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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Christian Crybabies

A venture over to Fox News brought me to this story. I haven't seen this story on more reputable news sites, but leave it to the wingnuts at Fox News to give it play. (Yep, this story is all Fox News. Check the byline. That's not the AP, ladies and gents.)

I did see some blog posts on this, but I'm too lazy to look them up for your consumption. (Isn't it remarkable how bloggers usually evisecerate the mainstream media....and yet all we do is crib their stories?) Basically the blog reaction is "Give me a break. Change the fucking channel!"

But that's not the issue, is it? Christians are not being forced to watch offensive programming. They have the choice to consume it or not, and even the nuttiest among them couldn't argue that to the contrary. However, the part that gets stuck in their craw is the fact that this stuff is even available, that we live in a society where you are free to watch whatever TV show you want, even if there's a gay dude in it, or a self-medicating priest.

Seriously, I'm getting sick and tired of Christians. I'm fascinated by the religion, fascinated by the ideas behind it, the history, especially about why, after all these hundreds of years, there are so many ignorant people who revere Jesus so much that their brains turn to peat.

For instance, these nutcases in the AFA have called the show "an example of that network's anti-Christian bigotry." But is it? A dictionary entry defines "bigot" as "One who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ."

Sounds like they're describing the entire Christian Right to me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Lazy Sunday

The NY Times has an article about my new favorite song. So far I haven't been able to describe in a competent way why I think "Lazy Sunday" is so damn funny, but this kind of pins it down:

"They rhyme with conviction about subjects that are anything but hard-core."

It's the deadpan delivery, the absurd subject matter. You have the dichotomy of hardcore style/nerdy material, but you also have the irreverent way Samberg and Parnell respect the genre. You can sense how much they love hip-hop, however uncool that is for a couple of white boys. They know that what they're talking about doesn't matter as much as how it is delivered, and in some weird way, that confirms the vitality of rap better than Eminem, 50 Cent, or anybody else.

You don't have to talk about robbing niggas and hustling, pimping or bling. You can talk about cup cakes and going to the movies and still represent.

Maybe "Lazy Sunday" will just remain an internet fad, losing its relevance faster than Jib-Jab. But I hope it kind of reminds people of some of the promise that rap had before it was co-opted by the gangsters and the thugs.

My New Year's Resolution: No More O'Reilly

I don't know why I even keep an eye on Bill O'Reilly. I can't stand his approach, can't stand his idealogy. I absolutely loathe his dishonesty. I don't even find it funny or sad anymore. Now I just think it's annoying.

In his most recent column, framed as a story of the O'Reilly Factor's New Year's Resolutions, Old Bill gives several examples of why he is part of the lunatic fringe. I mean, the guy is a nutter, crazy! Out of his frigging mind.

Witness:
"We resolve to continue watching all the powerful in America, including the print press, which has drifted sharply left during the Bush administration."

Okay, Bill, I'll grant you that the print press is "powerful" but are they more powerful than the government? Hmm...don't think so. So how about leaving the writers alone and spotlight the politicians? Oh, that's right...they're not the problem. The "media" is. Gimme a break.

O'Reilly goes on to mention three of his personal enemies, George Clooney (the movie guy), Al Franken (the radio guy), and MSNBC, the news network. I gotta tell you. These guys (if you listen to crackpot Bernie Goldberg) are ruining America. Why does Clooney have to get all political with his movies? Doesn't he know we like him better when he's funny or smarmy? (Actually, it's refreshing to see a movie star who cares about more than money.) And Al Franken? Man, he should have stuck to comedy. (Actually, he's still doing comedy...only now it's political comedy, and it's those political comedians who control everything, ya know.) MSNBC??? What a joke! Everyone knows that NBC's news division is way too tabloidy to be taken seriously. (Wait...isn't Fox News the tabloidy one?)

O'Reilly is off his nut. He has been personally insulted by these guys and now they are "bad for America." What a doofus. The funny thing is that he criticizes Clooney for using "smear tactics" and yet, in the next breath he calls the ACLU "the nation's most dangerous organization," apparently with a straight face.

I mean, who doesn't live in fear of the ACLU? I know people in the inner cities who don't bat an eye when it comes to gang activity, but they shit their pants if the ACLU comes knocking. The KKK? The sleeper cells plotting our doom? Those wimps aren't even CLOSE to being ACLU-style dangerous.

Actually, it's that "most dangerous organization" comment that really confirms O'Reilly has lost his marbles. Blood vendettas based on personal insults (Clooney, Franken, etc) is simply evidence of deep-seated immaturity and egotism. But the phobia O'Reilly has about the ACLU is evidence of a clinical mental disorder. The man is seeing demons in shadows, hearing voices beamed to him from another planet.

Agree or disagree with the ACLU, there is no way you can reasonably say they are a "dangerous organization," much less the most dangerous one in America. And yes, a little hyperbole is good every now and then (you'll find plenty here, I admit), but use enough hyperbole and you just start sounding dishonest.

Which is especially funny when O'Reilly ends with this:
"Finally, we resolve in our 10th year to continue bringing you an honest broadcast that is not afraid of anyone."

Except, that is, for the ACLU and Mexicans.

Loonies on the Left

I can only hope Katha Pollit is joking in this piece. It's crap like this that makes it easy for the Fox News crowd to dismiss liberals as America haters.

Just look at her list of some of the "good things" that happened this year. Number one? The President's misfortunes. How incredibly smug and stupid. Yes, I understand Pollit is more sympathetic to the Democratic side of the house, but there is no way that having a weak president forced to defend every move he makes can be considered a "good thing." Sure, it may be good for Democrats and their liberal siblings, but for the country? Not at all.

That kind of thinking continues with example after example of Pollit calling unquestionably bad things "good." Her number two reason? "The Republican Party is mired in corruption and cronyism." Yeah, that's a good thing, ain't it? Because it means that (hopefully) Americans will reject Republicans and embrace Democrats. I'm assuming that was the thought process behind Pollit's statement. Of course, what do I know? I think a Republican Party "mired in corruption and cronyism" is a net bad. Yep...no winners in that one.

And it continues! "The Christian Taliban is going too far." "The left is alive in Latin America." These are all considered good things, when obviously they aren't.

It's this kind of partisanship that makes it easy for Bill O'Reilly to call lefty libs "America haters." Why else would you want a weak useless president, a majority party crooked as the day is long, religious extremists going too far, coke-farmers taking over the Bolivian government, etc? If you really loved your country, you'd want a strong moral President (alas, we'll have to wait another couple of years for one of those). You would want a clean, principled Republican Party (even if you disagree with those Republican principles). You wouldn't want religious extremists going too far or some slightly communist coca farmer taking over Bolivia.

So maybe the left, as it is, needs some more articulate voices, voices less dependent on blind partisanship, more focused on the proverbial ball. And what is that ball, you ask? It's not politics as a win or lose game, election style, nor a struggle between right and left. It's a dance between right and wrong. Rooting against what's best for your country to score partisan points is just wrong.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

AFC West Leaders

You mean you didn't hear? The Broncos wrapped up the AFC West last night and secured themselves a spot as the second seed in the playoffs. They'll get a first week bye and host their opponents at home, two advantages that will hopefully take us into the second round, at least!

I was at the game last night and this is what I saw:


Twas the night before Christmas and all over town
Fans came to watch the Broncos take the Raiders down.



Denver's late season past has been checkered,
But the Raiders are no match with their 4-10 record.
Rod, Ashley, Tatum and Mike.
Bombs ready to blow when Jake says hike.
To beat the Broncos takes a lot of nerve
And who do the Raiders have in reserve?
Collins couldn't cut it up in New York
He went packing to Oaktown with all the pork.
And what about big bad Randy Moss?
It'll only take a second for Champ to show him who's boss.



When the D takes the field, coiled for attack.
There is no hope for the old silver and black.
You can run but you can't hide from Al Wilson.
He's setting you up for the kill, son.
Champ Bailey, eats his Wheaties daily,
Playing all Raiders like a ukelele.
And what about my man, John Lynch?
Never gonna give an inch.



Pinch me, I'm dreaming.
Those Raider fans are screaming.
What, are you smoking crack?
Cuz that ball is coming back.
You blew the game the moment you took the field.
Like a potato, you got peeled.
Shoulda warned you of the weapons we wield.
You only hear about winners in all the rags,
But you can't win a game with all those flags.
Hear that sound? Playoff bound.
Denver's sending Oakland underground.
From a Mile High, check out the view.
If God wasn't a Bronco fan, why are sunsets orange and blue?

Merry Christmas

Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas!

Kids across the country are waking up and shaking the sleeping dust out of their eyes. Families will gather. Gifts will be exchanged. Someone will take too many pictures and someone will drink too much egg nog.

And I'm the lucky bastard whose name was drawn out of a hat, condemning me to spending Christmas morning alone at the office. And no, there's no work for me; I'm just holding down the fort. Because I'm Santa Claus. Because I'm in the spirit of giving. Because, really...I care.

Afterwards I will be doing the family thing, which is always a scheduling nightmare, exacerbated this year by the fact that I'm on duty until 2 PM. Dad and his crew are going to be sitting down to eat at 1PM. Mom will be doing the same. I'll be late for both, and miss Mom's dinner entirely. Am I looking forward to the festivities? A little bit.

I'm woefully unprepared and will have to rely on a 24 Hour Walgreens or something to pick up some cheap Christmas cards that I will later stuff with cash. It's not that I'm a Scrooge. I hate Christmas shopping. I have no idea what to get anyone. I always want to buy people things I would want. My solution: gift cards. "Here ya go. Buy yourself something nice." Alas, this year I never actually bought them, so green money will have to do.

Here's a few things I won't be doing this Christmas:

- Going to church. Church is for suckers. The only time I step inside a church is for a wedding or a funeral and then only reluctantly. Part of me fears divine immolation for blasphemy as soon as my heathen feet cross the threshold. The other part of me, the more reasonable part, realizes how absurd that idea is, and by extension, the whole concept of religion.

- Roasting chestnuts on an open fire. If I didn't make it to the store for my loved ones' giftcards, I sure as hell didn't make it to the store for chestnuts to roast in my non-existant fireplace.

- Dashing through the snow on a one-horse open sleigh. Out here in the high desert, we're as dry as a bone. No White Christmas this year.

- Waking up to a bounty of presents under the tree. It's too late for that (I'm already awake and at work!) and plus, wouldn't ya know it, all the presents under my tree are for other people!

- Watching It's a Wonderful Life. Yeah, yeah, it's Jimmy Stewart. He is admittedly awesome, but come on, man! Everyone knows the best Christmas movie ever made is Die Hard, and I already watched that a few days ago. Yippie-ky-yay, motherfucker!

Next up....The Bronco game!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Intelligent Judge

Today John Jones III, an “activist” judge on the federal bench, ruled that teaching ID as science in public schools is unconstitutional.  The “activist” part is in quotes because it’s something of a joke in this case.  Even the judge acknowledges that.  In his ruling he writes:

“Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court.  Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID…"

I think that about sums it up.  I like the strong wording Judge Jones used, too.  Ill-informed, which is a perfect description of the ID faction, and this passage:

“The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial.”


The “Board” of course is the Dover School Board and their “decision” was to mandate the teaching of Intelligent Design in science class.  The inanity, it’s breathtaking!  And not only inane, but dishonest, as Jones continues:

“The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.”


Those little liars.  Everyone knew that ID was creationism rebranded.  
Okay, well at least I did.  Judge Jones wasn’t fooled for a minute either.  He called ID like it is.  A sham.

Kristol Meth

What the fuck is Bill Kristol smoking?? In the Washington Post today, he writes:

This is presumably one reason why President Bush decided that national security required that he not simply follow the strictures of the 1978 foreign intelligence act, and, indeed, it reveals why the issue of executive power and the law in our constitutional order is more complicated than the current debate would suggest. It is not easy to answer the question whether the president, acting in this gray area, is "breaking the law." It is not easy because the Founders intended the executive to have -- believed the executive needed to have -- some powers in the national security area that were extralegal but constitutional.

So let me see if I understand this right, Billy. You imply in that first sentence that President Bush broke the law because of "national security," right? Am I reading that right? And then you go on to say that it's hard to say whether Bush is "breaking the law." Which one is it, Bill? Is he following the letter of the law? Or is he "bending" it? (And if he is bending it, isn't that really the same thing as "breaking" it...in the eyes of the law, that is?)

We're just going to have to trust him on the founders reserving "extralegal" powers for the executive. Kristol is, after all, a highly paid, highly educated political "expert." He wouldn't lie about the founders, right? (I was always under the impression they didn't want a king who was above the law....but hey, at least "extralegal" doesn't imply royalty.)

Speaking of trust, Kristol doesn't need any legal apparatus to make sure that the president's "extralegal" authority doesn't extend into "illegal" territory. Nope. Trust in the president is really all we need.

That is why the president uniquely swears an oath -- prescribed in the Constitution -- to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Implicit in that oath is the Founders' recognition that, no matter how much we might wish it to be case, Congress cannot legislate for every contingency, and judges cannot supervise many national security decisions. This will be especially true in times of war.

In other words, legal restraint is for pussies.

And just in case you thought, Kristol was kidding, he caps off his op-ed with this:

But to engage in demagogic rhetoric about "imperial" presidents and "monarchic" pretensions, with no evidence that the president has abused his discretion, is foolish and irresponsible.


No, Bill, the foolishly irresponsible thing would be to give the president "extralegal" authority and trust that he doesn't abuse it. Some people...I swear.

Monday, December 19, 2005

More on Spymaster Bush

Maybe Juan Cole is being too pessimistic about this. But he certainly makes a point or two.

Wire tapping the telephones of American citizens without a court order is illegal.

They impeached Clinton for a minor dalliance in which he didn't even get to third base. But taking the Constitution and pushing it through the shredder, why that is just fine and dandy.

He really does believe that it is only a piece of paper, and he is the Prince of the Realm who may do as he pleases, isn't he?

The answer to Ben Franklin's comment about what sort of government the constitution enshrined--"A republic, if you can keep it"-- has been answered. We've lost it, folks. We've got George III in the White House. And, it is now often forgotten, that George was looney as the day is long, too.


Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. '

That Bush was doing this wasn't even known. How much more is not known?

It was a good run, this United States of America with its Constitution and its Bill of Rights. How sad that a gang of unscrupulous criminals has been allowed to subvert its basic values altogether.

Is there even a single one of the guarantees in the Bill of Rights that Bush and his henchmen have not by now abrogated by royal fiat?

And why? Because of a single attack by a few hijackers from a small terrorist organization? The thousands lost in the Revolutionary War did not deter the Founding Fathers from enshrining these rights in the Constitution! The fledgling American Republic was far more unstable and facing far more dangers when this document was passed into law than the unchallengeable hyperpower that now bestrides the globe as a behemoth.

Have we lost our minds?

Bush, Spy-in-Chief

I'm pissed! Pissed, I tell you! Just from reading the first paragraph of this article:

President Bush on Monday said disclosure of his domestic eavesdropping program was a “shameful act” and said he will keep using it “for so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens.”


I'm at work, so I'm not watching it live. But that part really gets me.

1) George, it is not a "shameful act" to expose possible illegal spying on American citizens. That's a "good" leak. However, it would be a "shameful act" to expose secrets to embarass your opponents (Valerie Wilson, Richard Shelby's "shameful" leaking of eavesdropping on Osama). I know what Karl told you, but that's a bad leak, my friend. See, George, I bet you would find that most Americans really wouldn't mind if you spied on potential terrorists, or even if you kept that secret. But we can't really trust you to restrict it to terrorists, and that's what you're asking us to do. There is no legal apparatus set-up to make sure that you're only using it on terrorists and not political opponents. You just want us to take your word, and well, George, most people in this country are going to take issue with that. Whether you may know it or not, you have a credibility problem. Now, maybe you weren't lying about the WMD in Iraq, but you were still wrong. We just can't trust you, George. Sorry, no offense. It's just how it is.

2) Also can you be any more vague, George? How long is "so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens?" Sounds like that might be forever to me. Maybe you should change that to say what you really mean: "I'm your God now. Fall and worship me." Yes, 9-11 was a horrible tragedy. Yes, we should mobilize the resources of our country to prevent it. But grow up, George. You don't get to do what you want because some terrorists attacked us. You still have to adhere to the law and American principle. You still have to be able to think on your feet, and sorry, bud, but your vague defintion of "enemy" is weak, so weak to be nearly meaningless. Two words, man. Spare us.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Mighty Kong

I had the absolute worst movie-going experience I think I've ever had last night when I saw King Kong. A few minutes into the movie there was a disturbance about four rows ahead of me. I, along with pretty much everyone else in the theater, was trying to watch the movie we just paid $8.50 a ticket to see, when a man and a woman, probably strangers, started arguing. I'm not sure what the brouhaha was about, perhaps the woman was trying to get a seat and the man wouldn't let her through, but rude comments were exchanged.

Then, as she's walking away, the man started to get really pissed. "Talk shit to me," he said, astonished that his delicate sensibilities had been offended. "You ain't nothing but a fatass. Why don't you go fuck yourself, fatass? Fatass." Of course, I'm paraphrasing since most of what he said didn't make any sense and really, the only intelligble word was "fatass." With every outburst and insult, this man seemed to grow more and more agitated, as if he could not let this injustice stand. He got louder, more disruptive, not satisfied until he had made an ass of himself in front of a theater full of strangers. I heard someone behind me groan. I was tempted to "Shh" him. I was tempted to complain to the management. I was tempted to get up and smack him in the back of the head. But thankfully the woman scurried off far far away from the asshole and the rest of us were spared a loud argument, a fist fight, or worse, a shooting.

As if this lapse in manners wasn't bad enough, it was about a half hour into the movie, after the "fatass" incident but before King Kong is revealed onscreen, that I realized I had made a huge mistake in choosing seats in front of a young couple with a baby.

Number one, babies should not be taken to three hour movies. Get a baby sitter. Secondly, if the baby cooes and caws, as all babies do, do not play the bounce-on-my-knee game. That only encourages more cooing and cawing because the motion gives their tiny voices that weird syncopation that babies find so damn entertaining. (You can approximate the effect by whapping on your open mouth and howling like an Indian.) Put junior into his carrier and stick a baba in his mouth. Please.

So let's add this up, shall we? You take one jerkbag who is rude and insulting, add a cooing baby and his ignoramus parents, mulitiply it by a three-hour movie in a non-smoking theater, subtract the $19 for the tickets, the additional $10 for the popcorn/drink combo, carry the two, reduce the fractions and convert it to a decimal, this is what you get: A bunch of horseshit.

For less than $30, you can buy the DVD in a few months. I don't know about you, but I have a surround sound set-up in my living room. It's not theater quality, but then again, my living room is maybe a 9X12 foot space. The screen isn't 30 feet tall, but it's big enough and I'm not missing anything. I can pause it whenever I want. I can stop it halfway through and finish the rest another day. I can eat whatever I want, not just salty overcooked greasy popcorn. Hell, I can even order a pizza if I wanted and not miss a second of the movie. I can lay down on my couch. I can smoke. I can put my feet up on the coffe table. I can stand up and stretch my legs. I can talk to my company, engaging in witty MST3000-like banter. I can fart, burp, and clip my toenails if I want. And, this is the best part, I can avoid other people and their bad manners.

So, now that I've expanded on the experience of the movie, what about the movie? Short answer: It was worth the wait. Long answer: Read on for random, unpolished thoughts and observations.

King Kong is a flawed masterpiece. After making billions and winning all the awards, it's hard to imagine a studio saying no to Peter Jackson on anything. He truly is a gifted filmmaker, a future hall of famer, as they would say in sports, but in King Kong, he would have benefited from a little restraint, not much, mind you - his vision is extraordinary - but there are times when Kong is a bit self-indulgent. The running time (the aforementioned 3+ hours) is a case in point. There really are no dry boring bits in Kong, but after 2, 2 and a half hours, it's only natural to start squirming in your seat.

The first hour could have been trimmed down a little, some of the subplots maybe condensed, the set pieces honed down. For instance, the Skull Island bits are absolutely fantastic, but do we really need to see our heroes battle dinosaurs (brontosaurs, velociraptor things, big ugly crocodile beasts, and a T-Rex or two, just for good measure), man-eating bugs, vampire bats, plus the main attraction, a giant ape with a thing for blondes? Peter Jackson is well-known for having a love of creatures and monsters, but once the list gets up to a half dozen, maybe it should be whittled down a little. Technically, all of the creatures were brilliantly conceived and executed, but it was still too much.

Also, there were a few cliches, some plucked straight from the original that have since been absorbed by the popular culture, some just story conventions that were overly relied upon. Kong beats his chest like a cartoon ape, and at one point, even does the successful hunter pose, one foot on his prey, arms raised in victory. It's as cute as it is obvious. Then there was the curmudgeonly captain of the ship, who pisses and groans for the whole movie about the worthiness of the adventure, but somehow keeps showing up when the heroes get into a tight spot with machine guns and more crew members to feed the beasties. It should be a rule. A single character gets one Deus-Ex-Machina moment per movie. Han Solo used his wisely in Star Wars. The captain gets several chances.

Now for the good stuff, and believe me, there's a lot of it. The special effects, the production design, the costumes, the make-up, everything technical about this movie was, in a word, awesome. The 30s are vividly evoked, vaudeville, art deco, tophats and showgirls. The natives, dark-skinned but not neccesarily African, are of some indeterminate race that could only be classified as zombie. They're as scary as some of the beasts, if not more because they're not some CGI image.

Kong himself is excellent. No longer is he a twine and rabbit fur miniature. Now he's a full blown CGI character, peformed by a live person (Andy Sirkis) and really given a life of his own. He's festooned with convincingly rendered details like scars, heartbreaking facial expressions, and hair that flutters in the wind. It's not hard to give in to the illusion because it's done so well.

The cast, besides Kong, has it's moments too. Naomi Watts owns the Ann Darrow character. She's more down on her luck than damsel in distress, and when it comes time to do what her character does best, scream, she does with great accuity. Rather than being an expression of her helplessness, her screaming is more like a bat signal, summoning our super hero/ape. Her relationship with Kong, still too close to bestiality for some tastes, is no longer a rape metaphor. She develops a bond with him, empathizes with him, dare I say, almost falls in love with him.

All the while, poor Jack Driscoll (played by a miscast Adrien Brody) is falling in love with her and trying to rescue her from her protector. I say Adrien Brody is miscast, because let's face it, folks, the guy is not very "heroic." Perhaps Jackson is trying to play fast and loose with the hero archetype, to put a new spin on it. I don't think so, though. He embraced the story as it was told in the original version, including the setting and basic plot. As I've described above, Jackson didn't hestitate to use cliches, so a "heroic" hero wouldn't have been inappropriate. He does try to make the chracter fit Brody a little better by making him an airy-fairy intellectual playwright, but that just strains plausibility even more. (You'll see what I mean when you see Brody typing furiously into the night in an early seen, then using a machine gun like a mercenary in a later one.)

Alright, I didn't intend on writing a treatise on King Kong, so I will stop eviserating it. Despite my in-theater experience and all the criticisms I've just aired, I enjoyed the movie immensely. I've mentioned my appreciation for the artistry, which is only one aspect of film-making, but I also found myself genuinely moved by several scenes, which means the story works too. Most times a movie will have either a great story or technical wizardry. King Kong has both.

I'm looking forward to seeing it again.....at home.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Murderball

So I get up this morning, first day of my weekend, and read the “paper,” which means cruising a half dozen news sites.  A post critical of Bush’s latest war speeches has been percolating in my mind the last few days.  I’ve already started collecting links, but haven’t started the “analysis,” and now it’s old news.

Check this out:  The president has authorized domestic spying.  (Nixon anyone?)  Of course, the program is classified, so there’s no way for the people of the United States to know the extent of how much their government  spies on them.  There have already been reports that the Pentagon has been spying on Al Qaeda collaborators, er, I mean, war protestors, so we can’t trust that this spying has been solely used to gather intelligence on terrorists.

Some, haunted by the specter of 9-11, may encourage the president to continue using borderline illegal techniques in his Global War on Terror.  They’ve apologized for the Bushies time and time again, for the deceptive WMD intelligence, for Abu Ghraib torture and Gitmo mistreatment, for using classified information as a cudgel to beat their opponents, and yet I wonder if they’ve considered why Their Man must defend the legality of much of what he’s doing.

On WMD, they shrugged it off on the Intelligence Community.  On torture, they argued that the law took a backseat to the President’s war-fighting powers, quite un-democratic behavior from a government imposing a democracy by force abroad.  And now, they have to defend their domestic spying.  I suppose they like the maverick approach, unmindful of the long term consequences and sheer immorality of an executive branch that plays fast and loose with the laws they are supposed to be enforcing.

Thankfully those people are in the minority.

And it gets worse!  One of the GOP talking points has been definitively destroyed.  These same Bush apologists have been running around, deflecting all the guff they’re getting for relying on bad intelligence by saying that Congress had access to the same info and they came up with the same conclusion.  It’s not true!  Congress did not have access to the same intelligence, period.  It’s also possible that since Bush had access to more information with a wider scope, he may have seen credible intelligence that disputed the WMD claims.  If that’s the case, the Intelligence Community can take no blame for the POTUS’s misreading WMD intel.

And here, Bush capitulates to the country’s demand (advocated most strongly by McCain) to legally ban torture.  Cheney and others have stringently argued for exceptions to the torture ban, implicitly supporting cruel and inhuman treatment on detainees if it will help them.  (It might be useful to remind the reader that the first bullet point of modern evil reads:  “The end justifies the means.”)

Wait there’s more.  We had Zarqawi last year, but let him go.  The Bush Administration is kicking itself right now.  Not only did they miss the PR coup, but they lost the opportunity to torture the guy.

In other news, there was another election in Iraq.  Don’t expect it to help the Bush Administration much, though.  It’s the third one this year and the image of all the purple fingers has lost its potency.  However, it is proof that there is a silver lining in all of this.  Saddam is gone (as is hundreds of billions of dollars, tens of thousands of lives, many arms and many legs, not to mention our international reputation) and Iraq is voting.  Was it worth it?  I don’t know.  

The other day I watched a movie about quad rugby players called Murderball.  I was going to do a post on it, because it truly is a great movie.  If you haven’t seen it, watch it.  These guys have all suffered horrendous life-changing injuries.  One guy caught a blood disease when he was a kid and lost both arms and both legs.  Another got through out of a pick-up and hurtled into a ditch.  Another thrown off a balcony.  They all have something in common though:  they are severely disabled, they are world-class athletes, and they all have great attitudes.  

I suppose that had they not been injured, they would not have gone to the Paralympics in Athens, would not have been in a movie about their lives, would not have been friends or met the great people that they’ve met, done the great things that they’ve done.  And yet, I have a nagging suspicion that they would give all that up if they could have their bodies back.

That’s almost how I feel about Iraq.  Was it worth it?  Sure.  Was it worth it all?  Maybe not.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Every now and then I like to go to the right-wing blogs, just to get an idea of what the "other side" is thinking. Somehow or another I came across this post about conservative grievances against the GOP. I'm very anti-GOP, but somewhat more friendly to "conservatives," especially since I'm a Jesse Ventura social liberal, fiscal conservative.

The point about the highway bill is a great point. That bill had more pork than an Easter ham. Social security reform is a good one, too, but the GOP just wants to dismantle it and forget about the "reforming" part. The "death" tax (in my universe, we call it the estate tax) is really low on my list. You have to be rich (or operating under the delusion that you will someday be rich) to worry about that one. Pardon me while I shed a tear for all the Paris Hiltons and Nicole Richeys and Kimberly Stewarts who will lose a small percentage of their inheritances. Maybe they won't be able to afford that doggie makeover....but on the flip side, I bet there's some poor inner-city kids who will have their after-school program extended for another year. (Yet, another reason why I laugh when the GOP talks about "values.")

The comments on the blog post, though, point to perhaps the biggest bone stuck in the craw of conservatives right now: Border security.

Now, I don't think I have to go into a big treatise on the racist origins of this fascination with the border. Suffice it to say that when you hear about "border security," they're not talking about the northern one. No one, not even the looniest right-wing nuts, thinks that Canadian immigration is a problem. (Did you know that Jim Carrey, Pamela Anderson, Mike Myers, Dan Akroyd, and many others, are Canadian?? No? Do you care? Didn't think so.)

The "border security" is a problem because of Mexico, more precisely because of the Spanish-speaking hispanics who come from Mexico. Their crime? They're brown, speak a different language, and they're looking for work. That's what the "border security" is all about. It's not about terrorism. It's not about enforcing the law. It's not about jobs or economic prosperity.

It's all about those damn beaners. Remember that the next time some white conservative talks about "border security."

Monday, December 12, 2005

Tookie Monster

It’ll take a miracle to save Tookie Williams now that Arnie refused to grant him clemency.  I figured that some consideration would be given to commuting his sentence, not because of his celebrity supporters or because he may have been innocent, but because he was nominated for the Nobel Prize.  But unless he gets a federal appeal, an event about as likely as Arnie being elected POTUS, he’s going to be dead shortly after midnight tonight.

I used to be against the death penalty, a position I held as a teenager outraged by the hypocrisy of the state enforcing murder laws with murder, but then something changed my mind.  

April 19th, 1995.  Oklahoma City.  Tim McVeigh ignited a truck bomb that destroyed half a building and killed dozens of people, at the time the worst act of terrorism committed on American soil.  (McVeigh, that other kind of terrorist you don’t hear much about: the whitebread right-wing nutbag variety.)

The 1997 trial, conducted in Denver at the federal courthouse downtown, was literally a few blocks from where I worked at the time.  I saw the barricades and the media circus, read about it in the newspaper.  I probably could have gone down there on my lunch hour and sat in on the proceedings if I wanted to.  McVeigh, of course, was found guilty and sentenced to die, which he did in 2001.  It was the first execution carried out by the Federal Government since 1963.

And I also think that it was quite appropriate.  If there is a legitimate use of the death penalty, then Tim McVeigh deserved it.  Nazi war criminals, many of whom were executed, deserved it.  Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, they deserved it too.  People like that should be eradicated, wiped from the gene pool, their shameful ends recorded for all history, the execution, of course, carried out after a thorough bit of due process.

Is Tookie Williams one of these guys who should be erased off the earth?  I don’t know.  He co-founded the Crips, which is in no way redeemed by his children’s books, and he was convicted (with the convictions being upheld at every legal corner) of murdering four people.  Should he die for that?  I don’t know, but the State of California thinks he should.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

We Have a Dream...

So I was reading some "A-List" blogs this morning in an effort to pass the time at work and somehow stumbled upon this idiotic commentary on Glenn Reynolds's Instapundit site:

"So when homosexuality was unpopular, it was a mental disorder. Now that it's popular, not liking it is a mental disorder."

Admittedly, that statement is taken out of context, but I'm going to ignore that for now, since a) the context is not relevant to why I think that statement is idiotic, and b) I really don't want to debate the merits of the "homosexuality as mental illness" case. Instead, I'd like to talk about that "Now that it's popular" phrase.

For one, is homosexuality really popular now? Is it like bottled water and DVD players, two items whose current popularity is unquestionable? Sure, homosexuality has been more visibile these last few years, what with Ellen and Will and Grace and Tinky Winky. But is that because it's, like, the new thing to do? Like feather hair clips or MC Hammer pants, two trends whose popularity thankfully came and went. Or has homosexuality been more visible in recent decades because of some other reason?

Me, and I know I'm no highly paid college educated TV-coiffed pundit, I think it's the latter. I mean, let's be honest here. Gay people do not choose to be gay any more than I choose to be aroused when I see naked boobies. These things are subconscious and biological, in other words, not subject to rational control. It's simple: If you're gay, you're gay, regardless of the trendiness of it. (The opposite is true for heteros.)

It's also useful to remember that homosexuality is older than Jesus. In fact, it was quite "popular" in the ancient world, and was certainly more accepted then than now in our scientific post-Enlightenment age. Not only that, homosexuality isn't confined to any culture or race, but instead can be found in every race, every culture, even those vehemently opposed to it. That tells me that homosexuality is common to the human experience, and it always has been.

Sure, you may think of it as unnatural, since it does deviate from the "natural order" of things. Sexual organs, after all, were designed for procreation. But it's not any more unnatural, biologically speaking, than monogamy. (Show me a "monogamous" dog, and I'll show you a sheltered pup who would become a butt-sniffing rapist at the doggie park.) After all, wasn't the mouth designed for eating and communicating, but used extensively by both heterosexual and homosexual couples for that "unnatural" act of kissing?

I guess, though, that my point is less that homosexuality is normal and here to stay, and more that the reason you see more of it today is because homosexuals refuse to live in fear anymore. They no longer have to pretend and hide and lie anymore. They don't have to move to San Francisco to find a community. They don't have to be ashamed of who they are. They realize, as millions of others before them realized, that since we live in America, the land of the free, the home of the brave, we live in a dream, a big collective lucid dream that, in some small way, we all control. We live in the American Dream, and though it's gone through some subtle changes over the years, it still finds its roots in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as well as in the revolutionary acknowledgement of our Founding Fathers that we are all endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.

The American Dream, unfortunately has not become the American Reality...yet. Our history is littered with dreamers who spent their lives and fortunes trying to create a more perfect union, to fulfill the Dream. Abolitionists sought, and eventually earned, an end to slavery in the 19th Century. Women, it's absurd to believe now, couldn't vote until the 1920s, and only then after a long struggle. Jim Crow stared long and hard at Black Americans in the south, and it wasn't until the 60s that "equality among the races" became an attainable ideal and not some pipe dream comforting the oppressed.

So perhaps the reason why homosexuality is an issue in this country is because homosexuals, as a group, have been inspired by the Civil Rights movement, which in turn, was inspired by the American Dream. They no longer feel the need to remain second class citizens in a country that boasts about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness but does very little to ensure them. Instead, they are now demanding these things, as they should. Those things, after all, are what make America great...not our Christianity, not our military power, not our "morally superior" leadership, not our economic might.

It's the American Dream, dummy.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Computers Schmooters

Computers, man…Last night my internet stopped working abruptly.  One minute I was comfortably browsing, and the next, I was stuck alone in my house with no connection to the outside world besides old 20th Century technologies like the telephone or my car.  While diagnosing this problem, I aggravated an already existing problem with my case.  You see, the power button was a bit shorty.  Sometimes when I turned it off, it didn’t want to come back on.  It got to the point where it would only come on if I stroked the power button with just the right amount of tenderness in just the right place.  

Today, I no longer have that problem.  I have a new case, one that’s somewhat quieter, just as pretty, and more than that…the power button works.  It was only a minor hassle taking the guts out of my old case and putting them into my new case, and surprisingly very few curses were uttered in the process.  As you can see, I’m back in the saddle again.


And now that I’m back, plugged in, as it were, I find out that Richard Pryor has died. The man is dead, but the legend will live forever.

I also put up my Christmas tree today. Scotty did most of the work, while I supervised and took pictures. Here's a couple:








Sunday, December 04, 2005

Shopgirl

I finished reading Steve Martin’s novella Shopgirl the other day. It’s only 130 pages, but it took me a couple weeks. That, of course, has nothing to do with the book, which is really good, but everything to do with the fact that I’m kind of on a “down” reading cycle. After trying to slog through Brett Easton Ellis’s Glamorama, all the banal detail and painstakingly hip prose proved too exhausting, so I had to put it down for a while. It was too much work.

I wanted something entertaining, yet something literary, something that would sustain my interest instead of allowing it to wane, and as it turns out, Shopgirl was perfect for that. Where Glamorama was rambling and dense, Shopgirl is focused and honed. Where Glamorama spent pages and pages trying to illuminate its themes, Shopgirl communicates them in a few words. Both are funny, sometimes in a laugh out loud way, but they operate in two completely different spheres. Glamorama is a cultural commentary that largely ignores (or downplays) emotions, Glamorama is an emotional story that downplays or ignores the cultural aspect.

There is no trace of the “wild and crazy guy” that you might expect in a book authored by a guy who once described himself as one, or any of the zaniness that you might expect from a guy who used to perform stand-up with an arrow through his head. Instead, in Shopgirl, Steve Martin's themes are weighty and deep: loneliness, love, sex, relationships, depression, youth, middle age, growing up, betrayal, all treated seriously with wit and insight.

Martin achieves this by employing an omniscient narrative, which knows everything about the characters, even things they don’t know themselves, a fairly common device in fiction, only this time supplied with a subtle twist, the complete absence of viewpoint. His introduction to the character Ray Porter (played by Martin in the film) captures this straightforward and all-knowing, yet strangely detached, approach:

There is nothing too mysterious about Ray Porter, at least in the usual sense of the word. He is single, he is kind, he tries to do the right thing, and he does not understand himself, or women, or his relationships with women. But there is one truth about him that can be said of a man who asks a woman to dinner before he has ever exchanged one personal word with her. Mr. Ray Porter is on the prowl.

The story of course, isn’t about Ray, but about the woman he asks to dinner, a young college-educated but still naïve girl who works at the glove counter at Nieman-Marcus, the “shopgirl” of the title. Mirabelle leads a rootless existence in L.A., sustained only by her anti-depressants and hope for something better. She has an awkward affair with a young man her own age named Jeremy, but then meets Ray Porter, a fifyish millionaire who is willing to trade his kindness and favors for Mirabelle’s affection

The story unfolds as Mirabelle and Ray start a relationship that is romantic and caring but, in the end, soulless. They quickly realize that they don’t have the same idea about what their relationship is and what it means.

Although he does not know it, Ray Porter fucks Mirabelle so he can be close to someone. He finds it difficult to hold her hand; he cannot stop in the street and spontaneously hug her, but his intercourse with her puts him in proximity to her. It presses her flesh against hers and his body mistakes flesh for mind. Mirabelle, on the other hands, is laying down her life for him. Every time she jackknifes her legs open, every time she rolls on her side and pulls her knees up so he can enter her, she sacrifices a bit of herself, she gives him a little more of her that he cannot return. Ray, not understanding that what he is taking from her is torn from her, believes that the arrangement is fair.

Do you see what I mean about the omniscient narrative? It works! In this passage, and in many others, Martin tells us what the characters think is going on, but also explains us what is really going on. These levels of awareness permeate the whole book. It's absolutely brilliant.

Another satisfying thing is the gradual maturing process that both Ray Porter and Mirabelle go through during the course of the book. Even though she's in her late twenties, Mirabelle has a lot to learn about men, about women, about love and sex. And Ray Porter, debonair and classy in his fifties, is seemingly emotionally stunted until he meets Mirabelle and realizes the effect she has on him, as well as his effect on her. These characters are not the same on the last page that they are on the first, which is one of the first rules of fiction, but it's not done in some cheap, obvious way. They don't suddenly have an ephiphany that illuminates their entire beings. It's gradual, almost behind the scenes, and again, absolutely brilliant.

And I have to say, reading Shopgirl was a lot more satisfying than anything in Glamorama.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Cross at Randy

It’s late but I just have to say that Randy Cross sucks.  I hate watching a game that this guy calls, especially when it’s the Broncos.  He doesn’t have any respect for them and wastes no opportunity questioning their abilities.  I’d rather listen to Phil Simms.  At least he’s funny.

O'Reilly Update

As my random commenter points out, the O’Reilly “holiday” ornament has been renamed the O’Reilly “Christmas” ornament.  And you thought George Orwell made this kind of stuff up…

Of course, since they changed the website, the link in my last post now makes no sense.  Note to self:  Next time, get a screenshot.  History can be rewritten, but it cannot be changed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Happy Holidays Bill O'Reilly

I had to send Bill O’Reilly an e-mail today. For those who pay attention to Bill (and I admit to being one of them, though I would hardly call myself a “fan”), he’s been harping on about the “War on Christmas.” Last year, the city of Denver wouldn’t allow one of those corporate mega-churches to have a float in the annual Parade of Lights (because space was limited and admit one church, admit them all, right?), so O’Reilly threw a fit. He doesn’t like it when stores prefer to use “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and he doesn’t like it when baby Jesus must be accompanied by Santa Claus in public displays.

Now, for one, this is a completely invented problem. There is no grand conspiracy to take the Christ out of Christmas. For one thing, “Christmas” was derived from a pagan tradition, so Christians can’t claim the celebration that we now know as “Christmas” as their own anyway. They have no clue when Jesus was born, but it’s very probable that it wasn’t on December 25th.

Not only that, but it’s in the economic interests of the marketing machines behind American industry to extend the “holidays” beyond Christmas, including Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas, and New Years. That’s why they say “Happy Holidays,” not because they’re a bunch of atheist Jesus-haters. In almost every store in America, especially the ones that say “Happy Holidays,” you will see rows and rows of Christmas stuff, all red and shiny and on sale.

Even Bill O’Reilly has got into the game, with his own O’Reilly Factor Christmas Ornament. Ahem. I mean “holiday” ornament.

My e-mail to him, tongue planted firmly in cheek:

Bill,

Why is Fox News waging war on Christmas? Look at this, from the Fox News Shop: “ The O'Reilly Factor Holiday Ornament - Product #:FOX21001200 Put your holiday tree in "The No Spin Zone" with this silver glass "O'Reilly Factor" ornament.”

Holiday tree? Holiday Ornament? WTF? I’ll don’t think the O’Reilly Factor “Holiday” Ornament will have any place on my Christmas tree.

James Pearce
Aurora, CO

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

War Ensemble

Wow, I agree with President Bush on something.  Today, he said, “"We've heard some people say pull them out right now. That's a huge mistake. It'd be a terrible mistake.”  He’s right about that.  The “cut and run” strategy proposed by Cindy Sheehan and some in the anti-war crowd would be a huge mistake, bigger than Bush Sr leaving Saddam in power after the Gulf War, bigger than Clinton pulling the troops out of Somalia.  

However, I disagree with the President’s reasons why:  “It sends a bad message to our troops. And it sends a bad message to our enemy. And it sends a bad message to the Iraqis."  War is not intended to send “messages” to anyone.  War is intended to create strategic outcomes.  Removing our troops from Iraq right now would be a strategic disaster, leaving a power vacuum that would most likely be filled with the baser elements of Iraqi society.  

We made a mistake invading and trying to occupy Iraq.  We made a mistake thinking we could do it with so few men and so few diplomatic options.  We made a mistake with our attitude, with some of our actions, and in the process, we made a huge mess of Iraq.  Along the way, we also made some progress:  getting rid of Saddam, fashioning at least the semblance of a government, and probably, in the long run, changing their society for the better.

And although at this point it is obvious that we cannot “stay the course,” we cannot “cut and run” either.  We are already seeing some signs that things may be winding down.  The Iraqis have asked us to set a timetable to leave.  We have people in our own government saying the same thing.  (Not an immediate withdrawal, mind you, but a withdrawal mapped on a flexible schedule.)  I agree with Rep. Murtha that this thing can’t be won militarily.  The military portion, the fall of Baghdad and removal of the regime, is completed.  Now we must enter a more diplomatic phase, one that isn’t characterized by using “extreme methods” like….torture, or overly brutal tactics like dropping Willie Pete in urban areas.  In other words, we need to chill.  

The Iraqis have already mutually agreed that the insurgency has a “legitimate right” of resistance.  Is there some way that IEDs and carbombs could be soon be replaced with sit-ins and candlelight vigils?  Not if we shoot first and ask questions later.

*
I talked briefly with my Uncle Jim on the phone today.  President Bush was in Denver today, pimping himself out for the GOP.  While the President was selling over-priced food to rich Republicans, there was a protest outside, appropriately kept at bay, I presume, by the DPD.  Jim hinted that he wanted to go down there and kick some protester ass.  

He was joking, of course.  I hope he was anyway.  Being a marine who served in the Gulf War, machismo comes naturally to Jim.  He’s not a Republican stooge, but I think he listens to Rush (or somebody) and can get some funny ideas in his head sometimes.  Today he chided Clinton for not taking out Saddam after the World Trade Center was bombed the first time in 93.
This gave me pause because not only is this a completely radical idea but it’s also completely baseless.  Ramzi Yousef, who planned and carried out the bombing of the World Trade Center, operated out of Pakistan, was inspired by the Palestinian cause, and didn’t even know Osama Bin Laden.  The only connection to Iraq is that he used a fake Iraqi passport (and an apparently bad one at that) to get into the US.

So it makes me wonder….where do they get these ideas?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Marketing a Deception

In case you haven't heard, some folks are mad at the President. They are saying that Bush and his people were dishonest in making the case for war in Iraq, that they manipulated and distorted the intelligence they had, ignored caveats and qualifiers. In essence they are saying "Bush lied!" I happen to be one of those people.

To me, it has been objectively proven that the Bush Administration was dishonest in making the case for war, that they did manipulate the intelligence they had. However, I'm not willing to say that they did this out of some nefarious conspiracy to annex Iraq and steal their oil or anything like that. I’m not cynical enough to question Mr. Bush’s motives, though I hope they are rooted in the American national interest. I will question his methods though.

I think the Bush Administration's deceitful selling of the war was all marketing, pure marketing. They didn't come out with completely false information, well, save for the yellowcake stuff, which even CBS wouldn't have run with, or the mobile biological weapons facilities, which turned out to be weather balloon stations. Instead, they talked up the good points (Saddam WAS a reasonable threat, not just to us but to our interests) while not even whispering the bad (pesky things like all the "maybes" in the intelligence assessments). This is more like a car salesman raving about how much storage space there is in the new Ford Explorer, but neglecting to mention that it only gets 5 miles per gallon. You play up the good, downplay the bad. It’s a page out of Shady Salesmanship 101.

But this shady sales approach is bothersome when it comes to war. One of the main functions of marketing, besides "creating awareness," is manufacturing a need, or as they say in the parlance of the field, a demand for a certain good or service. That's why you didn't know you needed a Swiffer until you saw the commercial. And that's why millions of Americans didn't know that America needed to oust Saddam Hussein and occupy Iraq until they saw the "ads" with the mushroom clouds. Creating need where there was none before is common in consumer goods, like cars and microwaves and new-fangled broom-like utensils, but when it comes to a war, my preference is that the demand is already there and doesn't need to be conjured up with marketing savvy, and sadly that was not the case with the Iraq war.

Of course, there is another facet here, and that's the honesty of the marketing itself. A certain degree of hyperbole is to be expected in any advertising, but a healthy dose of honesty must be included as well. Deceptive marketing helps no one, not the consumer, not the advertiser. How many iPods do you think Apple would sell if they claimed they would make you rich, get your slippers, and take out the trash? What if Viagra guaranteed that you would get laid? Those are absurd examples, yes, but it's not much different from the marketing hatchet job foisted on us by the Bush Administration.

Consider this chart. It compares what the intelligence at the time said, what the hastily-prepared National Intelligence Assessment (or, NIE) said, what the UN said, what the Administration said, what was found after the fact, and what the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee which investigated all of it said in its report. It's a convenient format, to be sure, and it sheds light on how dishonest the Bush Administration was during the marketing of the war in Iraq.

Bush and Cheney have recently been going around telling people that this same Senate Intelligence Committee report exonerates them from charges that they lied. However, as it has been pointed out in carefully couched terms, the report didn't address how the Bush Admin used the intelligence; they merely reported there was no evidence that Bush and Co pressured the intelligence community to reach incorrect conclusions. This is a slight distinction, but it's a distinction nonetheless that in no way bolsters the "Bush was honest" case.

In fact, the Senate Intelligence Committee report, if you read it, shows unequivocally that the intelligence was manipulated and misleading. Consider this little nugget about Iraq reconstituting their nuclear weapons program after 1998. The Senate Intelligence Committee Report is quite clear on this one:

After reviewing all of the intelligence provided by the Intelligence Community and additional information requested by the Committee, the Committee believes that the judgment in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, was not supported by the intelligence. The Committee agrees with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) alternative view that the available intelligence "does not add up to a compelling case for reconstitution."


Translation: The NIE was wrong.

In March of 2003, Dick Cheney went on Meet the Press and said:

We know that based on intelligence that he has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He’s had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong.


(Note: Mr. ElBaradei was not wrong, and later he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.)

Now the question here is this: Did Dick Cheney simply repeat some mistaken intelligence he saw in the now discredited NIE, which is the current Bush Administration mea culpa, or did he know what he was saying was wrong?

Remember the yellowcake story and those 16 words that should have never been in Bush's State of the Union speech? The Administration issued an "oops" there, too, but not an "oops, we screwed up" but an "oops, we got caught." The Administration was aware that the Niger story had been discredited. Nothing of the sort had been mentioned in any of the pre-2002 intelligence reports, then the IAEA had revealed the "evidence" to be forgeries. The CIA even sent Joe Wilson to look into it and he came back shaking his head. Yet, the yellowcake story made it's way into the NIE, which stated that "Iraq also began vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake," and then the State of the Union. The SIC, however, concluded that this "overstated what the Intelligence Community knew about Iraq's possible procurement attempts." Frankly the CIA just didn't know if it was true or not and they exaggerated what they did know.

The Bush Administration didn't produce the October 2002 NIE on Iraq's WMD program. That came from the Intelligence Community, an alphabet soup of agencies, including the CIA. Unfortunately, a lot of what was in the NIE was just plain wrong. While NIEs usually take several months to prepare, the one for Iraq's WMD programs came together in three short weeks, a pace that contributed to the sloppiness of the report. However the consensus is that more time would have resulted simply in more polish, not different conclusions.

And it's the conclusions which are the big issue here. The NIE, as we now know, was "almost all wrong," to use the words of weapons inspector David Kay. The SIC report indicates in minute detail exactly how wrong, but it does not exonerate the Bush Administration in any way shape or form. It's quite clear to me, and I'm just a civilian, that some of the "intelligence" seized upon by the President and his men was little more than unverified conjecture or, in some cases, gossip. If they didn’t suppress inconvenient facts, they ignored them. Providing the flawed intelligence can be blamed on the Intelligence Community. The responsibility for acting on it, though, lies squarely on Bush's shoulders.

In any case, I don’t believe it was the NIE or any other piece of intelligence that convinced Bush to go to war with Iraq. War with Iraq was inevitable with Bush in the White House. Saddam Hussein was too much of a prick to avoid any kind of confrontation and Bush wasn’t going to stand for any bullshit. Bush has said repeatedly that 9-11 changed everything, that he wasn’t going to sit back and wait for some dangerous tyrant (ala Saddam Hussein) to attack us again. He was going to be proactive, or as they say pre-emptive, and address the gathering threat before it could really do us harm. Unfortunately, Saddam Hussein is more threatening as an idea, the roguish dictator in the heart of the oil-rich Middle East, than a reality, an absurd gangster terrorizing a society crumbling from thirty years under his rule.

The intelligence, all the WMD stuff, the Al Qaida-Saddam canoodling, all of that was just icing on the cake. It was the stuff they would take to the UN to get them to play. It was the stuff they would say on Fox News and the Sunday talk show circuit to market the war to a willing populace still stinging from 9-11. They didn’t trust the American people, or the world, to judge Bush’s grand plan on the merits of his intention, which was to improve the conditions in the Middle East by getting rid of Hussein. So they told tall tales, all the more chilling for their believability, and now they are being called on it.

Does that mean “Bush lied?” Quibble on the technicalities if you must, but to me that’s incredibly dishonest.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Slayer Rulz

In my eyes, not all metal bands are created equally.  There’s that rarefied atmosphere where the pantheon of metal gods resides, the place were Metallica thrashes it up with Anthrax and Pantera, where Black Sabbath tries to drink Led Zeppelin under the table.  Then there’s a sort of purgatory where the lesser bands grind it out, acclaimed by many but not really deserving of my own all-consuming attention.  This is where bands like Megadeth and Slayer live.  Megadeth, to their credit, have more than one tolerable song in their oeuvre but they also have many stinkers, and Slayer I tried very hard to like but in the end could only appreciate.  

With that said, here’s a little Slayer appreciation.  While I can’t say much for most of their albums, they did indeed make a pair of nearly brilliant records in South of Heaven and Seasons in the Abyss, a feat which more than qualifies them to be raised up into the higher pantheon of rock gods.  Witness.

On the title track from South of Heaven, it’s all palm-muted madness slashed out to the cacophonous drumming that defines Slayer’s sound.  The dual Hanneman-King lead attack is there too.  King’s solo is kind of flat and dissonant, but fast, while Hanneman’s closes out the song with blazing fingers and lots of flourishes, all show-off.  This is one of those songs that saves the chorus for the end, and when it finally comes, it’s powerful and raw.  But what the song means though, I have no idea.

Ghosts of War is pure thrash.  It’s not complicated; it’s just fast.  From the muffled opening to the end of the song, it seems they are trying to play as many beats per minute as possible.  Both solos are chromatic speed tests, first Hanneman, then King, then Hanneman again.  It’s not my favorite song, but I’m stealing the title for my Bosnian war story, so it does hold some place in my heart.  

So I know that Judas Priest wrote and first recorded Dissident Aggressor.  I’m not fan of Priest; in fact, I think that Rob Halford’s voice is annoying, so annoying that the band’s other merits can’t even come close to overcoming it.  But I have to say, I like Slayer’s rendition.  Slayer is meatier than Priest, thicker, and since they know Tom Araya has no chance of imitating Halford’s warble they leave that to the guitar, which actually sounds better than Halford anyway.  Kudos to Priest, though, for writing a great riff for Slayer to play.  

On their next record, they opened with a furious thrash metal assault in War Ensemble, which even though it came out in the early 90s, could be describing conditions today.  (Conditions, it seems, are quite similar….a Bush in the White House, a war in Iraq.)  Sport the war!  War support! You can seriously injure your neck thrashing to this one.  It might just be too much, actually, more metal than the average listener could handle.  Alright, I can admit.  You pretty much have to love metal intensely to like this song at all.

And if you are a metal fan, you know that every band, at one time or another, has to do a song about Ed Gein.  You know him.  The guy who made lampshades out of human skin, yadda yadda.  He inspired Psycho, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hannibal Lector, and a million metal songs, including Dead Skin Mask.  (In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Slayer isn’t exactly into subtlety.)  This song is creepy because there’s a woman’s voice near the end saying, “Hello, Mr. Gein?  Mr. Gein?”  Plus this part is pretty heavy.

And of course, you can’t discount Slayer’s “epic,” Seasons in the Abyss, which at one point sounds like it has a flute (yes, a flute!) in it.  It rambles for about two minutes, then gets serious with a crunchy palm muted riff before devolving into a sing-songy chorus.  It’s not their best, but maybe it’s their slowest?  Their least brutal?  Nah, that would be Hand of Doom, a Black Sabbath song they covered.  But I would say that Seasons is almost Slayer-lite, but eligible enough to be included here.

Another interesting little factoid.  Slayer did a cover version of Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida for the film version of Brett Easton Ellis’s novel Less Than Zero, starring Andrew McCarthy and Robert Downey Jr.  That’s funny, right?  It’s hilarious.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

There's No T.O. in Team

I hesitate to waste another word on Terrell Owens, but his suspension (and eventual waiver) from the Eagles was upheld today by an arbitrator for the player’s union.  This is good news.  Mike Celizic explains why.  

Note how Celizic uses the Jackass metaphor, albeit in a completely different context than I did yesterday.  Wonder if he’s been reading my blog or we’re just getting the same subliminal transmissions…..you know, the ones that say “Use Jackass as a metaphor.”  Hmmmm.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Moby Moore

Scotty M pulls out the right-wing’s favorite piñata to take down Rep. John Murtha (D-PA).  Scotty says it’s “baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party.”  Of course, now the Bushies have toned down the anti-liberal rhetoric almost overnight, quite frankly because it wasn’t working.  Murtha says most Americans agree with him and the latest polls support that.

The Republican Mafia is digging themselves a deeper hole with every hyperbolic remark.  The thing that gets me though are the constant references to Michael Moore, a marginal (and he was marginal until he was deified by the right wing as the Son of Satan) filmmaker and merry political prankster.  Michael Moore is a straw man.  Michael Moore is nobody important.  Michael Moore is the Jackass of documentary filmmaking.

Like Johnny Knoxville, Bam, Pontius, Steve-O, and Wee Man, Michael Moore sets up ridiculous stunts to prove a point.  You’ve seen them.  Crashing Charlton Heston’s pad, staging a guerrilla Rage Against The Machine concert on Wall Street, taking lung cancer patients to hang out with Big Tobacco, taking the Columbine kids to K-Mart.  How is that different than dressing up as an old man and making an ass out of yourself for laughs?

I think the real issue is that these guys in power, the Bush people (I hesitate to call them an Administration anymore…), were so personally offended by Michael Moore that he’s become this big white whale in the sea of the collective consciousness that they relentlessly hunt to their own destruction, more symbol than reality.

Monday, November 21, 2005

I'm in the wrong line of work...

So my muffler falls off, right?  Yeah, the pipe broke and the damn thing just fell off.  Don’t know where it went.  So I buy a new muffler, the whole thing, assembled and ready to go.  All I need to do is wrench off what’s left of the old pipe and bolt on the new assembly.  Only I get down there and the socket won’t finish the job.  I don’t have the strength and I don’t have the tools.  So I stop by an auto repair shop to see how much it would cost.  They have those pneumatic drills and fancy gear, right.  It would take them five minutes.  Zing, zing.  Two bolts.  Slap a new gasket in there, zing-zing, it’s back on.  No biggy, right?  Wrong.

Seventy five bucks.

7-2

The Broncos win again.  It’s not too early to start talking about the playoffs, is it?

Oops

Alright, this story bugged me.  It’s a tragedy, for one, but is this really news?  Believe it or not, this is not the first time this has happened.  In fact, I’d say this happens more than the military would care to admit.  Err on the side of caution, they say.  I suspect that the reason this is on the wire services is because the anti-war movement is finally starting to gain traction, so in a sense, this story is more grist for the mill.

Comedian in Chief



I think GW missed his calling. He should have gone into comedy.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

My Ex-Girlfriend's New Boyfriend

Last night I celebrated my 29th birthday (the first one ever) with some of my closest friends at Sancho’s Broken Arrow on Colfax. My designated driver was my cousin Clay, returning the favor for being his on his birthday last year, a memorable experience not only because it was his 21st but also because he puked in my car that night. I didn’t plan on returning the favor, but I did consider the possibility that I would puke. I’m notoriously pukey when I’m drinking, which is why I don’t usually do it. But it was my birthday and I was going to make a run for it anyway, puke be damned.

Clay and I arrived before anyone else, just in time to be crushed shoulder to shoulder by concert goers who would shuffle out and head next door to the Fillmore for Humphrey something. Kurt arrived next, followed shortly by Chris and Delayna, who had to arrange a babysitter to come out. I unscrupulously left Bridget’s phone number at home, so I had Kurt call her. She lives in the neighborhood and literally just walked over. When she got there, she kissed me on the cheek, a birthday kiss, and jumped into the foosball game we had in progress. She’s a lot better than me at foosball, but then of course, I suck. We broke away at some point so she could buy me a beer and a shot. I opted for a wimpy lemon drop because not only are they smooth, but they’re good!

A little while later, Stacey and her neighbor Paul arrived with my first gift of the night (the second would be a Broncos beanie from Ginger): incidentally, one of my favorite things, a book, the companion book to the March of the Penguins movie, as it turned out, complete with inscription and card. We went to see the movie in its limited theatrical run and loved it. (I have a little thing about penguins. They’re so cute and they just crack me up!) Shortly after that, she promptly whipped me at air hockey.

But this wasn’t just my birthday celebration. It was Ginger’s birthday too. Mine was on the 9th, hers on the 10th, so we opted to combine the celebrations, which seems great on the surface, the more the merrier right? But in all practicality, the arrangement provided for the potential for some very uncomfortable moments. See, Ginger is friends with my ex-girlfriend, who she invited, and I was faced with the unpalatable possibility of seeing her again, only this time wrapped in the arms of her new boyfriend, a prospect that I was dreading.

A little history here. Melanie (I thought about using a pseudonym, but fuck it) broke up with me on an instant message a few days after Halloween last year. It was out of the blue. I had no warning. There was no discussion. She just avoided me for a few days, which was strange to say the least, and then when I confronted her about it, she let it out. She dumped me like a bag of dogshit, told me that she didn’t want to be with me anymore, she just “wanted to be alone.” Apparently, I had been a horrible suffocating boyfriend who wholly deserved the indignity of being told through electronic media to fuck off.

A year later, that still pisses me off. The whole situation pisses me off. For one, I’m pissed at myself for being willfully blind and optimistic (yes, kiddies, optimism has its pitfalls). This is a girl who pursued a non-relationship relationship with me while she was dating another guy. (Yes, we kept it clean, so technically it wasn't cheating. But it was still cheating.) This is a girl who would not break up with that dude no matter how unhappy she was with him. (He finally had to sleep with her friend to get the brush off.) This is a girl who seriously told me once “I love you, but I can’t exactly go shout that off a mountain.” (WTF???) This is a girl who agreed to go see Finding Nemo with me, but went and saw it on three separate occasions with other people instead. (We never did see it together, and I guess from her behavior, she never really wanted to.) This is a girl who strung me along for years, completely oblivious to my (misguided) affections, which is bad on its own, not mention just selfish and insensitive, which is worse. In other words, I should have known better. The warning signs were there, but I ignored them because I had high hopes and hearts in my eyes. I wanted it to work, I wanted her to be “the one.” But it didn’t, and she wasn’t.

But now, it’s ancient history. Melanie has a new boyfriend, and since we've already demonstrated that she's a coward, she just HAD to bring him to the party, you know, because despite what she told me when she broke up with me, this girl NEVER does anything alone. But I was a little nervous about discovering his identity. A hundred silly thoughts flew through my head. What if he was better looking than me? What if she spends the whole night hanging on him? I have to admit, however, the question “what if I know him?” never occurred to me. But turns out that Melanie’s new boyfriend isn’t someone new at all. He’s a dude that works for the same company we do. Pathetic! And obviously, he isn't the first....Nor the second, nor the third. Her bedpost is notched with the names of many a co-worker/lover, trust me.

One thing my relationship with Melanie taught me was never dip my pen in the company ink again. Relationships go sour. It happens. But when it happens, the two parties should go their separate ways, and when you work in the same company, in the same building, going your separate ways is practically impossible, and you can't escape the constant reminders. And trust me on this one, seeing your ex-girlfriend, especially one who deliberately hurt you so bad, around the office really really sucks. From here on, I have vowed not to date anyone in the office. (I do have one exception though, but she’s a long shot and, well, I'd just have to get a different job if that happened, wouldn't I?) But apparently, this little bit of wisdom has been lost on Melanie. She is still shitting where she eats, and that may be great as long as things with her dude go smoothly, but the chances of that are slim to none.

Speaking of the dude, seeing him was like an anti-climax. When I saw who it was, I wanted to laugh. My fears were totally unwarranted. He's got nothing on me and I certainly have nothing to be jealous about. This is what I know about him. He’s got an inspirational Lance Armstrongian survivor story, having survived cancer (testicular maybe?) and chemo. He chews tobacco. He "struggles" with male pattern baldness (a totally hot look, for sure), which he tried to hide by wearing a beanie. He’s a super-duper tech who awes all in the Network Control Center with his insight into telecom operations. I’ve never seen him smile. He’s got a jaw like a steam shovel, an effect which is only accentuated when he’s sucking on a dip. And, probably the biggest strike against him, he’s falling for Melanie’s deceitful charms, and I’ll be the first to admit that she has plenty of those, but really, he should have checked her references first.

As far as I know, he's a great guy, but he gave me the stinkeye all night, but it didn’t bother me. I am no threat to him at all. If Melanie got down on her knees and apologized for all the wrongs she done (did me wrong! huh!) and begged for me to take her back, or even if she asked to just be friends...well, I’d have to gratefully decline. Life is too short to deal with people who don’t have the character to respect you, and it’s painfully obvious that Melanie had little or no respect for me, despite what she says. (Actions speak louder than words. When you can't even tell your boyfriend to his face that you're breaking up with him, and then concoct some "wanna be alone" side story...you have no respect.) Why would I want to subject myself to that again? I’ve already lost enough self-esteem by putting too much credence in what she thought of me anyway. I went from feeling like second best (when she was with her previous boyfriend), to not being worth it (when she was hooking up with everyone else BUT me), to being cast aside like an unwanted Down Syndrome baby. Multiply those emotions by three years and you got me, an emotional wreck.

But seriously, why does her boyfriend have to give me the stinkeye? I didn’t do anything to him, or his new girlfriend. I tried to love her. I tried to be a good boyfriend, gave her flowers and backrubs, wrote her poetry and treated her well. When she told me that she would rather be alone than with me (and let me tell ya, that's an ego-booster, fer sure), I left her alone. I have diligently been avoiding her for the past year. I haven’t called, e-mailed, sent her flowers, or attempted to contact her in anyway. I turned my back on her and walked the other way. It was the only thing I could do.

I guess I can take comfort in the fact that when the karma is finally calculated, I'll be coming out of this thing in the black, and she’s going to be paying spiritual debts for a very long time. Of course, I’m not sure I believe in karma. I think sometimes people get things they never deserved. I certainly didn’t deserve to be cast away like I never meant anything at all. And she doesn’t deserve a new man. She deserves to have her heart broken, a little cosmic justice for all the hearts she broke along the way. Of course, you have to have a heart first.

I hope she remembers that when she’s smooching those chew-flavored lips and rubbing that hairless head.

Am I bitter? Yes I am.

P.S. My friends are great. It's comforting to know that even if a certain person doesn't give two shits about me or how I feel....at least someone does.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Me on my Birthday


This is me on my birthday, which happens to be today. No smile. I had a crappy day at work. Note to self: Next year, take the day off.

The Face of Big Oil


Rich white men. Surprised?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

TO Blows

Guess how happy I am that TO got canned by the Eagles? Happy doesn’t just quite cut it. This reinforces my belief in justice, in karma, in character. This reinforces my belief that football is the greatest game ever played in professional sports. Name one NBA team that wouldn’t put up with TO’s antics to get the extra production on the court. Name one baseball club that wouldn’t look the other way to get a shot at the series. One hockey team that wouldn’t love to have a brawler like TO on the team.

I’m sure TO will get picked up by another team, but only a team so desperate that they’re willing to hand over the reins to him. Celizic thinks a few teams might find a way to fit him in, including the Broncos. I disagree that Owens could ever, under any circumstance, find a place in Denver, but he summed up the feelings of “the good citizens of the Mile High City” perfectly here:
Their idea of a hero is John Elway, an all-around great guy with a piano-key smile and an aw-shucks response to his own greatness.
I'll agree with that one. If you had John Elway, what more could you want?

Prison Break

I noticed a new sign on the highway near the exit onto Havana. I don't recall the actual wording, but it basically says "County Jail Nearby. Don't pick-up hitchhikers." And it's true. The Denver County Jail is right there on Smith Road and Havana, surrounded by barbed wire and overlooking the women's jail behind it. I drive by it all the time. The jail has been there for years and during the three years I've lived in this neighborhood, I've never seen a comparable sign, so it struck me that they would put it up now.

But then I see this. I do know that the Denver County Jail erected a tent in the yard to house prisoners because of over-crowding. You can see it from the road. Is that how this guy escaped? Is that why they put up the sign? Hmm...points to ponder.

Lame Duck Blues

President Bush gets the verbal take-down in the NYT this morning. (No NYT links on this blog, sorry.) The first line says all you need to know:

"After President Bush's disastrous visit to Latin America, it's unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run."

Ouch!

And yes, it is unnerving, not because I'm idealogically opposed to many of the president's policies, which I could live with since I believe the difference between right and left is largely rhetorical and thereby practically meaningless, but because it's clear that President Bush has been, as Google would say, a miserable failure. About the only feather in his cap is the removal of Saddam Hussein, which though hardly inconsequential, is certainly not a "Great American Accomplishment." Bush's reckless quest for Saddam is akin to the groundskeeper who tears up his golf course to kill a gopher.

Let's review. In 2001, Bush was more concerned with faith-based governing than terrorism. In August of that year, we learned that Bin Laden was determined to attack America, but at the same time, Bush was determined to clear his Crawford ranch of brush. A few months later, Bin Laden sent his men on a suicide hijack mission. Bush sent his men to "undisclosed locations." Leaving no job unfinished, Bush and his men started planning the invasion of Iraq, despite the fact that to this day Bin Laden remains free and presumably, still planning attacks. It soon became clear that invading Iraq had more to do with unfinished business than imminent WMD attacks or terrorism, and now, almost three years after the invasion, it's clear that our war plan was cooked up by naive amateurs guided by misplaced optimism. And that's just the foreign policy!

If Bush has proven anything in his five years in office, it's that he excels at campaigning and really sucks at governing. His presidential signature has been little more than a rubber stamp on every piece of legislation that has crossed his desk. His only threatened veto has been against the anti-torture legislation that takes away his ability to degrade and abuse his enemies. His ideas have gone over like lead balloons: a mission to Mars, heavy-handed federal oversight of the education system, massive tax cuts combined with massive spending increases, a "guest worker" plan for illegal immigrants, new inefficent bureacracies stocked with cronies, institutionalized discrimination against gay people, legislation written specifically for a single vegetative citizen, attempting to legalize torture. The list goes on.

The guy has been nothing but incompetent and wrong on almost every issue, even the conservative ones. And yes, I suppose you could say I'm biased, because I'm not exactly a Republican stooge, but I feel that Bush's supporters, and there are still a few (few being the operative word) are victims of low expectations. They're blinded by the fact that one of their own (ie, a Republican) is in charge, that they don't stop to consider whether he's doing a good job. They don't consider the future damage Bush's policies will do to our country.

Try getting even friendly Muslims to back us after Abu Ghraib and Gitmo. Try balancing the budget after Bush's economic policies managed to squander trillions in surplusses. Try managing a national economy hobbled by crushing energy prices and foreign competition. Try convincing anyone in the world that America should still be considered the preeminent model of a free state. It certainly isn't going to happen during the Bush era.

Which is why the NYT is right to say "it's unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run." Is he going to spend the next three years undoing the mistakes of his first five years? Don't count on it.