Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hurricanes are political

First, all my hopes and wishes to my friend Matt's family and friends in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Now, to policy: The levies that protect New Orleans were meant to be reconstructed and enhanced. I'm not an urban planner and I can't move rivers so I have no idea if those improvemnts would have saved New Orleans. However, those enhancements were not made and they might have helped. They weren't made because, after 9-11, budgets were changed and money that would have gone towards that sort of project went instead to Homeland Security efforts.

"It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can’t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us." -- Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 8, 2004.

This is the epitome of humanity, always behind the times. We get attacked by terrorists and all of our efforts go towards preventing attacks by terrorists. We forget, in the meantime, natural disasters, or basic infrastructure, or education, or the digital divide, or any other issue that is real and that can harm people if left unchecked because we're myopic about the last big tragedy.

Heck, before 9-11, we ignored terrorism because it hadn't happened. After 9-11, it was as if no other issue was potentially even important.

Societies are complicated. They are threatened in numerous ways. But in a society as prosperous as the United States, there shouldn't be a trade off between protecting the ports from terrorists (something we, er, haven't actually done) and protecting our most vulnerable cities from hurricanes. You only have to make such trade offs when you go into $300 billion worth of debt to invade Iraq and you have no plan to pay for it. I proved here, in earlier posts, that the entire nation's social security system could have been made solvent by investing $200 billion, the cost of the Iraq war at the time, in US and foreign bonds. Well, for what fraction of $200 billion, could the New Orleans levies have been enhanced?

How can it be that our government could spend that much in Iraq when it didn't pay to keep a major city from being flooded? I remember John Kerry complaining that we were closing fire houses in the US while we built them in Baghdad and he was soundly drubbed for being selfish. What if those firehouses were a metaphor, though? Isn't it time we demanded to know why $300 billion could go towards a war of choice and yet, we're so unprepared for domestic disasters that people have fretted about forever? Isn't it time we had a conversation about the fact that choices have been made?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Your Program of Programs

Tonight, I saw a bit of New York City that I've never seen before. It's a big place, it happens, but this wasn't a destination I could reach by subway. I went to see a highlight reel of "Your Program of Programs" a cable access television show hosted by a professor of mine from college, Kestutis Nakas, between 1982 and 1983. In attendence were current and former denizens of an East Village art scene that only somewhat exists today. As Kestutis said, after the screening and explaining how he got guests to show up for a little watched cabled access show, "People didn't know what cable access was, back then. You could call somebody and say, 'I have TV show, you want to be on it?'"

The highlight reel was damned funny. Kestutis worked as host, on a deliberately shabby set, with a worn desk that had a "nuclear button" on it, because nuclear war was serious, back then. His guests plugged Sonic Youth concerts and products that could tease and strip your hair in one easy step. Kestutis read the news, deadpan, dressed as a clown named "News Clown."

But, even better was the audience. People who had been on the show were there. Nicky Paraiso, who hosts the La Mama Cafe was there. I've worked with him before. In fact, when I met him, I asked if he new Kestutis and many stories were told. I got the two in touch, a few years ago. Even though Nicky hosts at a cabaret space where hundreds of theatre people pass through every year, he was nice enough to remember my name and I take that not as a sign of me leaving indellible impressions but of Nicky's sincere desire to encourage new art.

During the screening, the crowd hooted and hollered at things I didn't understand, sharing a big in joke about the 80s art scene in Manhattan. I hooted and hollered about hearing that Soho lofts were renting for $1,000 a month. I know, I know, inflation. But, if I could get a Soho loft for $1,000 a month, you'd better believe that I'd live in Soho.

The crowd celebrated performers who had died during the 80s. I gather that at least five people who participated in the chaos of "Your Program of Programs" are no longer living. These are not old folks, by the way. Many of them died young, I assume, from hard living and it's hard not think that, among this menagerie of lovable freaks and outcasts and trannies that AIDs didn't take some toll. Does AIDs now fall under the "hard living" category?

When I first saw Kestutis at the pre-show party, he told me, almost teary, that he was in a room full of people that he'd shared an important part of his life with, but hadn't seen since 1982. "I've seen you more recently," he said. We hadn't seen each other since I graduated college in 1997. I didn't talk to him much. I left him to old friends.

But, I also didn't have to talk to him much because his old friends had no problem chatting up strangers. They were jovial and light and friendly and wonderful people.

I hate to romanticize pasts that I didn't live. New York has changed. The East Village is trendy and expensive and utterly safe and I gather it wasn't, back in the 70s and 80s. Oh well. It's still a cool part of town, I still have fun every time I go. My pal Lea always tells my that New York isn't the same city that it was when Madonna scraped and starved her way to fame here. The city is wildly more expensive and far more corporate these days. Yet, talking to Kestutis' old colleagues, I gathered that they had the same problems I've faced and that they also never had enough money and they also found it difficult to find an artistic community and they also struggled in a city so large that even if you're really out there, you're kind of annonymous.

Whatever they did, south of 14th street and east of Broadway, 23 years ago, brought them all back tonight. There were about 100 people there. I walked out of the screening, feeling weird, wondering why I don't't have a community like that and why I was so out of the city's loop. Suddenly, a person grabbed and hugged me. His name is Kenyon, he plays in a band called Unisex Salon. I'll be checking out their show next Thursday. Kenyon used to work at Forbes, in another department, but we hit it off because of tattoos, theatre, music, and our 8th floor gym. He left Forbes awhile back. Last time I saw him was at David Byrne's Carnegie Hall concert in 2004. We bump into each other because we like the same things. In a city this big, you can bump into people just out of shared taste. Weird.

But, then, shared taste is what brought the night together and what brought Kestutis' rabble rousing bunch to the same area, to work together, two decades ago.

To add to it all, I spent the afternoon watching a DVD of my co-blogger Jon E. performing with his Second City improv class and I also read his funny and subversive little children's book about anatomical parts trying to find their human.

The struggle continues. But I was damned glad to see how the struggle went, awhile back, in the lower east side.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Breathtakingly Obvious

So, I just moved. Hence your lucky reprieve from my posts. As part of my move, I got cable in the new place. On the up side, that gives me Comedy Central . On the down side, I'd never really appreciated the full extent of the legions of people whose sole job it seems to be to wear moderately conservative attire and lie to news cameras. Jesus.

In a related comment, just as soon as I can figure out how to do it, I'm going to put together a PAC devoted entirely to abolishing the dueling operatives mock-debate that you find on TV news everywhere--not just on cable but also on network channels (including PBS). The dueling operative debate is that annoying segment of "issues" programming in which an anchor or correspondent sits an RNC lackey across the table from a DNC lackey and then asks questions as if they would answer them without more spin than automatic rims.

I'm baffled who actually thinks that having reps from the two political parties lie to a lazy, ignorant journalist interviewer somehow upholds the ideals of inquiry or objectivity. In particular, I think every TV news producer should absolutely forbid her journalists to ever include a current or former communications director, speechwriter, or campaign director from serving as a one of the participants these fake debates. Putting political hacks on TV to debate how the American public views the struggle over, say, social security or the Iraq war is tantamount to having a reporter dress print-outs of the DNC and RNC talking points in suits and then wave them at each other like really boring puppets.

What if New York City were attacked?

What would happen if New York City was attacked by a foreign power?

Unthinkable, I know. But Ann Coulter knows what would happen, should such an implausible and impossible thing ever happen. She says that New York "would surrender."

She must be drawing her analysis from what is now known as "The Great Surrender of 2001" when New York officially welcomed Al-qaeda as our new overlords. Our new rulers then, um, banned smoking in bars or something.

I know I shouldn't be wasting virtual ink on Ann Coulter because she's a moron, but, come on... only two cities in the US were actually attacked, and failed to surrender, on 9-11. She could have picked any other liberal enclave for her jab and she picks... one of two cities that was actually attacked? Talk about bad aim! This girl couldn't piss on a toilet if it were underneath her.

Coulter says she's just razzing New Yorkers for being antiwar and supporting Cindy Sheehan.

Well, let's take this post down to Coulter's level. She said, ":I don't -- I don't think -- I think I'd rather have them trying to invade Mississippi or Georgia, Alabama, you know, the states where I want Cindy Sheehan's bus tour to go."

First off, Cindy would go there if Bush holed up there. He didn't. Second, any terrorists with any taste isn't going to attack Mississippi, Georgia or Alabama. You go to a place like that, you perform an attack, but what do you do afterwards? There's no night life, there's no good theatre, it takes them months to get the best movies...

Oh, apologies to Georgia, which was attacked during the 1996 olympics. By a honky. They didn't surrender either. And, apologies to Mississippi. There is good night life in Ocean Springs. I refuse to apologize to Alabama for any reason. Place is like Indiana -- full of freaking mutants.

Friday, August 26, 2005

But bigotry against bigotry is... bigotry!

Nice post here on The Light of Reason about a favorite rhetorical technique of the right. If you call any of their policies or writings racist or sexist or homophobic, you're just being a bigot, trying to shut down the debate, whatever. This has been going on for a long time and was key to the PC wars, of course.

They use the argument because people buy it.

Which makes me think that people are still not mentally 12 years old yet. Because, when you're about 12, that's when you start to think about the word "discrimination" and you realize that discrimination against some things like race, gender and sexual preference is bad but that discrimination against other things like racists and driving off cliffs is pretty useful. When you're freaking 12, this double edged sword seems really important. Oh my, you think, the world is so complicated! Then you freaking grow up and get over it. Damn it.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Both Sides Grieve

One inevitable result of Cindy Sheehan's protest is that pro-war military families who lost soldiers would want to have their say. There's a counter-protest, down in Texas organied by Gary Qualls, who lost his son in Iraq. He's pro-war and he's letting us know.

And you know what? Fine. I disagree with him, but he's got the same rights as anyone else and I say that his politics, in light of his loss, are completely legitimate.

The right didn't give that same respect to Sheehan. We keep hearing that she's a puppet, that she's a liar, that she's betraying her son's memory -- all sorts of nasty things that she doesn't deserve, spouted by the Michelle Malkins and Bill O'Reillys and Rush Limbaughs who have to destroy what they can't argue with.

I think it's sad that Gary Qualls lost his son in a war of choice. I also respect his feelings on the matter. I think that we'll see the superior character of the left in this instance.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Don't tell the truth!

Here's a major right-wing blog that thinks that telling truthful stories about the abuses in Abu Grhaib, or our own government's foreign policy, is akin, in the words of one respondent to this blog post, membership in a "fifth column."

These people believe that the media should act in support of the war in Iraq, even if they have to ignore or downplay facts that undermine the current administration's war plan.

Stranger Than Fiction

Some of you know that I write a little fiction, too.

So, an exercise. Imagine I invented this character and that our President never existed:

A man, born to wealth in Connecticut, moves to Texas, joins the oil business. At a time where west Texas is full of millionaires finding black gold, our hero finds... nothing. His company nearly goes under. But, his Dad is head of the CIA and, later, Vice President. To curry favor with his dad, strangers bail our hero out, they buy his company and put him on the board. When the new company starts to fail, benefactors from Saudi Arabia show up. Oh, I forgot to mention, our hero might have died in Viet Nam had not many benefactors helped him from ever seeing combat or even, completing his service. Also, he's a drinker and coke snorter. He's a fun guy to party with, no doubt. He runs for congress and loses big time. Later, he runs for governor and wins, in the process, accusing his opponent of being a lesbian. He does little as governor. He runs for President. He loses the popular vote but wins the electoral college. The state that threw the election his way... was a state where his brother was governor and appointed the attorney general, who made he final decision. Sure, there was a fight in the Supreme Court, but his father, who had been President, appointed some of the Justices there. He becomes President. He does nothing. America is attacked. He declares war on the attackers and then declares war on people who have the same skin tone as the attackers. Here, he screwed up. The nation, which was never solidly behind the second war, starts to turn on the President. A woman who's son died in the war stages a protest outside his ranch where our hero is taking a five week vacation. He refuses to meet with her. This does not make him look good... But the woman protesting... her mother has a stroke! She has to leave! He's off the hook!

Is this a believable character?

If so, my title is...

"Luck Is Better Than..."

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

According to court records obtained by...

Michelle Malkin has been all over a scandal about Air America and misused charity money. I agree with her that it's a story worth pursuing, as any story about misused donations to non-profits is worth following, no matter who the target is.

But, I'm a journalist. I'm even, as often as I can be, an investigative journalist. In her post, Michelle cites a publicly available court document using the phrase "according to court documents obtained by Radioequalizer/" and I just want you to know how freaking funny that phrasing is and how it shows Malkin's ignorance about investigative journalism.

See... court documents are, for the most part, something you can get by calling the lawyers involved in the case, dropping by the court house, or calling a court clerk. They're public documents. Imagine if I said that "according to documents obtained by thosethingswesay, Microsoft's profits were a Kajillion dollars in 2004." That'd be, uh... stupid, since Microsoft's 10-K for 2004 is available, freely, at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

When a real investigative journalist says they "obtained" something, it should usually be a document that is non-public, handed over by an insider who the general public wouldn't even know and that the general public would never even see, if not for the enterprising journalist involved. The phrase "obtained" is industry for "patting one's self on the back."

She got a court filing.

Big flip.

Rush to war, forget to plan the rest.

Via Atrios here are some documents of interest, including a shot of a State Department Powerpoint presentation about the planning of the war in Iraq.

Two things worth noting:

A month after September 11th, the State Department began planning for regime change in Iraq. Perhaps they thought Osama bin Laden, who was supposedly "wanted dead or alive" was hiding under Saddam's WMD stockpiles?

A month before the invasion, the State Department fretted that we didn't have a good occupation and reconstruction plan. Good thing those chicken littles were wrong, huh?

I realize this is all nothing new, in a lot of ways. I bet most of this blogs readers already believed both points. But, it's nice to know where to document them and it's important not to let up on the facts about what happened, not just in an attempt to win elections but because the history of this adventure in Iraq will be written, over and over again, by writers from all over the political spectrum. I want that history to deal with the truth which is that the Bush Administration, made up of people who throughout the 1990s were advocating regime change in Iraq (a war that would have created uncertainty in our own economy and destroyed the 90s boom, by the way) used the fear generated by 9-11 to get their way. Those same people then naively assumed, in spite of history, that we would be welcomed in Iraq and that the transition to a new, more acceptable government would be easy.

If Bush were to give an honest answer to Cindy Sheehan, it would go something like this: "We always believed that Saddam had to go and we went after him at our first opportunity. We really didn't think your son, or that just about any soldier, would get killed after the initial combat ended. We pushed this war on our military and then we planned wrong and your son died because of it."

That's what an honest person, being charitable to themselves, would say.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Worth Reading

This isn't new, but I thought you'd all like a look at Lewis F. Powell's conservative call to arms, known as the Powell Manifesto, written in 1971 and the intellectual lynchpin of what became the conservative movement in modern politics. Try to forget, as you read it, what you disagree with, and to notice what works about it, how the conservatives built, while out of power and in the midst of Watergate, and how it served them afterwards.

It was, by the way, a different time then. Bank of America branches were firebombed, radicalism in the US was something other than what we saw during 1999's Battle in Seattle. I don't say that with phony nostalgia, either. I have less use for the Weather Underground than I do today's college Republicans.

However, and this is key, I think, look at the rhetorical stance here. Powell argues that Big Business isn't influential in America. He even argues that lobbying for big business is hard as phony proof that business had little influence on American politics. Sure, it's baloney, but the key motivating bit in this piece is that "we're in the minority, we're under attack, they're trying to destroy us."

He also argues for what became corporate America's most effective weapon -- active public relations, combative if need be.

What Powell called for came to pass. His allies formed right wing think tanks, their own quasi literary publications, they branded the media "liberal" and won over a lot of ordinary Americans to the corporate cause, convincing them that their interests were the same as the interests of businessmen. He did this at a time when it seemed that the country was headed leftward. When he did it, it was barely noticed. Look where we are now.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Change. Ugh. They Can't Handle It.

The conservative line on Cindy Sheehan, mother of a US soldier killed in Iraq, is that she changed her story. See, she met with Bush in 2004 and aftwards, said nice things about him. Later, she said that Bush didn't seem to know who her son was and treated the meet and greet with grieiving families as "a party."

This makes Cindy Sheehan and flip flopper. I guess this is bad because, if you're on the right, changing your mind about anything is a sign of weakness.

But, here's the thing: She'd just lost her son. She met with the President to receive condolences. She had actually chosen to, at the time, not make a political issue out of it. Now, I've lost people I've loved and I'm not alone in that. Two people, a grandmother and a girl friend, I lost to suicide, which brings up all sorts of "how dare they" kinds of issues. I was young when both happened. I was immature when both happened. There were tons of issues an immature person could have raised, in both cases, about motive, propriety, fairness... without knowing much about what I'm writing about, I trust that the reader can reconstruct all of the arguments and things you could say about situations like that. But, during the funerals, the gatherings, the ash spreadings, the "are you okay?" discussions... you just don't. You don't out of compassion for the other people around you. You don't out of a desire to remember the deceased in the best possible light. You don't because you really want to move beyond that. Right after... during all the rituals, you just don't.

Casey Sheehan died heroically. That would be the only consolation to his mother. Right after he died, consolation, for her, is the only thing that should have mattered. To get at that consolation, she silenced a lot of her own thoughts and feelings. She attended the memorials, she met with the President, she concentrated on her own grieving and she probably thought, even though she had the opportunity, that she wasn't going to use access to the media to talk about her own feelings about the war. Not then. It would have probably been inconceivable to her. Yes, I realize, I'm pop psychoanalyzing a woman I never met, but... it isn't hard to empathize.

I have been in the position of speaking in public about one of the deaths I alluded to before. After my girlfriend killed herself, I spoke at her funeral. You know what? I don't remember what I said, but I do remember, very palpably, that I chose my words carefully, in order to cmfort the audience, not to express any rage that I might have been feeling at the time. Later, to friends, I expressed that rage (boy, did I!). Some of the people I spoke with later were at her funeral. None of them said, "What you're saying now doesn't jive with the eulogy you gave, flip flopper!" I truly think that the people I spoke with, if they even noticed that, as time passed, my words changed, were too good, too empathic, to throw a few spoken contradictions back in my face, given the circumstances.

Right now, Cindy Sheehan believes that she lost her son to a war that we shouldn't be fighting. She doesn't have to justify those feelings with her past statements. How she feels now is all that matters. Life is long but death is permament. How she feels now and how she'll feel in the future are all a result of the policy decisions made by George Bush. People parsing her public statements over a two year period changes nothing. Right now, she feels what she feels. She is bravely acting on those feelings.

You know what? I respect her feelings. I have my own opinion about the war in Iraq. But if Cindy Sheehan changes her mind tomorrow, or a year from now, and I see her on Larry King saying, "In the end, I think that war was worth my son's life," then I will respect that opinion. It's her life, her son and, in a lot of ways, her war and her right to have an opinion about it. I'll respect that opinion, and her. She doesn't owe me any sort of philosophic purity. I'm happy to have her out there, talking about the real costs of this war and questioning the motives behind it. But, in the end, I'm happy to have her saying whatever the hell she feels, when she feels it. She's no pawn for my politics, nor should she be. In the end, the least we can give somebody who's lost what she has is a damned public hearing, if she wants it, and she does.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Fact and Opinion

This started out as a comment on Mike's post about Bill O'Reilly having done something--sit down and brace yourself-- lame and sleazy. But it got bigger as I got madder, so now it's a post.

Mike's post is an analysis of O'Reilly's interview with Dolores Kesterson, a woman whose son died serving in Iraq. Kesterson is unconvinced that the war in Iraq was necessary and convinced that, even if justified, it should have taken a back seat to wholeheartedly going after al-Qaeda (which wasn't in Iraq until we opened the borders to them). This post started with a nitpick about Mike's terminology; Mike describes O'Reilly as trying to overwhelm Kesterson with facts about Iraq. But O'Reilly wasn't using facts. He was using "facts." This isn't just me being snotty. It's about about--see the kerfuffle about intelligent design below--the importance of preserving a clear sense of the difference between fact and opinion.

Let's start with one of O'Reilly's alleged facts. Lecturing in the tone of a smugly self-congratulatory semiliterate schoomaster straight out of Hard Times, O'Reilly told Kestersron, "Now, if you look at it logically, everyone knows, Hilary Clinton knows, I mean on and on, that if we cut and run from Iraq, if we pulled out of there, it would make the war on terror twice as dangerous as it is now. That's just a fact."

No, that's not a fact. If you look at it logically (oh, sweet and rare Logic), you know that it can't be a fact because it's a prediction. And it's a prediction of enormously complicated circumstances at that. Anybody who can tell you with factual certainity about the future has psychic powers, and doesn't need to to be a talking head for Fox News. And O'Reilly's alleged fact isn't even a prediction on the order of, "If I drop this book, it will fall." The book statement isn't a fact either, but it's a statement of probability where the odds of the book falling are so close to 100% that a pragmatist will treat it as fact and be right every time that the book isn't suspended from the ceiling by fishing line.

But O'Reilly's claim about the war on terrorism getting twice as hard, like so many of his claims, isn't a fact but rather an opinion. An opinion that's absolutely subject to debate--responsible people in this country and elsewhere who want to fight terrorism might disagree with that opinion. In fact, many do. A lot of people think that if the US were to pull out now, all the foreign jihadis wouldn't have anything to blow up anymore or have any remaining shred of anti-imperialist credibility with the Iraqi people. They might have to pack up and return to their less effective training camps elsewhere or, god forbid, get real jobs. (That's not my personal opinion, but I don't deny the possibility it could be right.)

It may be that O'Reilly is just too blinkered or dumb to know the difference between opinion and fact, but I doubt it. I think this is part of a conscious strategy on his part and on that of other subversive far-right elements. Propaganda of the counterfactual brainwashing bullshit variety depends on radically destabilizing the categories of fact and opinion, of constantly moving the goalposts until the markings on the field don't make any sense and all the players have to trust their loudmouthed daddy to tell them what's what.

Watch O'Reilly trying to do just that to Kesterson and to his viewers. In the copy of the the interview I saw, O'Reilly is trying to convince Kesterson that Cindy Sheehan (another anti-war mother of a dead soldier) is being used by cultish leftists and he says:
... all you have to do is go to the Michael Moore website. And all you have to do is go to the Fenton Group, which is a left-wing group in Washington which puts out press releases. And here I have an internet thing where she told this--I mean these people are off-the-chart left. Cindy Sheehan says Bill O'Reilly is an "obscenity to humanity," okay? I mean, if, Mrs. Kesterson, if you don't want to believe me, you don't have to believe me. All I can do is report what we know to be true, and if you don't accept it you don't accept it...
O'Reilly's ostensible point is to say that if Sheehan is showing up so much with all these liberals, she must be getting used by them. (Because, of course, if she didn't agree with them, she couldn't just tell them to go screw themselves, what with her being a girl and all.) His actual point seems to be to discredit Sheehan by saying "MichaelMooreMichaelMooreMichaelMoore" until his conservative viewers apply their dislike of Moore to Sheehan (and maybe Kesterson too). That's pretty obvious. But what's fascinating to me is the logic (I use the word loosely) of his claims.

He doesn't have any actual proof that Sheehan is Moore's puppet, so he falls back on saying that the people quoting her and jumping on her bandwagon aren't just left but really left, so far left that ("if you look at this logically") the innate promptings of their leftish evil would compel them to use a grieving mother, just like gravity compels the planets to revolve around the sun. How far left are they? Off-the-chart left. And how far left is that? So far left that they --Dolores, don't let the children hear this--say mean things about Mr. Bill O'Reilly. Gasp!

I mean, that's pretty funny, but the funniest (if you like sad humor) part of the quotation above is how he closes it. After giving innuendo and conjecture about Sheehan, O'Reilly pretends to be the dispassionate reporter and says that she doesn't have to believe him, but he can only report what he "knows to be true." The problem is, true and what he knows to be true have less contact with each other than ghosts in full-body condoms. The only thing O'Reilly knows to be true is that he's right right right, damnit, and if you disagree, you're wrong. And probably evil. And possibly Michael Moore in drag. He's trying to do to Kesterson what he tries to do to his viewers: call opinion fact, disregard actual fact, and foster a belief that people who challenge his wisdom aren't in disagreement but in error (and possibly in collusion with the enemies of America).

In fact--and this is the shit that makes my blood boil--having done his best to eliminate any distinction between facts and his opinions, O'Reilly then goes on to pretend that his opinions are the same thing as America, that his opinions are a country-sized fact wrapped up in the red, white, and blue. A little further on, O'Reilly says (and Kesterson promptly calls him on it) that Michael Moore and others on the left hate America, that they think it's "a bad evil country, that we [Americans] brought this war on ourselves."

That's not a fact, either. At best it's an opinion; more likely, it's a deliberate lie. As far as I know, Moore has never said he hates America. I have my problems with Moore, but he's never struck me as anything other than a guy with firm commitment to the highest American ideals (honesty, equality, decency, accountability) and a powerful sense of outrage when people betray them. Moore may hate Bush. Moore may even think Bush is evil. But, despite Bush's, and Rove's, and O'Reilly's best efforts, most people still undertand the fact that Bush isn't America and that you can love America without loving Bush.

O'Reilly's attempt to pretend otherwise is cheap and divisive. Moreover, as O'Reilly's own words tip you off, it functions as a distraction from the main point of Kesterson's outrage: that the President declared an offensive war for reasons that turned out to be dead wrong and thereby ordered the deaths of over 1,800 American soldiers and something like 25,000 Iraqi civilians. Look at O'Reilly's list again. Moore is one of those people, he says, who think "America is a bad country, an evil country, that we brought this war on ourselves."

No, damnit. Sheehan is angry and Kesterson is angry not because they think America is evil and brought this war on itself but because they think Bush was wrong and brought this war on their sons, young men who, I assume, showed great bravery dying in a cause they felt to be just. For Sheehan and Kesterson, their sons were and are a big part of their Americas. And they loved their sons, not hated them, and they don't think their sons brought their deaths on themselves. They think George W. Bush brought the death, and I'll bet you anything that they're tired of people like O'Reilly pretending that demanding accountability is anti-American. I know I am.

Is Our Children Gaying?

Okay, here's the link. Check the link. The link proves that I am not making up the shite that I am cut and pasting below. Of course, if you just read the stuff below, you also get to see my answers to the seven signs that your child is gay (as told by James "I'm a moron and probably gay" Dobson, head of Focus on the "probably gay, but definitely undereducated" Family.

Helping Boys Become Men, and Girls Become Women

Is My Child Becoming Homosexual?


Before puberty, children aren’t normally heterosexual or homosexual. They’re definitely gender conscious. But young children are not sexual beings yet — unless something sexual in nature has interrupted their developmental phases.

THOSETHINGSWESAY: Stupid nature! Sorry, God!

Still, it’s not uncommon for children to experience gender confusion during the elementary school years. Dr. Joseph Nicolosi reports, “In one study of 60 effeminate boys ages 4 to 11, 98 percent of them engaged in cross-dressing, and 83 percent said they wished they had been born a girl.”

THOSETHINGSWESAY: Oh, you should have been in school the day that "Dr." Nicolosi conducted this study! The Principal's voice came on the PA system: "Attention sissies, attention sissies. We need 60 of you, and I know we have at least 60 at this dandy school, to report to my office at once! As you all know, there comes a time in every sissy's life when he must stand and be counted. Also, one lucky sissy will receive a $15 gift certificate to Express for Men.

Evidences of gender confusion or doubt in boys ages 5 to 11 may include:

1. A strong feeling that they are “different” from other boys.

THOSETHINGSWESAY: Can't be different from those other boys! Most of them, of course, are calling girls "icky" and eating paste. Any other behavior would be totally gay.

2. A tendency to cry easily, be less athletic, and dislike the roughhousing that other boys enjoy.

THOSETHINGSWESAY: Stop yer cryin'! Whattya mean you hate dodge ball? You go fight with those people! Don't you wanna have any friends? Well... if ya want friends, ya gotta punch 'em and stuff!

3. A persistent preference to play female roles in make-believe play.

THOSETHINGSWESAY: Actually, playing the girl during dress up is a smart and quick way to see the actual girls get undressed. To choose otherwise means seeing naked boys, which is totally... hetero, I guess, according to Focus on the Family..

4. A strong preference to spend time in the company of girls and participate in their games and other pastimes.

THOSETHINGSWESAY: If you're a boy... hanging out with girls is totally gay.

5. A susceptibility to be bullied by other boys, who may tease them unmercifully and call them “queer,” “fag” and “gay.”

THOSETHINGSWESAY: If bullies are saying your son is gay, chances are, they're saying you're gay too! Ya ain't gay, are ya? Are ya just gonna sit there while a buncha 7 year olds make generations of men in yer family gay? GETTAGUN!

6. A tendency to walk, talk, dress and even “think” effeminately.

THOSETHINGSWESAY: Even "think." See, cuz womens can't think, they can only "think." Us mens, we think without scare quotes. cf: women "voting."

7. A repeatedly stated desire to be — or insistence that he is — a girl.

THOSETHINGSWESAY: No I don't WANT to be a girl, it's just that you never bug my sister about her sexuality! What do you mean, you've never heard of Sappho?

If your child is experiencing several signs of gender confusion, professional help is available. It’s best to seek that help before your child reaches puberty.

THOSETHINGSWESAY: Life starts at conception. So does Gayosity.

“By the time the adolescent hormones kick in during early adolescence, a full-blown gender identity crisis threatens to overwhelm the teenager,” warns psychologist Dr. James Dobson. To compound the problem, many of these teens experience “great waves of guilt accompanied by secret fears of divine retribution.”

THOSETHINGSWESAY: Note that Dobson predicts that gay teens will experience "secret fears of divine retribution." Note also that the object of that retribution is not identified. It is possible that thinking teens will fear that God might smite parents idiotic enough to take James Dobson seriously. Rest easy, teens. God is neither merciful, nor an idiot. He will take his retribution on James Dobson, a man you care nothing about.

If your child has already reached puberty, change is difficult, but it’s not too late.

THOSETHINGSWESAY: They've made amazing strides with electroshocks! 50 years ago.

O'Reilly Humiliated (without falafel)

It's subtle, but go here and get the video to see Bill O'Reilly, trying with all of his falafel-wielding might, get humiliated by Dolores Kesterson, a woman who lost her son in Iraq.

Added bonus -- it seems like he thought that this woman would speak out against Cindy Sheehan, who is right now in vigil outside of Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, demanding audience so that she can get an explanation about why her son is dead.

Bill's interview "technique" doesn't need that much explication, except that, as a journalist, I feel compelled to tell you all that this is NOT how we do our jobs. Bill tries to ambush her, asking her idiotic questions like whether she prefers George Bush or Michael Moore (she blows him away by pointing out that Moore isn't responsible for invading other countries) and Bill tries to overwhelm her with facts about Iraq, which Kesterson deals with rather well, I think... he says Saddam broke UN rules. She points out that we didn't exactly stop him from committing attrocities against his own people after Gulf War I.

Remember, when you're watching this... Bill is on TV and radio daily. This is what he does. Kesterson is a mother, with a life of her own that has nothing to do with media. For anyone who cares, it's my opinion that a good and ethical journalist should always take the media experience of the subject into account during an interview. The less experience the subject has, the more the journalist is obligated to not manipulate the conversation in any way. If it's between a journalist and major company executive, both with decades of experience, it's a free for all. A journalist interviewing a random person on the street has a different obligation. Now, Bill is calm in this clip, he doesn't lose his temper, but... watch him. Is he trying to manipulate Kesterson? I say that he is.

Good thing she was too smart for him.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Unintelligent Poll Design

As a follow-up to Mike's post on intelligent design, I'd like to point out that the American Family Association is running a hilariously slanted push poll about intelligent design. If you think intelligent design is silly or even outright pernicious, please go unsettle their results a little bit (right not, 96% are in favor of it) by voting, "No, I believe that evolution is the only theory that should be taught in schools."

On Belief in Heaven and Dead Soldiers

Cindy Sheehan's son died in Iraq and now she wants President Bush to look her in the eye and to try to convince her that the war is worth her son's life. Right now, she's protesting outside of Bush's Crawford, Texas Ranch, seeking an audience.

The White House has offered a "blah blah blah, can't run from terrorists" response. I'd be impressed if Bush had the guts to meet with her. She says that they have met once, in the presence of other families who have lost soldiers, but that Bush "changed the subject" when she brought up her belief that her son died in a war that we shouldn't have started in the first place.

This afternoon, Wolf Blitzer asked Virginia Senator, and possible Republican presidential candidate, George Allen, what he would say to Sheehan. To his credit, Allen said that Bush should take the meeting. But, when it came to what Allen would say, how he would defend the war in Iraq and how he would comfort a grieving mother, one bit he threw in was that her son is in heaven and that she'll see him again, when she goes to heaven.

I find such words disturbing when they come from the mouths of people who can order their fellow citizens into war. I'll take Allen at his word -- he believes in heaven and apparently believes that God is so behind us invading in Iraq that if you get killed over there, you get to march through the Pearly Gates. Bush probably believes the same thing.

You see the problem here? These guys aren't facing mortality. They can believe whatever they want but when you make decisions that can end other people's lives, you kind of have to put your own beliefs aside and assume that death is... final. You have to assume that Ms. Sheehan will never see her son again.

I don't think that one of the virtues of religious faith, as people tend to understand them, is that it let's you avoid the real impact of a soldiers death because it provides the comforting story that the dead soldier is in God's hands and that all will eventually be made right, even by the grieving mother, when God reuinites the family in his heavenly kingdom.

The real virtue of religious faith, on the part of those who makes decisions about wars and who will fight them, is that if they view life as a divine gift, they should be more reluctant than anyone to actually start wars.

Maybe I'm taking Allen too literally. But I really do fear that a lot of the people in charge have this little "everything will be all right in heaven" idea in their heads. And I think that idea is making it easier for them to get innocent folks killed.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Intelligent Design?

The President wants Intelligent Design theory taught in public schools. This is just one of those moments when compromise doesn't work. ID Theory basically accepts the ideas of post-Darwinian evolution, but also posits that the whole thing is just too complicated to have started off on its own, so there must be a God.

This is not a new argument. In fact, this is Aristotle's "prime mover." Everything exists must have a cause, the universe exists, therefor it has a cause, only God could cause the universe... You might notice that the phrase "only God could cause the universe" doesn't logically follow, but, hey, that's kind of why this kind of debate didn't end the second Aristotle finished talking.

Thing is, Americans kind of have a thing for compromises between extremists. In this case, on cursory inspection, it seems like the the evolutionists get their evolution and the religious get their God and we can all be happy.

Problem is, truthful information isn't supposed to necessarily make people happy. Truth is not beauty. It's often inconvenient for one person or another. I, for example, was really bad at math in high school. I never even got past pre-calc. I didn't like it. It made me so uncomfortable that I got problems wrong even when I darned well knew how to get the right answer, I used to freeze up. And, you know... not one math teacher ever tried to compromise with me, not even once. Nobody ever said, "Mike, I see why you think x = 6. Indeed, there's a certain elegance to your calculation and an esprit that seems to add, rather than detract, from th discipline. Why don't we just say that X = 6 AND the 23 that everybody around you got?" Never happened.

I had views of history, too. To me, Viet Nam draft dodgers are heros and should have been given ticker tape parades and then hookers. But no history teacher ever said, "Mike, your view of justice and rightness is so advanced, and, indeed, that would have been a great way to deal with Viet Nam draft dodgers, so... let's just say that happened!"

In the South, should we tell people that General Lee didn't surrender so much as "show mercy to Grant?" Should we tell Japanese students that Emperor Hirohito didn't want to be emperor of Japan anymore anyway and merely saw the Hiroshima and Nagasaki H-Bombings as an easy way to a quick retirement? Can Gore be in his second term as President, far as I'm concerned?

Certain matters don't benefit from compromise. Now, some will say that Evolution and other advanced scientific theories don't necessarily preclude the existence of God. This is true. In fact, most scientists, observing the world, are not even thinking about the implications for God in the system. But, Stephen Hawking remarked (I'm paraphrasing) in "A Brief History of Time," that while modern cosmology doesn't mean say there's no God, it also doesn't leave him a lot of room for fooling around. Sorry, it is what it is.

Of course, I can't prove the non-existence of God. I also can't prove that my life isn't an illusion and that I'm not in The Matrix. I can't prove that there isn't an Edenic Paradise on the far side of the moon that would dissapear if glimpsed by mortal eyes. But, if you take a basic philosophy class, or read nothing more complicated than "For Beginners..." comic books, you'll learn every quickly that you can't logically prove a negative. That means, it's on the people who say there is a God to prove it. If they want to say it's beyond proof and that belief is all that matters, fine. Teach that at home, or in church. Nothing taught in school should be beyond proof. Intelligent Design is just a fun, and pretty juvenile little game where you say, "Isn't it possible that God set Evolution in motion?" We can talk like that when we're stoned or fantasizing, but that's not the kind of thing you teach in school, as fact.

Probably, the Biblical literalists hate Intelligent Design as much as I do. I've read Genesis. The best you could do, to square it with ID, is to say that metaphorically, when Eve chose to take the Apple and God kicked the dynamic duo out of Eden, their environment changed and they evolved. But, that's pretty fraught with flaws. For one thing, it makes Evolution the result of human choice. And, for all the time I spend, straining in thought to evolve mutant powers, things don't work that way.

If they are going to teach ID, by the way, there's no reason to assume that it's "God" behind Evolution. Why not a sentient shade of the color blue? Why not an astral projection of L. Ron Hubbard? It could be anything, behind it all. I just hope she's hot and single.