Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rightwing Humor

Right-wing humor makes me sad (if video doesn't show, click here):

When did it become funny to support and encourage torture? When did it become funny to drown a person? When?

President Theodore Roosevelt in his 1906 State of the Union address declared, "No man can take part in the torture of a human being without having his own moral nature permanently lowered." I don't think he was joking.

After World War II, we convicted Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war... and I don't think we were kidding.

And I don't think we were laughing at Ronald Reagan in 1988 when he referred to torture as "an abhorrent practice."

Wait... I think I have the answer to my own question. It never became funny. It has always been abhorrent. Bill O'Reilly and Dennis Miller are two desperate and unfunny pinheads.

But this leads me to another question. Why do TV conservatives only host lame bullying shows? I'm not aware of any neocons involved in the art, culture or lifestyle shows. Could it be that they fail to understand culture? City Desk has some ideas on Why Conservatives Suck at Culture Criticism. One possibility is that they always define their work as Conservative, and then discuss art only in terms of their own politics.

Ahh... yes. Nobody needed to tell me that actually. I've been observing my own father long enough. You can't even mention Barbara Streisand without him launching into a gasping rant. Our family can't even agree on a movie to watch on Christmas eve because every star has offended his ideologies...

But then O'Reilly and Miller offend my morals. Hey, if the two of them can put together a jolly Christmas special by next year, I'll watch it, but only if they promise not to yell and be stupid.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Guantanamo Baywatch

I was going to blog about the ridiculous fear mongering over the plan to close Gitmo. Much of the hysteria is regarding where to keep these alleged terrorists while they await trial, and of course, much of the hysteria is ripe for parody.

First, there is the childish belief that detainees are supervillains, and somehow our world-class prison industrial complex can't hold them. Then there are the farcical scenarios where the prisoners are released into the general population. Inevitably, we hear the raucous cries from the not-in-my-backyard crowd. (Hey, I'm looking out my window right now, and my backyard isn't a maximum security prison either!)

But a controversy so absurd is best handled by The Daily Show (if video doesn't show, click here):

Still, I feel one element has been left out of this ongoing discussion. We're forgetting why the Guantanamo Bay Prison was opened in the first place. The location was ostensibly selected for its security. But let's get real. The location was really selected for its legal ambiguity. John Yoo famously opined that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to detainees. Furthermore, the US has no Status of Forces Agreement with Cuba, and thus the Bush administration argued that US courts could not review detentions. However, the Supreme Court ruled otherwise...

So at this point, closing Guantanamo is largely symbolic. And because it's so symbolic to us and the rest of the world, it is also wise. It shows the world that we've renewed our commitment to our founding principles of liberty and justice.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


When I read the news, I said "oh shit!" Senator Robert Ford (D-SC) is hoping to outlaw lewd language and is pushing for a bill which would make it a felony, punishable by up to a $5,000 fine or 5 years in prison, to use profane language in any public place. The bill would also make it a felony to make material of a "profane, vulgar, lewd, lascivious, or indecent nature" available to the public.

So here we have another politician out to destroy the First Amendment... he shouldn't even be allowed near our nation's capital. But I'm not going to rant about freedom of speech or even about the record number of people we already have in prison which is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year and the federal government $5 billion more. Nope, I'm not going to talk about that.

I'm just going to mention how absurd it must be to bring a profanity case before the court. How many dozens of times do the lawyers, witnesses, jury and judge have to speak or hear the "bad word" during the course of the trial? And when it's all over, do all participants have to go to jail? I think it would only be fair...

These illogical laws are as good as anything the Communists ever legislated. Here is a classic Russian joke:
A judge walks out of his chambers laughing his head off. A colleague approaches him and asks why he is laughing. "I just heard the funniest joke in the world!" "Well, go ahead, tell me!" says the other judge. "I can't - I just gave a guy ten years for it!"
Pretty soon we can make that joke our own!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Whistles Are Blowing

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking Thirteen..." — George Orwell, 1984
On this bright cold day in January, two days after the Bush presidency ended, whistleblower Russel Tice has come forward alleging that the NSA, under the direction of George W. Bush, spied on everyone, specifically targeting journalists. Keith Olbermann reported last night (if video doesn't show, click here and you can also watch part 2 here):

So let's think back and remember when Bush told us that his administration was not using the Patriot Act to violate civil rights. After all, "a wiretap requires a court order," Bush said. At least he demonstrated that he understood FISA. Of course, the liar had no intentions of following that law, but he understood it.

This news is being called a bombshell, but who is really surprised at this point? The Bush administration was not just wiretapping terrorists. They were not just wiretapping overseas communications. They were spying on Americans, specifically journalists.

There exists a segment of the population who might say, "so what?" But let's think about what this news means. They wiretapped journalists. They kept tabs on who and what reporters were investigating. They could identify potential whistleblowers. And certainly, private communications reveal private information. In other words, this is the stuff the government could smear and blackmail with.

And though Tice made no mention of this, who doubts that Bush was spying on members of Congress? What information did he have? What was he going to do with it? And does this revelation point to why Pelosi took impeachment "off the table"?

What else could Bush and friends do with everyone's communications? Corporate espionage to benefit his cronies? Just guessing. I'm not afraid to make these wild guesses, because everything I've vaguely suspected about the Bush administration has slowly been verified. I'm wondering what more will come out in the next year, and I wonder if any of it will shock me...

Here is some good news -- if we're not too cynical to believe it -- Dennis Blair, the man President Obama has nominated to head national intelligence, promised there would be no torture and no warrantless wiretapping on his watch. This is a good start.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yes We Did!

Of course my worrying yesterday was for naught. All went well. Obama gave a beautiful speech after taking the inaugural oath.

My new concern is trying to tune out the fake outrage from the wingnuts. A few (and I hope they are a fringe) believe that Obama is not president because Chief Justice John Roberts tripped up the oath. Luckily the Twentieth Amendment clearly states "The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January... and the terms of their successors shall then begin." But the Constitution won't necessarily stop somebody from believing what they want to believe.

We can also expect plenty of jokes about Democratic Senator and former klansman Robert Byrd witnessing the inauguration of our first black president and then promptly collapsing. Except it was Sen. Edward Kennedy who collapsed not Byrd. Whatever.

I get the feeling that the next four years will be full of these small but necessary corrections. The biggest challenge for Obama, however, is living up to our expectations.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Regime Change

Web comic by Pictures for Sad Children. Click to enlarge.

I've been hanging on to the above comic for a few weeks. I figure now is a good time to post it. The last frame reads "Mr. President: I look forward to being disappointed in new ways."

I feel confident that Barack Obama will be a good president, but I'm not delusional. The country he's inheriting is a real fixer upper, and if the economy continues to get worse in the next year... well, I will likely still blame it on Bush.

As I anticipate tomorrow's inauguration, which follows the day we honor the life of Martin Luther King Jr., I feel mostly optimistic. I'm not alone in my hopefulness. Obama is beginning his term with a 78% approval rating. A poll of nations indicates that "there is growing optimism Barack Obama's presidency will lead to improved relations between the US and the rest of the world." And CNN reports "more than two-thirds of African-Americans believe Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision for race relations has been fulfilled."

Certainly that dream of judging people on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin is an aspiration we must vigilantly pursue forever. But the more tangible milestone of a black president was also predicted by Dr. King in a forgotten and fascinating 1964 video. As we finally reach that milestone, it feels good to be living this moment of history.

But now I want to mention that tiny bit of dread I feel. It's that fear that we've come so far, and yet something might still go wrong. I feel like a jerk for even bringing up the topic, but my parents jabber about these things openly.

In case you don't remember from previous posts, my father is a total Fox-watching neocon. I only had one ear to a conversation today where my mom talked about the uncertainty of events tomorrow -- how we don't know the future. My dad grumbled about how people were certain to riot. Basically, my elderly parents were talking about an assassination in the same detached way you'd predict the weather.

It makes me sick, and yet I realize they have witnessed more history than I have. But they also still live in that past. They're among the last holdouts in a culture war that pits "real Americans" against the rest.

I thought that as I grew older I was supposed to somehow understand the wisdom of my parents. Instead I find myself sometimes scorning and sometimes confronting their blatant racism, bigotry, and ignorance.

Anyway, don't let me be the drag on tomorrow's parties. The security at the inauguration event sounds impressive, and on Wednesday, Barack Obama's new regime can start working on that change we've been believing in.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Andrew Wyeth

"I don't really have studios. I wander around—around people's attics, out in fields, in cellars, anyplace I find that invites me." — Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth was an American painter. He died Friday at his home in Chadds Ford, Pa. He was 91. The New York Time's obituary was quite a shock to me because I assumed he was already dead.

I don't know why I had that misconception. Maybe it was the rural and sentimental subject matter of his paintings. His realistic style seemed out of place in the modern world.

Wyeth's painting titled Christina's World was perhaps his most famous:

It's also one of my favorite works of art. I'm not sure "beautiful" can describe it on a superficial level. But on an another level, it touches my soul. The sense of aloneness is very personal. The woman is in a field. She is skinny and weak and crawling through tawny grass. She wants to get to that house in the distance, where it is probably warm and there are people there, but it's going to be a long struggle. You can't see her face, so I suppose we simply project our own emotion onto her. Sorrow? Fear? Despair? Longing? The house itself seems isolated too. Its dilapidated features recall the great depression and add to the sense of melancholy...

Well, I'll never be a great art critic. My emotional response is ineffable. However, knowing that Christina was real, knowing the story of her life, and knowing why she was crawling through that field helps explain my love for the painting.

Andrew Wyeth died in his sleep. Maybe he's been invited to wander someplace else now.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Good Riddance

I tried to watch Bush's somber farewell last night, and although the speech was less than 15 minutes long, I had to hit the mute button halfway through. If seven minutes was too much for me, then how did I survive the last 8 years?

My frustrations have been well documented in this blog, so I'll just link to MarketWatch's seven most horrible things about the Bush presidency and add "amen."

I also agree with this keen historical observation from the Left Field blog. Nearly 50 years ago, Dwight Eisenhower said farewell to the nation with a warning about the growing strength of the ties between the military and corporations. Sadly we haven't heeded those warnings.

So what will Bush do now? Clear some brush at his ranch? This might shock you, but even the Crawford ranch was a facade. It was political fiction. But unlike other fake cowboys, Bush couldn't even live up to the cowboy code.

Inauguration day is almost here. Don't forget to stop into Krispy Kreme and get your free abortion doughnut.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Everyone Else Is Doing It

Web comic by xkcd. Click to enlarge.

I had a weird dream last night. I was back in the third grade and my two BFFs and I had jacked a car and were riding around laughing our asses off. In my groggy waking moments I had to remind myself that we sweet little girls never did any such thing.

But we always had fun, and although I stayed close to one friend, the other one moved away and never wrote. Every once in a while I try to google her, but apparently she shares a name with one of the characters from the Harry Potter series. I'll never find her in the 1500 search results.

Anyway, so I'm awake, fed and watered, and go about checking the news. An article on Slate immediately taunts me with You Have No Friends. Damn! The world (or at least one web magazine and three friends) have conspired to nag me relentlessly until I join Facebook! And that dream I had? That could only be a psychic message from my third grade pal. Maybe she is looking for me too? And she can't find me on Facebook and doesn't know what else to do?

But I've been so skeptical about Facebook. I've been around these Internets for a long time now, and I know about social networking. See, before anybody marketed "social networking," you were simply called a "freak" for using the computer to meet people.

But those days are over, and I'm no longer ashamed. Let me list my travails. I've been recruited to join MySpace, and spammed to join Friendster. I was on Friend Finder, Six Degrees, Classmates and The Globe. You don't know about The Globe? It must have been before your time. But let me tell you the most important part -- it failed.

Yes, there seems to be a distinct life-cycle of social networking sites:
  • A group of young geeks, over Christmas break, put some brains and resources together to build a new social networking site -- probably with a new gimmick or look.
  • Everybody in their computer science department joins.
  • A new feature is added that allows you to recruit your friends -- or everybody in your address book -- with a single click. They join too. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
  • Then comes the awkward stage. It's awkward because nobody really knows how to deal with unwanted friend requests and "defriending."
  • More features are added by request -- allowing users to make their personal pages blink, dance, play music and induce seizures.
  • Advertisements are added.
  • The site starts to feel confusing, less useful, and you begin to ask yourself "who are these people?"
  • Your grandma joins.
  • Everybody flocks to a new and cooler site. Repeat from the top.
So what's it to me? I've been called a nerd, an introvert, elitist and a crank, but I can't stand that blank look people give me when I say I don't have a Facebook account. I surrender. I joined Facebook. I will rebuild my network of "friends" in this new promised land. But when it's time to go, will I follow the other sheep peacefully? Maybe not...

Oh, but what about my third grade pal? In all my pondering, I almost forgot to look for her! Yes, her name turns up a few dozen hits and two of them are definite possibilities. But now I'm full of doubt. We probably have nothing in common and maybe she'll even think I'm weird. What if neither of these women were my long lost classmate? Then two total strangers will think I'm weird. I thought I left this drama and insecurity behind in high school? Looks like I just signed on for more.

However, no friend, ex-friend, lover or foe can ever say they can't find me! They can call me, text me, e-mail me, tweet me, IM me, and yes, even my doorbell still works!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Looking Forward

"It's easy to make your voice heard," proclaims, Barack Obama's web site. The president-elect is taking questions, and after this recent round, the people's concern is clear. The highest ranked question asks, "Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor -- ideally Patrick Fitzgerald -- to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?"

The response was disappointing with both Biden and Obama reiterating the need to look forward above all else:
Vice President-elect Biden, 12/21/08: “[T]he questions of whether or not a criminal act has been committed or a very, very, very bad judgment has been engaged in is—is something the Justice Department decides. Barack Obama and I are—President-elect Obama and I are not sitting thinking about the past. We’re focusing on the future… I’m not ruling [prosecution] in and not ruling it out. I just think we should look forward. I think we should be looking forward, not backwards.”

Barack Obama, 01/11/09: We’re still evaluating how we’re going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we’re going to be looking at past practices and I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. And part of my job is to make sure that for example at the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering [up].
Of course we need to look forward, but I, for one, was looking forward to seeing Dick Cheney behind bars!

Well, let me put it another way. Investigating crimes and prosecuting offenders is forward looking! We are a nation of laws, and if we do not prosecute, then those laws are meaningless. If we do not prosecute, we are not protecting our very purpose as a nation: liberty and justice for all. If we do not prosecute, then evil triumphs.

Our government's corruption, lies and crimes have been egregious and gone unchecked for too long. We yawn when Cheney admits to war crimes in primetime. We turn the page when we learn that banking regulators didn't enforce regulations. We hardly notice when the Bush Administration refuses to bring charges of perjury against a former head of the Justice Department. Maybe people think that this is all normal?

Don't accept these transgressions as normal! House judiciary committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and nine other lawmakers aim to establish a Blue Ribbon Commission comprised of experts outside government service to investigate the broad range of policies of the Bush administration. A great idea, but if our new President feels he can't look backwards, then maybe the evidence should be turned over to the World Court.

See that picture I posted of the rear-view mirror? It is possible to look forward and backward at the same time. In fact, it is necessary.

Monday, January 12, 2009


"There was never a genius without a tincture of madness." — Aristotle
I don't know if I'd call Graham Parker a genius, but after 26 years, he has finally solved the Rubik's Cube. Good for him. Of course, I'm assuming he didn't peel the stickers, use a screwdriver, or look up the solution online.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

This Spells "Literary Crisis"

Here is yet another story of plagiarism in the digital age. Neale Donald Walsch, apparently a best-selling author who has conversations with God, is accused of plagiarizing a Christmas essay that is all over the internet -- sometimes credited to the real author and sometimes not.

Walsch has tried to explain his misdeed. His explanation is hard to swallow, but there is always the cryptomnesia defense. I guess Hillary Clinton could have used that defense too during the whole "sniper fire" drama last spring.

But anyway, after reading the disputed essay, I have a bigger question. Who would want to take credit for this dreck? If that's what people are reading these days, we're in a literary crisis.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Imperial Family

This painting by Edward Sorel is titled The Imperial Family and was featured in Vanity Fair's farewell slide show. It's not a very flattering portrait, is it?

But it is accurate nonetheless. Dick Cheney is the patriarch and George W. Bush is the little drooling spawn.

A lot has been said about Cheney in the last eight years, but his own words are the most incriminating. Last month, while the world was asleep or something, Dick Cheney took credit for torture. Torture is a war crime. The Vice President of the United States confessed to a war crime in prime time. Americans yawned and changed the channel.

Anybody who has been paying attention already knew about torture memos and other documents linking high level officials to the torture decision. Of course Dick Cheney was the planner of these crimes. I was not surprised.

But I was angered. At this point, the anger is just anger heaped on top of more anger. Will anybody anywhere ever have the balls to prosecute this man?

Surprisingly, in the rush to pardon nearly everybody, Bush has not issued a pre-emptive pardon for Cheney. Cheney is so arrogant that he recently told the Associated Press that "he sees no reason for President George W. Bush to pre-emptively pardon anyone who authorized or was involved in harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists."

Clearly, he is counting on the American people and the Obama administration letting him get away with these crimes.

Cheney's hubris is appalling. Let's stop calling him a "mastermind" or even "imperial." He is a scheming criminal bureaucrat with blood on his hands. To let him walk free is a crime in itself.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Homeland Security Idol

American Idol meets DHS in ABC's new reality show Homeland Security USA. Tonight, I watched it so you don't have to.

From the start, a faceless and booming voice-of-authority tells us how brave men and women safeguard our country and enforce our laws while patrolling our borders. I assume they mean these border regions that nearly 2/3 of the US population lives in, and the ACLU refers to as a "constitution-free zone."

So how do you turn an absurd bureaucracy with an Orwellian name into fun family entertainment? Well, you have to have some zany characters like the Swiss belly dancer who, in broken English, wanted to know if she would get a refund on her airline ticket because she was being sent back home. I was waiting to hear her sing, but then I remembered that show doesn't start until next week.

A reality show has to promise a lot of suspense. Oh look, we caught a terrorist using his real name and birth date! Oh wait. A case of mistaken identity. But how nice of the kindly agents to tell the family, after traumatizing their children with guns, how to handle the situation in the future. (We don't hear what this advice is, by the way.)

The producers must have an easy time making this show. Everything is right out of the Bush-Cheney propaganda handbook. They stick to the official script that DHS is securing the United States from terrorist threats and attacks. But where were the threats? The umpteen pounds of drugs confiscated don't scare me in the least. Make them legal already. The barbecued bats from Thailand? That's definitely gross and they might have made a few people sick, but I wish our government could put the same effort into inspecting imports which are a very real threat.

Finally, we're treated to the new American experience of airport security theater. The bizarre scene of a boy around age 11 dutifully reporting the contents of his backpack to an agent made me wonder if Bush ever envisioned a Youth League. Hey, it's not too late, George. You've got two weeks left.

The message of the show was clear. Shut up. We're doing this for your own good. Now stand still while we put this collar around your neck.

I rate this show "code red." Be on high alert if you dare to watch it.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Future

Sometimes when I look backwards I appreciate the present more. Here is an example: 16 computer ads from the 1980's. It's too easy to smugly joke about slow processors and small hard drives, but #14 makes me laugh for other reasons. The ad's caption proclaims "user-friendly software," and the image of the "micro workstation" shows a classically cryptic directory listing from the Microsoft operating system. The number of bytes free is duly reported along side the sad blinking command prompt that intimidated every new user. Very friendly indeed.

Ad #13 holds a special place in my heart. At age 13, I really believed that when I plugged this cartridge and special keypad into my Atari 2600 I was going to feel like I was exploring the galaxy. Instead... actually, I really don't remember... I'm only left with a vague sense of disappointment in a game that's still gathering dust in the garage. And yes, in case you were wondering, I was rather nerdy for a girl. And yes, in case you were wondering, we never clean our garage.

But what has come of our hopes for space exploration, the future, and moving forward? What about the ideas of Tomorrowland? P.J. O'Rourke visited the famous Disney attraction and wrote about our apparently beige and unimaginative future:
Let us not confuse imagination with innovation or even with progress. Man’s descent from the trees and adoption of the brilliant mechanics of bipedalism were innovation and progress of the first order. But what did we do with this progress for our first million years as humans? As best we can tell, we hung around the Olduvai Gorge and beat some rocks together to make “chopping tools.”

On the other hand, the Italian Renaissance was so imaginative that during its three centuries, practically everything worth imagining was imagined. And yet not much was actually invented in Florence, Pisa, or Rome.

Global imagination, like global climate, seems to have cycles—natural, man-made, or whatever. Sometimes what people imagine for the future is bogged down in the literal—call it “blogged” for short. The last thousand years of the Roman Empire, for example, were no great shakes. The Romans had all the engineering necessary to start an industrial revolution. But they preferred to have toga parties and let slaves do all the work.

The Chinese had gunpowder but failed to arm their troops with guns. They possessed the compass but didn’t go much of anywhere. They invented paper, printing, and a written form of their language, but hardly anyone in China was taught to read.
So in 2009, looking at cool new gadgets might be fun, but I'm going to keep my eye open for the truly imaginative. Of course, dreamers risk looking foolish, but Leonardo da Vinci didn't see all his ideas come to fruition either.

Also, I have to get in touch with O'Rourke's daughter about that system of pneumatic tubes for delivering stuffed animals. That's what the world really needs.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Crap Conspiracies of 2008

The Village Voice has the rundown on The Top 10 Rightblogger Stories of 2008 -- or, as I would have called it, the top 10 crap conspiracies that clogged my inbox. From the #10 yawner Fred Thompson to the #1 Secret Muslim story, I tried to avoid these blog topics unless I wanted to mock them.

But the one wingnut fantasy I never heard about was #9:
#9: The Cheapskate's Guide to Civil Disobedience. In the late days of the campaign emails circulated about a guy who pissed off an Obama-supporting waiter by giving his tip to a bum instead. Haw haw! Rightblogger Dr. Helen discussed undertipping waiters, maids, gardeners, etc. if Obama won as a way for rich people to express their displeasure. "If we had deployed this strategy six months ago the election would not even be close," said Ghost of a Flea. Actually this one panned out: the election wasn't close. Maybe voters figured Republicans don't tip anyway.
Oh that's brilliant. In a time of economic crisis, undertip the hard working people who serve you, and somehow that's going to win votes for Republicans. How do they figure? There exists no logic between taking action A and reaching result B. It's like their famous argument that if gays get married, then marriage is doomed. Or if fraudulent voter registration forms are detected, then somehow fictitious characters will vote.

But how do these wingnut cheapskates identify the Obama-supporting waiters, maids, and gardeners? Those types of jobs usually don't allow you to wear campaign t-shirts over your uniform. Ok, maybe I'm being silly. Obviously, the wingnuts assume they can identify these supporters by their race.

Let's admit it, the Republican party doesn't even try to hide their racism now. Republican National chair candidate Chip Saltsman recently sent his fellow party officials copies of a CD containing the parody "Barack the Magic Negro." At a time when the majority of people in this country are ready for a new era, the Republicans desperately cling to the old.

Paul Krugman wrote "As the new Democratic majority prepares to take power, Republicans have become, as Phil Gramm might put it, a party of whiners." Yes, whiners with really bad judgment.