel of truth. Liberals have spent a lot of their political capital in defense of the homeless, criminals on death row, and other sympathetic groups. While I would agree that we should always be most concerned for the most hopeless among us, Glen's point is perfectly valid. We don't want to create a society where there's no incentive to work hard, where people aren't encouraged to take personal responsibility for their actions.

With this in mind, I would recommend that the left not try to create a constituency based on people who refuse to make a positive contribution to society. The left's constituency should be sharply focused on one group--those who work and thus do their part. I don't think this means lacking sympathy for the poor. Many of the people who work are poor in relative standards. And here's where I would diverge sharply from the analysis of the far-right. The most annoying drain on the national economy isn't made up of homeless vagrants and drunks but the unproductive wealthy. The structure of the capitalist economy overpays these people who do little or nothing. One of the greatest lies of the right is this idea that most of the wealth is created by semi-magical supermen. In any society, wealth creation is a team effort. The efforts of the person who sweeps the factory floor are just as necessary as those of the CEO running the business. We should always have incentives for people to work harder, educate themselves, take risks, and so on, but the vast gaps in income that we currently have go far beyond this necessity. We now have what is essentially an aristocratic class that is able to game the system to create immense advantages while exploiting those who sacrifice to create this wealth.

The liberal solution (back in the day when liberals and dinosaurs walked the Earth) was to provide a tax and welfare system that redistributed some of this wealth so as to soften the imbalance inherent in the capitalist system in its current form. Unfortunately, the system of social benefits were often spent on those who didn't contribute at all, invoking the ire of working people. In my mind, a better system would ensure that everyone "on the team" who helps create wealth actually gets a fair piece of it (unions, while bringing in problems of their own, help in this regard). A more just system would also outlaw outright the obscene accumulation of wealth by large capitalists on the grounds that it's impossible for anyone to be solely responsible for that much work. Microsoft Windows might be the greatest thing since peanut butter, but it just doesn't make sense to give a small group of people so much credit for something created by so many hands. The extra money in the system also deeply corrupts the political system as we've seen from our experience with Bush and his buddies (DeLay included).

28 September 2005

DeLay indictment

The internets are ahumming with the long-delayed indictment of . Here's what some of the blogerati are saying:

From DC Media Girl: Think of Rome as you’re contemplating the fate of Tom DeLay and his recklessness and hubris, and how his lack of self-control has led him to today’s fall from grace.I was out tonight among rightwing true believers, and not surprisingly the spin is going at full speed: The prosecutor is partisan, this indictment is the result of jury shopping, the prosecutor is partisan, the Kay Bailey Huthison case was thrown out of court, and oh by the way, the prosecutor is partisan.

I heard this too. Should the fact that the prosecutor has convicted far more Democrats than Republicans make a difference here?

But judging from his Fox news appearance, ever-feisty DeLay won't just lay down and die. From Just inside the Beltway, after a witty comparison of the DeLay appearance on Fox with a Monty Python skit, JS adds:

But how "fair and balanced" is it to give DeLay 20 minutes of airtime with no one but kissass Hannity lobbing the questions? I'm all for letting the Hammer have some time to get his side of the story out to the public, but this was a bit much. Let's see if Fox gives Ronnie Earle 20 minutes with Colmes without a rebuttal from Hannity. Not likely.

Nashville Truth, as is his wont, surprises us by taking the moral highground: While I do not believe that Congressman Delay has violated any law, I do believe that he has behaved in an unethical manner and that he exemplifies everything that is wrong with the current American system of politics. I do not like Political Action Committees. I understand that PAC's and special interest groups are a part of our system that may not ever go away, but I do not like them. I especially do not like Congressmen or Senators running their own PAC's that happen to employ their wife and/or children. To me, paying my wife with money that I am not allowed to touch is just a clever way of stealing. I realize that Tom Delay is not the only elected official who does this sort of thing, but it does not matter.

Bravo. There's really a weeks worth of blogging in this excerpt. We should all sack all of this pack of insiders regardless of party affiliation. Why can't we just have normal people represent us? Who votes for these politicians making all their secret deals over games of golf and expensive champagne. Let's fire the whole bunch, and I don't care what political party they belong to.

Unfortunately, much of the conservative chatter has consisted of inconsistent partisan banter like that found on Part-time Pundit's site: That’s not to say that he’s innocent, but it is to say that the Democrat’s plan to power is not to beat Republicans at the polls, it’s to invent charges against them. Call it the Rush Limbaugh treatment.

This doesn't make sense. If "he's not innocent," the charges weren't "invented." Lacking any logical lodestar to guide us, we're left to read between the lines. I assume John is saying that all these politicians smell of corruption anyway, so we should just plug our noses and get on with our lives. My rejoinder would be that if they're all corrupt, hopefully they'll all indict each other so we can replace them with better people. We hire these people to represent the citizenry, right? I'm not too happy to hear that companies are paying money for political favors and that these payments are being hidden from public view. I'll be very happy to watch DeLay get fried. Even plutocracies need to take a break once in a while.

Where are the evangelical intellectuals?

Foreign Policy has published a list of the top 100 intellectuals and is polling people to see who they regard as the top intellectuals of our time. Dignan mentioned the fact that the list doesn't seem to have any evangelicals. It seems to me that the evangelical movement's de rigueur war on science and "intellectualism" (i.e., critical and objective systematic inquiry) has pretty much excluded them from the list by definition. Can someone be an intellectual without seriously entertaining others' ideas while refusing to submit one's own ideas to the rigorous inspection of the community of informed individuals?


Last night, I watched Frida, the film about the fascinating life of the Mexican painter (and Communist) Frida Kahlo and her famous artist husband Diego Rivero. Rather than a sharply focused retrospective, the film's colorful kaleidoscope of images and scenes does an excellent job of portraying the couple's exuberance and joie de vivre while capturing some of Frida's despair and suffering. One of the more innovative scenes shows Frida watching Godzilla while in the U.S. with the character of Godzilla replaced by an oversized version of her husband gobbling up the city with his popularity. The director, while painting sympathetic portraits of the couple and Trotsky (who lived with them at one point), is smart enough to show some of the men's foibles. If for nothing else, the movie's to be commended for showing us a side of Mexico we rarely see. Instead of chubby, corrupt drug dealers, we're shown a world of artists and intellectuals arguing about Marx and Hegel and the significance of their art. I'd definitely recommend the movie to everyone who hasn't yet seen it.

Other reviews: Zap2it.com's review and Philip French's review

27 September 2005

Yes, weasel, sir!

Having the misfortune of not being a pretty blonde, England is set to take the fall for the Iraqi torture scandals. Meanwhile, we're supposed to believe that the torture was isolated and the officers knew nothing about it. What a bunch of weasels! Since the officers clearly condoned what was going on, they should step forward and take the punishment instead of offering up young enlisted people as scapegoats. Some people I've talked to who were in Iraq and in a position to know exactly what was going on have told me that the Abu Ghraib episodes were representative of what goes on every day in Iraq, before and after the scandals. So much for the high moral caliber of the U.S. officer corps. A good portion of these people are just a bunch of Colin Powells--willing to stoop to any depth in order to save their own asses.

Protest: Pictures

The Tattered Coat has some good pictures of the weekend's protests.

Handbook for Bloggers and Dissidents

Reporters without borders has issued a booklet titled "Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents" that can be downloaded from their site. The BBC has an article about the booklet here. (Thanks to Scrutiny Hooligans for pointing us to this story.)

26 September 2005

The scientific buffet: Remember to eat your vegetables

Throughout the internets, I keep running up against rightwing palaver about stupid scientists and dumb academics. We're told that science should function like a conceptual buffet where people can come and pick the more juicy morsels leaving behind the brocholi and carrot sticks. You can hear the voices around the salad bar mumbling, "I'll take some of that gravity, laws of motion, and some of those anti-cancer drugs but leave behind that evolution and global warming--that's just too much for my diet."

To stop this assault on common-sense, I hereby unilaterally and pre-emptively declare that forthwith and hereforth, all those who eat at the salad bar must take their vegetables along with their slab of cooked swine. If you're going to toss out evolution and every other scientific theory that simply disagrees with your religious biases or corporate interests, you must strive for consistency by denying science in toto (which means we ain't in Kansas anymore). Herewith, electricity will be solely caused by the willful intervention of God or Satan; objects fall simply for no reason; and anti-cancer therapies are no more effective than Louisana holy water. Causality has ceased to exist. Weathermen are all guessing. Bush, being the great everyday man that he is (and so full of hot air), actually knows more about global warming than any scientist. And these words magically appear on the screen without me typing them.

Equal time

About 400 people showed up for the "massive pro-war protest" versus the 10-15,000 who appeared for the anti-war rally. Even so, every radio and TV station I turned on felt obliged to give the miniscule pro-war faction equal time (or more). Virtually every other story droned on and on about how the protesters were all just old hippies. (If so, these hippies aged damn well. About half of them look like they were in their twenties.) If only these media stations were so equitable when it came to providing time for the speeches and talks throughout the country by figures such as Ray McGovern, Howard Zinn, or members of the Green Party. I guess some minority voices are more equal than others. (Thanks to Diana at DFC for the links.)

Peace activists living in Baghdad

Lest anyone think that Karlo's a die-hard pessimist, I'd like to quote an excerpt from an article about peace activists living among Iraqis in Baghdad (kudos to Accidental Deliberations for this one):

As a volunteer with Christian Peacemaker Teams, a Canada-U.S. organization, Rollins believes pacifists should be ready to risk their lives for peace just as soldiers risk their lives in war.
Rollins and a handful of colleagues live in a Baghdad neighbourhood among ordinary Iraqis, far from the fortified green zone where the coalition headquarters is located. "We do try to keep a low profile," says Rollins, interviewed during a speaking tour of Canada. The activists dress like local people, are discrete about where they live, and travel with local drivers.

Rollins and his colleagues - the team consists of four to six people at any given time - help families find missing loved ones, document abuses in the Iraqi prison system and get a few prisoners released. They've earned enough respect that the group now gets requests for assistance from the UN and Amnesty International, whose staffers are generally confined to the green zone. Rollins says his closest brush with death occurred when a roadside bomb exploded about 20 metres away from where he was walking. On another occasion he was caught in a crowd that came under fire from Iraqi soldiers.

In neither incident was he a deliberate target. Rollins says the volunteers rarely encounter hostility. "The Iraqi people are very good at telling the difference between a country's foreign policy and a country's citizens. Being from Canada is a big help for me, but even my U.S. teammates are often received well."

25 September 2005

Mark your calendars

Chrenkoff has posted his latest mile-long post lauding all the good news from Iraq. This is evidently "part 35" of the series. (I guess there's been so much good news since the postings started that it's taken years to chronicle them all.) So anyway, mark your calendars. The anniversary bash for Part 36 of the series will be held in Omar's Cafe down a narrow alley just East of the Green Zone in Baghdad (easily accessible from the airport). All you of who are fans of Chrenkoff's optimism and David Swift films are invited to meet up at the cafe at 9 p.m. on Saturday for an all night bash where the rightwing belligerati along with security personnel from the various companies will get together and swap photos of last week's picnic on the bank of the Tigris. We pessimistic left wingers would like to join you but you know how it goes. Saturday's a big blogging day for us.

Catching reporters before they terrorize the president

Taken by themselves, the Shrub plutocracy's abuses of executive power might seem like nothing more than the usual shenanigans we've come to expect from corrupt politicians. But taken together, they add up to a mountain of evidence that Shrub and other administration lowlifes will take even the most drastic measures to quash public debate that is in any way critical of the president. A week or two ago, we had the bizarre case of Scott Parkin, an American, being arrested and deported while in Australia apparently at the administration's bequest, for the crime of daring to speak out against Halliburton. And now we have the bizarre case of Robert Fisk being barred from entering the U.S. where he was sceduled to speak. This is the same administration that was sending visa's out to dead terrorists after these same terrorists had committed the 9/11 attacks and yet somehow or another these same bureaucrats are suddenly functioning with lightning-fast efficiency when someone comes to the U.S. to criticize the Shrub administration!
Thanks to Direland for pointing this story out to us. I've taken the liberty to quote the post in full. As a way to collectively give this administration the finger, I suggest that we all link to Fisk's talk and get the word out about this.


The internationally renowned correspodent for The Independent -- the great British journalist Robert Fisk (right) -- has been banned from entering the United States. Fisk has been covering war zones for decades, but is above all known for his incisive reporting from the Middle East for more than 20 years. His critical coverage of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, and the continuing occupation that has followed it, has repeatedly exposed U.S. and British government disinformation campaigns. He also has exposed how the bulk of the press reports from Iraq have been "hotel journalism" -- a phrase Fisk coined.

The daily New Mexican reports that "U.S. immigration officials refused Tuesday to allow Robert Fisk, longtime Middle East correspondent for the London newspaper, The Independent, to board a plane from Toronto to Denver. Fisk was on his way to Santa Fe for a sold-out appearance in the Lannan Foundation ’s readings-and-conversations series Wednesday night. According to Christie Mazuera Davis, a Lannan program officer, Fisk was told that his papers were not in order. Davis made last-minute arrangements Wednesday for Amy Goodman, host of Pacifica Radio’s daily news show, Democracy Now!, to interview Fisk via satellite from a television station in Toronto..." A recording of this satellite interview will soon be available on the Lannan Foundation's website. If Fisk has been barred from entry, it's very hard not to believe it has something to do with dispaches of his like this one from September 15.

I have long admired Fisk's unbeatably first-rate journalism, his intrepid insistence on sticking his nose where the authorities -- of whatever country he's in -- don't want him to go. He constantly shows up the sluggish cowardice and indolent hand-out journalism practiced by so many U.S. foreign correspondents from the safety of their hotel bars. That the U.S. won't allow this great journalist into this country to tell what he has seen and what he knows is a scandal.
If you're not familiar with Fisk's reporting, there is an entire website devoted to it -- read Fisk's latest, and find an archive of his articles (plus audio-visual materials) by clicking here. You can also order Fisk's books, like Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon, and The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East.

22 September 2005

Baghdad disintegration

What will our trillion-dollar war in Iraq eventually buy. According to a Needlenose post, it's increasingly looking like civil war--even in Baghdad.

New blog

I've added the blog Tech Policy to the SL blogroll. The blog, written by current and past MIT grad students, provides some good knowledgeable discussion on scientific and environmental issues.

21 September 2005

When it rains, it pours...

Could this just be a coincidence?

Category 5 is the highest on the scale, and only three Category 5 hurricanes are known to have hit the U.S. mainland — most recently, Andrew, which smashed South Florida in 1992.

Am I reading this right? Only three cat. 5 hurricanes have hit the mainland and 2 of these this year and one 13 years ago. I realize there are other possible explanations but this wouldn't have anything to do with global warming, would it?

Your money is no object.

I found this on Robert Sharp's blog:

Since the The Independent newspaper today asks what happened to the $1bn Iraqi defence budget, it seems a good time to mention some research by an old lecturer of mine, Professor Keith Hartley. Professor Hartley estimates that the total cost of the war in Iraq will be US$1.25 trillion. This bill will be picked up by the US and UK taxpayers, and the new Iraqi state. “If, at the outset, the Americans anticipated the Iraq operation would cost $100 billion, they could have given Saddam Hussein and his family $20 billion to go, $50 billion to Iraq and still have had $30 billion left over. The UK would not have been involved, no-one would have died and no buildings would have been destroyed.

What Robert fails to mention is that this wouldn't have accomplished the same objectives. (Halliburton, as just one example, wouldn't have gotten any war booty and Shrub's cronies would all have been irritated enough to get a different puppet to do their bidding come election time.)

Even so, I find this sort of thought experiment useful. One blogger points out the obvious fact that in Vietnam: "We speculated that, considering the great number of rounds we fired, the United States could easily have instead built each Vietnamese a beautiful suburban house complete with swimming pool instead of spending the money trying to kill them."

Let's think about this for a second. What if the U.S. had told the Vietnamese they could choose any system they chose. They simply wanted to create a wonderful first-world infrastructure for the country. Can anyone imagine the Vietnamese remaining anti-American or allying themselves with our then-enemies? But instead, we dropped more bombs on this tiny country than we did in all of WWII, killing off a significant portion of the entire population while leaving behind a legacy of Agent Orange and deformed children.

If a trillion will be spent in Iraq (and this probably doesn't even begin to take into account the money lost to the U.S. economy due to National Guard mobilizations and other factors), you'd think there'd be some bright and shiny new country being built up with Iraqis tossing flowers on every American walking by. This ain't happening? Evidently, the money's being spent on guns, not butter.

Party hardy

Some Republicans are now asking the prez how we'll pay for Katrina. That's easy. We'll pay for it the same way we'll pay for Iraq. By giving the wealthy tax-cuts and through backroom deals to contractors. In other words, we won't pay for it. Instead, we'll pay some wealthy banks and foreign investors to hold that debt. But who can complain? It's always great to have a party--especially when it's being paid from our grandchildren's accounts.

Those people need a wedgie

Check out the Politburo Diktat who has put forth the Wedgie document to counter the Creationists' Wedge Document.

Some video clips for everyone

Mrs. Shrub discusses Hurricane Corinna. (We really need to get the word out on this one as so few people are even aware of it.) Perhaps this previous hurricane explains why so many victims of Katrina ended up "walking around alone" while Bush's FEMA appointees drank margaritas. Of course, things are looking bad when Fox News commentators attack Shrub for the New Orleans debacle. (When you can't trust Fox to remain biased, who can you trust?)

20 September 2005

To be better or just to be, that is the question

After posting my earlier blogments on Radical Evolution, I came across this interesting article (titled The Age of Batshit Crazy Machines) questioning the mad rush towards the technological ubermensch (the transhumanist directive). I've quoted a few lines below. Ran Prieur, discussing those who would want to quickly step beyond man to a greater technologically-enhanced overman, chides them, claiming that . . .

. . . they imagine that it is somehow built into history, or even metaphysics . . . . A question they never answer is: why? They seem to believe it's self-justifying, that density/speed of information processing is valuable as density/speed of information processing.

A great point. As the existentialists pointed out so well, "why" is always the difficult question, a question whose answer can never come from an equation or a syllogism but has to come from the gut.

They always claim to represent "evolution," or a "new evolutionary level." But evolution doesn't have levels. Video games have levels.

What does it mean to evolve? Will homo supersapiens look back at us as some silly missing link having all the value of a deformed cockroach. Ran questions the very notion of "progress."

"Progress" has not only been bad for the biosphere -- it's been bad for the human condition . . . We declare our lives better than theirs in terms of our own cultural values. If medieval people could visit us, I think they would be impressed by our advances in alcohol, pornography, and sweet foods, and appalled at our biophobia, our fences, the lifelessness of our physical spaces, the meaninglessness and stress of our existence, our lack of practical skills, and the extent to which we let our lords regulate our every activity.

So what does it mean to progress and evolve? Is it possible to kickstart human evolution, to somehow use our current state as a bridge to something better--and not just better in terms of memory bytes or some arbitrary quantitative measure but better in a deeper spiritual sense?

September 24th protest

For all who can make it, there's a massive anti-war anti-Bush demonstration that will be held on September 24th. Protesters, gathering at 11:00 am at the White House’s Ellipse, will be joined by Ramsey Clark, Congresswomen Cynthia McKinney, Maxine Waters, British parliamentarian George Galloway, survivors of Hurricane Katrina and tens-of-thousand of very pissed off Americans. Other protests will be held in LA and across the country.

Linux is just, like, so cool

I'd like to know why newspapers all have these huge business sections offering stock quotes. Few of us own very many stocks and those of us who do, have our stocks tied up in retirement accounts. Instead of the typically business section telling wealthy tycoons where to invest, newspapers should have a labor section describing the best places to work. Or if that's too radical, at least a section that discusses the new cutting-edge technology. I though of the latter when I ran across an interesting post at BoingBoing describing the new Linux-based handheld computer/PDA called the GP2X:

It can play games. It can play your Movies. It can play your music. It can view photos. It can read Ebooks. It runs on just 2 AA batteries - And it can do all this in the palm of your hand or on your TV screen. It runs the free Linux operating system. This means a whole world of Games, Utilities and Emulators are at your disposal. Quake, Doom, SNES, Megadrive, MAME, Media players and Applications to name just a few. It's powerful - Two 200mhz CPU's with 64meg of RAM, custom graphics hardware and decoding chips. Takes SD cards and has 64M of NAND memory. Plenty to play with. One of the most powerful and advanced handhelds today. (Price: About $190 U.S.)

19 September 2005

Beware of those Texan terrorists

The Texan-based peace activist Scott Parkin was picked up (in commemoration of 9-11?) on the mean streets of Melboune at lunchtime on September 11 while at a cafe. He was arrested by six immigration officials and Australian Federal Police (AFP), kept in detention and then flown out of the country 4 days later.

And what evil plot was this Texan native planning? Parkin was about to present a workshop about the US peace movement and about how corporatations such as Halliburton, profit from the war on Iraq. Parkin’s six-month tourist visa to Australia was cancelled (with three months remaining), on the grounds that his continuing presence in Australia was a “threat to national security.” Those who have attended Parkin's workshops in Australia say that he has never engaged in or advocated violence. Parkin's an activist with the Houston Global Awareness Collective (we need to all send these folks some money!), which campaigns against the occupation of Iraq.

Parkin admittedly has a terrible criminal record, having been arrested at a protest in the US against Exxon Mobil while dressed as a fluffy tiger. (He wasn’t charged.) On September 7, Parkin was contacted by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and asked to come in for a “voluntary” interview. Evidently, this request wasn't very voluntary, since his refusal led to him being tossed out of the land of Oz on his fluffy ear. Parkin was not arrested under anti-terror legislation or on the basis of an ASIO warrant, rather his six-month visa was cancelled without him being informed so that he ended up being arrested and fined for not having a valid visa. (I guess if you're going to visit Australia, you need to walk check in with the government every second you're there to ensure they haven't decided to toss you out.)

Some Australian politicians claim that the arrest seems to have come at the bequest of Washington.

From Borsa-Italia.Net: To visit Oz again, Parkin will have to pay a fine of A$11,700 dollars (US$9,000) that he was handed after being released from five days of detention in Melbourne. (It evidently cost money to arrest and hold somebody under false pretenses.)

Other bloggers discussing Scott Parking: Mahler's Prodigal Son, MGK and Garota.

Establishing kleptocracy in Iraq

Looking a recent news, I came across this. (But while the particulars are news, is it all really so new?)

Large-scale corruption in Iraq's ministries, particularly the defence ministry, has led to one of the biggest thefts in history with more than $1 billion (555 million pounds) going missing, Iraq's finance minister said in an interview.

It's always so aggravating when the previous thieves have already looted the house you just broke into.

"Huge amounts of money have disappeared. In return we got nothing but scraps of metal," Finance Minister Ali Allawi told British newspaper The Independent in a report published on Monday. "It is possibly one of the largest thefts in history."

Payment of massive amounts of money to inside contractors for nothing! How audacious! Hal- . . . I mean how did the Iraqis come up with such a scheme!

Corruption, both in the bidding for and the awarding of contracts, and in the administration of public offices, is one of the most frequent accusations made by Iraqis against their government and foreign firms operating in the country. Some of the worst allegations of impropriety concern the purchasing of military equipment by the defence ministry under the previous government, including more than $230 million spent on 28-year-old second-hand Polish helicopters.

You mean the Poles weren't there out of patriotic dedication to the American cause? There was money involved?

"If you compare the amount that was allegedly stolen of about $1 billion compared with the budget of the ministry of defence, it is nearly 100 percent of the ministry's (procurement) budget that has gone (missing)," Allawi said.

So what? As my high school football coach used to say, you've gotta give 110%.

Most of the questionable contracts are said to have been signed under the previous government, headed by Iyad Allawi, which served from June 28, 2004 until late February this year.

I don't know why people go on about a missing billion or two. People can be so negative sometimes. It really harshes my mellow.

The former defence minister, Hazim Shaalan, is now living as a private citizen in Jordan. He has denied any wrongdoing.

That's why he moved to Jordan. (Maybe Jordan can give him some of Challabi's frozen assets.)

Allawi, the finance minister, was also quoted by the newspaper as saying $500-$600 million had vanished from the electricity, transport, interior and other ministries. The newspaper reported that the total amount missing from all the ministries could be as much as $2 billion.

What's two billion? We can make that up in a matter of years. We'll just skip a little levy construction here, some assistance to the dying there, roofs and plumbing for a thousand schools everywhere and we'll get that money back in no time.

In praise of yaeba

Looking at the magazine rack this morning, I was struck by the generic "beauty" of the women on the covers of the various magazines. Completely lacking character, they were almost all indistinguishable. Which makes me wonder if the population at large really has such pedestrian tastes. I remember hearing that the Japanese are fond of women with yaeba--crooked teeth (a genetic trait that apparently comes from Okinawa). I also find crooked teeth and odd features much more attractive than the plastic features of women featured on magazines. In some genetically-altered future, will the day come when everyone's face is as generic as the bright-n-shiny plastic gizmos in a Walmart distribution center?

18 September 2005

The scientific version of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

I just finished two books that deal with aspects of the GRIN (Genetic, robotic, information, and nanotechnological) advancements. In Radical Evolution, Joel Garreau, (a WaPo reporter), introduces the intriguing notion of a singularity. Applied to black holes, the term describes the point where conventional laws break down. Garreau, following other authors, uses it to describe a point where technological advances accelerate to the point that radical and unimaginable transformations take place. And we're told by some experts that this singularity (a sort of scientific version of the Second Coming with all its frightening and wonderful aspects) is upon us.

The author presents three scenarious for the radically altered future, which he calls the Heaven, Hell, and Prevail scenarios. Ray Kurzweil, the champion of the former, sees human beings as essentially becoming deities, living immortal lives (due to nanotechnology) and with brains (merged with computers) that qualitatively transcend anything humans are currently capable of.

On the other side of heaven we find hell, illustrated by Bill Joy and Francis Fukuyama (!). The idea behind the hell scenario is that the new technologies simply present too much opportunity for accidents and maliciousness and that someone at somepoint (and this only needs to happen once) will open pandora's box letting even hope escape. (Enter visions of some reproducing organical-matter consuming nanobot getting out of lab at some point and turning the entire planet into gray sludge.)

The "Prevail" scenario put forth by Jaron Lanier insists that it's impossible to see how technologies will actually be used. Unlike those who talk of technology only in terms of alienation, Lanier predicts that many innovations will actually strengthen the connections between individuals. He also points to Windows ubiquitous crashes as a reason to not worry too much about the technology getting away from us.

A good article on the book and author can be found here.

So which scenario do you subscribe to?

17 September 2005

Those far-fetched scenarios

Tran Sient's Watch today poked fun at remarks by Chavez on a planned U.S invasion of Venezuela. Personally, I can't for the life of me see why this is so far-fetched. The U.S. seems to invade some Latin-American country once or twice a decade. I don't know why Venezuela wouldn't be a candidate. It sure in the hell is more likely than the U.S. being attacked by Iraq, yet half the American voting public jumped on that bandwagon as it went by.

Taoist wisdom

The Rambling Taoist has some great posts recently. In one on Katrina, he points out how everyone (except for a few members of the Texas oilocracy) knew that a large hurricane would eventually hit New Orleans and wipe the city out. In another post, he points out that Bush's explanation that a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan would help cut down on Afghan drug production doesn't jive to well with the facts (see Afghanistan Opium Survey 2004). It's said that "...the country will have produced an astonishing 87% of the planet’s entire opium crop this year, up from 76% in 2003." And we wonder why impeach bush remains on the top of the list at Technorati?

16 September 2005

Painful attempts to understand the rightwing mind

I don't know why I go to the trouble of crossing the ideological fence and trying to talk with these people sometimes. In my recent attempt to promote the left-right meeting of minds, I pointed out the racist assumptions in an argument over on Dr. Phat's blog, only to be shouted down by a platoon of rightwingers claiming that Karlo the libral was so out touch with the facts. Following my comments to his post, Dr. Phat chastises me:

Not in the news story or my story did I use any words describing the ethnicity of the people that perpetrated this fraud.

Perhaps I'm not used to some particular nuances of Dr. Phat's ideolect. In his original post when he referred to "black" people, I hastily assumed that he was talking about black people:

. . . it’s time for the poor black people of New Orleans to start with the long and hard process of re-accumulating the wealth and items that they lost during the hurricane. Luckily with the help of the Red Cross this is happening. Thos who did not get to loot, or were too late to steal anything of value, have another chance to go and get the things that will help them survive the next few months on someone else’s dime.

In the tirade that followed my comment, Dr. Phat insisted that 88% of New Orleans is white and only 7.6% black. I'm left wondering if I've accidently stumbled upon a parody of a rightwing site. Any glance at any picture of New Orleans that was of anything other than a klan rally would reveal the farcical nature of that figure. My scouring of the internets came up with the following figures for the races:

White 28.05%
Black or African American 67.25%

But then again maybe I'm wrong, and all those jazz musicians in the New Orleans street are actually poor white people with pigmentation alterations making them look like blacks. (They must be trying to get that "dime" that gets thrown to the black people.)

Them Baghdad coffee blues

In a recent interview, we saw the following exchange:

O’Reilly: The truth of the matter is our correspondents at Fox News can’t go out for a cup of coffee in Baghdad.

Rice: Bill, that’s tough. It’s tough. But what — would they have wanted to have gone out for a cup of coffee when Saddam Hussein was in power?

This is the heart of the matter. If the U.S. has been there as long as it has in large numbers yet has still failed to provide security, the occupation's potential benefits are suspect. This conclusion doesn't come from my ideological inclinations, we're talking facts on the ground here. In short, the occupation has failed. We can maintain our Pollyanic hopes for the best, but there's got to be a time-limit at some point. When people have a hard time securing a small part of the capitol such as the Green Zone, it's clear that the occupation has failed to win the hearts and minds of the people.

(via Cut to the Chase and Think Progress)

On Bacevich and the hypocrisy of current liberal and conservative movements

I've been reading Andrew Bacevich's book The New American Militarism. Bacevich has an interesting background. In addition to having spent his life in the military, he has a doctorate in history from Princeton. Ideologically, he was (is?) a conservative. In this book, he provides an excellent analysis of the new militarism. While I personally gravitate to the view that it's all essentially about money and power with cultural attitudes as a consequence (the substructure/superstructure sort of perspective), Bacevich delves more into the history of attitudes within various cultural spheres such as politics, the church, and the military. His discussion of the latter is especially insightful; he possesses, after all, the ideal credentials to discuss it. After I finish the book, I'll provide my own full critique, but until then I'd like to quote a passage discussing conservatism and liberalism since I think he really gets it right in noting how both have departed from their historical antecendents:

Much of the counterculture had hijacked what had once been mainstream liberalism . . .

This is, I think, one fatal flaw in the current "liberal" movement. I think Glen over on Nashville Truth touched on this in one of his tirades, but if you go to a liberal protest, you end up listening to a panoply of stirring speakers, all championing a completely different cause. Everyone claps and cheers, wishing the person well in their concerns, but there's no convergence of forces fighting for a central issue, and more importantly, no analysis of power and its misuse. Liberals need to figure out what they're really about, and whatever this is, it should be something that can appeal to almost any well-intentioned American living anywhere.

. . . neoconservatives set out to infiltrate a conservative movement that for decades had languished on the margins of American politics.

. . . The conception of politics to which neoconservatives paid allegiance owed more to the ethos of the Left than to the orthodoxies of the Right. Their ultimate ideological objective was not to preserve but to transform. They viewed state power not as a necessary evil but as a positive good to be cultivated and then deployed in pursuit of large objectives. (p. 71)

* By "Left," Bacevich seems to refer to the liberal movement (I personally don't use "liberal" and "left" to mean the same thing.)

So here we have the rub. The sworn enemies of big government love government and virtually believe it to be the right hand of God. Yet amongs these same neocons who are butressed by the religious right, the military, and the average working Joe, it's hard to find a single one who truly has a religious background (compared to Carter or Gore, for example), has done much of anything in the military, or has worked a real job. I think it's time for both liberals and conservatives to turn off the damn TV and look deep into their hearts and figure out just what they're about.

Subterranean Halliburton Blues

You gotta give credit where's credits due. Just when you thought a song couldn't get any better . . . (via Zen Comix via Upper Left):

Subterranean Haliburton Blues

Rummy comes foot fleet
Face covered, black sheet
Talkin' that Rove put
Gannon in the bed, but
The Keg's tapped anyway
Novak says that Cheney'll say
They bunker-bust in early May
So cough up the pundit's pay...

Look out Kid
We got our no-bid
Walk on tip-toes
Drug War drug flows
Better photo-op with those
That carry 'round a firehose
Keep a coke nose
His vacation grows
You don't need a weatherman
To know which way Katrina blows...

Get rich, Dick swell
Hang around an oil well
Rangers' sell, show and tell
Hurricane pell-mell
Try hard, pork lard
Payback, Right gale
Gitmo jail, jump bail
Join the Army if you fail

Look out kid
they got a no-bid
Betchel cheater
six times looser
around Iraqi Theater
Condi by the whirlpool
Colin got played the fool
Rove's hallowed leaker
Watch, Iraq's a bleeder

Ahh, Get Born-Again, porn again
short pants, romance,
Gannon Dance
Get blessed,
Gitmo stress
Torture test, they'll confess
Please her, tease him, buy gifts
Porkfat Lobbyist
20 years of snortin' and they teach you how to play the grift

Look out kid
They got the no-bid hid
Better dump Gannon's manhole
Flightsuit vandal
Iraqis wearin' sandals
Avoid Chalabi scandals
Don't wanna be a bum
Can't walk and chew gum
The pumps don't work
Cuz the levee breach was plannned,DOH!

15 September 2005

Crocodile Tears for the Rich and Powerful

In my discussion on various blogs, I keep running up against this conservative meme that we need to protect the rich and powerful. We're told that the lazy poor need to get a kick in the butt to stop them from being a drain on the nation's wealth. (Nothing's said about the lazy rich. It isn't as if most billionaires work for a living.) We're told that we should do all we can for the rich since they give us our jobs. (No mention is made here about the fact that we give them our labor.) We're told that the U.S. needs to beef up its military even more because it's currently vulnerable to so many threats. (By some accounts, the U.S. spends more money on its military than every other country combined. Who should feel threatened?) We're told that Christians, who are by far the overwhelming majority in the country, need to be protected from non-Christian bullies. (Could these people recount to me the last time they stood at a ceremony where they were expected to say, "May we all attain enlightenment and save all sentient beings" or were asked to swear to tell the truth by placing their hand on the Bhagavad Gita?)

Isn't it an odd coincidence that these same ideas, so beneficial to the wealthy class who owns the media and runs the American plutocracy, are parroted by the glazed-eyed conservatives who's main window on the world is Fox News--that grand mouthpiece of the plutocracy.

My ideas on this? The rich don't need your help, man. They've got armies of high-paid lawyer, armies of lobbiest, and . . . well, armies . . . all in order to present their interests 24 hours a day. Anyone who loses any hairs worrying about the rich and powerful is the ultimate chump. But we all make choices. And if you decide to spend your life energy supporting people who would kill someone half way across the world if it meant an extra serving of caviar at dinner, that's your decision, rife with all of its existential karmic implications. My sympathies lie elsewhere.

14 September 2005

Impeach Shrub

The words "" have now hit Number 1 at technorati after hovering around the top spot for weeks. The words "support Bush," if they ever were up there, are evidently now mired in a Louisana swamp.

Some Reflections on the State of the Republic

At this juncture of our republic's history, it's interesting to ponder a few lines from James Madison and consider just how far the current "conservatives" have diverged from those who designed the Constitution:

Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies. From these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, debts and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the dominion of the few.... No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

If the so-called War on Terror doesn't count as "continual warfare" producing "debts and taxes," somebody please tell me what does. I think the "neocons" need to take the "con" out of their moniker and just call themselves "neos."

Or consider this from ol' Ben Franklin:

Those who give up essential liberties for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

What would Franklin have to say about the so-called Patriot Act, ducktape, and daily color-coded "terror" alert warnings?

And can you guess who said the following?

Everybody's worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there's a really easy way: stop participating in it.


Scientist now say that the chances of life existing on Titan (Saturn's large moon) are much better than they previously thought. The re-evaluation comes from discoveries of Earthly extremophiles that can live in environments such as ice and thick brine. This makes me wonder if any of these planets and moons, if found to be lacking life, would ever be seeded with life forms from Earth.

13 September 2005

My underlings made me do it!

Colin Powell, that great teller of tall tales, in a recent ABC News interview claims that his false Iraq testimony before the United Nations in 2003 is to be blamed “on some people in the intelligence community” at lower levels. The man might be a liar but let no one say he lacks creativity. You'd think that Shrub, Cheney or Tenet may--just may--have had something to do with this, but now we learn that it's the fault of their pencil-pushing minions. Where is Colonol North when you need him? It's autumn. We need a fall-man! A dissheveled bureaucrat with thick glasses to stand up and say he's actually a ventriloquist and put the words in Powell's mouth while Powell was napping at the U.N.

Lacking an Oliver the Ventriloquist to take the bullet, history has to agree with Powell's own self-assessment that his lie represents "a blot" on his record. (I'm sure if we look hard, we might find more than just one blot, but that's another story.) Powell says that "it was painful." Yes, it was painful to us all. Ridiculous and outlandish . . . and painful.

12 September 2005

Fight for Fluffy!

According to the highly reliable MGB news outlet, the U.S. military has put forth a plan to send sheep to Iraq:

The Pentagon has ordered 1,500 sheep to Iraq to provide comfort and security in advance of two upcoming votes, the military announced Wednesday. Two livestock battalions from the 81st Dakota Rangers will deploy to Iraq before the scheduled Oct. 15 referendum on the proposed constitution, and remain through the December national elections, officials said.

I have no problem with sending sheep to Iraq, if they really feel they need to go over there to further the patriotic effort, but I draw the line at coercion. Take the example of Fluffy. Having served a long stint in the wild back-reaches of North Dakota, Fluffy was asked to do a second tour of duty in Baghdad. Recently Swerve Left reporters questioned Fluffy about how he felt about the current Iraq situation, Fluffy emphatically responded "ba-a-a-ad." Yet in spite of his reticence, his commanders at the 81st remain adamant: "We all realize that the war is based on deception, has cost billions of dollars, and is leading to increased terrorism and chaos, but these concerns need to be left up to the politicians. We need to soldier on. And if we're going to maintain the current operation, we can't rely on an 'Army of One.' We need all the sheep we can get." Fluffy, having refused to comply with his new orders, was forcefully carried off. When reporters phoned the stockade and inquired about his treatment, Fluffy shouted out "baa-aa-ad" just as the phone went inexplicably silent.

America's response to Katrina

I came across this article on the Australian site On Line Opinion:

Civic mindedness US style!
By Brett Bowden (8 September, 2005)

All is not well in the land of the free and the home of the brave. In fact, social cohesion has not been too rosy in the United States for a long time. The most recent demonstration of this comes in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that hit the Gulf Coast last week. The ensuing events tell us a lot about America and Americans. Sadly, not a lot of it is positive. President George W. Bush has proclaimed that it will bring out the best in Americans. If what we have seen is the best then I fear the worst.

Setting aside the inadequate emergency response, more than anything else the onlooking world has been struck by the rapid breakdown of civil order. As always generalisations are dangerous, but there appears to be a near absence of any sense of civic-mindedness. No inkling of any notion of citizenship.

Where else in the world would you see the scale of looting, profiteering, murder, and rape of the already beleaguered victims of nature. And where else in the world would opportunistic snipers take pot-shots at police, fire-fighters and fellows citizens as they go about saving lives and easing suffering. There is something to be said here about the gun culture of the nation and the near universal accessibility to arms. But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of all this is the issuing of “shoot to kill” orders against desperate people who are scavenging for the necessities of life.

Regrettably, the collapse of civic order is nothing terribly new. It is a phenomenon that has periodically torn asunder cities across America throughout its history. In their time cities such as Detroit, Watts, Mississippi, St Louis, Chicago, New York, and most recently, Los Angeles have all seem more than their share of riots and civil unrest. Whatever the injustices that sparked such unrest - and there have been many injustices - the dramatic collapse of social order is a frightening development.

While the United States is the richest country in the world it is also one of the most polarised. In the wake of events in New Orleans and Biloxi, this week the The Boston Globe called for a “War on Poverty”. In a country that is armed to the back teeth the language of war is this last thing the US needs.

Besides the Civil War successive administrations have carried out more domestic wars than is healthy for any country. The “War on Drugs” and the “War on Crime”, to name just two, have been abject failures. They have resulted in more and more of its black population being incarcerated and greater disenfranchisement and deeper social divisions. The very things the Civil War sought to overcome.

The call to war also says something about the collective psychology of the nation and its attitude to tackling such problems. Yes, there is a need to address the drug problem and the related crime problem. All of which is related to the poverty problem. But another war is not the answer. What is needed is a comprehensive and sustainable policy that is inclusive, not divisive.

Should social breakdown and civic disorder become a more common occurrence in the US, I suspect the greatest threat to America and the much-cherished “American way of life” will not come from without, but within. The establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and the PATRIOT ACT will do absolutely nothing to diminish polarisation, internal inequalities and deep-seated divisions.

Unfortunately, there is a message in here for al-Qaida as well. The message is do nothing. If al-Qaida’s aim is to bring about the downfall of the US, then all they might have to do is wait. Somewhat ironically, September 11 served to bring the nation together and bring out the best in America and Americans, albeit momentarily. Hurricane Katrina, on the other hand, has again exposed the raw nerve that lies just below the surface of the American heartland.

11 September 2005

Katrina and Bush family values

I have absolutely no idea why anyone would care what the so-called "First Lady" (=Queen) or President's mother (=the Queen Mother) have to say. But if marvelous mavens like Larry King tell us that these figures of the American royal class have something highly important to tell us during this hour of crisis, perhaps we plebes should listen:

Barbara Bush today, referring to the poor who had lost everything back home and had been evacuated, informed us that: "This is working very well for them." You can just see the wheels spinning in Barbara's brain: "Them poor lazy black folks were probably happy just to get into the dome without a ticket." I'm sure that their having children washed away, people dying next to them, going with water, and being abandoned by relief agencies didn't bother them too much.

She later added: "What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality."

I guess Barbara's idea of Texas hospitality is "have a drink of water then move on. We wouldn't want to the neighbors to see you blocking the view of our mansion." And right when you thought her hoof couldn't possibly be shoved up further into her mouth, she added:

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."

If nothing else, I guess this gives us some insight into the "family values" that the president grew up with.

10 September 2005

Crash Movie Review

I just finished watching the film Crash. I must confess that when I saw the ads for a film set in L.A. dealing with racism, I didn't have high expectations. I'm happy to report that I came away very impressed by the film. It provides a very balanced treatment of the controversial topics or violence and racism. Unlike in so many films, the violence (much like the real thing) is depicted as extremely disturbing and traumatic. At the same time, racism, while ugly, is shown as stemming from definite causes (mostly tragic misunderstandings).

The film's realism and emotional appeals comes from the way it draws people as ambiguous figures--at once puppets propelled by events but also as free agents acting within the realm of existential choices. To realize this effect, the director (Paul Haggis) does an excellent job of depicting characters in a sort of bifurcated manner--as if caught in a Picasso sketch. One moment we have a somewhat stereotypical hard-edged Asian lady screaming racist epitaphs at everyone, and the next moment she's leaning over a hospital bed showing profound concern for an injured man.

The film is a complex patchwork of interwoven stories. One of the key stories involves a black detective whose mother wants him to find their wayward son. The story echoes some Biblical parables (the prodigal son, the story of Cain and Abel), bringing us to the moral of the movie (if there is one)--the question of whether we are our brother's keeper. The film suggests that the answer is yes.

9 September 2005

Let's move New Orleans

A recent poll (by Ipsos) has found that 54 percent of Americans want the vast sections of New Orleans that were flooded by Hurricane Katrina moved to a safer location. The city, home to about half a million people, sits six feet below sea level on average. The suggestion to move the city, originating from Hastert (Republican) and now primarily supported by Republicans, makes perfect sense. (As much as I hate to admit the Republicans could be right about anything!) This ain't the Stone Age folks! We should be able to figure out that if you put homes under sea level next to a large river and the ocean, you're going to have problems. And I don't see why the whole country should continuously bail out those who choose to live on a flood plane. We aren't living in over-populated Bangladesh. The new city could be started on unused land several miles inland.

I suggest doing all we can to take care of victims of the current disaster. The government should then buy up the low-lying areas and create a giant park. The same should be done for many similar communities in Florida. It's a waste to have some small area like Louisana annually suck up 7 or 8 times the FEMA funds used by the entire state of California. We've been paying to protect these areas and now once disaster hits we'll pay again.

I realize this all my sound callous to some, to worry about this when displaced residents are still looking for places to live and how to survive. But I'm concerned that the decision to rebuild the city where it was will be made without adequate deliberation. In a sense, this is an opportunity that will probably only come once a century. The city's been destroyed so now is the time to move it. There's no point in waiting 50 or 100 years for 2.

8 September 2005

Saudi Oil Income Fighting Terror?!

If any of you ever need to teach a course in media bias, I'd definitely recommend getting a subscription to The Washington Times. The paper seems to produce a howler or two in just about every issue. On the front page of their September 7th issue, for example, we find an article by Rasheed Abou-Alsamh delightfully titled, "Surge in Saudi oil income seen aiding fight on terror." The gist of the article is that the rise in oil prices will help Saudi Arabia find jobs for young restless Saudi men and fewer will therefore be encouraged to become terrorists.

Let's think about this for a second. For starters, we should point out that Saudi Arabia has always had plenty of jobs. So many, in fact, that it has imported foreign workers (who make up about a fifth of the population) to do virtually everything that doesn't involve sitting in a government office sipping coffee. Since non-Saudi's are already engaged in every conceivable field of work, I imagine the extra money will simply allow Saudi citizens to farm out even more labor. Instead of having foreigners drive them around, cook their meals, and clean their houses, they'll now be able to import another group of foreigners to wipe their asses after they take a shit.

The article also seems to imply that Saudis are turning to terrorism due to a lack of money. Hmmm. Osama bin Ladin, el numero uno terrorist at the moment, didn't seem to lack money. For that matter, most of the Saudis bouncing around Europe and America in preparation for the 9/11 attacks probably weren't unemployed Bedouins. And if some of the connections pointed out by researchers (e.g., in House of Bush, House of Saud) are true, there were probably members of the Saudi royal family directly involved in sponsoring the 9/11 terrorists (I won't mention some Texas oilmen who were also intimate with this group).

In short, all of the article's premises are complete hogwash. And you know, it's damn disappointing when the journalistic standards of major papers aren't even on par with the average blog. Journalists, after all, are getting paid to write. Of course, the problem here isn't so much that the article's wrong (we all have our bad days) but rather that it's simply propaganda. In essence, we're being told (on page one!) that even though Shrub's policies have led to the stripping of our domestic infrastructure, the gutting of environmental policies, and a war for oil that has led to us paying more for oil (as well as a deadly quagmire), it's all okey-dokey because (try to keep a straight face, please) the Saudi's are getting richer and that'll surely stop terrorism!

7 September 2005

Where are all the other songs?

Tangled Up in Blue, a new group blog, recently asked people to name the all-time best love song. While I'd agree with some of the people's choices (Glen's choice of Annie's Song in particular), I must confess sympathy with the sentiment that the world has probably "had enough of silly love songs." Listening to popular songs on the radio, I feel like music is permanently fixated on being age 16. Not that 16 isn't a great age. If I could return to age 16 with what I know now (and a cure for acne), I could get into a helluva lot of trouble (again). But can't popular musicians occasionally sing about something else?

When musicians do sing about anything else happening in our lives, it stands out to the point of sounding strange. Examples that come immediately to mind are some songs by Crosby, Stills, and Nash (Our House, Teach Your Children Well). Running counter to the mainstream rock-n-roll theme of teenybopper rebellion, the group actually has positive things to say about family life. Then there are the songs of Cat Stevens that also tend to cover taboo topics (a lover dying, love for a dog, disgust for work in a large corporation, etc.)

As I think about this, I'm reminded of some poems by the Chinese poet Tufu, who occasionally wrote odd poems about very unpoetic states of mind--for example, rushing around excitedly after hearing that a rebellion had ended and that he could now return to his family. Art should be like this. It should illuminate the depths of our existence instead of focusing on formulaic depictions of teenage passion.

Gotta know which way the wind blows

It's been reported that the government's disaster chief waited until hours after Hurricane Katrina had already struck the Gulf Coast before asking his boss to dispatch 1,000 workers to support rescuers in the region. Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sought the approval from Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff roughly five hours after Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29. Brown said that among duties of these employees was to "convey a positive image" about the government's response for victims. Before then, FEMA had positioned smaller rescue and communications teams across the Gulf Coast. But officials acknowledged Tuesday the first department-wide appeal for help came only as the storm raged.

But the real fault here lies with the New Orleans Mayor. If he would have had any sense and known which way the wind blows, he would have given Halliburton a no-bid contract to handle the entire relief operation. Then there would have at least been a group of overpaid contractors sipping scotch in an expensive hotel somewhere near the storm when it hit. And maybe someone in the U.S. plutocracy would have cared enough to make a phone call--if nothing else, "to convey a positive image."

5 September 2005

Bad acting

Katherine over on Cut to the Chase has some good posts on some of the staged photo ops of Shrub down South in the disaster zones. Is it just me or do others find Shrub to be extremely phony? Each time I hear him speak in front of the suffering masses, I feel like he's just about to laugh the second the camera's turned off. I can almost here him say, "These poor, lazy SOBs had it coming. If they would have had any sense, they would have flown to Bermuda and waited the storm out when they saw it coming." I honestly think that Shrub, having lived his life amidst immense wealth and privilege, probably has no way to comprehend what it's like to be in a really dire situation.

Katrina death count

On the news yesterday, a professor (from LSU?) was predicting that the death count from Katrina would climb to around 10,000. And the number of displaced must be enormous. There's been some upbeat news about positive responses by communities (e.g., Houston) taking these people in. I can't imagine showing up some place without belongings and in a state of emotional shock, trying to create a life again. These people will definitely need all the help we can give them.

4 September 2005

Protest songs

Today I stumbled across the site topplebush.com. Among other things, the site has an excellent set of downloadable songs in MP3 format, protesting the Shrub administration.

3 September 2005

Katrina as a long-term crisis

It was reported today that the jobless rate in the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast is expected to spike to 25 percent or higher. This makes me wonder what long-term plans there are for helping the people in the region. News stations have discussed taking people away in buses but I haven't heard yet talk about where these people are going and what's going to happen to them when they get there. Almost a third of the New Orleans population was living under the poverty line. It's hard to imagine them back on their feet in a few weeks after they've been taken to another city.

On a related note, Katherine, at Cut to the Chase, questions whether current government funding will be adequate:

Congress is talking about an emergency $10.5 billion relief package for New Orleans and Mississippi.OK, but does anyone recall the hurricanes - of much less magnitude - that hit Florida not too long before Election 2004? They allocated $14-$20 billion initially and I read somewhere not so long ago that taxpayers actually shelled out about $30 billion in direct costs for photo ops for George Bush and his chubby baby bro, Jeb, handing out water while they blocked search and rescue operations around them.So why does so much more devastation result in so much less funding? Couldn't be the color of the faces, could it? Not just the fact Bush isn't looking to be re-selected now.

2 September 2005

Interview with Mayor Nagin

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin blasted the slow pace of federal and state relief efforts in an expletive-laced interview with local radio station WWL-AM. (Listen to the mayor express his frustration in this video -- 12:09)

The following is a transcript of WWL correspondent Garland Robinette's interview with Nagin on Thursday night. Robinette asked the mayor about his conversation with President Bush:

NAGIN: I told him we had an incredible crisis here and that his flying over in Air Force One does not do it justice. And that I have been all around this city, and I am very frustrated because we are not able to marshal resources and we're outmanned in just about every respect. You know the reason why the looters got out of control? Because we had most of our resources saving people, thousands of people that were stuck in attics, man, old ladies. ... You pull off the doggone ventilator vent and you look down there and they're standing in there in water up to their freaking necks.And they don't have a clue what's going on down here. They flew down here one time two days after the doggone event was over with TV cameras, AP reporters, all kind of goddamn -- excuse my French everybody in America, but I am pissed.

WWL: Did you say to the president of the United States, "I need the military in here"?

NAGIN: I said, "I need everything." Now, I will tell you this -- and I give the president some credit on this -- he sent one John Wayne dude down here that can get some stuff done, and his name is [Lt.] Gen. [Russel] Honore. And he came off the doggone chopper, and he started cussing and people started moving. And he's getting some stuff done. They ought to give that guy -- if they don't want to give it to me, give him full authority to get the job done, and we can save some people.

WWL: What do you need right now to get control of this situation?

NAGIN: I need reinforcements, I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man. We ain't talking about -- you know, one of the briefings we had, they were talking about getting public school bus drivers to come down here and bus people out here. I'm like, "You got to be kidding me. This is a national disaster. Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans." That's -- they're thinking small, man. And this is a major, major, major deal. And I can't emphasize it enough, man. This is crazy. I've got 15,000 to 20,000 people over at the convention center. It's bursting at the seams. The poor people in Plaquemines Parish. ... We don't have anything, and we're sharing with our brothers in Plaquemines Parish. It's awful down here, man.

WWL: Do you believe that the president is seeing this, holding a news conference on it but can't do anything until [Louisiana Gov.] Kathleen Blanco requested him to do it? And do you know whether or not she has made that request?

NAGIN: I have no idea what they're doing. But I will tell you this: You know, God is looking down on all this, and if they are not doing everything in their power to save people, they are going to pay the price. Because every day that we delay, people are dying and they're dying by the hundreds, I'm willing to bet you. We're getting reports and calls that are breaking my heart, from people saying, "I've been in my attic. I can't take it anymore. The water is up to my neck. I don't think I can hold out." And that's happening as we speak. You know what really upsets me, Garland? We told everybody the importance of the 17th Street Canal issue. We said, "Please, please take care of this. We don't care what you do. Figure it out."

WWL: Who'd you say that to?

NAGIN: Everybody: the governor, Homeland Security, FEMA. You name it, we said it.
And they allowed that pumping station next to Pumping Station 6 to go under water. Our sewage and water board people ... stayed there and endangered their lives. And what happened when that pumping station went down, the water started flowing again in the city, and it starting getting to levels that probably killed more people. In addition to that, we had water flowing through the pipes in the city. That's a power station over there. So there's no water flowing anywhere on the east bank of Orleans Parish. So our critical water supply was destroyed because of lack of action.

WWL: Why couldn't they drop the 3,000-pound sandbags or the containers that they were talking about earlier? Was it an engineering feat that just couldn't be done?

NAGIN: They said it was some pulleys that they had to manufacture. But, you know, in a state of emergency, man, you are creative, you figure out ways to get stuff done. Then they told me that they went overnight, and they built 17 concrete structures and they had the pulleys on them and they were going to drop them.I flew over that thing yesterday, and it's in the same shape that it was after the storm hit. There is nothing happening. And they're feeding the public a line of bull and they're spinning, and people are dying down here.

WWL: If some of the public called and they're right, that there's a law that the president, that the federal government can't do anything without local or state requests, would you request martial law?

NAGIN: I've already called for martial law in the city of New Orleans. We did that a few days ago.

WWL: Did the governor do that, too?

NAGIN: I don't know. I don't think so. But we called for martial law when we realized that the looting was getting out of control. And we redirected all of our police officers back to patrolling the streets. They were dead-tired from saving people, but they worked all night because we thought this thing was going to blow wide open last night. And so we redirected all of our resources, and we hold it under check. I'm not sure if we can do that another night with the current resources. And I am telling you right now: They're showing all these reports of people looting and doing all that weird stuff, and they are doing that, but people are desperate and they're trying to find food and water, the majority of them.

Now you got some knuckleheads out there, and they are taking advantage of this lawless -- this situation where, you know, we can't really control it, and they're doing some awful, awful things. But that's a small majority of the people. Most people are looking to try and survive.
And one of the things people -- nobody's talked about this. Drugs flowed in and out of New Orleans and the surrounding metropolitan area so freely it was scary to me, and that's why we were having the escalation in murders. People don't want to talk about this, but I'm going to talk about it.

You have drug addicts that are now walking around this city looking for a fix, and that's the reason why they were breaking in hospitals and drugstores. They're looking for something to take the edge off of their jones, if you will. And right now, they don't have anything to take the edge off. And they've probably found guns. So what you're seeing is drug-starving crazy addicts, drug addicts, that are wrecking havoc. And we don't have the manpower to adequately deal with it. We can only target certain sections of the city and form a perimeter around them and hope to God that we're not overrun.

WWL: Well, you and I must be in the minority. Because apparently there's a section of our citizenry out there that thinks because of a law that says the federal government can't come in unless requested by the proper people, that everything that's going on to this point has been done as good as it can possibly be.

NAGIN: Really?

WWL: I know you don't feel that way.

NAGIN: Well, did the tsunami victims request? Did it go through a formal process to request?
You know, did the Iraqi people request that we go in there? Did they ask us to go in there? What is more important? And I'll tell you, man, I'm probably going get in a whole bunch of trouble. I'm probably going to get in so much trouble it ain't even funny. You probably won't even want to deal with me after this interview is over.

WWL: You and I will be in the funny place together.

NAGIN: But we authorized $8 billion to go to Iraq lickety-quick. After 9/11, we gave the president unprecedented powers lickety-quick to take care of New York and other places.
Now, you mean to tell me that a place where most of your oil is coming through, a place that is so unique when you mention New Orleans anywhere around the world, everybody's eyes light up -- you mean to tell me that a place where you probably have thousands of people that have died and thousands more that are dying every day, that we can't figure out a way to authorize the resources that we need? Come on, man. You know, I'm not one of those drug addicts. I am thinking very clearly. And I don't know whose problem it is. I don't know whether it's the governor's problem. I don't know whether it's the president's problem, but somebody needs to get their ass on a plane and sit down, the two of them, and figure this out right now.

WWL: What can we do here?

NAGIN: Keep talking about it.

WWL: We'll do that. What else can we do?

NAGIN: Organize people to write letters and make calls to their congressmen, to the president, to the governor. Flood their doggone offices with requests to do something. This is ridiculous.
I don't want to see anybody do anymore goddamn press conferences. Put a moratorium on press conferences. Don't do another press conference until the resources are in this city. And then come down to this city and stand with us when there are military trucks and troops that we can't even count. Don't tell me 40,000 people are coming here. They're not here. It's too doggone late. Now get off your asses and do something, and let's fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country.

WWL: I'll say it right now, you're the only politician that's called and called for arms like this. And if -- whatever it takes, the governor, president -- whatever law precedent it takes, whatever it takes, I bet that the people listening to you are on your side.

NAGIN: Well, I hope so, Garland. I am just -- I'm at the point now where it don't matter. People are dying. They don't have homes. They don't have jobs. The city of New Orleans will never be the same in this time.

WWL: We're both pretty speechless here.

NAGIN: Yeah, I don't know what to say. I got to go.

WWL: OK. Keep in touch. Keep in touch.