Monday, April 30, 2007

Book review: The silence of the rational center

I really wanted to like this book, whose subtitle is "Why American Foreign Policy is Failing". The notion that there is a group of people in the actual political center whose voice is going unheard is an appealing one to those of us interested in the future of this country. Unfortunately, the authors are never quite able to define the "Rational Center" to my satisfaction, and some of their conclusions about what "silences" those whom they claim are in the center are muddled.
The authors first describe how "cable news" has failed to provide a home for rational discourse, which is true enough. But their criticism of the medium focuses on shows such as "Hannity and Colmes", the "Bill O'Reilly Show", and "The McLaughlin Group", and they argue that it is these shows' formats that are to blame--there simply isn't enough time devoted to any particular issue to provide in-depth analysis. A more complete analysis of these shows, however, proves only that it is unlikely that any such analysis would be welcome. That all of the shows in question are hosted by well-known figures on the right of the political spectrum, and that their guest lists are dominated by those who are similarly minded goes noticeably and damagingly unmentioned. (Heck, "The McLaughlin Group" isn't even on cable.) The authors then go on to excoriate think tanks, of all things, for forgetting their primary mission of education and study, for similar reasons. Once again, however, the authors fail to point out that the funding and missions for almost all of the organizations that they mention are on the right wing, and I heartily question if think tanks have as noble or as benign motives as the authors claim they do.
The authors betray this apparent slant even further when they cover three public speakers on the left in a chapter inflammatorily titled "An Unreliable Elite". (The chapter on cable is far less pointedly titled, "Cable news: accelerating the Big Idea", and the chapter on think tanks is headed incredibly descriptively, "Think tanks." Not exactly what I would call a "fair and balanced" set of word choices. [Well, actually, given the origin of that phrase at Fox News, it is precisely "fair and balanced".]) While cable news and think tanks supposedly silence the center due merely to their structure and format, people like Noam Chomsky and Paul Krugman do so due to "bias", "prejudice", and "relentless hostility" (all quotes from page 141 in reference to Krugman). This hypocritical attitude makes one question the authors actual intention in writing the book; are they trying to discern an actual movement to stifle rational thought after all? I found it hard to accept their arguments because of this lack of parallelism . . .
For a much better analysis of the media and its part in suppressing political awareness, read Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media? instead.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Condi, Condi, Condi

Perhaps she's just smarter than Alberto. Perhaps she's just more culpable than Alberto. Perhaps she's just more arrogant than Alberto. Whatever the reason, Condi Rice has declared that she's "not inclined" to appear before a Congressional committee to discuss what happened in Niger, lo these many months ago--or, more to the point, what the Administration told the American public happened in Niger. You see, Condi says she's already answered questions about that whole yellowcake business. She's lying, of course, because no one has ever answered questions about the selling of the Iraqi Occupation, least of all under oath. Oh, did I forget to mention Condi would be under oath this time? Yeah, she's been issued a subpoena. You know what a subpoena is, don't you? It's that piece of paper given to people forcing them to come to court and testify. Refusing to follow the instructions on the subpoena is against the law. But Condi is "not inclined" to honor this one.
What happened to "If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to worry about"? Oh, that's right, she has plenty to hide--plenty of people to cover for and plenty of things to cover up. She's as complicit in the evil that Smirky does as anyone else in this sick mess; we can only hope that she continues to ignore the subpoena so we can get a beautiful picture taken of her being hauled off to prison for contempt of Congress. That would be sweet, if long overdue. Do it, Condi! You'd look swell in an orange jumpsuit in the middle of the Kansas summer heat. Filth.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Alberto, Alberto, Alberto

Our esteemed, er, embattled, er, real estate lawyer posing as the nation's Attorney General (that's right, he is supposed to represent the citizens of the country, not the White House, or the Administration, or the Republican Party, in case 6 years of evidence has clouded your knowledge of the functions of the office) was forced to testify in front of a Senate committee last week. Gonzales had weeks to prepare for his appearance. You would think that during that time he would have boned up on his past meetings with various members of Congress, his aides, his Smirky, and his Slugboy (that would be KKKarl Rove) to pin down dates, times, and agendas (agendae?) that the Senators might ask him about. Instead, his testimony was riddled with bizarre claims of forgetfulness and ignorance. (By one count, he uttered "I don't recall" or some similar phrase a total of 77 times during the course of his single day.)
Now, I'm hardly one to talk about not remembering conversations, dates, and times, as TBO will happily tell anyone. But I'm not the freaking Attorney General, either, for chrissakes! It is incumbent upon him (and all other members of any government, in this country, at any rate) to keep records of every single bit of correspondence, every phone call, and at least the minutes of every meeting he makes or holds. Under penalty of law, that is, and since he is the "Top Cop" of the entire country, one might be tempted to think he would want to be above reproach in this respect.
One who has been brain dead for the last 6 years, that is. Of course there are no records or remembrances of anything by anyone remotely connected with this Administration, especially one of the central players. The crimes of these men and women will remain untold for years (if they ever see the light of day), simply because nothing has ever been recorded, in direct defiance of Federal law. And guess who has jurisdiction over Federal law? Why, none other than our friend Alberto, natch.
You see, Gonzales did indeed use his time to prepare for his testimony. He found out exactly what he didn't have to tell the Senate committee; he knows what evidence is, or more pertinently, isn't, out there that anyone can use against him or the rest of the felons in office. I'm sure he spent every last minute of every last day before last Thursday digging for proof of the truth--so he could safely avoid testifying about it!
No surprises once again, of course--heck, these clowns are on record (numerous times) as believing that the Executive Branch is above the law, so what does it matter if Gonzales perjures himself, or covers up crimes, or simply refuses to say anything remotely resembling the facts or the truth to anyone? Smirky's got his back. And since he's the President, that's all that matters. Unless more Congressmen and women decide that the nascent Imperial Rome of Caesar and Augustus is not an appropriate model for the nation, that is, and impeach these Shivan bastards ASAP.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What's up with that?

Every now and then I turn to Google News to get a glimpse of what's going on in the world. I will probably have to change that habit, though, because for some reason, they seem to present a fairly slanted picture. This morning, one of their top headlines ("above the fold") reads "Democrats must figure next step on Iraq", as if it has been the Democratic Party that has been controlling the occupation and its consequences. The subheading makes me really question Google's algorithm, though, because it truly betrays the writer's bias: The debate is likely to expose fissures among Democrats, who remain divided on whether to cut off money for the unpopular war and risk leaving troops in the lurch.
2 things about that lede are wrong. 1) The Democrats are "divided" only by comparison to the monolithic, unthinking Republicans; remember, their bills have been passed by a Congress in which their majorities are not overwhelming. The only division, really, is between Democrats who want us out of Iraq immediately and those who want us out of Iraq later. 2) No plans put forward by any Democrat to date "risk leaving troops in the lurch". That Republican talking point is simply absurd and highly ironic, given that it has been the Republican Administration and its Halliburton cronies that have consistently provided the troops with little to no training, rest, safe equipment, or even a plan. The troops aren't going to be left in any "lurch" because they will be coming home, unless President Smirky ignores the wishes of a growing majority of the country and diverts other funds in order to keep them in harm's way.
Clicking through to the article itself is illuminating as well. How exactly, did anything from the "Meadow Free Press" find its way to the top of the pile of Google News articles? Is this rag from eastern Idaho really a representative newspaper of world opinion? The number of glaring technical errors in the article (I hope they are simply electronic glitches rather than typos!) were striking; it was virtually incomprehensible in spots.
I suppose, if Google is randomly selecting the papers they highlight, having the Meadow Free Press pop up might be kind of nice (aside from its obviously damaged perspective), in a folksy kind of way, and if Google is using some sort of proprietary statistical algorithm to divine what articles are the most popular in the country to show on their "front pages", they can be excused from charges of internal right wing bias. If that is the case, however, we are in bigger trouble than I even thought, because I notice this kind of slanting often in Google News. If these are indeed the articles most people are getting from their newspapers, it's no wonder at all that it has taken soooo long to persuade our citizens that the Republicans are destroying this country. It is clearly past the time for progressives, liberals, Democrats, and other sensible people to begin creating their own media outlets, at all levels; objective journalism is dead.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Really, is anyone surprised by now?

I hope all of you have heard that the White House has been letting hundreds of its employees use unofficial email accounts, funded and housed by the Republican National Committee, and that an untold number of the emails sent by these accounts are now "missing". This story actually hits close to my professional home, as it were, because there is a federal law governing the archiving and access of all electronic messages sent by government employees. Even after its neutering by Smirky shortly before records of Reagan-era misdeeds (almost without doubt covering Iran-Contra and Pappy Bush's involvement) were to disclosed to the public, the Records Act still applies to the saving of all emails involving the Executive Branch's employees, up to and including Smirky and his pals (although by all accounts, Bush is incapable of, er, doesn't use email), and down to the lowest page. That any of them have been deleted, for any reason, is a violation of this law, and an affront to transparent and open governance.
Gee, really? This Administration might have destroyed evidence or attempted to cover its illicit tracks by violating the law? I'm shocked. Shocked, I tell you! Next you'll be telling me that they have perpetrated electoral frauds, too. Or that they took us to war under false pretences. Or that the Vice President shot a man in the face. Or . . .
Um, yeah. Anyone out there who still thinks the Republicans and this Administration aren't the embodiment of evil needs to be slapped. Hard. And then shipped off to Leavenworth, the Hague, or Utah, depending on their level of culpability.
Update: The volume of emails missing could number in the millions. See this.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Proud to be from Glendale

What really got me to write again was a simple (and truly simple-minded) letter to the LA Times dated April 10. Ken Artingstall from Glendale writes, and I quote the letter almost wholly here:

The United Nations now reports that global warming is "irreversible but could be moderated by large-scale societal changes." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), in a position to effect such changes, says "it is not too late to slow it down. We must base our actions on moral imperatives free of political interference." This is the same speaker who triumphantly passed a budget that eliminates all the Bush tax cuts after 2010, setting the stage for a huge tax increase. What will "large-scale societal changes" to attack global warming entail? Command-and-control government regulation of the economy and even more taxes, among other things. To all the fanatical global warming disciples and pro-big government Democrats, be careful what you wish for: A collapsing economy will surely be one of them.

Let's break this letter down, shall we?
1) Mr. Artingstall's comment about the new House budget is comprised of 4 clauses (if my decades-old memory of what constitutes a clause is correct), 2 of which are false. A) The Bush tax cuts were created to end after 2010, in a cynical ploy to both explode in a future Administration's face and grab ignorant Democratic votes in Congress; Pelosi had nothing to do with "eliminating" them; and B) This "sunset clause" was widely publicized at the time of passage, so only ignoramuses or ideologues like Mr. Artingstall could claim that the return to the previous tax levels represents a tax increase perpetrated by Democrats. Given inflation, the amount paid in taxes by those lucky few who have benefited from these lower taxes for 10 years will no doubt be less in real dollars after 201o than they were in 2000 anyway . . .
2) Mr. Artingstall's wholesale and reprehensible denial of global warming notwithstanding, his conclusion about what the UN means by "large-scale societal changes" is wholly unfounded by anything other than his own ridiculous biases against responsible governance. Did Mr. Artingstall quote anyone other than the voices in his head when he decided that the societal changes might entail "more taxes" or "command-and-control" government regulation (whatever that means)? Of course not; people like him are ideologically opposed to using facts, logic, or even simple human kindness when determining what to say or do. It is entirely likely that our government will decide to spur investment in alternative fuels by encouraging businesses through tax breaks or even direct subsidies, but we already do that for the oil companies! It would be a simple matter to redirect those breaks and subsidies elsewhere or for other purposes, with no (gasp!) tax increases.
3) Mr. Artingstall is so out-of-touch with reality that he concludes his letter with one of the oldest canards in politics, in combination with one of the newest. Where in politics, exactly, are these "pro-big government Democrats", Ken? You clearly haven't noticed that it is the Republicans who have grown government since Reagan took office 26 years ago, with the largest growth occurring under Smirky and the rest of the felons currently in power. (See here also.) And how exactly can you define "fanatical global warming disciples" so that it includes the majority of citizens, not just globally, but even in the woefully misinformed US? Wake up, Ken--it is you that is the fanatic. Get a grip.
This is hardly unusual thinking for Glendalians, I'm sorry to report. This city is home to some of the most conservative thinking in all of LA County, it seems, judging by letters to the editor of the local rag. I just thought it was time for someone to point that out, and as someone who lives there, I apologize to the rest of you for it.

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By popular demand

Due to the hue and cry of the masses (ok, just my mom for the most part, as if I needed reminding that my blog is about as popular as the guy-in-that-Sonic-ad-who-is-going-to-write-about-the-fantastic-new-milkshake's is), I'm back. I wish I could say I've been pleasantly relieved by the Democratic Party victory in November, but in reality, I've been fighting off a whole lot of "new job" stress/depression, as well as undergoing serious sleep deprivation thanks to our hyperactive and loving cat.
The new job is causing stress not because it's hard, or because I wasn't ready for the responsibility, or even because the previous manager was a bonehead, but rather due to the fact that I disagree with some of the processes and procedures that have been in place for a long time. I was unprepared fully to have to reorient the entire staff to more closely follow policies and hew more firmly to priorities and objectives I had in mind--I guess I assumed that my ideals, honed by years in retail and at our Central Library, wouldn't be too far off what has been the norm out here at the branch. And maybe they aren't, but it sure seems like asking people to show up on time, speak up if they have questions or grievances, and do the work the City hired them to do "on the clock" when we're paying them is certainly causing more trauma than it should.
The cat, on the other hand, is just being too much. Amber's so darn smart that she gets bored easily, it seems, needing to play at all hours regardless of whether I'm asleep or not. (And for some reason, she does seem to want me rather than TBO up at 2:30-6AM for "fun time".) For the first few hours after we go to bed, she's content to be calm or sleep wherever cats go in the dark. But after that, she begins her routine of desperate desire. She'll walk all over us (which isn't so bad) and refuse to sit/lie still (so we know it isn't simple petting or stroking that will satisfy). What comes next, though, is much more bothersome. Amber's a very affectionate cat, who loves to be held and petted. One of her more endearing actions is headbutting us to get us to rub her head with any part of our body available. Endearing, that is, at times other than 3AM. Then it is merely painful, because her angle of attack is such that she headbutts my eyes. Hard. And after that fails to get me out of bed, she'll use her other endearing/painful move--licking.
For all of you out there that have dogs, or at least have never had a cat, a cat's tongue, unlike a dog's, is like nothing so much as coarse sandpaper. Getting cat-licked, especially for someone with fairly sensitive skin as I apparently have, is cute, sure, but it only takes a lick or two to cause some seriously "abraded skin" pain. Getting cat-licked at 3 in the morning is not fun. Getting cat-licked at 3 in the morning on my eyelids is excruciating.
Of course, if we kick her out of the bedroom at any point during the night, she'll simply cry (more like a whimper, really) the night away. It's unbearable, because we love her.
We originally thought that Amber was simply hungry, so at first headbutt I get up and feed her, and for a while that worked. She'd eat, and that would be that. I'm not saying that having to get up every night at 3 to feed the cat is a good thing, especially since I've had sleeping issues ever since chemo, but at least it wasn't painful or a nightlong strain. Lately, though, feeding her has proven to be not enough. She'll eat, and after a short rest period, the headbutting and licking (or whimpering outside the door) will commence anyway.
It's nice to be loved, even by a furry little animal. And I don't want to not have Amber. But maybe a little less Amber would be better?