Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Lighter Side of Street Protests

Oh, glory be! Bush may be tenacious and a touch dim-witted, but doggonit, he's no Torums Scarf Michael. Maybe these guys should surf over to Media Bistro to see if they can't scare up a copy editor who specializes in street protests. Considering the state of the journalism "job market," I sure people would be fighting over it. C'mon, throw a dog a bone.

(Image shamelessly stolen from Blunderford's fun blog.)

Revenge of Little Bird

Spectators at a Mexico City bullfight got more than they paid for, but perhaps slightly less than they deserved yesterday. Pajarito, a half-ton bull whose name, inexplicably, means "Little Bird," threw out the script (perhaps he got a peek at the final scene?) and took a detour into the stands where he gored several people and sent two to the hospital.

I suppose that's a little bit of karmic retribution for people who would pay good pesos to see an animal toyed with and then butchered for their amusement. Bloodsports have a tendency to get, well, bloody.

Sadly for Pajarito, he was put to the sword right there in the stands by one of the bullfighters, but not before he got in a few licks of his own. Some may say he got a chance to choose his own destiny, but others would say that's a load of bull.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Hamas Raises Red Flag

Ever since Hamas won the Palestinian Authority elections last Wednesday, there have been some unsettling rumblings coming from the Islamic terrorist/social welfare organization. None more bizarre than this one from Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar:
Israel must remove the two blue stripes from its national flag. The stripes on the flag are symbols of occupation. They signify Israel's borders stretching from the River Euphrates to the River Nile.
Actually, the Israeli flag was designed "to resemble a Jewish prayer shawl which traditionally has stripes." However, if you're going to make something up about the stripes representing boundaries that are bodies of water, a much more logical choice would have been the Mediterranean Sea on one side and the River Jordan on the other. It would be no less inflammatory to Palestinians and it comes much closer to representing the truth.

Something makes me wonder if Hamas is interested in stirring up more than just Palestinian emotions...

David Palmer for President

If you've never read the musings of ESPN's Bill Simmons on subjects ranging from the NBA to the relative merits of Beverly Hills 90210 and The O.C., do yourself a favor. I can say without qualification that he is the finest trashy-TV-obsessed sports columnist in the universe.

This letter about 24 landed in Bill's mailbag a few weeks ago:
I think I was actually more upset over the assassination of former President David Palmer on "24"...than I would have been if our actual president would have been assassinated. It was like I lost a member of my own family. Maybe I'm just screwed up, but I don't think so. Here is my question: If you forced every registered voter in America to watch seasons 1-4 on DVD, and convinced Dennis Haysbert to legally change his name to David Palmer, don't you think he would win in a landslide in 2008? I have bounced this question off several people and Palmer has every vote so far, and most would have voted for him over Bush and Kerry. — Ryan Desmond, Miami
I think you're on to something, Ryan. The thought of a Condi-Hillary faceoff gives a lot of people the chills. Maybe it's time to take action. Maybe it's time for A Real President—In Real Time.

The future of America is in our hands. It's your duty to sign this petition to draft Dennis Haysbert to run for president in 2008—as David Palmer. He wouldn't be the first actor in the White House and he certainly wouldn't be the first person just playing a role.

As Jack Bauer would say: Sign the petition. SIGN THE PETITION!!

Turning Black Gold Into Real Gold

The Exxon Mobil Corporation's profit numbers are in and they're staggering. The world's biggest oil company posted profits of $36.13 billion for 2005—that's the largest annual reported net income in U.S. history. Wondering who had the second largest income ever? That would be Exxon Mobil in 2004.

Nothing like a little sweetener for your Texas Tea, huh? Not that it's a surprise, but the mega-corporation "benefited from high oil and gas prices and demand for refined products." So much for the doom-and-gloom predictions for American energy concerns in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

When the going gets tough, the tough pass the pain along to the consumer, but at least Wall St. is happy. Think about that next time you have to write out a crippling check for your heating bill this winter.

Pod People

Like it or not, we're living in the age of the iPod. Apple has sold over 40 million units of this newfangled gadgetry (14 million in the last quarter of 2005 alone) and there's no end in sight. Let the backlash begin!

Apparently, there are some risks that come with iPod ownership (other than going broke, that is). First off, you could be walking down the street rocking out to the latest Nickelback single, which would make you easy prey for a mugger. Of course, you'd deserve to get your ass kicked for listening to Nickelback, but, on the upside, the mugger would be much less likely to steal your iPod if you were.

Another bit of alarmism for the iPod generation is actually just a dusted-off scare tactic from the golden age of the Sony Walkman: deafness. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, iPods and other such devices are capable of causing permanent damage to the hearing of our nation's hip, young, rich iPod owners. Pity.
Digital technology has made it possible to play music in these devices at loud volumes without the signal distortion produced by, say, a transistor radio. And Apple touts its newest iPods as being capable of holding up to 15,000 songs and being able to play for up to 20 hours on a fully charged battery. Therein lies potential for trouble.
If you listen to the Cassandras, it gets a whole lot worse than that. At stake is not merely our aural health, but our very culture as well. Again, this is not new. Back in 1987, Allan Bloom had this to say in The Closing of the American Mind: "As long as [young people] have the Walkman on, they cannot hear what the great tradition has to say. And, after its prolonged use, when they take it off, they find they are deaf." The deafness of which Bloom writes is, for the most part, a metaphysical affliction. Now some researchers from Britain are predicting a similar calamity for the iPod People.
The accessibility of music has meant that it is taken for granted and does not require a deep emotional commitment once associated with music appreciation.
That according to "music psychologist" Adrian North of the University of Leicester, who probably really, really loved Mott the Hoople and the kids today, they just don't have the passion, man. Among the researchers' other findings:
...because of greater accessibility through mass media, music was nowadays seen more as a commodity that is produced, distributed and consumed like any other. It could also account for the popularity of television talent competitions, particularly in Britain, which allow viewers from the "iPod generation" a rare chance to engage and appreciate music and live performances...
Yes, blame the iPods for that. Perhaps people see music as "a commodity that is produced, distributed and consumed like any other" because it is. Why don't these guys swith off BBC 4 long enough to have a look at what passes for music these days on MTV? It's all about grillz and lovely lady lumps, and God knows the Pussycat Dolls are some sort of atrocious result of a brainstorming session in the marketing department over at Maxim. Maybe, just maybe, people lack a deep emotional commitment to today's music because it is, with so few exceptions, utter, irredeemable crap. People don't like American Idol and Popstar because these shows are a "rare chance to engage and appreciate music." They like them because they are just as prepackaged and nonthreatening as the music they're downloading for free from Russian websites. The message of American Idol is not about authenticity, it's about the opposite. We can mold you into a star. No artistic vision necessary. Hey, maybe they'll sing a Kelly Clarkson song!

"The degree of accessibility and choice," says North, "has arguably led to a rather passive attitude towards music heard in everyday life." So what's the solution? Apparently, music should be less accessible. North sounds like a hipster who gets pissed off when his favorite underground band goes mainstream. [Insert lame-ass band here] can only be truly appreciated by smart people like me. The rest of you are posers! Yeah? Well I have the ultra-rare, limited-edition, numbered quintuple seven-inch box-set. And you only think of music as a commodity.

What North doesn't understand is that most people have a passive attitude toward music. So they're listening to a wider variety of stuff now. So what? Don't blame iPods, blame the shallow, repetitive, cannibalistic music industry instead. If only you were as smart and discerning as North. Then you'd know what I was talking about.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Gall of Galloway

There are those of you (ahem) who feel that it was unfair of me to lampoon Gorgeous George Galloway, scourge of the British Parliament, for his (quite ostentatiously public) personal life rather than for the quality of his political charms.

Well, I only had to wait about a day for a fresh story about the other disreputable side of his personhood to drop straight from heaven (or parts south). It seems that George has no problem making the effortless leap from Big Brother to blood brother in a fashion that is utterly in keeping with his political career. Wednesday, British tabloid The Sun released a video that appears to show Galloway paling around with Saddam Hussein's son, Uday, and referring to the blood-thirsty Baathist scion as "Excellency" in 1999. (As to how a newspaper released a video, I don't know.)

No pictures have been published on the web yet, but they're sure to fit naturally in with the rest of his fawning-over-bloody-dictators photo gallery once they are. MP G. is, after all, a frightening piece of work. He is proud to be a close, personal friend of Saddam flunky Tariq Aziz, whom he referred to as "an eminent diplomatic and intellectual person." He is a one-time opponent of Saddam Hussein (when it meant opposing the US, natch) but has since warmed to the killer's charms. In a speech, Galloway lionized Saddam, saying "Sir: I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability." That was in 1994. Several smiley photos of George and Saddam together can be found on the web (one of the few things Galloway has in common with nemesis Donald Rumsfeld).

An unreconstructed Stalinist, Galloway has long had a soft spot for brutal dictators—as long as they oppose the West (what he hates in Bush/Blair, he loves in others). He has been quoted as saying "the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life." That was in 2002, by the way.

Just a few months ago, Galloway traveled to Damascus to lick the boots of the brutal, Baathist leaders in Syria.
All dignified people in the world, whether Arabs or Muslims or others with dignity, are very proud of the speech made by president Bashar al-Assad a few days ago here in Damascus. For me he is the last Arab ruler, and Syria is the last Arab country. It is the fortress of the remaining dignity of the Arabs, and that's why I'm proud to be here.
No matter that a UN investigation puts the responsibility for former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination-by-car-bomb squarely at Assad's feet. These kinds of things just don't compute with Galloway.

It turns out he doesn't have to put on a red leotard and do the robot to make a fool of himself after all.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Separated at Birth?

Can't tell them apart? Me neither. On the left is Cleveland from the Fox show Family Guy. On the right (where else?) is his network brother and real-life sibling, Julian Phillips, of Fox & Friends Weekend demi-fame.

You really have to hear them talk to get the full effect.

Who knew the sliding-inexorably-toward-pornography half of Fox was so close to the sliding-inexorably-toward-McCarthyism side?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Galloway Does the Robot

Another high water mark for George Galloway, British member of Parliament and interpretive dancer.

Last week, the outspoken anti-war critic appeared on the UK version of Big Brother and pretended to be a cat lapping milk out of Rula Lensk's hands. This time, Galloway did an interpretive dance in a red leotard with Pete Burns, "the transvestite lead singer of 1980s band Dead or Alive."

Here was their task, set out by the Big Brother housemates:
The pair were amusingly instructed to express "the emotions of bewilderment when a small puppy won't come to you" through the medium of robotic dance.
And they say American TV is bad. Over in Britain, it looks like they're blurring the line between Big Brother and Fear Factor, prompting the question: just how real do we want reality to be? I always thought "political theater" meant something else.

Either Galloway's gone completely crazy (he was 9/10ths of the way there before Big Brother) or the Bush/Blair cabal has some pretty radical mind-altering agents reserved for people who make it onto their enemies list. That might explain Cindy Sheehan, after all.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Turkey Back From the Brink

A Turkish court dropped charges yesterday against Orhan Pamuk after being told by the justice ministry that it had no authority to try the novelist for "insulting Turkishness" under controversial Article 301 of the criminal code.

This marks a step back from the precipice for Turkey, a nation that figured to lose its tenuous hold on a possible accession to the European Union if it went ahead with the case against one of the world's best-know international writers (although the bird flu can't be helping on the EU front).

Pamuk had faced a possible three-year prison sentence for speaking openly about the Armenian genocide and Turkey's war with Kurdish guerrillas—both taboo subjects in Turkey today. This decision by the justice ministry saves Turkey from an inevitable embarrassment on the world stage, but it marks only the first step in a process of getting draconian laws such as Article 301—which prohibits publicly insulting Turkish National identity, the republic, or the Grand National Assembly—off the books entirely. While dropping the case is the right decision, it's a far cry from the Turkish government repudiating the mentality that underlies it.

This is a victory for freedom and liberty to be sure, but only just.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Osama's Gift to the Right

It has been more than a year since the last Osama Bin Laden audiotape. Or had been. Al-Jazeera is airing excerpts of a speech purportedly recorded by Bin Laden in December in which he offers the US a "long-term truce with fair conditions" (undisclosed in these excerpts)—a truce we can certainly count on because Bin Laden represents "a nation that God has forbidden to lie and cheat." Pity God stopped there. Strictures against murder would have been helpful, too. Alas.

It's highly doubtful that such a doctrinaire guy would actually be willing to compromise with the Great Satan, so there must be another angle here.
The voice on the tape said he was directing his message to the American people after polls showed that "an overwhelming majority of you want the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq but [Bush] opposed that desire."
That's either the most moronic thing I've ever heard or it's brilliant. What better way to ensure that the bloodletting continues unabated than for the king terrorist to publicly ally himself with the anti-war left and the soft middle in America? Dastardly!

And what a gift to the right! Now, whenever the next Sheehan or Murtha comes along, right-wingers can (not incorrectly on this point) paint them as being sympathetic to the aims of Osama Bin Laden. That should lighten the debate in this country.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Punch-Drunk Punditry

Updated 1/25

Christopher Hitchens is back in the news (see below), which tends to get people a little pissed off.

Remembering, as I'm sure many of you do, the "Sidney Blumenthal Event" and the irrational ire it provoked, I thought it might be fun to keep track of the ad hominem, alcoholism-related digs aimed at Hitch in the coming days. My assumption going in was that they would come from the right, but so far, it's people on the left who are slinging the mud. I guess some people draw the Bush-bashing line when it comes to embracing their erudite ex-friend.

I'll keep this post updated and if any of you out there have a good example to send me, the email link is on the right. Without further ado:
  • Antiwar.com has this to say about Hitchens "apparent recruitment" to their side: "...maybe that's just what comes of constantly soaking the brain in alcohol."

  • According to Have Skunk, Hitchens "...has yet to emerge from his alcohol-fueled delusions...." Again from the left. Hmmm.

  • Once more from the left with feeling: I am not impressed with Hitchens' joining in. Over the past five years or so he's either been drunk or totally unpredictable. I think that's a warning sign for the liver.

  • For good measure, something from the comments section of Atrios. One fine example: "Amusing enough that Christopher ("I say, can one's blood alcohol level really = 0.6?") Hitchens is one of the plaintiffs..."

  • Crimeny, some of us leftys are so touchy! From I can't believe it's not a democracy: "I read somewhere that Christopher Hitchens, that alcohol addled asshole, actually is a plaintiff in one of the suits. Go figure."

  • Here's a good one from Daily Kos, who describes Hitchens as a "crusty limey drunk and relentless Iraq cheerleader Christopher Hitchens." God bless the marketplace of ideas.

  • Finally, one from the right. Here's Jay Reding's flippant take: "If New York was in ruins, would it be right to say 'well, 10 million people got vaporized, but at least Christopher Hitchens could share martini recipes with someone in Kabul without the NSA listening in'? Most people would say no." Charming.
I suppose there's irony in the fact that Hitchens on his worst day is miles better than any of us on our best.

Stay tuned, there's much more to come...

Hitchens Takes On the NSA

According to yesterday's New York Times, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights have each filed suit against the National Security Agency "to determine whether the [domestic spying] operation was used to monitor 10 defense lawyers, journalists, scholars, political activists and other Americans with ties to the Middle East."

FOX News was all over the story this morning on a not-so-friendly FOX & Friends denouncing the suits and howling that the plaintiffs "can't prove" they were spied on. Perhaps FOX producers rushed to the story without their usual dose of morning caffeine, because it is plain from the Times article and from comments made by the ACLU that the purpose of the suit is to determine if such spying went on, not to contend that it did. To wit:
The lawsuits seek to answer one of the major questions surrounding the eavesdropping program: has it been used solely to single out the international phone calls and e-mail messages of people with known links to Al Qaeda, as President Bush and his most senior advisers have maintained, or has it been abused in ways that civil rights advocates say could hark back to the political spying abuses of the 1960's and 70's? "We don't have any direct evidence" that the plaintiffs were monitored by the security agency, said Ann Beeson, associate legal director for the A.C.L.U. "But the plaintiffs have a well-founded belief that they may have been monitored..." (Emphasis added by Captain Obvious.)
There you have it. The ACLU, in their own statement, note that the plaintiffs all have considerable contact via phone and email to people in the Middle East. "Because of the nature of their calls and e-mails, they believe their communications are being intercepted by the NSA under the spying program. The program is disrupting their ability to talk with sources, locate witnesses, conduct scholarship, and engage in advocacy." It is unclear at this point what exactly constitutes the plaintiffs' "well-founded" belief that they are being spied on. That would ostensibly come out in court proceedings, but there is a distinct possibility that these suits will never see the inside of a courtroom, particularly as Bush stacks the courts with unabashed fans of presidential prerogative.

The ACLU suit is of particular interest to me because my old professor, journalist Christopher Hitchens, is named as a plaintiff. (The other plaintiffs are Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institute, NYU professor and Afghanistan expert Barnett R. Rubin, American Prospect senior editor Tara McKelvey, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and, for some reason, Greenpeace.)

This nip at the heels of the administration will come as a surprise to a lot of people who think that Hitchens, because of his support for both the Iraq war and the invasion of Afghanistan, has turned into a loony White House lapdog like Norman Podhoretz did during the Reagan administration. It's refreshing (and instructive for those of you who may have made snap judgments) to see Hitchens take a stand clearly demonstrating that his loyalties are tied to effecting real, positive change in the Middle East, and not to this administration in particular. He spells it out in a statement on the ACLU's website.
Although I am named in this suit on my own behalf, I am motivated to join it by concerns well beyond my own. I have been frankly appalled by the discrepant and contradictory positions taken by the Administration in this matter. First, the entire existence of the NSA's monitoring was a secret, and its very disclosure denounced as a threat to national security. Then it was argued that Congress had already implicitly granted the power to conduct warrantless surveillance on the territory of the United States, which seemed to make the reason for the original secrecy more rather than less mysterious. (I think we may take it for granted that our deadly enemies understand that their communications may be intercepted.) This makes it critically important that we establish an understood line, and test the cases in which it may or may not be crossed.
This has always been the sticking point for me. Terrorists know they may be monitored. In fact, they know the US government will go to great lengths to monitor them. Why, then, such secrecy over the existence of the NSA program? It makes a lot more sense if the program is designed to cast its net far wider than Al Qaeda associates in the US—and far wider than the public would tolerate.
We are, in essence, being asked to trust the state to know best. What reason do we have for such confidence? The agencies entrusted with our protection have repeatedly been shown, before and after the fall of 2001, to be conspicuous for their incompetence and venality. No serious reform of these institutions has been undertaken or even proposed.... The better the ostensible justification for an infringement upon domestic liberty, the more suspicious one ought to be of it. We are hardly likely to be told that the government would feel less encumbered if it could dispense with the Bill of Rights. But a power or a right, once relinquished to one administration for one reason, will unfailingly be exploited by successor administrations, for quite other reasons. It is therefore of the first importance that we demarcate, clearly and immediately, the areas in which our government may or may not treat us as potential enemies.
It is increasingly clear that the Bush administration's definition of an "enemy" is anyone who disagrees with them. Therefore, it is particularly important that someone like Christopher Hitchens, who can hardly be described as a knee-jerk critic of the administration, has attached his name to this lawsuit. It will be interesting to how this plays out in right-wing pundit land. Bush sycophants will either need to maintain that no untoward domestic spying occurred, or they'll have to argue that it's no big deal (like they did with torture, once the evidence became insurmountable). I fully expect the right to attempt to portray Hitchens as an attention-seeking, unstable alcoholic, just like the left did after l’affaire Sid Blumenthal. Just don't forget that ad hominem attacks tell you more about the desperation of the attacker than they do about the target. For now, there is plausible deniability on the right. If the claims in these lawsuits are backed up with evidence, then we'll see who's on the side of truth and, more importantly, who's not.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Politics of Blogging and War

I got a comment from Dayv, aka Professor Booty (maybe?), aka Strange Detractor that I wanted to publicly respond to. It's not to put him on the spot, or because the Hearty Handful is clamoring for my wisdom on the topic—it just made me reflect on what I'm about and where I'm coming from.
Interesting. It's like you're a liberal on domestic issues, but a mean-spirited conservative when it comes to foreign policy and war.
The comment was left on my recent post about the feline proclivities of one George Galloway, MP, UK (a hero to some on the left). Now honestly, taking a pot shot at George doesn't make me a conservative, it just means I can't resist an easy target.

Apart from the Galloway post, I wondered, what could give Davy the impression that I'm a mean-spirited conservative on foreign policy and war? Taking a look at the posts currently on the front page of (parenthetical remarks), I:
  • poke fun at Pat Robertson, twice
  • make a terrible joke at Dick Cheney's expense
  • proclaim my discomfort at the Iranian president's blatant antisemitism (combating antisemitism used to be a liberal position, alas)
  • wink knowingly at another blogger's suggestion that the president of Uzbekistan could, because of his experience in particularly ghastly forms of torture, add something of substance to an unconstitutional run for the presidency by George Bush in 2008
  • call Karl Rove a boob (obliquely)
  • call for the end to criminal proceedings against a Turkish novelist who is being charged as a prisoner of conscience
  • refer unflatteringly to genital-shock torture at Gitmo
  • vigorously question the logic of right-wing claims of an explicit connection between Iraq and 9/11.
All in all, not a very conservative collection. I'm no Cindy Sheehan, mind, but I'm not sure I deserve to be portrayed as the opposite. Still, the only thing on here that might give the impression that I'm a cranky right-winger is the Galloway swipe (which I stand behind, by the way). The problem with Galloway is he's a grandstander and a hypocrite. So is Michael Moore. So is Ann Coulter. They all offer easy solutions to difficult problems and then tell you the other side is evil, or worse.

One problem: there are no easy answers. I hate it when the left offers them and I hate it when the right does, too, and I reserve the right to call "bullshit" on anyone I want, sacred cow or not. I was reminded of a post on Andrew Sullivan's blog from a few days ago:
To the right, I've drifted "left" because I want a competent war. To the left, I'm self-deluded because I object to Kennedy's low blows [during the Alito hearings]. The space for any thought between these two polar partisanships is getting harder and harder to find.
I think that this "space for thought" is the only place worth exploring. Here's my question for Dayv, and the rest of you, as well: Don't you?

Galloway Acts Like a Pussy

Cat, that is.

British MP George Galloway, know for his extreme anti-war positions and his adversarial stance toward the Bush Administration (not to mention an unabashed love and respect for dictators like Saddam Hussein), went on the British version of Big Brother and pantomimed a pussy cat in a move that raised eyebrows around the UK and beyond.

Galloway, perhaps mistaking Rula Lensk for Saddam, even prostrated himself before the has-been actress and pretended to lap milk out of her hands and then got scratched behind the ears.

It's not like he had a great deal of credibility before this, but the anti-war set might want to start casting around for another firebrand. This one's more content taking a nap in the sun.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Pat Panned in Promised Land

Israel has announced it is suspending all contact with Pat Robertson following the 700 Club guru's latest adventure in verbal diarrhea.

Which naturally leads to this question: What the hell was Israel doing having contact with Rev. Pat on any kind of official level in the first place? The Bush administration runs its list of Supreme Court nominees by Robertson, and now this? Why does anybody give this lunatic any kind of political leg to stand on at all?

Sure, Pat and his nutso fundamentalist friends are in favor of Israel gaining sovereignty over all of the territory of the biblical promised land, but it's only so Jesus can come back and wipe the Jews and all the other heathens off the face of the earth (who needs Iran, now?).

Definitely not kosher.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Kim Jong Gone?

According to the Associated Press, the whereabouts of North Korea's Dear Leader Kim Jong Il are currently unknown. He could be in Russia, but speculation is more centered around a possible visit to China. The only sure thing is he isn't hanging out with Trey Parker or Matt Stone.

Where's Kim?

All of this makes me a little bit queasy. I lived in New York City long enough to know that when the rats start scurrying out of the sewer, you don't want to stick around and see what happens next. We should all be on edge when the leaders of power-mad, paranoid rogue states that possess nuclear weapons start disappearing into secure, undisclosed locations. But enough about Dick Cheney (ba-dum-cha!).

In all likelihood there's nothing nefarious about Kim's jaunt abroad. You can get plenty of weapons-grade plutonium and all the other fissile goodies you want in Pyongyang, but you just can't get decent Chinese take-out.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Iran's Holocaust Conference

Iranian president Mahmoud "Israel Should Be Wiped Off the Map" Ahmadinejad has asked the association of Islamic Journalists of Iran to put together an international conference on the Holocaust. It's nice to see the long-standing tradition of Persian scholarship being applied to such an important topic. One can only assume it will be conducted within the strictures of disinterested academic debate.

Here's a statement from an Islamic Journalists of Iran spokesman:
[President Ahmadinejad] has placed at the centre of international attention, a very important question on the truthfulness of the version that Europe and the Zionists have imposed on the world on the murder of Jews during the years of the great war.
Whoops, a bit of a stumble out of the starting blocks, there. But hey, the president of Iran is only interested in having a truly open debate, unfettered by the anti-revisionist laws that predominate in Europe. That way, according to the IJI spokesman, Iran can offer a "free and democratic platform to the historians to examine in-depth this myth" (emphasis added to show just how crazily anti-Semetic this really is). On a positive note, this marks the first time in years that Iran has called for anything to be either free or democratic. Baby steps.

If the Holocaust conference goes well, Ahmadinejad next plans to convene an international conference of law enforcement officials to help O.J. search for Nicole's real killer.

Hell on Wheels

Headline: Schwarzenegger Receives Stitches After LA Traffic Accident.

Ahnold was apparently riding his Harley near his home in LA when a vehicle backed out of a driveway in front of him. According to his spokesperson, Margita Thompson, "the governor was unable to avoid the vehicle in his path and collided with it at a low speed." The governator was said to have received 15 stitches in his lip.

Details are a bit sketchy, but St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica did release the following photo of Arnold before he was patched up by the doctors:

Schwarzenegger's son, who was along for the thrill-ride in the motorcycle's sidecar (originally designed to carry Danny Devito), was uninjured. The governor is expected to resume his duties tomorrow and the accident should not affect his busy schedule of exploding the California budget or denying stays of execution.

Upon reflection, we should all be thankful Schwarzenegger wasn't driving his Humvee or the headline would have been much different: Terminator Kills Dozens in Slow-Speed Crash. It would be the first Californians killed by Arnold in, oh, about a month.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Oh My God, Shut Up!

The "Reverend" Pat Robertson is back at it, ventriloquizing God with his oh-so-holy blasphemy.
The Reverend Pat Robertson says Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's massive stroke could be God's punishment for giving up Israeli territory....Robertson said God's message is, "This land belongs to me. You'd better leave it alone."
We already know the Hurricane Katrina was caused by sin and evil goings on in New Orleans. I wonder if "good" old Pat thinks the West Virginia miners were smitten for raping God's earth of its precious coal?

If you're ever looking for conclusive proof that god is most emphatically not striking down the world's evildoers, Pat's continued existence is it.

Torn on Torts

On the one hand, this fills me with a girlish glee that borders on the inappropriate.

On the other hand, no better argument for tort reform that this has ever been advanced. Where are all those Republicans who are soft on violence in the nation's courtrooms now?

My 'Yangi Yil' Resolution

It's nice to see Blogenfreude over at Agitprop giving a shout-out to Uzbekistan in a recent post. Honestly, there are far too few of them in Weblogistan. Appropriately, I had a parenthetical remark about the cozy Central Asian dictatorship back in June.

I have lost my shoe so I will have to bang my fist on the table instead

Blogenfreude has chosen Uzbek president Islam Karimov as the nightmare running mate for Bush's 2008 presidential bid (violence to the 22nd Amendment is foreseen). Karimov may not speak English very well (or Uzbek for that matter), but he does bring some useful people-boiling expertise to the fore. Blogenfreude has even created a nifty campaign sticker for the '08 campaign which is almost as awesome as the bumper sticker I imagined for the 2008 assault on the White House. The only problem I can foresee is that Karimov is unlikely to settle for Veep duties (although that seems to be where all the torture-and-killing action is these days).

My New Year's resolution this year was to not have a New Year's resolution (although I quite like this one: Quit eating fudge-covered Oreos on the treadmill). Blogenfreude has changed my mind. I'm going to mention Uzbekistan more often, and why stop there? All of Central Asia is in my sights, and beyond. Starting next week, after a little R&R to recuperate from all the holiday-season R&R, I'm going to start a series called "Crazy-Assed Dictator of the Week." Karimov is mighty tempting for round one, but Turkmenbashi of Turkmenistan is quite tempting, too. Then again, there's always an old classic like Kim Jong Il. Which Crazy-Eyez Killah will I choose? You're just going to have to wait and see. Sure the suspense is like torture, but don't forget: being boiled alive in an Uzbek prison is way more like torture.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Yo-Yo Dieting

You might want to put down those pork rinds.

A new study appearing in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found that, contrary to the apocalyptic pronouncements of the late Dr. Atkins and his ilk, there can be significant weight loss benefits from a low-fat, high-carb diet.

Perhaps this will prompt some dieters to trade in their halitosis and dangerously high cholesterol levels in favor of a few more trips to the Olive Garden. Anything to avoid the only formula for weight loss that really works: eat less, exercise more. It just goes to show, fads may come and go, but fat is here to stay.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Bloggers: Scourge of Civilization

"Blog" was Merriam-Webster's word of the year for 2004 and the popularity of weblogs had been in full bloom for some time before that. It is altogether fitting that now, at the start of 2006, blogs should filter down to the consciousness of Kathleen Parker, a syndicated columnist who writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

Her overlords at Tribune Media Services call her "A maverick conservative [who] offers readers the best of both worlds: the contacts of a Washington insider with the 'Is-it-me-or-is-this-crazy?' perspective of an outsider." In "Lord of the Blogs," an op-ed column that ran on December 28, it ain't crazy so it has to be her.

In broad strokes, Parker dismisses the blogosphere as the playground of Lord of the Flies savages who have no right to opine on the news because they lack proper formal training and, apparently, souls. The fact that so many of us do what we do (gasp) for free further proves our worthlessness in her eyes.

Before opening the flood gates of irrational anger, however, Parker whitewashes this sepulcher with a paean to the joys of the Internet.
What is wonderful and miraculous about the Internet needs little elaboration. We all marvel at the ease with which we can access information—whether reading government documents previously available only to a few, or tracking down old friends and new enemies.
Yes, there's that, but there's good stuff, too. She fails to mention shopping, porn, a place for Anne Rice fans to meet without risking exposure to the sun, porn and the ability for people from all over the globe to come together, exchange ideas and comment on all that information we can now access so easily (like free copies of columns by syndicated columnists, for example). Since it took Parker until now to weigh in on the "dangers" of the newfangled blogosphere, I guess we can cut her some slack in this department.

After extolling the virtues of the Internet, however, it's time for Parker to stick it to the bloggers. You may have noticed the phrase "new enemies" in the quotation above. Who could they be?
I don't mean al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden, but the less-visible, insidious enemies of decency, humanity and civility—the angry offspring of narcissism's quickie marriage to instant gratification.

Kathleen 'Blogs Will Kill You' Parker

And I thought maverick conservatives were against the kind of moral relativism that allows one to mention bloggers in the same breath as Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Certainly there's no question that some bloggers are narcissists—the type of narcissists who might want to have their little pictures and bylines printed next to their is-it-me-or-is-this-crazy profundities in a couple hundreds newspapers every day, for example—but there are a heck of a lot of bloggers who do their work anonymously. In the mainstream media, while the sources may be anonymous, the writers rarely are. Strangely, Parker doesn't see anything narcissistic about this in the least. How, dare I say, narcissistic of her.

One thing Parker doesn't like about blogs is their patina of "power untempered by restraint and accountability." Toilers in the mainstream media, on the other hand, are virtual philosopher-saints who police each other (Jayson Blair, she says, is proof that this system works) and think only of serving their communities. (They also sell readers and viewers to advertisers, but she doesn't see fit to mention that.)
Newspapers are filled with carpal-tunneled wretches, overworked and underpaid, who suffer near-pathological allegiance to getting it right.
Somebody call Charles Dickens! While that may be an unflattering way for Parker to describe the interns and copy editors who undoubtedly type her columns into Quark, it has the added distinction of being wildly inaccurate. I worked for a number of years at a major newspaper (far bigger than the Sentinel), and I can say that, just as in the world of blogs, there are all kinds of people working in the mainstream media. Some of them are just as Parker describes, some of them not even close. Paint with that broad a brush and you're bound to gloss over a few things here and there.

"Bloggers," Parker complains, "persist no matter their contributions or quality." I am tempted to say the same thing is true of Andy Rooney, but that would just be glib, like much of Parker's column. The truth is, bloggers can persist for as long as they choose to go on writing, but the same can't be said for their readers. Every blogger has a more-or-less equal chance to gain an audience (something that could never be said about "mainstream" journalists), but that audience must be earned and then maintained, and this is usually done on the quality and consistency of the blogger's work. Considerations like whose father plays golf with the publisher's best frat buddy, who's Gloria Vanderbilt's son or who's shtupping which editor rarely enter into the mix online.

One thing that really riles Parker is the substandard content churned out by bloggers.
Some bloggers...offer superb commentary, but most babble, buzz and blurt like caffeinated adolescents competing for the Ritalin generation's inevitable senior superlative: Most Obsessive-Compulsive.
(Note to Parker: Something you should have learned in the 5th grade is that while alliteration can be clever and whimsical, it is by no means always so.) Anyone who has ever seen or read Robert Novak on a good day—or Tucker Carlson even on a bad one—knows that the blogosphere holds no monopoly on infantile tantrums. Sure, plenty of blogs are worse than worthless. Can the same not be said of the mainstream media?


But Parker is not interested in the journalistic ideal of balance in this case. Without getting into geese or ganders, it's safe to say blogs get the short end of the stick in her rendering.
Each time I wander into blogdom, I'm reminded of the savage children stranded on an island in William Golding's "Lord of the Flies." Without adult supervision, they organize themselves into rival tribes, learn to hunt and kill, and eventually become murderous barbarians in the absence of a civilizing structure.
First with al Qaeda and now it's "murderous barbarians"? She's certainly puts the "hyper" in hyperbole, but what she's describing is a problem with opinion journalism in general, not just blogs. When I think of belligerent partisan hacks, I immediately think of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, Michael Moore and Al Franken, the entire FOX News staff. How is this in any way special to blogs? It sounds like a standard Sunday morning on the networks to me.

Embedded in the hysterical quote above is a major theme of Parker's infuriatingly condescending editorial and, perhaps, its hidden agenda as well. Bloggers are children without adult supervision.
Plenty smart but lacking in wisdom, they possess the power of a forum, but neither the maturity nor humility that years of experience impose.
Elsewhere she worries that bloggers "have grabbed the mike and seized the stage, a privilege granted not by years in the trenches, but by virtue of a three-pronged plug and the miracle of WiFi." What it all comes down to is this: Parker and her friends likely spent their (or their parents') hard-earned money going to journalism school (where they teach you how to write topic sentences and not to tell lies—a couple more things you should have learned by 5th grade). They "paid their dues" and now they're jealously guarding the clubhouse, intent on barring anyone who tries to slip in the side door. I can almost muster a little sympathy for someone who sounds so much like an old horse-and-buggy driver circa 1905. As she feels her grip slipping, as the paradigm shifts and crumbles around her, Parker can do nothing but cling to the ancien regime of the mainstream press, fiercely loyal to "the way it's done."

The irony in all of this is that Parker employs the extended metaphor of Lord of the Flies but doesn't recognize her own animalistic need to show her dominance by rubbing her supposed superiority in the faces of the less powerful and less deserving. She ruffles her feathers, puffs out her chest and then squawks nonsense that exhibits neither maturity nor humility: "Incivility is their weapon and humanity their victim." So blogs are victimizing humanity now? Forget war, disease and pestilence; wipe out blogs and you will save humanity. You may come down off that horse now.

Parker makes it clear at the end of her column that she's not talking about all bloggers.
I mean no disrespect to the many brilliant people out there—professors, lawyers, doctors, philosophers, scientists and other journalists who also happen to blog.
As long as you're a professional of some kind, you're fine. The opinions of the great unwashed masses of normal people, however, aren't worth a thing. For Parker, who seems more conservative and less maverick with each passing moment, class and status are what really count in the end. It doesn't matter what you have to say. What's important is that you exhibit the correct social markers in order to appear to be worth listening to.

For those who don't meet Parker's arbitrary standards, only one thing will do: oblivion.
...we should beware and resist the rest of the ego-gratifying rabble who contribute only snark, sass and destruction. We can't silence them, but for civilization's sake—and the integrity of information by which we all live or die—we can and should ignore them.
First of all, some of the best blogs out there specialize in snark and sass. Without them the Internet would be as boring as, well, the Orlando Sentinel. Second of all, did I read that right?! Blogs are a danger to civilization itself? I guess they don't teach a sense of proportion at journalism school. Either that or she's still working her way through a potent batch of egg nog left over from Christmas.
Listed on BlogShares