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August 06, 2004
'Entertainment' Limbo

Another place I'm starting to see a painful division is between what we profess to believe in what we enjoy as "entertainment."

"Superhero" movies I can (just) understand. The appeal to the psyche of a country that more than half-believes we're the superhero good guys of the world is pretty clear.

War movies...well, most of the films that have come out about Vietnam I interpret as our way of dealing with the pain of a time in our recent past when few of us didn't do something to be ashamed of.

Before that, maybe we glorified our "war history" a bit, but I do think those who have been willing to go to war on our behalf are worthy of honor. (I don't always think the leaders were worthy of the same honor, but their role isn't quite the same.)

Sitcoms...well, every society needs comic relief. What we find funny says a lot about our cultures.

Television drama...cop shows and lawyer shows are staples of television "entertainment." I guess it shows a fascination with "the process" but as I understand it (I don't watch them), a feature is the fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Perfectly understandable.

But so-called "reality" television...the appeal of that has always been a mystery to me. I don't understand people glued to television screens watching "real police videos" in hopes they'll see...what? Someone get shot? A little blood? And those "survivor" things, what is the point of watching a bunch of actors pretending to be real people, squabbling through a scripted set of "challenges" and "competitions"? Can't you just watch the Olympics if you want to see people competing physically? (Don't even get me started on the idiocy of those dating shows.) And that "funniest home videos" show was nothing but a humiliation contest. Whoever was the most humiliated won. What does that say about us?

If you can't see the degradation inherent in this concept, then you're just not trying.

Some TV shows offer an extreme makeover, others a bid for pop stardom. But the hottest reality show in the U.S. Hispanic market is offering the ultimate prize -- a potential green card to immigrants desperate to pursue the American dream.

If it turns out that this isn't the usual crop of faked-up "average people" with Equity cards and a string of bit parts in forgettable roles, I may...well, I don't know what I'd do.

This looks more like a cheesy plot to entrap illegal aliens in a bad political thriller than anything else.

How low will television go?

Please note: I am not blogging on company time. Well, I mean, I am, but I'm working. I'm on hold.

Posted by AnneZook at 03:44 PM | Comments (5)
That Liberal Thing

Recently, Eric Alterman was talking about liberals and extremists.

What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label "Liberal?" If by "Liberal" they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer's dollar, then … we are not that kind of "Liberal." But if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."

That's as good a description today as it was in 1960, when Kennedy offered it.

If all you knew about the word "liberal" is what came up when you plugged the word into Amazon's search engine on any given day in January 2004, you'd think it was among the worst insults one human being could hurl at another.

Looking at that list (read the article, I'm not mentioning those names on my blog), I can safely say there are few things I want more than to be a liberal, if they're the alternative. (Add Harris to the list, along with this guy. If any Democrat stood up and told outright lies that way, they'd get crucified by the press. Where is the outcry over the Right doing it?)

On the other hand, Hightower and Moore don't entirely thrill me. I think any objective analysis would prove that at least two of the names in Alterman's list are so unreliable that anything they publish should be labeled "fiction" and I think it's easily arguable that there are more (media-related) wingnuts speaking for the Right than the Left these days, but that should not be taken to mean that I think the Left should adopt similar tactics.

Of course these titles represent a kind of consensus on the right and in much of America.

If that's true, it's only because the Left let it happen, but somehow I doubt it's true. Once again, I think, we have to go back and consider to what extent the Right has been defining the terms of the debate. While the number of people who listen to L*mb**gh is truly frightening, I don't think that can actually be translated into proof that there's a majority of Right-wing lunatics in this country. I don't think there are. I think they're just louder than the Left. The majority of the people accept "liberal" issues as their own. They're just rejecting the label.

Liberalism, according to much of the coverage of the recent convention in Boston, is something from which savvy politicians must run—or perhaps hide under the bed at least until the guests have gone home.

And that's just wrong. We're in this mess because when the Right decided to start re-defining "Liberal" as "spawn of satan," taking advantage of the reactionary backlash against the social movements of the 60s and 70s, the Left didn't step up to the plate with any defense of "liberalism" as something worthwhile, in spite of middle-America's freak-out over how long their son was wearing his hair. (I'm not qualified to discuss what went wrong with the Democratic leadership*.)

I find myself wondering if the Right is going to find itself in this same position in 20 years. Yelling helplessly that they weren't all racist warmongers intent on remaking this country into a martial state where corporate interests reigned supreme and that surely people who care enough to look will agree that the principles they were fighting for were sound. Somehow I doubt it.

History is likely to exonerate any effort toward greater freedom and equality and more government responsiveness to the demands of the voters. I find it hard to picture history equally exonerating a doctrine of "pre-emptive war" based on "because I said so."

(* I'm not qualified to discuss any of this, as far as that goes. We all understand, that, right? If you had any sense, you'd be somewhere else, reading a good book.)

Anyhow, as Alterman goes on to explain, he's not talking about "liberalism," not really. His column is about a portrayal of "extremism versus moderation." In the media, the comparisons are between the "extremists" on the Left and the sanity of conservatism. In reality, on the contrary, the Democrats are (have been forced to become) the soul of moderation and today's Republican party is all about extremism.

The opinion that the Democrats need to foreswear McGovernism and prove their commitment to moderation is one of the very safest in all of punditry." Yet Republicans, Kinsley notes, receive the equivalent of a free ideological pass regardless of the fact that they are led by two men whose political extremism has no analogy in power circles in the other party.

This is what I mean by letting the Right define the debate. They've made it about McGovern's loss to Nixon and the Left has failed to make a decent defense. "Liberalism" is not one person, and it's not one election.

(After thinking about it for thirty seconds, the first think I decide is that the current Republican Party should stop calling itself "conservative." Because it's clearly not, not if you're speaking in terms of the "Republicans" in power today. After Reagan, Bush I, and now Bush II, I'm thinking that if I were a conservative, I'd want to put as much distance as I could between myself and the "neo-cons.")

(Or, you know, throw them out. Most of you will still be on the planet in 20 years. It's a little late to be thinking about the "legacy" the Republican party of the last twenty years is leaving, but you could make your mark on the future by grabbing your party leadership by the collar and dragging it back to where it belongs.)

So, what else am I thinking about, after reading Alterman's column?

As Princeton professor Paul Starr notes, "The use of the vocabulary of treason is a measure of how thoroughly conservatives have transferred the passions of anticommunism into an internal war against those whom they think of as the enemies of American culture and values.

"Groups" or "movements" require a unified "cause" and an enemy is the obvious choice. It's a lot easier to get people to be against something than for it. (I mean, look how many people today are, "for anyone but Bush." That's not being "for." That's just being "against."*)

Lacking a single external entity to rally support against, as they had in the Cold War, the Right has settled on attacking the other half of their own country. Since "American culture and values" are actually liberal, they're pretty much guaranteed never to lose this enemy unless they manage to actually destroy the country.

It's just a pity that we've let them take the best part of this country and turn it into a dirty word.

* The Civil Rights movement of the 60s was "against" segregation and racism. It was "against" war. It was "against" the subjection of women.

Yes, it was for equal rights and peace but to be "for" something means you're "against" something else, because every coin has two sides. The problem (as I see it) with the current (neo-con) conservatives is that they're pretty much just against.

I know what they say. They're 'for' this, that, and the other, but when you look at legislation, when you look at what the White House actually supports when it comes up for a vote, when you look at what they actually ask for funding for and what they don't, when you look at what they do instead of what they say, they're mostly against.

With the Bush Administration's habit of under-funding pretty much everything except the actual money needed for more bullets, it does seem to actually be for one things. It has at least tried to implement the conservative rallying cry of "small government." Regardless of the economic and social damage it would do to this country to dismantle the federal bureaucracy; they're certainly making a game attempt to do so.

It's a move that's doomed to failure, of course. Too many politicians are feeding from the lobbyist trough. If you could dismantle much of the regulatory function of the current government, you'd get bonuses from the lobbyists today but in two years, when they have no legislation to object to, no pet protectionist bills to get passed, and they don't need a politician, and you're up for re-election? Sorry, Charlie.)

I'm told that some people spend their lunch breaks eating. I should give that a try one of these days.

Posted by AnneZook at 02:15 PM | Comments (2)
A Few Threats

Today's lunch: Chicken curry

Today's headlines: Threatening

The campaign, for instance, threatens to become the ugliest in living memory. It's nice that "some" stations have agreed to pull a political ad that's starting to look like a mass of lies, but why aren't all of them doing it? And what about this anti-Kerry book? Are we talking Republican Dirty Tricks, or is this just a bunch of amateur writers trying to make a fast buck?

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a war hero himself, denounced the ad as "dishonest and dishonorable," and pointed out a similar tactic was used against him four years ago during his contentious primary race against Mr. Bush.

I guess that's our answer, isn't it?

And Dick Meyer has a point, I think. Being "vulnerable" isn't the same thing as being "in danger." We are vulnerable. We are not in danger.

But war, and even war rhetoric, can rationalize unwise and uncharacteristic choices at home – restricted civil liberties, plundered treasury, over-reaching bureaucracy, fear-mongering, and misplaced secrecy. Both the administration and the opposition party have bungled that balance; the glaring example of that is the dishonest case that was sold and bought for invading Iraq. Both sides have squandered credibility.

A good column.

I notice that the Washington Post has now changed their "featured" story to one about a teenager on a reality tv series. Good to know the reported deaths of 300 people isn't getting in the way of idiot entertainment in this country.

We all look disapprovingly at a sore loser, but what about the sore winner?

To my amazement, I sometimes find myself nostalgic for the comparatively modest ill manners of the Reagan years, when the U.S. invaded countries like Grenada and "Junk Bond King" Michael Milken was on the prowl.

Terrorism false alarm.

The man who was mistaken for a terrorist last week, prompting officials to shut down the Port of Palm Beach, was an Arab American department store owner shipping merchandise to the U.S. Virgin Islands, police said.

Apparently Saddam Hussein isn't happy with his prison accommodations and would like to be transferred to Sweden. Cry me a river, bud.

Stateless detainees get a life sentence

PEOPLE can be held indefinitely in immigration detention centres after the High Court yesterday ruled the Migration Act gave the Government that power.

In what one judge in the slim majority who found in favour of the Government described as "tragic", the court had to decide that asylum-seekers who were stateless or lacked identification could be detained forever in Australia under the law.

Looks like it's not just the Bush Administration. There seem to have been a lot of governments just waiting for someone else to be the first to announce that they plan to hold people forever without actually charging them with a crime.

I guess you have to sympathize with governments. All of those inconvenient people messing up the system all the time.

Political dating.

As if the dating game weren't hard enough already, now there's a new twist to the age-old practice of pitching woo: More singles want Mr. or Ms. Right to belong to the "right" political party as well. And a slew of new political dating websites have popped up to help people find a pool of like-minded candidates.

Good grief, Charlie Brown.

Posted by AnneZook at 01:29 PM | Comments (0)
Looking At the Headlines

"Hiring Slows Dramatically" is the CNN headline. I guess an expectation of over 200,000 jobs that’s filled with 30,000 jobs is worth a headline.

CBS? Jobs again.

The NYTimes lets terrorists and the lack of new jobs share space. A gap where 170,000 jobs were expected to be is significant

Economists, however, look more closely at the payroll figure as a better barometer of the health of the jobs market. The 32,000 net jobs added in July represented the smallest gain in hiring since December and followed a revised gain of just 78,000 in June, even less than previously reported. May's payrolls also were revised down to show a gain of 208,000.

By the time they revise July down, we'll probably have lost jobs.

ABC is talking about terrorists. As far as I can tell, the story seems to be that these are the guys who said or did something that caused the recent increase to Organic Orange in the Amazing Alert system. I didn't read it closely because I was looking for a different story.

I guess the "handover of authority" in Iraq has done its job. The USofA media is largely moving on to new topics.

With the third item on the NYTimes page, they finally get to Iraq.

They say the "heaviest" fighting over the last couple of days has been in Najaf, a hundred miles south of Baghdad.

The heaviest fighting occurred mainly in Najaf, a Shiite holy city and Sadr stronghold 100 miles south of Baghdad, where the Health Ministry said 19 people were killed and 111 were wounded during fighting Thursday and early today, The Associated Press reported.

No..wait...the Washington Post is also featuring it.

Fierce fighting between U.S. and Iraqi forces and Shiite rebels loyal to cleric Moqtada Sadr escalated in five cities Friday, in a second day of combat resembling the Sadr-led uprising of last Spring.

Casualties were reported to be significant among Americans and Iraqis alike, although no official totals were immediately available for Friday's fighting. The military did announce Friday that two Marines were killed Thursday during combat with the rebels in the southern Shiite city of Najaf.

"Significant" casualties does not sound good.

It looks worse if you check the the BBC to see what they have to say. (Sure enough, they lead with the story.)

US-led forces in Iraq have clashed with Shia militiamen in several cities, in a second day of fighting that has shattered a truce agreed in June.

A US military spokesman says 300 supporters of radical cleric Moqtada Sadr have been killed in the holy city of Najaf on Thursday and Friday.

There has also been heavy fighting in a Shia area of the capital Baghdad, where 34 people have died since Thursday.

There are some pretty significant differences in casualty numbers here.

I'm just saying. There was a time when if we were (maybe) killing people at the rate of 150+ a day, it would have been considered worthy of some significant press coverage here in the USofA.

Have you heard of the Help America Vote Act? I got an earful the other night, at the FairVoteColorado training meeting. (I've volunteered to observe at the polls during the primary on Tuesday and on November 2.)

Rules supposedly designed to prevent another Florida Fiasco are sometimes doing more harm than good

Colorado enacted one of the first provisional-balloting laws in 2002, and immediately fell into an ugly dispute in a close Congressional race. Secretary of State Donetta Davidson issued a series of conflicting directives during the contentious post-election count. Counties used different standards for counting, and the race ended up in court.

Election officials expressed additional concerns over other changes instituted under the Help America Vote Act, including one that requires new voters to present identification at polling sites.

For the record, Colorado is referred to in the first paragraph but the article doesn't mention that Colorado's law is even more restrictive than HAVA demands. Not content with asking for I.D. from "new" voters, all Colorado voters will have to produce identification.

Thanks to the education received in my own comments sections, as well as the words of the representative from the Homeless Coalition who attended the meeting the other night, I have a fairly good grasp of why this is such a bad idea.

Colorado has, in fact, provided provisional ballots for those unaware of the (largely unadvertised) new law. It's anticipated that a lot of voters will use those provision ballots on Tuesday. The problem with each county setting their own standards for counting his not been resolved, and there are a number of other problems as well.

Of the 5,914 provisional ballots cast in the Chicago primary, 5,498 were disqualified, mostly on technical grounds.

Let's hope that doesn't happen here.

I have more to say (about everything) but I'm out of time. Maybe later.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:19 AM | Comments (0)
August 05, 2004
This Time, It's Texas

I'm sure I blogged about the whole problem with Houston quite a long time ago, but I can't find the post now. (I should have listened to Jonathan. I should never have deleted all of those older posts, should I?)

The police crime laboratory in Houston, already reeling from a scandal that has led to retesting of evidence in 360 cases, now faces a much larger crisis that could involve many thousands of cases over 25 years.

Anyone want to contemplate the Texas death penalty rate and consider the odds....

And this jurisdiction has produced more executions than any other county in America."

I knew it.

This isn't a one-time failure of the process. This is long-time, systematic fraud that may have led to death(s).

Correct me if I'm wrong, but that would be murder, right?

The man in charge:

Mr. Bolding retired in 2003 after police investigators recommended that he be terminated for various professional and supervisory failures, including submitting false information to auditors in 2000 and 2001.

Last month, a judge in Midland, Tex., dismissed perjury charges against Mr. Bolding, saying the statute of limitations had expired. In that case, Mr. Bolding was accused of overstating his academic credentials in a 2002 sexual assault trial. He said a court reporter had transcribed his testimony incorrectly.

No word about any potential new action that might be taken against him.

There's no statute of limitations on murder, of course.

Though DNA is often thought of as a tool for exonerations, prosecutors in Mr. Sutton's case had used it to convict him, submitting false scientific evidence asserting that there was a solid match between Mr. Sutton's DNA and that found at the crime scene. In fact, 1 of every 8 black people, including Mr. Sutton, shared the relevant DNA profile. More refined retesting cleared him.

In essence, he was convicted of being black?

In another case:

Mr. Rodriguez had an alibi: he was working at a factory that made bed frames at the time of the rape, and his boss swore to that in court.

Boggles. The. Mind. How can you prove someone committed a crime if they have a solid alibi? (Of course, we're not getting the details of these cases. I guess we can assume they decided Rodriguez's boss was lying and that they charged him with perjury, for which he, now incorrectly, it seems, was forced to do some time?)

As it happens, they had the actual criminal (it was a rape trial) but said crime lab expert swore that guy was innocent. Absolutely no way he could have done it. Except that better DNA testing shows he is, in fact, an "exact" DNA match to evidence found at the crime scene.

Understand, DNA is a science, but it's not an exact science. Still, in the hands of someone competent, it's more exact than Houstone makes it look.

Posted by AnneZook at 02:21 PM | Comments (0)
Hell Is Good for You, Say Economists

Okay, I do mock. I offered a bit of mockery upon reading that the DoD actually commissioned a study to figure out if coffee will keep you awake. And I scoffed a bit at the woman who decided to research the impact of the "Tarzan" movies on contemporary culture. I understand that finding an "original" topic to research where source material is easily available probably isn't easy these days.

But this one takes the cake.

Apparently research indicates that societies that believe in hell economically outperform those that don't believe in eternal damnation in a fiery pit.

I'm a bit confused by the apparent contradiction between this and the whole rich man, eye of a needle, get into heaven thing, but I don't really care that much. Anyhow, it was just a catchy headline. As the article makes clear, there are hellfire countries whose economies are not so good, so maybe Russia shouldn't start rounding up all the heathens and baptizing them just yet.

It was an entertaining headline, though.

Less amusingly, read this column. Wole Soyinka sounds like an inspiring man and the situation he's fighting seems to be becoming increasingly desperate.

Posted by AnneZook at 01:43 PM | Comments (0)

IF you're a Republican (or, really, just if you're a human being), please take a moment to be ashamed that this man is running unopposed, even in a Texas Tennessee primary. (Let's thank Amanda for the correction. If it's not "Texas" then the implicit scorn of "It's Texas. They're liable to do anything" doesn't really apply, does it?)

IF things are so bad in Darfur then where did the government find "tens of thousands" of people to march in protest of UN intervention? Supporters of the war, one presumes. I mention this because this amount of mobilized government support should make a difference to how the UN handles the issue. This is not a situation for the UN's token 2,500 troops.

IF we forget the past, we may be dooming ourselves to repeating it. When our "past" includes using nuclear bombs, that's not an appealing idea.

IF I were arrested, imprisoned, and maybe tortured by an invading foreign power, I'd be vowing revenge myself, so I find it hard to feel much suspicion about (innocent until proven guilty) Guantanamo detainees making fierce speeches.

IF the prisoner abuse in Iraq was the behavior of a few "rogue" soldiers, why do reports of widespread abuse by USofA troops keep surfacing?

IF we're the good guys, why are so many children being held in Iraqi prisons? (Before you react, read. It's not a simple situation.)

IF you're curious about the cost of the war, this is an interesting paper. (Warning: It's 68 pages long. I haven't finished it myself yet.)

IF you're curious about Brahimi, the UN envoy to Iraq, read this, for one perspective on the man. (And here's another perspective on the UN and the US in Iraq, as well.)

IF you're me, any article that starts by saying you gotta believe this guy because he's so amazingly virile, is an instant reach for the delete key. When I get done gagging, I may go back and read THE CONSERVATIVE CASE AGAINST GEORGE W. BUSH anyhow, taking care to skip the first paragraph this time, just to see what it has to say about "traditional" conservatism in this country versus what the Bush Administration is presenting.

IF you want to know what's going on I the world, you have to step outside the USofA media. IF you read The People's Daily (English translation, of course), then you'll see the story of a Chinese woman who was "beaten up" US Customs officials near Niagara Falls. IF you read the Moscow Times (English translation, of course), you'll see the story of the USofA journalist thought to have been the victim of a contract killing in Russia early last month. If you read The Australian, you'll see the story of over $180,000 in gifts given to the Bush family by a Saudi prince in 2003.

IF you have a sense of humor, even about political campaigns, you might find this funny. I did.

IF Sun Myung Moon's reputed influence on Washington worries you, this won't make you feel any better.

Groups such as the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IIFWP) the Women’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP), the World Culture and Sports Festival and the Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI) — all groups that have been founded by or are directly affiliated with Moon — have lured lawmakers, congressional staffers and various countries’ U.N. ambassadors to their symposiums.

But those organizations have not made their association with Moon clear to the participants before they accepted the glossy invitations, attendees say.

At one conference, billed as a symposium between congressional staffers and U.N. ambassadors, Hill aides were somewhat surprised to be greeted at the New Yorker hotel by a gaggle of non-English-speaking Korean women.

The IIFWP’s continuing campaign had its most recent Washington event last April, where Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor at large at United Press International (UPI) and The Washington Times; Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.); and the Rev. Walter Fauntroy, the former D.C. delegate to Congress, all spoke at a panel moderated by IIFWP officials.

The “Capitol Hill briefing” was on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was co-hosted by the World Media Association, an arm of the Washington Times Foundation.

That symposium occurred one month after Moon — the controversial spiritual leader of the Unification Church and owner of a media empire that owns The Washington Times and UPI — was crowned as the Messiah in a Senate office building.

Reports of Moon’s coronation sent lawmakers scurrying to explain their attendance and stoked a media maelstrom over the rather unusual occurrence of a congressional crowning.

The Washington Post later reported that Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) had permitted Moon to use the Senate space. Since then, several members of Congress have said they were deceived by Moon and his offshoot groups.

IF the 70 "mercenaries" arrested in South Africa were actually headed for a mine, to provide security, surely they could produce a contract, a letter, or an employer to testify to that? Their appeal for extradition has been rejected. (Could 70 people overthrow a government? Who are they suspected of having been in league with in the country? I'm glad to see we're still seeing some new coverage as time goes on. Maybe I'll eventually understand what's actually going on..

IF "we" are Turning a blind eye to nukes then either we're more culpable than I imagined for the growth of WMD in the world, or our "intelligence" sources need a lot more work than even I'd imagined. On the other hand, I'm not a believer in unremitting interventionism. It's not useful, I know, but I constantly find myself mourning the fact that the UN lacks the international support it needs to be the power for compromise and restraint in the world.

IF you're like me, you've been biting your lip and keeping quiet. You're aware that it's "the thing" on the Left to line up to praise Ehrenreich. You've been listening to the praise for her for months, wincing in pain, but only privately. Enough of that.

The Democrats couldn't be more butch if they took to wearing codpieces. Every daily convention theme contained the words "strength" or "strong," and even Hillary Rodham Clinton was relegated to the role of wife.

By all accounts (Monday was the one night of convention coverage I missed), Hillary Clinton made quite the speech, taking up a substantial amount of the time allotted for her husband. Maybe Ehrenreich should have been listening to what was said instead of shutting her brain off at the point where Hillary was (also) introducing her husband?

The idea, according to the pundits, is that with more than half of the voters still favoring President Bush as the guy to beat Osama bin Laden, John Kerry needs to show that he's macho enough to whup the terrorists. Of course, everyone knows that the macho approach is notably less effective than pixie dust - otherwise, we wouldn't be holding our political conventions under total lockdowns.

We've been holding our political conventions under total lockdowns for a number of years now and while security may have been increased again this year, I fail to understand what securing the thousands of people attending a convention and "macho" candidates have to do with each other.

First, let's stop calling the enemy "terrorism," which is like saying we're fighting "bombings." Terrorism is only a method; the enemy is an extremist Islamic insurgency whose appeal lies in its claim to represent the Muslim masses against a bullying superpower.

She is, in fact, quite wrong. Not all terrorists in the world are Islamic. They aren't now, and they won't be in the future. All terrorists should be considered, not just the ones whose religion seems to offend some Christians. Further, I'm completely appalled at this near-call to make war on a religion.

(*Interestingly enough, I read a blog entry somewhere yesterday, forget where, sorry, that suggests that language experts are taking another look at the Koran and finding that, as does happen, the original text may have been garbled in translation.

For instance, the infamous "72 virgins" that martyrs get upon their deaths? Turns out they may be greeted in paradise with a glass of chardonnay, instead, since there's a body of opinion that the word translated as "virgins" possibly should have been translated as "white grapes." I have no idea what effect such a change in the rules might have on the extremist faithful.)

(Joking aside, I meant to bookmark the entry and read it more thoroughly later and I'm frustrated that I forgot to do so. If any of you find such a blog entry in your wanderings, please do let me know.)

She goes on to suggest that feminism will cure what ails the world.

Equal rights for everyone, a stronger consideration for human rights all over the globe is something I can passionately support, but her argument makes my head hurt.

On the other hand, I'm an admirer of Helen Thomas's. IF you're also a fan, you'll find this interesting.

Posted by AnneZook at 07:59 AM | Comments (3)
United Nations News

Just because I'm interested.

Two Afghan Aid Workers Killed

An Afghan aid worker and his driver were killed by unidentified gunmen in southeastern Afghanistan in the latest attack on humanitarian agencies, which have been increasingly targeted by Islamic militants.

UN evacuates Gaza refugee staff

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees says it is evacuating all its non-essential foreign staff from the Gaza Strip.

The announcement came as the Israeli army moved to expand a large-scale operation in northern Gaza.

Annan stresses need to take security threats seriously, protect aid workers

Reflecting on the year since a terrorist's bomb destroyed United Nations offices in Iraq and killed more than 20 people, the worst attack deliberately aimed at the world body in its history, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today stressed the importance of taking seriously future threats and as well as the need for preventive measures to protect aid workers posted in dangerous parts of the world.

UN mission in Côte d'Ivoire confirms existence of mass graves

A human rights team sent to investigate gross violations during clashes between rival groups of the main national opposition party in northern Côte d'Ivoire has found three mass graves containing at least 99 bodies, the peacekeeping United Nations Operation in the West African country (ONUCI) said today.

Security Council approves UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti

No, that's not a new link. It's dated April 30. It's just that sometimes I wonder how things are going in Haiti these days. I mean, if Brazil is playing a "soccer friendly" with Haiti, one assumes a certain normality has returned to things. I mean, if they're thinking about soccer, they're not thinking revolution, right?

More seriously, since the USofA has a history of failure in Haiti, it seems we're hailing with enthusiasm Brazil's offer to head up current UN efforts. That, of course, is partly what the soccer is about, if you read the NYTimes link. It's "unconventional diplomacy." That, and the right kind of aid could make all the difference to Haiti's future.

Posted by AnneZook at 07:47 AM | Comments (0)
August 04, 2004
Speaking of books

I have some time to kill. Can't leave the office yet unless I want to be an hour early for the FairVoteColorado meeting (I'm doing some election/polling place volunteering this year.), so I might as well blog, right?

Of course, I knew the country's latest ”bestseller" was The Da Vinci Code because no one could help knowing it. The book was everywhere. But I don't read contemporary literature, so I had no idea what it was about.

Reading this confused me more than it enlightened me.

The modern world is a terrifying place. Small wonder adults are taking refuge in fantastical and mystical novels

I mean, it enlightened me in part. Now I know the book is ostensibly an alternative history sort of thriller where the Catholic Church spends a couple of thousand years pretending Jesus wasn't married, Mary Magdalene was a 'hoor, and sex scandals have nothing to do with the Catholic Church.

No, wait...that last one was part of a different part of the discussion of the book.

Apparently, seeking escapism from the horrors of reality, people are turning to this particular book because they believe any evil of the church after the sex abuse scandals, because Nixon was too a crook, and because there were no WMD in Iraq.

Well, sort of. There's also something (a subplot?) about how the church spent a couple of thousand years organizing repression of women and women are reading the book because it venerates "goddess worship" although I could be confusing a couple of different things.

I dunno. So far I'm failing to find the escapism from today's Real World Problems in the plot as described.

It's also, to stop mocking for just a moment, described as an engaging and absorbing puzzle piece that challenges the reader as they go. Seems to me there should be enough to explain the book's popularity right there.

That millions of Americans are ready to accept the notion of a murderous Catholic monk taking orders from a corrupt bishop should sound the alarm in Catholicism's upper reaches.

Actually, I think that if millions of Americans are willing to accept the premise of evil priests, that's an impressive sign that they actually know more about history than I've been suspecting.

I mean, a murderous monk? Is Freeland under the impression that there's some kind of impossibility being described? Corrupt bishop? History is full of examples. Corrupt boss issuing orders to ethically challenged underling? It's a standard "thriller" plot. Catholic Church embroiled in accusations of murder, fraud, and other scandal? Over and over and over.

Catholic intellectuals are more troubled by the credulousness of those Christians who admit the book has challenged their beliefs. What does that say about the quality of church education? Amy Welborn, author of Decoding Da Vinci, says: "Most churches have done a terrible job in the last 40 years of teaching people the basics of the faith."

No system of belief worth having should be scared of close examination.

Plus which, the Catholic Church could give the Bush Administration lessons in cover-ups, obfuscation, and sleight-of-hand. It's a notoriously secretive organization.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I should admit I have a beef with the Catholic Church. As I understand it, they're sitting on thousands of historical documents, books, pamphlets, scrolls, and paintings) in their archives and no one but a selected band of scholars are allowed to look at even a fraction of what they have. While not professing any interest in religion, I feel certain there's material there of wide interest to a lot of the world.)

(Heck, forget the rest of the world. I want to see what they have. Anyone read fifteen or twenty dead languages and want to try to break into the Vatican with me?)

I didn't really have anything to say about the book or the review. I mean, I told you I was just killing time.

Now I have to go look at my face to make certain I'm fit to be seen in public* and then hit the road.

(* Let's hope I am. I am the kind of woman who carries a comb and tinted lipgloss. I don't carry a suitcase-sized handbag with a full make-up counter in it and I long ago gave up pretending I'm one of those women who can spend two minutes in a public restroom and come out looking like a supermodel. This is my face, okay? Deal with it.)

Posted by AnneZook at 05:20 PM | Comments (5)

Remember the days when you could never find a picture of Bush in the media that wasn't carefully staged to make the best of him? Those days appear to be gone.

Posted by AnneZook at 01:20 PM | Comments (0)
Read Quickly

It's almost 8:00 and I have a full schedule today, but I couldn't resist a couple of links.

Halliburton pays $7.5M fine to settle SEC investigation

Halliburton Co. has paid a civil penalty of $7.5 million to settle a Securities and Exchange Commission probe into how company in 1998 and 1999 disclosed and recognized revenue for unapproved claims in long-term construction projects.

I've read, elsewhere, about the "creative accounting" that was implemented at the company under a (ahem) previous CEO who has since attained a new position.

'Nuff said.

After the effect of this adjustment, the company's second quarter 2004 loss from continuing operations was $58 million, or 13 cents per share, compared to the $54 million, or 12 cents per share previously announced.

Net loss for the second quarter of 2004 was $667 million, or $1.52 per share, compared to the $663 million, or $1.51 per share, previously announced.

We really need to reform the corporate tax structure in this country, don't we? (Requires registration but you should be registered to read the Bizjournals news in your area anyhow.)

For those interested in healthcare, Sociocultural, Environmental, and Health Challenges Facing Women and Children Living Near the Borders Between Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan (AIP Region) (Registration. peevish/peevish should work)

Background: For hundred of years, people in the region encompassed by the Afghanistan-Iran-Pakistan borders (AIP region) have been challenged by conflict and political and civil instability, mass displacement, human rights abuses, drought, and famine. It not surprising that health and quality of life of vulnerable groups in this region are among the worst in the world. In general, women and children, in particular girls, in the AIP region have had especially limited access to healthcare. Women and children have dramatically high rates of communicable and non-communicable disease, morbidity, and mortality and a general low life expectancy that is rapidly declining. In spite of national and international efforts to improve health status of vulnerable populations in this region, the key underlying sociocultural determinants of health and disparities (ie, gender, language, ethnicity, residential status, and socioeconomic status) have not been systematically studied, nor have their relationships to environmental challenges been examined.

Very interesting perspective on the region.

And then there's that whole "war on terror" thing. As long as you're already reading, take a look at this entry which tries to explain that we're not at war with extremist Islamism, we're at war with terrorism. I approve of the discussion of "defining" terrorism. You have to know what you're fighting and Islam, even extremist Islam, is not synonymous with "terrorism."

Ever faster....

Prisoner abuse photos were just kids having some fun.

Over 70% of Missouri's voters who turned out yesterday upheld a same-sex marriage ban, confirming my already low opinion of Missouri. (Not that I expected any different.)

Posted by AnneZook at 07:59 AM | Comments (4)
August 03, 2004
Reading and Watching

It's amazing what you can get through in your lunch hour, if you try hard enough.

I'm still watching the development of the Spy Czar story.

Intelligence Chief Without Power?

President Bush on Monday cast his support for a new post of national intelligence director as an historic overhaul of the nation's major spy agencies. But White House officials left vague the authority that the new director would wield over personnel and spending, raising doubts among some experts about the real power of the new position.


Digby thinks this is the key point to the story:

White House and Bush campaign officials have long said that the details matter far less than the pictures and sounds of Mr. Bush talking in any way about his campaign against terrorism, which polls show is still his strongest card against Mr. Kerry.

I mention those two bits for a reason, of course. The article starts out talking about something that's rather important to a lot of citizens. The idea of intelligence-gathering, how it's done, and how we analyze it is rather closely tied up with the idea of safety for many of us.

It's certainly interesting to note that by the end of the article we're being told what we should have expected all along. The entire thing, from the Bush Administration's perspective, is just a story to be spun for campaign purposes. It doesn't matter if he's short on specifics or is proposing something that either can't be done. What matters is a sound-bite of him saying "war on terror".

And the prisoner abuse story

The General in charge of Abu Ghraib at the time the abuse occurred is now saying she thinks there was a deliberate plot to keep her out of the loop. A cover-up.

Lawrence reminds us why we shouldn't let this slip through our memories and the details he provides aren't ones I've read before.

The Danish military is investigating a report that an intelligence officer abused Iraqi prisoners.

The Democratic Convention Candidates

Kerry offered Substance over Style according to MotherJones.

Will Durst disses Edwards but ends by deciding the 'Smurf' has claws. Thank you for your rude and condescending column, Mr. Durst.


It's about quality teachers and I think Kerry is showing courage in letting the powerful Teachers' Union know that they need to make changes.

Same-sex marriage

Missouri is voting on same-sex marriage.

Iraq and Other Matters of War

Kenyan Foreign Minister Plays Ugly Joke (Well, how else would you characterize standing up to announce the release of hostages who have not, in fact, been released? )

Scapegoats, pharmakos, and Saddam Hussein. Psychology, Blair, Bush, and wiping out the shame of creating a monster.

The Muslim Army chaplain accused (and clearing) of "spying" at Guantanamo is resigning from the army. He says his reputation and his chances for making a career in the service have been destroyed.

Limiting freedom in an attempt to make yourself more secure doesn't work. You don't wind up safer. You just wind up less free.* Basic freedoms to protest are being systematically undermined by anti-terror legislation is a Guardian headline, but it applies to the USofA as well. (* Ivins and Dubose address this idea in Bushwhacked. I'll probably be posting more on it later.)

They Knew It's about the Bush Administration, 9/11, and the 9/11 Commission report, and about lies the things that led us to invade Iraq. (Note: Copious hotlinks to support their arguments, none of which I've had time to read yet. I'll follow them this evening. In the meantime, know that Atrios is already talking about it.)

And I haven't talked about it, but I have be wondering why we're under a heightened "terror alert" based on data from before 9/11. I mean, yeah, I know that reports of al Qaeda's planning indicate they're meticulous and thorough but do we really have reason to believe we have reliable info on a post-9/11 attack? Apparently, yes. (And yet, I find myself unable to become alarmed by the news that possible terrorists were been looking at brochures four years ago.

Class Wars

National Review Goes Nuts, claims that the rich are rich no longer. (No, I'm not doing the research to explain about "average" income, tax deductions, tax cuts, etc. Nor am I intending to research where they found their data, who they're including, and the difference between "rich" and "greedy rich." There are economists on-line who can do that. When I find a post, I'll let you know.)


I read something like this and I scratch my head. Every time I read it, I scratch my head. I understand people don't want to lose their guns, but exactly what value do even gun supporters see in removing the ban on assault weapons?

Reality TV

"Reality TV" meets real surgery. I don't believe I'll be turning on the Hospital OR Webcast Channel any time soon. I am content to know I have insides. I don't require to view them.

Other Matters

This is how to write a tempting book review. I've read some about the early exploration (and exploitation) of spices and the regions where they were discovered, and I think I'll order a copy of this.

Hugo Schwyzer drives me bonkers, okay? I don't doubt he's a great person, in fact, I'm convinced of it, but I can't recommend reading this post unless you have some time on your hands. I mean, I read it, then my head exploded and the pieces when in five different directions. YMMV.

To keep it simple, there may be something to his theory of "profoundly disappointing male behavior." If I see one more man stopped at a red light in traffic opening his car door so he can spit on the pavement, I may go postal. And while I'm on the subject of male failings, can I please beg you to put it all away before you leave the public restroom? You're not being discreet. Everyone notices, even though they pretend they don't. Stop it.

Posted by AnneZook at 02:19 PM | Comments (11)
Nasty Before Nice

In the "Boggles. The. Mind. Category, we see CNN's bland coverage of Bush's announcement that he's asking Congress to create the position of a national intelligence director to serve as his principal intelligence adviser. In paragraph four we discover that Congress is in recess, meaning Bush stands in no danger of having his request granted any time soon.

In paragraph five the story finally mentions the 9/11 Commission, but there's no mention of their spefic suggestions, so if you weren't paying attention, you wouldn't know Bush originally resisted the idea of the new, cabinet-level position being located in the White House.*

In paragraph 17, there's a one-sentence reference to Bush's plans "blending" his own ideas (!!) with suggestions from the Commission, but that's as close as the article gets to saying the 9/11 Commission came up with ideas of its own and that Bush is under pressure to adopt them.

*Why did he resist it? Well, he gave us the answer to that himself. What he was actually resisting was making a cabinet-level position out of it. He wants to "hire and fire" the person himself, with no requirement for Congressional approval. Personally, I think such a position is far too important for the hiring to be at the whim of someone who produced, upon request, an accurate estimate for the cost of invading Iraq, but that's just me. Democracy is supposed to liberate us from the 'caprices of kings' after all.

Moving on, what's behind the "order" to destroy public documents? Sure, sometimes the order goes out because a government pamphlet is found to be factually in error or something, and I'm willing to accept that, "destroy all copies by any means to prevent disclosure of their content" is probably just government-speak and not as scary as it sounds, but the revelation that the content of most of these pamphlets is already freely available means this is merely a waste of time. (Also? I'm not a lawyer, so the discovery that inadvertent exposure of a "legal strategy" is a cause for panic was interesting to me.)

"The directive concluded that "the Department of Justice has determined that these materials are for internal use only"" makes it sound like there are Sekrit Prosecution Techniques they don't want the general public to know about, which isn't necessarily a red flag for misdoing.

Next up: We all agree (well, terrorists probably don't) that chasing down terrorists is all very well (or, if you're the linguistically challenged Bush Administration, "terror"*), but you can go too far in suspecting treachery everywhere.

President Bush's re-election campaign insisted on knowing the race of an Arizona Daily Star journalist assigned to photograph Vice President Dick Cheney.

Yes, I'm thinking racism. I mean, what are the odds? Pretty good, considering the photographer's name is "Mamta Popat" don't you think?

I mean, unless every single person attending the function had to provide a racial profile on themselves, this is an outrageous request.

The newspaper was given this excuse:

[...] Popat's race was necessary to allow the Secret Service to distinguish her from someone else who might have the same name.

Yeah, because there's a huge population of Popats in Arizona, donchaknow. And the story doesn't say so, but surely we can assume the Secret Service asked for racial data on every John Smith, Edgar Jones, and Sally Blonde on the press list as well

(* It's not out of the question that the moment I fell in love with Edwards was the moment he referred to "fighting terrorism." I do admire someone who can speak their native language, don't you?)

Wow. Has it been 69 years already?

Time does fly when you're having fun, doesn't it? Yesterday was, Happy Getting Your Independence Back Day for India. Reading the Guardian's coverage of the story, I'm simultaneously appalled and enthralled. The "Raj" has long fascinated me.

Also? I'm laughing, okay? I'm laughing at the desperate Republican spin about how Bush and Kerry are "tied" in the polls and about how Bush is on the upswing.

In this country, only two kinds of candidates ever talk seriously about abolishing the IRS.

#1 - Right wingnuts.

#2 - Desperate candidates.

I think we got a twofer this time.

(Except that the source is Drudge, so it's hard to believe it's true unless it is, as Atrios suggests, a trial balloon.)

Moving on, I don't usually link to David Neiwert because I assume sensible people are already reading his blog, but this entry is important. He's one of the few people I've found who keeps on talking about the Bush Administration's blind spot when it comes to "domestic" terrorism.

And, to end the post on a high note, you really need to see the painting Professor Kim is showing us. It has an astonishing power, even as an on-line 'thumbnail.' If I were in New Jersey, I'd go see this show. (More here.

Posted by AnneZook at 07:47 AM | Comments (2)
August 02, 2004
Over. The. Edge.

The Right Wing just astounds me sometimes.

With a bit of judicious re-arrangement of the text, we could be back in the 90s.

You know how Republicans hate Clinton now? How will they hate him when they lose to him on November 2 by three or four percentage points?

One of the political commentators I admire most for his astuteness said yesterday that the paroxysm of hatred the Republicans have been indulging for the last six months is the worst American political delusion he has seen in his entire life.

What will it be like -- if after all this hatred, all this effort, all those millions upon millions of dollars spent to express disdain, contempt, and hate -- Clinton wins again, flashes a victory symbol over his head, grins, strides around shaking hands, glows with exuberance and radiance?

I'm serious. That could have completely been written before Clinton's second November victory, couldn't it?

Anyhow. The article, which I can't really recommend, goes on to say that Democrats out of power and cut off from the government money mill they live to milk, are sad, hopeless creatures.

In addition, they respond nobly to Kerry's request for a clean campaign. Their list of reasons the Democracts will be limp toast in November:

#1 - No one -- neither his colleagues nor his wife nor his supporters nor he himself -- has anything good to say about John Kerry.

That's not only blatantly untrue, it's just stupid. Attack someone's policies or their beliefs or their votes, but not this.

#2 - The Democratic elite sitting in convention cannot present themselves as they are to the American people, but must stifle their deepest feelings, be silent about their most passionate aims, and hide their turbulent loathing of George Bush Republicans (lest it frighten independents with its ferocity).

Okay, I know I mentioned Kerry's wooing of the "moderate Republican" vote, but that was five minutes out of a 40-minute speech. It stuck out because it was the only thing in his speech that didn't get rousing applause. (And women's rights were first up in his speech, IIRC) Also? Bush-loathing wasn't missing from the evening, quite the contrary. And, my fantasies aside, no one expected to hear, "we'll be out of Iraq by Valentine's Day. We didn't want Bush's elective war, but we're not going to shy from cleaning up his mess.

3. Democrats must hide from the public what they truly think about evangelicals, fundamentalists, and Catholics. They express these thoughts mostly among themselves.

If your new "strategy" for the Right includes pretending there are no class differences or problems with education (in the futile hope that no one will notice how your party has exacerbated class problems and trashed education), I guess you have to fall back on this kind of thing.

4. John Kerry looks sillier in the pale blue NASA rabbit suit than Michael Dukakis did in a tank.

Okay, I feel better now. I hadn't realized this was a joke column.

Anyhow, after much pointless babbling it goes on to say that god is going to take note of Bush's courage and re-elect him. Presumably the Supreme Court sent a note excusing themselves from involvement this time around.

And I guess that "clean campaign" thing didn't take in the Republican camp.

[Reports] indicate they will also directly attack Mr Kerry, trying to divert attention from what they say was his brief, four-month tour in Vietnam 30 years ago. This will culminate with the Republican convention in New York at the end of the month in which Mr Kerry will be portrayed as a flip-flopping object of humor and derision.

And, reading on, we find this bit of stupidity:

In another sign of the aggressive stance being taken by Republicans, Democrats who signed up to hear Vice-President Dick Cheney speaking at a rally in New Mexico on Saturday were refused tickets unless they signed a pledge to endorse President Bush.

I pledge to endorse his candidacy for third assistant dogcatcher in his Connecticut hometown. Is that what you mean?

Enough about Bush, except to say that the Bush re-election campaign blatantly manipulating the country, the world, and the war just to keep themselves in power is not only disgusting, but just the fact that they're that kind of person is enough to tell us they shouldn't be in office.

Before I leave the campaign trail, I should tell you that I'll probably spend a lot of my spare time this week reading the book, so blogging may be light.

Posted by AnneZook at 07:58 AM | Comments (2)
August 01, 2004

So, I finally got a chance to watch the tape of Kerry's acceptance speech.

He didn't hesitate to woo disaffected conservatives, right there in the middle of the Democratic convention, did he?

Speaking to a crowd who wanted to hear peace, he promised war. Speaking to people who want to believe the world can live in harmony, he promised a massive enlargement of our standing army. Speaking to believers in government social p0rograms, he promised to balance the budget and avoid deficit spending.

"Go to johnkerry.com," he said. So, I did. Picking a random link from the list on the left, I read the same old rhetoric about logging for "healthy forests" and "economic growth." Either no one has explained to him that we can stop cutting down forests and start recycling to fill most of our paper needs or he has a big campaign donor to pacify.. (For the record, most of the wood we use for things like home-building comes from Canada, not US forests.)

He's not exactly the Progressive President of my dreams, that's all.

(I keep saying I'm a moderate and then proving myself a liar, don't I? Possibly, instead of saying, "I'm moderate" it would be more accurate to say, "I'm not radical.")

And yet...all of what I heard about the speech was true. It was his moment to deliver and he did. Passion, commitment, and honesty - all without hyperbole.

Jobs, healthcare, equality, and education. He was there on all of them. Impressively so. You can see this man leading. He gets "the vision thing" and he understands the value of bipartisan cooperation.

John Edwards had the spark for me, the charisma. I could have been passionate about following him, but that doesn't mean I'm not willing to trust my future to John Kerry. Rational, sensible, and pragmatically liberal isn't the worst thing we could get, right?

This may sound like damning with faint praise, but it's not meant to be. I think Kerry is intelligent, knowledgeable, and experienced. I think his background makes him a far-fitter Presidential candidate than Bush's history of business failures and family bail-outs. I admire Kerry's courage in talking about nuance to a country accustomed to little more than bumper-sticker philosophy. I do believe he'll conduct a more transparent Presidency than Bush, but then it would be difficult not to.

And I was impressed with Kerry's call for a clean campaign. As I've said again and again, I'm not essentially about being against Bush* I'm about being for something better.

I'd really like to see what Kerry/Edwards could do with a clear majority vote in November and a co-operative Congress.

* Which is not to say I'm not incredibly anxious to see the Left turn out and vote in November.

We need enough people to turn out and fail to vote for Bush (again) that the margin of victory is clear as far away as the Supreme Court.

Posted by AnneZook at 01:37 PM | Comments (0)
Bushwhacked (Ivins and Dubose)

Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America (By Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose)

Usually, I say, "Read this book. It's all there."

Well, it's not "all" here. Some of it is in their first book, "Shrub" (discussed here.) Everything Bush's gubernatorial administration did in Texas, he's repeating on a national scale with war thrown in for variety. ("If y'all had read the first book, we wouldn't have had to write this one.")

An inherited state surplus that he turned into a four-times-larger and (in 2003) still-growing deficit. (When asked about the growing fiscal crisis he had created in Texas, governor Bush said, "I hope I'm not around to deal with it." Partly that says he hoped to be President, but more tellingly, it said he had no idea how to deal with it and didn't actually have an answer for the question.)

Energy bills written by energy lobbyists. (Hello, Enron.) Elimination of workplace protection regulations. "Tort reform" that makes it all-but impossible for people to sue corporations. (Notably, he appointed a lawyer to the Texas Supreme Court who actually ruled that consulting a lawyer to discuss workplace hazards was grounds for dismissal. Whistleblower protection? Don't make me laugh.)

'The free market can solve all problems, government is generally bad, we should privatize everything we possibly can, there is no such thing as global warming, the environment is unimportant, and worker safety will be protected by benign corporate employers.'

For the record, I may find it difficult to articulate what I believe, but I have no problem at all identifying what I don't believe. The above sentence, paraphrased from the book's introduction, is a prime example of things I don't believe, and it's how the authors characterize a large part of the Bush Administration's agenda. It looks very true when you ignore what Bush & Co say and look at what they do.

Okay, that pretty much deals with the book's introduction, so what is the book, itself, about?

Well, it's about exposing a blundering attempt to apply one-dimensional solutions to four-dimensional problems.

It's about an Administration scurrying around with old-fashioned doctor's bags full of cupping bowls and dirty lancets, trying to "bleed" the country into health. (Then, when parts of the patient start showing signs of gangrene from the treatment, they apply the amputation theory of medicine. Cut it off, quick, before it infects something we do want to save.)

It's about a group of people whose concern for this country begins and ends with the wealthiest class and the corporations that sustain their wealth.

Read the book. It's amusing, educational, and well-researched. Then pass your copy to an "undecided" voter well before 11/2/04.

(I'm proud of this review. Someone recently chided me that a "review" should be about my impressions about what I read and not an extended discussion of the book's actual content, so that's what I've tried to offer here. The good news is that doing it this way saved me an easy five hours of transcribing and editing on a warm, sunny, summer day. The bad news, of course, is that I have fifteen* pages of handwritten opinions that I now can't use.)

(*All statistics are approximate, some are imaginary, and all are included at no extra charge.)

Posted by AnneZook at 11:22 AM | Comments (6)
The South Was Right (James and Walter Kennedy)


Pursing, in a casual way, my inquiry into exactly why a handful of southern states think of themselves as "The South" and imagine they were destined for some kind of greatness on the world stage that they were robbed of when they lost the Civil War, I decided to forego the scholarly and learned tomes on the subject.

My apologies to any scholars out there, but there are only so many hours in the day and all I really required was the most cursory understanding of the issue, so, I chose this book.

For one thing, the title promised it was a work by wingnuts, and if you're only casually interested in a topic, the wingnuts are more likely to offer amusement and entertainment with the information than someone with, you know, an actual reputation for sanity to safeguard.

For another, I have a private theory that if you want to know the bedrock beliefs that underlie any movement, you can identify them more easily through the writings of the hard-core wingnuts than anyone else. There's always a leavening of truth and facts in with the lies, distortions, and hallucinations. A healthy percentage of what they write is what their adherents believe, even though they might not say it aloud. (The psychology of all this will be obvious.)

And in caricature, you can most quickly spot identifying characteristics, of course.

So. What did I learn?

Well, by cherry-picking sources, carefully quoting out of context, and name-calling, the authors inadvertently prove that the South was, in fact, quite wrong.

They naturally hoped to convince their readers that that handful of southern states were and should be a nation separate from the UsofA, but only managed to convince this reader that there's a lot of bigotry still to be overcome in this country. (And that our public education system needs an overhaul.)

While arguing that the Civil War had almost nothing to do with slavery, the authors can't help returning to the subject again and again. They provide copies of notes and letters, describing what a laudatory institution it was for most slaves and how bitterly many of them missed it when the 'Damned Yankees' stole it from them.

They dismiss stories of cruelties and atrocities, (barely worth mentioning, practically never happened, certainly less than 30% of slaveowners beat, tortured, or otherwise abused their slaves. It's like parents sexually abusing their children. These things happen and it's just shocking, but it wasn't important then and you don't kneed to think about it now) and dwell on reports of slaves happy in their captivity and warmly fond of their owners.

Even beyond the explicit discussion of slavery, it's difficult to describe the level of racism implicit in almost every line of this book, but the sentiment is an ugly stain that underlies everything the authors have written. (It's one of those books that makes you want to take a shower after you've been reading it.)

All the familiar epithets are there. Yankee. Carpetbagger. Southern Scalawag. (Name-calling is a major feature of their argument that the southern states should have been allowed to go their own way.)

There are the predictable and copious references to Jefferson and the superiority of an agrarian society.

There's even (in a no-doubt inadvertent foray into actual defense of their premise) an interesting argument about the break-up of the Soviet Union and an accusation of hypocrisy on the part of "New England Yankees" for encouraging those states to 'secede' while denying some southern states here the same freedom.

The premise of the book (as "defended" by the authors) is unconvincing; the "defense" itself is logically and morally flawed, and the level of ignorance displayed about this country, both then and now, simply tells me once again that we have got to do something about the quality of public education in this country.

I've read it, so I'm reviewing it, but I can't recommend it. It wasn't even all that entertaining in a, "look how crazy some people can be" kind of way, like I'd hoped.

I simply can't accept that the level of poverty and lack of opportunity in some southern states today is somehow nobler than the level of poverty and lack of opportunity that exists in inner cities and small towns all over the country.

That's their main premise, aside from the "slavery wasn't the evil your teacher told you it was" argument. That they were a noble, agrarian society moving toward perfect freedom and equality and that Yankees were jealous so they've been systematically repressing 'the South' for the last hundred years.

It's worth mentioning, I think, that their main legal argument for the southern states' "right" to secede is that since the Constitution doesn't specifically say it's creating a perpetual union, that states are entitled to leave when the mood strikes them.

If I'd been choosing a title for this one, I'd have chosen, "Losers Without A Clue" but that's just me.

(*I'm not providing a link to an on-line source to buy the book because it would be a waste of your money. Anyone who feels they just have to read it, let me know. I'll be happy to rid my house of my copy. I believe the rest of my books feel that this volume brings down the tone of the place considerably.)

Posted by AnneZook at 10:49 AM | Comments (4)