Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Raising Kaine

Just when you think you're alone in the world, a leader says what you've been begging for.

I've been begging and pleading-- can't the Democrats just state point by point, what they'll do to make a difference in people's lives, in contrast to Republican policies? Instead of all this bickering about who's the most perfect liberal, or who's the most perfect opponent, can't somebody take a look at the Bush tenure and say, just like in a job interview, say, here's how I can help?

That's what Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine did tonight, in the Democratic Response to the State of the Union.

I'm not saying Democrats should shift right or left or anywhere. I'm saying, there's so much awry, get in there and detail what you'll do.

By the way, you'll never hear any of Karl Rove's minions call it the Democratic Response. They use "Democrat" as an adjective. I think it's one of those things, like "nucular" that they do for two reasons: to give their millionaires the "common touch"; and, more importantly, because it annoys the hell out of Democrats. Anyone up for calling the president's party "the Republic folks"?

State of the Union – Let Me Extend My Bayonet in Friendship

"With malice toward you, with charity towards contributors, let us bind up my wounds and swear allegiance to the new Supreme Court, and continue our Holy Crusade..."

As so many Americans have had to, during this president's tenure, let me try to sort through the rubble--this time, the rubble of the State of the Union Address. Let me isolate a few key moments. The quotes are directly from the text of the speech.

First, the "uniter, not a divider" part--

"In a system of two parties, two chambers and two elected branches, there will always be differences and debate. But even tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone, and our differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger. To confront the great issues before us, we must act in a spirit of good will and respect for one another, and I will do my part."

Okay, cool, let's not examine how the tone in Washington got so uncivil in the past few years. Fine...so you, Mr. President are going to show more civility and--

"...however we feel about the decisions and debates of the past, our nation has only one option. We must keep our word, defeat our enemies and stand behind the American military in this vital mission. "

Buuuut that suggests there's only your side to this story. Also, it's your word we're keeping. Is there a way to keep our word, defeat our enemies, and not lose more lives in this conflict? Suppose we believe in a free democratic Iraq, but face the fact that they are years and years away from defending themselves, and establishing order, if ever? They can't protect the participants in the Saddam Hussein trial, a small population that they know is in danger. And gee, you never did mention Bob Woodruff, the ABC anchor man who was critically injured while riding in an Iraqi army vehicle, instead of riding in a more secure U.S. military vehicle.

And I'm confused about "standing behind the American military." Is this a junta? These men and women are risking their lives for us. They didn't decide to attack Iraq. They're just following your policies. I respect their commitment, sacrifice and patriotism. Does that mean any time a soldier gets in harm's way, we are obligated to endanger all of them?

"Marine Staff Sgt. Dan Clay was killed last month fighting in Fallujah. He left behind a letter to his family, but his words could just as well be addressed to every American. Here"s what Dan wrote: "I know what honor is. It has been an honor to protect and serve all of you. I faced death with the secure knowledge that you would not have to. Never falter. Don't hesitate to honor and support those of us who had the honor of protecting that which is worth protecting."

Let me check my hearing. Did you just use the death of a fallen Marine to justify your policy? Terrific. Did your name come up? Did he mention a good Republican candidate for 2008?
Sheesh. All that's missing is a reference to 9/11.

"It is said that prior to the attacks of Sept. 11"

There we go--

"It is said that prior to the attacks of Sept. 11 our government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy. We now know that two of the hijackers in the United States placed telephone calls to Al Qaeda operatives overseas. But we did not know about their plans until it was too late. So to prevent another attack, based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute, I have authorized a terrorist-surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected Al Qaeda operatives and affiliates to and from America. Previous presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have, and federal courts have approved the use of that authority."

Okey-doke. Three questions: 1. Does this mean that, next time, you’ll pay attention to briefings that say, “bin Laden to strike in U.S.” and “terrorists to fly airplanes into buildings”; and 2. Why do you care what the federal courts think? This whole eavesdropping controversy stems from the fact that you wouldn’t go to the courts to get a warrant in the first place. 3. Can you guarantee us that you view this as looking for a needle in a haystack, and not looking for a needle in a needlestack? I mean in a country with “only one option,” isn’t all dissent suspicious?

"The Palestinian people have voted in elections, and now the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism and work for lasting peace."

Great idea. When do you want to do that? Is Thursday good for everybody, or do you think it'll take 'til after the weekend?

"We show compassion abroad, because Americans believe in the God-given dignity and worth of a villager with H.I.V./AIDS or an infant with malaria or a refugee fleeing genocide or a young girl sold into slavery. "

Fantastic. Does this mean we're going to spend the money you promised to spend on AIDS? What's a fair lag time before we do what you say we're going to do.

That's just a few lowlights of one of the most partisan speeches in the history of the State of the Union.

Not Just a Talk-- A DOUBLE Talk!!!

My Mom likes to say, “Even a broken clock is right twice a day.” And I’ve tried to go with that idea, to give people the benefit of the doubt. That’s probably why I get some pointed comments that I should be more partisan in my blog.

However, regarding tonight’s “State of the Union Address,” I have never heard such a singularly idiotic pile of drivel in my life. I kept waiting for something positive to ease the pain, but dagnabbit, this speech made the "sell real estate and get babes" infomercials seem well reasoned and objective. And better performed, by the way.

Right now, I’m waiting to hear the Democratic Response, sipping on water and applying liniment to affected areas, but I’ll elaborate on the speech afterwards.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him

Oh, perfect. Let's bury the bad news, and let it get worse, instead of paying attention. Why, it almost makes you think this administration is a wholely owned subsidiary of some fossil fuel concerns:

The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.

Read the story in the New York Times.

Far more dangerous than any one dramatic event, the continuing pattern of hiding accurate economic and scientific information from the American people does long-term damage to our country's future. The "enlightened" disappears from "enlightened self-interest." , Alexis de Tocqueville's description of the American democracy in action. But here's the truly weird part-- President Bush, who referred to de Tocqueville in his conversation with Bob Schieffer, considers the Frenchman his favorite political philosopher:

"I would like to leave behind a legacy or a think-tank, a place for people to talk about freedom and liberty, and the de Tocqueville model--what de Tocqueville saw in America. I would like for there to be a place where young scholars to come and write and think and articulate and opine and teach, but I really haven't beyond that. "

Perhaps the President means, writing and thinking and articulating and opining and teaching, without fear of contradiction by accurate data.

This Post is Not a Satire or a Parody

I swear. Every once in a while, I pop on one of the Big Three network newscasts. Friday night, it was the "CBS Evening News" which was devoted entirely to Bob Schieffer's exclusive interview with President Bush, Mr. "Can't Remember Making a Single Mistake." What I heard stunned me. In addition to saying he's glad people are debating about the domestic spying and the legal issues and rights issues, and acknowledging at least somewhat the feeble way Katrina was handled, the President had this exchange with the anchorman:

<< SCHIEFFER: I want to ask you sort of a philosophical question, and that is, Hubert Humphrey once said that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was America's most successful foreign policy initiative because it told people who we were and what we stand for. And I just wonder, when we see some of these horror stories about torture and things that have happened in some of these prisons like Abu Graib, do you worry that maybe we are losing the moral high ground in some way?

PRESIDENT BUSH: There is no question that Abu Graib pictures not only--we were disgraced, and it--it--it--I know it caused a lot of people that want to like us to question whether they should, and equally important it gave the enemy an incredible propaganda tool. No question. That's why it was important for us to investigate, to expose, and to hold people to account so people see there was a consequence for the behavior. The--you know, Hubert Humphrey was right. The actions we take in our own country or elsewhere help define America to others, and that's why it's important for us to constantly remind people that are--we have got a wonderful heart and we are a compassionate nation. >>

I'm not sure which is a bigger shock-- that he shows some signs of admitting that Abu Graib was a mess, (although sure, the party line about it being a few bad apples is still in there) or his saying "Hubert Humphrey was right."

I--I don't know HOW I feel right now. Agreeing with Bush assessment...room starting to spin...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Play "House"

"It's either the carigemesis or the octothraxin and either way, this woman needs to be corrugated within the next twelve hours or the pantathin levels will kill her."

That's what the pivotal dialogue sounds like to me on every episode of "House." I never understand what they're talking about, which puts me in an awkward position to be in, because Dr. Gregory House already holds his staff of underlings in mild contempt, and they actually understand what he's talking about, so you and I wouldn't even get a hello. In fact when an actual patient pursues House to talk to him, the doctor races in the other direction, hobbling with his cane.

The only problem is, I love the show. Hugh Laurie, who plays House, has already won every award you can give to an actor on a television show, unless that's become a Nobel category as well.

Since the doctors are researchers, each case is exotic; these are diseases and afflictions that make no medical sense, cases that have confounded the primary care physicians and the specialists.

But it's the combination, the mixture in the House character that makes it work-- here's a cynical man who has grown impatient and disappointed in life itself; he's given up on making meaningful social contact with the world. But instead of sending him into some kind of retreat, his despair frees him to say exactly what needs to be said at all times.

So, ironically, it's his very tactlessness that helps him be so good at his job.

This crabby guy makes Raymond Burr's "Ironside" character look like Betty White.

And I guarantee you this: if you had precantenation of your Islets of Langerhans, and your sonesis symptons were beginning to balkanize, "House" is the guy you'd want. Even if he says you're a troglodyte for letting it get this far before seeing a doctor.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Evil, Part II: Steal from the Best

Right, now, I believe that we in the United States have a fundamentally flawed government, both domestically and overseas. This Republican All-Star team, to me, has fallen far short of addressing our needs as a country, and has made living in America a more adversarial, frightful, and painful experience than it ought to be.

But even under this government, I never think of our leaders in some comparison to Osama bin Laden. Those who do, I think, are just flapping their jaws in excess hyperbole. These are people who can't distinguish between a Nazi and a Soup Nazi.

Maybe that's why it's taken me an extra day to notice-- Osama isn't just borrowing liberal rhetoric; he's borrowing the logic from every past wartime Administration in this country.

How many times have you heard an American spokesman say, "Our conflict is not with the Iraqi/North Korean/Vietnamese/Chilean/El Salvadoran people; it is this regime that must be removed, to make a better life for these people."

And so, from Osama bin Laden, "..But I plan to speak about the repeated errors your President Bush has committed in comments on the results of your polls that show an overwhelming majority of you want the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.... And so to return to the issue, I say that results of polls please those who are sensible, and Bush's opposition to them is a mistake... Based on what has been said, this shows the errors of Bush's statement -- the one that slipped from him -- which is at the heart of polls calling for withdrawing the troops..."

Right. You keep an eye on those polls because you care so deeply about the hopes and dreams of the American people. Your conflict is only with this regime. It isn't with the American people. Except the ones you had slaughtered, or are planning to kill in the future.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Evil Doesn't Mean Stupid

Like Tokyo Rose with her broadcasts aimed at American GIs in World War, Osama bin Laden is very clever in his latest video targeted at the American people.

He does begin with the usual crap about how terrific every thing is for Al Qaeda, how much progress they're making, reminiscent of the old Soviet Union's gibberish about the "glorious people's republic." But this time, he follows up that blather with the kind of criticism that President Bush has been hearing from Democrats, and from some in our media, especially from the left.

All it proves is that bin Laden knows how to Google, and follows our public debate.

Why is he using this specific language? Because he wants this nightmare to continue-- he wants America to get even more deeply mired in the Iraq war and other Middle East conflict and he wants to promote even more fear and parnoia here in the U.S. Of course he knows that his mentioning, let alone agreeing with public opposition to President Bush in this country, will only weaken such opposition, encourage the Administration to further bash its domestic adversaries, and send our media out looking for public figures who've used some of the same phrases bin Laden used.

It's already happened; the folks at Hoffmania have already documented Chris Mathews' instant comparison between bin Laden and Michael Moore. Which normally you'd have to go to some right-wing blow-hard to hear.

My own message to bin Laden is this: WE can criticize and debate and satirize our President-- in fact we have a duty to, when we think he's doing a bad job. He's our President. YOU, on the other hand, have already made your methods clear to us-- you fly planeloads of innocent people into buildings and murder thousands. So just crawl back into whatever hole you popped out from and listen for footsteps. One way or another, favorite President or not, you will be crushed. Most likely, it'll be a couple minutes after another one of your phony "we're doing great" blathers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


It just hit a nerve-- I'm watching cable, and there's an ad for Samuel Adams Beer. And one of their honchos talks about what progress they've made. He says, "You have to understand-- people had never even heard of Sam Adams."

It's probably true. Or Nathan Hale. Or Patrick Henry. They've always got these surveys telling us, "68 percent of our high school kids think the American Revolution involved dinosaurs and time travel."

No special knock on Sam Adams beer ads; they beat Coors and Budweiser ads any day. As far as Coor's is concerned, it's old hat by now that football and beer are indivisible, but there was a longstanding rule that the games themselves didn't become a part of the advertising. Former players would do ads. Games would be simulated. But just to be civil, you didn't have actual football footage, or current players, endorsing beer-- just so that kids would see a little bit of daylight between the two.

No more. The new Coors ad has footage from historic Super Bowls, interwoven with "The Silver Bullet" and the O'Jay's "Love Train." Ooooh yeah. Top athletes. Alcohol. And best of all, people beating the hell out of each other to the tune of "Love Train." I guess some exec decided "Peace Train" was too controversial a choice, what with Cat Stevens and all.

But I've always loved those Budweiser, "we are America" beer ads. They've got someone from the great tradition of the Busch family, lecturing you about quality. The stuff tastes to me like liquid bread, but I'm no connoisseur. To quote the tv ads, you want a beverage that "finishes clean"? Here ya go!

And just fyi, here's the bio of the real Samuel Adams.

"Chocolate City" Aftermath

Oh, I know-- you won't read about this in the mainstream press. And you won't see it on t.v.

But plenty has happened since New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin said God intended that New Orleans rise again as a "chocolate city," which he defined as a "black-majority city." Let New Orleans' own great paper tell you about it the original incident.

Since then, of course, two major repercussions:

The good people of Salt Lake City, UT, have decided to keep the town's nickname, "Crossroads of the West," and rejected the proposed name change to "Vanillaville"; and the Louisiana Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in Caramel v. Louisiana, Nagin, et al.

There is some precedent for this. Three of the current justices, including chief justice Calogero, were part of the historic case Beignet v. Waistline, (1982), a unanimous decision for Beignet.

Parrot betrayal

How many times do I have to tell you kids-- if you're gonna cheat on someone, do NOT let the parrot watch you!

<< "Hiya, Gary!" the parrot trilled flirtatiously whenever Chris Taylor's girlfriend answered her cellphone.
But Mr. Taylor, the owner of the parrot, did not know anyone named Gary. And his girlfriend, Suzy Collins, who had moved into his apartment a year earlier, swore that she didn't, either... She stuck to her story even after the parrot, Ziggy, began making lovey-dovey, smooching noises when it heard the name Gary on television. >>

My favorite part of this story? The press later had to contact the woman to get the story. Which means there's no way the world press would have gotten hold of it if Chris Taylor, the guy who got cheated on, hadn't wanted to tell the world that he got ditched. That's true masochism. Or loneliness. Unless...wait...maybe Ziggy made the call.

Read the whole sordid tale.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

First off, it’s not a "gay cowboy movie"…

In “Brokeback Mountain,” the lead characters are tending sheep, not cows. Although they come from the cowboy culture and I doubt they’d call themselves “shepherds.”

Heath Ledger is remarkable in this movie, which takes place in some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen on screen.

For me, Ang Lee’s film was far more engaging than “Philadelphia,” the last prestigious theatrical motion picture to be so thoroughly focused on gay men and the obstacles they face.

The film seems a bit long, but it is extremely effective and compelling. Though you never hear the word “gay,” and no one speaks about anybody’s “rights,” watching the movie made me feel that I understand the term “homophobia” a bit better.

I used to think of “homophobia” as an artificial word. I thought, let’s just call it “hatred,” or “hating gays,” and get on to the next piece of business. And I thought of homosexuality the way I think of mushrooms. I can’t stand the taste of mushrooms. If they’re on a pizza, I won’t even peel off the mushrooms—that taste bleeds through. But, I’m not upset that millions of other people enjoy mushrooms. And I’m certainly not afraid of mushrooms—there are no nightmares where I’m stalked by toadstools.

Similarly, I’m not afraid that I’ll slip and fall and be gay. Or a dentist, or an accordion player. Your instincts are your instincts.

It’s no news that a lot of people—a lot of hetero men, especially—feel that it’s important to view homosexuality as an exotic, bizarre behavior, more like having sewage on your pizza, not just a different instinct, but a sick, irrational behavior.

From this movie, I’ve come to feel that people feel that way specifically because it isn’t an exotic, sick irrational thing. In this film, it feels as though a couple of guys found themselves wanting to do this together. Not a couple of transvestite space travelers. Just a couple of guys, and this is what felt right to them. That’s what this movie does perfectly—give you a sense of the “regularness” it can be for some people.

And, to far too many hetero folks, this exact feeling—that it’s just what some guys do, and those guys aren’t aliens or sick or irrational—is terrifying to them, because it means that anyone could be gay.

Even people with good intentions, and I’d like to think I’m such a person, will relate that someone has been “accused” or “suspected” of being gay. Sheesh. I’ve never been “accused” or “suspected” of having a girlfriend; people just think I have a relationship with a woman, or gossip that I am, and if they’re a friend of mine, they’ll know so.

But if you’re gay, there’s this “whisper” hetero language that suggests “we all know about those bank jobs you and the gang pulled off in Philly, and watch yourself or we’ll tip off the cops.”
If “Brokeback Mountain” suggested these ideas to me, I’m sure it was worth seeing, beyond entertainment.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Plus, It's Really More Like "42 Minutes"

On the Sunday, 1/08/06 edition of "60 Minutes," Andy Rooney read some of the angry mail he received, after saying that the U.S. no longer makes the world's best cars. To Rooney's credit, he didn't debate the complaints, just aired them.

Then, an odd moment: Rooney finished with this:
"Several letters questioned whether CBS complained about my comments regarding the car companies who buy commercials. No, they did not. I am proud to say that no CBS executive has ever stopped me from saying anything, no matter how dumb it was. " Okay, but Mike Wallace followed up that statement with-- "Me, neither."

Which made me think-- didn't I see a movie with Al Pacino, Russell Crowe and Christopher Plummer called "The Insider"? And wasn't that movie about Wallace's dealings with tobacco company Brown and Williamson's head of research, Jeffrey Wigand? And don't I remember something about CBS NOT SHOWING his segment with Wigand?

Yes indeed. Here's the documentation: a transcript from a 1999 episode of Public Broadcasting's "Frontline" show, where Mike Wallace tells the story behind "Anatomy of a Decision," when CBS initally left Wigand exposed and voiceless:

<interview airs on "60 Minutes". In the introduction to the story, Mike Wallace explains:
CBS management wouldn't let us broadcast our original story and our interview with Jeffrey Wigand because they were worried about the possibility of a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against us for tortious interference, that is, interfering with Wigand's confidentiality agreement with Brown & Williamson. But now, things have changed. Last week, the Wall Street Journal got hold of and published a confidential deposition Wigand gave in a Mississippi case, a November deposition that repeated many of the charges he made to us last August. And while a lawsuit is still a possibility, not putting Jeffrey Wigand's story on "60 Minutes" no longer is."
At this point, the critical substance of Wigand's testimony has already been reported by other sources.>>

Right, but Wigand didn't get to tell his story directly to America, until the story finally ran on the tick-tick-tick.

Ya' think Wallace doesn't remember that episode? "Me, neither."

Friday, January 06, 2006

Rev. Pat Robertson: God Sent John Wilkes Booth

Christian television evangelist Pat Robertson, speaking on condition of publicity, told his viewers today that “In 1865, the good Lord sent John Wilkes Booth to be his messenger, and punish Abraham Lincoln. I think most people know that. Lincoln presided over a divided America, which was not mentioned in the Bible because North and South America did not exist back then. But if it had, God would have wanted the United States to remain united.”

Robertson, who earlier suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke was a punishment from God, elaborated further about Lincoln’s sins. “Even a casual reader of the Bible knows that there is slavery throughout the text. By trying to abolish slavery, Lincoln was daring God to smite him, and he did. It’s not surprising that he called upon an actor to perform such a foul act, but Booth served his purpose.

“In fact, I’ve long believed that Venezuela needs more actors,” Robertson added, referring to his earlier call for the murder of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Reverend Robertson did not mention whether God was personally requesting Chavez’s assassination, but he did add, “several prominent angels say, the Lord likes Indianapolis by five over the Seahawks, give the points.”