Monday, December 31, 2007

Farewell and Adieu 2007

Pretty soon 2007 will be complete and a new year will be upon us, hopefully a better one. Before we break on through to the other side, take a look at this JibJab video, summarizing the year. I would post it directly here, but JibJab does not allow embedding from their site or from their Youtube channel.

Here's wishing everyone a happy New Year.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Olbermann's Special Comments

Countdown with Keith Olbermann has been running a compilation of the host's best Special Comments of 2007, in part as a reflection on the end of the year and, I expect, as a promotional for his upcoming book.

Among the compilation of Special Comments, this one from May 23, 2007 is my favorite. After regaining control of Congress in the mid-term elections of 2006, the Democrats gave in to Bush's push for a surge in Iraq and failed to do anything to reign in his power. Olbermann has been no friend to the leadership of the Republican party, but in this Special Comment he directs some of his most scathing criticism of the year toward the Democrats and what he calls their "Neville Chamberlain moment." I hope the Democrats are listening to Olbermann's words because they so eloquently describe the frustration felt by those of us looking for a change of direction in this country. And if the Democrats continue down this slope of appeasement, running to the center and acting as inferior versions of Republicans, they may find that those of us who were waiting for them to make a change, the ones they will depend on to put a Democratic presidential candidate in the White House in 2008, will have given up and moved on.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas in Fallujah

As we settle in to celebrate the birth of capitalism, here is a video of Billy Joel and Cass Dillion performing "Christmas in Fallugiah." The video includes the lyrics as subtitles.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Six Million Dollar Man

Among other '08 campaign news like the Obama-Clinton cat fight, Giuliani's various scandals, and Huckabee and Romney's race to see who is more god-like, there is a little item that deserves a lot of attention. Ron Paul, the Republican candidate who has made waves by coming out against the war, had a record breaking fundraiser that generated $6 million via online contributions in twenty-four hours.

The mainstream media has largely ignored Paul and those within his own party have sought to downplay him. Watch this video of Ron Paul explaining in smart, articulate language his views on the war and Middle East relations:

Last week, John Stossel, a commentator mostly known for his conservative pieces for 20/20, did an extensive interview with Ron Paul and ABC decided to keep it off the air, placing it on the web only. This stinks of giving Paul and his ideas the run around, although with the online nature of his campaign, distributing the interview on the web may play right into the momentum of his popularity and allow the interview more exposure than it would have gotten if it had merely been broadcast over the airwaves.

I'm not sure how I feel about Paul. I agree very much with his statements on the war and West-Middle East relations and his position on ending the drug war, decriminalizing prostitution, and allowing homosexual marriage. There are other issues that I don't agree with, such as his stance against public health care, but what I find most compelling about the man is his commitment to reason. Paul is not asking what Jesus would do, nor is he hiding behind the flag or the deaths on 9/11, and he is willing to engage in debate rather than accusing those with dissenting opinions of siding with terrorists. This is exactly what the Republican party needs. With minimum media coverage, Paul gathered $6 million in one day, and it's likely that many of his contributors are not very wealthy. This tells me is that there is a grass roots movement here and it's ready to burst out onto the mainstream.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

KEYC Binge Drinking Special

Last week, KEYC and Fox Mankato ran a special report, Binge Drinking: Personal Choice or Everyone's Problem?, a panel discussion with local law enforcement, representatives from Minnesota State University Mankato, and substance abuse experts. While the special was mostly well done, there was a serious gap in the discourse of their discussion. Noticeably absent from the panel were local bar owners and other alcohol producers and providers. The entire debate was terribly one-sided and even the representative if the MSU students on the panel seemed to toe the administration's line. As someone who is always looking for the unspoken assumptions, in this special report the assumption it is right in the title. The special supposes that binge drinking is a problem and that local government must police this action. I am not convinced that this is the case.

Of course binge drinking occurs and lots of people engage in it. But is it a problem? No one is tricked into drinking. MSU and other universities spend lots of money each year educating young people on the possible consequences of drinking. And no one is consuming alcohol under the assumption that it is good for them. There is no Vitamin C in Captain Morgan and Guinness does not build strong bones. For those who binge drink, the act of getting intoxicated is itself the point. To wag our fingers at binge drinking behavior is to miss the underlying reason for it. If there were another substance that were legal, readily available, and caused the same effect, people would use it. Alcohol is the means, not the end, to achieving a state of inebriation. The desire to cause this effect on ourselves is nothing new and a lifetime of warnings on the dangers of binge drinking will do nothing to quell it.

Yes, students have died from binge drinking. But if we're going to get upset about deaths resulting from personal choices, let's be real. The major causes of death in our culture come from preventable cancer and heart disease, largely a result of sedentary lifestyles combined with poor dietary choices and smoking. Is this not just as severe, if not more severe, of a problem? Why not host a special called Cholesterol: Personal Choice or Everyone's Problem? and ask what can be done to curb the consumption of dairy and red meat? Of course, we'd look at the producers of that special like they were crazy.

I have already commented at length on this topic in response to the Mankato city council's new regulations. But what is worth reiterating is that, yes, this is a matter of personal choice and personal choice and freedom come with consequences, sometimes tragic ones. But let's hold individuals accountable for their actions, not construct a paper tiger out of a few bad choices.

Binge Drinking: Personal Choice or Everyone's Problem? can be viewed online here.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Romney's Speech

Today Mitt Romney gave a speech on the place of religion in regard to his run for President of the United States. It is a difficult speech to evaluate because it alternates insightful, well thought, and (mostly) Constitutionally-based ideas on the free exercise of religion with some extraordinarily boneheaded statements about the legacy of religion in public affairs.

Romney pleas for the separation of his religious affiliation from his run for president, referencing John F. Kennedy's famous speech in which he explained "that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president. Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith. Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin."

Sounds good. But then Romney makes statements like "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone." Near the end of his speech, Romney says "We can be deeply thankful that we live in a land where reason and religion are friends and allies in the cause of liberty, joined against the evils and dangers of the day."

This is such an idiotic statement that it is hard to take the rest of the speech seriously. Organized religion, particularly those descending from Abraham, have been the enemy of freedom in all its conceivable forms: freedom of thought, freedom of action, freedom of expression, and so on. The European trade of African slaves was based upon religious (and Biblical) ideas of African inferiority. Women and homosexuals have been and continue to be persecuted and victimized by religion. The faithful have threatened and even killed scientists, philosophers, and artists for their ideas, discoveries, and creations. Religions and religious institutions demand obedience to their authority above all others. Jehovah is not a freedom fighter. He is a tyrant.

Also troubling is Romney's half-baked summary of American religious history. At first he gets it right, recalling that America's founders "came here from England to seek freedom of religion. But upon finding it for themselves, they at first denied it to others . . . Americans were unable to accommodate their commitment to their own faith with an appreciation for the convictions of others to different faiths. In this, they were very much like those of the European nations they had left."

Again, this sounds good. And again, Romney stumbles by claiming, "The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'under God' and in God, we do indeed trust. We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests.'"

There are a number of things wrong here. First and foremost is Romney's understanding of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The "elimination of religion from the public square" is exactly what the Founders had in mind. When the government puts up a monument respecting a particular faith, such as a reproduction of the Ten Commandments, it is showing a religious preference and establishing a state religion (If they do it in some sort of educational or inclusionary context, there is some wiggle room, but not much). The references to the god of Abraham on legal tender or in the pledge (which was not added until the 1950s) do violate the First Amendment and ought to be removed. To rephrase my contradiction of Romney's statement, the Founders intended to remove religious allegiance or rule from the functions of government. To rephrase it yet again, they intended to set up a secular state. The foundation of the state, to use Romney's words, was not based on faith. It was based on reason, and these two are unhappy bedfellows.

Romney's abhorrence of secularism is where he goes most off track. He claims that "in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It's as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America — the religion of secularism. They are wrong."

Romney misunderstands secularism and in rhetoric he comes a step closer to the "radical violent Islam" that he rallies against a couple of times in the speech. A secular state is one in which religion has been removed from the affairs of the state. It does not repress people of faith but it also does not make laws based on the rules contained in their holy books. Religion is not, in that respect, a public matter but a private one. And Romney's wording here, that "religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life" is exactly the point that he was making when he claimed earlier in the speech "that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions."

Buried in the middle of the text is Romney's most important point in the entire speech. He says, "There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith." Aside from refuting his criticisms of secularism, this statement puts the religious debate in its proper place. Being the first Mormon to have a serious shot at the White House, this speech was probably inevitable. But ultimately Romney's personal faith, and the religious labels carried by his fellow candidates, should not be the method by which presidents are selected. Their ability to lead, dedication to justice and reason, understanding and respect for legal process, and vision for the future of the country are far better criterion for evaluating their competence for office.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Linkin Park: The New U2?

I've been a fan of Linkin Park since their first album. I found their music aggressive but thoughtful and they mixed the hip-hop and rock sounds with more success than other groups that have penetrated the mainstream.

My one gripe with them, up until now, has been the quality of their music videos. They seemed to fall prey to the tendency to use music videos as an excuse for elaborate special effects that have little to do with the meanings of the song. This vice is nothing new to the music video format and the bulk of popular music is so brain dead (what I like to call the American Idol-ization of the American music scene) that the visuals might as well be random. But when a group like Linkin Park does it, it's even more aggravating because such potential is being squandered.

But now Linkin Park appears to have realized the power of combining music with the visual image and two videos off of their new album, Minutes to Midnight, are extraordinary in their use editing and camera work, and they use the cinematic form to conspire against the empty, cold glitter of MTV and mainstream American music.

What I've Done
This video strikes me in its use of editing, juxtaposing images to create meaning. The lyrics to the song take on additional meaning. As a song in and of itself, "What I've Done" could be considered a personal mediation on the singer's own sins, but the video connects that guilt with footage of social injustice, prejudice, and environmental catastrophes. By doing so, Linkin Park is connecting the personal role individuals play, be it as active soldiers or passive consumers, in perpetuating inhumanity.

Shadow of the Day
This video reminds me of something U2 might produce in its tone and style. Again, the lyrics are not obviously about revolution, but juxtaposing the song with scenes of civil unrest makes as powerful a political statement as the music of Rage Against the Machine.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Beware of Bears

Two stories broke this past week, one in regard to Christianity and the other in regard to Islam, that nicely demonstrate the link between these two religions as well as a key difference in the way they interact with those who dissent or offend them.

In the Sudan, an English school teacher has been found guilty of blasphemy for allowing the students to name a classroom teddy bear "Muhammad." The Sudan court has sentenced her to fifteen days in jail with deportation to follow, although she could have spent as long as six months imprisoned or suffer forty lashes in public. If that did not sound insane enough, a few days later a crowd of 10,000 Muslims marched outside the presidential palace, calling for the teacher's execution.

The day before the Sudanese story broke, Phil Donahue, president of the Catholic League, appeared on the CBS Early Show to endorse a boycott of the film The Golden Compass, a fantasy film based on the series of children's fantasy books by Phillip Pullman. The book and the film adaptation feature, among other creatures, talking polar bears. Pullman is an avowed atheist and his books have been viewed as anti-Catholic. For example, the villains of the book belong to an elite society called The Magisterium. This is the same name for the Catholic Church's "divinely appointed" authority to teach the truths of religion. Pullman's books and the upcoming film are viewed as an attack on the Church, and Donahue is doing what he can to derail the box office returns of the film and prevent the sequels from being made.

So both Christians and Muslims are scared of bears, non-real ones at that. But what is more revealing here is their frantic reactions to try and shut up any opposition. The children in the Sudanese classroom did not choose the name "Muhammad" out of spite, but because it was their favorite name. The children who view or read The Golden Compass are unlikely to turn into atheists overnight or to even catch the criticism of the church unless it is explained to them. But the adults involved are aware, consciously or unconsciously, of how fragile and weak their belief systems are, and they will declare war on anything, even something as innocuous as a teddy bear, that even hints of a threat. Religious fanatics are, at their core, cut of the same cloth.

The difference between Christians and Muslims is in their methods. Where the Sudanese Muslims threaten (and sometimes carry out) acts of violence, Christians stay within the realm of peaceful protest (anti-abortion bombers aside). The reason for this is not religiously based. A few centuries ago Christians were engaging in exactly the same kind of barbarism that the Muslim-controlled countries engage in now. The difference is that Christianity has lost much of its power in the West, compared to where it was 500 years ago. The Muslims and the Christians have many of the same rules in their so-called holy books, but the Christians largely don't follow them, especially rules on blasphemy and adultery. As secularism has liberated the West of its slavish and unnecessary devotion to Christianity and the powers of reason and enlightenment have introduced progressive ideas like freedom of religion and protection of free speech (especially unpopular speech), the believers have been put into a position where it is easier and more productive for them to protest against threats by entering into the marketplace of ideas. The Muslims need a reformation or a religious enlightenment before their cultures can catch up and allow for the competition of ideas to flourish.

It is important to note that in both examples, the teddy bear and the film, the religious fanatics do not want a marketplace of ideas. Donahue is not just seeking to make parents and others aware of the subtext of The Golden Compass. He wants to stop the film from being seen and stop further films from being made. Similarly, the protesters in Sudan chanted "No tolerance: execution!" Neither group wants contradictory opinions to be allowed to exist. In the West, Christians have only entered into the marketplace of ideas because they have been forced to by other cultural influences. I suspect the same will be true of Islam.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Drink 'em Up

Last night the Mankato city council voted to set new regulations on drink specials in Mankato bars. The new restrictions ban all-you-can-drink cup specials, multi-drink specials (two drinks for one price), gender-related specials, and cut off all drink specials at 11 p.m.

The new regulations are nothing short of a mess, allowing loop holes so large that bar owners can drink and drive a Mack truck through them. For example, bars can run drink specials after 11 p.m. if the specials run from open to close and are featured each week as part of a tavern's marketing plan. Bars are also allowed short term promotional pricing on new drinks. These exceptions nearly negate the intended impact of the legislation, to curb binge drinking.

Local bar owners are understandably upset by the new rules and it raises serious questions about the city council's commitment to local business. The largest growth in Mankato business has occurred on the city's hilltop, near the intersection of Highway 14 and MN 22. Big box retailers such as Best Buy, Super Wal-Mart, Kohls, and now Lowes have been allowed to set up on the east side of town while downtown Mankato has been left to rot. At this point downtown Mankato is left with very little in the way of thriving local businesses except for the bars which the city council continues to punish. If this governing body is at all interested in supporting local businesses it certainly is not showing it.

What I find more troubling than the apparent thoughtlessness of this legislation or even the council's continued attack on local business is the presumption of the Mankato city council that it ought to micro-manage the health of its constituents. Council member Vance Stuehrenberg said, ''We're not going to change a culture by what something here in Mankato does but we can take a step.'' Stuehrenberg's quote raises two questions: What about the culture are you out to change and should that change be made? While the council has the ability to attempt to change the culture, as any group of concerned citizens do, these people are using their position to infringe upon our ability for self determination. By singling out alcohol sales and the phenomenon of binge drinking, the council is sending a message that the city ought to regulate, discourage, and even punish the private activities of its citizens, activities that harm no one but the individual involved. Freedom means the ability to make unhealthy choices, be it binge drinking, not exercising, smoking, or eating fatty foods. Freedom comes with personal responsibility and suffering through or enjoying the consequences of those decisions. The city council apparently does not share this view and has decided to step in and make these decisions for the rest of us. While their concern for my well being is duly noted, I am an adult and prefer to make my own choices.

There is also the issue of precedent. While I do not readily give myself over to slippery-slope arguments, there is slope issue at hand here. If the council was truly serious about improving my health, wouldn't it try to curb my diet of red meat and other cholesterol-filled food? Cancer and preventable heart disease are among the greatest causes of death in the nation, so shouldn't our local restaurants and grocers face the same regulation? I hope not, because I enjoy a steak with my beer. But if the council is allowed to punish unhealthy personal choices, the horizon of the council's reach may extend beyond increasing my bar tab and penetrate all the way into my refrigerator.

The city council has bungled its attempts at regulating personal choices through muddled legislation, but the notions at the heart of this legislation--continued attacks on freedom of choice and further infringement on local business--are a far greater threat to the collective well being than whether citizens get liquor at a discounted price. While I understand that the council has the best of intentions, its members must understand that the pursuit of happiness, whether it is found in public service or at the bottom of a tequila bottle, ought to be unimpeded, even if it leads to the self-destruction of the individual.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rain Man

Last week Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue made headlines by asking citizens to pray for rain and led a public prayer outside the state capital building for relief from the terrible drought the state has suffered through this year.

Communicating for the governor, Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said, "The only solution is rain, and the only place we get that is from a higher power."

I could dwell on how pathetic this makes Perdue look (the man is so inept at dealing with the crisis he has been reduced to wishing upon a star) and the fairly obvious church-state problems of the prayer (it amounts to state-sponsored religion), I'd rather draw attention to a little item buried in one of the news articles after the prayer.

As it turned out, two days later a storm hit Georgia and left about an inch of rain, which did nothing to alleviate the drought but did manage to destroy the roof of a church and injure children with flying shards of glass.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Hitler: The Rise of Evil

Last night I got to re-watch Hitler: The Rise of Evil. It was originally a made-for-TV mini-series broadcast on network television in 2003 and the film has been in the back of my mind ever since. Last month it was released on DVD and I finally got my hands on a copy.

The film has some great production values going for it, especially for a made-for-TV production, such as the attempted coup in Munich. The film also has some very good performances by Liev Schreiber and Julianna Margulies as Hitler supporters Ernst and Helene Hanfstaengl, Peter Stormare as SA leader Ernst Röhm, Matthew Modine as anti-Nazi journalist Fritz Gerlich, Peter O'Toole as President Hindenburg, and Robert Carlyle as Adolf Hitler. Carlyle gives one of the great performances of the Fuhrer, on par with Bruno Ganz in Downfall, which I hold as one of the finest portrayals of Hitler ever made.

Dramatizing history is tough, especially when the filmmakers deal with such a well known and thoroughly researched figure as Hitler. On the one hand, the filmmaker must make storytelling decisions that place dramatic principles ahead of historical accuracy. On the other hand, it is easy to end up on a slippery slope where so much dramatic licence is taken that the portrayal of the historical figure or event no longer represents who this person or place was. This docu-drama walks that line as well as any historical film I've ever seen.

The film isn't perfect. There is a coda on the ending which feels out of place and rather forced. I think a more effective final image could have been used. Also, the one glaring historical element that I found wanting was Hitler's relationship to Joseph Goebbels and Goebbels importance to the rise of Nazi popularity in Germany, both of which are under emphasized.

But what really strikes me about this film, aside from its craft and performances, is the relevance. History is dramatized with the intent of illuminating the present. Based on what I have seen recently, films that go back further in time can be more effective to understand the present than films dramatizing current events. Consider post-9/11 films Kingdom of Heaven and Munich as compared to Rendition or The Kingdom. While there are certainly exceptions, such as In the Valley of Elah, it seems that films which dig farther into the past can tells us more about the present, perhaps because we are more removed from the event itself. The best Vietnam films were made after the war, although there were a few films during Vietnam that dealt with the war through historical metaphor. Soldier Blue, a Western about the massacre of the Cheyenne Indians, is a thinly veiled parallel for the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam.

Hitler: The Rise of Evil begins and ends with Edmond Burke's quote "The only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing," and the story is filled with people making compromises with their ethics either to be polite or to accomplish their own ends. They ignore Hitler's anti-semitism, war mongering, and power grabbing until it is too late. There is a large emphasis, especially in the third act, on the surrender of civil liberties and throughout the film Hitler appeals to the Aryan myth of glory and idealism. In our post-9/11 world in which the West finds itself fighting an enemy mobilized by a dream of Islamic world domination and while fighting that enemy runs the risk of surrendering the very freedoms that it is attempting to preserve, the relevance of this film ought to be very clear.

Here is a trailer for the film:

Saturday, October 06, 2007

KMSU Pledge Drive

Starting on Friday, October 5, 89.7 KMSU FM will be having its fall pledge drive. This is your chance to help the station stay on the air. Aside from supporting the overhead costs of running the station, KMSU is preparing to construct a new tower and needs to install an antena system for the new transmitter. This is going to be extraordinarily expensive, but is vital to keeping the station on the air.

As with every pledge drive, there are some premiums available. This year, Shuffle Function hosts Tim and Shelly has put together a 12 Hour Film Fesival to screen on the MSU campus on November 3rd. For a $50 pledge, listeners will get a t-shirt and admission to the film festival. The films to be screened include: This Is Spinal Tap, Dr. Strangelove, Gimme Shelter, Animal House, Shaun Of The Dead, and Blue Velvet. You can find out more about the film festival here.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not see a penny of the pledge funds. Maverick at the Movies, like many local programs on 89.7 the Maverick, is produced on a volunteer basis.

To pledge, call 507-389-5678 or 1-800-456-7810, or visit this page to make an email pledge. If you get voice mail or send an email, include your full name, mailing address, phone number, and the amount you wish to pledge. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

MFA Writers Garage Sale

The students in the MFA program at Minnesota State University will be having a garage sale on Saturday, October 6.o The proceeds will go toward sending students to the the AWP conference in New York.

The sale will be held at 418 Van Brunt in Mankato, Minnesota from 7 a.m.-3 p.m.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Those About to Be Tased, We Salute You

Amidst all of the coverage of Britney Spears, O.J. Simpson, and other crap passing for news on most major media outlets, some of you may seen the story of John Meyer, the University of Florida student who was tased by police officers at a lecture by John Kerry.

This video
shows the question leading up to the police harassment. The video quality is poor, so here is a transcript:

Meyer: I first and foremost want to thank you for your time. You spent a lot of time talking to us. I want to thank you for coming and being open and honest. You recommended a book to us earlier. I wanted to recommend a book to you. It’s called Armed Madhouse. It’s by Greg Palast.

Kerry: Yeah, I have it.

Meyer: He’s the top investigative journalist in America.

Kerry: I’ve already read it.

Meyer: And he says you won the 2004 election! Isn’t that amazing? You won in 2004. In fact, there were multiple reports on the day of the election of disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida and Ohio.

Kerry: So what’s the question?

Police officers step aside of Meyer.

Meyer: Thank you very much. That’s my question. [Says something indistinct to police officers aside of him.] He’s been talking for two hours. I think I can have two minutes. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Kerry: So what’s the question?

Meyer: I’m going to give you my question. I’m going to inform people and then I’m going to ask you my question. So there are multiple reports of disenfranchisement of black voters on the day of the election 2004. There’s also voting machines, electronic voting machines, in Florida that counted backwards. So amidst all these reports of phony, bogus stuff going on how can you concede the election on the day?

Scattered applause in the background.

Meyer: How could you concede the 2004 election on the day? In this book it says there were five million votes that were suppressed and that you won the election. Didn’t you want to be president? I’m not even done yet. I have two more questions.

The crowd murmurs.

Meyer: If you are so against [invading] Iran how come you’re not saying, “Let’s impeach Bush now. Impeach Bush now before he can invade Iran?” Why don’t we impeach him? Clinton got impeached for what? A blowjob? Why don’t we impeach Bush? Also were you a member of Skull and Bones in college with [George W.] Bush, the same secret society?

And then this happened:

John Kerry has released a statement on the event and in usual Kerry fashion, he muddles his statement into political sludge, refusing to take any discernable position on the brutality of the police officers, the questions posed by Meyer, or even present a thought on why this happened.

In other developments, Greg Palast, the author of the book that got this student in so much trouble, has written about the incident on his website and includes an excerpt from Armed Madhouse. Also, writer Farhad Manjoo has written an interesting piece on the use of tasers by campus police officers across the nation.

While the blatant infringement on Meyer’s freedom of expression and the brutality of the police officers certainly inspires vitriol, it is the vacant compliance of his fellow students that really bothers me. This man was pinned to the ground by at least three officers, screamed and pleaded for help, and no one moved. A few cries can be heard by sympathetic voices and apparently a few rose to get a better look, but no one dared to challenge the police officers even as they repeatedly tased this unarmed student. A few even applauded as he was removed from the hall.

In a way this video is a very appropriate microcosm of the culture in which we now live. Politicians and other public figures take to the stage and tell us what we want to hear, sometimes even telling us some inconvenient truths, but are always careful to stop short of moving us to action. The political process becomes a spectator sport to be discussed on blogs, on talk shows, and made into documentaries, but never actually entered into. The unspoken agreement between officials and the public at large is to never require actual commitment or suggest action that might alleviate the status quo. Andrew Meyer broke this agreement and asked John Kerry some relevant questions and demanded accountablity for his (in)action. To put it another way, Meyer participated in the democratic process, and for that he was violently silenced.

I’ll admit that Meyer crossed the line between asking a question and giving a speech and he certainly could have used a little more brevity. But the authority’s response to him was unjustified and illegal and Meyer was completely within his rights to resist. He wasn’t being placed under arrest. He was being attacked.

I hope Meyer fights charges of resisting arrest and I further hope that he files a counter suit against the school and the police officers. But what I really hope is that this video becomes the equivalent of the image of Kent State students shot by National Guardsmen while protesting the Vietnam War, because that is exactly what this is.

It is time to stop tolerating politicians who are unable or unwilling to lead us into a better future. Difficult questions need to asked and those in positions of power need to be held accountable. Our academic institutions need to be taken back from the sedentary, lowest-common-denominator flavor of humanism that has infected it in recent years. In the end, it will be those of us strong enough to resist the threats authoritarianism and the temptations of status quo comforts that bring about actual change.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sally Field's Emmy Speech

At last night's Emmy Awards ceremony, Sally Field made an antiwar statement that was censored by Fox. Here is the uncensored speech.

Using the word "goddamn" in her speech was apparently the cause of most of the controversy, although more of her antiwar comments were cut by Fox. Personally, I don't think the speech was any great statement, more a vent of the frustration that many of us feel about the war. Her full comment, "If the mothers ruled the world there would be no goddamn war," is over simplistic, untrue, and fairly stupid. But it makes for easy applause.

Monday, September 03, 2007

"Academia at Its Worst" by Tony Palmeri

Tony Palmeri, a former professor of mine at UW Oshkosh, has published an essay on the myth of the liberal higher education establishment titled "Academia at Its Worst." In it he talks about the firing of Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado and denial of tenure to Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee at DePaul University. Churchill gained notoriety for calling the victims of the World Trade Center attack "little Eichmanns" in an essay. Finkelstein had published numerous books and articles on how the Holocaust had been exploited for political gain and Larudee was one of the few people who came to Finkelstein's defense.

Some excerpts:

Hank Brown and the Colorado Board of Regents insist Churchill’s firing had nothing to do with his controversial statements, but with research misconduct uncovered by a university committee. They claim instances of plagiarism, falsification, and fabrication can be found in Churchill’s scholarly writings. Though admitting that the extensive review of Churchill’s writings (his work has been examined more thoroughly than probably any scholar in the history of academia) would not have taken place were it not for the media backlash against his 9/11 statements, Brown still claims with a straight face that he received fair treatment.

* * *

Finkelstein’s work naturally attracts vehement condemnation, the most vocal and strident from Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz. Finkelstein’s 2005 book Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, provides evidence that parts of Dershowitz’s 2003 The Case for Israel were plagiarized. Dershowitz proceeded to distribute a dossier of materials to individuals involved in the DePaul tenure decision, identifying “Norman Finkelstein's most egregious academic sins, and especially his outright lies, misquotations, and distortions."

The department and college personnel committee, both of which found Dershowitz’s criticisms of Finkelstein’s scholarship to be baseless, granted positive recommendations for tenure. But the Dean of the College along with university president Dennis Holtschneider parroted Dershowitz’s accusations of Finkelstein’s “unprofessional personal attacks” and voted to deny. Holtschneider’s tenure denial letter, available on the web, provides little evidence that he had independently read any of Finkelstein’s work.

* * *

The DePaul Administration abandoned fairness and academic freedom principles not only for Finkelstein, but also for professor Mehrene Larudee. She was called an outstanding teacher and scholar at every level of review but denied tenure by Holtschneider. Her sin? Publicly supporting Finkelstein.

While some might say that this is to be expected in the "real world," I would have to agree with Tony that these kinds of egregious attacks on free speech are hurting the academic environment. The potential chilling effect this may have on academics in all fields is significant and I believe it is very relevant to note that these comments were made via publication, not in the classroom. The advancement of knowledge depends on people willing to present unpopular ideas, even wrong or objectionable ideas, to the marketplace. Without that, professors, especially those without tenure, will end up taking the safe and well worn routes and scholarship across the board will suffer for it.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

“What do I labour for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true.” -- Mother Teresa

Time magazine has published a cover story on the letters of Mother Teresa, in which she confessed that she did not believe in God and thought the whole Christian myth was a sham. Teresa had wanted these letters destroyed upon her death, but the Church and others close to her knew that there was more money to be made in publishing them, even if their contents shatter Teresa's image as a woman of unwavering faith.

A few observations about the letters and their publications:

1. Those in positions of power in the Catholic Church will do anything for money, even sacrificing the reputation of a woman who is on the fast track to sainthood. The church has always been a tenacious beast, looking out for its own survival. That is how it has survived the Enlightenment, the Reformation, two World Wars, and over 1500 years of sexual abuse by its clergy upon children.

2. Even the most ardent believers cannot get around how empty the Christian faith is and the harder someone tries to believe in what is so obviously a lie, the more damage they will do to their mental health. Teresa records quite a bit of pain in her letters and they are that distinct pain of someone who tries so hard to believe but her reason will not let her slip completely into self deceit. At one point Teresa even received an exorcism as an attempt to "cure" her of doubt. It didn't work, at least not in the long term.

3. Despite her doubt, Teresa kept on working as a poster child for the Catholic Church, especially its fight to stop the spread of contraceptives (namely condoms) and sex education throughout the third world. Stopping the distribution of STD protection and education came during a critical time when HIV was starting to become a crisis and continues today. Now, one in four people carry the HIV virus in parts of Africa. While Mother Teresa is not solely to blame, she was part of the problem. And given her doubts, she should have known better.

Some atheists have taken glee in the publication of the letters, claiming Mother Teresa as one of their own while believers have argued that her willingness to believe despite her doubt makes her a model of faith. In the following debate, Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, and Bill Donahue, of the Catholic League, debate this very point.

In a sense, they are both right. But they are also both wrong, although Donahue is more wrong than Hitchens. Mother Teresa did have doubt and could be counted among disbelievers like Hitchens but the fact that she refused to stop and speak out against what she knew was nonsense is reason enough to refuse to acknowledge her as worthy company to the likes of Hitchens, Dawkins, Freud, Einstein, and other atheists. Doubt is an inevitable obstacle for intelligent believers and her ultimately futile struggle with it does make her a model of faith, as Donahue would assert, although she is not a model that should be followed. As Hitchens asserts, she is an example of the ways believing this nonsense can cause psychological damage and how the church uses and abuses its own membership.

Further, given what Hitchens exposed about Teresa in The Missionary Position, that her organization took in millions of dollars and apparently none of it went to the people who needed it, that she accepted donations of stolen money from Charles Keeting and then wrote a letter to the prosecutor in Keeting's defense, makes her behavior all the more unforgivable. What the letters expose is a woman who exploited the Church and its well meaning membership as much as it exploited and continues to exploit her. While it might be true that deep in her heart she knew that she was wrong, the fact that Teresa continued to stick with it does not make her a hero. It makes her a fraud.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

God's Warriors

CNN is broadcasting an extraordinary three part series called God's Warriors, exploring Jewish, Muslim, and Christian fundamentalism this week. I've watched the first two parts of the series and it has been very impressive so far.

Related to the series, CNN has posted an interview with Madeleine Albright about the relationship between religion and politics. I found this quote from Albright notable:

As a practitioner of foreign policy, I certainly come from the generation of people who used to say, "X problem is complicated enough. Let's not bring God and religion into it." But through my being in office, and as I explored the subject much further in writing "The Mighty and the Almighty," I really thought that the opposite is true. In order to effectively conduct foreign policy today, you have to understand the role of God and religion. ... My sense is that we don't fully understand, because one, it's pretty complicated, and two, everyone in the U.S. believes in a separation of church and state, so you think, "Well, if we don't believe in the convergence of church and state, then perhaps we shouldn't worry about the role of religion." I think we do that now at our own peril. Religion is instrumental in shaping ideas and policies. It's an essential part of everyday life in a whole host of countries. And obviously it plays a role in how these countries behave, so we need to know what the religious influence is.

Albright's quote illustrates the key problem with the war on terror and the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan: the Bush administration did not--and still does not--understand the intricacies of Islam and how Islamic traditions relate to contemporary politics. That has led to the current debacle we are now in.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Video Flashback

I'd normally add some kind of analysis or quip to introduce or explain a video clip, but I think this one just speaks for itself.

Damn you, Dick.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The People Who Died

Apparently a second Day of the Dead was added to the calender this year. Look at all the people who died today:

Tom Snyder
Anyone who watches the news or television talk shows and has an appreciation for thoughtful discourse is at pains to find much of it in any format in today's mass media. Snyder was a great interviewer. He got serious and made some revealing interviews with figures from entertainment, politics, and culture, but he also had fun with many of them. Snyder has been a personal hero of mine and I wish more television interviewers would realize that intelligence and fun are not mutually exclusive.

Here is a Youtube video that has a sample of Snyder's interviews over the years:

Ingmar Bergman
The director of The Virgin Spring and The Seventh Seal was one of the great directors of film for all time. His work influenced many "New Hollywood" directors such as Martin Scorsese and Wes Craven, and he has the distinction of being one of a only a handful of European directors whose work has been widely embraced in the United States. (Note: there are plenty of great directors in other countries but American culture and the Hollywood distribution system is set up in such a way that foreign films are blocked from wide distribution here.) Time has published a very nice article about Bergman and his work which can be found here.

Here is a video of the opening of The Seventh Seal:

Bill Walsh
Although I have never been a big sports fan, I admire the skill, hard work, and beauty of athletes and the leadership qualities possessed by the best of coaches. This article illustrates Walsh's legacy. An excerpt:

He was 102-63-1 in 10 seasons with the 49ers, including 10-4 in the postseason. But his impact on pro football went well beyond the 49ers and that prolific offense.

His fingerprints are all over today's NFL. Perhaps his West Coast offense has waned in influence in recent years, but at least a version of it can be found in just about every team's playbook, and the organizational structure he created with the 49ers remains the model for most teams in the league.

Walsh's training camp and practice regimen, which emphasized classroom work and lighter drills than was normal for teams at the time, is now standard practice around the NFL.

And it's not stretching a point to say the last Super Bowl, which featured the first two African-American coaches ever to reach that game, also was a tribute to Walsh's forward thinking; he was years ahead of the league in recognizing and promoting minority coaches.

Michel Serrault
The French actor featured in La Cage aux Folles (aka Birds of a Feather) also died today. One notable piece of his biography from this article, Serrault had considered a life in the priesthood but abandoned that path because of the vow of chastity. Good man.

Ronald Marquez
Marquez was no one of cultural significance, but he died today and the story worth mentioning. According to news reports, Marquez was strangling his three-year-old granddaughter in an attempt to perform an exorcism. Police intervened, saving the girl by using a taser on Marquez, and he later died of a heart attack.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Maybe They'll Find His Head

Bush to have colonoscopy Saturday
By James Gerstenzang, Times Staff Writer
11:07 AM PDT, July 20, 2007

WASHINGTON -- President Bush will undergo a colonoscopy Saturday, and Vice President Dick Cheney will be acting president during the roughly 2 ½ hours Bush is under the effects of anesthesia, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said today.

It will be the second time Bush has undergone the procedure as president, and the second time he has signed over to Cheney, under the 25th Amendment, the responsibilities of acting president.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Return of Michael Moore

With the release of Sicko, Michael Moore is back in the public eye. Here is his appearance on "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" in which Moore is confronted with a challenge to his film and he responds in turn.

You can read my review of Sicko here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ron Weasley: Ice Cream Man

I already posted this on my Maverick at the Movies blog, but I though I would share it here too.

This MSNBC article focusing on the three child stars of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix contains this gem from actor Rupert Grint, who plays Ron Weasley. Asked how he has spent his profits from the films, Grint replied:

“I’ve recently got an ice-cream van,” he said.

And further:

All three young stars have begun to look toward life after Harry Potter. Watson wants to attend university and would like to appear in a costume drama. Grint, too, wants to carry on acting — “and if it doesn’t work out, I’ve still got the ice cream van.”

Monday, June 18, 2007

Stem Cell Video

This Youtube video says most of what needs to be said about President Bush's stance on stem cell research.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Dan Rather vs. CBS News

Here is a video of a phone interview with Dan Rather on MSNBC attacking CBS news and more broadly the mainstream media for their obsessive coverage of all things insignificant (Paris Hilton, etc) and the lack luster coverage of the war. Rather is far too tactful to say what really needs to be said, but his comments about the consequences of bringing the sensibilities of the Today show to the evening news are well taken.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Hitchens on Falwell's Death

Here is a video of Christopher Hitchens reacting to the death of Jerry Falwell on Anderson Cooper 360. The quality of the video is not particularly good but the sound is decent and it includes the whole interview and email reaction to Hitchens' comments.

The only element of Hitchens' argument that I disagree with is the notion that Falwell was disingenuous in his beliefs. I would argue that Falwell probably did believe what he said, since I am unaware of any comments betraying his faith. That is no excuse for the idiotic and destructive things that he said and did. In fact, it is an even greater indictment of the nonsense Falwell dedicated his life to as he was truly representative of the religion, much more so than the apologists who have attempted to excuse his actions under the cover of misguided faith.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day 2007

After a big election victory in November, majority positions in both the House and Senate, and with public opinion on their side, the Democrats have once again proven that they are the most worthless, spineless, and incompetent group of politicians in America.

If you had not heard, the Democrats passed the Iraq funding bill without the time lines for a troop withdrawal. That's $100 billion to keep fighting a war that this president has waged unsuccessfully for five years and has killed nearly 3500 American soldiers.

This gives me yet another example of why I cannot commit to one of our two political parties. As Lewis Black once said, the Democratic party is a party no ideas and the Republican party is a party of bad ideas. This is not a good combination. And the people in both parties who actually demonstrate the ability to think, the ones willing to say what reality is, such as Republican Congressman Ron Paul or Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, are minimized and pushed aside in favor of politicians who make better bumper stickers than leaders. I know Bush and the rest of the White House carries the lion's share of the blame for getting us into this disaster, but the opposing party and the mainstream media also share responsibility for enabling a President who had no business holding his position in the first place. This has been a constant pattern of behavior for the Democrats, much like a spouse in an abusive relationship. Bush makes empty pledges of bi-partisanship and the Democrats keep giving him another chance, and then he again pulls some stunt and violates his word. And then, rather than leave him or make him accountable for what he has done, the President and his advisers threaten, coerce, and sweet talk the Democrats into believing that he deserves one more chance, that he can change, that he's doing it for their own good, and that he'll never do it again. But then, of course, he does.

There is one element of passing this funding bill that may pay off in September, when the funds run out (yes, it costs $100 billion to go to war just for the summer). At that time the continuance of the war will be up for debate and at that point the Democrats will be able to say that they have given the President all of the support he needs, allowing him to attempt his troop surge and giving him the financial means to do so. This will put them in a position to reign in his war efforts and demand that he end this debacle. Still, I have to ask why, after five years, are we still allowing this to continue? Why not just bring the troops home?

Georges Clemenceau once said, "War is too important to be left to the generals" and it may very well be said that sedition is too important to be left to the politicians. It is up to the people to put the war to an end. I'm no pacifist, but this conflict is one of the stupidest and most disastrous foreign policy decisions made by our government in decades, over shadowing the interventions in South American during the Reagan era and the Vietnam War. This is not a matter of Democrat versus Republican or conservative versus liberal. This is a matter of seeing what is, realizing what has to be done, and doing it. And so, on this Memorial Day, here are my modest suggestions for how we can win the war against the Bush administration:

  1. For all of us on the home front: (A) Withdraw all support for any politician, Democrat or Republican, who does not demand the with drawl of our troops. Some will be up for re-election in November and can be removed. There is just enough time to demand a recall election on the November ballot for those who will not support our with drawl, especially after the evaluation coming in September. (B) Educate your fellow citizens on the nature of the war, inform them about what is really happening, and build grass roots activism in your community. (C) Abandon media outlets that will not provide accurate or penetrating coverage of the war and support those who do. This means giving up Fox News and CNN and many mainstream newspapers and looking to international sources like NPR and the BBC. (D) Abandon businesses that cooperate with the White House projects like illegal wiretapping. (E) Demand the impeachment of the President. Contact our politicians with the same outrage we saw toward Don Imus' remarks about the Rutger's basketball team and send them the message that it's either him or them.
  2. To families of soldiers in the field: Keep sending them care packages of body armor, food, and other essential supplies. Also, send them information about what is going on here and information about the true nature of this conflict. It may seem silly to send troops in the middle of action stories about the war, but you can't see the forest for the trees and most soldiers are denied access to non-military approved information. The supplies and information add up to an escape package that will lead to my next point.
  3. For the soldiers in the field: Refuse to follow orders or carry out any more missions until the American government agrees to set a withdrawal plan. If the government refuses, abandon your posts and leave Iraq. Use the tanks, trucks, airplanes, and other means of transport and just go.
  4. For soldiers currently on leave or preparing to be deployed: Don't go. Show support for your brothers and sisters on the field by refusing to follow orders given by those who don't care about you and don't know how to run a war.

That is my four point plan to win the war for America. And it is a war worth fighting. Remember, George Bush and his companions hate us for our freedom and if we don't fight them, they will follow us into our homes.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Various Updates and Rumblings

I've been mostly inactive on the blog for the past month, aside from a few amusing anecdotes. I've been hard at work getting a new job, working on Maverick at the Movies, and some other writing projects and so blogging had to take a back seat in a while. I had fully intended to weigh in on some of the past month's big stories but as I was formulating positions on one, some other controversy/scandal/tragedy would strike and I was on to something else. So here is a quick recap of some of the recent stories that I missed but feel a need to comment upon.

Don Imus
Don Imus was fired from MSNBC for calling the Rutger's basketball team "nappy headed hoes."

While no one really felt a need to defend Imus (I certainly didn't) the news media was saturated with commentary on the use of words like "ho" in the culture. What boggled my mind was the idea that we had to have a national discussion on whether calling a group of black women "nappy headed hoes" and "jigaboos" was stupid, inappropriate, racists, and sexist. Weren't we all on the same page here?

On a personal level, I found the Imus story interesting because in the past I have made some hurtful, insensitive, or downright stupid remarks about people or places and done it in very public forums. No question about it, Imus' remark was cringe worthy. Should he have lost his job over it? If it were a one comment slip, like John Kerry's botched joke about US troops or Joseph Biden calling Barak Obama articulate and clean, I could over look it. However, this is a pattern of behavior for Imus. I have often defended the offenders but only when they say something of substance. Marilyn Manson ripping pages out of the Bible in concert is a political statement, Eminem's apparent misogyny is intended self consciously, and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers is a cinematic indictment of a media that glamorizes violence. But Imus's remarks have no intention of enlightening us. The vapidity of his remarks is indicative of his entire show, which was not particularly good to begin with. As a political and cultural commentator, Imus always reminded me of a drunk sitting on bar stool, waiting to tell his sad story to any unfortunate barkeep willing to listen. He had nothing interesting to say, and the airwaves are better without him. So, yes, Imus should have lost his job, but primarily because he is an idiot than for any one remark.

Virginia Tech Shooting
There isn't much to be say here that hasn't already been said. I was happy to see that the media and the culture did not go crazy about this like they did in 1999 with the Columbine massacre. That may have to do with the place we are in now, with post-9/11 anxieties about terrorism and the war in Iraq. There were two related items that did concern me, however.

The first is the effect that the shooting might have on classrooms. Shortly after the shooting, an honor student was arrested for disorderly conduct after he wrote a violent essay for a creative writing assignment. The student had not other red flags and he was arrested without any detective work. The hysteria surrounding events like the shooting tend to have ripple effect as the public and pundits demand that we protect everyone from every possible threat all the time. The realization of this kind of environment will only come at a considerable loss of liberty, the kind of unfreedom that is freely chosen for the illusion of security.

The second item is how Americans are still more focused on their own backyards and lack any sense of connection to Iraq. Two days after the massacre at Virginia Tech, nearly 200 people were killed by roadside bombs in Baghdad. While I do not wish to take away from the loss suffered by the survivors of those who died at Virgina Tech, I do wish to place the carnage in some sort of context. If people were so shocked by the death here, why are we not equally shocked by the staggering death toll in Iraq?

Bush Vetoes Iraq Bill
I have already commented on this, but it is worth looking into again. With the defeat of the bill, this leaves us with the question, what now? If Bush has disregard for the wishes of his constituents, refuses to change course, and the current "plan" does not work, then perhaps it is time for a change in leadership. Since the veto, a group of House Republicans met with Bush in what can be described as an intervention, warning him that he has reached a crisis point and that this is his last straw with the Congress. What will happen in September, when the surge will be evaluated, may redefine the military powers of the Executive branch for future Presidents.

MSU Student Senate Kills Funding for Blue Earth Review
I know that placing this in a discussion about Iraq and Virginia Tech seems almost vulgar, but it is worth addressing. The Blue Earth Review, Minnesota State University's literary magazine, has had all of its funding eliminated by the student senate. Without bothering to discuss any line items of next year's Student Allocation Committee budget in session, the senate voted to ax the $7,000 yearly budget for the magazine. The student government claimed that there will be a reduction in student enrollment next year and that students were not adequately represented by the magazine and so the Review was not worthy of student fees. To put this in perspective, there are 13,000 students at MSU and 22 were featured in the latest issue of the magazine. Full time students pay $368 per semester. $368 multiplied by 22 students equals $8,096. To figure it another way, $7000 divided by 13,000 students is about $0.54, and the students are given a large, professional literary magazine for less than a dollar each. Any way you figure it, the Review is a reasonable cost to the students but the SAC and the MSA were too lazy to work on trying to find some kind of accommodation.

The message that this decision sends to the arts community in Mankato and at MSU is very disheartening. It tells students that their peers do not support artistic endeavors no matter what the cost. At the same time, MSU Campus Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics receive over a million dollars in funding from student activity fees (See a pdf of student allocations here). This kind of allocation decision reinforces the notion that college has become a four year diversion for young people rather than molding the next generation of thinkers and providing the base for Western Civilization, as the academy has since Plato.

Gonzalez Fires Attorneys
US Attorney General Gonzales fired a group of federal prosecutors mid-term in a move that was without precedent and that stinks of being politically motivated. This demonstrates a dangerous trend toward moving law enforcement into partisan politics. While giving testimony, Gonzales could not remember why he fired anyone, but we do know that he and others kept track of the political affiliation of the prosecutors.

This story has been more interesting to me for the side issues than for the center scandal. Many of those around Gonzales had little or no legal experience but many were ideologically sympathetic to Gonzales and the Bush administration. Two of Gonzales's top aids, Monica Goodling and John Nowacki, were graduates from the law school at Regent University, an institution founded by televangelist Pat Robertson and carries the slogan "Christian Leadership to Change the World." The school is ranked a Tier 4 school by US News and World Report, which is the lowest rank given. Giving people with no experience and unimpressive educational credentials in places of high power is fitting for an administration that placed or attempted to place figures such as Harriet Miers and Mike Brown on the Supreme Court and the head of FEMA.

Jerry Falwell Dies
I know that when people die, we often tend to forgive their faults, but I have no intention of giving Falwell such a pass. This man fought advancement of civil rights, science, and art and was one of the chief architects of the so-called Moral Majority, which was an attempt to fuse religion and politics in such a way that would lead to a theocratic state. Don't ask me to mourn a man who blamed the September 11th attack on gays, pagans, feminists, and liberals. Pass the cigars, kids.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Say Hello to My Little Friend

If anyone questioned the ongoing relevence of De Palma's Scarface and the gangster film (particularly as a criticism of capitalism) check out this YouTube video.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mission Accomplished, Year Four

Today is the fourth anniversary of Bush's Mission Accomplished speech, supposed to herald the end of major combat operations in Iraq. Ironically, on the anniversary of his speech, Bush vetoed the Iraq spending bill because it set a timetable for troop withdrawls.

This comes as no surprise, as Bush had warned that he would veto any time table for withdrawl that comes from the outside. He has disregarded any outside assessment of the war that does not fit his unwavering optomism about the final outcome of the war, from pre-war intelligence to the Iraq Study Group report.

Cheney has derided those who have called Iraq a failure and argumed that wars cannot be fought be committee. All things being equal, I would agree with the second part of Cheney's statement. To effectively wage a war, orders must be followed, and the chain of command must not be disrupted. However, after over four years of failure, it is clear that the leadership at the top is simply not doing the job and it is congress' perogative to take the war out of Bush's hands the way a parent would take away a child's BB gun when the child has proven that he cannot be trusted with it.

Something significant about this veto, aside from its political symbolism, is that it is only the second bill that Bush has vetoed in all his time as President. The other veto was on a bill to expand stem cell research. Maybe if we told Bush that the soldiers dying in Iraq were embryos at one point he would stop the war.

Explaining his most recent veto, Bush said "Our troops and their families deserve better, and their elected leaders can do better." How true.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Happy Friday the 13th!

Happy Friday the 13th! Here are some trailers and assorted clips related to the films found on YouTube. Watching the trailers, it is interesting to observe the progression of the series from a independent slasher film to a multi-million dollar franchise.

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th Part 2

Friday the 13th Part 3

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter [Ahem. Part 4]

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives - Music Video

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood - Deleted Scenes

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan - Fan Made Music Video

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

Jason X

Freddy Vs. Jason

Here is one last video that reveals something interesting about Jason as a pop culture icon. Although the video is meant in fun, Jason has become lovable in an odd way, much like how Dracula began as a vicious fifteenth century warlord, grew into a Victorian vampire, and eventually became a breakfast cereal and a foam puppet that teaches America's kids mathematics. For better or worse, the same seems to be happening to Jason Voorhees.

I will play some Friday the 13th music in this weekend's episode of Maverick at the Movies. If you check out the Features section of the Maverick at the Movies site, I have uploaded an mp3 my interview with Peter Bracke, author of Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

All the President's Documents

This article, originally published in the Washington Post, details how fraudulent letters detailing a Niger-Iraq nuclear weapons deal became one of the key elements in the march to war. This is a very interesting article because, reading between the lines and associating this with the Valarie Plame leak, the full extent of the deception and conspiracy (and I do not use the word lightly) that led to this war.

It starts in October 2002, when Elisabetta Burba, an investigative reporter for the Italian newsweekly Panorama, received some documents from a previously reliable source.

One of the documents was purportedly sent by the president of Niger to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, confirming a deal to sell 500 tons of uranium to Iraq annually. This was the smoking gun in the package, claiming to show the formal approval of Niger's president to supply Iraq with a commodity that would in all likelihood only be used for a nuclear weapons program: Iraq had no nuclear power plants.

Though the document was in French it would later come to be known as "The Italian Letter." It was written in all capital letters, in the form of an old telex, and bore the letterhead of the Republic of Niger. The letter was dated July 27, 2000, and included an odd shield on the top, a shining sun surrounded by a horned animal head, a star and a bird. The letter was stamped Confidential and Urgent.

The letter said that "500 tons of pure uranium per year will be delivered in two phases." A seal at the bottom of the page read "The Office of the President of the Republic of Niger." Superimposed over the seal was a barely legible signature bearing the name of the president of Niger, Mamadou Tandja.

Burba took the documents to the American embassy in Italy. These were in turn routed to the CIA, which had done its own report in October 2001 on the possibility of Iraq pursuing nuclear weapons.

The classified document, whose distribution was limited to senior policymakers and the congressional intelligence committees, said there was no corroboration and noted that Iraq had "no known facilities for processing or enriching the material." [Emphasis added.]

Despite this, Bush and Cheney were on the war path, making doomsday claims about Iraq. So when the Italian Letter arrived, it was an apparent godsend. Except for one minor detail:

State Department analysts had determined the documents were phony, and had produced by far the most accurate assessment of Iraq's weapons program of the 16 agencies that make up the intelligence community. But the department's small intelligence unit operated in a bubble. Few administration officials -- not even Secretary of State Colin L. Powell -- paid much attention to its analytical product, much of which clashed with the White House's assumptions.

In the meantime, Burba began to research the letter herself, and found that the claims were without merit. Determining that there was no story, she let things alone.

Despite all of this evidence to the contrary, in January 2003 President Bush read his State of the Union address that included the claim "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Burba and the State Department were not the only ones who had looked into this. In February 2002 Congressman Joe Wilson went to Niger to look into the claim and came to the same conclusions as Burba and the State Department. Wilson's wife, Valarie Plame, was a covert CIA operative whose job was monitoring and controlling black market nuclear proliferation. Plame had spent two years looking into leads for the White House's case for war and come up with nothing.

In July 2003 Wilson became an outspoken critic of the war and published an account of his trip to Niger. That same month Plame was outed as a CIA operative on by conservative columnist Robert Novak. This act violated federal laws, destroyed Plame's career in the CIA, and endangered agents active in the field. Officially, the information came from Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff. Exactly how far up the chain it goes is not officially clear as of yet, although Novak has named White House strategist Karl Rove and State Department official Richard Armitage. With Libby's successful prosecution, we'll see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

The falsification of the evidence, the outing of Plame, and the sacrifice of Libby demonstrate the extent to which this administration has gone to achieve ends that it knew were illegal or at least based on false pretenses and then cover up those actions. The questions that remain to be answered are who originated the Italian Letter and why. There is money to be made from providing news organizations with hot information and it could be as simple as that. But knowing how this administration functions makes everything all the more suspicious. We already have the Downing Street Memo, which proves that the Bush administration was long planning to go to war. Valerie Plame's department had been increased before the 9/11 attack and had been pushed by the White House to find evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program that did not exist. And we know that the Bush administration has bank rolled columnists in the past to distribute their version of the truth.

For many out there who have been paying attention, this is all old news, but I think many citizens to not entirely understand what the Libby trial was all about. This is understandable, since this whole story contains a fair amount of twists and turns, much of the mainstream press coverage has been poor, and the string of events goes on for half a decade. In the end, we may need to make a movie about it before the severity of the Italian Letter is completely understood by the masses.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Sweet Jesus

Just in time for Easter, Christians, namely The Catholic League, are raging about an anatomically correct statue of Jesus that was recently (ahem) erected in New York. What's even more interesting about this particular statue is that it is made of chocolate.

That's right, kids. Jesus really is black.

From CNN:

The "My Sweet Lord" display was shut down by the hotel that houses the Lab Gallery in Manhattan, said Matt Semler, the gallery's creative director. Semler said he resigned after officials at the Roger Smith Hotel shut down the show.

The artwork was created from more than 200 pounds of milk chocolate and features Christ with his arms outstretched as if on an invisible cross. Unlike the typical religious portrayal of Christ, the artwork does not include a loincloth.

The 6-foot sculpture was the victim of "a strong-arming from people who haven't seen the show, seen what we're doing," Semler said.

"They jumped to conclusions completely contrary to our intentions."
But word of the confectionary Christ infuriated Catholics, including Egan, who described it as "a sickening display." Bill Donohue, head of the watchdog Catholic League, said it was "one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever."

The hotel and the gallery were overrun Thursday with angry phone calls and e-mails. Semler said the calls included death threats over the work of artist Cosimo Cavallaro, who was described as disappointed by the decision to cancel the display.

I find it a bit ironic that Christians are getting this upset. After all, one of the key rituals of the religion is the symbolic (or literal if you are old school Catholic) consumption of Christ's flesh (which, according to the Catholic League, the artists is planning to do with his statue.) And chocolate candy has certainly become a big part of Easter celebrations, although most of the chocolate comes in the form of a pagan fertility symbol. The statue can be viewed as a logical fusion of the two elements.

What seems to be the really offensive element here is the fact that this statue is naked and anatomically complete. This has typically been the most sensitive issue for Catholics: the asexuality of their icons whether it be Jesus, Mary the Virgin, or Adam and Eve. Casting their savior, a symbol of self-deprivation and masochism as virtues, in a product often associated with decadence, indulgence, and sexuality is an interesting composition.

If people indeed show up to consume the statue, who gets to eat Christ's genitals might be a delicate decision. I nominate Dan Brown.