Saturday, December 30, 2006

Video of Saddam's Execution

You can view video of Saddam being executed here. It shows everything except for the snap of his neck.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Annan's Farewell Speech

Yesterday, Kofi Annan made his farewell speech after 10 years as the Secretary General of the United Nations. The speech has been widely reported in the media as blasting the US but, as we have come to expect from a news media suffering attention deficit disorder, very little of the substance of the speech has been actually analyzed in the mainstream press.

The frame of Annan's speech, which took place at the Truman Presidential Museum and Library, was based on the five lessons that he had learned in the decade he ran the UN.

"My first lesson is that in today's world security of every one of us is linked to that of everyone else. That was already true in Truman's time. The man who in 1945 gave order for nuclear weapons to be used for the first time, and let us hope the only time, in history understood that security for some could never come or be achieved at the expense of insecurity for others."

This is certainly an indictment of isolationists like Bush and his companions, who choose to make policy decisions in spite of global opinion rather than trying to build consensus. While I would not argue that the United States, or any country, should need the permission of others to defend itself, alienating other countries is irresponsible, stupid, and does not make the homeland any safer.

This statement is also applicable to the act of nation building. The United States is in Iraq and had the invasion been successful it may have made Iraq secure. But once the decision was made the unilaterally invade the country it is incumbent on the dominating power to secure the occupied nation so that it does not spill into civil war as Iraq clearly has.

"My second lesson is that we are not only all responsible for each other's security. We are also, in some measure, responsible for each other's welfare. Global solidarity is both necessary and possible. It is necessary because without a measure of solidarity no society can be truly stable, and no one's prosperity truly secure. That applies to national societies -- as all the great industrial democracies learned in the 20th century -- but it also applies to the increasingly integrated global market economy we live in today."

As the United States allows its corporations free reign in the world market and does little to oversee or penalize those who engage in exploitative labor practices overseas, it is complicit, and therefore partially to blame, in the perpetuation of human rights abuses. This point is partly about the government, but also about the American consumers. Those who purchase diamonds must recognize that they participate in an industry that exploits workers in some of the most horrendous ways imaginable. (Incidentally, the new film Blood Diamond illustrates this very well.) At home, Annan's second point is also relevant to raising the minimum wage and creating affordable and accessible health care.

"My third lesson is that both security and development ultimately depend on respect for human rights and the rule of law. Although increasingly interdependent, our world continues to be divided -- not only by economic differences, but also by religion and culture. That is not in itself a problem. Throughout history human life has been enriched by diversity, and different communities have learnt from each other. But if our different communities are to live together in peace we must stress also what unites us: our common humanity, and our shared belief that human dignity and rights should be protected by law."

This point is a statement against the politics of exclusion, whether it be based on race, religion, sexual orientation, and the like. The paradox of this inclusiveness is that we should not be so tolerant that we tolerate intolerance. While people cannot be legally penalized for believing stupid things (i.e. homosexuals are evil and marriage between them will bring about the collapse of society), we should not act as though these ideas are acceptable or deserve the same respect as notions based on reason and fact. And we certainly should not allow these stupid ideas to be codified into laws and constitutions, nor should politicians or others be using them to get their flock to the polls.

My fourth lesson -- closely related to the last one -- is that governments must be accountable for their actions in the international arena, as well as in the domestic one. Today the actions of one state can often have a decisive effect on the lives of people in other states. So does it not owe some account to those other states and their citizens, as well as to its own? I believe it does.

What Annan is getting at here is the place and function of international courts, and this statement could be interpreted as a hint that the UN ought to assume a greater role in prosecuting war crimes. If that is the case, I will take this a set further and say that Annan is suggesting that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others maybe subject to war crime charges and that the UN ought to begin a process of building a criminal case against them. On the larger scale, I think Annan's point speaks to a possible emergence of the UN not just as a meeting place but as a world wide governing body whose voice cuts across borders and customs. This has lots of other implications, such as the domination and establishment of a basic norms and laws and how the establishment of such norms may impact minority cultures.

"My fifth and final lesson derives inescapably from those other four. We can only do all these things by working together through a multilateral system, and by making the best possible use of the unique instrument bequeathed to us by Harry Truman and his contemporaries, namely the United Nations. In fact, it is only through multilateral institutions that states can hold each other to account. And that makes it very important to organize those institutions in a fair and democratic way, giving the poor and the weak some influence over the actions of the rich and the strong."

Again, Annan hints that the UN may be the heart in the darkness, able to cast a unifying light throughout the world, bringing it under a single standard of living. His last statement here, that we "organize those institutions in a fair and democratic way, giving the poor and the weak some influence over the actions of the rich and the strong," speaks to a optimism about the potential of the UN and infallibility of democracy that I find a little too naive, since all democracies are doomed to eventually turn into dictatorships.

On the whole, I think that Annan's speech speaks not just to the United States, but to issues for many nations around the world at all levels of development. His ideas about the relationship between the the haves and the have-nots are applicable both at the macro and micro levels. Annan may have just nailed the five areas that world leaders need to pay attention.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ho Ho Ho

Here is a story to spread that holiday cheer:

Mother Has 12-Year-Old Son Arrested for Opening Christmas Gift Early
By Monica Chen · The Herald - Updated 12/05/06

A mother convinced Rock Hill police to arrest her 12-year-old son after he unwrapped a Christmas present early.

The boy's great-grandmother had specifically told him not to open his Nintendo Game Boy Advance, which she had wrapped and placed beneath the Christmas tree, according to a police report.

But on Sunday morning, she found the box of the popular handheld game console unwrapped and opened. When the boy's 27-year-old mother heard about the opened gift, she called police.

"He took it without permission. He wanted it. He just took it," said the 63-year-old great-grandmother.

Both the great-grandmother and the mother asked the boy on Sunday where the present was. The boy replied he didn't know.

When the mother threatened to call the police, the boy went into his room and got the Game Boy, the report stated. She called the police anyway.

Two Rock Hill police officers responded to the home and charged the boy with petty larceny. He was charged as a juvenile and released the same day, said police spokesman Lt. Jerry Waldrop, who added the boy was never held at the jail.

"We wouldn't hold a 12-year-old," he said.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

And Now for a Word from Our Sponser

Much has been made about the fact that >more and more Americans get their news from late night comedy shows such as The Tonight Show or The Late Show than they do from local news broadcasts. Ironically, Americans might be better off watching these monologues for their news information than tuning into their local network affiliate news cast.

>This new study shows that in the month before the 2006 election, the average thirty-minute television news broadcast aired four minutes and twenty-four seconds of political ads but only one minute, forty-three seconds to election news coverage. From early September to early October, local news broadcasts devoted thirty-six seconds to election coverage. The study also found that throughout the election, news stories engaged in an "echo effect" where the political story was about a specific campaign ad.

This is probably the strongest indictment of television news in recent years and it is indicative of the larger problems with political coverage in mass media. There is no real inquiry, just repetition of talking points given by the candidates at their parties.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The More Things Change . . .

Two weeks ago when the Democrats won back Congress, many took it as a sign of hope, that things were really about to change.

Now Representative Charles Rangel, a Democrat from New York, said he would like to reinstate the draft. This comes on the heels of the Pentagon's new Iraq study which reveals three options: Send in more troops, shrink the force but stay longer, or pull out.

initially it would seem that a draft is entirely unlikely since it is an unpopular idea. However, with US forces stretched so thin and military recruiters constantly coming short on their recruiting quotas the government will have to find some way of making up for the lack of manpower. The military has already relaxed its standards (Except, of course, if a potential soldier is gay. That is still not acceptable.) and given that the Bush administration is apparently most interested in sending more troops to Iraq, as many as 20,000, and the potential conflicts in Iran, North Korea, and Somalia, there might not be any other option.

This makes the draft proposal coming from a Democrat even more frightening. This is the party that should have been acting as the loyal opposition, but only in the past year and a half has it truly begun to question the war and stand up to the White House, and even that has been half assed. But now, after reelecting them to power, to have a high ranking member of the party suggest that they reinstate the draft, is very worrisome. And while it is unlikely, if someone had told me in 2000 that by 2003 we would be fighting in Iraq and by 2006 the United States would be losing the war, I would have laughed.

I'm not laughing now.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Day of Freedom

Yesterday Americans cast their vote and gave Democrats control of both houses of congress. Unlike the elections of the six years, the public was unable to ignore the debacle that is Iraq, the homophobia and hypocrisy of hardcore Christian conservatives, the mismanagement of tax dollars, and a misguided border policy. The overwhelming amount of scandals, impropriety, hypocrisy, and just plain bullshit has finally caught up to the Republicans. They are now being served what they have sown.

Things have been fairly quiet in Valhalla's War Room for these past couple of months, mostly due to issues of a personal nature that kept me from blogging on the election and other relevant topics. And while I am thrilled that Bush's agenda now faces an uphill battle, I am not prepared to let the Democrats off the hook. I do not, and have never, considered myself a Democrat. I just find them easier to take. If, as I fear, Hillary Clinton is the next Democratic presidential candidate, I have plenty worry about.

And, lest we forget, yesterday was also a day of freedom for another prominent American. While I do not usually pay much attention to this sort of thing, this article still has me laughing.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

Here is wishing everyone a happy and indulgent Halloween (or Samhain).

As a way to welcome the holiday, here is the tune "This is Halloween" as performed by Marilyn Manson from the new soundtrack album to The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Halloween Edition of Maverick at the Movies

On Tuesday, October 31 89.7 KMSU FM will air a special Halloween edition of Maverick at the Movies at 1 pm. This episode will include music from a wide variety of horror films as well as a few tricks and treats along the way.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Happy Friday the 13th

A happy Friday the 13th to everyone!

Look at the above image with 3-D glasses if you have them.

I hope you are finding some way of having fun with the day, either by pulling pranks or sitting down and enjoying some quality filmmaking.

If any of you are wondering why this date has such a notorious reputation, check this out.

In honor of the weekend, the release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and the Halloween season, Sunday's edition of Maverick at the Movies will include music from slasher films and an interview with Peter Bracke, author of Crystal Lake Memories: the Complete History of Friday the 13th.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

KMSU Pledge Drive

89.7 KMSU FM is currently having their fall pledge drive. There are prizes and gifts for various levels of pledge contributions, including t-shirts, CDs, and a limited number of Day Sponsorships in which you can program the music playing on The Maverick.

The amount of money contributed does not matter nearly as much as the fact that you have contributed. While it would be easy if one listener was able to cut the station a $15,000 check, it would be far more impressive if 15,000 community members contributed $1, because that would demonstrate how important KMSU is to the southern Minnesota community.

And the station is that important. KMSU FM is a platform for new and local musical artists, it gives voice to minority communities, provides local news, and presents alternative political and artistic viewpoints. These things are simply not found on commercial radio. We need your help to make this continue.

You can contribute to the station by calling 507-389-5678 or check out the station's website for online contributions.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Olbermann's Statement

I did not post anything on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attack because I do not feel that the memorialization of this event has helped anyone heal. It has only reopened five year old wounds, making people complict to their leaders. Whether it was intentional or not, the decisions by news organizations to re-run news footage and stop reporting any other events that day feeds into a propaganda machine for the Bush administration. I refused to be a part of that.

However, after seeing Keith Olbermann's statement from MSNBC, I think there may be some cause for hope.

Olbermann says nearly everything I would have said myself, if I were given the opportunity, and done it in an articulate, pointed, and intelligent way. Everything our President is not.

The Eight Americas

In the 2004 presidential campaign, John Edwards often commented that there were two Americas. He seemed to be referring to a Marxist proletariat and bourgeois distinction. A new study suggests that there are as many as eight Americas, at least in terms of health and life span.

Where you live, combined with race and income, plays a huge role in the nation's health disparities, differences so stark that a report issued Monday contends it's as if there are eight separate Americas instead of one.

Millions of the worst-off Americans have life expectancies typical of developing countries, concluded Dr. Christopher Murray of the Harvard School of Public Health.
* * *
Health disparities are widely considered an issue of minorities and the poor being unable to find or afford good medical care. Murray's county-by-county comparison of life expectancy shows the problem is far more complex, and that geography plays a crucial role.
* * *
Murray analyzed mortality data between 1982 and 2001 by county, race, gender and income. He found some distinct groupings that he named the "eight Americas:"
  • Asian-Americans, average per capita income of $21,566, have a life expectancy of 84.9 years.
  • Northland low-income rural whites, $17,758, 79 years.
  • Middle America (mostly white), $24,640, 77.9 years.
  • Low income whites in Appalachia, Mississippi Valley, $16,390, 75 years.
  • Western American Indians, $10,029, 72.7 years.
  • Black Middle America, $15,412, 72.9 years.
  • Southern low-income rural blacks, $10,463, 71.2 years.
  • High-risk urban blacks, $14,800, 71.1 years.

Longevity disparities were most pronounced in young and middle-aged adults. A 15-year-old urban black man was 3.8 times as likely to die before the age of 60 as an Asian-American, for example.

That's key, Murray said, because this age group is left out of many government health programs that focus largely on children and the elderly.

This kind of study, along with other evidence that the gap between rich and poor is increasing, should be alarming. This is not a matter of comfort; this is about life and death.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Devil Didn't Make Them Do It

It was announced yesterday that the Vatican's chief exorcist has proclaimed that Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were possessed by the devil.

Father Gabriele Amorth who is Pope Benedict XVI's 'caster out of demons' made his comments during an interview with Vatican Radio.

Father Amorth said: "Of course the Devil exists and he can not only possess a single person but also groups and entire populations.

"I am convinced that the Nazis were all possessed. All you have to do is think about what Hitler - and Stalin did. Almost certainly they were possessed by the Devil.

"You can tell by their behaviour and their actions, from the horrors they committed and the atrocities that were committed on their orders. That's why we need to defend society from demons."

According to secret Vatican documents recently released wartime pontiff Pope Pius XII attempted a "long distance" exorcism of Hitler which failed to have any effect.

Had this statement come from a small-time protestant preacher or a low level Catholic priest I would probably blow it off, but this statement comes from a man in a central position in the Catholic Church. We should all bear in mind Amorth's view on the Harry Potter books, saying "Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil." Let that color how much stock you want to put in his opinion.

Amorth's--and by extension the Catholic Church's--position is troubling for the way it reduces Hitler and Stalin and the actions that their governments committed. Rather than acknowledging that the Nazis and the Soviets were human beings who committed heinous atrocities, Amorth and the Church would rather dwell in a fantasyland where people are manipulated like puppets by supernatural beings.

Christianity has often used Satan as a scapegoat; Satan was envisioned by early Judaism as an independent being who created evil in the world, and thus took the blame for suffering endured by the Jewish community, relieving the early conception of god (which was relatively holistic) . As Satan's significance in Christian mythology grew, so did the use of this icon as a political tool to demonize enemies of the Church. Today, Satan is used as an excuse for those who will not take responsibility for their own actions. This was at the heart of the Satanic Ritual Abuse hoax and the rash of supposed possessions related to it.

The assertion that Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were under demonic possession is a dangerously reductionist position that prevents us from learning the real lessons of these time periods. To say that Stalin, Hitler and their followers were possessed by the devil takes away their humanity and, most importantly, their responsibility in the atrocities of World War II. The Holocaust was not the work of the devil. It was the work of human beings who made terrible choices. Dwelling in a psycho-drama is not going to help us understand why these events happened or prevent them from happening again. It is like the mental patient who believes that a hallucination or a multiple personality made them commit a crime. The patient has to believe this because their crime is too terrible to coalesce with their conception of themselves. Treatment has to cure the hallucination and make the patient take ownership of their actions. A statement like Amorth's strengthens the crutch and the hallucination and does not bring anyone closer to enlightenment.

Monday, August 21, 2006

When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

Tonight HBO ran the first half of Spike Lee's new documentary film When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. The first half (Acts I and II) covered Hurricane Katrina's impact with the Gulf Coast, the collapse of the levees, and the immediate aftermath of the storm. The second half (Acts III and IV) will air tomorrow night.

This is easily one of the most provocative but fair, visceral but tasteful, informative but heartbreaking documentary films I have ever seen. Spike Lee has created a landmark piece of television. That it could only be made for and seen by a small television audience is a shame. Hopefully the film will be released on DVD soon. Until then, do what you can to see it.

Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst disasters in American history. While I had a vague sense of this, it was not until watching this documentary that one uncomfortable truth became apparent: the disaster in New Orleans was a bigger calamity than the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. Although Katrina's loss of life was roughly half of what it was in the World Trade Center attack, the per-acre devastation, the displacement of citizenry, and the financial cost of the recovery easily exceeds the attack on 9/11.

I am reminded of Edward R. Murrow's keynote address at the Radio-Television News Directors Association & Foundation's 1958 convention. This speech was dramatized in the film Good Night, and Good Luck.

"I am frightened by the imbalance, the constant striving to reach the largest possible audience for everything; by the absence of a sustained study of the state of the nation. Heywood Broun once said, "No body politic is healthy until it begins to itch." I would like television to produce some itching pills rather than this endless outpouring of tranquilizers. It can be done. Maybe it won't be, but it could . . . To those who say people wouldn't look; they wouldn't be interested; they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.

Spike Lee's new film is an example of the possibilities of television realized to their full potential. It's why I love the film medium and the documentary genre. And it is also a symbol of hope for those of us who hope to produce work that rises above overwhelming drone of celebrity gossip and canned laughter.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Warfare Lessons of the 20th Century

I found the following commentary by Bruce Herschensohn in today's LBN E-Lert very interesting:

If the 20th century can teach the people of the 21st century anything regarding warfare, three clear messages stand out; 1. We should always give significance to the announced pursuits of a hostile force. Eight decades back, few believed the goals expressed in "Mein Kampf." Today, few concern themselves with the three-word goal that is expressed in daily statements, chants, and shouts: "Death to America?" 2. The victories of the United States and its allies in World War II came only through the use of our highly disproportionate attacks, and that is how we forced the unconditional surrender of our enemies. Had we used only proportionate, balanced attacks, we would have guaranteed, at best, a stalemate. 3. Diplomacy with tyrannies proved futile. Negotiations in the most prominent disputes have produced nothing but momentary optimism followed by disaster:- Negotiations didn't succeed in 1938 in Munich when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed an agreement with Adolf Hitler, proclaiming the agreement would ensure peace. - Negotiations didn't succeed in 1945 when President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill accepted the Yalta Agreements with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, promising that those countries under Soviet occupation would be given democratic governments, and Soviet occupation would end quickly. - Negotiations didn't succeed in 1953 at Panmunjom when the U.N. command under U.S. leadership began negotiations with North Korea. That was when North Korea was a threat to South Korea alone. A half-century later, North Korea is now a nuclear threat to the entire world, and we're still negotiating. - Negotiations didn't succeed in 1972 when Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev agreed an Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. In violation, the Soviet Union then built and deployed a prohibited giant phased-array radar station near Krasnoyarsk.- Negotiations didn't succeed in 1973 when North Vietnam signed the Paris peace accords with provisions that were quickly violated. Twenty-seven months later; North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam.

On Herschensohn's points, I think his first, that "We should always give significance to the announced pursuits of a hostile force, " is absolutely correct, although posturing alone does not constitute a clear and present danger. Military action, especially on a large scale, should not be considered an a priori conclusion when the body making the threat lacks the means or the intent to execute those threats.

Herschensohn's second point, "The victories of the United States and its allies in World War II came only through the use of our highly disproportionate attacks, and that is how we forced the unconditional surrender of our enemies," is also correct, although it is also important to differentiate between the nation-versus-nation conflicts of World War II and the nature of the conflicts between nations and terrorist groups (i.e. the United States versus Al Qaeda or Israel versus Hezbollah). It is however, relevant to attempts to occupy a country, demolish its previous regime, and establish a new government as we are attempting to do in Iraq.

As for Herschensohn's third point, "Diplomacy with tyrannies proved futile," it would seem to me that diplomacy will fail with any nation if it has no incentive to maintain its end of the agreement. Just because a country is democratic does not inherently make the word of its government any better than that of a dictatorship. If there is no condition maintaining the conditions set down by diplomacy, be it favorable trade agreements or mutually assured destruction, then no government is bound to follow the terms of that agreement.

As a man with a laymen's interest in history and politics, would add another lesson of 20th century warfare: don't get involved in a conflict unless you intend to win and have a coherent plan for doing so. Word War I devolved into stalemate in part because no one knew what goal they were fighting for. Again in Vietnam, there was no coherent end game and the only discernible strategy was to throw more firepower and more troops at the conflict without any sense of purpose or direction. By contrast, World War II was winnable in part because it was met with a well crafted strategy and the military was given a structure and a purpose. I fear the war in Iraq is now headed in the former direction.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

And Let the Purge Begin!

Joseph Lieberman has conceded his position as the Democratic nominee for US Senator of Connecticut to challenger Ned Lamont. This is a big win for progressives and will be even bigger if Lamont can win the position in November.

Although Lieberman will run as an independent, I don't think he stands much of a chance of splitting the ticket in the way that many allege Ralph Nader did in the 2000 presidential election. His positions have so often mirrored Republican stances--support for the war in Iraq, government intervention and regulation of the content (but not the business practices) of mass media, --that he has alienated his base and that is what caused this revolt by voters in the first place. Instead, he may actually split the ticket with the Republican nominee, which can only help Lamont.

At the same time, Tom DeLay has withdrawn from the Republican slot for a seat in the House of Representatives.

This is a great sign of what may come in November. With the war in Iraq the top priority for voters, anyone who has continued to support this disaster, or voted for it in the first place, may find their head on the chopping block.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Further Proof That It's All Gone to Hell

Related to my previous post on how conservatives are abandoning the Bush administration like bourgeois passengers on the Titanic, General John Abizaid, the head of the US Central Command, acknowledged that sectarian violence could plunge Iraq into a full blown civil war.

And related to a potential Iraqi civil war is the growing conflict between Hezbollah and Israel and the brewing tension with Iran. At the risk of over-simplification, here is a timeline that puts things in some perspective:

1979: Iran has its revolution and the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini takes power, turning the country into a theocracy and rolling back social progress such as pluralistic rules that protected religious minorities and revoking voting rights for women.

Early 1980's: Hezbollah is created by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the elite unit of the Iranian military. It is founded around the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and becomes a means of carrying out radical Shiite Islamist objectives inside Iran and throughout the Middle East. It carries out terrorist activities against Israel, among other targets.

1980-88: The Iran-Iraq war is fought. Saddam Hussein opposes the spread of radical Shiite rule, although his underlying motive for war is expanding Iraq's control of the Persian Gulf, establishing dominance in the region, and expanding Iraq's oil industry. Saddam's anti-theocracy sentiment is shared by the United States, who provides Saddam with military support. In the end Saddam seals the border, but due to centuries of pilgrimages to the holy Shiite shrines of Najaf and Karbala, the cultural exchange between Iran and Iraq continues and the ideas of Khomeini have a deep impact on Iraqi Shiites, who make up about sixty-two percent of Iraq's population.

1985: Hezbollah emerges as the public representation of various pro-Iran groups combating Israel in Lebanon.

1990-1: Iraq invades Kuwait with weapons that United States sold to Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war. The US and other countries intervene and drive Iraq's forces back, but stop short of removing Saddam from power because, among other reasons, there is no satisfactory exit strategy.

2003: The United States invades Iraq under the false auspices that Saddam has chemical weapons. Saddam is removed from power and the US occupies Iraq while trying to foster a secular democracy.

2005: A car bomb kills the leader of Lebanon. The fragile government is weakened to the point that is has little practical authority in the country. Hezbollah's strength within Lebanon is increased by the instability, although it does not represent a ruling political party.

January 2006: When Iraqi's vote in a national election, they elect Khomeini-influenced politicians in control of seven of the nine southern provinces. The kind of Shiite figures who the United States had attempted to keep out of Iraqi politics in the Iran-Iraq war are now in central positions of its government through the democratic process.

August 2006: As Israel begins open conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon, large numbers of Iraqis demonstrate in support of Hezbollah. In response, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice proclaims Iraq is not turning into a new Iran.

See also:
Hezbollah's Iranian Connection

The Iraq war is over, and the winner is . . . Iran

Lebanon's Weak Government

Friday, July 28, 2006

Sensitivity Malfunction

Babytalk magazine, a publication that I don't find myself reading very much, has recently been criticized for the following cover:

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. A baby sucking on a nipple. The horror, the horror.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Elephant Gnaws at Its Foot

When mammals are caught in traps, they will sometimes chew off their own foot to free themselves. The Republicans and neo-conservatives are doing that now.

William F. Buckley, considered by some to be the father of neo-conservativism, has proclaimed that the war in Iraq is a disaster and Bush's presidency to be a failure:

Buckley's comments have been compared to Walter Cronkite's assessment that the Vietnam War was unwinnable. If that is true, it would signal the death of any mainstream support, even within partisan denominations, of the Iraq War. What that means for White House policy decisions is unclear, since this administration has clearly demonstrated that they simply do not care what Americans think ( See this, this, and this).

In other news, Republican committee chairman Arlen Specter is leading a fight against signing statements, addendums or exemptions that Bush puts on some of the bills that he signs. Most notoriously, Bush added a signing statement to the ban on US forces engaging in torture that essentially undermined the entire bill. This kind of development is encouraging because it indicates that there are Republicans who are not drinking the Kool-Aid.

The Republican controlled congress passed a bill to expand stem cell research, which Bush promptly vetoed. Coincidently, this is the one and ONLY bill that Bush has vetoed in his five and half years in office.

Bush's approval ratings have sunk so low and his methods proven so disastrous that even the hardliners are abandoning him. At the very least their leave would guarantee that Bush would be a lame duck president for the rest of his term, marginalizing the harm he could do. What this really reveals, however, is that the Republicans set themselves in a trap when they supported Bush in 2000 and 2004, and his blundering ways have now put the entire party at risk.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Rise Up Against the Bovine Killers

I blogged recently about my thoughts on the smoking ban and the reasoning behind it, namely the public heath angle. Now another issue is on the verge of overshadowing the dangers of smoking and drinking:

Treating obesity-related disorders costs as much or more than illnesses caused by aging, smoking and problem drinking.

It accounts for 2 percent of the national health expenditure in France and Australia, more than 3 percent in Japan and Portugal and 4 percent in the Netherlands.

A review of research into the economic causes and consequences of obesity presented at the 14th European Congress on Obesity showed that in 2003 up to $96.7 billion was spent on obesity problems in the United States.

Since the local government has decided that, under the banner of public health, it can get between consumers and potentially harmful products or sellers of said product, is it possible that the Mankato City Council will pass ordinances on the sale of dairy products or perhaps mandate daily exercise for its citizens? After all, they seem to care so much about our state of health, it would only make sense that they would protect us from the evil farmers selling cheese and beef. Perhaps the Minnesota state legislature could pass a law requiring farmers to brand their cows with a huge skull and crossbones so that children will know the dangers of these bovine killers.

This is not an entirely outlandish idea. Cigarettes are taxed under the banner of a "sin tax" and now there is a desire to create a fat tax. The trouble is, when local and federal government tax indulgences like cigarettes and regulate the operating hours and procedures of taverns and strip clubs while giving tax breaks to single mothers and churches, they are making the determination for the rest of us that children and churches are good, but beer and strippers are bad. Of course, I could not disagree more.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Know Thy Enemy

Here is a news story on the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian lobby that is emerging as the strongest and most effective voice in the attempt to erase the barrier between church and state. An excerpt:

The group has been battling embryonic stem cell research in Missouri and won a Supreme Court stay preventing the removal of California's 29-foot Mount Soledad cross. In Florida, where saving the life of brain-damaged Terri Schiavo became a crusade, the group supported efforts to nourish her.

"What we are really trying to protect are the things this country was founded on," said D. James Kennedy, leader of Florida's Coral Ridge Ministries and one of the prominent Christian conservatives who fashioned the alliance in 1993 as a sharp stick in the national culture debate.

That is not how opponents see the organization. While crediting the ADF with training troops for battles once fought by a haphazard assortment of government lawyers and often ill-prepared volunteers, critics question the alliance's commitment to tolerance and the Constitution.

"They're not for some form of generic religious freedom. They're for Christian superiority, that Christians take over the courts," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "They are living in this fantasy world where the majority religion, Christianity, is claimed to be literally under attack."

I have addressed this delusion of persecution before, but the ADF seems to be taking things to a new level, even beyond the paths of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, because of their legal activism.

This item on religious freedom on the organization's website was enlightening:

Free exercise of religion is the first and most fundamental right of Americans protected in the Bill of Rights. It is the most basic and inalienable of all human rights. However, the right to freely exercise one's faith has never been more threatened in our nation than it is today. And the rights of Christians are especially vulnerable.

For more than 50 years, the ACLU and other radical activist groups have attempted to eliminate public expression of our nation's faith and heritage. They have done this through fear, intimidation, disinformation, and the filing of lawsuits (or threats of lawsuits) that would:

  • Eliminate Christian and historic faith symbols from government documents, buildings, and monuments
  • Ban public prayer in schools and at school functions
  • Deny Christians the right to use public facilities that are open to other groups
  • Prevent Christians from expressing their faith in the workplace
Through attacks like these, the ACLU and its allies have sought to limit the spread and influence of the Gospel in the United States.

That is quite a bait-and-switch and it corroborates Barry Lynn's assessment about the organization. The ADF starts with a defense of the Free Exercise Clause but then takes a stand against the Establishment Clause. This kind of cherry picking often occurs when conservatives appeal to the Bible for moral arguments and so it is no surprise that they do it on legal issues as well.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Obama's Religious Speech

Last week, Illinois Senator Barack Obama spoke on the role of religion in politics. His speech may be one of the most thoughtful tracts on religion and politics given by a politician in many years. Here are excerpts:

For some time now, there has been plenty of talk among pundits and pollsters that the political divide in this country has fallen sharply along religious lines. Indeed, the single biggest "gap" in party affiliation among white Americans today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called Red States and those who reside in Blue, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don't.

Conservative leaders have been all too happy to exploit this gap, consistently reminding evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design.

Democrats, for the most part, have taken the bait. At best, we may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that - regardless of our personal beliefs - constitutional principles tie our hands. At worst, there are some liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word "Christian" describes one's political opponents, not people of faith.

Now, such strategies of avoidance may work for progressives when our opponent is Alan Keyes. But over the long haul, I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people's lives -- in the lives of the American people -- and I think it's time that we join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.
* * *
Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds - dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets - and they're coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough.
They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They're looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness.
* * *
Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome - others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.

In other words, if we don't reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, then the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and Alan Keyeses will continue to hold sway.

More fundamentally, the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms. Some of the problem here is rhetorical - if we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice.
* * *
I am not suggesting that every progressive suddenly latch on to religious terminology - that can be dangerous. Nothing is more transparent than inauthentic expressions of faith. As Jim has mentioned, some politicians come and clap -- off rhythm -- to the choir. We don't need that.

In fact, because I do not believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality, I would rather have someone who is grounded in morality and ethics, and who is also secular, affirm their morality and ethics and values without pretending that they're something they're not. They don't need to do that. None of us need to do that.

But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
* * *
While I've already laid out some of the work that progressive leaders need to do, I want to talk a little bit about what conservative leaders need to do -- some truths they need to acknowledge.

For one, they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn't the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn't want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves. It was the forbearers of the evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they did not want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it.

Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.
* * *
Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what's possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It's the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God's edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one's life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.
* * *
So we all have some work to do here. But I am hopeful that we can bridge the gaps that exist and overcome the prejudices each of us bring to this debate. And I have faith that millions of believing Americans want that to happen. No matter how religious they may or may not be, people are tired of seeing faith used as a tool of attack. They don't want faith used to belittle or to divide. They're tired of hearing folks deliver more screed than sermon. Because in the end, that's not how they think about faith in their own lives.

Unfortunately, the media has distorted his message. In an attempt to distill the content of his speech into bite-size, bottom-crawl headlines, the mainstream media sources have misreported his message. (See this and this.) Others have sought to correct the interpretation of his message. Hopefully Obama will continue to make comments of this sort and the repetition will overcome the reductionist tendencies of the media.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Don't Smoke, You Might Enjoy It

On July 1st, a smoking ban went into effect in Mankato. Just before the ban went into effect, the Surgeon General released a report that said "air cleaners and other mechanical devices are ineffective in removing carcinogens and other pollutants from the air. The report says that second-hand smoke causes premature death and disease among adults and children, in addition to coronary heart disease and lung cancer."

As a non-smoker I was not very concerned with Mankato's smoking ban, but I was opposed to it. Not that I approve of smoking, but the principle of the restriction concerns me. As this was cast by anti-smoking activists as a matter of public health, the smoking ban was also a property rights issue. With this ban, the city of Mankato is saying that it can restrict the activities and policies inside of a privately owned establishment.

It is true that we already have a precedent for said restrictions and intrusions by local and federal government. Bars and restaurants have to conform to basic rules about sanitation. Certain drugs are illegal and we are prohibited from using or possessing them. We restrict the consumption of alcohol in motorized vehicles. Alcoholic beverages can only be sold between certain hours on certain days of the week and only by someone in possession of a liquor license to a consumer of a given age.

I can agree with rules about sanitation in restaurants and with prohibitations against alcohol consumption in vehicles but I disagree with the restrictions on alcohol distribution and the criminalization of drug use or possession. My agreement and disagreement with our laws are based on personal liberty, which is fitting given that tomorrow is the Fourth of July.

While I do agree with a New Deal view of economics (that is to say it is desirable and appropriate for the government to regulate the marketplace), this is based on the protection of the workforce. With the advent of labor laws, unions, and watch dog organizations, our corporations are being held in check against many of the abuses of the past. I am also a firm believer in the Bill of Rights, namely freedom of speech, the separation of church and state, protection from search and seizure, and the right to bear arms.

The smoking ban and rules against selling alcohol on Sunday are not based on public safety. The underlying idea here is sin. The supporters of the smoking ban hold certain unspoken tenants: (1) Health represents an inherent good, (2) Health is defined as living for as long as possible, (3) It is the duty of the government to create policies that promote health and restrict behaviors or access to the means of shortening life.

These points are where I must disagree with the anti-smoking crowd. While it is true that government is intended to protect us, democracy, if we hold it to be important, is based on freedom of choice. This includes the freedom to knowingly engage in behavior that harms ourselves.

It is a truism that most of the things in life that are pleasurable gain their pleasure by their harmful or sinful nature. Alcohol and cigarettes are not healthy, but they do bring pleasure to our lives. In our Christian culture, sex remains a great taboo. All of the so-called deadly sins--pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, sloth--bring about pleasure. And pleasure is the only thing that represents an inherent good. To engage in pleasure and stimulate the senses represents what it means to be happy.

The restrictions on the quality and preparation of red meat, automobile fuel efficiency and cleanliness, and the consumption of alcohol in an automobile have to do with public safety and make sense. They are protecting otherwise intelligent people from stupid people. They represent instrumental goods.

Because most pleasures manifest themselves in things that do not lengthen our lives, to be healthy as the anti-smoking crowd defines it, means to live a life absent of the most basic pleasures. This means living a life is robbed of its fun. It means to exist but not to enjoy it.

The principles behind rules such as the smoking ban have nothing to do with improving the quality of life of the people who submit to them. They are about controlling the populace by denying them pleasure.

This is my concern with regulations like the smoking ban. Passage of such a ban allows less choice over my life. The intention is not to increase the pleasure in my life, only to increase the amount of time between my birth and my death. But if I do not enjoy the space in between, what is the point of lengthening it at all?

Friday, June 30, 2006

Million Music Geek March

89.7 KMSU FM will be participating in two parades next week. Volunteers/listeners/fans/groupies are welcome to march with the station's float. If you plan to march, Karen and Gully ask that you please wear your KMSU or MSU wardrobe.

On Tuesday, KMSU will have a float in the St. Peter 4th of July Parade. The float is unit 72 and will meet on the corner of Washington and Flandreau at 9:30 am.

On Saturday, July 8th KMSU will have a float in the North Mankato Fun Days Parade. The float is unit 84 and will meet on the corner on Webster Avenue at 10:30 am.

I will be in the St. Peter parade for sure, but I am not sure if I will be in the North Mankato parade.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

June 29th Birthdays and Events

Here are some other people celebrating their birthday on June 29th:

Antione de Saint-Exupery (French children's book writer)
John Toland (Pulitzer Prize Winner)
Breece Dexter Pancake (Pulitzer Prize nominee)

Actors and Actresses
Jill-Michele Melean (actress, "Reno 9-1-1")
Judith Hoag (actress, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Zoe R. Cassavetes (actress and daughter of John Cassavetes)
Eva Truffaut (actress and daughter of Francios Truffaut)
Michael Carter (actor, Return of the Jedi)
Slim Pickens (actor, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)
Katherine DeMille (actress, daughter of Cecil B. DeMille)
James Patterson (actor, Silent Nightly, Bloody Night)
Maria Conchita Alonso (actress, Predator 2)
Gary Busey (actor, The Buddy Holly Story)

Other Film Related Birthdays
Seamus McGarvey (cinematographer, The Hours)
Ray Harryhausen (special effects legend, Clash of the Titans)
Edward T. Lowe Jr. (screenwriter, House of Dracula)
Bernard Herrmann (composer, Psycho & Citizen Kane)
Leih Lo (martial arts star and director, Clan of the White Lotus)
Heather Plott (makeup artist, The Cell)
Amanda Paller (special effects technician, Freddy Vs. Jason)

Porn Actress Birthdays
Alexis Malone
Nathalie Wood
Misty Knights

Musician Birthdays
Nicole Scherzinger (member of The Pussycat Dolls)
Don Dokken (member of Dokken)
Katherine Jenkins (opera singer)
Lowell George (song writer)

Other Birthdays:
William Mayo (founder of the Mayo Clinic)
Kwame Ture aka Stokely Carmichael (civil rights activist and Black Panther member)
Ruth Ann Wardinski (mother, elementary school teacher)

Marriages on June 29th:
Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck
Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe
Woody Harrelson and Nancy Simon

Deaths on June 29th:
Katherine Hepburn (actress, The African Queen)
Rosemary Clooney (actress, White Christmas)
Saint Peter (apostle and first Bishop of Rome)
Jayne Mansfield (actress, Promises! Promises!)
Irving Wallace (author and screenwriter)
Bob Crane (actor, "Hogan's Heroes")

Historical Events on June 29th:
1613 - The Globe Theatre in London, England burns to the ground.
1863 - George Custer is appointed as a U.S. Union brigadier-general
1950 - In soccer, United States defeats England 1-0 in the Football World Cup.
1956 - The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 is signed, officially creating the United States Interstate Highway System.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Superman Article in Mankato Free Press

Today's issue of the Mankato Free Press has an article about Superman Returns, exploring whether the Man of Steel is still relevent to contemporary audeinces. I was asked my opinion about the matter:

But like “X-Men,” “Batman Begins” and “Spider-Man,” “Superman Returns” will have an audience, said Nathan Wardinski, film writer for Static magazine and host of KMSU Radio’s “Maverick at the Movies.”

“Comic book heroes seem to be as popular as ever,” Wardinski said. “Last summer had two big comic book adaptations, ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘Fantastic 4.’”

And even though it’s been 20 years since the last “Superman” movie, the political climate is right for the movie release, Wardinski said. Richard Donner’s “Superman: The Movie” was released in 1978, in the wake of Vietnam and the Watergate scandal.

“Like the original ‘Star Wars,’ the ‘Superman’ of 1978 was an antidote for the cynicism of the time and people welcomed the film as a relief from their anxieties about the state of the world,” he said. “Between the war in Iraq, high oil prices, and the numerous White House scandals we are reading about today, there certainly is a parallel political climate. I think today’s audience will also be receptive to a message of hope.”

Read the full article here.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Sex Matrix Has You

Here is an interesting editorial about the growing power of conservative organizations or "think tanks" (or "the American Taliban" as Erica Barnett calls them) and their influence on public policy and sexuality. An excerpt:

Consider: In the last year, Ohio lawmakers held hearings on a bill that would ban abortion in all cases, including to save the life of the mother. The federal Centers for Disease Control adopted new guidelines that advise all women capable of conceiving a baby to regard themselves as "pre-pregnant." (From now on, according to the federal government, I'm living for two: myself, and my pre-baby.) At least 31 states have sex-ed policies that emphasize abstinence for (pre-married) straights. Thirty-six states have full or partial bans on abortion. Twenty-four states make women wait at least a day after "abortion counseling" (counseling is required by 32 states and includes, in some cases, information about the purported "link" between abortion and breast cancer, and, occasionally, an offer of anesthesia—for the fetus). Forty-three states allow health-care institutions to refuse to provide abortions. Forty-seven states and Washington, D.C., allow health-care providers to deny women reproductive services or information of some kind.

All this, combined with the issues of gay marriage and the war on sex toys, makes for a frightening trend. Exerting control over the sex lives of a population has not merely to do with propriety or even institutionalization of religious beliefs into law (although these actions and attempts certainly qualify). Rather, what is really at the heart of this matter is control.

If a person or a group of people's sexual activity and sexual appetites can be controlled or shaped, then the rest of that person can be controlled. The Catholic Church has attempted to do this with their clergy, making them take oaths of celibacy starting in the Middle Ages. Although the Church will argue that celibacy has theological implications (according to myth, Jesus was the product of a virgin birth and he was never married), the demand for celibacy is rooted in control and allegiance. If these conservative organizations are serious about creating a celibate America, they should observe the Catholic attempt at celibacy and note how well that turned out.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Your Plagiarism is Showing

Yesterday Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) held a press conference and announced that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. Fox News immediately began gushing about the announcement:

Reading from a declassified portion of a report by the National Ground Intelligence Center, a Defense Department intelligence unit, Santorum said: "Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq's pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist."

Unfortunately for Santorum and Hoekstra, the weapons that had been "found" were actually remnants of pre-1991 munitions whose existence had been acknowledged by the White House long ago and they pose little or no danger as weapons of mass destruction. For those who are not aware, chemical weapons have a shelf life of about five years.

This is a classic example of manipulating intelligence to make it look threatening. Essentially, this press conference was a weak imitation of the misleading testimony that Colin Powell gave to the United Nations in 2003. Santorum and Hoekstra are even referencing the same equipment that has since been dismissed by everyone in the intelligence field, even the White House. This whole thing is a bit like a student who copies someone else's homework . . . and gets all of the same answers wrong.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Happy Solstice!

Today is the Summer Solstice, traditionally a day of celebration.

Middle Panel of "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Bosch.

Many weddings occur around the solstice. Although today this has largely to do with weather condidtions and scheduling, in the past this was considered a time of year to celebrate the joys of the earth and the flesh.

A happy and indulgent Solstice to everyone!

Monday, June 12, 2006

June Static Article - Uncensored

The June issue of Static magazine is now available throughout Southern Minnesota. The magazine contains an article authored by me titled "And the Most Disturbing Film of All Time Is . . ." about Pier Pasolini's film Salo: 120 Days of Sodom. What Static published was a slightly censored version of what I originally submitted to the magazine, so I have made the original text available here. The bolded text indicates sections that were edited or omitted. I have added graphics to spice up the text.
By Nathan Wardinski
Making definitive statements or lists of “the greatest” or “the most” is always problematic. Attempts at categorization, be it a list of favorite films by an opinionated shopper or one of the “100 Years” lists compiled by the American Film Institute, always suffer from the same Achilles heel: they are based on the body of work viewed by the categorizer and how that work conforms to that author’s tastes, aesthetics, and ideology. So, rather than saying Pier Pasolini’s Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom is the most challenging, disturbing, and all around disgusting film ever made, let’s say instead that Salo is among the most challenging, disturbing, and all around disgusting films ever made.
Salo is an adaptation of Marquis de Sade’s book The 120 Days of Sodom. In Pasolini’s version, the story has been updated to Nazi controlled Italy, where four fascist libertines bring nine teenage boys and girls to a secluded palace and torture them physically and psychologically. The film features such images as a woman raped on broken glass, naked teenagers led around on leashes, the consumption of human shit, and a man’s nipples burned off with a branding iron. At this description, Salo probably sounds like a vile, inhuman, and unwatchable piece of film. For most, this is probably true. The trouble is that Salo may also be a brilliant piece of work, one that violates social and artistic principles and uses its aesthetic transgressions to question the function of art.
Salo is a film that violates the viewer on a number of levels. On a primary level it is viscerally challenging, indulging many taboos, including fecophilia and incest. But in the equation of brutal scenes divided by total running time, Salo’s gross violence falls below films such as I Spit on Your Grave, Irreversible, or Maniac. The pictures that carry the label “most disturbing film ever” tend to wallow in their violence, letting the viewer witness every drop of blood and hear very scream of anguish from the victims. Yet, Salo is slightly different—and perhaps more disturbing than others—because it mingles physical and psychological suffering. In one of the film’s most nauseating sequences, a young girl crying in mourning for her dead mother is stripped naked and, still crying, is forced to eat a freshly produced piece of feces off of the floor. While the act of consuming shit is disgusting enough, Pasolini’s film stacks our emotions by violating her physically and psychologically.
Despite its difficult content, Pasolini’s depictions of sexual perversion are never pornographic. In contrast to The Passion of the Christ, most of the scenes of torture occur in wide shots. The film does not cut in and show the details, but lets the setting oppress the subject through framing, while the audience imagines the details of the act.
In addition to the visceral taboos of the film, Salo is challenging on thematic and aesthetic levels. The film repeats the same set of scenarios in the three parts of the film, labeled as “The Circle of Obsessions,” “The Circle of Shit,” and “The Circle of Blood.” In doing so it rejects an archplot structure, and denies its audience the comforts that traditional narrative usually provides. There is little rising action other than the increasing control and brutality visited upon the captives. The resolution does not outwardly condemn the evil of the fascists or purge the audience of it the way that a typical horror film would, but rather takes the fascists increasing control of their victims to its logical and nihilistic conclusion.
Lastly, Salo is challenging thematically. The film could be interpreted as a metatexual piece of gothic horror. In the film, bourgeoisie prostitutes tell stories of sexual misadventures that stir the imaginations of the fascists and their violations of the youth are based upon the stories. The artistic and ideological implications of these stories seem largely ironic, if not a little muddled. Salo is much like the tales of these prostitutes and it suggests that stories like this are prone to inspire copycat behavior. Salo could be interpreted as a deliberate act of incitement. On the other hand, the violence is carried out by fascists looking for inspiration for behavior that they are predisposed to indulging, and the film could be interpreted as a critique of power. The ambiguity in the film makes it difficult to say which, if either, of these interpretations is correct.
In the end it is difficult to tell what to make of Salo. It could be, as some have argued, that the film buries itself in its own filth or it could be that the film is a critique of power or of the horror genre. Or it could be that Salo consciously attempts to inspire us to immoral (or perhaps amoral) action and thought. It is the ambiguity about this film and its intentions that makes it among the most disturbing films ever made but also makes it a fascinating film to watch for those who can stomach it.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Minnesota Morning

Don Larsson usually gives film reviews on Minnesota Morning, hosted by Karen Wright, on 89.7 KMSU FM every Friday morning at 9:30 AM. Tomorrow I will be substituting for Don and review Thank You For Smoking and The Omen.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

6 June 2006: Apocalypse Now

There has been a degree of hoopla surrounding the numerical representation of today's date, 06/06/06. The theists who take the Bible literally would tell us the combination of numbers 6-6-6 is a sign of the Beast, the Antichrist, who will lead the forces of Darkness against the believers of the Nazarene and bring about the Apocalypse, as written in the Book of Revelation.

Serious Biblical scholars have identified the number 666 and the Antichrist as a coded reference to the Emperor Nero, a Roman leader who intensified the persecution of the Christians. Nevertheless, the faithful have continuously applied the book to their contemporary time period. The book has been a source of fear and entertainment, since nothing is quite as exciting as believing that you are witness to the end of the world.

The Book of Revelation is a frightening book for those who take the Bible literally. After the Rapture, in which all the true believers in God are swept up into the Heavens, the rest of the world's population is subject to plagues, famines, and natural catastrophes leading to a final battle between those who have sided with Christ and the forces of the Antichrist, which means everyone else.

Exactly who is a true follower of Christ and who is charlatans is unclear. This small detail has been the source of debate from civilized discussion to major violent conflicts.

The Book of Revelation is a source for evangelists, street preachers, Jehovah's Witnesses, insane homeless people, and others to point to with urgency and proclaim that the end is near and that without accepting Jesus and eating a piece of stale bread, your soul is doomed to eternal suffering.

At this point it may seem as though I am saying that theists should become educated about the history of their religion and their fear of the apocalypse will subside. While that may be true, I say instead that the theists should fear the apocalypse, not for the fairy tales of boogeymen with serial numbers or the pestilence that their supposedly loving god will fling down on the earth, but for the true nature of the word apocalypse: revelation and consciousness.

The Apocalypse of the theist’s Bible is a time of war. And no wonder. These people need conflict. They welcome it. For all we are told of the of the Nazarene messiah’s promises of love and peace, his followers have done nothing for the past 2000 years but make war upon those who dissent from their creed.

From the riots in the streets of pre-Christian Rome, to the Crusades of the eleventh century, to the Inquisition of medieval times, to the Salem Witch Trials of the seventeenth century, to the rise of jihadists and the sexual abuse scandal of our own period, the theists have shown time and again that their only understanding of discourse is war and bloodshed and they will imprison, lie, and murder anyone who stands in the way of their idols and the priest who speak for them.

We too must now enter a state of war. Like most wars, it is fought in the present, for the offenses of the past, with the hope of securing the future. This war is not a matter of bloodshed. It is a war of ideas, an intellectual crusade to liberate the minds of man from the oppression of superstition.

In the time of the Enlightenment, scientists and social progressives made major advances in western civilization and many of these advances were in direct conflict with the church. In our present timethe descendentststs of those brave scientists are finding themselves in conflict again with religious conservatives. The past decade has seen major conflicts arise between Christianity and Islam, and progressive sociaanti-intellectualal pursuits have been met by the threat of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, the rise of fundamentalist Christianity, an intelligent design debate, public posting of religious icons, and federally mandated abstinence education.

Western civilization is now at a crossroads. It may continue forward in the Promethean spirit or it madecendentsnd into the downward spiral of theism. It is up to those of us who have the means and the intellect to lead the way. Nietzsche foresaw this in his book On the Genealogy of Morals:

"Someday, in a stronger age than this decaying, self-doubting present, he must yet come to us, the redeeming man, of great love and contempt, the creative spirit whose compelling strength will not let him rest in any aloofness or any beyond, whose isolation is misunderstood by the people as if it were flight from reality -- while it is only his absorption, immersion, penetration into reality, so that, when he one day emerges again into the light, he may bring home the redemption of this reality; its redemption from the curse that the hitherto reigning ideal has laid upon it. The man of the future, who will redeem us not only from the hitherto reigning ideal but also from that which was bound to grow out of it, the great nausea, the will to nothingness, nihilism; this bell-stroke of noon and of the great decision that liberates the will again and restores its goal to the earth and his hope for man; this Antichrist and Antinihilist; this victor over God and nothingness -- he must come one day."

Now, at the dawn of the Age of Satan, it is incumbent upon the true ubermensch, the men and women of consciousness and power, to bring about an apocalypse. The creative arts have always been the most diabolical. Dionysus, one of the direct predecessors of Christianity's Satan, was the Greek god of art and debauchery. Given this, I will begin producing creative work imbued with this Dionysian spirit, work that is designed to inspire and incite a cultural war of ideas that will bring us to a true apocalypse.

The time has come for a war of ideas, a total war of ideas beyond anything the world has ever seen, in which we shall metaphorically smash the symbols of false wisdom, annihilate the enemies of mankind, and burn the doctrines of impotence until they are nothing but a memory of the past.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

The very successful Left Behind series, a franchise of novels in which of the prophesies of the Book of Revelation take place in contemporary society, are now being turned into a video game.

Okay, so we've got Christian paramilitary forces loose on the streets of New York, fighting to turn the United States into a theocracy, and shouting "Praise the Lord!" as they blow away those who refuse to convert. In the virtual world of Left Behind only the conservative Evangelical Christians were "raptured" - spirited into heaven for the big Super Bowl party and skybox seats to the ultimate battle between absolute theocracy and the absolutely AntiChrist. So who's "left behind" to blow away? Catholics, mainstream moderate Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, suspiciously well-groomed men, lesbians, and conservative Evangelicals who are closet gays. (As Congressman Barney Franks (D-Massively Funny) has said, "Throw the gays out of church? Who do you think has been playing the damn organ all these years?") Blowing away these good folk ("Praise the Lord!") - is that supposed to be the "Christian stuff" or the "cool stuff"?

How about this nifty game feature: the bodies of slain New Yorkers don't disappear after a battle, and no one gives them a decent burial. Instead, the festering corpses just keep piling up: left behind. Is that "Christian" or "cool"? Or how about this: The game portrays the United Nations - hello again, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Catholics, and Jews - as the headquarters of the demonic forces of the AntiChrist, who is spawned by DNA from two gay lovers (hello, Greenwich Village!). So nice to see you all, my errant, resisting brothers and sisters. BLAM! BLAM! "Praise the Lord!"

What is even more interesting is that the marketing strategy, as it was for The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is primarily targeting megachurches. To kick off sales, Left Behind Games plans to distribute one million copies of the game through churches.

The marketing of products like the Left Behind books follow Greg Stielstra's "PryroMarketing" model, as described in the article:

(1) Gather the driest tinder - people most willing to buy your product (for example, mega-church members);
(2) Touch it with a match - give people a free preview of your product (for example, Left Behind Games is distributing "presale" DVDs through pastoral networks);
(3) Fan the flames - for example, Mr. Warren sold the first 400,000 copies of The Purpose-Driven Life for $7 each to ministers and churchgoers. They formed study groups, which drove up sales of the hardbacks at some $20 a pop.
(4) Save the coals - keep a database of your customers, so you don't have to start again from scratch. For example, Left Behind Games told the Los Angeles Times that it plans to distribute 1 million copies of its violent video game through churches nationwide.

The game should be out in time for Christmas of 2006.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Welcome to the Jungle

The US has announced that it is starting "values" training for its soldiers in Iraq in wake of the Haditha massacre last November.

A top commander in Iraq has ordered that troops be given extra training in "core warrior values" because of allegations that American marines killed 24 Iraqi civilians in an unprovoked attack last November.

Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the top operational commander for the American-led forces in Iraq, has directed subordinate commanders to put the training in effect over the next 30 days. It will emphasize the importance of adhering to "legal, moral and ethical standards on the battlefield," the Defense Department said today.

I have mixed feelings about this development. I do believe that it is important to follow the Geneva Conventions, if for no other reason than that by following these treaties we can expect that our own POWs will be treated in a humane fashion. If we intend to win in Iraq and in the region, we will need to win the hearts and minds of the citizens. Shooting unarmed civilians is not going to aid this process.

The call for values training is suspiciously close to the the "sensitive war" remark that Republicans such as Dick Cheney blasted John Kerry for back in 2004. I never liked Kerry's idea and found myself in the horrible position of agreeing with the Vice-President. War is not about morality. It is about winning. Preoccupation with morality will not lead to victory. It will only make victory more difficult to achieve.

Another problem is that the cover up of the Haditha massacre--and it was a masssacre--goes beyond the low level soldiers on the ground, extending into the senior officers involved, the ones who who are supposed to instill the values in the troops. This is a systemic problem, like the Abu Ghraib scandel.

This call for values training is a classic band aid solution and an ill advised one at that. It will not change anything for the better and will just make the war harder to win.