Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rhymes with dishonesty

I remember with fondness when that perpetual liar Alberto Gonzales was chased out of of Washington by a pitchfork-wielding mob of pissed off Americans. It was particularly rewarding given Gonzales is a personal friend of Bush, and any friend of Bush should be an enemy to America. Gonzales, with his permanent smirk and evasive personality, almost made his predecessor, fellow fascist John Ashcroft, look good. Almost.

After Gonzales' humiliating exit, the gears of hope seemed to kick in again for the idealistic talking heads in the media, and suddenly everybody was speculating about how the next guy would probably be way better. It seemed like the dual threat of a Democratic-led Senate and the general feeling that the voters just wouldn't tolerate another Pinocchio-in-a-suit made it likely that the next attorney general wouldn't be so goddamn dishonest. In short, we asked for somebody to bring a sliver of integrity back to the position of the nation's top cop; what we got was Michael Mukasey, a close confidant to Rudy Giuliani who refused to acknowledge that waterboarding is an illegal torture practice.

That was the first sign of trouble. Yet we remained hopeful that maybe, perhaps, it was possible that Mukasey had the ability to make decisions independent of the Bush machine. And golly gee, wouldn't it be nice if, again, he wasn't so fucking dishonest?

Jokes on us! Turns out Mukasey is just another lackey to the administration and its tireless strategy for building a society of fear. During a speech at the Tech Museum in San Jose, it took Mukasey all of 10 seconds to kick up rabid hysteria with the warning that when you download music, the terrorists win:

SAN JOSE (AP) - In remarks to Silicon Valley executives at the Tech Museum of Innovation, Mukasey said the economy and national security of the United States are increasingly threatened by violations involving copyrighted software code, patented inventions and trademarked properties.

Terror groups are taking their cues from organized crime and increasingly funding their operations from counterfeiting and piracy, he said.

Interestingly, Mukasey delivered his remarks -- without providing any tangible evidence, of course -- just a precious day after meeting with top executives from Apple, Adobe and other tech companies. A day before that, he met with executives in the entertainment industry. And a day before that, he delivered his balls on a silver platter to Bush in the Oval Office.

Oh well, I guess there's always the next attorney general. Keep those fingers crossed.

Weekend zaniness: Xenophobia edition

I'm sort of shirking my blogging duties this weekend. Between work and play, it's been eventful but not all that productive. To appease the blog monster, I bring you a story out of Oregon that has a nice dose of good old fashioned xenophobia:

WILLAMINA - City Councilor Paul Delaney's attempt to have the city declared an "illegal alien free zone" was derailed during Thursday night's special meeting. Both City Attorney Paul Elsner and Delaney's fellow councilors balked at the idea of the city jumping into the middle of a divisive federal issue.

Elsner said he wanted nothing to do with drafting such an ordinance. He said the city would have to contract with outside counsel.

With Elsner balking, the council voted 5-1 to drop the idea. Even Councilor Daron Pond, who seconded Delaney's motion, ultimately sided with the opposition.

The council's chambers were packed for the meeting. A majority of attendees appeared to be local, but the crowd also included several residents of McMinnville and at least one from Independence, along with the media.

The last time a meeting drew this much local and outside attention, it came after the council tried to boot the library's beloved resident cat.

"I've seen cities like Hillsboro and Woodburn change," Delaney said, referring to their swelling Latino populations. He said he didn't want to see that happen to Willamina, originally founded in the Coast Range foothills as a logging town.

He offered the following summary of his overriding aim:

"Law enforcement officers shall have the right to check with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) the legal status of all people arrested for any crime within the city limits. If they are found to be illegal, deportation shall begin. The federal government will be billed for any moneys spent by local agencies for deportation."

Delaney, a heavy equipment operator with a Libertarian political background, said Willamina needed to stand up because no one else would.

"The federal government isn't doing its job," he said. "The state won't do anything. We can provide something on a front-line basis.

"People are getting tired of seeing illegal immigration happen. People want to see a change."

Known for leading a recall campaign against the mayor and three councilors two years ago, he continued, "People say it's political suicide. I don't care. I'm not here to be liked. I'm here to look out for the safety of the citizens.

"I'll vote for this. I've got guts."

Twenty-one people signed up to speak on the issue, but only about a dozen followed through as the meeting dragged on. Each was given three minutes.

Following the public testimony and discussion by the council, during which time Councilor Kevin Nortness called Delaney's proposal a "distraction" Willamina didn't need, Delaney made a motion to have Elsner turn his statement into a formal ordinance the council could act on at a later date. And it drew a second from Pond.

However, Elsner refused to have any part of it.

"This will be an expensive proposition for the city regardless of how I write it," he told the council. "You lack authority. The federal government has complete authority to deal with immigration.

"I can't write the ordinance you want. It's unconstitutional. I won't write it. You'll have to get another lawyer."

And that deflated whatever momentum the idea had.

"This was a waste of time," Nortness said after the vote. "This would be like Willamina passing an ordinance to order our country to get our troops the hell out of Iraq. We have other problems to deal with."

It's a pretty bad omen for any city official when your own city attorney tells you to find another lawyer to draft your ordinance. I think that's all I need to say.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I watch Headline News and contemplate suicide

I noticed the CNN Web site is now streaming first-class blowhard Nancy Grace as she convicts people on the airwaves with her sharp-tongue Southern wit and unrelenting rage. I searched my soul and have yet to come up with a justification for allowing a former prosecutor to report on crime news. Hey CNN, do you think a person who used to seek the death penalty for people accused of crimes might be apt to assume guilt when she reports? Grace fights like a hyena for her image as the American crusader, seeking justice from the vicious brood of criminal minds who are probably killing your children and stealing your livelihood as we speak.

In journalism, we have a golden rule: Truth. It's kind of imperative because it's all that separates us from tje politicians. But Grace is not interested in truth. She's interested in finding the right people to agree with her version of the truth. And if that fails, she just retreats to her prosecutor role, a she-devil with encyclopedic knowledge of legal terms to impress her fawning audience of discontents. In the end, all she accomplishes is destroying the very foundations of good journalism. Her entire persona rests on a sliver of bullshit integrity that could be crumbled in an instant by any veteran print journalist.

But she's not the worst of them.

Last night, I was watching Headline News and had the displeasure of seeing second-class blowhard Glenn Beck wield his gold-studded microphone (no joke) like some kind of scepter to his boyish charm and natural greatness. Then he proceeded to spew actual bullshit for a whole fucking hour. The entire show was practically dedicated to how he's the only valid source on the economy, but he started out his segment by saying "I'm no economist, but ... "

But what, asshole? You have an opinion? Take a number and please stop salivating self-righteousness over the cameraman. Glenn Beck is like the Dennis the Menace of journalism. He keeps pushing the envelope with glee to see what he can get away with, prodding the Old Man Public with his latest gambit while his parents struggle to fathom how they created this demon child. Meanwhile, the public just wants to take a nap.

I'm assuming these two "journalists" are CNN's answer to Bill O'Reilly. Here's the problem: O'Reilly is a World Class Asshole. He's damn good at it. If the asshole Olympics were held today, he'd make us shed a tear for his spirit, dedication and perseverance. Viewers eat up his political, yell-to-get-your-point-across shtick like candy, and the best CNN can throw back is the South's answer to Fran Drescher and a former Christian radio talking head who made his big break by winning a contest to be "DJ for an hour."

These two are amateurs compared to O'Reilly's bravado for hysteria and red-blooded American anger. What can you really say about him that hasn't been said? Even his fans secretly know he's full of shit, but they like to see him rip people to pieces. Hilariously, without the hallowed halls of Fox News to protect him, O'Reilly is just another overrated hack -- a pissed off American who thumped his Bible the loudest and ties the flag to his penis for "lovin' time." I've seen him get owned by John Stewart and fucking David Letterman, who used O'Reilly's own style of interrupt journalism to mercilessly crush his soul. David Letterman!

For my money, they can all take a trip to where the media elephants go to die.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Iraqi democracy: Spending our money with the best of them

During a masturbatory speech today about the greatness of the new Iraqi democracy, Bush suggested the lawmakers there were making more progress than the U.S. Congress. The basis for this ridiculous notion is Iraq's successful endorsement of a national budget while our own lawmakers continue to rankle over a financial blueprint for the United States. For Bush, this great revelation is proof that the invasion was an ingenious move that has practically rained positive results down on an overjoyed populace. Oh boy, they can spend money! Fucking wow!:

"(The Iraqis) got their budget passed," the president said. "Sometimes it takes our Congress awhile to get its budget passed."

Without sounding too flip, I just have to say this first: Bush, you're one oven short of a bake sale. Sure, Iraqi lawmakers passed a budget, I'll give you that. But let's not forget that the U.S. is sending billions and billions and billions of dollars to run Iraq's "democracy," so it's not like the lawmakers have to make many tough funding decisions because we pay for all the shit they need. It also helps to live above a universe of oil. I'm sure our Congress could work a bit faster if a foreign nation was sending us $3 trillion and we had enough oil under us that those same nations would invade us to get it.

Oh, and don't forget the matter of the Iraqi government's monsoon of corruption. I'm sure it's easy for lawmakers to pass a national budget when they're laughing all the way to the bank. According to the GAO, Iraq's central ministries spent a mere 4.4 percent of their "investment budget," of which 90 percent is supposed to fund capital projects. Where's the money going? Nobody knows! But I'm sure that's just a perk of Iraq's stable, flawless, superior democratic process. I'm sure the fact that Iraqis are fleeing their shitpile of a country by the millions to escape a criminal lack of infrastructure and daily violence is just another testament of how well that government is functioning.

Right. Here in America we have a semblance of accountability. We sort of know where our money is going. But accountability also means bureaucracy, which all equates to a long budget process, and with so many lawmakers weighing in, it sort of takes a long time. Bush should know this; he's only been president for nearly eight years, and a state governor before that, and (in theory) a participant of our democracy before that.

Another thing: Our lawmakers may be taking their sweet time to pass a federal budget, but I really can't blame them, considering the proposals they have to reconcile. One look at the White House's version of the budget, for instance, is enough to send me over the deep end. Bush wants to slash vital programs by billions, including Medicaid, and he is seeking to eliminate the Emergency Medical Services for Children Program, which supports children's hospitals, according to the Children's Defense Fund. I'm not sure what Bush has against children, aside from the fact that he's been a spoiled-brat millionaire his entire life and can't even imagine the hardship of poverty.

Meanwhile, the funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are skyrocketing, and Bush hopes to cement wealthy-based tax cuts. That's the brilliant budget sent to Congress. That's the shit Congress has to sift through as it tries to balance all the interests. That's called democracy -- and that's not in the least what Bush likes to see. He wants his budget to be rubber-stamped without any review or debate. What Bush wants is fascism, and his fondness for Iraq's government is a formidable sign. We should worry deeply about any governmental system that Bush says is working smoothly.

I understand nation building is a long process. Anybody who says they expect the Iraqi government to be flawless at this stage is completely delusional. What is infuriating is when Bush struts out to the podium and lies through his teeth, saying things are great when they are obviously not. And to even suggest that the perpetrators of a corrupt Middle Eastern government less than six years old is somehow more fair or efficient than the 200-year-old American democracy is just ludicrous.

My respect for the president would skyrocket if he could just come out and say, "Hey, things are fucked up over there, but what do you expect from a democracy that's just a few years old? Oh, and it's all my fault."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"I'll be back"? Shit, Eastwood never left!

I'm not sure whether Schwarzenegger got the memo, but you just don't fuck with Clint Eastwood.

I don't care whether Arnold was the Terminator, Commando or even Kindergarten Cop. What we're really talking about is Eastwood. Eastwood can draw on your ass faster than you can blink, and he'll do it at sundown or sunup. He doesn't care. All he needs is a sombrero and a six-shooter, and you better pray you're more than 50 yards away.

Hello? Dirty fucking Harry. Eastwood doesn't care who he kills as long as justice is served. Hey Schwarzenegger, the '90s called, they want their robot back. We've already got a renegade cop who plays by no rules but his own. A true American badass. A fucking robot? Please.

OK, I acknowledge "The Bridges of Madison County." But that was a fluke. Eastwood was probably trying to set a deadly and ingenious trap against some unsuspecting bad guy with a soft spot for cheesy romance movies. Then Eastwood would kill him. Eastwood won't listen to his pleas about his tortured childhood and that abusive father. Judgment is here, bitch!

But Schwarzenegger didn't get the memo (and I bet by now you want to know what the hell I'm talking about). Schwarzenegger played some politics with Eastwood, who until last week was happily serving on the California Park and Recreation Commission. Unfortunately, Gov. Schwarzenegger had other plans; he decided against re-appointing Eastwood, the guy who played Josey freaking Whales, along with Schwarzenegger's own brother-in-law, Robert Shriver. Bad idea!

Eastwood would never stab his own brother-in-law in the back, unless of course the man in question hindered the heavy hand of American justice. In this case, Schwarzenegger was just bitter that Eastwood and Shriver opposed a toll road project that the governor supported. That toll road probably robbed a bank or something. If Eastwood doesn't like it, that's good enough for me.

Now Eastwood is pissed. Oh shit, Eastwood is putting on his cowboy gear. I don't want to guess what this unforgiving killing machine will do next, but it might involve beating Schwarzenegger to death with his four Oscars.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Praise the Lord -- now don't take that medicine

I'm still visiting the vast greatness of Seattle, but I had to take a moment during my travels to quickly vent about some insane religious zealots I encountered along the way.

See, I was planning on shooting up north so fast that I wouldn't come across any threats to the foundations of humanity. Then I read The Oregonian, which I purchased in Woodburn, Ore. (Woodburn, by the way, is a shitpile, but that's for another day.)

The story is about batshit crazy religious wonks in Portland who refuse to provide care for their children on the grounds that healing the body is an affront to God, or something similarly ignorant:

(The Oregonian) The case of a 15-month-old Oregon City girl who died for lack of medical treatment could become the first test of a state law that disallows faith healing at the expense of a child's life.

Ava Worthington died March 2 at home from bacterial bronchial pneumonia and infection, according to Dr. Christopher Young, a deputy state medical examiner. He said both conditions could have been prevented or treated with antibiotics.

The child's breathing was further compromised by a benign cyst that had never been medically addressed and could have been removed from her neck, Young said.

Child-abuse detectives recently referred investigative findings to prosecutors, who are evaluating the case in light of a law passed in 1999 after several faith-healing deaths of children.

"This is the first time that they could be taking a shot at interpreting the law," said state Senate President Peter Courtney, who carried the contentious bill on the Senate floor nearly a decade ago. He said the Worthington case is giving him "flashbacks."

"Kids were dying. Kids were suffering," he said. "Kids who have no choice over these things."

If prosecuted, Ava Worthington's parents would be the first members of Oregon City's Followers of Christ, a fundamentalist Christian denomination, to face criminal charges for failing to seek medical treatment for a gravely ill child.

Of dozens of children buried since the 1950s in the Followers of Christ Church cemetery south of Oregon City, at least 21 could have been saved by medical intervention, according to a 1998 analysis by The Oregonian. None of the deaths from that era, including the high-profile case of an 11-year-old boy who died from untreated diabetes, resulted in prosecution.

The Followers of Christ deaths prompted a firestorm in the 1999 state Legislature over religious freedom, parental rights and the state's responsibility to protect children. After months of debate, legislators passed a compromise bill that emerged in the final days of the session and was quickly signed into law by Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Basically, these fundamentalists are so selfish that they place their personal religious convictions over the well-being (and survival) of their own children -- children who are far too young to fully understand these beliefs, and who rely on their parents to keep them safe.

The amount of delusion involved in achieving a viewpoint that justifies the defacto murder of a child is simply staggering to me. After a few days of playing with my 8-month-old niece in Seattle, I find it disgusting and inexcusable that anybody would purposefully deny children the basic medical care that would save them from death. The justification is completely alien to me, and I consider that a good thing. I can't imagine reaching an intellectual level that would allow me to understand how people can watch as their children slowly die of ailments that are easily treatable. And in the name of God!

Religion is simply not a defense for criminal negligent murder. If an adult wants to sit around while he slowly rots away in hopes of finding God, more power to him. I hope he finds what he's looking for and doesn't suffer too much. But we must save innocent children from these people, and we must do it immediately before more youngsters die.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Grazing the faraway pastures

I'm out of town visiting family until Tuesday. No updates until then as I am hoping to go three days without seeing or reading anything that pisses me off. Wish me luck.

In the meantime, enjoy this cactus:

Friday, March 21, 2008

Politics watch: Full of crap edition

If you pay really close attention, you can actually see the bullshit as it flows from a politician's mouth. Talking heads are groomed to skirt questions, dodge issues and lie through their teeth -- that's old news. What's really disturbing is when the lies flow so easily that you can't tell whether the politician knows he's full of crap or whether he's taken a nose dive off the deep end. It's exactly the difficulty of that distinction that makes politics so dangerous.

Here are a few examples over the last couple days of what I'm talking about:

* President Bush, who we all know has lost his mind, told a U.S.-run radio station that beams propaganda into Iran that the Middle Eastern nation has "declared they want a nuclear weapon to destroy people." His comments were met with shock by experts who actually know a thing or two about the Middle East. Despite what people may believe about Iran's intentions, the nation's leaders have never publicly announced a motivation for nuclear weapons. In fact, they insist their nuclear ambitions extend solely to civilian power, and the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei even issued a religious edict three years ago that forbids the production of a nuclear warhead. And we all know how they feel about their religious edicts! Of course, the three or four people in this country who are still jaded enough to trust Bush will repeat his words ad nauseum. And that's just how the GOP machine likes it. Full of shit rating: 10

* Not to be outdone, Dick Cheney provided an interesting tidbit when he gave a speech in Afghanistan. Pleading for more NATO help to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the vice president declared that "the Afghan people have no desire to be pulled back into the dark ages." That's nice. Mr. Cheney, who swims in money and power, thinks the Afghan people were mere savages before the mighty hand of the United States military bombed the crap out of them. Way to win those hearts and minds, Mr. President Vice President! Full of shit rating: 7.8

* Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, is no stranger to bullshit. She throws it out like juicy stakes to a raving mob of hyenas known as the White House press corps. She even looks evil, with those hollow eyes and vacant look. On some occasions, however, she really screws up and tells the truth. On Thursday, she told a startled reporter that Bush and Cheney purposefully pursue unpopular policies so people will dislike them: "Both the president and the vice president have long believed, and it's a part of what has made them the leaders that they are, which is not to chase popularity polls but to hold themselves to a standard that requires people not to like them," she said. Full of shit rating: 0 (the truth!)

* With a hat tip to Dick.Bill over at Clubbed To Death, this last talking point involves John McCain, the so-called "foreign policy experience" candidate. Some advice to Mr. Foreign Policy: If you're going to claim Iran is giving expert training to terrorists, you might want to double check that they haven't been fighting each other for thousands of years. McCain alleged during a speech that Iran, a predominately Shiite nation, is providing aid, comfort and terrorist skills to al-Qaeda, a Sunni group. Last I checked, those two particular groups don't get along too well. In fact, they like to kill each other a whole lot. Full of shit rating: Off the scale

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Denial looks like this

George W. Bush appeared before the enraged glare of the American people yesterday and told some real whoppers about Iraq. And who could blame him? America is entering the sixth year of a disastrous war that has cost $600 billion, with a projected tab of $3 trillion before it's over, and ended the lives of nearly 4,000 U.S. soldiers. Meanwhile, the economy continues to crumble before our eyes, the mood of the nation is dark, and Bush's approval ratings are starting to resemble stock in Bear Stearns.

If you ask Bush, the war is going swimmingly, though his view is very narrow. He's right to say that violence has quieted relatively in the months after the troop surge. But he's dead wrong to say that the invasion has been a success, or that the nation is embracing democracy. How can Iraqi citizens embrace a government system they don't understand and didn't ask for when they're too busy dodging bullets and suicide bombers? What good is the right to vote when you face destruction and death just by going to the local market?

Think about it. We've reduced much of Iraq to rubble. We've killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis. We've destroyed families, human services, industry, infrastructure -- and that's just the limited view we're allowed to see. All this chaos and slaughter, and all we really accomplished is installing a bitterly feuding government composed of Muslim factions who hate each other. The invasion has undoubtedly fueled a new generation of America-hating terrorists who relentlessly attack their own people and our soldiers on the ground. Not only are they willing to die for their cause, they're willing to kill themselves for a bigger death toll.

The cost for this so-called "democracy" is nothing short of tragic. We found no weapons of mass destruction (allegedly our reason for invading in the first place), but we've displaced 4.5 million Iraqis. The American toll: 3,900 dead Americans, with an additional 29,451 wounded, and no end in sight.

According to the Philadelphia Enquirer, an estimated 2 million Iraqis have fled the country, and 2 million more have been displaced from their homes. The quelled violence isn't exactly an open invitation for them to return, either, because security is tenuous at best, the newspaper reports.

Sure, things were crummy under Saddam Hussein. His tyrannical rule was incredibly oppressive. But five years later, I don't think anybody can argue that we've done any better. When Iraqis have to choose between food and electricity or living under an oppressive regime, I would venture to say they don't have much of a choice at all.

At this rate, Iraq will never be free. The hatred for America runs too deep, and any democracy there will be a constant symbol of our influence in the region. A democracy by force will never be truly accepted by the violent factions that have vowed to fight against Western culture. The ocean of oil that rages beneath the Iraqi lands is a constant motivator for corruption, greed and dictatorship.

If this is the best news Bush has to offer, I think we as Americans should be terrified of the bad news.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The harsh face of oppression

I was going to write about China's iron fist and how the entire world should boycott the Beijing Olympics, but sometimes words are simply no match for images.

Wow, the media sure looks butch

When in doubt, blame the media.

I find it interesting how impossible it is for people to take personal responsibility for their actions. Whether it's a school shooting or other random outburst of violence, or a 12-year-old girl dressed in overly provocative clothing to fulfill the newest trend, the old standard of tragedy is always to blame: The Media.

Of course, it's never the fault of the gun store owner who sold an automatic weapon to a deranged psychopath, or the shoddy parents who allowed their daughter to dress like a prostitute. No, it can't be! It's the media. The media sold that gun; the media dressed that kid. Apparently, this philosophy also extends to war crimes.

Lynndie England, the Army private who was thrust into the harsh glare of media scrutiny when she was photographed abusing Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, apologized this week for the whole sordid affair. Oh, and she was also kind enough to explain that dragging Iraqi prisoners along the ground with a leash was really the media's fault:

In an interview with the weekly magazine Stern conducted in English and posted on its Web site Tuesday, England was both remorseful and unrepentant—and conceded that the published photos surely incensed insurgents in Iraq.

"I guess after the picture came out the insurgency picked up and Iraqis attacked the Americans and the British and they attacked in return and they were just killing each other. I felt bad about it ... no, I felt pissed off. If the media hadn't exposed the pictures to that extent, then thousands of lives would have been saved," she was quoted as saying.

Asked how she could blame the media for the controversy, she said it wasn't her who leaked the photos.

"Yeah, I took the photos but I didn't make it worldwide. Yes, I was in five or six pictures and I took some pictures, and those pictures were shameful and degrading to the Iraqis and to our government," she said, according to the report.

"And I feel sorry and wrong about what I did. But it would not have escalated to what it did all over the world if it wouldn't have been for someone leaking it to the media."

Oh, so I guess this particular incident of prisoner abuse was just a one-of-kind thing, something the media or the rest of the world shouldn't worry their little civilian heads about. Just a fluke that was completely overblown by the media, right? Sweet! But wait...
"I'm saying that what we did happens in war. It just isn't documented," she was quoted as saying. "If it had been broken by the news without the pictures it wouldn't have been that big."

Disregard what I said before, I think we have a new mantra: It's the media's fault -- but only if they use pictures!

How about this, Ms. England: Spare me the self-righteous attitude and just fess up to your bad decisions. You abused Iraqi prisoners. You took the American spirit of justice and due process -- purportedly values we'd hope to instill in an Iraqi democracy -- and ripped it to shreds. And then you have the audacity to say the media put our soldiers at risk by printing the pictures of your crimes. The reality is that YOU put soldiers at risk when you humiliated and abused prisoners and were stupid enough to take pictures. You're a sorry excuse for a human being, let alone an American soldier, and you disgust me.

Is that clear enough for you?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke dies

I had a moment of sheer anachronistic panic today when I told somebody who is older than me that science fiction visionary Arthur C. Clarke had passed away, and he had to think really deep to remember who I was talking about. This evolved into a conversation about Stanley Kubrick, followed by an awkward moment where I admitted to owning -- and enjoying -- "Eyes Wide Shut." To my boss.

Anyway, in memory of Arthur C. Clarke, I dedicate today to understanding the brilliantly mysterious unknown. I'll still be newspapering, but I'll be thinking about space while I do it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ebenezer Pope strikes again

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I will now skewer the pope!

As we all know, Pope Benedict XVI's favorite hobby -- aside from doing nothing as his church's leaders relentlessly prey on children -- is making sure people aren't having any fun. Fun is inherently anti-Catholic. If you're having fun, you aren't sitting in a corner, cowering in fear over the impending heat of eternal damnation and God's wrath upon your sinning ass.

The idea of fun for the pope consists of a 10-hour Mass, followed by a guilt-ridden confession of all the cool stuff you did that week. When the pope says "party at my place," you can expect an incredible spiritual flogging, followed by a lecture on why looking at that nudie magazine the other day means you're totally fucked.

So it's to be expected that the pope wanted to completely spoil the festivities of St. Patrick's Day, which I admittedly enjoyed immensely back when I was drinking, but now celebrate with sobriety and a shrug. The Vatican decided St. Patrick's Day, a sacred holiday celebrated by millions, would be moved to March 15 to avoid a conflict with Lent, the 40-day period before Easter often marked by self-sacrifice and depression.

Oh gee, Mr. Pope, I'm sorry that Ireland doesn't control the fucking calendar. I guess we'll just go ahead and move that NATIONAL fucking HOLIDAY back a few days so we don't run afoul of the Vatican. Yeah, let's do that.

Judge goes mental; reason gets benched

During the past eight years of rule under George W. Bush, Americans have been exposed to a tsunami of propaganda about "activist judges" -- those who purportedly act in the interest of social change over sound legal reasoning. Mysteriously, a judge is only dubbed an activist if his ruling runs afoul of White House policy. Funny how that works.

Also a mystery worthy of Nancy Drew nightmares: We don't seem to hear much from the Bush administration when a judge attempts to dismantle this nation's press freedoms. Apparently the activist label doesn't apply to that particular coup d'├ętat on our society, which has a rich history of watchdog journalism despite the unfortunate perception among many Americans that our media are worthless in that capacity.

The latest assault on reporter freedoms comes via the Hon. Reggie Walton, a Bush-appointed federal judge out of D.C. Here's the short version: USA Today reporter Toni Locy was held in contempt of court after refusing to name a confidential source in a story she wrote about a doctor who was allegedly involved in a series of anthrax attacks seven years ago. The doctor, Steven Hatfill, sued the Justice Department for soiling his good name. After failing to compel the government to reveal its leak, Hatfill's lawyers turned their sites on Ms. Locy. When she refused to violate the most sacred pact in journalism -- reporter and source -- the contempt charges were handed down.

The judge, apparently high on his authority crack, unhinged himself from all reasonable thought and made a sick example of Locy, who is now a journalism professor and makes $75,000 a year. Walton ordered that she pay $500 a day for seven days beginning March 16. After seven days, the fine goes up to $1,000. Then $5,000 a day a week after that until her trial date on April 3. All added up, that comes out to $35,000 before she can even see a courtroom (unless she gives up her source).

And here's where it gets REALLY good. Walton commanded that Locy must use her own money to pay the fine. He prohibited her from using outside funds from, say, her employer, or contributors to her cause, or any other charitable source. As if the judge couldn't get any more despicable, he personally slams down the last nail on the coffin of Locy's press freedoms. Also, as the Wall Street Journal points out, this treatment is unprecedented in a civil proceeding -- or for a journalist in general. The absolute personal liability imposed on Locy is usually reserved for trials involving the mafia. The fucking mafia!

Unfortunately, Locy is not a mobster. She's not even a criminal. But now she's essentially being financially pinched to force her to reveal a confidential source for a story. The judge is trying to bankrupt her in a contemptible attempt to squeeze her ability to be a member of the journalistic community. The reasoning is this: If confidential sources don't feel confidential, they won't talk to reporters, and if they don't talk to reporters, the media can't fulfill their watchdog role. Americans have an absolute interest in allowing reporters the right to keep their sources hidden. It's essential to the healthy democracy we enjoy because when all other checks on the government fall apart, we (theoretically) still have the media.

Of course, the government doesn't see it that way. Confidential sources have a rich history of mucking up corrupt plans for domination and greed (paging Richard Nixon). The government would love to see a precedent for reporters to be financially attacked into revealing sources. It would put a chill on uncovering shenanigans and allow officials to roam free in a field of money and power. It is the pinnacle of absurdity.

Luckily, going to jail and facing financial ruin just makes Locy a bigger martyr. I'm confident she won't budge until her source releases her from the pledge of confidentiality. She'll do this because, unlike Judge Walton, she has a little thing called integrity, and reporters secretly long to be in this fight. And in the face of an abusive legal system, a little integrity and toughness goes a long way. In the end, she'll be victorious. Penniless, but victorious.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Christians hate gay people. In other news, sun rises in east

I lambaste Christianity a lot on this blog in ways that vary in intensity depending on my mood or level of fury. But I think it's important to point out that when I label somebody an insane religious zealot or talk about how some believers are slowly ruining this culture, I'm talking about an extreme segment of Christians. I'm talking about the hysterical fundamentalists who use their beliefs as a weapon to bring others down, meanwhile pissing on the good things about Christianity, such as charity and the sense of community that it brings many people. When I opine on Christianity as if it were the last stop in a downward spiral of reason, I'm mostly talking about people like Republican Rep. Sally Kern of Oklahoma.

Most people haven't heard of Ms. Kern. This is because she's just another irrelevant member of an increasingly corrupt and misguided political system perpetuated by lawmakers who actually believe everybody should be forced to live under a fascist religious order. She's also a state lawmaker, which means she can't do much damage beyond her state -- Oklahoma -- and who really cares about Oklahoma anyway. Not me.

However, the power she does wield lies in her access to a high-profile forum that allows her to further the myth that homosexuals are a religious abomination -- hell-bound, immoral people who should be shunned from our society, all thanks to "God's word." She cites this alleged "word" by an invisible man in the sky with the fervency of Pat Robertson at a KKK rally. Her latest diatribe is about as subtle as a circus clown:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A YouTube audio clip of a state lawmaker's screed against homosexuality, which she called a bigger threat than terrorism, has outraged gay activists and brought death threats rolling in.

"The homosexual agenda is destroying this nation, OK, it's just a fact," Rep. Sally Kern said recently to a gathering of fellow Republicans outside the Capitol.

"Studies show no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted, you know, more than a few decades. So it's the death knell in this country.

"I honestly think it's the biggest threat that our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam, which I think is a big threat," she said.

Yes, that's right. She just compared homosexuality to terrorism.

I find it particularly disgusting that a U.S. lawmaker -- somebody who participates in the vital and theoretically honorable enterprise of setting rules for our society -- uses her time and energy to degrade an entire bloc of Americans. Instead of trying to uplift and unite us, she uses her Bible and her backward thinking for oppression and fear. She also lies through her teeth -- "(homosexuals) have the most suicides," she says -- and sets America back generations every time she opens her mouth. Her vitriolic rhetoric against people she's never met, coupled with her efforts to clamp down on individual freedom and sexuality, is something that is utterly unforgivable in any enlightened culture. If this is supposed to be God's ambassador, then pardon my bluntness, but this religion is totally screwed.

I'm really floored every time I hear this caliber of hate speech from politicians. Every single time. I guess I never learn, really, because it never ends. Yet I'm constantly surprised that this can happen. I just can't fathom or accept that people like this are allowed to wield power. I don't understand how these people can harbor such an intense hatred toward others and still be allowed to participate in government. After all, if people can't be free to love, then what good is freedom?

But don't worry. She's not gay bashing. She's just concerned for those poor homosexuals who (apparently) are offing themselves in record numbers and spreading disease like a plague. She knows this because God told her; it certainly wasn't science.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Double standards for the win

I'm not jumping on the anti-Israel bandwagon by any measure, mostly because I admittedly don't know a whole lot about the history of the conflict there, but I have seen a few noteworthy stories recently. They mostly involve an ultra-orthodox sect of Judaism and its efforts to clamp down on an open Israeli society. I bring this up simply because I think it's a bit hypocritical for America to criticize -- and bomb -- Muslim societies that are experiencing the same type of ultra-conservative influences as Israel, which we vow to defend to the death:

A group of Israeli women are fighting back against what one called "Taliban-like" Jewish fundamentalists who order women to sit in the back of the bus and to abstain from wearing "immodest" clothing on public bus lines. The women have filed a lawsuit in Israel's high court aimed at reforming bus lines used primarily by ultra-Orthodox Jews. Some of the women see the bus dispute as part of a larger struggle against the growing influence and radicalization of the ultra-Orthodox in Israel.

Writer Naomi Ragen says she did not want to start a revolution from her bus seat or become the Jewish Rosa Parks. She just wanted to get home. An observant, Orthodox Jew, Ragen was on the No. 40 bus line, headed to her house near Jerusalem, when an ultra-Orthodox — or Haredi — man told her to move to the back.

"I was astonished," Ragen recalled. "And I said 'I'm not bothering anyone. You don't have to look at me, sit next to me — but as long as this is a public bus, I will sit where I please, thank you very much.'"

Ragen says the harassment grew worse at every stop. Soon an even more aggressive, bearded ultra-Orthodox man got on and commanded her to move. He weighed about 300 pounds and hovered over her like a sumo wrestler, she says, his long, black frock and wide hat in her face.

"And he started screaming and yelling," she said, telling her to "move to the back of the bus — or else."

"My reaction to that was I looked him in the eye and said 'Look, you show me in the code of Jewish law where it's written that I'm not allowed to sit in this seat and I'll move,'" Ragen said. "'Until then, get out of my face!'"

And it continues:
Supporters say the legal challenge is part of a wider religious and cultural struggle against what some see as the growing radicalism and political clout of the ultra Orthodox. Last month, senior Haredi rabbis in Jerusalem led a public burning of see-through stockings and other allegedly risque dress.

Before a gay pride march last fall, Haredi men rioted nightly for weeks, forcing organizers to hold a toned-down rally in a heavily guarded stadium instead of a public march.

The Haredi recently launched a short boycott of El Al, Israel's national airline, after the company flew on the Sabbath following a flight bottleneck prompted by a labor strike. The airline quickly caved and pledged never to fly on the Sabbath without approval from ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

And in a major decision last month a committee of leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis here ruled that Haredi women should no longer be allowed to get academic degrees beyond high school.

No women in schools? No women in buses? Why, that sounds like Iran-style oppression! We better get our military into Israel immediately so we can free them from themselves. Right?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Thick as a Bush

Our favorite madman George W. Bush gave an interesting speech today before a friendly audience of religious nuts, a preposterous reiteration of hysterical idealism that devolved into a fest of self-righteousness, delusional patriotism and blind faith. In other words, just another day and just another talking point for a neoconservative nationalist who actually believes (or says he believes) that an invisible man in the sky wants all cultures to abide by a standard of freedom set by the United States:

NASHVILLE (NYT) — President Bush delivered a rousing defense of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on Tuesday, mixing faith and foreign policy as he told a group of Christian broadcasters that his policies in the region were predicated on the beliefs that freedom was a God-given right and “every human being bears the image of our maker.”

In a 42-minute speech to the National Religious Broadcasters convention, Mr. Bush called upon European allies to step up their efforts in Afghanistan, and conceded that recent security gains in Iraq “are tenuous, they’re reversible and they’re fragile.” Still, he insisted his troop buildup there is succeeding.

“The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency,” Mr. Bush said, to a standing ovation. “It is the right decision at this point in my presidency, and it will forever be the right decision.”

Bush's idealism has led this nation straight into the toilet. He preaches this holier-than-thou morality that all other countries should live by (or else!), all the while ignoring the desperate cries of his own people to fix this one. Billions and billions getting funneled to other broken societies and the American corporations that are allegedly fixing them; meanwhile, most Americans can't afford health care or a gallon of gas to keep their car running.

And then he has the audacity to pretend things are just peachy over there in the Middle East -- and it can only get better!
“The effects of a free Iraq and a free Afghanistan will reach beyond the borders of those two countries,” Mr. Bush said. “It will show others what’s possible. And we undertake this work because we believe that every human being bears the image of our maker. That’s why we’re doing this. No one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave.”

Right. All those countries that we've been bombing and overthrowing for decades will take one look at a "free" Iraq and declare complete loyalty to American democracy with the misty-eyed fervency of Rudy Giuliani at a 9/11 rally. That makes sense.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Read this now

I apologize for the length, but this is an absolutely incredible essay about feminism (less hysteria, more ass-kicking), published in the Washington Post, and one of the most important pieces of journalism in recent memory. The author seriously rips Republican hack Charlotte Allen a new one. Read it and be amused.

I've never watched Oprah Winfrey's show, bought a Celine Dion CD, read "Eat, Pray, Love," or fainted at an Obama rally, although he is my preferred candidate. According to Charlotte Allen, that makes me an "outlier," an exception that proves the rule that women "always fall for the hysterical, the superficial and the gooily sentimental." But uh-oh: I used to watch "Grey's Anatomy" from time to time, and I even shed some tears when Denny died. Maybe being female has turned my "pre-frontal cortex into Cream of Wheat" after all. Maybe I'm just another "kind of dim" female, a charter member of "the dumber sex."

In a casual essay of 1,700 words, Allen manages to stir together a breathtaking mishmash of misogynistic irrelevancies and generalizations. One minute she's mocking women who bake cookies for their dogs; the next, she's castigating Hillary Clinton's campaign as "stupidest" partly because she fired her "daytime-soap-watching" Latina campaign manager too close to the Texas primary. (Note to Allen: Hillary won Texas with a flood of Latino votes.) She wonders why "no man contracts nebulous diseases" of possibly psychosomatic origins. (Note to Allen: Actually, they do.) She asks why women have more driving accidents. (Note to Allen: See below.) Could it be because women are mentally inferior, as proved by men's greater ability to mentally rotate three-dimensional objects in space? Unless it's a cute little puppy, that is, or maybe a cookie.

The upshot: we ladies should focus on what we're really good at -- interior decoration and taking care of men and children.

Oh, gag me with a spoon. Sure, girly culture can be silly -- but what does that prove? It's not as though men spend their evenings leafing through the plays of Moliere. Susie whips up doggy treats, Mike surfs porn sites; she curls up with the Friday Night Knitting Club, he watches football. Or maybe the two of them watch "Grey's Anatomy" together -- surprise, surprise, about half the show's audience is male. If you go by cultural preferences, actually, you could just as well claim that women are obviously smarter than men -- look around you at the museum, the theater, the opera house, the ballet, the concert hall. Women read more than men, too, especially fiction, which men tend to avoid. (A story about things that didn't happen? How does that work?) Women even read fiction by men and about men, further evidence of their imaginative powers -- while men, if they do pick up a novel, make sure it's estrogen-free. Who's really the dim bulb, the woman who doesn't see the beauty of "Grand Theft Auto," or the man who thinks Tom Clancy is a great writer?

For Allen, it's definitely the woman: her brain is just too puny. She cannot mentally rotate three-dimensional objects in space -- and that, as we all know, is the very definition of smarts. Funny how that definition keeps changing, as women conquer field after field that was supposed to be beyond them. In the 19th century, physicians insisted women couldn't cope with college: studying would send rushing to their brains the blood that was needed for the womb. Back then, nobody credited women with the superior verbal abilities and memories Allen says scientists now find women to possess.

True to form, she dismisses these as minor talents that only helped her "coast" through school and life. But back when the experts were explaining why women couldn't be lawyers or professors or poets (at least not very good poets), nobody said verbal skills and memory were trivial; they only became trivial when women were found to excel at them. Now the sexists diss women as inferior mental-object-rotators. I have no idea whether this is true, and whether if so it's unchangeable, but you have to admit this is a very narrow scrap of turf on which to plant the flag of manly superiority.

Oh, but I was forgetting driving, a crucial skill. Allen claims that the misogynist canard is true: thanks to their superior visuospatial abilities, men (although maybe not gay men?) are better drivers, with 5.1 accidents per million miles compared to women's 5.7. "The only good news," she adds, is that because they take fewer risks, women's accidents are only a third as likely to be fatal. That's a very interesting definition of ability behind the wheel: the better drivers are the ones who take more risks and are three times as likely to end up dead.

Why did Allen, by accounts a good reporter on religion in a previous life, write this silly piece? It's tempting to say she wrote it because she exemplifies the dimness and illogicality she describes -- after all, this is a woman who cheerfully claims not to be able to add much beyond 2+2. But I suspect that Allen, who works for the right-wing anti-feminist Independent Women's Forum, is just annoyed that so many educated middle-class women are cultural, social and political moderates and liberals. Democrats, in other words.

Girls swooning for Obama, Elizabeth Gilbert leaving her "perfectly okay husband" to eat, pray, love and write a huge best-seller, Meredith Grey and Dr. McDreamy smooching between surgeries, Hillary Clinton running for president instead of spending the rest of her life apologizing for her marriage -- it does indeed make a picture. But it isn't one of women's unique "stupidity" -- raise your hand if you think Hillary Clinton has a lower I.Q. than George W. Bush. What bothers Allen about this picture is that these women reject, with every fiber of their latte-loving beings, the abstinence-only, father-knows-best, slut-shaming crabbed misogyny of the Republican right.

A far more important question is this: Why did The Post publish this nonsense? I can't imagine a great newspaper airing comparable trash talk about any other group. "Asians Really Do Just Copy." "No Wonder Africa's Such a Mess: It's Full of Black People!" Misogyny is the last acceptable prejudice, and nowhere more so than in our nation's clueless and overwhelmingly white-male-controlled media. I can just picture the edit meeting: This time, let's get a woman to say women are dumb and silly! If readers raise too big a ruckus, Outlook editor John Pomfret can say it was all "tongue in cheek." Women are dingbats! Get it? Ha. Ha. Ha.

Here's a thought. Maybe there's another thing women can do besides fluff up their husbands' pillows: Fill more important jobs at The Washington Post. We should be half the assigning editors, half the writers, and half the regular columnists too (current roster of op-ed columnists: 16 men, two women). We've got those superior verbal skills, remember? Drastically increasing the presence of women isn't a foolproof recipe for gender fairness -- Allen is far from alone in her dislike of her sex -- but I have to believe a gender-balanced paper would reflect a broader view of women than The Post does at present.

A male editor with a lot of women colleagues on his level might think twice before proposing a sweeping denunciation, humorous or not, of "women." Ideally he would have come to respect women as equals from working with them -- but if he were just afraid of being seen as a total caveman, that would be okay too. And maybe this kind of editor would have flagged as tired cliches references to Oprah and Celine Dion; would have looked up the studies Allen claims prove women have the I.Q. of a bowl of cereal and found they don't say anything like that; would have wondered if more women bake doggy treats than subscribe to Scientific American or run marathons, and how does the treat-baker come to stand for all women?

And then, after all this, and seeing that Allen's piece still didn't ring even vaguely-kinda-sorta true, our imaginary editor would have asked a question. "You know what I think of this article?" a good editor would have said. "I think it's really stupid."

Katha Pollitt, a poet and essayist, is author, most recently, of "Learning to Drive and Other Life Stories."

Venting so I can keep going through this day

Sometimes this job really gets to you. The constant influx of bad news clouds me like a hurricane of cynicism. I'm fully convinced we're living in dark, dark times.

In the past three days, I've read about a man stabbing his father in the neck and setting his house on fire, killing his mother; a man who raped a toddler and then kicked her in the back, killing her; and a pair of men who scalded a kitten in a tub of hot water before attacking it with a hatchet.

I'm not sure how the humanity got sapped out of this culture, but the decaying remnants are really starting to turn my stomach.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sex for money: It's capitalism, bitch!

OK, I'm just gonna say it: Why is prostitution illegal? In the wake of this Gov. Spitzer fiasco, I just have to ask.

We hear a lot of preaching about freedom in this country, especially from dingbats like Bush, and most Americans generally accept that the language of liberty over fascism is the governing parlance of our time. But as far as the female body is concerned, we're apparently lost in translation. For instance, we justify abortion by saying a woman has the inherent right to do what she pleases with her body, yet we criminalize women who choose to use their bodies to make a buck. Does that make sense?

Take the hysterics and morality out of the issue and consider it objectively. What we're talking about here is one consenting adult negotiating with a second consenting adult for a service (sex) in exchange for monetary compensation (money). With this nation's rich history and complete reliance on a market system, I'm astounded by the fact that this scenario is outlawed.

I'll concede to the anti-prostitution crowd the following points: prostitution is bad for monogamous marriages; prostitution perpetuates disease; and prostitution in many cases leads to abuse and objectifying of women. But much like the argument that can be made for legalizing marijuana, regulating and taxing prostitution would equal an astounding amount of money for the government, plus the added benefit of releasing prostitutes from our jails and freeing up space for real criminals, like murderers, rapists and presidents who invade foreign nations to steal their oil.

Also, as far as prostitution being unhealthy, I can go buy a pack of cigarettes right now, and I won't find the police banging down my door. If I were given the option between lung cancer and an STD, I would probably pick the STD. And if your marriage sucks so much that you feel the need to hire a prostitute, maybe you shouldn't be married in the first place.

Which leaves us with objectifying women. I think I could buy this argument if women were forced to have sex, but that's not the fucking point of prostitution. The point of prostitution is that a woman has a service that is in so much demand that they can charge money for it. I'm not sure how that equates to objectification.

Outlawing prostitution is just another insult to the American people -- the government telling us we aren't capable of making our own decisions about sex.

Hey, Pelosi: Shakespeare called, he wants his witch back

An interesting tidbit from the politics desk today: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi weighed in on the presidential race during a short break from bending over for Bush on the war and looking like Jack Nicholson in "One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest." The venerable Democrat emerged from her cave to declare that an Clinton/Obama ticket was as impossible as cutting funds for a meaningless war:

(CNN) — A so-called "dream ticket" scenario - the idea that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama could join forces this fall — may have gripped the imaginations of Democrats nationwide - but you can list House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a skeptic.

"I think that ticket either way is impossible," Pelosi told a New England Cable News reporter Tuesday, pointing to comments from Clinton and her campaign that implied Republican John McCain would make a better commander-in-chief than Obama.

She spoke bluntly about her view that a joint ticket was not in the cards, she said, because "I wanted to be sure I didn't leave any ambiguity."

The California Democrat, who has remained neutral throughout the party's primary process, said she remains an uncommitted superdelegate.

Pelosi should know a thing or two about elections. For instance, this one election when the American people handed both houses of Congress over to Democrats in a wave of despair over Republican rule and the Iraq war, and in response Democrats put on their game faces and ... wait, they passed more funding for the war? Well that just doesn't make sense!

Anyway, I'm not sure I disagree with her on a Clinton/Obama ticket (or Obama/Clinton), but I really just wanted to poke fun at her ability to take an election fueled by hope, and proceed to fuck it up royal.

McCain is a tough adversary for the Democrats given his image as a moderate who can negotiate to get things done. But in order to even win over his own base, he will fly his conservative (and most likely his religious) colors across this nation, and that could easily alter the moderate perception, especially when the media starts paying attention to his record. Take a look at it here.

Honestly, despite Pelosi and the record unhappiness with Congress, I think the Democrats could run a circus monkey for president in '08 and still win. Americans are still a little bit bitter about the lying, war-mongering and economic suicide perpetrated by the Bush administration. Besides, gas will be so obscenely expensive by November that nobody will bother to drive to the polls. The election will surely be decided by the people of the great states of Oregon and Washington state, who will honor their rich history of voting Democrat with their mail-in ballots.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Product safety: the impossible dream

I'm not sure how anybody can continue to feign surprise at the blatant ownership of our government by special interests, but sometimes the reality of it reaches out and kicks us in the face. Again.

Consider the effort to overhaul product safety, for instance. Seems like a noble enough effort, and one long overdue. After all, hardly a day goes by when you don't hear about a metal spike in some kid's toy, or Chernobyl-in-a-can distributed en masse to the populace, courtesy foreign and domestic companies with no concept of quality control.

After public outcry reached a fever pitch, Congress woke up from its lazy slumber and noticed a golden opportunity to actually fix something. So lawmakers came up with a crazy plan: pass some legislation! To wit:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Responding to a wave of defective toys and other goods, the Senate approved a measure on Thursday that would overhaul the country’s consumer product laws and strengthen the beleaguered safety agency that oversees the market­place.

Besides increasing the staff and budget of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the legislation would create a public database of complaints about products and empower state prosecutors to act if they think the federal government is not doing enough to protect consumers.

If the bill becomes law, it would be the first major consumer product legislation in 18 years, enacted as federal regulators struggle to cope with the explosive growth of foreign imports, particularly from countries with few significant safety standards.

The Senate bill, which was supported by consumer groups, was adopted 79-13. It now heads to a conference committee to be reconciled with a more modest measure that was endorsed by the White House and major manufacturers and was unanimously passed in December by the House.

Of course, in the realm of special interest lobbying, Congress getting an insane notion such as passing legislation is generally bad fucking news. So lobbyists sprung into action and called an old friend: the White House!
An administration statement this week criticized the Senate bill and embraced the House bill, saying it “takes positive steps toward further ensuring that Americans are protected from unsafe products.” Consumer groups say the House measure is a sop to the manufacturing industry.


The White House announced a lengthy list of objections to the Senate legislation. It criticized one provision that would give an enforcement role to state prosecutors and another that would extend whistle-blower protections to employees who disclose safety violations.

The Bush administration also opposed provisions that would create a public database of consumer safety complaints and that would require laboratories that test certain children’s products for safety to be independent and privately owned.

“These provisions threaten to burden American consumers and industry in unproductive ways, and may actually harm a well-functioning product safety system,” the administration statement said. The statement did not threaten a veto.

Wait, wait. A "well-functioning product safety system"? Did I sustain a massive head injury in the last week and hallucinate the latest tsunami of recalls?

The knee-jerk (and misleading) reaction to recalls is to assume that they are expressly the fault of foreign countries, and therefore it's those damn foreigners who should tighten product safety, not the enterprising and benevolent manufacturing sector here in the USA. It's a good talking point, but completely untrue, as The Times points out:
Chinese manufacturers have produced many of the toys that have been recalled in recent years for safety flaws, but most of those flaws did not come from China but from companies in the US and other developed nations.

Problems with lead paint (a manufacturing flaw) aside, most errors that lead to recalls, not just of toys but of all kinds of consumer goods, are design mistakes and are the responsibility of the companies that dream up the products in the first place.

And these mistakes are preventable: our study of US toy recalls indicates that companies can do a much better job of learning to avoid them. The trick is to treat potential errors just as seriously as the ones that have already been made and to learn from both types. Even companies that have never been responsible for harmful product flaws should be diligent about prevention because recalls can happen to any consumer-product maker.

It’s understandable that China has figured prominently in the recent public discussion of toy recalls. After all, about 80% of the toys recalled in the US in 2006 were manufactured there. But 68% of those 25 recalls were due to design flaws.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission maintains a public list of the top consumer hazards and reasons for recalls. Flawed design — sharp edges, long strings and small detachable parts, for example — has been the cause of three-quarters of all US toy recalls since 1988.

What’s more, the same causes repeat year after year, even as the number of toys that have been taken off the market because of safety concerns has steadily increased.

Our research, which involved a study of about 600 US toy recalls from 1988 through 2007, along with interviews of design engineers, manufacturing executives and consumer advocates, suggests several steps companies can take to reduce design flaws.

Yes, that's right: America has a problem, too. And it will only continue until the government steps up and informs manufacturers that they will pay a dear price if they continue to sell products that kill us.

Hey, American soldier dying in Iraq: Don't use that water

Piping hot off the presses this morning (yeah, I'm up early): Halliburton, the company receiving billions and billions of virtually unmonitored contracting money to run services for our troops in Iraq, sinks to a new low. Jesus, is that even possible?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Dozens of U.S. troops in Iraq fell sick at bases using "unmonitored and potentially unsafe" water supplied by the military and a contractor once owned by Vice President Dick Cheney's former company, the Pentagon's internal watchdog says.

A report obtained by The Associated Press said soldiers experienced skin abscesses, cellulitis, skin infections, diarrhea and other illnesses after using discolored, smelly water for personal hygiene and laundry at five U.S. military sites in Iraq.

The Defense Department's inspector general's report, which could be released as early as Monday, found water quality problems between March 2004 and February 2006 at three sites run by contractor KBR Inc., and between January 2004 and December 2006 at two military-operated locations.

It was impossible to link the dirty water definitively to all the illnesses, according to the report. But it said KBR's water quality "was not maintained in accordance with field water sanitary standards" and the military-run sites "were not performing all required quality control tests."

The report said KBR took corrective steps and was providing adequate water quality by November 2006. But military units at the two sites they controlled were still failing to perform required quality control tests and maintain appropriate records by that time.

"Therefore, water suppliers exposed U.S. forces to unmonitored and potentially unsafe water," at the military sites by late 2006, the report said.

The problems did not extend to troops' drinking water, but rather to water used for washing, bathing, shaving and cleaning. Water used for hygiene and laundry must meet minimum safety standards under military regulations because of the potential for harmful exposure through the eyes, nose, mouth, cuts and wounds.

We give these idiots obscene amounts of taxpayer dollars just so they can treat our troops to third-world conditions. Our friend Dick Cheney could probably pick up the phone and call the CEO of the company, but of course we know he won't do that. He's too busy running the country.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Eventful weekend, small town edition

Spent the weekend in the city of Sandy, which you'll be happy to know DOES exist, despite my belief until now that it was just an elaborate plot by the government. Or something. Anyway, I'm tired + 10, so no updates until Sunday night. Until then, enjoy this walrus.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Kinda late to the party, don't you think?

President George W. Bush on the economy, circa Thursday, March 7: "It's clear our economy has slowed."

Good of you to notice there, champ. Hey, I've got some data for you:

Hats off to the social libertarians

How's that saying go -- if you can't beat 'em, join 'em? I guess that goes for the law, too. If you can't beat 'em, just interpret very, very literally (read the whole story, seriously):

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. (AP) — All the world's a stage at some of Minnesota's bars. A new state ban on smoking in restaurants and other nightspots contains an exception for performers in theatrical productions. So some bars are getting around the ban by printing up playbills, encouraging customers to come in costume, and pronouncing them "actors."

The customers are playing right along, merrily puffing away — and sometimes speaking in funny accents and doing a little improvisation, too.

The state Health Department is threatening to bring the curtain down on these sham productions. But for now, it's on with the show.

At The Rock, a hard-rock and heavy-metal bar in suburban St. Paul, the "actors" during "theater night" do little more than sit around, drink, smoke and listen to the earsplitting music.

"They're playing themselves before Oct. 1. You know, before there was a smoking ban," owner Brian Bauman explained. Shaping the words in the air with his hands, like a producer envisioning the marquee, he said: "We call the production, `Before the Ban!'"

The smoking ban, passed by the Legislature last year, allows actors to light up in character during theatrical performances as long as patrons are notified in advance.

About 30 bars in Minnesota have been exploiting the loophole by staging the faux theater productions and pronouncing cigarettes props, according to an anti-smoking group.

"It's too bad they didn't put as much effort into protecting their employees from smoking," grumbled Jeanne Weigum, executive director of the Association for Nonsmokers.

The Health Department this week vowed to begin cracking down on theater nights with fines of as much as $10,000.

"The law was enacted to protect Minnesotans from the serious health effects of secondhand smoke," Minnesota Health Commissioner Sanne Magnan said. "It is time for the curtain to fall on these theatrics."

At The Rock earlier this week, a black stage curtain covered part of the entrance, and a sign next to it with an arrow read, "Stage Entrance." Along the opposite wall, below a sign saying "Props Dept.," was a stack of the only props needed: black ashtrays.

At the door was a printed playbill for that night's program, with a list of names of the people portraying bartenders and security guards. Playing the owner: "Brian."

Courtney Conk paid $1 for a button that said "Act Now" and pinned it to her shirt. That made her an actor for the night, entitling her to smoke. She turned in an understated, minimalist performance, sitting with cigarette in hand and talking to a bass player with the band.

"I thought it was funny that they found a loophole," Conk said. "I'm more of an activist-actor tonight, you could say. I think it's kind of this way of saying what we think about the ban."

While The Rock asks nothing of its actors by way of creativity, a few other bars have been a little more theatrical.

At Barnacles Resort and Campground along Lake Mille Lacs, a "traveling tobacco troupe" dressed in medieval costume on the first theater night. Mark Benjamin, a lawyer who pushed bars to exploit the loophole, wore tights, a feathered cap and black boots.

"Hey, I'm a child of the '60s. I can do a little improv," he said. His improv amounted to speaking in medieval character to other patrons.

In Hill City, Mike's Uptown owner Lisa Anderson has been offering theater night once a week. The bar had a Mardi Gras theme last Saturday, attracting about 30 patrons, most of them in costume.

"I was dressed in a Victorian dress with the old fluffy thing that weighs 500 pounds," she said. "We had some fairies and some pirates and a group of girls — I'm not sure what they were, but they had big boas and flashy makeup."

Though there were no skits, Anderson said some people "start talking with different accents." She added: "It's turned into the funnest thing I can imagine."

One bar on northern Minnesota's Iron Range, the Queen City Sports Place, calls its nightly smokefest "The Tobacco Monologues."

Proving anew there's no business like show business, Anderson said her theater-night receipts have averaged $2,000 — up from $500 right after the ban kicked in. Similarly, Bauman said revenue at The Rock dropped off 30 percent after the ban took effect, then shot back up to normal once the bar began allowing smoking again.

He and other bar owners said they plan to continue putting on theater nights.

"There's no question we were struggling," he said. "And we are extremely nervous that this is going to go away, and we will be back to the way it was."

That's a just a giant tumbler full of awesome.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A sexy rant on sex, or "Vagina (there, I said it)"

As I live and breath, the insane religious zealots continue their hysterical war against sexual consciousness (From the batshit crazy American Center for Law & Justice):

[T]hree U.S. Congressmen, including Representative Doug Lamborn from Colorado, Steve King from Iowa, and Joe Pitts from Pennsylvania are all preparing legislation calling once and for all for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, based this time on a review of materials posted on Planned Parenthood’s website known as “” After reviewing the website, Representative Lamborn told reporters at that teenwire “is another reason we should pull all federal funding from Planned Parenthood.” Steve King went on to say that there should be no more money that goes to any Internet site that promotes promiscuity or sexual license in any way. Finally, Representative Joe Pitts told, “I don’t believe taxpayer funding should be going to groups that put sexually explicit material on the Internet targeted at minors.” According to the CNS News report, the Congressman spoke to the reporters after reviewing materials from Planned Parenthood’s website which states that its mission is to provide “medically accurate” information primarily focused on teenagers.

Some of the material placed on the website is not only inappropriate and offensive, but is also sexually oriented in its approach. The website promotes promiscuity and sexual license and is at the same time receiving federal funds. Representative King went on to add that teenwire is part of “Planned Parenthood’s wider agenda,” which he believes is detrimental to the American culture. “I think it’s part of its strategic plan to break down the moral order of our society so that the people on the other side of morality and integrity can take power in this country.”

I admit, I can understand the aversion to abortion. A distinct part of the populace truly equates a fetus to a human being -- spiritually and biologically -- and far be it from me to deny them their opinions. But how exactly does keeping teenagers in the dark about sex do a sliver of good? More specifically, how does it prevent abortion? Isn't it reasonable to assume that somebody who takes the time to become well informed about the risks and benefits of a certain action will then make a more informed decision and hence -- and this is really a stretch -- make a better decision? How many abortions will be prevented by defunding a Web site that encourages birth control for sexually active teens who will most certainly have sex with or without the information?

And by the way, this lawmaker-supported, prudish aversion to the human body is just staggering. I've looked through, and the best I can come up with for this alleged "sexually explicit material" are diagrams of the human body. Should we also defund libraries because they carry anatomy books? We aren't exactly living in an age where people should be clueless about their bodies. Show me the harm -- documented, independent, scientific proof -- that information about sex leads to any social ill, and I'll shut up right now. Until then, as long as we continue to assume teenagers are incapable of processing sexual information, we'll be in a very sorry state of affairs.

As far as Rep. King's theory that Planned Parenthood is hellbent on taking over society with the goal of plunging us into promiscuity and immorality, I say: Are you fucking insane? How did this lunatic get elected?

Why is it that the harder Christian lawmakers work, the further this nation goes down the toilet.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Just another equality rant

Some news today on the status of civil unions in Oregon and the ongoing battle for civil rights:

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Less than a month after same-sex couples started taking advantage of a new law allowing them to register as domestic partners, two Republican state legislators filed a proposed initiative that would repeal it.

Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, and Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, are chief petitioners for the initiative filed late Friday with the secretary of state's office. Opponents of the civil union law say it undermines a measure approved by voters in 2004 that amended the Oregon Constitution to declare that marriage is only legal when it's between a man and a woman.

"People need to weigh in," Esquivel said.

Esquivel and Girod are supporting the initiative on behalf of opponents organized by Marylin Shannon, a former Republican state senator.

Shannon's group is the one that failed to gather enough signatures to refer the law to voters. Now it must collect 82,769 valid signatures from residents by July 3 to put the initiative on the fall ballot.

Basic Rights Oregon, the state's largest gay-rights group, said it would fight any attempt to overturn the civil unions law.

"Folks behind this effort are really out of step with Oregonians," said Jeana Frazzini, executive director.

One of these days I'll wake up in the morning and be free of the gushing nausea that accompanies this brutal American vision of humanity. Somewhere trapped in this endless cycle of presumption and misguided faith and self-righteousness, we just keep hacking away at reason, slowly dimming any flicker of hope that we can embrace individualism and acceptance. All these people are asking for is a little bit of dignity, a little bit of liberty, and a little bit of understanding.

Let's talk for a moment about bigotry. Right now in this supposedly enlightened society of ours, a class of people is struggling for the basic freedom to come together in unity, only to be rejected by a government that works tirelessly to restrict freedom. It's a fucking sad state of affairs.

Our society has institutionalized the idea of love, packaging it up in a series of tax breaks and handing it exclusively to the "normal" people. Of course, the people who don't fall under this carefully crafted definition of "normal" continue to fight and fight to win the same rights enjoyed by the rest of society, only to be challenged again and again by the savage hysteria of Christian social crusaders.

Homosexuals can't fight (openly) in the military; they can't exchange vows under the watchful eyes of our bloated political system. And the only reasoning anybody seems to be able to come up with for this great injustice goes like this: There's a man in the sky who watches us all and wants our money, and he says two people of the same gender can't love each other for some reason. Hilariously, this man in the sky that we can't see also apparently has a penchant for dictating social policy. It's like a cosmic joke, and way too many people are laughing.

But I can feel change in the air. The abnormal people -- gay, atheist, black, female -- our day is coming. We will win this fight. And when we do, the defeated forces of oppression will look to the sky for answers and hear the deafening roar of silence.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Wanted: Dead or dead

It must really suck to be wanted for questioning by the FBI:

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. missile strike in Somalia on Monday targeted a Kenyan suspected in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, officials said Tuesday.

The Navy was going after Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan when it launched at least two Tomahawk missiles from a sub­marine off the coast of the East African nation, a Pentagon and FBI official said.

“Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan is on the FBI’s “seeking information list” and is wanted by the FBI for questioning in connection with the 2002 attacks at the Paradise Hotel and the unsuccessful surface-to-air missile attack against an Israeli airliner in Kenya,” FBI spokesman Richard Kolkosaid.

The list consists of subjects the FBI would like to talk to, while the Most Wanted Terrorist list is suspects who have been indicted.

I'm sorry, did I read that right? The FBI wanted to ask this guy some questions, so the Navy lobbed a couple missiles at him? I guess that's one way to relay the message -- if you survive. Perhaps when the FBI says "seeking information," the military hears "kill them a whole lot."

That's like if I'm bored on a Saturday night and I want to see what my friends are up to, so I spray their houses with automatic gunfire. Hey guys! Wanna hang out?

Speaking the language of fear

After reading many stories about Monday's terrorist attack in Washington by the Earth Liberation Front, I'm simply stunned by the ability for people with a cause and penchant for violence to justify their actions. Perhaps it's because I'm not passionate enough about a movement to act out so brutally, or maybe it's because I truly believe in the power of social change though political action.

It's bizarre, but somehow these misguided social crusaders believe their extreme acts of destruction will actually alter society. In reality, the only thing they accomplish is alienating reasonable people from what is often a very worthy message, such as environmentalism. And besides, if you transform society by instilling fear of personal harm or destroyed property, what kind of positive change have you really created?

A good example of this reasoning: the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. A group of Muslims who were angry at the United States for meddling in the Middle East over the decades decides to crash planes into the symbolic hub for our bustling economy. It's hard to believe the terrorists actually believed their actions would harbor a change in U.S. foreign policy, but if that was their intention they failed miserably. Rather than a sea of conversion to Islam, what resulted was the American people rallying around the very leaders who had perpetrated the crimes against Middle Eastern nations in the first place. Then, we invaded two more of them. More likely, the Sept. 11 perpetrators were hungry for revenge and blinded by rage -- just like an ecoterrorist.

History teaches us that violence is rarely an effective avenue for social change. It tends to either solidify the status quo and turn otherwise sympathetic bystanders against you, or it rears the ugly head of overzealous authority figures. Suddenly, people stop caring about your message because they're pissed off -- at you. Meanwhile, nothing changes.

It should be noted that I'm talking about saving the environment -- and the fact that blowing up expensive houses to declare your support for Mother Nature is nothing short of absurd. But the argument gets a bit muddled when applied to government oppression. I would see things differently if we were talking about a population of people rising up to overthrow a fascist regime. When a body of authority is using its power to abuse the populace, I think it's a right and arguably a duty to rise up in the name of freedom and human rights. Obviously violence is often necessary when challenging a government with any kind of standing army.

However, what we're talking about here is cutting down trees and polluting the skies. Sure it's hurting us, probably slowly killing us, but it's not preventing us from freely expressing ourselves, or from walking down the street at night, or any of the many freedoms we enjoy as humans and as Americans. Those freedoms are worth killing for -- not the tree in my backyard. For that, I think the political system is the appropriate avenue for change.

Ecoterrorists are simply spoiled brats with expert arson skills. They never bothered to learn that social justice is a slow process, often involving a give-and-take, and as a result they are incapable of understanding political systems. They are self-righteous, hysterical creatures living in an underworld of pessimism and hopelessness. Violence is their drug, and seeing structures burn to the ground is their fix. When they are punished for their actions, they accuse reasonable people of oppressing them. They want it both ways -- the freedom to change the law, and the freedom to be exempt from the law.

What they want is anarchy; what they get is a strong dose of reality.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Domestic terrorism: Fun for the whole family

1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.
2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

Oh boy! I wake up Monday morning from a lazy weekend of non-news, and I find out a degenerate pack of domestic terrorists have burned a subdivision of Seattle homes to the ground in the name of environmentalism. What?
AP -- Fire engulfed five luxury homes Monday morning at a subdivision north of Seattle in what could be a case of ecoterrorism, officials said.

Firefighters attack blazes at luxury homes Monday in suburban Seattle, Washington.

A sign with the letters "ELF" was found at the scene of the fires in the "Street of Dreams" development in Woodinville, Washington, said Chief Rick Eastman of Snohomish County Fire District No. 7.

Eastman did not say if the sign is believed to be from the Earth Liberation Front, which the FBI has called an ecoterrorist group.

"Built green? Nope black!" the sign reads, according to an image from CNN affiliate KING-TV in Seattle. The sign calls the homes "McMansions."

John Heller, president of Seattle Street of Dreams, said he had spoken to the fire chief and was told that the fires were suspicious. Video Watch fires burn luxury homes »

"My understanding is that it was an act of terror," Heller said.

The FBI said the fires are being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism.

The funny thing is that these terrorists (yes, they are terrorists) are so absent from reality that they use their misplaced rage for purposes that make absolutely no sense. For instance, how can you possibly make the logical connection between torching big houses and environmental justice? What, because people are wealthy enough to buy a "McMansion," somehow that's anti-environment? I think what these terrorists are really saying is the symbolism of wealthiness hurts the environment, and rich people are just bad for the world. That makes sense. I'll shut up now; everything is so clear to me now.

What's that? You're wondering about the photo? Oh that's just Al Gore's 20-room mansion. You remember Al -- Nobel Peace Prize, famous for environmental justice, pretty much responsible for the surge of environmental consciousness in politics. Yeah, he's rich. Really rich. Around $100 million rich, and just look at that gigantic house! Using ELF's thin standards for arson, we should all buy tickets to Nashville and go burn that sucker down!

Hilariously (if it weren't so depressing), the homes in Seattle were also build with the environment in mind (just like Al Gore's!), although they did include regular amenities that very wealthy people generally demand and are able to afford (From AP):
"It's very disappointing to take a situation where we're tying to promote good building practices — Built Green practices — and that it's destroyed," said Doug Barnes, the Northwest division president of Centex Homes in Kirkland.

Advertising for the most recent Street of Dreams show focused on the earth-friendly aspects of the homes, which were smaller than some of the huge houses featured in years past. Although the homes featured energy efficient appliances, water-saving toilets and nontoxic paint, they also included three- and four-car garages, and luxuries such as home theaters, spas and bars.

Ah, social justice. It's great. And violence is obviously the only thing that works. For instance, remember back in the '60s when Martin Luther King was fighting for black equality, and he burned down the homes of all those white people? Or when Rosa Parks torched that bus because she was fed up with all that white oppression? Oh wait...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Uneventful weekend: Prince Harry edition

The weekends are a dark time for us here at Hairy Alpaca.

It's not that we don't enjoy the weekend -- we do. It's simply that nothing is ever happening in the world that seems outrageous enough to skewer. And by that I mean we try to stay as far away from the news as possible for those few precious days when we can forget, temporarily, that the world is sliding into chaos.

Thus, even if the blog angels poured cringe-worthy news upon me from the heavens, I undoubtedly would either be sleeping or wandering around the earth searching for deeper meaning to the purpose of life (pizza).

I was thinking a bit today, however, about this whole Prince Harry situation. If you're not familiar with the plot, it goes something like this: The British have this weird theory that when a nation's leaders send the nation's children to a foreign country to fight a war and die, maybe it's not a great idea for the leaders' own offspring to sit in a palace and eat grapes delivered on a gold tray by super models. So they sent Prince Harry to the front lines in Afghanistan, and the media agreed not to say anything about the high-profile deployment, lest the terrorists get any ideas in their head about holding the nation ransom. Not surprisingly, it took just 10 weeks for the Drudge Report to throw that deal right out the window, and the Web site reported on his presence in the rapidly deteriorating nation last week.

You can look at the revelation two ways. One would be to shake your head and realize that it's a sad, sad day in American journalism when a U.S. news outlet trumps the entire British media establishment on Prince Harry gossip. Another would be to hail Matt Drudge as a hero for throwing that whole "media blackout" deal straight off a cliff and standing up for the people's right to know. Our savior!

Personally, I'm a bit surprised that EVERY rag in Britain agreed to keep the secret. Ethically, I think the harm principle applies, in which editors had to make the decision of whether the public had an overwhelming interest to know Prince Harry was going to Afghanistan, and whether that need outweighed the clear danger to British troops -- and the prince himself -- if the news got out. Apparently they picked the safe road, which worked flawlessly until Drudge caught wind -- never a good thing if your aim is to keep secrets.

On a side note, I think American leaders should take note of the British. As the theory goes, politicians are less likely to start ridiculous, pointless wars if it means sacrificing their own family members. Then again, when you're dealing with people like Dick Cheney and George W. Bush who only have daughters -- and given this nation's absurd notion to disallow females from the front lines -- I'd say the whole point is moot.

Now, back to slacking.