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May 21, 2004

The shame continues. What made them think they could hide this?

Our "private security forces" are sometimes little more than warmongers and terrorists themselves. What made them believe we wouldn't find out?

Prisoners in our care have been murdered, people guilty of nothing but being born Iraqi. What made them think this was okay??

"They" have, indeed, screwed up. Gross mismanagement. A criminal lack of competent leadership.

What are we going to do about it?

Update: I'd also like to add that broadcasting video to the Arab world of Husseins' tortures should not be used to justify or even try to give a context for our behavior.

They're trying to grade on the curve again and the scariest thing of all might be the mindset that this is okay. We don't have to be "good" we just have to be a little bit better than the monsters.

Read that column in any case. It discusses how the rest of the world is looking at us these days.

Posted by AnneZook at 09:29 PM | Comments (15)
Wash-day Blues

Away with war! Down with depression!

Let us, instead, contemplate the humble sock. Beauteous when sorted, matched, and stored happily in an accessible cabinet, but internationally recognized to be something of a problem at the moment you take it off your little foot.

Read this. I'll wait.

Okay, now go back and follow the links in the comments and read them as well.

Done? Excellent. We progress.

I can assure our European brothers that USofA apartment life is equally as frustrating.

While our amenity installations exceed theirs (four washers/four dryers in our building for 46 apartments, but no "drying room" unless you use your living room and a space heater), the condition of the laundry room is a constant irritation.

The room is cleaned once a week and I estimate it takes approximately 32 minutes before someone spills laundry soap or fabric softener on a machine. To be fair, in that 32 minute interval, the room is a pleasure to use.

At other times… not so much.

In spite of a large, in fact hugely oversized, trash can, many people prefer to empty the dryer lint traps on the floor. I can only assume they're hoping the globs of lint will soak up the runoff from the one perpetually leaking washer.

For reasons I've never quite understood, the spacious folding table was recently removed and a narrow, shelf-like arrangement installed in its place. This shelf is just wide enough to give you the illusion that you can balance your laundry basket on it. In fact, the shelf is designed at such an angle that there's a precise, 15-second interval before said basket dumps onto the floor. Just enough time for you to get too far away to catch it.

And, of course, as you're scrabbling on the floor to pick up your $15 bottle of laundry soap before it all runs into the floor drain, someone else walks in the door, sees you, and checks their watch.

Yep. It's been 32 minutes since the cleaners left the room.

Your other choices are to put your basket on the floor and pick up a fair amount of soggy lint with which to decorate your apartment, or sit it in the inexplicably oversized sink that looks as though it's been used to clean tarred roof tiles for the past two decades.

If you need to fold laundry, you have two choices. #1 - drop your dry clothing on the floor and pick up one item at a time, pick off the soggy lint, and then put it back in the dryer to dry again; or, #2 leave your laundry in the dryer and take it out one piece at a time, folding as you go.

The problem with #2 is that you tie up one, or maybe two, dryers while you do this. Approximately 140 people live in this building and 93 of them are trying to do laundry at any one time. Hogging the machines can get you into trouble.

Which brings us to…hogging the machines.

You know what I like? I like those people who toss laundry into the washer, ignore the little timer that tells them their load will be complete in precisely 24 minutes, and take off for a movie, serene in the knowledge that when they return in three hours, their laundry will be right there, waiting for them. Or the people who glance at the timer or the dryer and assume that "45 minutes" means that if it's 10:00 a.m. now, planning to remove their clothes from the machine at 6:02 p.m. will just about do it.

I especially like the people who do this on a Sunday afternoon, when an estimated 138 of our 140 residents are simultaneously fighting for the opportunity to brighten their whites.

I envy the people with the nerve to just scoop the damp and clinging shirts and undies out of the washer and toss the mess on the folding table (I mean, back when we had one) so they can take their turn at the machine. I have a morbid fear that the owner of the dripping socks will walk in the door and catch me touching their stuff and get mad.

When it comes to that, I'm not that keen on touching their stuff anyhow. Ick.

I'm just saying. I'd vote for locking people out of the laundry room for infractions of cleanliness or civility.

What I can't support is the idea of having only one slot of two hours to do my laundry for an entire month. I spend two hours a week doing laundry.

Like Sharon, I don't own a month's supply of underwear. My mother says if your dirty socks have been laying around for a month before you wash them, you're never going to get them clean.

My mother won't let me wait a month before washing my dirty socks and if you think I have nothing better to do with my evenings than to be perpetually doing hand laundry in the bathroom sink you haven't been paying enough attention to the sheer quantity of posts on this blog.*

And what about sheets and towels? If I can only do laundry once a month, two hours is not enough time to do everything.

Nor, if it comes to that, do I own enough shirts and pants to go a month without re-wearing something. Closets in Sweden must be huge.

I'd like a Swedish closet but I can't accept the Swedish laundry system. I have no earthly idea what I'm going to feel like doing three weeks from now at 7:00 in the evening. I may not be in the mood to do laundry. I can't possible commit to cleaning the kitchen towels on an evening when the opportunity to have a picnic in the park might be on offer.

Nope, it's not on. Send the closet, by all means, but keep the laundry room keys. I refuse to plan the next four weeks of my life around the spaghetti stain on the leg of a pair of blue jeans.

I have commitment issues, okay?

( * Seriously. You don't think I really write all of this on company time, do you? Because I was only joking when I said I did. At the moment, for instance, it's 8:52 p.m. but I don't plan to post this until tomorrow afternoon.)

Posted by AnneZook at 01:23 PM | Comments (2)
Dispensing Hate

The history of the KKK arguably defines it as a terrorist organization.

Nevertheless, it's also arguable that they're entitled to the same free speech rights as any other group. If they can find a campus organization willing to sponsor them, then they should be entitled to speak on campus.

Freedom of speech isn't about people we agree with being free to speak. It's about everyone being free to speak.

For the record, when the KKK wanted to speak on my campus in Kansas in the early 80s, I and most students supported their free-speech rights.

(Of course, when they showed up, we exercised our free speech rights and sang at them until they fled the stage, the building, and the campus without having spoken a word anyone could hear.)

Posted by AnneZook at 01:11 PM | Comments (7)
Oh, Pits

I have to buy yet another copy of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.

What's going to happen in India?

Wondering why someone is liberal seems to me to be an odd preoccupation. We're liberal because that's the political and social tradition of this country, just like conservatives are conservatives because human beings are (for the most part) innately conservative animals.

The existence of liberal movements is why civilization progresses. The presence of conservative movements is how it retains stability during such changes.

Andrew probably wouldn't care for my dismissive reasoning, I'm not sure I do myself, even with the "small 'l'" and "small 'c'" designations, but he does say arguing the topic "doesn't address anything substantial", which is probably true.

I'm not blogging the prisoner abuse thing today because you can read about that elsewhere. Almost anywhere. I'm not blogging about the disgusting Lindh picture or the revelation he was abused. I'm not blogging about how the newly released Abu Ghraib pictures are more horrifying than most of the ones we saw first. I'm not blogging about the dissolution of the wall of denial of knowledge and complicity in the government.

Not today.

Today, I've just had all I can take. I'm so ashamed, I'm so appalled, and I'm so disappointed in us that I just can't stand it.

Posted by AnneZook at 12:09 PM | Comments (4)
The Body And The Boys

It would seem that Pec-tacular is what's in.

I'm not hypocritical enough to sit here and pretend that a well-muscled body isn't attractive to me, but as soon as my eyes uncross, I'm going to be really concerned at the news that men are, in increasing numbers, resorting to implants to create the profile of the physique they want.

And I'm concerned that they're developing destructive eating disorders in increasing numbers.

Moving on, I approve of exercise for good health but I've always been divided on the 'cult' of bodybuilding that calls for hours in a gym when getting into shape by playing sports, jogging, or doing a little volunteer manual labor around your community is cheaper, more interesting, and more fulfilling.

Moving on again, I don't know if it's the result of maxing out the market for women's "beauty" products or what causes it, but the media has, in the last few years, taken to encouraging men to develop the same body image and self-esteem problems that girls are encouraged to develop. And now, of course, it's leading into the next, natural stage. Beauty for boys.

This isn't the first time I've read of make-up for men. Makeup for men. Type it into Google and the phrase gets 4,670 hits.

Several of the articles I turned up "blamed" the trend on metrosexuals, but I think it may be a chicken-and-egg question. Are their beauty products for men because men are more body-conscious or are men more body-conscious because of an advertising barrage telling them they're supposed to be?

It's possible that now that men are being targeted the way women always have been, enough social pressure will develop to finally put the brakes on the insanity.

Or are we looking at it wrong? (Let's be clear before we move on that I oppose surgical "improvements" for non-health-related reasons, so this is a discussion of externally applied "beauty" products only.)

Should we, in fact, be hailing the advent of cosmetics for boys as another step in gender-bending? Are we erasing the confines of traditional sex roles and allowing humanity to redefine itself as "people" where gender is a facet of the person but not the overriding, controlling factor?

There are moral and ethical quandaries. As we discussed in the comments of a post about women, feminism, and Abu Ghraib, it's dangerous to remove one set of governing rules for behavior without implementing a different set.

Idealistically, I approve of the idea of people being "free" to act as they wish (short of harming another) and to express themselves as individuals.

Realistically, we're not to be trusted with that kind of freedom and, in fact, most of us wouldn't be at all happy that way. Not only are most people herd animals, happiest within the confines of a society where they understand the rules and feel accepted and secure, but most of us wouldn't have the faintest idea what to do with that kind of freedom. It would cause untold stress for most of us to be nearly required to act differently than those around us.

That's why most "movements" are generational. From the 60s "free love" theme to the mosh pits and safety-pins through the nostrils of kids in the 90s, these are "movements" that gained traction only after a "safe" number of pioneers and rebels publicized such behavior and made it seem to be the norm.

(These are gross generalizations. The vast majority of kids in the 60s weren't involved in the heart of the "free love" debate any more than most kids in the 90s stuck safety-pins in their faces. Some did it for a reason, others joined in because it was the latest trend, and the majority of kids either stayed outside the 'movement' or copied it in some subtler, safer fashion. This is how a society evolves. Radical or pioneering elements step outside the bounds and others copy them. A "movement" with what's perceived to be long-term benefits or attractions to the majority survives and is integrated in some fashion into the pre-existing society which adapts to accommodate the new "rules." Other trends simply disappear.) (Lecture courtesy of someone with one sociology class twenty-odd years ago under her belt, which is a wordier way of saying, "in my opinion, of course.")

So…gender-bending, which really started in the 60s. What about it?

After close to four decades, has this moved from "trend" to something that's becoming a new social norm and is what we're seeing today the natural "adjustments" a society makes to accomodate a new and (originally) radical idea?

If a woman without lipstick is no less a woman, then is a man with lipstick any less a man?

Posted by AnneZook at 11:04 AM | Comments (39)
My Neighbor, The Informant

On April 23, 2004, I linked to a story about China's government using civilian informants to maintain its authoritarian grip on the country.

I said, "The article is worth reading for many reasons, not the least of which is how easily someone can move from being a "loyal citizen" to being a tool of unscrupulous powers."

Recruiting a Spy

Li was a junior when the Ministry of State Security first approached him. His pager chirped one afternoon, and a number he didn't recognize flashed on its screen. When he called, a man answered, introduced himself as a ministry official and asked if Li would meet him at a downtown hotel.

It was May 1999. Colleges across Beijing were seething over the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, which many Chinese refused to believe was accidental. Li was among the thousands of students who had participated in protests outside the U.S. Embassy. But he was confident he had done nothing wrong, and agreed to see the agent.

"I didn't think it was a big deal," recalled Li, then 27, a broad-shouldered, square-jawed man with a crew cut. "I wasn't afraid of anything then. And I was curious, because the Ministry of State Security is so mysterious and secretive."

Two men met him in the lobby of the hotel and thanked him for coming. They were young, he recalled, perhaps in their thirties, and explained they were investigating an unemployed teacher who had been delivering angry speeches on college campuses, denouncing the United States and blasting the Communist Party for not standing up to it.

Li knew who the agents were talking about and helped them, because he believed the man might be dangerous.

But the agents continued calling him and began asking questions about the general situation on campus and what students were saying about various issues. Again, Li agreed to help them.

Li eventually found himself reporting on study group he belonged to, eight students or recent students discussing the need for reform in China. An informal study and discussion group, mind you, not an armed and violent insurrection. Eight kids. Talking.

Still…it's China.

Three and a half years later, four members of the study group are in prison, serving sentences of eight or 10 years on subversion charges. Two are free but living with the shame of implicating the others when interrogated by police. And Li has fled to Thailand, where one recent afternoon he leafed through some of his reports and struggled to explain why he became an informer and betrayed his friends.

If you didn't read the article the first time I linked to it, I urge you to go read it now. The ease with which Li was nudged from sharing information about someone he did believe to be dangerous to informing on his friends needs to be understood.

Today I read this.

“Kathleen Kelly, report to Admin.” I was routinely cleaning toilets in my dorm at Pekin Federal Prison Camp when the loudspeaker summoned me to the Administration Building. “You’re going next door,” said the guard on duty. “Someone wants to talk with you.” During a five minute ride to the adjacent medium-security men’s prison, I quickly organized some thoughts about civil disobedience and prison terms, expecting to meet a journalist. Instead, two well-dressed men stood to greet me and then flashed their FBI badges. They had driven to Pekin, IL from Chicago, where they work for the FBI’s National Security Service.

Both men were congenial. They assured me that their visit had nothing to do with Voices in the Wilderness violations of federal law in numerous trips to Iraq, where we regularly delivered medicines and medical relief supplies. Nor had they come to talk about why I’m currently imprisoned for protesting the US Army’s military combat training school in Fort Benning, GA. What they proposed was “a conversation,” since they had information which they felt would help me and Voices teams in Iraq, both now and in the future. Likewise, I could help them, and perhaps improve national security, by answering some of their questions.

I said I’d prefer not to talk with them without a lawyer present. The more talkative agent quickly nodded and suggested a follow-up visit with a lawyer. He spoke further about his favorable impressions of Voices in the Wilderness and how useful it would be for our travelers to better understand some of the people whom the Iraqi government, under Saddam Hussein, had assigned to work with us as “minders” during our past trips. He said he had information about “bad things” they had done or had planned to do. Having this conversation would benefit Voices in its travel to other countries as well. (Voices has focused solely on Iraq, although some of us have visited other countries with other groups).

Fortunately, Kathleen Kelly isn't a naïve college student.

At that point, I decided not to talk with them at all. “I don’t want to accuse either of you of any wrongdoing,” I said, wanting to be polite, “but your organization has used methods that I don’t support, and sometimes your job requires you to lie.”

The parallel isn't exact, and the article isn't actually about recruitment of civilian "spies" in the USofA, but I found the parallel behaviors worrying.

(I was especially dismayed by the part where she was warned not to go public about them visiting her for fear of retaliation from "Arabs", but that's more because of the bigotry implicit in saying that all "Arabs" have a single mindset than anything else and is outside the scope of this entry.)

I'm privately celebrating Kathleen Kelly's courage.

(For those interested, Bull Connor information here and here and here.)

Posted by AnneZook at 07:54 AM | Comments (0)
May 20, 2004
Takin' On the Man

Lookee here.

Texas is getting' awful big for its britches these days, isn't it? I mean, taking on god and all. What's next?

I mean...Unitarians aren't a religion? I don't know from Unitarians, buy why pick on them? Why aren't they a religion? Because they don't have "one system of belief"?

Okay, but the Catholic Church in currently in the middle of a debate over homosexuals and ordaining women and male priests using their churches asd hunting grounds for little boys to abuse and whether or not they have the right to threaten to withhold church procedures for politicians they don't approve of, so they're arguing over what they believe and they're in trouble, right?

And Episcopalians...aren't they the ones in the middle of a huge schism over homosexuality? (Or is that Methodists or one of the other ones?) Not one system of belief...they're out of there.

Michael (in the comments) is right. It wouldn't matter one way or the other if it weren't for the tax-exempt status and it's absurd to make religion tax-exempt. If a church has a charitable arm, then fine, make that portion tax-exempt, but I don't see why the rest of a church's activities should be exempt.

Certainly churches try hard enough to throw around political muscle and they benefit from the taxpayer-funded amenities of society, so why don't they pay their fair share, like any other business?

Since Strayhorn took over in January 1999, the comptroller's office has denied religious tax-exempt status to 17 groups and granted them to more than 1,000, according to records obtained by the Star-Telegram. Although there are exceptions, the lion's share of approvals have gone to groups that appear to have relatively traditional faiths, records show.

That's just bigotry. I think either all systems of belief have to be treated equally under the law, don't they? It's no one's business if one person worships a theoretical, disembodied spirit and another worships a plate of fudge. It's no one's business if someone's religion centers around western Christianity and someone else's centers around the equally valid (from my point of view) Wicca.

Nor do I think being "open to the public" should be a requirement when evaluating a religion.

"The issue as a whole is, do you want to open up a system where there can be abuse or fraud, or where any group can proclaim itself to be a religious organization and take advantage of the exception?" he said.

Yes, we do. If you want to prevent it, remove the exemption.

Those who oppose the comptroller's "God, gods or supreme being" test say that it can discriminate against legitimate faiths. For example, applying that standard could disqualify Buddhism because it does not mandate belief in a supreme being, critics say.

Remove the exemption.

Sometimes I think I post things like this just to be annoying.

Other times I'm sure of it.

(From Charles Kuffner, via Avedon Carol, who was really talking about a freeper outbreak at Eschaton.)

Posted by AnneZook at 09:54 AM | Comments (5)

Since when are we fighting Saddam Hussein and his government these days?

I was under the impression we'd arrested Hussein and that his government was out of power and that we're currently fighting a combination of regime holdovers, Iraqis disenchanted with our occupation, and fighters brought in from out side to do battle with the Big Evil West?

Manipulation and dishonesty in the Bush Administration? Who would have thought? It's far from the first time they've taken credit for measures they actually opposed, but knowing that most voters aren't aware of the opposition means it creates an untrue impression.

87%! They tried to cut law enforcement assistance funding by 87%! Is this how they plan to combat terrorism?

Also? Everyone admits it wasn't a bioweapons lab, that trailer found in Iraq. Could someone tell Scott, so he stops making an idiot of himself (on that one topic, anyhow)?

And paranoid or not, there's much truth in the theory that there's an almost hidden network of power in this country.

Cool. Ethics suggestions suitable not only for Google but for all the main online players.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:34 AM | Comments (0)
Light 'em up

One explanation for some of the massive civilian casualties in Iraq. (Via the invaluable Avedon Carol.)

What do you suppose we have on Chalabi? Not that I'm upset that he's fallen out of favor, not at all, but it's rather an abrupt turn-around in the Administration's attitude toward him, isn't it?

Go here and see Daniel slap Christopher Hitchens around for being an idiot. (And do read the Armed Forces Journal article he links to.)

And I demand to know who's ghost-writing for Noonan over at the OpinionJournal. That column couldn't have been written by the rabid wingnut we've come to know.

Education. There's still work to be done, fifty years after Brown vs Board of Education.

I see the DOW dove back below 10,000 again.

Sometimes bipartisan compromise can get you into trouble, as with this story of how 25 "noncontroversial" judges will be allowed to move through the approval process. (As for whether or not it's "in the best interests of the Republican Party, I'd suggest that the entire Republican party is not behind some of the more distasteful nominations.)

Here's to Randy Johnson for a record-shattering perfect game.

If you're nice, you could get a free airline ticket.

Posted by AnneZook at 07:51 AM | Comments (0)
May 19, 2004
What do you think?

I think it's likely to be Kerry/Edwards on the ticket. Three months ago, my boss asked, so, who's it going to be? I said, "Kerry/Edwards." I haven't heard anything that changes my mind yet, in spite of the small but mouthy contingency agitating for Kerry/McCain.

In other news, I think it's pointless to put a new face on the Republican Party if you're not cleaning house behind the scenes, but whatever.

Texas notched up another one. Mentally ill Kelsey Patterson has been executed. I think Texas needs a "life without parole" sentence but presumably Texas prefers to continue with the "take them out back and shoot them" policy since they've never changed their penal code.

Even though the watchful eye of the public and the media got bored and wandered off, the military didn't stop. They kept investigating Halliburton invoices and now they're suspending payment on another $159+ million dollars.

Feminism causes torture or something. I'm not sure what the cadre of wingnuts Cottle is mocking really said because reading anything Coulter or Noonan says makes my head explode. Me, I'm still surprised at the number of people surprised to find women participating in the Abu Ghraib abuses. (Hi.)

Marriage, the word.

Experts Reject Link Between Thimerosal and Autism. (Use peevish/peevish to log in if you don't want to go through the rather intrusive registration process.)

The mercury-containing preservative thimerosal formerly used in several childhood vaccines is not to blame for autism in vaccinated children, an expert Institute of Medicine (IOM) panel concluded Tuesday.

It's not, as you might expect, the last word, but this committee insists that five major studies show no link between autism and thimerosal.

Over the pond, they're wondering Why won't people vote?

As the astonishing news that gas is at $2.00/gallon in the USofA spreads, I'm remembering last night's commute home and the one gas station listing premium for $2.35/gallon.

Use. Less. Gas.

Posted by AnneZook at 02:22 PM | Comments (9)
It's Good To Be King

From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

A new study finds that total median compensation for CEOs in the S&P 500 rose to $4.6 million last year, a 27% increase from 2002. According to census data released last fall, the median household income fell to $42,409 in 2002, a $500 drop.

My, my. Up 27%! How nice it is to reap the just rewards of a well-structured tax code. (Please note that CEO compensation for 2003 is being cited, next to median household income for 2002. It doesn't materially change the story, but I always like to make a note of these little discrepancies.)

From the same census data link cited above:

Census data released today show that poverty increased and median household income fell in 2002 for the second consecutive year. The number of poor people increased by 1.7 million to 34.6 million; the poverty rate rose from 11.7 percent to 12.1 percent; and median household income fell by $500, or 1.1 percent, to $42,409. There were 3 million more poor people in 2002 than in 2000, the last year before unemployment began to rise.

In addition, those who were poor became poorer on average. The poverty rate — the percentage of people with incomes below the poverty line — was lower in 2002 than in most other years of the 1980s and 1990s, although higher than in most years of the 1970s. But the basic measure of the depth, or severity, of poverty — the average amount by which the incomes of those who are poor fall below the poverty line — was greater in 2002 than in any other year on record, with these data going back to 1979.

Note this:

“Also, Congress and the President chose to exclude low-income working families from the increased child tax credit benefits that went to better-off families this summer,” Greenstein added. “Yet this year’s tax legislation will give people earning $1 million or more an average tax cut of $93,000.”


Because no one needs a child tax credit less than the poor.

No, no, because no one needs a tax break more than the rich.

Because…I don't know. It's too hard of a question.

Because poor people don't vote, I guess.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:32 AM | Comments (2)
May 18, 2004
No, no, no

I think it's bogus to act like Afghanistan, our invasion of Iraq, and the Israel-Palestine conflict are all one topic but hearing Tom DeLay make the attempt doesn't surprise me.

I object to saying that the Children of Bush's America were over in Iraq torturing prisoners because there weren't jobs for them here at home. This isn't Bush's America any more than it's anyone else's and most of those kids didn't join the military in the last three years since Bush was given the White House. I dislike the Bush Administration's policies as much as anyone, but let's not be ridiculous.

On the other hand, there's interesting stuff in the article that will help anyone undecided decide why not to vote for Bush.

Some jobs, however, are more responsive than others to the power of positive presidential thinking. More than 82% of the jobs created in April were in service industries, including restaurants and retail. The biggest new employers were temp agencies. Over the past year, 272,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost. No wonder the president's economic report in February floated the idea of reclassifying fast-food restaurants as factories. "When a fast-food restaurant sells a hamburger, for example, is it providing a 'service' or is it combining inputs to 'manufacture' a product?" the report asks.

It's the fundamental dishonesty of considering the reclassification that appalls me.

Also? If Bush approves the IRS giving the military contact information to track down former soldiers, re-activate them whether they like it or not, and send them into war, and lots of those soldiers live in Texas, how will Texas vote in November?

And does anyone except me eye the high percentage of enlistees from Texas and wonder if they're the ones who couldn't find other jobs that the previous article was referring to? As I understand it, Texas has been in pretty bad shape since the Bush-plays-governor years and the (yes, there is a big Bush connection) Enron debacle.

Let's not lose sight of the atrocities we've committed in Iraq or here in the name of fighting terrorism and protecting freedom and democracy.

But I have a smackinthehead for those of you who think Rumsfeld and Bush knew about and approved the tactics in Abu Ghraib.

Of course they didn't know precisely what could happen, or was happening, as a result of orders they sent down the food chain. I'm quite certain they made darned sure they didn't know. Have none of you ever heard of "plausible deniability"?

I disagree that "meal preferences" and e-mail addresses of airline passengers are critical for fighting terror. I disagree with the EU's decision to give that information to the USofA for passengers flying to this country.

I don't really approve of mean-spirited attacks and childish name-calling. There's a place for humor and for satire in the political process but for some of these sites, the cheap shots are the sole reason for existing.

Others, of course, have much more to offer, but it's all part and parcel, in my mind of the increasing trend toward "merchandising a product" instead of fielding a candidate with a platform. Positive and negative "ad campaigns" get in the way of us being able to hear candidates say what they believe and consequently interfere with our ability to make an informed choice.

I also don't approve of engineering votes in Congress just to make a presidential candidate look bad, either.

Sonia Ghandi is refusing the PM post in India. I didn't expect that and it looks like it's taken a lot of people by surprise.

The foundation of the modern "conservative" movement in this country is worth considering. I'll add it to the list of fifteen other things I'm going to learn about when I have the time.

About taking action. I'd support the May 19 "gas boycott" if I thought it would actually make anyone involved use less gas but I suspect people will just gas up today or wait until Thursday.

In any case, it's pointless to blame the Bush Administration or the oil companies for the fact that Eastern countries with burgeoning economies have increased their demand for fuel by some outrageous amount like 40% over the past four or five years or so, increasing competition for available oil, causing OPEC to be producing, already, at over their self-imposed daily "cap" and driving USofA gas prices up to, what? Half of what they are in Europe?

You want the price of gas to go down? We have to Use. Less. Oil.

One word. Plastics.

As you drink from your plastic coffee cup and type on your plastic computer keyboard or wiggle your plastic mouse, and your plastic phone is ringing from where it sits next to your plastic tape dispenser, plastic stapler, plastic sticky-note dispenser, and plastic penholder, you might want to try and tot up just how many plastic bags your family uses in a year between food storage and waste disposal.

Go ahead. Rip the plastic shrink-wrap off your plastic calculator and try to figure it out.

How much petroleum and natural gas are used to fuel our plastic economy every year, completely aside from the question of gasoline for automobile engines?

Posted by AnneZook at 11:41 AM | Comments (13)
Yes, but is it ART?

I'm sick of politics, so let's turn our eyes to an even more imponderable subject.

Fashion photography has long been a puzzler. Sometimes it's art, sometimes it's just advertising. (Wossname, the soup can guy, Warhol, has much to answer for.)

I went looking for a definition.

"What is art?" I asked Google.

Princeton tells me it's "the products of human creativity" or "the creation of beautiful or significant things."

Wandering into A Glossary of Jungian terms I read that art "divides into psychological (personal) and visionary (collective). Art can never be reduced to psychopathology because visionary art is greater than its creator and draws on primordial images and forces. It stands on its own merits. It compensates for the one-sidedness of an era. Rather than a symptom or something secondary, it's a true symbolic expression, a reorganization of the conditions to which a causalistic explanation reduces it." Yes, that's a very Jungian explanation.

Gallery Direct Art says it's, "A form of human activity created primarily as an aesthetic expression, especially, but not limited to drawing, painting and sculpture."

The Illinois State Museum says, "Objects created by humans that have aesthetic value or express symbolic meaning, including drawings, paintings, and sculpture."

Oregon State's university is more generous. "human endeavor thought to be aesthetic and have meaning beyond simple description. Includes music, dance, sculpture, painting, drawing, stitchery, weaving, poetry, writing, woodworking, etc. A medium of expression where the individual and culture come together."

From the Ayn Rand adherents. "A selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgements." Art is the stylization of the essential or significant aspects of a subject/concept. Art requires a theme (or at least a problem to be dealt with in action films) -- a unifying idea -- to integrate the material elements into a single entity." Objectivists are all about metaphysics, but that's an interesting definition.

On the other hand, Sweet Briar College tells me this is a fruitless search. "

Today the questions What is Art? and What is an Artist? today are not easily answered.

According to William Rubin, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, "there is no single definition of art." The art historian Robert Rosenblum believes that "the idea of defining art is so remote [today]" that he doesn't think "anyone would dare to do it."

Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, states that there is "no consensus about anything today," and the art historian Thomas McEvilley agrees that today "more or less anything can be designated as art."

Arthur Danto, professor of philosophy at Columbia University and art critic of The Nation, believes that today "you can't say something's art or not art anymore. That's all finished." In his book, After the End of Art, Danto argues that after Andy Warhol exhibited simulacra of shipping cartons for Brillo boxes in 1964, anything could be art. Warhol made it no longer possible to distinguish something that is art from something that is not.

I knew it was Warhol's fault.

What has finished, however, is not artistic production, but a certain way of talking about art. Artists, whoever they are, continue to produce, but we, non-artists, are no longer able to say whether it is art or not. But at the same time, we are no longer comfortable with dismissing it as art because it fails to fit what we think art should be (whatever that is).

We struggle with this because we have been taught that art is important and we're unwilling to face up to the recently revealed insight that art in fact has no "essence." When all is said and done, "art" remains significant to human beings and the idea that now anything can be art, and that no form of art is truer than any other, strikes us as unacceptable.

Advances in technology since the days of photographing a Campbell's label have, I think, further blurred the line.

Is it art photography if much of the effects are created with a computer graphics software program? Is it even photography?

Is it art if it's entirely created by computer?

How about if it's painted by an elephant? (Don't laugh. The paintings sell for thousands of dollars.)

What makes it art? Is it some subtext in addition to the ostensible "message" of the picture? If you use that criteria, does much of the "art" of preceding centuries, created without a subtext, then fail to qualify?

What about those seemingly random blobs of paint on canvas? Is that really art or is it just the art world having a pretentious snicker up its Gucci sleeve at the rest of the world? (Like Canada and curling. You will never convince me that's a real sport and not just an joke Canadians created to get some of their own back on world that doesn't treat them with dignity.)

How about if it just speaks to someone emotionally? Is art anything that elicits a reaction from the viewer?

The blurriest baby photo will elicit an emotional reaction from almost everyone who views it. Does that make it art? Photographs of torture elicit emotional responses. Are they art?

What about this? Is the guy creating art or doing fashion photography?

Steven Klein says it's not art, no way, not at all, but he talks about his work in the terms I've been accustomed to hearing used to describe art and certainly there are those who interpret his work as art.

Many of his effects are achieved through CGI or graphical editing, so should it, strictly speaking, be discussed as photography?

From the way he discusses the composition of his…works, it seems clear that they're intended to have the kind of subtext I associate with "art" but, again, he says it's not art. Is it not art if the creator doesn't see it as art or does art exist in the eye of the beholder?

As usual, I have no answers. I'm not even all that interested in the questions. Any interest I might have in art stops just before the Cubists get rolling.

Sometimes I just can't take any more news stories about people dying.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:19 AM | Comments (6)
May 17, 2004
May 17, 1954

I was going to talk about Brown vs. Board of Education today, but I haven't figured out how I feel about it all.

Obviously, on the face of it, I'm all about equality and integration and treating people fairly and equally.

But looking at the last fifty years, I'm a bit worried.

For one thing, the trend toward resegregating schools worries me.

On the one hand, I oppose it because some of the resegregation is the result of wealthier parents of white children enrolling their children in schools outside of their residential district. Once their child is safely enrolled in a private school or a public school in a "better" district, I wonder how many of those parents are going to be voting for ballot measures that call for school funding in their residential districts? Not many, I'd imagine. Even today, it's like pulling teeth without an anesthetic to get people to vote money for education. When only the poorest 50% of the families in the district are actually using the schools in the district, what do you suppose the odds are that school funding will remain even at the current pathetic level?

On the other hand, I've been hearing some stories about how desegregation might not be working. Over the last couple of weeks, I've been listening to radio programs where African Americans mourn the loss of some kind of group identity they used to possess when they were segregated.

Maybe it's because I'm white but I don't accept that whatever that identity was, it was worth preserving at the cost of creating a second society in the USofA when that society would, today, still be mired in poverty.

(Not, now that I think about it, that a lot of the USofA's minority population isn't, in fact, still mired in the poverty of a second-class society, even with desegregation.)

Still, I also doubt that "separate but equal" would have produced any kind of equality. Short of a federal mandate forcing banks and businesses and schools to treat minorities exactly the same way white people are treated, how, precisely was this equality to have been achieved?

I've listened to lawyers and experts who argued Brown talk about how it was all pushed too fast and consider that the drive for speed in integration is what fueled the civil rights violence. It should have been done more slowly, southern states should have been given more time to adapt.

I wonder which USofA they're living in. As I recall, it took years and years and repeated court action to implement desegregation. The Supreme Court ruling was handed down in 1954. Fifteen years later, it took a direct order, desgregate now, to make the ruling a reality across the country.

Maybe it's because I'm not from the south, but I also doubt that, allowed to "take their time" the southern states would have gradually and peacefully implemented desegregation. It's been 50 years and a lot of people in the southern states still haven't accepted the ruling, okay? And little of their racial hatred is the result of violence around equal rights. There's an ingrained bigotry in the very fabric of southern society and I can't believe that giving them five or ten or twenty more years to "adapt" to integration before it became a reality would have produced any better results.

(I heard someone arguing on the radio that northern integration would have pushed integration in the "border" states and then eventually the far south would have become integrated and I wonder precisely how many centuries the speaker thinks that might have taken?)

Is segregation a A Promise Not Kept? After the initial push, (conservative) courts have repeatedly scaled back on the scope of the argument. I wonder how much of the 'failure' of integration is the result of this kind of action?

I dunno. I'm a bit disillusioned at the moment. I'm working on a sort of personal research project about human rights and conflict in the (relatively) recent history of the world since WWII and, as it turns out, the world is an ugly place full of people who want to kill each other for what seems to me, no reason at all.

And as for the place of the USofA in all of this, well, we're not who I thought we were, and that further depresses me. Turns out that we're only a shining example of democracy and liberty because most of the rest of the world is a sinkhole.

We're not that good, we're just better than the average.

You know how I feel about grading on the curve, okay? It's just so totally not good enough.

Posted by AnneZook at 12:13 PM | Comments (7)

A bomb has killed the current president of the Iraqi governing council.

Congress was warned about Iraqi prisoner abuse.

On a more encouraging note, a serious, realistic conversation about transexualism.

And congratulations to the newlyweds in Massachusetts.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:53 AM | Comments (0)