Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Since then it's been a book you read in reverse
So you understand less as the pages turn,
Or a movie so crass
And awkwardly cast
That even I could be the star. — The Shins

Ever notice how reading a blog is like reading history in reverse? So the top post is like the last page, and you have to go to the end to start at the beginning?

But there are no chapters, just labels, and the frequency of the labels tabulates what occupied my blog and my thoughts: John McCain (46), Barack Obama (44), George W. Bush (43), election (42), Sarah Palin (28), Iraq (26), terrorism (15), Hillary Clinton (14), economy (11), Dick Cheney (10), Saddam Hussein (10), Iran (9), civil liberties (7), Russia (7), environment (6), Condoleezza Rice (5), debates (5), electronic voting (5), impeachment (5).

The year is mostly easier to read about when it's all in the past tense! So, to all my readers... all 5 of you... have a happy new year! Here's to more happy blogging in 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Deterrence and Retribution

"Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens." —Plato
The recent assault on Gaza that has left more than 300 dead is a foolish attempt at deterrence and retribution. The most foolish parties are, of course, Israel and the U.S. They say another brutal war will create security and topple Hamas. It will do the opposite. The Palestinians will look to Hamas (the government they elected) for protection. From a Haaretz report in East Jerusalem:
"The Israeli operation surprised terror elements in the West Bank," a police officer said, adding, however, "It is clear to us that the calls from the heads of Hamas to renew suicide bombings will eventually be heeded by those who will try to put those calls into action."
But still, it will be the battered Palestinians who suffer the most at the hands of Israel. Gideon Levy, writing for Haaretz, dares to identify Israel as the neighborhood bully repeating war crimes at an accelerated pace:
Blood will now flow like water. Besieged and impoverished Gaza, the city of refugees, will pay the main price. But blood will also be unnecessarily spilled on our side. In its foolishness, Hamas brought this on itself and on its people, but this does not excuse Israel's overreaction.

The history of the Middle East is repeating itself with despairing precision. Just the frequency is increasing. If we enjoyed nine years of quiet between the Yom Kippur War and the First Lebanon War, now we launch wars every two years. As such, Israel proves that there is no connection between its public relations talking points that speak of peace, and its belligerent conduct.

Israel also proves that it has not internalized the lessons of the previous war. Once again, this war was preceded by a frighteningly uniform public dialogue in which only one voice was heard - that which called for striking, destroying, starving and killing, that which incited and prodded for the commission of war crimes.

The war crimes referred to are the acts of collective retribution -- punishment against protected people who did not personally commit an offense. Hamas's rocket attacks -- though far less deadly -- are also war crimes.

Such attacks achieve no military benefit, and if our hearts and souls do not change, the violent cycle will continue until the bitter end.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas: Paid In Full

Yippee! I don't have to pay my Christmas bills if I just download this sheet of stickers from Benny Hinn and follow his simple instructions:


Place a sticker on your mortgage, loan, and credit card bills, as you ask God to give you a financial breakthrough.

As you send in your seed-gifts and prayer requests, place a sticker on the reply form, which Pastor Benny and Dr. Oral Roberts will lay hands on, and believe that you will receive a mighty outpouring.

Hey, if Benny knew about supernatural debt cancellation all along, why didn't he save Washington Mutual, IndyMac or any of the other failed banks? It probably wasn't God's will or something. That's it.

By the way, if I pay my bills online, do I just stick these to my monitor?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

That Shoe Thrower Guy

I've been thinking about that shoe thrower guy a lot today. Well, obviously he's hard to avoid if you even turn on the TV or read the news...

But I'm pondering whether the act of throwing his shoes at Bush was a violent act or a symbolic act. If it was intended as a violent act, he kind of failed. Nobody was hurt. Bush smirked -- even looked proud of himself for dodging the projectiles. There was even a bit of laughter in the room.

My impression is that the thrower, Muntazer al-Zaidi, knew his protest would be symbolic. He had his lines prepared and had an exact purpose. On the first shoe throw, he shouted "This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss, you dog." And he consecrated the second shoe with "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."

With this act, he evoked memories of how Saddam's statue was toppled and then beaten with shoes in the early days of the Iraq war. Even if westerners don't grasp the supreme insult of shoe throwing, we understand Bush is being equated with that dictator.

I'm sure al-Zaidi knew what he was doing. He could have been truly violent if he wanted to, but he wasn't. And the consequences for his actions? He's an Iraqi so he knew what horror he might be facing. The reports indicate that he now has a broken arm and ribs. I suspect this new Iraqi regime has no more respect for human rights than the previous one. So much for the progress we were bringing them.

But the most extraordinary thing is that al-Zaidi has, with this one brave protest, brought about more praise, admiration, and inspiration than all previous bombers and gunmen combined.

Now if Bush could only put on those shoes and walk a mile in them... nah, it's Bush we're talking about.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bland Humor

I usually don't torture myself with morning radio shows. Listening to morning "zoo crews" or whatever they call themselves now is like reading the dumbest YouTube comments but without the "thumbs down" button.

But you've probably guessed why I'm writing this. I did listen to a morning radio show this morning... for a few moments... before I hit the off button.

The topic was Governor David Paterson's comments about this Saturday Night Live Weekend Update skit that mocked his blindness. The first predictable and juvenile joke the deejays made was along the lines of "oh my god, he's blind! He can't even watch the show!" The genius morning hosts, not catching the irony, proceeded to play the the SNL skit for their listeners... on the radio. They played the SNL skit on the radio -- that primitive device without pictures.

Then they went on with some other blunt ignorance scratching their empty skulls pondering why blind people would even rent DVDs or go to the movies.

But I think the attitude that annoys me the most is the idea that nobody should be offended by the SNL piece because "it's just a joke." The reality, however, is that comedy is part of our discourse now more than ever largely due to shows like Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show. These shows, through humor, change attitudes, and that's truly awesome.

Minorities like the blind and the disabled also try to change attitudes. A spokesperson for Paterson said, "this particular 'Saturday Night Live' skit unfortunately chose to ridicule people with physical disabilities and imply that disabled people are incapable of having jobs with serious responsibilities." People with disabilities struggle every day to create a new consensus that they are capable, smart, and ready to work.

The SNL skit failed because it reinforced the old hindering consensus -- the blind are hapless, clumsy, disoriented. The comedian portraying Paterson repeatedly wandered in front of the camera. The real David Paterson, however, is described as "rarely out of step with his surroundings and seems comfortable in virtually every setting."

I think the best humor is not merely comic relief. The best humor changes the way we view our world, breaks the established order of things, forces you to question your habits and prejudices. Nothing was daring about the SNL skit. It was a lazy reinforcement of the Mr. Magoo stereotype.

I'm sad that Amy Poehler's goodbye message was combined with this lousy humor. I'd like to see the real David Paterson on SNL's Weekend Update. He can at least show them that no matter what way you hold the charts, the economy still looks like crap.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Midnight Madness

This really does sound like a late night Christmas bargain bonanza. I'm talking about the midnight regulations -- actually more like deregulations -- that President Bush is zealously handing out at an accelerated pace as his reign comes to an end. Each new rule is a special gift tied in a bow for one of his friends:

To the coal companies: a new rule that makes it easier for companies that mine for coal buried under mountaintops to dump rock and sludge near rivers and streams.

To a British mining company: a permit allowing them to explore for uranium just outside Grand Canyon National Park, less than three miles from a popular lookout over the canyon’s southern rim.

To the oil companies: (considering that Bush already gave them the war in Iraq, this one is more like a stocking stuffer) new regulations to develop oil shale deposits straddling almost two million acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

To the industrial farms: new regulations to circumvent the Clean Water Act, leaving it up the the farms themselves to decide if animal waste discharges are harmful or not.

To big chemical companies: a decision to exempt perchlorate, a known toxin found in jet rocket fuel and our water supply, from federal regulation. Hey, if it ends up in our drinking water, just think of it as recycling... right?

To business: a new rule that makes it harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job.

To fundamentalist pharmacists: a new rule that says health care providers can refuse to assist, due to religious or moral reasons, in the performance of any part of a health service program or research activity financed by the Department of Health and Human Services. Many believe this regulation might prevent some women from obtaining birth control.

And to the rest of us, he leaves debt, two wars/occupations, a shitty economy, an imperiled planet, and a government that spies on its citizens. They always say "it's the thought that counts," but be thankful for gift receipts...

I thought I read that it was easy to undo these midnight regulations, but the process is not simple. From a Rolling Stone article on Bush's Final FU, the Congressional Review Act (CRA) may be the best hope for overturning these rules, but it's not easy:
But even this option, it turns out, is fraught with obstacles. First, the CRA requires a separate vote on each individual regulation. Second, the act prohibits reviving any part of a rule that has been squelched. Since Bush's rules sometimes contain useful reforms — the move to limit the Family and Medical Leave Act also extends benefits for military families — spiking the rules under the CRA would leave Obama unable to restore or augment those benefits in the future. Whatever Obama does will require him to expend considerable political capital, at a time when America faces two wars and an economic crisis of historic proportions.
So what should the world give Bush for Christmas? An Iraqi journalist already gave him a gift with sole (if video doesn't show, click here):

Too bad he missed, but hey, it's the thought that counts.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mistakes I Can Eat

I know my blog posts are switching between seasonal and serious this month, but I'm enjoying the distractions.

So my five year old nephew came over today, and we made some miniature gingerbread houses. After we were done, he got the wise idea that his grandparents should judge whose house was better. I don't know where he gets his competitiveness from!

But his houses were definitely better than mine, so I turned his attention towards video games before I could be humiliated. Luckily, he can't beat me at those yet.

By the way, if you're making this particular gingerbread mini village, and you accidentally break a few of the roof pieces, Hershey's miniatures are a perfect substitute.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Heckuva Job, Rummy

It seems that Bush is on a "Save My Legacy" tour. As he worked the crowd at West Point on Tuesday, he gave a shout out to his old pal and former defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld:
Finally, we are transforming our military for a new kind of war that we're fighting now, and for wars of tomorrow. This transformation was a top priority for the enterprising leader who served as my first Secretary of Defense -- Donald Rumsfeld. Today, because of his leadership and the leadership of Secretary Bob Gates, we have made our military better trained, better equipped, and better prepared to meet the threats facing America today, and tomorrow, and long in the future.
Wars of tomorrow, Mr. President? Exactly how many did you and your criminal friends plan? And although I won't question the skills and training of our military, I will question any statement that they are somehow better off because of these wars. By many accounts, our military is stretched, strained, and suffering. They deserve better!

But Bush's speech leaves me with a sense of deja vu. While Bush praises Rummy, a government report blames Rummy for detainee abuses:
A report released Thursday by leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee said top Bush administration officials, including Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, bore major responsibility for the abuses committed by American troops in interrogations at Abu Ghraib in Iraq; Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; and other military detention centers.

The report was issued jointly by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chairman of the panel, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican. It represents the most thorough review by Congress to date of the origins of the abuse of prisoners in American military custody, and it explicitly rejects the Bush administration’s contention that tough interrogation methods have helped keep the country and its troops safe.

The report also rejected previous claims by Mr. Rumsfeld and others that Defense Department policies played no role in the harsh treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 and in other episodes of abuse.
Heckuva job, Rummy.

And because Christmas is coming, I'd like to offer you this fine stocking stuffer. Imagine the fun you and your children can have with this Donald Rumsfeld talking action figure!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Worst Gift Ever

Holidays bring crazy traditions. Tell me, who thought up this one? A group of friends or co-workers get together and agree to bring an "exchange gift." You have no idea who will get your gift. It could be a man or a woman, single or married, a drinker or a non-drinker. So you aim for that special something-for-nobody-in-particular type of gift. And oh yeah, it's supposed to be in that $5 - $10 price range. Right.

So I go about my shopping earnestly. I decide on a festive holiday oven mitt with a package of sugar cookie mix, and I throw in some measuring spoons for... uh... good measure.

So after a lovely dinner, the exciting moment arrives. For lack of creativity, we all pick random numbers, and then somehow the person in charge decides who gets to pick the first gift. My turn came second. I must have had 14 wrapped packages to choose from, but I remembered that "good things come in small packages." Right. Also, I didn't want to carry home a bulky casserole dish or some other awkward thingamajig.

The little package was tightly wrapped in tape, but before it was completely opened, I realized I made a big mistake. When I saw THIS, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry:

Keep in mind, nobody said anything about a "white elephant" gift or white hippo gift for that matter. But that's what I got -- a ceramic white hippo with a red hat, and oddly placed cracked and peeling heart stickers. One tattered decal on the hippo's belly said "to the greatest mom." I'm not even a mom.

Later we discovered that the hat unscrews, and it was obviously once a perfume bottle. My friend John bravely wafted the open bottle under his nose. Not a drop of the fragrance remained which was probably a blessing.

Next, we did the obvious -- rubbed it to see if a magic genii would come out. Nothing. We placed it under a cloth napkin hoping to forget about the pathetic thing, but it was still good for a few more laughs...

We thought of playing this fun scavenger type game, but I couldn't imagine walking up to a strange man at the restaurant bar and saying "can you show me something bigger and better?" (Now that I'm sober, I realize that would have been hysterically embarrassing.)

We thought of bringing the hippo to a target shooting range, but apparently they don't like you to fire upon ceramic items.

Anyway, somehow, accidentally-on-purpose the hippo disappeared on the way home. But please, nobody email me and tell me that the hippo was a rare 16th century Yiddish tchotchke. Just leave me with my happy memories.

Monday, December 08, 2008

In Infamy

Yesterday marked the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The day after the surprise strike, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed Congress and asked for a declaration of war, describing December 7, 1941 as "a date which will live in infamy."

But what exactly was so infamous about this Japanese attack on military targets? This article on explains it simply:
President Roosevelt used the word "infamy" because the raid was an act of military aggression. Until that moment Japan and the United States were not at war, although their conflicting interests had been threatening to boil over. The attack turned a dispute into a war; Pearl Harbor was a crime because the Japanese struck first.
What we once considered a crime was molded into official US policy 60 years later. It's called The Bush Doctrine, and it's the illegitimate policy of preventive war. It was a bad idea in 1941, and it's still a bad idea now.

But at least we haven't recycled every bad idea of that era. In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner, James Ziglar, pushed back against a "roundup" of Arabs and Muslims stating "We do have this thing called the Constitution." That's a stark contrast and blunt repudiation to Roosevelt's authorization of the internment of Japanese Americans...

The internment of Japanese Americans was probably the most shocking thing I ever learned in a high school history class. Well, when I say "learn" I mean read about in a short sidebar in our history textbook. Even back then I realized that the brevity of the lesson indicated a national shame over our actions. But I was also left with a curiosity about life inside the camps. Only recently did I find this little piece of the answer...

Here is a complete scan of a 1944 internment camp high school year book. Between normal pictures of student councils and proms there are poems about "Hope out of Gloom" and drawings that include barracks and barbed wire fences. I found this page particularly poignant.

I'm left wondering how textbooks 10 years from now will document the Bush legacy. Can they relegate every single crime and immoral act into a tiny sidebar or footnote? What else would be left to write about?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A Working Kitchen

I discovered the joy of cooking this year when I started taking a weekly class at the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center (SVILC) -- a nonprofit agency that serves people with disabilities. I took the class so I wouldn't have to rely on frozen microwavable meals my entire life. However, the benefits of the class have been more than just culinary. I've also made some wonderful friends which is a salubrious side effect.

But the SVILC operates on a tight budget and the kitchen appliances are broken and inadequate. The organization is seeking donations this holiday season, and the class will be featured in the San Jose Mercury News Holiday Wish Book. You can read all about the class and make donations on the SJ Mercury web site.

Don't look for me in those pictures though. I wasn't there that week! I'm camera-shy anyway!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Walk of Shame

President Bush has 46 days left in the White House, and he's desperately trying to recast his legacy. I've watched parts of his recent exit interview, and although nearly everything he says boils my blood, I haven't commented because at this point, writing long essays on his failures is like kicking a corpse. Luckily, Jon Stewart is up to the task (if video doesn't show, click here):

However, now that Jon Stewart has fired me up, I think I am going to kick the corpse just a little bit... Bush made this one particularly wistful remark that I can't let pass: "I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess." What?

Let me just address the president personally (because I'm certain he reads this blog)...
Sorry Mr. President, but I've been paying attention, and I remember that major Senate committee report last June which concluded that you and your aides built the public case for war against Iraq by exaggerating available intelligence and by ignoring disagreements among spy agencies about Iraq’s weapons programs and Saddam Hussein’s links to Al Qaeda. In other words, you lied to us about the intelligence, and if the information had been different, you still would have lied because you were determined to go to war. Maybe you should read the report. Maybe you'll put a copy in your library. Whatever you do, you can't successfully rewrite history because too many people are watching you.
However, now it's time to keep an eye on little brother Jeb Bush because he's prattling on about setting up a "shadow government" which sounds vaguely treasonous. Between the Bushies and McCain, they've certainly done some damage to the Republican party.

The good news though? That McCain-Palin t-shirt you wanted to buy your grandpa for Christmas is now 75% off! Image via erin m on flickr:

Monday, December 01, 2008

Gifts I Won't Be Giving

It's my favorite time of year again. Seriously. I plan to be very busy with the decorating, wrapping, baking and visiting festivities this month... but the shopping? I've done pretty well this year, and I'm almost done. I even avoided Black Friday.

But here is an unfortunate dilemma most people don't find themselves in. I found the craziest gift ever, but there is no man (or exhibitionist) in my life to give it to. Boohoo:
This book contains no nudity. No profanity. No sexual material of any kind. And yet it just might be the naughtiest book of the year!

Penis Pokey is an illustrated board book with a large die-cut hole in its center. Every spread features a dazzling full-color illustration with one thing missing — a banana, perhaps, or a fire hose, or a sea serpent. Male readers can complete the illustrations using the talents God has given them.
I know many of my readers have some interest in politics, so here is another unique gift. Even if I don't have anybody on my list who would appreciate this, maybe you do: Hillary Nutcracker and Corkscrew Bill.

I really try to find creative gifts for my friends, and I feel like a total failure when I resort to giving gift cards!