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March 30, 2004

Downloading Communism

On someone's door at work yesterday I saw this little graphic about downloading communism when you pirate (v.t.) MP3s. I wasn't sure if it was a joke, though I thought if I knew the source, that could be inferred. (After some searching about, I find that it's from Modern Humorist.) I do so wish it really was from RIAA, and yet I'm one who seeks legal acquisition of media content.

In Brazil, they've apparently embraced this view of downloading music files, because they have a file sharing program named Comuna. However, a new study of 1.75 million downloads from 680 albums—the largest study so far—shows that free downloading of music files has no effect on CD sales. In fact, some albums seem to see a rise in sales as a result.


March 29, 2004

Airplanes as weapons

Blogger "retrogrouch" of the interesting Texas-based blog Barefoot and Naked has dug up a lot of good info (mostly from international papers) in the wake of Richard Clarke's testimony. Amond the most interesting is clear proof that Condoleezza Rice and Ari Fleischer clearly lied about the administration's lack of intelligence about commercial planes being used as weapons. Just a few months before 9/11, Bush slept on an aircraft carrier off the coast of Genoa during a trade summit there, because of a specific and apparently credible threat about commercial plans being crashed into buildings there. If the adminsitration couldn't imagine the same tactic being used on US targets, their lack of imagination is terrifying indeed. Retrogrouch also makes good points about Bush's "swatting at flies" comment (that's what the war on terror will feel like as we strike at distributed, independent targets) and the anger of US troops tracking Bin Laden when they were pulled off a hot trail to chase Saddam.

Basically, retrogrouch pulled together several strands that had become apparent to me in the Administration's meltdown over Clarke's testimony. For me, the net is that the Bush team just doesn't understand the painful realities of the rise of non-state actors. Of course it would be easier if terrorists were propped up by states, because those states have "good targets" that can be attacked. Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and others talked of attacking Iraq as "draining the swamp," i.e., shutting down a terrorist breeding ground. But not only was Iraq not a breeding ground before the war, it is now because of there actions--actions that have mucked up the entire Middle East to the extent that it's a far swampier swamp than it was 18 months ago. Now with the escalation of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the entire Muslim world believes the US is out to get them--and from their standpoint, that is probably a reasonable belief.

I have to end this with a crass bit of wisdom that would not have been news to my Grandaddy on his farm: if you don't want flies, stop spreading bullshit around. Given the daily load this administration is dishing out all over the world, we'll all be swatting at flies for a long time.

Daily Show must-see

If you did not see John Stewart talking about the 9/11 commission last week, these clips are an absolute must.

March 28, 2004

Why "Playing it Straight" is bent

David and I have been, with much derision and more than a little dismay, watching Fox's Playing It Straight (or, at least, digesting Tivo-condensed snippets of it). For those of you who have resisted, the show plops a dumb small-town "beauty" on a dude ranch with 14 guys--some of whom are secretly flamers. Every episode she has to eject two more guys. If she ends up with a hetero, they split a million dollars-- but if she is deceived by an evil homosexual in wolf's clothing, the crafty fag gets a cool million all by himself (presumably to spend on a year-long binge of ecstasy, dance music, and rent boys to make up for all that flannel). Posessors of outdated stereotypes (i.e., those with no real live gay friends) probably think it sounds easy as pie to call out the cake-boys. The problem for Jackie is that the guys have clearly been chosen for displaying much more admiration for their own reflections than any other love object--they really put the "me" in "metrosexual." As if that weren't enough, Jackie apparently was raised in a small town where gaydar is both genetically absent and culturally unobtainable. Complications ensue: one of the guys (a straight one, to boot) gets kicked off the first week for wielding the now-infamous scarlet hairdryer. If the quality of her, um, discriminating palate doesn't improve, it is going to be fun to watch this hootchie miss payday.

My little sister Lyndi was aghast that we would watch it, but if you're gay I think it's a little bit like driving past a car wreck... it's hard not to look on with a mixture of curiosity and loathing. OK, and a little be of glee. And some of the guys are hot. And, finally, there is a fair amount of salutary trashing of stereotypes... poor stooge Jackie deserves to lose her half-million

This Slate article is a little overwrought, but it's hard not to agree with the gist:

Watching Playing It Straight is a gender theorist's day in the sun; perhaps not since the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings have a culture's unspoken anxieties been so starkly projected on the small screen. Let's look at the show's two prospective outcomes. If Jackie guesses "right" and narrows the field down to a straight man, then the two of them will split the $1 million prize and ride off into the sunset in a chauffeured car, glasses of champagne awkwardly balanced on their laps. But if one of the secretly gay men tricks her into choosing him, he will walk off with a cool million all his own. In other words, "Sizzling Saddles Ranch" (an Elko, Nev., resort that was thus mortifyingly renamed by the show's producers) is a microcosm of American society, where gays can best get ahead by remaining alone in the closet while straights openly pair-bond and consolidate their resources.

The author makes the oft-observed point that gay men on television can do hair, decor, and fashion--but never, ever each other. On the one hand, I can pruriently look forward to seeing the gay "Paradise Hotel," but on the other, I'm pretty sure America's not ready to lose its gay-sex cherry. Because let's face it, reality TV isn't going to give us sweet portrayals of high-functioning couples-- it will go immediately to "did you blow the waiter while I went to the restroom?" At least let us get married before you turn gay romance into the the ultimate TV freak show.

Sick at home

Ah, it's spring, when young Jay's head turns to mucus! I've been fighting a massive allergy/sinus attack for about a week, and no amount of medication seems able to kick it. Worst of all, David's been under the weather as well--we've sort of had to take turns with who feels worse at a given moment.

But I have been bonding with my laptop all weekend, keeping up with the blogverse. I had meant for a long time (well, ever since I got my camera phone last fall) to set up a Moblog (mobile blog). Between sniffling and hacking, I finally did today. You can find it here, with the latest picture constantly update on the right side of the nonfamous main index page, below the list of links. I've posted a few things I had knocking around in my phone, but rest assured that I'll be taking some fresh pictures soon.

March 26, 2004

Tufte's PPTs, maybe not so evil

Or at least, a not-so bad tool for hitting some good targets.

March 25, 2004

More smoking guns than the OK corral

Sibel Edmonds was a contract translator for the FBI, translating previously untranslated intelligence that suddenly seemed important after 9/11. She made the mistake of pointing out that a coworker might well have been associated with one of the very groups under investigation. Instead of getting a medal, she got in a whole heap of trouble, ranging from losing her job to getting death threats against her family. The Memory Hole has, as usual, all the relevant documents. It's a disgusting and disturbing read. 60 Minutes aired a damning interview with her last summer, but it failed to become a major news story. That's right, that damn liberal media always out to get the Bush administration--neglecting a story orders of magnitude more important than Filegate.

Good targets

Now for something really shocking-- an optimistic post about politics! Even better, a whole category for posts suggesting that W might just be following in his daddy's single-term footsteps.

Whence the name? Rummy, of course. One of Richard Clarke's great revelations was that Rumsfeld, in the days after 9/11, argued for attacking Iraq instead of Afghanistan, saying "there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq." The foreign press have had a lot of fun with that one. (France, presumably, has a lot of good target, too--luckily, this was before they were pissed off at the French.)

Anyway, Clarke's testimony felt like a real "have you no sense of decency?" moment, when the immediacy of televised hearings actually broke through the clutter and made certain things clear. I do not believe the administration can survive by spinning this away, or by asassinating Clarke's character. His apology to the American people felt like a dam breaking with the force needed to wash away all the blame-gaming and cover-ups we're endured since Bush won, er, was inaugurated.

So I hereby declare open season on the Good Targets in the Bush Administration. If you notice sleazy spin, disinformation, or Big Lies, put 'em here. We'll all feel better, and raising everyone's awareness about just how dishonest they are will only help us convince people how important it is to get W & Co. out of office in November.

Scoops and retribution, the email edition

It's a good measure of our standing in the blogsphere that we now get indexed almost instantly in several search engines and blog directories. Thanks to this, we got almost instant feedback from someone I mentioned in a post Tuesday.

Kevin Vandenbroek, fired from his radio talk show in Michigan for a scoop he should have gotten promoted for, wrote to me the next day. With his permission, I'm posting his note, which is sad but a great example of what my friend Tony calls "Casablanca shocking."


Jay:

Thanks for the mention on your blog of my dismissal.

As some stations “police” themselves, here is what I’ve observed as potential criteria in this environment of broadcasting fright:

• Subjective, unreasoned and (perhaps) unconstitutional views of what is offending speech
• Over-cautious owners with a political agenda
• Outside political pressure
• Advertiser pressure
• A combination of the above based on a well-greased GOP machine.

In this post-9/11 world, and as a result of indiscretions by another member of the Jackson family, certain radio stations feel they have carte blanch to rid the airwaves of “undesirable” elements.

In the housekeeping, those that present different political views on the Nation’s airwaves are at risk of being swept into the dustbin with the likes of “Bubba the Love Sponge” and Howard Stern. Will this same standard hold true for Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity?

This wholesaling of wireless free speech should send a chill up everyone that uses their voice in America.

Regards,

Kevin Vandenbroek

In a further exchange, Kevin writes that (despite my fond hopes that some other outlet would snap him up instantly) he's still unemployed. Yet another American work pink-slipped by the Repubs. If We the People fail to return them the favor in November, we're collectively dumber than anyone ever imagined.

Welease Bwian

Following the success and furore around The Passion of the Christ, the remaining Monty Python team is behind a rerelease of The Life of Brian. The Guardian has a nice piece on the history of the film and the controversy it provoked when first released in 1979.

Brian is easily my favourite of the Python movies. I just love way that such broad comedy, through respect for the subject, never comes across as more than gentle mocking. I'll go and see it again.

March 24, 2004

What did you do before the war on terrorism, Mr Bush?

One of the greatest body blows to the Bush administration from the 9/11 hearings and Dick Clark's revelations has been the comparison between the Clinton and Bush approaches to handling terrorism before the two towers fell.

George Tenet gave gripping testimony in the hearings today -- so gripping that it completely diverted my attention from the dentist who was drilling holes in two of my teeth at the time. He described, in 10 very clear points, how the Clinton administration had dealt blows to al-Qaida in the years leading up to 9/11. I wish I could find the transcript, but alas, I could not. But Dick Clark gives an abbreviated summary on the same topic in this Salon interview (with free access to non-subscribers graciously provided):

The Clinton administration stopped Iraqi terrorism against the United States, through military intervention. It stopped Iranian terrorism against the United States, through covert action. It stopped the al-Qaida attempt to have a dominant influence in Bosnia. It stopped the terrorist attacks at the millennium. It stopped many other terrorist attacks, including on the U.S. embassy in Albania. And it began a lethal covert action program against al-Qaida; it also launched military strikes against al-Qaida.

One of those military strikes was a direct missile attack launched against OBL based on credible intelligence (it missed him by several hours, but killed 20-30 lieutenants). But because this occurred during the Lewinsky scandal and its aftermath, it was widely derided as a "wag-the-dog" incident. Some apologies are due, I think.

On the other hand, Clark describes the Bush administration's attitude in the first 9 months of office like this:

[The Bush Administration] had a preconceived set of national security priorities: Star Wars, Iraq, Russia. And they were not going to change those preconceived notions based on people from the Clinton administration telling them that was the wrong set of priorities ... Prior to 9/11, the Bush administration didn't have an approach to terrorism. They'd never gotten around to creating an administration policy. It was in the process of doing so, but it hadn't achieved that. And it was clear that the national security advisor didn't like this kind of issue; she didn't have meetings on this issue. The president didn't have meetings on the issue of terrorism.

This claim hits fundamentally at Bush's main reason for re-election. And so, of course, the attack dogs are in force. But since they can't attack the substantive claims, they're focussing on the details (many of which are rebutted here), and on the credibility of Clark himself. But as a 30-year veteran, and a Republican, this is one credible guy.

This is the issue that could -- if sustained until November -- cripple Bush. MoveOn.org is even seeking donations to fund a TV commercial on the issue. (I've included their solicitation email, which includes some forceful arguments, below.) Let's hope this isn't all forgotten in two weeks.

Email from MoveOn.org

Dear MoveOn member,

As you may have heard, Richard Clarke, a former counter-terrorism advisor to Bush, and a registered Republican who has worked in every administration since Reagan, has exposed Bush's mishandling of 9/11 and the war on Iraq.(1) In his book "Against All Enemies," Clarke does an amazing job of presenting the facts and connecting the dots. Instead of refuting Clarke's claims, the Bush Administration has launched a campaign of character assassination, hoping that the story will just go away.(2)

We're committed to stopping that from happening by making sure that the American public hears Clarke's extraordinary comments. If we can raise $300,000 in the next few days, we can run a hard-hitting ad nationally that highlights his message. You can see a rough story board of the ad and donate to get it on the air at: https://www.moveonpac.org/clarkead.html

When the World Trade Center was hit on the morning of 9/11, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice dubbed Richard Clarke, the administration's top counter-terrorism official, "crisis manager."(3) As the White House, which was thought to be the next target, was evacuated, Clarke heroically stayed on, coordinating the government's response from the Situation Room in the West Wing.(4)

Clarke is viewed by colleagues as a hawk, a "true believer" who doesn't play partisan politics.(5) So the shocking facts he revealed about the Bush administration's approach to terrorism before 9/11 and its response after must be taken seriously. On Sunday, Clarke told reporters that the President and Defense Secretary downgraded counter-terrorism and ignored repeated warnings about an al Qaeda attack prior to 9/11. And, perhaps even more explosive, Clarke revealed that President Bush and senior administration officials wanted to bomb Iraq after 9/11 even though they knew that it had no connection to al Qaeda, and that al Qaeda was responsible for the attacks.(6)

Already, the White House spin machine is in overdrive. Since they can't rebut Clarke's facts -- which independent witnesses have confirmed(7) -- they're trying to paint him as an angry partisan, even though he's a Republican. But Clarke's words remain a searing indictment of the Bush Administration's campaign against terrorism. Together, if we act today, we can beat back the spin by widely airing a TV ad which gets these uniquely credible comments directly to TV viewers.

You can view a story board of the ad and help us get it on the air now at:
https://www.moveonpac.org/clarkead.html

In his own words, here are some of Clarke's revelations:

* Clarke repeatedly warned the Bush Administration about attacks from al Qaeda, starting in the first days of Bush's term. "But on January 24th, 2001, I wrote a memo to Condoleezza Rice asking for, urgently -- underlined urgently -- a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with the impending al Qaeda attack. And that urgent memo-- wasn't acted on."(8) According to another Bush administration security official, Clarke "was the guy pushing hardest, saying again and again that something big was going to happen, including possibly here in the U.S." The official added that Clarke was likely sidelined because he had served in the previous (Clinton) administration.(9)

* In face-to-face meetings, CIA Director George Tenet warned President Bush repeatedly in the months before 9/11 that an attack was coming. According to Clarke, Tenet told the President that "A major al-Qaeda attack is going to happen against the United States somewhere in the world in the weeks and months ahead."(10)

* On September 12, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld pushed to bomb Iraq even though they knew that al Qaeda was in Afghanistan. "Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq," Clarke said. "And we all said ... no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.'"(11)

* Also on September 12, 2001, President Bush personally pushed Clarke to find evidence that Iraq was behind the attacks. From the New York Times: "'I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything,' Mr. Clarke writes that Mr. Bush told him. 'See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way.' When Mr. Clarke protested that the culprit was Al Qaeda, not Iraq, Mr. Bush testily ordered him, he writes, to 'look into Iraq, Saddam,' and then left the room."(12)

* The Bush Administration knew from the beginning that there was no connection between Iraq and 9/11, but created the misperception in order to push their policy goals. "[Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush] did know better. They did know better. They did know better. We told them, the CIA told them, the FBI told them. They did know better. And the tragedy here is that Americans went to their death in Iraq thinking that they were avenging September 11th, when Iraq had nothing to do with September 11th. I think for a commander-in-chief and a vice president to allow that to happen is unconscionable."(13)

* The war on Iraq has increased the danger of terrorism. In his book, he writes that shifting from al Qaeda to Iraq "launched an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq that strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide."(14)

It's been well reported that President Bush intends to run on his record as a wartime President. Clarke's revelations show how deeply flawed that record is. But if we don't act fast, the public may not have a chance to evaluate the facts for themselves -- the story could go away quickly. With an ad, we can take Clarke's comments directly to the public. Can you help? Check out the script and donate whatever you can to get this story out there at:

https://www.moveonpac.org/clarkead.html

(By the way, if we're unable to use your contribution for the ad you specify, either because of oversubscription or for another unforeseen reason, it is our policy to use your contribution for other advertising, public relations, and advocacy activities.)

Richard Clarke had an intimate view -- perhaps the best view -- of how the Bush Administration responded to terrorism. So we should all listen carefully when he says: "Frankly, I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know. . . I think the way he has responded to al-Qaeda, both before 9/11 by doing nothing, and by what he's done after 9/11 has made us less safe, absolutely. I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism."(15)

Together, we can make sure every American knows what President Bush's true record on terrorism really is.

Sincerely,
--Adam, Carrie, Eli, James, Joan, Laura, and Wes
The MoveOn PAC Team
March 24th, 2004

P.S. Salon has recently published a new interview with Clarke. You can read it at:
http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2004/03/24/clarke_moveon/

P.P.S. As the Administration strikes back, our friends at the Center for American Progress have put together an excellent rebuttal to their claims. Here's an example:

CLAIM #1: "Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction and he chose not to." -- National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: Clarke sent a memo to Rice principals on 1/24/01 marked "urgent" asking for a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with an impending Al Qaeda attack. The White House acknowledges this, but says "principals did not need to have a formal meeting to discuss the threat." No meeting occurred until one week before 9/11. -- White House Press Release, 3/21/04

For the whole document, go to:
http://www.americanprogress.org/site/pp.asp?c=biJRJ8OVF&b=39828

Footnotes:

1. "Dissent from within on Iraq war," Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/24/04
http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/front/8260216.htm?1c

2. "Bush Aides Blast Ex-Terror Chief," CBS News, 3/22/04
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/03/23/terror/main608107.shtml

3. "The book on Richard Clarke," Washington Post, 3/23/04
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16192-2004Mar22.html

4. "Clarke's Take On Terror," CBS, 3/21/04
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/03/19/60minutes/main607356.shtml

5. See 3, above.

6. "60 Minutes" interview; see 4, above.

7. "Ex-Bush Aide Sets Off Debate as 9/11 Hearing Opens," New York Times, 3/23/04
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/23/politics/23CLAR.html?hp

8. "60 Minutes" interview; see 4, above.

9. See 7, above.

10. "60 Minutes" interview; see 4, above.

11. "Sept. 11: Before And After," CBS News, 3/20/04
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/03/20/60minutes/main607622.shtml

12. "Excerpts from 'Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror' by Richard A. Clarke," posted on NYTimes.com, 3/23/04
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/23/politics/23CWOR.html

13. "60 Minutes" interview; see 4, above.

14. "Memoir Criticizes Bush 9/11 Response," Washington Post, 3/22/04
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A13607-2004Mar21.html

15. "60 Minutes" interview; see 4, above.

PAID FOR BY MoveOn PAC
This message is not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.
P.O. Box 9218, Berkeley, CA 94709

Coke pulls Dasani from Europe

Coke has pulled its Dasani purified-water product from the shelves in the UK, and delayed its launch in France and Germany. The withdrawal was prompted by a quality issue at the recommendation of the UK's food watchdog, but there's a larger issue at stake here, in my opinion.

The launch of Dasani into the UK in the first place didn't go well. Consumers soon realized that unlike the more-familiar Evian and domestic brands of bottled water, Dasani is purified London tap water. I'm not suprised the Brits didn't take to it like ducks to water. Bottled water in the UK has always had a "luxury" aspect to it (at least, it did, when I was there), and consumers could only really turn their noses up at the prospect of mere tap water in a bottle. In continental Europe bottled water is much more of a commodity, but again, between the choice of mineral/spring water and purified tap water, I can guess what your typical French consumer would rather be seen drinking.

I'd be surprised if they didn't postpone the European launch indefinitely.

Research counters claims of malpractice explosion

David has been much concerned of late about the litigious nature of American society, as am I. But I'm a little less willing to embrace wholesale "tort reform" that would severely limit lawsuits. (Why is it that conservatives, who so like privatizing things, resent the privatization of the enforcement of medical and product safety standards? That's basically what much maligned trial lawyers have done, and yes, some of them have gotten rich doing it, as privatizers always seem to do.)

This op-ed in USA Today marshalls some interesting facts about malpractice cases. At the very least, it's clear that these suits are not the only (or the major) factor driving healthcare costs up. And, as the sad case of my doctor proves, there are plenty of nice doctors out there doing really awful things.

March 23, 2004

Silencing the press (and the whoopee cushion)

Several of you have asked me why I haven't commented on L'affaire Stern. I'll be honest... as much as I buy the line of argument that "Though I disagree with what you say I'll fight to my death for your right to say it," I have so long disliked Howard Stern that I can't bring myself to weep for him too much. His pandering to the lowest common denominator has set the tone for every other un-funny idiot on every second-rate morning show in the world, while liberating America's inner fifth-grader. Who knew we had such an insatiable national taste for fart jokes and jiggling lesbians? For years, millions of Americans have listened to Stern when they might have been paying attention to the kind of content that allows adults to think and vote like grownups. (Think of the poor bastards weaned on a decade of Stern and Limbaugh, and the damage they've done to the rest of us!)

That said, it is now clear that it was the juvenility of Stern's obsessions that had protected him. As soon as he veered into touchy political subjects (touchy, that is, to Repubs--Stern had plenty explicit to say about Clinton!), the GOP apparently called in their chits with Clear Channel and handed Assman his ass.

So, now I've written about Stern, whose downfall--though lacking true tragic stature--is instructive. To quote the bumper-sticker: "The media are only as liberal as the conservative corporations that own them." If Stern's fans had been paying attention for the past decade, this would not be so shocking.

I'm saving my tears for the more serious journalists who are being routinely silenced for hard-hitting investigative journalism. Take the case of Kevin Vandenbroek, a Michigan radio personality who was sacked
after substantiating claims of bribery at the top of the Republican House Leadership. Apparently, threatening civil servants with dismissal for correctly pricing the Medicare drug bill wasn't enough; someone offered Michigan Republican Nick Smith $100,000 for his son's political campaign if he'd switch his no vote to yes. After initially sounding off about this, Smith himself was silenced. After switching his story, Smith was nailed by Vandenbroek's recording of his initial account. That, plus a couple more offenses against the Powers That Be (a terse email to a conservative bigot and a question about W's veracity in his Tim Russert interview) got Vandenbroek fired. In a country where the media were truly liberal, a scoop like that would get you a raise (and maybe a Peabody nomination).

The truth is, Vandenbroek will probably be OK-- and Lord knows Stern has ridden the gravy train (diarrhea train?) long enough the he won't be eating cat food in his early retirement. In any case, I'm beginning to think that Janet Jackson's nipple did us all a favor--by encouraging the Right's censoriousness to overstep its bounds, they have showed even the fart joke set just how bad things have gotten here in the United States of T&A.

The next Einstein

A 27-year-old student in New Zealand offers a new understanding of time, and resolves the 2500-year-old Zeno paradox: link. It's about time Physics got a shaking up.

Tastingmenu.com

Wow... tastingmenu.com is an amazing food blog... I'm tired of all the politics of late. Maybe we can write up SDS Chocolate edition?

March 22, 2004

Richard Clarke and the smoking gun

While it comes as little surprise, former anti-terror czar Richard Clarke's 60 Minutes interview confirms our worst suspicions about the Bush administration's grievous errors both before and after 9/11 (detailed in his new book, Against All Enemies), excerpted here. You truly MUST read the out-takes from the interview online--it is as damning as anything that has appeared so far about the administration, highlighting its disregard for facts, its ideological fixation, and its shameful abuse of anyone who tried to get in the way of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld war machine. It is literally one sickening jaw-dropper after another.

Mind you, Clarke was appointed by W's dad, held over by Clinton because of his excellent qualifications and strong relations with both the CIA and the FBI. During the Clinton administration, his post was accorded Cabinet-level status; soon after he took office, W had Clarke demoted, leaving no terrorism expert within the administration's inner circle.

Clarke clearly points out the extent to which senior officials were obsessed with Iraq, to the exclusion of all else:

Clarke was the president's chief adviser on terrorism, yet it wasn't until Sept. 11 that he ever got to brief Mr. Bush on the subject. Clarke says that prior to Sept. 11, the administration didn't take the threat seriously.

"We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months.

"There's a lot of blame to go around, and I probably deserve some blame, too. But on January 24th, 2001, I wrote a memo to Condoleezza Rice asking for, urgently -- underlined urgently -- a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with the impending al Qaeda attack. And that urgent memo-- wasn't acted on.

"I blame the entire Bush leadership for continuing to work on Cold War issues when they back in power in 2001. It was as though they were preserved in amber from when they left office eight years earlier. They came back. They wanted to work on the same issues right away: Iraq, Star Wars. Not new issues, the new threats that had developed over the preceding eight years."

Clarke finally got his meeting about al Qaeda in April, three months after his urgent request. But it wasn't with the president or cabinet. It was with the second-in-command in each relevant department.

For the Pentagon, it was Paul Wolfowitz.

Clarke relates, "I began saying, 'We have to deal with bin Laden; we have to deal with al Qaeda.' Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, said, 'No, no, no. We don't have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are we talking about that little guy? We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States.'

"And I said, 'Paul, there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States in eight years!' And I turned to the deputy director of the CIA and said, 'Isn't that right?' And he said, 'Yeah, that's right. There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States."

Clarke went on to add, "There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever."

So what does Clarke think will be the result of W's monomaniacal focus on Iraq?

Does Clarke think that Iraq, the Middle East and the world is better off with Saddam Hussein out of power?

"I think the world would be better off if a number of leaders around the world were out of power. The question is what price should the United States pay," says Clarke. "The price we paid was very, very high, and we're still paying that price for doing it."

"Osama bin Laden had been saying for years, 'America wants to invade an Arab country and occupy it, an oil-rich Arab country. He had been saying this. This is part of his propaganda. So what did we do after 9/11? ... We stepped right into bin Laden's propaganda," adds Clarke. "And the result of that is that al Qaeda and organizations like it, offshoots of it, second-generation al Qaeda have been greatly strengthened."

So why come out with all this now? Because there is no way the country can afford another 4 years of ignorant, morally bankrupt, and ideologically corrupt leadership:

"Frankly," he said, "I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know."

Clarke went on to say, "I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism."


March 21, 2004

La Bicyclette

(Admittedly I'm late to the table on this, but I wanted to post anyway in case others (like myself) have been living under a rock, been out of the country, or just have no idea what's on the big screen.)

Get thee to see The Triplets of Belleville (Belleville Rendezvous, in French). Hurry up. This is a great movie for people that love bicycles, silly French cars, cartoons, or all of those things in combination. The Seattle Weekly review compares it to Finding Nemo, but that's too simplistic, and anyway, it's much more like The City of Lost Children, and not just because it's French. Any movie that features a dog's dream sequence in stunning hand drawn black and white animation is worth more than the matinee price.

Seattle-ites, it's at the Harvard Exit right NOW. Why are you still reading this when you should be at the movies?

March 19, 2004

The Small Town of Mother Love Bone

On this day in Seattle history fourteen years ago, Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone, one of my favorite bands at the time, was found dead of a heroin overdose. Sigh. Though his death produced the great Temple of the Dog, Andy's life might've produced more enjoyable music from Mother Love Bone and prevented the inception of Pearl Jam. And Andy wouldn't be dead.

I believe that around that time, I was thinking it'd be cool if I got a Mambosok for my fairly long hair. (Actually, the product was Mambosok Headgear, I should note, since Mambosok apparently still exists and produces, now, normalish products that don't make one look as though one is wearing boxer shorts on one's head.) I am pleased now that this never happened and especially glad that there are no pictures of it.

Coincidentally, I'm having dinner tonight with some friends (at Lark), including a co-worker from the answering service where I worked for a few months (a step up from my post-Christmas sales job at the big old Sears store on north Aurora) and was working when I heard the news about Andy. John and I hadn't seen each other since 1990 until a party this last weekend... though the party last weekend was a birthday party for someone I met a few months ago at another party, and that party was at John's house—I just didn't see the host then to realize who "John" was. (More funny coincidence: John works at/for/on seattlehistory.org.)

I am fond of sometimes remarking that "Seattle is a small town." However, I actually think that it is, merely, not overly large. If it was truly small, I would've continued to see John here and there—even if I didn't want to—and the interesting (to me) fact that I'm seeing him after all these years on a day that I distinctly remember in relationship to something that I distinctly remember in relationship to John—the answering service—would be lost.

The last person I heard remark "Seattle is a small town"—quite amusingly, minutes after he had chided me for thinking of it as being as small as it turned out to be—was admitting that he had, in fact, had a date with someone on this blog. Someone I thought he should meet only because I thought they'd enjoy each other's literate and refined tastes (and I was hoping to be there to enjoy the confluence of urbanity and intellect). When I inquired through implication whether they might've already met, he said, "Gary, Seattle isn't that small." Heh. Maybe I'm just fortunate to be in a nexus of good people.

I wonder what other dots I can connect today?

Meet a comment spammer

So who posts comment spam? Apparently people in Romania, among others. Let's meet one. Looking up the one-levitra.com, one-cialis.com, and one-tramadol.com spammer, we find one man behind these sprawling online pharmaceutical empires:

George Popesku
Similkova 23
Bukurest, Bukurest 12311
Romania
Registered through: GoDaddy.com (http://www.godaddy.com)
Domain Name: ONE-LEVITRA.COM
Created on: 09-Jan-04
Expires on: 09-Jan-05
Last Updated on: 11-Mar-04
Administrative Contact:
Popesku, George
domains@one-cialis.com
Similkova 23
Bukurest, Bukurest 12311
Romania 323445642
Domain servers in listed order:
TWINS.NETISSAT.BG
TWINS2.NETISSAT.BG

Since we don't know anything about this guy, I'd like to announce a Nonfamous contest, for the best post about the Life and Times of G Popesku. Have at it, friends-- what's this guy like? Award good, but TBD!

What was that all about?

Hey Nonfamosi: most of you don't see the comments we're discussing here, because David and I delete dozens a week. It's a pain in the ass. We pay good money to host this site, and invest lots of time in its maintenance. Comment spammers are bottom-feeders, and the blog community is fighting them aggressively to ensure that they don't do to blogs what they have done to email.

Thanks to our high Google pagerank, comment spammers can increase their own PageRank by linking to us. Since this is clearly a valuable service, we've decided to charge for it. (Thanks to PacificViews.org for the text.)

Unauthorized Advertising

The fees and penalties described below expressly do not include non-commercial posts relevant to the topic of the post, or genuine discussion among comment posters, even if the Siteowner disagrees with the content of your post (though we reserve the right to delete any comment at our sole discretion).

This new policy will be effective as of 12:00 am, PST, March 20, 2004, and is binding on all individuals posting in the comments on any page hosted in the nonfamous.com domain name, whether that domain name is referenced by IP address or server name.

Unauthorized Advertising: Here defined as 1) Any comment containing only a commercial site link, or containing only a commercial site link and brief greeting. 2) Any comment superficially relating a personal story, but clearly in the opinion of the Siteowner, posted purely to promote the commercial links included in the post. 3) Any comment unrelated to the topic of the post that contains commercial links. 4) Any comment posted with the expressed intent of entertaining or informing, but added in the opinion of the Siteowner for the sole purpose of promoting links to a commercial site.

Fees: Per incidence fees are $150.49, and apply to each individual post. Per link fees are $150.49, and apply to each discrete URL included in the post, whether those links are to the same site, different sites, or different pages on the same site. A post containing 2 URLs would be charged $451.47, once for the incident, twice for each discrete URL. Terms: Net 30.

Late Fees: If no response or arrangements for payment have been received within 30 days of the initial notification email, an additional $150.49 will be due and payable at that time. An additional $150.49 will be levied for every additional whole or fractional month after the first 60 days of non-payment.

Responsibility: If the Advertiser benefitted by the Unauthorized Advertising is the same as the Advertiser adding the comment, that individual or business shall be held solely liable for fines and collections.

If the Advertiser benefitting and the Advertiser adding the comment are separate parties, they will share joint responsibility as follows: The Advertiser owning the commercial sites linked shall be held wholly responsible for each link going to their site, or any page thereof. If they cannot produce a third party Advertiser responsible for the Unauthorized Advertising, they will be held solely liable for all fees. If multiple Advertisers are linked to in the posting, and no third party Advertiser can be found, they will each be held liable for an equal share of the per incidence fee. Any third party Advertiser who posted Unauthorized Advertising but does not own a site benefitted by the posting will be held liable for the per incidence fee. Liability for late fees will be apportioned equally among all Advertisers who have not settled their bills.

Collections: After 30 days, the Siteowner reserves the right to notify ISPs and hosting providers of all liable parties in an attempt to collect this debt. Siteowner also reserves the right to enlist professional collection agencies, and to notify the major credit bureaus.

March 18, 2004

Touche, Maureen!

At the end of a rather tedious Pride and Prejudice column-as-analogy, Maureen Dowd hit a nice zinger:


When he challenged Mr. Kerry to put up or shut up on his claim of support from foreign leaders, Mr. Bush said, "If you're going to make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign, you've got to back it up with facts."

If you're going to make an accusation in the course of a presidency, you've got to back it up with facts, too.

"Fire a fag, demote a dyke, that's OK"

MemoryBlog: Fed Agency Deletes References to Gays, Then Deletes Gays Themselves

The Memory Hole is becoming one of my favorite sites... a repository of omissions and deletions that are unsurprising yet sickening all the same.

Almost as good as Jeannine's letter

Courtesy of Boing Boing, a shot of some crazy roadside signage from Oklahoma. I'v eactaully seen this, it's along I-35 so like a million people see it area.

It's wild how much this resembles The Famous and Nonfamous Letter: "...this cause greatly accelerated resorting to this area terrorism and criminal acts against us..."

Plum Island madness

I don't read the NY Press often, but it's great this week. This feature on the Plum Island research facility is the stuff of nightmares.

David thinks I'm silly for disliking our nation's habit of putting nuclear reactors near population centers (not to mention rivers), but I hope he'll agree that it's really dumb to put a bioweapons (I mean, uh, anti-bioweapons) facility just a couple miles off the coasts of Long Island and Connecticut. And even dumber to have animals infected with zoonotic diseases hanging around outside (zoonotics, as I learned, are those diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans). But the height of idiocy is to allow sensitive work that had been done by carefully screened federal employees to be handed over to subcontractors.

In the summer of 2002, strife between federal workers and the subcontractors led to a strike; the already questionable workers were replaced with even iffier folk (including at least one worker with a criminal record). Somehow, as the work stoppage dragged on (amidst rumors of sabotage) all three backup generators on the site failed--the critical negative pressure seals began to deflate, and the fridges holding infected animal carcasses started to warm up.

Disaster was averted, but we've yet to see any public hearings on what happened, why, or how the government is working to make sure it doesn't happen again. The NYT has run a few stories, but to no great public outcry.

Worst of all, the scientists who work at Plum Island are doing incredibly risky things (making, for instance, vaccine-resistant strains of anthrax) and publishing in scientific journals about their efforts. The author compares this to the US government running R&D for Al Qaeda, and you can see his point. It does also make one wonder just how coincidental it is that Lyme disease appeared suddenly just miles away in the Connecticut in the 1970s, and how West Nile popped up in the NY area in the 1990s (that, of course, was widely blamed on Saddam.)

No doubt the author of the article is a bit paranoid, but (as our motto attests) sometimes a bit of paranoia is healthy. With warnings like this, if heaven forfend something does get loose and reach the mainland, it will be our own fault. If it does, you can be sure that the government will conveniently "Aznar up" some terrorist organization as the culprit to hide the ugly truth that the US spent decades sowing the dragon's teeth that threaten to spawn new disasters.

Signorile on Bush Family Values

Michael Signorile is a bitter queen and a veteran of culture wars past, but he is still a great writer. He shows off his stuff in this NYPress article about Republican hypocrisy in general and the Bush family's twisted family values. The highlights: brother Neil Bush getting the clap from his Asian slut-fest and fathering an illegitimate child with one of his mom's volunteers, and the Bush girls cavorting in Hollywood in Manhattan. But remember, it's David's and my wedding that's going to cause the Republic to crumble.

March 17, 2004

National Catholic Reporter: "The Passion" un-Christian

In one of the best Christian responses to the Gibson deo-snuff film I've read, Boston College professor Tom Beaudoin writes in the National Catholic Reporter that the film is anti-Christian in both its theology and its specific content. It's a well-reasonsed response.


..."The Passion" cannot be called a Christian film. Moreover, if these depictions of Jesus are taken by viewers to be accurate representations of the meaning and message of Jesus, then the movie is functionally anti-Christian. It is anti-Christian insofar as the overfixation on violence against Jesus provides a dramatic and persuasive escape hatch from the more complicated and demanding witness of the Gospels: that a man whose intimacy with God reverberated through changed relationships that threatened the religious and political powers of his day, and that our own intimacy with God may demand no less.

The article is part of a package including more positive reviews, but it is odd to see that Gibson's paleo-Catholicism aligns better with rabid protestant fundamentalism than modern Catholic theology.

Hail F***ing Britannia

In the midst of our weird, 50s-flashback boob-flash and F-word scandals in the states, Britain's Channel 4 produced this amazing ad featuring tons of celebrities (both American favorites and a bunch of furners I don't recognize) sharing with us their favorite swear words. Obviously NSFW without headphones, but "fucking brilliant". (That's mine, with "for fuck's sake" a close second.) So if you're a Repub, this basically guarantees that the Mother Country is going to drown in its own moral turpitude, right?

March 15, 2004

And not a drop to drink

The interesting Techdirt blog has a great story on a California town that almost passed a law banning Dihydrogen Monoxide. Talk about your dry counties!

The point of acupuncture

A controlled (though obviously not double-blind) clinical trial reveals that acupuncture can help to relieve chronic headaches (BBC News). It's good to see that alternative therapies are getting some scientific review, and it's certainly a cheaper (and arguably safer) means of treating the problem. The British Medical Association even suggests it be available under universal health care.

Personally, I think the question of whether acupuncture has any real benefit remains unproven: this could easily be the result of a placebo effect. This doesn't make it any less effective, of course. But I'd be more impressed if it showed benefit for a complaint which isn't purely self-reported and could be subject to directly measurable improvement.

March 13, 2004

Steal this Music

George Michael made headlines this week for his statement that he'd made enough money and was, from this point forward, going to distribute his music for free on the Internet. At the same time, Korn released a video called "Y'all want a single" that shows the band trashing a record store. The video is punctuated with statistics about the music business - "Hit songs on Top 40 are often repeated over 100 times per week" and "Two radio conglomerates control 42% of listeners." Courtney Love seemed to think that file-swapping is okay, as long as she gets her bank from the record company. (Okay, Courtney's rambling powers of deduction are questionable on a good day. Still.)

There are two things going on here. One is the ongoing battle between the record execs and the artists. (Everyone has seen I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, the Wilco movie, right?) The other, and the part that is more interesting to me, the consumer, has to do with distribution and getting music to the people. Word has it that the real money for artists comes from ticket sales, not record sales - and the way to get people to your shows is to let them hear your music. Copy protection, which is supposed to keep me from sending you .wma versions of that excellent GangStarr remix of Lovesick, is inexact and sometimes makes it impossible for me to play the CD in my computer. If said CD is from the wrong side of the Atlantic, I may not be able to play it at all, on my CD player, in my computer, in my car, anywhere.

I'm pretty sure the music industry is still standing on the pier watching the boat get smaller and smaller. If I hear something interesting on the radio, I go online to find it. And more and more often, I can download it directly from the artist's site, without paying a nickel. If I like what I hear, more often than not, I GO BUY THE ALBUM. And if I play it for you and you like it, sure, you might rip a copy, but you could also be with me when I GO SEE THE ARTIST PERFORM.(Services like iTunes are cool, but only when I already know what I want - they're not that effective in exposing us to new music.)

Maybe the record companies have chosen to go after the file sharers because artists are increasingly cutting them out of the loop. After all, it's not Robbie Williams who's dragging teenagers in to court, it's the RIAA.

I don't really have concise conclusion. But I do have a high speed connection, an MP3 player, and a pretty open mind when it comes to music. I also have a little more allowance money than your average teenager.
Musicians, more and more, totally get it. But is anyone in music marketing listening? Hello?

March 12, 2004

"Sleeves": I kinda want one of these

Well, I want one a lot more than I want a real tattoo.

"Walid Horton"

W's daddy famously ran campaign ads attacking Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis for a Massachusetts program that released convicted rapist Willie Horton, who later committed murder. As he was dying of a brain tumor and making amends, Bush adman Lee Atwater admitted that the ads were (as critics knew all along) a shameful, race-baiting attempt to stir up fear among white voters. (Horton's mug shot was conveniently that of the big, bad black motherfucker of suburban nightmares.)

W is now apparently following the goosesteps of his father with his new ad, which portrays an olive-skinned man as a terrorist (you know, the kind Kerry is soft on). Muslims are not amused. One reader referred to the swarthy figure as "Walid Horton."

But remember--W's a uniter, not a divider!

Another Bush lie-and-coverup

The Knight Ridder newspapers have a juicy scoop that starts with this lede:

The government's top expert on Medicare costs was warned that he would be fired if he told key lawmakers about a series of Bush administration cost estimates that could have torpedoed congressional passage of the White House-backed Medicare prescription-drug plan.

So, much like Iraq, we've been saddled with a hugely expensive program with dubious benefit that only got through Congress because the Bush adminsitration lied and bullied the people whose job it was to come up with the right answers.

It wil lbe interesting to see who picks this up. Kerry will likely be afraid of being attacked as "anti-elderly" if he does.


March 11, 2004

Madrid horror

When David and I woke this morning to an NPR report on the Madrid subway bombings, I have to admit that part of me tuned it out; more woes from an old source, the ETA. But reading the NYT article on the bombings this afternoon, the scope and horror of the tragedy was impossible to push aside. What's worse, it appears likely that Al Qaeda (or affiliated Islamist groups) may have perpetrated the bombing. A note claiming responsibility for the attack said "This is part of settling old accounts with Spain, the crusader, and America's ally in its war against Islam."

I would say that 400 years ago was a pretty old account, but as we've noted much here of late Mel Gibson is still trying to settle scores a couple millennia back (the irony being that the death he thinks he's avenging was, according to his stated beliefs, sufficient to end the cycle of revenge by absolving all).

It is frightening to think of a tragedy like this in a democratic country just three days before an election, and very interesting to see how the Spaniards will respond. The majority of Spaniards rejected the Anglo-American march to war, but perhaps this attack will galvanize public support of Spain's participation on the war on terror. I, for one, would certainly ask how, exactly, Spain's membership in the "coalition of the willing" helped make Spain more safe. I'm still waiting for someone to convince me that the war on Iraq has had any positive effect on the fight against al Qaeda. And I have to say, if I were Muslim, the word "crusade" might very well be on my lips. But mass murder does little to advance a critique of the West's relations with Islam.

A Picture Worth A Thousand Lies

Photoshopping rises to the level of cultural scourge with this informative article from the NYT: The Camera Never Lies, but the Software Can.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

A comment in Slashdot today led me to the fascinating Pirated Sites site. See side-by-side comparisons of websites that have ripped of designs, interfaces, layouts, and sometimes complete content. Here's a choice one: Chilli Media v. Earthnet Media.

Tip: turn of your popup-blocker before browsing this site.

Mud in March

Slate has a great expose on one of the opening anti-Kerry salvos of Bush's reelection campaign. They have taken a completely sensible proposal (to reduce intelligence funding to offset $1.5 billion the spooks were hoarding in a slush fund back in the '90s) and made it look like Kerry was "gutting" intelligence. In fact, the cut was about 1% of total intelligence funding. By the logic of the real story, Bush must like government spending so much that he's fine when, under the cover of secrecy, Federal agencies fail to use taxpayer dollars for the purpose that Congress designated. It's this laser focus on accountability and sound fiscal management that has created the Great W Defecit (the one we'll all be paying off for years, not the one between his ears).

I would say it's shameful to have started to negative so early, but honestly it's cheering to know they are already this desperate. I'm beginning to agree with Bill Maher: Rove is no genius.

March 10, 2004

Life with Dozer, and without.

This is the most difficult post I’ve yet made on nonfamous, about one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make. I should say “we,” because of course David and I have made it together. I think it best just to say it up front: we’re having Dozer euthanized Friday afternoon.

It’s hard not to use the phrase “put to sleep,” which sounds so much easier. Even euthanized is a bit of a euphemism—a “good word” for a “good death.” Who is to decide when death is good—to play God, even for a dog? That said, I’ve always been quick to argue against prolonging the lives of pets with serious physical problems. Keeping an animal in pain alive for sentimental or emotional reasons just strikes me as cruel. I had never considered the calculus involved in deciding when a pet’s mental health has become part of the equation, until the past few weeks.

Friends and frequent readers of this blog know all the details of Dozer’s sundry adventures—his adoption from Stockdog Junction rescue, his leap from David’s six-storey balcony (which he miraculously survived with barely a scratch), his various escapes, and all the rest. At the root of all of this is the fact that Dozer has never truly seemed happy or calm or secure in our home (or his own skin). This is a dog that jumps when I pet him, even if he is curled up next to me.

We’ve had Dozer almost a year now, since he was about five months old. We knew when we adopted him that he had been poorly socialized, but were told he would likely improve with time as he bonded with us. And he did improve somewhat. For a time it seemed he was becoming less skittish, less prone to startling, and better bonded to us. (Of course, he still neurotically destroyed any bed or toy we gave him; during the day he hides under our bed, and woe to trailing linens or any spare shirt that found itself near his neurotic jaws. He was never a “cute puppy chewer,” seeking out items that smelled like us—it was another nervous tic that we could never stop.)

After the New Year, this trend quietly reversed itself. It may have started when we had to give him steroids for severe skin allergies, followed quickly by a horrible stomach bug evidenced by a huge mess in the hallway. He was on a lot of medication there for a while, and perhaps that affected him. He had always been well housebroken before that, but we began realizing that he was peeing inside (eventually, and maddeningly, even when he had just been outside). He stopped coming downstairs to the family room when we called him, and when we would come up on the sofa with us he would jump down if we moved suddenly. He started cowering away from his in his bed when we brought his food in. It was pretty heartbreaking.

We tried last month putting him on anti-anxiety meds, but if anything this made things worse. When we went to Vancouver with my Mom when she visited for her birthday, we thought it would be easier on him to have someone house-sit instead of boarding him. Poor Julie Welch—without getting into the gory details, let’s just say that didn’t go very well.

At this point, we both agreed we couldn’t keep him. He wasn’t happy—and in fact seemed terrified much of the time—and we were stressed and frustrated. We had long noticed that he seemed to do better with some women than he ever did with us. We begin to feel certain that he had been abused by a man at some point, as little else would explain how disturbed he was. (Or perhaps as an Omega dog, maybe Dozer was unsettled by David’s and my coexistence as well-paired Alphas.) So we emailed Debbie at Stockdog Junction, and waited.

The response we got back was unexpected—she raised the possibility that Dozer wasn’t “salvageable.” That word gave me a chill. What did that mean? In the world of rescue, I imagined, there always had to be someone better with dogs, or more patient, or more willing to have their home turned into a dog run. Right? Debbie was going to talk to a behaviorist.

The answer, after a delay and some prodding emails, was that Debbie and not one but two behaviorists have said he should be euthanized. I was reeling at the news, but as we began to think about it we recalled that our vet had had said almost the same thing a few months before. (When we called to talk to our vet this week, nobody at the office was surprised why we were calling.) Debbie felt like there was too small of a chance that anyone would be able to handle him, and that the stress of bringing him back into the rescue environment would be too hard on him. (I must say, I think he might do well there among the other dogs—he does like other dogs—but the long-term prognosis is poor.) Nobody wants this poor little neurotic dog to be traumatized any more than he already has been.

The day after we got this email, I had my moment of realization. I was working in the yard and Dozer was out, doing his customary laps around the house. When he was ready to go in, he hopped up on the porch and started turning circles (as he does when he wants in or out). He just kept turning circles until I took off my gloves and turned to let him in. Just the fact of my looking at him, from ten feet away, was enough to make him pee all over himself and the porch. I almost cried—if he was that frightened of me, I just didn’t see how it would work.

You'd be right in pointing out that we are giving up on trying to place him with someone else, forfeiting the chance that we could keep him until some kind soul showed up to rescue him again. That would mean leaving him in his crate any time we are not actively watching him—he’s just gotten too destructive. (Of course, he would stay in his crate all day if we let him, but it just doesn’t seem like a quality life for a dog.) And if nobody came to take him by May, he would have to endure weeks of houseguests followed by weeks of boarding—something we know would not be pretty. Finally, the harder we thought about it, the less optimistic we were that someone else could do much more than we had. Even if there was some improvement, would Dozer ever approach the level of happy and well-adjusted? And could we visit on someone else the heartbreaking failure we're experiencing now?

My dad raised the good point that Dozer’s behavior put him in harm’s way many, many times in his first year… there is every reason to fear that he could get startled on a walk and get away from us again. He could get hit by a car, randomly abused, or starve to death. He pretty clearly has no survival instinct. That should have told us something right there.

We’ve been reading a lot about rescue and the inevitable role euthanasia plays in it. What we decided in the end was that taking him to the vet and staying with him as a massive dose of painkillers puts him under. That is the only kind of peace I think we can give him, but it’s going to be an awful thing to do.

Reading about dog rescue makes it clear that we humans invest a lot of faith in our ability to love and care for broken, vulnerable things. This is an important part of our humanity—but so is knowing when to let go. I’ve spent many years of my life locked in ridiculous situations by my belief that I could save something or someone—a few doomed relationships, a faltering company, even a benighted city I thought I was destined to enlighten. I’ve learned a lot in the process of hanging on, but my life would be much the poorer had I not learned to find the limit where selflessness became martyrdom. (Martyrs may do good for their respective causes, but they don’t generally do much for the people they claim to be suffering for.) We just can’t imagine Dozer’s doggy life being better in two months or in six if we just hang on, and on the other hand we can imagine life with a normal, happy dog that will thrive in our home.

There are things broken that we can’t fix, and that—as much as the prospect of missing the little red dog with “refugee eyes,”—is what moves me to tears. We cry in rage at the limits of our ability to fix the hurts of the world, our inability to make whole what has been smashed, to ease what little suffering we actually see in our cloistered lives. If I thought long about the tragedies bigger than a dog’s life (and a dog’s death) I should be devoting time and money to, I’m sure I’d be embarrassed. But right now I’m going to cry for Dozer without shame, and hope to God we’re doing the right thing.

Teachers = Terrorists?

I just got the following email from MoveOn.org:

Last month, President Bush's Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, called America's largest teachers' union a "terrorist organization." Why? Because the union had the gall to insist that President Bush live up to his own promises to adequately fund education. Please sign our petition demanding that President Bush fire Secretary Paige.

www.FirePaige.org/index.asp?ms=1

This is typical behavior for the Bush administration. It says one thing - "no child left behind" and does another - under-funding its promises to our schools by $9.4 billion in its latest budget proposal. And when people dare to disagree with its policies, it questions their patriotism or labels them terrorists.

Secretary Paige uses insult to defend the indefensible. Not only did the president break his promise to fund the reforms, his current budget calls for cuts in support for schools over the next five years. And he still wants to take billions from public schools to pay for private school vouchers. So Paige resorts to slurs: even in his supposed apology, he dismissed teachers' growing concerns as "obstructionist scare tactics."

We teach our kids that name calling is not the right way to win an argument - in fact, it’s usually a sign that you don't have the facts on your side. Making our schools better is a tough job. We need a Secretary of Education who sees teachers and their representatives as partners in this effort rather than as enemies. Join us in calling on President Bush to find a better person for the job.

First I've heard of the incident, and a Google News search for "teachers terrorists" doesn't turn up much. Does anyone know in what context this statement was made? Seems odd that it wasn't reported more widely.

March 08, 2004

The Comeback, All Over Again

Joerg Haider, the politician the west loves to hate, has risen to power again with his party’s success in the Carinthia elections. His right wing populism led to EU sanctions against Austria back in 2000 and his inflammatory rhetoric remains a legacy.

Out here in our little alpine village, folks are puzzled. Locals here said that Haider should get out of politics and stay out. He’s been seen as something of an embarrassment in our socially conservative but environmentally green region. My neighbors insist that he’s the voice of the fringe, doesn’t wield that much power and shouldn’t be perceived as the voice of greater Austria.

But when Haider speaks, the world press sits up and pays attention as his handsome features are splashed on the international front pages. His party's success will likely be seen as the rise of the far right - again.

Unfortunately, my grasp of German is such that reading local political analysis eludes me. I have to settle for drawing my own ill-informed conclusions from conversation and the foreign press.

Haider is tan, charismatic, and he’s got movie star looks. He’s a populist who thinks that the rights of Austrians have primacy over that of the EU. Like many Austrians, he was anti-EU, thinking that joining the union would dilute the power of Austrian citizens to control their own economy and resources. He’s a nationalist who doesn’t really care that much what the world thinks of his behavior - witness his trip to Iraq just before the war.

The Austrians I know tend to dismiss Haider’s popularity with a shrug. They say that he’d only be the governor and doesn’t affect national policy. To me, that’s a little like dismissing the Governor of California. Here’s a guy with strong party ties, influence, and control over a large portion of the country; all that and the command of the international media. I’m not so willing to just look away. I see Haider’s popularity as a resurging interest in nationalist and xenophobic policies. The one bit I was able to glean from the German language press is significant: Haider’s success is a party success, meaning his party may have a shot at unseating the moderates currently in power nationally.

The thing that frightens me is not so much Haider himself, but that a population would see fit to elect him. I used to think of him as a sort of Ross Perot character, waiting to see what kind of crazy thing he would say next. But Haider seems to have learned to tone it down a little. After a few years of gathering dust and derision, he appears tanned, rested, and ready for the spotlight again.

Moderate thinking Austrians will protest the attention. “He’s not us! He doesn’t represent us!” they’ll insist. I object. As an American, I constantly make the same statement about the President of the United States, but it doesn’t change the fact that George W. Bush and his party are running my country right now.

There’s an interesting (though somewhat dated - some dead links) Q and A about Austria and Haider here.

March 07, 2004

Under the Influence

I'm the kind of person who's very much driven by daylight, but every time I cross the Atlantic, I end up seeing an entirely different part of the day. For the first few days that I'm on the East side of the Atlantic, I sleep until 11 am and am shocked to see the bright light of the sun when I roll up the blinds. On the Pacific side, I find myself watching late night reruns of Seinfeld (a show I've never liked) and thinking "God, what a great show!". I loved Lost in Translation with my whole heart, not just for the way it captured the passing intimacies of two strangers, but for the way it contained the feeling of standing next to yourself while adjusting - or not - to a far away place. And I love this article by Pico Iyer in the NY Times magazine for the same reason.

"But for a week -- at least -- after I arrive, I'm not myself. I look like myself, perhaps, I may sound something like myself, but I'm wearing my sweater inside out and leaving the unremarkable movie ''Bounce'' embarrassingly moved. "

I crossed the Atlantic in December 2003. At the recommendation of several seasoned travelers, I spent part of the flight in a quiet sleep facilitated by something called "Ambien." I woke up startled to find we were about an hour from Amsterdam, 7am. I'd arranged to meet a fellow traveler in the lounge and he found me alert, talkative, and thirsty as all get out. The distraction of his company kept my mind off the fact that I was jittery and disoriented. When my connecting flight to Vienna took off, I passed out almost immediately. As I shuffled in to the arrivals terminal, the first thing I saw was the new Starbucks. I did not know where I was.

"Another time, I decided to do my taxes as soon as I got off the plane and, happily ignoring a $40,000 payment I had received, faced month after month of I.R.S. letters and threats."

Just like Iyer, one year I decided to take on a enemy bigger than myself before the jet lag had subsided. I chose my auto insurance carrier and embarked upon a war that took many months to resolve. I still tell everyone I know not to use GEICO, but in retrospect, it may have had something to do with the schizophrenic manner in which I chose to interact with them. Fueled by the success of having the late fees removed from my credit card bills, I decided tackle GEICO next. It was 3 am on my first night back in Seattle, and had I no idea of the state of my finances. Never admit this to your insurance company. (Also, I'm not so sure anymore that 24 hour customer service is a good idea. It's required for emergencies, but for your regular business calls? Think about why you're up before you pick up the phone, okay? And think about who's working the 3am shift.)

I'm a convert to the wonders of Melatonin. It doesn't eliminate jet lag entirely, but it does shortens the amount of time it takes me to get over it. The formula you hear all the time is one day for every hour of time change - with Melatonin it takes me 5 days to adjust to an Atlantic crossing, without, 10. After reading Iyer's poetic prose about jet lag, I'm wondering if I shouldn't toss away the Melatonin crutches. I've seen some interesting late night programming on PBS while jetlagged, and there's something about going to buy groceries when the aisles are blocked with stacks of new merchandise. And the middle of the night silence we have here in Austria is unlike any of the quietest of Seattle nights. The only time I experience those hours of life are when I'm under the influence of jet lag.

"When he was a boy, I recall, Rudyard Kipling woke one night with a start and realized that he had been walking in his sleep. All the way through the dreaming house and out into the garden, as the light came up. ''The night got into my head,'' he later wrote..."

"The night got in to my head." Perfect phrasing for the way I feel when I'm jetlagged. I'm almost looking forward to it.

In the Realm of Jet Lag - Pico Iyer

March 05, 2004

Just desserts. and muffins. and brioche. and...

Today, a jury in New York found Martha Stewart guilty on all four remaining charges against her (Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum threw out the most serious charge of securities fraud last week), and she will likely go to jail.

I saw this headline on MSNBC as I was getting my lunch in the dining hall at work, and I was surprised at how stunned I was by the news. First of all, I'd not expected the jury to return a verdict so quickly, and secondly, I had assumed that they would have dismissed all but a token count, and sent Martha home, head hung low, but a free woman, so that the rest of America could moan about the injustice of celebrity trials and how justice is more just for the rich and famous. People could have made much in cocktail party and late-night talk-show conversation about how the bitch didn't get what she deserved. Someone would inevitably have made some fatuous comparison to O.J. Simpson's questionable acquittal, and stories of the disgraced Martha trying to redeem herself by inviting neighbors to Sunday luncheons or showing up at parties rich with the stars of the publishing and television worlds would have kept lips flapping for at least as long as all of the pre-IMClone debacle Martha mini-scandals kept those of us in her anti-fan club entertained.

In fact, I think that would have been the more satisfactory outcome. The bitch did not, in fact, get what she deserved. And I, for one, don't feel a smug satisfaction at her legal comeupance. In fact, I'm kind of sad for her. As much as I've never been inclined to like the woman, and have even had a somewhat dark fascination with collecting stories of her meanness and ill-tempered perfection, and as much as I do think the label of "bitch" probably applies to her, what I can't help but think about is how she must be crumbling inside, thinking "My God. I've completely ruined everything." And as much as I think she might well have been guilty, it would take some pretty hard evidence to convince me that she wasn't convicted more for being a bitch than she was for any attempts to cover up an insider trading misdeed.

Those anti-fans I mentioned earlier, a group I'll gladly align myself with, have been for years, both repelled and drawn to the strange, obsessive pursuit of domestic perfection that even a 1950s housewife couldn't have maintained, and certainly a 2000's single career woman hasn't a prayer of even gaining a toehold on. But she is both, isn't she? And that's what's infuriating. In some ways she's both a professional and domestic bodhisattva, who's achieved success as a media moghul and as a homemaker. And yet, she's a single-woman homemaker. She might keep a superbly ordered home with lovely, inviting spaces, but it's a sad shell of a home when the only family she comes home to at the end of the day are her perfectly groomed chow-chows and her eight pure-breed cats. She might throw an elegant party with an impressive spread of delectables on superb china, and yet, no one wants to come to her party.

No one wants to come to her party because of her reputation as a tyrant and unyielding taskmaster, it's true. She left her beloved Turkey Hill estate in Westport, CT, largely because she felt lonely. The bitch got what she deserved when a new neighbor, upon finding Martha on their doorstep with a housewarming gift of fresh produce from her gardens and freshly laid eggs from her flock of well-manicured heirloom breed chickens, slammed the door in her face. She got what she deserved when the good people of Westport filled the entire "Letters" section of TheNew York Times Magazine one Sunday with "don't let the door hit you on the way out" letters after she moved to her new Manhattan digs. I'm not so convinced, however, that she got what she deserved when a jury of people who we all know never thought Martha viewed as peers, convicted her of four felony charges that could land her in jail until after her 80th birthday.

And the reason I feel so bad for Martha. Really, it's her mother. A stern, kind of controlling woman (at least that's my impression of biographical accounts I've read and from watching the two of them in action on Martha's show), I have this feeling that Martha is driven not a little by a desire to please the woman, a fruitless task I'm sure as well. I might be stretching a little her, but think about it. The stock sale that caused all this hoopla was over a few hundred thousand dollars worth of holdings. Big bank for average Josephines like me, yes, but really, probably a Saturday afternoon shopping trip to Talbots and the Coach store for Ms. Martha. Why risk so much over something that small? I can imagine, a tiny voice in her head, that she might not even have consciously registered, but which had a distinct Nutley accent, riding her for blowing more money than Martha's father earned in a decade while they were starting out.

Of course, now, I'm sure that voice is loud, not in her head, and unrelenting about the mess Martha's made of everything. She might not have had friends, or even friendly acquaintances before, but by any measure that her mother would have understood, Martha had it all. Now, she doesn't even have a shoulder to cry on.

March 04, 2004

More Creeping Lysenkoism

Just days after the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a damning report of the Bush Administration's disdain for scientific advice in policymaking (see Feb 19 entry), Bush ejects two scientists from the Bioethics Council and replaces them with three anti-biotechnology advocates.

There's an insightful discussion of the motivations for this at TechCentralStation. As pointed out there, the BioTechnology Council was created by Bush specifically to provide a range of opinions related to the ethics of biotechnological development:

The Council shall strive to develop a deep and comprehensive understanding of the issues that it considers. In pursuit of this goal, the Council shall be guided by the need to articulate fully the complex and often competing moral positions on any given issue, rather than by an overriding concern to find consensus. The Council may therefore choose to proceed by offering a variety of views on a particular issue, rather than attempt to reach a single consensus position.

What's the point of creating a council to deliver a range of opinions when you deliberately stack it with people all of whom share the same opinion? But as Phil Bowermaster points out:

When making policy on matters as important as stem cell research it's crucial for the President to hear all viewpoints -- unless he's already made up his mind. That's the problem here. Bush has made up his mind and isn't interested in hearing opposing views anymore.

Click those Ruby slippers again, George.

You can read further reactions here and here.

The Economist opines for gay marriage

I have always loved The Economist. So thoughtful, so sober, yet displaying cheeky British wit in its wry captions. I stop short of subscribing to it--I did once, and found there was so much to worry about beyond the things I already knew enough to worry about; and it takes ages to get through a single issue.

But this week's ringing endorsement of full marriage rights for gays and lesbians is a great read, in the classic Economist editorial voice. The best part:

The case for allowing gays to marry begins with equality, pure and simple. Why should one set of loving, consenting adults be denied a right that other such adults have and which, if exercised, will do no damage to anyone else? Not just because they have always lacked that right in the past, for sure: until the late 1960s, in some American states it was illegal for black adults to marry white ones, but precious few would defend that ban now on grounds that it was "traditional". Another argument is rooted in semantics: marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and so cannot be extended to same-sex couples. They may live together and love one another, but cannot, on this argument, be "married". But that is to dodge the real question--”why not?"--and to obscure the real nature of marriage, which is a binding commitment, at once legal, social and personal, between two people to take on special obligations to one another. If homosexuals want to make such marital commitments to one another, and to society, then why should they be prevented from doing so while other adults, equivalent in all other ways, are allowed to do so?

The reason, according to Mr Bush, is that this would damage an important social institution. Yet the reverse is surely true. Gays want to marry precisely because they see marriage as important: they want the symbolism that marriage brings, the extra sense of obligation and commitment, as well as the social recognition. Allowing gays to marry would, if anything, add to social stability, for it would increase the number of couples that take on real, rather than simply passing, commitments. The weakening of marriage has been heterosexuals' doing, not gays', for it is their infidelity, divorce rates and single-parent families that have wrought social damage.

The article ends with the best argument against second-class "civil unions" I've yet read:

The importance of marriage for society's general health and stability also explains why the commonly mooted alternative to gay marriage—a so-called civil union—is not enough. Vermont has created this notion, of a legally registered contract between a couple that cannot, however, be called a “marriage”. Some European countries, by legislating for equal legal rights for gay partnerships, have moved in the same direction (Britain is contemplating just such a move, and even the opposition Conservative leader, Michael Howard, says he would support it). Some gays think it would be better to limit their ambitions to that, rather than seeking full social equality, for fear of provoking a backlash—of the sort perhaps epitomised by Mr Bush this week.

Yet that would be both wrong in principle and damaging for society. Marriage, as it is commonly viewed in society, is more than just a legal contract. Moreover, to establish something short of real marriage for some adults would tend to undermine the notion for all. Why shouldn't everyone, in time, downgrade to civil unions? Now that really would threaten a fundamental institution of civilisation.

You know, this makes me think about why Canada--which has a society so solid as to be boring--was willing to go full-throttle for "marriage." I think our friends to the north realized exactly this point--that any increase in full-fledged matrimony is a public good.

There is just something about the prose style that makes any alternative seem foolish. I probably have my mind changed on complex issues by The Economist more often than any publication, even though I read it just five or six times a year. If you know anyone who strongly opposes gay marriage, this is probably the best-reasoned (and best-written) article to share with them.

David, maybe we should subscribe. If we do, remind me why the value of reading it outweighs my inevitable loss of sleep over the looming debt crisis in Kazakhstan, which of course I would never have known about otherwise.

March 03, 2004

"The Passion" and gay marriage

Amidst the general gloom I am gladdened to see prominent conservatives whom I respect weigh in against Mel Gibson's bloodbath. William Safire does so brilliantly in last Sunday's NYT (full text copied below for posterity). He leads with quite a statement:

The word "passion" is rooted in the Latin for "suffer." Mel Gibson's movie about the torture and agony of the final hours of Jesus is the bloodiest, most brutal example of sustained sadism ever presented on the screen.
Because the director's wallowing in gore finds an excuse in a religious purpose -- to show how horribly Jesus suffered for humanity's sins -- the bar against film violence has been radically lowered. Movie mayhem, long resisted by parents, has found its loophole; others in Hollywood will now find ways to top Gibson's blockbuster, to cater to voyeurs of violence and thereby to make bloodshed banal.

Also notable is old-lefty turned Bush-defender Christopher Hitchens, who manages to savage the movie and tie in the gay-marriage controversy at the same time in an excellent piece in Slate. He does so to buttress a much more important arguement: that Gibson's anti-semitism also smacks of a homophobia that served as another pillar for fascism (as some might recall, a combination that has caused some trouble). To wit:

The gay movement in the United States—and the demand for civil unions and even for actual marriage—has had at least one good effect with which nobody can quarrel. The closeted homosexual is a sad figure from the past, and so is the homosexual who tries desperately to "marry" a heterosexual, thus increasing misery and psychic repression all round.

This may seem like an oblique way in which to approach Mel Gibson's ghastly movie The Passion. But it came back to me this week that an associate of his had once told me, in lacerating detail, that an evening with Mel was one long fiesta of boring but graphic jokes about anal sex. I've since had that confirmed by other sources. And, long before he emerged as the spear-carrier for the sort of Catholicism once preached by Gen. Franco and the persecutors of Dreyfus, Mel Gibson attained a brief notoriety for his loud and crude attacks on gays. Now he's become the proud producer of a movie that relies for its effect almost entirely on sadomasochistic male narcissism. The culture of blackshirt and brownshirt pseudomasculinity, as has often been pointed out, depended on some keen shared interests. Among them were massively repressed homoerotic fantasies, a camp interest in military uniforms, an obsession with flogging and a hatred of silky and effeminate Jews. Well, I mean to say, have you seen Mel's movie?

(It is interesting that this film premiered the same week that the Oscars mourned the passing of Nazi propgandist filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl; Hitchens makes a good case that Gibson is her true--if less talented--heir.)

Hitchens' article resonated even more after our viewing of "Capturing the Friedmans"--a treatise on the horrors of the closeted family man, among other things. What Hitchens makes so amazingly clear is that all of these wrongs--anti-semitism, fascism, homophobia--are just different sides of the same beast. Christianity, in many if not most of its forms today, is all too complicit in feeding the beast. While Christ offered the bread of life, Gibson offers a feast of hatred.

All of this frames the question I'll be asking all my conservative Christian friends and family is, "Whom do you want to break bread with?" Because we've come to the point where I cannot, and will not, share the table with people who worship Gibson's "Christianator" and think my marriage is the work of Satan. While I can make room for differences of opinion, it's just foolish to try to meet a Manichean halfway.

Safire is right, I think, to remind us that Christ said "I came not to send peace, but a sword," a verse he points out doesn't end up on a lot of Christmas cards. To me, that means that even the message of grace and redemption is something every Christian has to struggle for, lest it be drowned by the blood-dimmed tide. (Hearing so much Yeats in my head these days can't be a good sign.)

It is time to speak up against those who believe that professing faith in Christ earns them an infallible place on the side of Good, time to point out that they are as dangerous as any Islamist (and, in fact, share with radical Islam a twisted worldview that stands in opposition to the Western liberal tradition in its post-Enlightenment entirety). We would be wrong to see a Gibson's movie as anything other than a ferocious salvo in what has thus far been a cold war (give or take a few abortion-clinic bombings) between Christian fundamentalists and those arrayed against them. (And that coalition includes rational people of all faiths, and of course those with no faith.) Aligning oneself with people one doesn't fully agree with is a great exercise in spiritual humility; it's one of the clearest ways to say "I can know what's wrong without claiming to know all the answers." (While the evolving coalition of Protestant and Catholic fundamentalists is a bit disconcerting, I don't expect it will be too long before they get tripped up on dogma, the Pope's robes, and ever-contentious Mary.)

But about that cold war. Concerns about anti-semitism are not misguided, but misplaced. The battlefront is much wider, as Gibson makes clear when he tars every critic of the movie as a "secular humanist." It's us against them, and the Christo-Fascists have a lot more guns than we do. With fuel like "The Passion of the Christ" tossed onto an already raging fire, expect things to heat up.

Not Peace, but a Sword
By WILLIAM SAFIRE

The word "passion" is rooted in the Latin for "suffer." Mel Gibson's movie about the torture and agony of the final hours of Jesus is the bloodiest, most brutal example of sustained sadism ever presented on the screen.

Because the director's wallowing in gore finds an excuse in a religious purpose — to show how horribly Jesus suffered for humanity's sins — the bar against film violence has been radically lowered. Movie mayhem, long resisted by parents, has found its loophole; others in Hollywood will now find ways to top Gibson's blockbuster, to cater to voyeurs of violence and thereby to make bloodshed banal.

What are the dramatic purposes of this depiction of cruelty and pain? First, shock; the audience I sat in gasped at the first tearing of flesh. Next, pity at the sight of prolonged suffering. And finally, outrage: who was responsible for this cruel humiliation? What villain deserves to be punished?

Not Pontius Pilate, the Roman in charge; he and his kindly wife are sympathetic characters. Nor is King Herod shown to be at fault.

The villains at whom the audience's outrage is directed are the actors playing bloodthirsty rabbis and their rabid Jewish followers. This is the essence of the medieval "passion play," preserved in pre-Hitler Germany at Oberammergau, a source of the hatred of all Jews as "Christ killers."

Much of the hatred is based on a line in the Gospel of St. Matthew, after the Roman governor washes his hands of responsibility for ordering the death of Jesus, when the crowd cries, "His blood be on us, and on our children."

Though unreported in the Gospels of Mark, Luke or John, that line in Matthew — embraced with furious glee by anti-Semites through the ages — is right there in the New Testament. Gibson and his screenwriter didn't make it up, nor did they misrepresent the apostle's account of the Roman governor's queasiness at the injustice.

But biblical times are not these times. This inflammatory line in Matthew — and the millenniums of persecution, scapegoating and ultimately mass murder that flowed partly from its malign repetition — was finally addressed by the Catholic Church in the decades after the defeat of Naziism.

In 1965's historic Second Vatican Council, during the papacy of Paul VI, the church decided that while some Jewish leaders and their followers had pressed for the death of Jesus, "still, what happened in his passion cannot be charged against all Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today."

That was a sea change in the doctrinal interpretation of the Gospels, and the beginning of major interfaith progress.

However, a group of Catholics rejects that and other holdings of Vatican II. Mr. Gibson is reportedly aligned with that reactionary clique. (So is his father, an outspoken Holocaust-denier, but the son warns interviewers not to go there. I agree; the latest generation should not be held responsible for the sins of the fathers.)

In the skillful publicity run-up to the release of the movie, Gibson's agents said he agreed to remove that ancient self-curse from the screenplay. It's not in the subtitles I saw the other night, though it may still be in the Aramaic audio, in which case it will surely be translated in the versions overseas.

And there's the rub. At a moment when a wave of anti-Semitic violence is sweeping Europe and the Middle East, is religion well served by updating the Jew-baiting passion plays of Oberammergau on DVD? Is art served by presenting the ancient divisiveness in blood-streaming media to the widest audiences in the history of drama?

Matthew in 10:34 quotes Jesus uncharacteristically telling his apostles: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." You don't see that on Christmas cards and it's not in this film, but those words can be reinterpreted — read today to mean that inner peace comes only after moral struggle.

The richness of Scripture is in its openness to interpretation answering humanity's current spiritual needs. That's where Gibson's medieval version of the suffering of Jesus, reveling in savagery to provoke outrage and cast blame, fails Christian and Jew today.

Releasing the Friedmans?

David and I watched Capturing the Friedmans last night, and I have to say it is one of the most depressing documentaries I've seen in a long time. While it concerns accusations of mass child molestation against a middle-class father and son in Long Island, it sheds much more light on three other themes. Namely, dysfunctional families, the troubled intersection of truth and the American criminal justice system, and the inherent creepiness of home movies.

I don't think any amount of investigation could untangle the facts--and I'm pretty sure I don't want to watch "hours of previously unreleased footage" on the bonus disc (which we didn't get, having ordered the film on Netflix). The case is a member of a category we could call "nacreous events" where the layers of investigation, reportage, and rumor have covered the truth much as an oyster coats a grain of sand. We just can't see through to the truth anymore.

Of course it doesn't help that the filmmakers chose to tell the story in the best Dateline NBC method--taking the most dramatic path through already highly charged material. Slate has a great article arguing that (particularly given the additional information in the DVD release) the filmmakers' refusal to take more of a stand is morally questionable. (Without giving too much away for those who might like to see the movie, a lot hinges on the credibility of child witnesses who were pretty clearly bullied by police investigators in hours-long interrogations where they may have suggested some of the worst allegations.)

But back to those two other topics. First, the film would make almost anyone feel better about the mental health of their families. The Friedmans--whether or not they are vile criminals--are totally fucking nuts, with the possible exception of the mom, who seems relatively sane (which is to say, still certifiable). Oh, and the middle son Seth, who refused to participate in the film, has that arguing in favor of some level of normal psychic processes.

One of the main things that makes these people (particularly eldest son David) so crazy is their insistence on filming nearly every moment of familial collapse. Few things make me as crazy as hearing families argue (particularly children screaming at their parents), so the majority of the movie completely set my teeth on edge.

One has to wonder what would motivate someone (back in the late '80s, before the explosion of reality television) to film so much of such awful goings-on? David Friedman offers a lame excuse for one bit of filming, along the lines of "I think I thought if I filmed it I wouldn't have to remember it myself." Uh, right. David Friedman comes across as utterly insane--his belief in his father's and brother's innocence is enough to convince one that they must indeed be evil pedophiles.

Anyway, although we own a video camera, I hereby swear not to record any horriffic scenes of family argument or mental collapse. This film is almost enough to make me reconsider the whole wedding documentary thing. (Almost.) I'm just glad to be reminded that however odd or funny my family might occasionally be, we are deeply sane, healthy, and most of all loving.

Giant Rights

In the latest blow to equality and justice for all, now tall people are being denied -- by activist judges, no less! -- their constitutional right to be preferentially seated in the exit row.

I'm being sarcastic, of course. (I'm also a bit confused: why do women need the extra room at 5'10", but guys need to be 6'2" before they get uncomfortable?) This kind of thing annoys me, that there is such expectation that a minor convenience deserves such redress. It's not as if these people are being denied comfort: no one is preventing them from buying a business seat, or from flying on a different airline with more leg room! Each of us is born with certain faculties in life: height, weight, mobility, and such, but that doesn't mean the market has a requirement to accommodate us perfectly, and especially not at the expense of others.

Of course, at the same time I'm asking for special consideration: to marry my same-sex partner. What's the difference? The difference is that there isn't a market for marriage licenses -- I can't simply visit another license provider who would be happy to serve me (perhaps at a different price). Jay and I are being denied a fundamental right at a universal level, with no alternative.

And that's all we ask for really: the possibility of an alternative. Just as I don't think it's right that every airline should be required to carry tall people in larger seats, I don't think it's right that every church should be required to perform gay marriages. I don't think anyone is asking for that, and on a personal level, I don't even want to get married in a church anyway. But I do wany my love for Jay to be recognized by society, to be able to file our taxes together, and to live out our lives in peace.

March 01, 2004

Let Us Eat Cake

DemelCase.jpg

There's a whole lot of controversy over who, exactly, said "Let them eat cake" though when confronted with the pastry case at the Demel, Vienna's famous bakery, it's not surprising that Marie Antoinette gets all the credit. After all, she was an Austrian princess.

We've just come to the end of a two week cake eating binge. We estimate that we consumed nearly 30 different varieties of cake, with not one repetition. In case you think we're total gluttons, we didn't eat 30 individual slices per - we had four people and ate our cake family style. It was four slices per sitting. It's still a hell of a lot of cake, but how can you limit yourself?

Note to Vienna bound honeymooners: Do not miss the Demel.

Politics by playground ethics

Apparently, the Bush administration has taken on a new philosophy in dealing with political opponents--tit for tat influence. It works, not unlike old elementary school playground rules, where, say, you swipe my jump rope so I put a hole in your kickball ball. And they've even demonstrated their keenness to use this most assuredly effective tool twice this week.

First, they decided to ban French foie gras and sausages a day after France puts on a ban on Texas poultry products coming into their country because of the bird flu outbreak there. They cited concerns about handling and safety. Which would be a whole hell of a lot more convincing if they actually bothered inspecting the food safety practices in the meatpacking plants that provide most of the burgers and chicken parts the country consumes.

Then later in the week, apparently shocked that the call for a constitutional amendment discriminating against people based on sexual orientation didn't get the resounding support he'd hoped, the administration announced that, in retaliation for San Francisco's issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the Social Security Administration wouldn't recognize ANY marriage licenses issued in San Francisco, for gay or hetero couples. I'm sure he's thinking that by not recognizing the straight marriages he'll create a backlash against the San Francisco action. I'm more hoping that the good people of San Francisco will be that much more mobilized to fight Bush's proposed amendment and to do everything possible to get such an immature, petty, and vindictive little twerp out of the white house.

Sorry to all those used to reading much more eloquant pieces on this site. I'm riled and angry, and not much in the mood for waxing poetic today.

Thomas Jefferson on Gay Marriage

Sir Ian McKellan recited this apposite quote from Thomas Jefferson during a discussion of gay marriage on Real Time with Bill Maher last Friday:

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors. -- Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

Would that we saw such wisdom today.