Saturday, June 16, 2007

Shooting the cat... redux

When an article begins with hyperbole about how free speech is divinely blessed, you know that article is going to gut said freedom of speech. The rhetorical technique is a tired one.

1) Win some good graces by appealing to the principle about to be immolated.

2) Eviscerate said principle, happily protected from splattering blood and guts by the magical armor of the preceeding disclaimer.
Or, as momma used to say, "Now I'm not prejudice bu...uuu...t, them [OPTION: insert racially charged epithet] would as soon [OPTION: kill, murder, strangle, spit on, shoot, stab,...] yeh as [OPTION: look at, smell, talk to] yeh."

For the far-left NY Times (al-Jazeera west), nothing is as sacred as its right to free speech, and that includes national security. But the fervor with which the it leaks sensitive information is manic. How else to explain its behavior?

GOP Bloggers: NY Times v. America, Take 2
Not surprisingly, I came to this article, at GOPBloggers, via an article at BlogsForBush, and I respond to it in the same way I've responded in to similar arguments in the past: Destroy the things which make the nation worth defending and national security becomes pointless, hollow jingoism. Why defend a nation which spits on the liberties it is meant to protect?

Free people pay a price. Freedom demands it. A guilded cage is immensely safe. But those inside it are not free. A totalitarian system-- xenophobic, locked away from the outside-- can provide impressive protection for its people, but that protection is only from outside forces. That protection is not of liberties and there is no protection from government itself, which, if one recalls history, was a primary concern of our founders. Our founders feared unchecked government, and I think rightfully so. And they built a government that to some extent checks itself, but they also realized something else-- that for government to work, for elections to work, the people have to be informed. The people have to be informed. An ignorant people cannot make good decisions at the ballot box.

Government has to be transparent. It is only if government is transparent that the people can truly be said to govern themselves. It is only if government is transparent that the goverment can truly be, as Lincoln said, "of the people, by the people, for the people..." A democracy, a democratic government, cannot hide its activities from its citizens, from those who truly are the government.

And information comes from the press. It is the people's check on government. It is the people watching the elected officials. It is fundamental to a democratic government. Curtail it and a primary pillar of democracy is undercut. Curtail the press and the people, who should govern, are deprived of the ability.

Arguments like that at GOPBloggers, play on fear and yes, in some cases security suffers, but democracy does not. Safety suffers, but freedom does not. That is the price. That is the real price of Liberty. Free people do not have the luxury of absolute safety.

It doesn't actually matter why Bush is doing what he is doing. Protecting the citizens? Love for puppies? It doesn't matter. Didn't your mommy ever tell you that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions? The fact is that what Bush is doing, purportedlty to protect the country, is undermining the things that make this country worth protecting-- like privacy, civil liberty, and our government itself. With the division of powers being eroded even that is threatened. Even if Bush is trying to protect the country, a proposition I don't buy, he is doing it by destroying the structure and principles of our government. It's like rescuing a cat by shooting it out of the tree.

Blogs for Bush recommends shooting the cat
So take your choice: Information or ignorance? Freedom or a guilded cage? As for me, "Give me Liberty, or Give me Death." Is that so treasonous?

Cross-posted from Hell's Handmaiden.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Who isn’t selling us down river?

Crossposted from Left Toon Lane & My Left Wing

click to enlarge

Where is what Wikipedia has to say on fascism:

Fascism is associated by many scholars with one or more of the following characteristics: a very high degree of nationalism, economic corporatism, a powerful, dictatorial leader who portrays the nation, state or collective as superior to the individuals or groups composing it.

First off, our government has sold us off to the highest corporate bidder. No longer are the needs of We The People met, but the needs of the Corporation are set higher than the individual.

Big Oil has attacked democracy by price gouging, the insistence of gross over consumption and lobbying to prevent alternative fuels from coming to market. Why bring about a hydrogen economy - a renewable resource, when over $90 trillion in fossil fuel is still in the ground?

Profit Over People should be the official tag line for the healthcare industry. Most drugs today are either wholly funded or partially funded by the US taxpayers, yet these medical discoveries and patents are not considered owned by We The People, nor does the US Treasury see any windfall from these outrageous profits from medical and pharmaceutical research. If the taxpayers finance the development, the drugs should be generic - right off the bat.

The military industrial complex is one of the worst. HALF of our non-discretionary budget goes to funding war and the preparation of war. Instead of using that money to buy off a dictator a week or bring peace via diplomatic channels, we build new nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction that we block other countries from NOT developing. If we used half of our defense budget to buy off dictators, would could wipe out war on this planet in just a few months. That is how Bill Clinton controlled North Korea - the good old fashion bribe.

God love him.

Was the Chicken Alive?

I've read a number of time about Mike the Chicken. I remember his story from when I was a child. He is something of a legend, really. He even has his own statue.

Mike the Chicken-- rooster really-- lived on a farm in Fruita, Colorado in the 1940s. There was nothing special about Mike during his early years. I wonder if he even had a name. One day, though, Mike had his head chopped off. This, also, is none too unusual for a chicken, but Mike did not go quietly into that long goodnight. Mike walked around for another 18 months.

He couldn't see. He couldn't eat or drink unassisted. I imagine he still had a sense of touch, but I wonder to what extent. He certainly couldn't think. He'd lost that ability to an ax. All Mike had was a brain stem, and thus retained a tolerable set of basic reflexes. He couldn't have possessed any higher-- to the extent that such can be applied to a chicken-- cognitive capacity, however. That capacity, apparently, had been put into a jar.

Mike's fans talk about Mike's "impressive will to live" and gush that "he was a big fat chicken who didn't know he didn't have a head". They also note that "he seemed as happy as any other chicken."

I think these fans miss something rather important: Mike didn't have a brain, at least not much of one. Mike had no will. He had no capability for 'will'. He clucked around on autopilot like a robot vacuum cleaner or lawn mower. Of course Mike didn't know he didn't have a head. He had no way to know anything, really. Nor could he be 'happy', however he seemed. He didn't have the capability.

A few animal rights activists apparently felt sorry for Mike and thought that Mike's owner should have gone ahead and finished the job. I have to respond the same way. Mike had ability to think about his odd circumstance. True, his brain stem would have given him the ability to feel pain though not to consider the meaning of it. But by all accounts, Mike didn't behave, didn't react, as if he were in pain.

My question is, "Was this chicken alive?"

Mike the Headless Chicken

I ask not because I'm mad about chickens. I ask not because I'm just mad. I ask because thinking about this chicken illustrates something about life, something about the way we think about life. What it illustrates is that life is a calculation. What we think of as 'alive' vs. what we think of as 'not-alive' is a kind of value judgment.

Those of us prone to friendship with small furry critters get a glimpse of the same idea every time someone says "its jest a dowg" or "it ain't like its no human".

We tend to think of life and death as being clearly delineated, and most of the time it is. Most of the time the right answer is wagging its tail or asking for pizza or walking on your keyboard while you try to type. Out on the edges, though, I'm not sure it is so clear. Out on the edges, 'life' gets a little fuzzy. Like ubiquitous space and time, what seems obvious in the middle turns out to be questionable on the ends.

We, as a society, have two primary 'edges' to worry about. One of those edges involves birth. The other edge involves death. We are all collections of atoms-- 'meat bags' to steal a line from Men in Black. At some point we decide that a collection of atoms is 'alive' and later on we decide that that same collection of atoms is 'dead'. Some people might insist that we are not just collections of atoms and attribute the difference between life and death to the presence of a 'soul' or of a 'spirit' or of something similar, but I don't think that changes the question fundamentally. It changes how the question is asked, certainly, but I don't think it changes the essence of the query.

Now, realizing that our edges are at birth and death, two things ought to immediately come to mind-- abortion and assisted suicide/euthanasia. Those are the issues the chicken finally brings us to.

If you conclude, as I have, that the chicken wasn't alive in any meaningful way, then you've also got to accept that a fetus which lacks the bulk of its cognitive capabilities is also not alive. Likewise a body in a hospital bed, breathing but otherwise dead to the world, is in fact dead.

I can see a couple of objects to this line of thought. One of those, the most powerful one, is that there are a great many things in the world that have much less cognitive capacity than a beheaded chicken and yet we still consider them to be alive. Trees and bacteria are good examples. It is a fair point. I think the answer is in recognizing that those are different forms of life than are we. We share a lot with them, certainly, but we differ a lot as well. In other words, to answer the question about us we have to ask about us. We have to ask "What is human?" We have to ask what does it mean for an animal to be alive, for a human to be alive. Mike's case, I think, is close enough to our case to deserve careful consideration.

Cross-posted at Hell's

The Gingerbread Girl

Ordinarily, I would never buy Esquire magazine. There's too many glossy pages pimping $500 shoes, high-tech thingamajigs, cologne, booze, how-to-get-laid essays typed by condescending liars, jewelry, ozone-destroying SUVs, and unnaturally-realistic plastic dolls who almost look like real women. Behind the smug, big-money attitude, Esquire is not as smart, hip, or progressively-minded as it thinks it is. At least Vanity Fair has James Wolcott.

Still, accidents happen from time to time. For a start, having the delicious elegance of Angelina Jolie (lust slobber drool) on the cover of the July issue is smart.

Boasting of a new Stephen King novella inside, however, is genius.

There was a JuCo with a cinder track not too far from the house. She began to drive over there in the early mornings just after Henry left for work. Henry didn't understand the running. Jogging, sure--lots of women jogged. Keep those extra four pounds off the old fanny, keep those extra two inches off the old waistline. But Em didn't have an extra four pounds on her backside, and besides, jogging was no longer enough. She had to run, and fast. Only fast running would do.

She parked at the track and ran until she could run no more, until her sleeveless FSU sweatshirt was dark with sweat down the front and back and she was shambling and sometimes puking with exhaustion.

Henry found out. Someone saw her there, running all by herself at eight in the morning, and told him. They had a discussion about it. The discussion escalated into a marriage-ending argument.

"It's a hobby," she said.

"Jodi Anderson said you ran until you fell down. She was afraid you'd had a heart attack. That's not a hobby, Em. Not even a fetish. It's an obsession."

And he looked at her reproachfully. It would be a little while yet before she picked up the book and threw it at him, but that was what really tore it. That reproachful look. She could no longer stand it. Given his rather long face, it was like having a sheep in the house. I married a Dorset gray, she thought, and now it's just baa-baa-baa, all day long.

The Gingerbread Woman starts out as a quiet, heartbreaking story of Emily, a lonely wife slowly recovering from the death of her child and the end of her marriage. Running is the only thing that gives Emily peace, and it becomes a disturbing compulsion. But then, Emily's poignant tale ominously turns into a terrifying, woman-fighting-for-her-life-against-a-homicidal-killer nailbiter. Emily is a character worth cheering for, and King's stunning last paragraph would squeeze tears from Dick Cheney.

Good job, Esquire.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Yesterday you called for a deadline for U.N. action on Kosovo. When would you like that deadline set? And are you at all concerned that taking that type of a stance is going to further inflame U.S. relations with Russia? And is there any chance that you're going to sign on to the Russian missile defense proposal?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Thanks. A couple of points on that. First of all, I don't think I called for a deadline. I thought I said, time -- I did? What exactly did I say? I said, "deadline"? Okay, yes, then I meant what I said.

--George W. Bush, U.S. President, from a press conference in Albania, June 10, 2007

I'm sure the hard-core 28% of the public that still supports Bush most likely voted against Al Gore for being "too smart". Yeah, Al would have been a lousy President of the United States. Who did that damned, nose-up-in-the-air egghead think he was trying to impress with his fancy book-learning, huh?

But Robert Kagan, writing in USA Today, believes it's time for something different:

Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, tried-and-true or fresh-face-on-the-scene, the next president had better have a complex mind.

I'm not just talking about intelligence or smarts, George W. Bush graduated from Yale and Harvard; C student or not, he wasn't failing. The tragedy of the Bush presidency is not about failure; it is about a conception of success that is much too simple.

Bush campaigned, for example, on the promise of "compassionate conservatism", but when the chips were down, he delivered a simple form of "cowboy conservatism" long cherished in the American psyche. Like the citizen-sheriff in High Noon, a decent man and reluctant warrior, George Bush-as-Gary Cooper courageously stood up at one end of our global Main Street and faced down the Bad Guy, Saddam Hussein, to protect his family and community.

But here's the problem: The real world is not a western movie. In High Noon, when the lone heroic actor succeeds, the town is saved and the movie ends in the quiet triumphalism of plain-spoken American. In the real world, a super-power sheriff acting essentially by himself, no matter how brave, imperils the global town no matter the outcome of the gunfight.

Other than being entirely too generous of Dubya's intentions, Kegan fully understands what the problem is: complex issues don't have simple solutions. Leaping before you look isn't "staying the course", especially if you're stepping off the roof. But that stubbornly-loyal 28% of the public with fifteen second attention spans doesn't want to hear that. What they want is fast food news they can gulp down without thinking, and big, won't-go-away political headaches like Iraq solved by tossing it in the microwave. Bush is the type of President they want, the guy they can have a beer with and not worry about him making them feel stupid. What's worse, there are other voters who feel the same way as the 28% does, they're just not out of the closet yet.

It's a seductive but false luxury America can't afford anymore. Ignorance isn't bliss; it's a temporary blindness that keeps you from seeing the beast that's gonna tear your throat out. Personally, I wouldn't want the guy I'm having a beer with to fix my car, never mind putting him in the White House. I don't want a boozehound that's going to vomit on my shoes. I want the sober, boring, responsible guy who's going to drive my drunken carcass home. What I and the rest of this country needs is somebody in charge who isn't afraid to be smart. As Thomas Fuller said, “Get the facts, or the facts will get you. And when you get em, get em right, or they will get you wrong.”

Democrats Will Not Help You

Crossposted from Left Toon Lane & My Left Wing

click to enlarge

This is my concern with the Democrats in Washington, they have totally separate agendas than America, their agenda doesn't even jive with what Democrats (the voters) want.

The best candidate we had for 2004 was Howard Dean. But throw in some good old fashioned media bias, Dems buckled like ramen noodles in hot water and picked the safe candidate in the Iowa caucuses and we got John Kerry instead.

In 2006, we put Dems in control of BOTH sides of Congress and placed Harry Reid and made Nancy Pelosi the first woman Speaker of the House and so far, we have gotten some investigations out of them and a whole lot of hand-wringing and capitulation. Yes, if they sent up another Iraq Funding Bill with Deadlines, Bush would have vetoed it. So what? That was the CORRECT and MORALE thing to do! Instead, they just wanted to have a bill Bush would say "yes" to and that is exactly what we got - a bill all but written by Bush and passed my the Democratic Congress.

So who is now the front runner for the Democratic nomination in 2008? Hillary Clinton, the one single choice that will bring out the GOP to the polls just to vote against her. Yes, Blue Staters love here, but Red Staters hate her more and the hate will win out.

Remember, if you want out of Iraq, the Dems in Congress will not help you. Just get used to disappointment.


Obviously, David Chase doesn’t care what you and I think about his controversial, non-ending of The Sopranos. So what? To him, it’s already old news. Let’s move on, nothing to see here. “I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting, or adding to what is there,” he said. Bang. Well, that clearly has a last-nail-in-the-coffin finality to it.

But Chase earned his hard-won arrogance. As a veteran TV writer who fought bravely in the battlefields of programs like Northern Exposure and The Rockford Files, I’m sure corporate suits have unbuttoned their trousers and rained on his dreams more than once. How many times can you argue about Art to color-blind idiots who can’t see a rainbow because they can’t find the profit margin inside? Thanks to his profitable and critically-acclaimed gangster soap opera, Chase is finally in a position of power. So why shouldn’t he do what he wants? Would Michael Corleone kiss Fredo’s pinky ring?

Although it’s true that you can’t overestimate the value of a good writer (for proof, just take a long, hard look at all the empty, overproduced, special effects-heavy but narrative-challenged “epics” in Hollywood), I do think Chase’s anger is misplaced. First of all, HBO did green-light The Sopranos the other major television networks turned it down, and did give Chase the creative freedom he needed. More importantly, this unsatisfying, lazy cop-out of a conclusion to a groundbreaking TV series was a betrayal to the people whose loyalty and support made The Sopranos a hit from the beginning: the audience.

We’ve seen what happens when TV and movies are dumbed down to that infamous lowest common denominator. As Bill Cosby said, “I don’t know the secret of success, but I do know that failure is what happens when you try to please everybody.” The Sopranos never treated the audience like boobs. It made money, got huge ratings, and even received enthusiastic high fives from literary highbrows.

Still, you didn’t need a college degree to see that the last Sopranos episode fell limply between a bang and a whimper. The end of a classic TV series is an important landmark. It’s the final opportunity to tie up loose ends, find some type of closure, and reaffirm whatever it was that the show was Trying To Say. Six Feet Under did it, as well as M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, St. Elsewhere, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Homicide. But The Sopranos didn’t. It was a shot in the back of the head at night in the middle of nowhere.

David Chase welched on a deal he made with us. One hand washes the other, capisce? If he did that to Tony Soprano, the big lummox would’ve busted both his legs. Yo, David, why are you pissed off at us, huh?

Didn’t you get everything you wanted?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

For When the Thought Police Decide to Come for You... And They Will

They came first for the robots,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a robot...

On April 18th the sleepy college town of Kutztown, PA, became the setting for a heated clash between religious fundamentalism and modernity.

A religious group that staged a protest at Kutztown University today drew hundreds of angry students after members of the group told them they would burn in hell if they were gay, Jewish or Catholic.

Campus police led several of protesters away in hand-cuffs and led the rest off campus after as many as 300 students gathered around the group, according to witnesses.

Campus officials said there may have been arrests because the group had not gotten permission to be on campus. The protest took place on the Day of Silence, an annual event held to bring attention to bullying, harassment and discrimination of gays and lesbians in schools.

One of those arrested was college student and robot rights activist Charles Kline.

On April 18th, I was arrested. This normally wouldn’t be big news, but the situation arround which I was arrested brings up serious questions. I was arrested at Kutztown University, where I am a student, because I decided to try to liven the mood after the Life and Liberty Ministries began to upset students. They came on campus with signs that featured aborted fetuses, lists of people who will be going to hell, and catchy phrases such as “JESUS OR HELL”. I have friends who are gay, and these people who came onto Kutztown University’s campus without permission or prior notice were upsetting students all over campus.

I decided not to simply let them upset people, so I went to the bookstore and purchased a posterboard and sharpie marker and made my own sign. It said “Equal Rights for Robots”, a saying I thought no one would be able to take the wrong way. The protesters had been on campus for about two hours at this time, and the whole time the police were protecting them from the students. To my knowledge, the protesters at this time had not been asked to leave. With my sign in hand, I walked out and waved my sign in the air.


I was charged with Disorderly Conduct with intent to “alarm or annoy” and in the citation it says I was “warned repeatedly” to stop. Neither is true, and when I pointed this out to the officer who wrote it out for me he said something along the lines of I don’t care and made a comment along the lines of tell it to the judge. I plead not guilty and face a three hundred dollar fine or up to 90 days in jail if found guilty.

I have no love for religious intolerance, nor am I a fan of robots. They terrorize the elderly and eat their medicine. They're made of metal and they're strong. But can we truly call ourselves free if we are unable to express such diverse viewpoints without fear of persecution?

"If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."
-- George Orwell, Preface to Animal Farm (1946)

"The sound of tireless voices is the price we pay for the right to hear the music of our own opinions."
-- Adlai E. Stevenson

And now a word from Old Glory Insurance...

Pelosi in trouble? Rating for Congress same as Bush.

Crossposted from Left Toon Lane & My Left Wing

click to enlarge

What about CHANGE does Pelosi and Reid NOT understand?

Are we still in Iraq? Yep.

Do we have earmarks coming out our, well, ears? Yep.

Is the President still in office, unimpeached? Yeppers on that one too.

And the spin meisters like Rush Limbaugh eat it up and spew it back out for everyone to hear.


Spurs lead the Cavs, 3-0.


Who cares?

I know David Stern ain't loving this series. Adding insult to injury, ABC is broadcasting the games too damn late, so the sponsors of this Wax Museum in Sneakers should be No-Doz and Starbucks. In spite of King James and The Big Fundamental strutting their mojo, my adrenaline is simmering at a low boil. O.K., maybe the Cavaliers (a.k.a. LeBron and his Not Ready For Prime Time Players) can steal one game, but it's only postponing the inevitable. LeBron James is learning what Michael Jordan learned years ago: I can't do it by myself. At least Michael had Scottie Pippin. Lebron doesn't even have Paul Pierce.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the hardwood, the Spurs look at the Cavs and think, "Lunch!"

Still, because anything is possible in sports, maybe, just maybe, there's a million-to-one chance...

Nyaaah. Are you kidding me?

Will the iceberg beat the Titanic? Will Godzilla beat Tokyo? Spurs in four.

Above The Law

Originally released in 1986, this kung fu thriller was named Righting Wrongs (Zhi fa xian feng). That’s before Corey Yuen broke through the Coveted Glass Ceiling of Crossover Success in the United States with his box-office smash, The Transporter.

But back then, Yuen was a young and hungry director looking to make a name for himself. Righting Wrongs succeeded brilliantly. Re-released by Dragon Dynasty in a classy DVD package, it’s been re-named Above The Law, and you can see for yourself what the fuss was all about.

Starring the legendary action star Yuen Biao as a renegade prosecutor and the great Cynthia Rothrock as a tough police detective, Above The Law is a hard-boiled crime drama of a man’s lonely struggle against a corrupt system. Biao plays Jason Chan, a lawyer who is angry at the way the law protects the bad guys. When a key witness and his entire family are murdered by a mob kingpin, Biao breaks the law in his search for justice. Cindy Si (Cynthia Rothrock) is soon on Chan’s trail, and it quickly spirals into a brutal situation only a few will survive. It’s a familiar, violent, and exhilarating tale of vigilante payback expressed with style, poignancy, non-stop energy, and raw honesty.

Above The Law doesn’t pretend to re-invent Hong Kong action cinema. In fact, Mr. Yuen loves his movie’s lurid pulp origins, so he cheerfully and whole-heartedly embraces every “bang bang, kiss kiss” cliche he can find. Yuen takes his genre hard-boiled, no chaser. Unlike too many contemporary adventure flicks made in the United States, Above The Law is blessedly free of irony, cynicism or smugness.

At it’s best, Yuen’s film is an old-fashioned valentine to classic movie directors like Walter Hill, Sam Peckipah, and Don Siegel. There’s no moral confusion here, or surly anti-heroes. Jason Chan is a man of honor who wants to do the right thing, and the conflict isn’t with the demons inside himself but in the mean streets he travels. Instead of bitterly wallowing in self-pity and surrendering to the inevitable, Chan just fights harder. Think of Gary Cooper in High Noon, Joe Don Baker in Walking Tall, or Spencer Tracy in Bad Day at Black Rock. Yeah, it’s corny, and Yuen doesn’t apologize for it.

I think Above The Law works as well as it does because Yuen defiantly refuses to patronize either the characters or the audience, so his artistic integrity keeps it firmly anchored in authenticity in spite of all the impossible things going on. A hack such as Michael Bey will freely spend millions of dollars and months of rigorous planning designing his car chases, his phony PG-rated sex scenes, and his exploding fireballs. But Bey's loud movies don't make any sense. However, when Rothrock handcuffs four bad guys at once in a thrilling, “How did she do that?” action sequence, you believe it because you believe in her and the story Rothrock is living in.

It’s the story, stupid. Hollywood might have forgot, but Yuen hasn’t. Above The Law is a triumph.

Alternative Endings.
Action Overload : An interview with co-star Cynthia Rothrock
From The Ring To The Silver Screen : A featurette with co-star and kickboxing champion, Peter Cunningham.
Feature-length audio commentary with Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Stupidity got us into this mess,
why can't it get us out?

--Will Rogers

I read this in USA Today:

NASA chief regrets comments on warming

The head of NASA told scientists and engineers that he regrets airing his personal views about global warming in a recent radio interview, according to a video of the meeting obstained by the Associated Press. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said in the closed-door meeting Monday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., that "unfortunately, this is an issue which has become far more political than technical."

"I feel badly that I caused this amount of controversy," he said. Griffin made news last week when he told National Public Radio he wasn't sure global warming "is a long-term concern."


Griffin is a delusional Luddite who should be the President of The Flat Earth Society, not the NASA chief. Only in George Bush's America.

Happy Loving Day!

Twenty years ago, one hot Saturday in August, I stood with my sweetie in a Catholic church on the north side of Chicago, and we exchanged our wedding vows. We had met in our second year of college, became friends, realized at some point that we were becoming more than friends, got engaged, and married the summer after graduation. Okay, I've kind of fast-forwarded through that timeline, but my point here is that ours was a very run-of-the-mill meeting and courtship by most standards. Like most couples, we had areas where we had a lot in common, and areas where we were different. One difference that caught most people's attention was something we rarely noticed or thought about on our own--the fact that our skin pigmentation differed. (As Demetrius once put it, To be totally accurate Renee's RGB triplet (red, green, blue) is 255, 226, 210. Mine is 109, 53, 40. :) )

Yet, to some people, that difference was terribly important. At one time, people were so horrified at the notion of people with such dissimilar RGB triplets getting married that there were actual laws against it. But such laws came to an end, at least in this country, as a result of a Supreme Court decision that was made in favor of this couple, Mildred and Richard Loving.

That ruling was made 40 years ago today, so happy Loving Day! NPR did a segment about the Loving decision which you can listen to here.

Things We Wish Hillary Would Say

Crossposted from Left Toon Lane & My Left Wing

click to enlarge

The thing that bugs me about Hillary is her inability to say something straight. In this respect she reminds me a lot of McCain but without the nutty Planter's aftertaste. One example is her weaseling around her excuse for her war vote. She was the last Dem to say the Iraq war was a bad idea - she still embraced it up until six months before the 06 elections!

However, I still think she has it in her to be forthright. That kind of bluntness is what Americans really want to hear right about now.

Note: Congrats to Daily Kos user, Ming Vase, for planting the idea for today's strip in my head!

Idiot in a Jockstrap

Michael Vick is a quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, and this supernaturally-gifted young athlete was going to be the Next Big Thing. "The Michael Jordan of the NFL!" the talking heads on ESPN squealed happily. Yes, he was a rookie who made the usual silly mistakes, but his raw talent, intelligence, and charisma promised a bright and successful future.

People are still talking about Vick but, unfortunately, it's for the wrong reasons. ESPN has the story:

SURRY, Va. -- Federal law enforcement officials descended on a home owned by Michael Vick on Thursday armed with a search warrant that suggests they're taking over an investigation into the Falcons quarterback's possible involvement in dogfighting.

More than a dozen vehicles went to the home early in the afternoon and investigators searched inside before turning their attention to the area where officials found dozens of dogs in late April and evidence that suggested the home was involved in a dogfighting operation.

A search warrant affidavit said some of the dogs were in individual kennels and about 30 were tethered with "heavy logging-type chains" buried in the ground. The chains allowed the dogs to get close to each other, but not to have contact, one of myriad findings on the property that suggested a dogfighting operation.

Others included a rape stand, used to hold non-receptive dogs in place for mating; an electric treadmill modified to be used by dogs; a "pry bar" used to open the clamped-down mouths of dogs; and a bloodied piece of carpeting the authorities believe was used in dog fights. Carpeting gives dogs traction in a plywood fighting pit.

Vick has claimed he rarely visits the home and was unaware it could be involved in a criminal enterprise. He also has blamed family members for taking advantage of his generosity. Vick's cousin, Davon Boddie, was living at the home at the time of the raids.

Vick, a registered dog breeder, has said in more recent interviews that his lawyers have advised him not to discuss the investigation.

What happened?

Nobody's talking about Michael Vick and Michael Jordan in the same sentence anymore, but it's his own damned fault. Ever since Vick's once-promising and exciting debut in the NFL, the troubled young quarterback has been in trouble. If it's not being sued by a woman claiming Vick gave her herpes, he's getting stopped at an airport for carrying drugs or stupidly arguing with his coaches and teammates. And now this.

What the hell, Michael? You're rich, and you're spending your money on watching dogs tear each other to pieces?

It appears Vick is just another lazy idiot in a jockstrap who didn't want to put the necessary hard work into his career. Years from now, Michael with be a sad and forgotten footnote in the "never was" category of football history. What a waste. Oh well.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Circus Maximus Politicus And That Urpy Feeling, A Rant

Circus Maximus Politicus And That Urpy Feeling, A Rant

Politics, Democratic Party, Republican Party, Liars, Lobbyists, Whores

Eight faces that I'm thoroughly sick of.

Ten faces that make me vomit, projectile style.

Now, the man on the stand he wants my vote,

He's a-runnin' for office on the ballot note.

He's out there preachin' in front of the steeple,

Tellin' me he loves all kinds-a people.

He's eatin' bagels

He's eatin' pizza

He's eatin' chitlins

He's eatin' bullshit!

Bob Dylan "I Shall Be Free"

I knew this would happen when they started campaigning for the 2008 election five minutes after the 2006 mid terms. I felt it coming, like the feeling I get when I eat a giant sausage sandwich with peppers and onions at midnight, I know that indigestion is in my immediate future.

I'm sick of politics, thoroughly, fed up, to the gills.... Urp!

I know, I know, being sick of politics is like being tired of living, OK so what what what do you do about it? Shut up? Quit bitching? Take up residence in the nearest hermitage? Find a cuckoo's nest and commit to it?


I've been reflecting in the last few days about lofty goals, the dreams and visions of changing the world expressed by the alpha personalities parading before us in this increasingly irrelevant, interminable and irritating beauty contest of a presidential election campaign.

I met a person recently whose goal every day is to help people in one remote village get a second meal each day, just that, help someone who normally eats once in every twenty four hours to get an extra tuna sandwich.

There are thousands of such people who arise each day, not thinking about building a nuclear reactor, desalinating the Indian ocean, irrigating a billion acres of desert, creating productive farmland to feed an entire continent, but simply concern themselves with helping Julius Mukembe provide a second meal for himself and his wife and children as well as the families in the other 17 huts in some remote part of nowhere.

A remote part of nowhere, where a scientific breakthrough is a septic system and mass transit is a foot bridge that enables livestock to forage in new pasture land and cuts hours off the daily task of gathering fuel or food.

A remote part of nowhere where a health care program is clean water, where feeding the hungry means sharing your dinner.

I no longer believe that any of the high class whores depicted in the circus pictures above will do anything that will make life easier or better for the common people in this or any other country. They will not solve a single one of the enormous societal challenges that lie like an enormous weight on our public chest and that lie in wait to restrict our children's future.

Whether we talk about war and peace, energy or health care, social security or child mortality I cannot find the face of a savior or even a halfway decent prophet in any ring of this circus.

I know that I can trust all of them to say one thing publicly and the opposite when the cameras amd microphones disappear. I know that everyone shown on the stages above has, and will in the future, sell out the interests of the working people of this country and others to the first corporate lizard with with a handful of campaign cash. I hear their phony pronouncements, so carefully crafted by their handlers and spin doctors and reject almost every word I hear.

I am sick of hearing from everyday people around me that "they're all alike, Republicans, Democrats, it doesn't matter, they're all crooked."

I'm sick of hearing that statement because it's so damn true. The instant that the election returns were counted last fall my Democratic leadership began groveling at the feet of the same corporate interests that put the Bush/Cheney fiasco in office.

They will provide for the future, trust them, "their future," but when the pie is sliced and served we will still be eating cake... Urp!

Bob Higgins

Worldwide Sawdust

Paris, When It Fizzles


Shut. The. Fuck. Up.

It's disgusting. No, not Paris Hilton. I'm almost feeling sorry for the besieged bony big-bucks blond bimbo, in spite of myself.

At worst, the spoiled-rotten, hard-partying Ms. Hilton is a boring irritant who can't plummet from the pop culture radar fast enough to suit me. But what I find disgusting is the obsessive Paris Hilton media frenzy that's hijacked TV, newspapers, magazines, and the blogsphere. For the past few weeks, Paris Hilton has found herself in an angry world full of impatient hands that can't wait to cast the first stone, and it needs to stop.

Paris Hilton isn't Public Enemy Number #1. Oh sure, Paris is rich, but this smirking, immature child isn't a part of the moneyed juggernaut that squeezes the lives of poor and middle-income people into ashes, if only because she's too damn lazy. Why should I be pissed off at Paris Hilton? She's not outsourcing jobs, or eliminating medical benefits. Paris goes to parties, gets drunk, and performs in hazy, dimly-lit pornographic videos that "accidently" wind up on the internet. However, it wasn't the silver-spooned heiress who, for example, ripped off the life savings of the loyal employees who worked for Enron, was it? It was the late Ken Lay, and the old dead crook didn't get a fraction of the media attention that Paris does on a daily basis.

Please, folks, let's have some perspective. I think it's important to know who our real enemies are, and not waste our time, energy, and oxygen on the wrong targets. Hopefully, the rabid talking heads of Fox, CNN, MSNBC, and other news media outlets will get the memo.

Toy Soldiers- a George W. Bush Cartoon


cross-posted at Left 'Toon Lane

Does Bush even know the difference anymore?

From "Shock and Awe" to the "Surge," the whole war in Iraq has looked more like a child playing with toys than real war planning. We went in with a "Plan" to smash 'em up, to blast 'em with all our stuff. Then, you see, the game would be over. Maybe time for a nap, maybe Mom's calling for lunch, but everybody would just stop playing.

But they didn't.

And now we have the "Surge." Really stop and think about that for a minute. We're having a "Surge," but we're running out of soldiers. Does that sound like war planning, or like a kid whining "Mommy, PUH-LEEEAAZE get me another bag of soldiers, PUH- LEEEAAZE!?"

George W. Bush. Most powerful man in the world. Ten year old. And a pretty bratty one at that.

GOP and a lack of reason and logic.

Crossposted from Left Toon Lane & My Left Wing

click to enlarge

The Republicans seem to be going back in time. There is one instance after another of just how out of touch they are. Not just out of touch with We The People but out of touch with reality. They claimed Terry Schiavo was alive and well, when she was clearly brain dead to REAL doctors and scientists. They ignore global warming and claim it is just doctored evidence from commie-pinko liberals. They outlaw medical procedures for reasons that have no real medical basis. They outlaw research for reasons that have no scientific basis. The GOP believes shipping jobs overseas is good for the American economy. Republicans believe the middle-class should be destroyed. They even think preemptive war is a good idea.

How did they get to this space? What led them to this path of idiocy? Christian Fundamentalists.

The GOP and Fundamentalists share the same talent for ignoring logic, reason and science that allows them to support theo-fascist government. These are the same people who try to ban Harry Potter books, the same people who built the Creation Museum and who still have a bone stuck in their throat over interracial relationships.

They put their trust in slogans instead of explanations. They put their faith in millionaire preachers instead of what their own eyes shows them about poverty.

Face it, Christian Fundamentalists are the easiest people in America to lie to.

Site Note: Don't forget to grab your official Howl Qaeda wallpaper. Just click HERE!

Loving The Alien

Ane Brun's bio states that the gifted singer/songwriter was allegedly born in Norway, but I don't believe it. Ane came from someplace else.

Ane's voice is eerie, haunting, and unearthly. It's an alien instrument that chills you, enraptures you, and compels you to pay attention. The late Sandy Denny owned this type of voice, as did Nick Drake and Tim Buckley. Early in their careers, Sinead O'Connor and Joni Mitchell did. So does jazz vocalist Jimmy Scott, Björk, Patti Smith, and Diamanda Galás.

On Ane's wonderful CD A Temporary Dive, my favorite song is "Laid In Earth", an ominous yet beautiful elegy of loss and heartbreak. It achieves the tragic majesty of Sinead O'Connor's "I Am Stretched On Your Grave" or the great Judy Collins song "Pretty Polly". Yes, it's scary, but in a good way.

Ane Brun is a journey worth taking. Welcome aboard.

Thor Reborn

Besides being a successful Hollywood screenwriter, J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) is pretty good at comic books, too.

It's a big deal, because other big-name authors have tried before and have found out that comics ain't easy. Think of Samuel Delaney's awful "Seven Moons Cast Complex Shadows" or how a clumsy, in-over-his-head Stephen King wasted Berni Wrightson's superb artwork in "Creepshow". The use of narrative flow, dialog, foreshadowing, and characterization is different in comics than in books or film, and good comic book writers understand that. It's more than pasting word balloons and boxes of captions over the pictures.

Kevin Smith gets it. So does Joss Whedon. And as he's doing with Requiem, J. Michael Straczynski shows off his artistry in skillfully rebooting Thor.

Sometimes a franchise superhero icon can have an identity crisis, especially a character who has been around not just for years, but for decades. As Frank Miller warned, "The legends of the comic book universe are like fat 'n' happy guys in the suburbs wearing PJs." The raw passion of youth fades to a dull nostalgia. One of Straczynski's strengths as a writer is recognizing the primal essence of a comic book superhero. Straczynski remembers what got us excited about a superhero in the first place. In the new series Thor, written by Straczynski and illustrated by Olivier Coipel (House of M), the duo reminds us that Thor isn't another generic hero in a cape with bulging muscles. Asgard isn't a theme park by Disney.

Thor is a God. An immortal older than history, an entity who commands the lightning. Certainly, there's a rich, deep well in Norse mythology to use. Instead, the God of Thunder has been mired in confusion, disinterest, and a loss of purpose ever since the end of the glory years with Lee and Kirby.

But J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel do their best to make every one of us believe in gods again.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Making Amends In Iraq: A Podcast Interview With Marine Captain Jeremy Joseph

The topic below was originally posted in my blog, the Intrepid Liberal Journal, as well as The Peace Tree and Worldwide Sawdust.

Is there anything the American military can do at this point to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people? Personally, I, as well as many Americans and Iraqis don’t believe any reservoir of good will remains. As far as I’m concerned, this war of choice was immoral and ill conceived from the start and I don’t believe the current escalation in troops can accomplish any good.

However, I’ve never served in the military or been to Iraq. Jeremy Joseph has. He is currently a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and a student at Washington’s Georgetown University Law Center. While in Iraq he was part of the active duty force.

Joseph postulates in his article, “Winning Hearts and Minds in Iraq Through Mediated Condolence Payments,” (subscription required) that establishing a reconciliation protocol following accidental deaths of non-combatants can help dilute an insurgency’s intensity. As a model, he cites the Dalkon Shield arbitrations and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund hearings.

The International Institute For Conflict Prevention & Resolution (CPR) published Joseph’s article in the May 2007 issue of Alternatives. A longer version of the article shared the 2006 CPR Institute student articles’ Award for Excellence. It’s also scheduled to be published during the summer by the Harvard Law School Program in Negotiation Journal.

As Joseph notes in his article, since 2004, whenever an Iraqi non-combatant civilian is inadvertently killed in the crossfire between the American military and hostile forces, a victim’s family may apply for a condolence payment – a sum up to $2,500 when his article was first published. Yet this approach is both condescending and insulting to the victim’s families.

How can a monetary token of sympathy assuage a mother’s grief, satisfy a wife who lost her family’s breadwinner or heal the pain of a child who lost their parent from a stray bullet? Indeed, this detached approach can’t help but fuel anti-American sentiment among the Iraqi population.

As Joseph writes,

“The current condolence payment program fails to achieve its potential because it misses the opportunity for dialogue between the aggrieved Iraqi family and the United States Military (USM). This failure does not reflect callous individual soldiers or Marines, but a policy failure of too few troops to implement any meaningful process and a doctrinal failure that undervalued the winning of hearts and minds.

Consider the situation of a family whose father and sole breadwinner is killed inadvertently by a stray bullet from an insurgent-USM firefight. That family has questions to ask the U.S. soldiers:
  • Who killed our husband and father?
  • What happened and why?
  • What is the USM trying to accomplish in our town?
  • Do the USM troops actually feel sorry for the loss they have caused us? Do they even know?
  • How are we to support ourselves now that our bread-winning father is dead?”
Joseph argues that how the military responds to these individual families serves as a tipping point to Iraqi public opinion. He therefore asks if an Iraqi family who suffered a loss will continue to support U.S. troops or instead provide aid and comfort to insurgents “who look more like freedom fighters and heroes?”

Joseph further asks if the eldest children of families the American military inadvertently killed will “pick up weapons and join the insurgency in their fight – now this family’s fight – against the USM.”

My first reaction upon reading Joseph’s article was to wonder why these questions weren’t asked four years ago. I also can’t help but wonder if Joseph’s strategy of utilizing trained mediators to facilitate reconciliation between aggrieved Iraqi families and the U.S. military is too little too late.

There is also the reality that far more personnel would be required for this program to be implemented on a large enough scale to have any significant impact. Meanwhile, it appears increasingly likely a policy of withdrawal from Iraq will gain momentum with both parties in September. But even if Republicans join Democrats in pushing for a withdrawal timeline, a substantial American military presence in Iraq will likely remain at least until the early months of 2008.

Joseph believes that with the current surge, we have sufficient numbers to at least attempt a pilot condolences program in Baghdad. He makes a compelling case that doing so is both morally right and sensible.

Overall, I thought Joseph’s article was thoughtful and believe he is sincere. More troops on the ground from the beginning combined with this reconciliation approach might have helped four years ago. Perhaps it can still make a difference in Afghanistan where a growing sentiment exists to reconcile with the Taliban in order to avoid more deaths among the civilian population. It might also merit consideration for future military engagements.

Joseph agreed to a podcast interview with me and we discussed his experience with the Iraqi civilian population, the legalities behind his program and the potential strategic benefits. I also asked Joseph if private contractors such as Blackwater could be mandated to participate in a condolences payment program and whether liberal critics of the war like myself undermined the morale of our troops in Iraq.

His answers to those and other questions were compelling and thought provoking.
This interview can also be accessed at Itunes by searching for “Intrepid Liberal Journal.”

Shanghai Express

If you missed Shanghai Express (a.k.a. Foo gwai lit che) when it first premiered in 1986, don’t worry about it. Thanks to Dragon Dynasty, this goofball adventure where The Far East smacks into The Old West is being re-released on a new, well-produced DVD, so fans of the martial arts genre get to enjoy this newly-discovered treasure.

Breezily directed by Sammo Hung (Once Upon a Time in China) this slapstick Hong Kong action film follows the passengers (a motley crew of con men, bumbling cops, hoodlums, and wealthy socialites) of the Shanghai Express, a train running to the small village of Hanshui. Shanghai Express is an oddball mix of Murder on the Orient Express, Goodfellas, and Blazing Saddles, with a generous touch of Monty Pythonesque lunacy tossed in for flavor.

From seeing Shanghai Express, I could tell in the first ten minutes that Hung never met a genre he didn’t like as he skillfully juggles brightly-colored balls labeled “western”, “comedy”, “martial arts”, “adventure”, and “gangster” without any of them crashing to the ground. The beloved Asian film icon is as gifted sitting in the director’s chair as he is kicking ass.

Oh, the plot? (Ha, hah, hahahah! ROTFLMAO)

Sorry. Sure, there’s a plot. Shanghai Express has too much plot, to be honest. It’s a big, heavy, overstuffed trunk busting at the seams. It's held together with duct tape, and you’d need a crowbar to fit it in the overhead rack. See, a crooked businessman returns to Hanshui, buys the entire town, and plans to sabotage the Shanghai Express so the passengers all have to stop in his town and [insert evil snicker] spend money. Ah, but meanwhile there’s a treacherous security chief back at Hanshui who robs the bank and plans to hijack the Shanghai Express for his escape. Hey, and what about those mysterious swordsmen on board who have a plan but (being mysterious, after all) won’t let you what it is. [cue scary music] Not yet. And–uh, never mind, O.K.?

Besides starring Hung, Shanghai Express has an all-star cast of Hong Kong favorites, including Yuen Biao, Rosamund Kwan, Richard Ng, and Cynthia Rothrock. A bittersweet subtext in the film is a sobering realization that for some actors, talent is not enough. Sometimes, talent falls between the cracks.

For example, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, and Jackie Chan are childhood friends and received training at the Peking Opera Academy. But, inexplicably, only Chan achieved crossover success in the United States. Maybe that's progree. I can recall when Bruce Lee was rejected for the TV series Kung-Fu because he looked "too Asian". Then there’s the great Cynthia Rothrock (China O’Brien), an action heroine who had the misfortune to have her career in the era before B-movies got A-movie money. In her prime, Rothrock would have broken little Sydney Bristow like a celery stick. It's an odd turn of fortune where, like jazz musicians of African-American writers in the 50s, Rothrock had to find work away from her native country.

Although many films in Hong Kong cinema are unfairly accused of having “low production values” (Translation: No Money), this genre is professionally executed with a surprising level of consistency, passion, and creativity. You can understand why Marty, who finally won his Oscar for The Departed, does his homework here. Since Dragon Dynasty has also released DVDs of Kill Zone, Police Story, Seven Swords, The Protector, and the Infernal Affairs trilogy, you better see ‘em before Hollywood screws it up.

Shanghai Express
is a wonderful start. It's dumb fun that's smart.

Deleted Scenes
Express Delivery : An interview with Director and Star Sammo Hung.
Way Out West : An interview with action legend Yuen Biao
Trailblazer : A featurette with co-star and martial arts champion Cynthia Rothrock
Feature commentary with Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan