1.31.2004

Georgia conservatives seek to ban "evolution": Georgia is considering altering its statewide science curriculum to ban the word "evolution." According to Republican school superintendent Kathy Cox, the concept of evolution can still be taught but, if amended, the curriculum will refer to it as "biological changes over time." In a 2003, Georgia ranked 41st among all states in terms of student "well-being," and in 2002, the state's SAT scores were the second-worst in the nation. Don't educators in Georgia have something better to do than nix "evolution" from their lesson plans?

Update 2/1: Former president and Georgia resident Jimmy Carter issued a statement saying he was embarrassed by the proposal. "The existing and long-standing use of the word 'evolution' in our state's textbooks has not adversely affected Georgians' belief in the omnipotence of God as creator of the universe. There can be no incompatibility between Christian faith and proven facts concerning geology, biology, and astronomy," he said. "There is no need to teach that stars can fall out of the sky and land on a flat Earth in order to defend our religious faith."
Voynich Manuscript: With the obsessiveness of Adolph W├Âlfli, the beauty of medieval illuminated manuscripts, and the schematic wonder of Paul Laffoley, the Voynich Manuscript is a stunning work of art. But it's also an unsolved mystery:
In 1912, the antiquarian book dealer Wilfrid M. Voynich bought a number of mediaeval manuscripts from an undisclosed location in Europe. Among these was a lavishly illustrated manuscript codex of 234 pages, written in an unknown script.

Voynich took the MS to the United States and started a campaign to have it deciphered. Now, almost 100 years later, the Voynich manuscript still stands as probably the most elusive puzzle in the world of cryptography. Not a single word of this 'Most Mysterious Manuscript', written probably in the second half of the 15th Century, can be understood.
Details from the manuscript here. (Via Cabinet.)
Everybody Loves Stereotypes: Having spent last night at a biker/tiki bar with a Filipino-American friend who boozily excoriated the racist appropriation of his Polynesian heritage (we were just down the street from Dusty's Dagos, a bar that sells Italian sandwiches), this story caught my eye: Urban Outfitters has a line of shirts that regurgitates an old stereotype. While the one that reads "Everyone Loves an Irish Girl" was adorned with shamrocks, the "Everyone Loves a Jewish Girl" version is illustrated with dollar signs and purses.

Nike bomb: Nike recently issued a press release stating they had nothing to do with an internet ad that links the company with terror in the Middle East. In the ad, a sneaker is visible in the foreground as bomb squad members examine a bloody stain on the concrete. The headline reads "You may not survive the blast. But your shoes will."

War games: The US Marines use the videogame Doom in their training, and the Department of Defense uses SimsNet. Now the Army's getting into the game with America's Army: The Official US Army Game. Watch this graphic footage of Apache attack helicopters killing Iraqis with 30mm cannons and you'll see how the game metaphor plays out in actual combat scenarios. Whee.

Artists I'm watching: Vancouver artist Brian Jungen fashions Nike Air Jordans into tribal masks and other motifs of northwest First Nation cultures—seemingly a depiction of the new consumer tribalism and the erosion of cultural identity brought on by the commodity culture. Work samples here, here, and here. Chicago-based artist Siebren Versteeg uses technology to comment on media and globalization. In Dynamic Ribbon Device he uses a net-connected computer to typeset a live AP wire newsfeed into a scrolling version of Coca-Cola’s “ribbon” logo.
Bush speaks: Ribs and ribs alone! The following is a January 22 press release that's posted on the White House web site. I'm not sure if the president's handlers are working on the downhome image thing, or if it's a "f*&! you" to the press, or merely a plug for the pork industry, but it sure seems out of place amid policy statements and speech transcripts:
Remarks by the President to the Press Pool
Nothin' Fancy Cafe
Roswell, New Mexico
11:25 A.M. MST

THE PRESIDENT: I need some ribs.

Q Mr. President, how are you?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm hungry and I'm going to order some ribs.

Q What would you like?

THE PRESIDENT: Whatever you think I'd like.

Q Sir, on homeland security, critics would say you simply haven't spent enough to keep the country secure.

THE PRESIDENT: My job is to secure the homeland and that's exactly what we're going to do. But I'm here to take somebody's order. That would be you, Stretch -- what would you like? Put some of your high-priced money right here to try to help the local economy. You get paid a lot of money, you ought to be buying some food here. It's part of how the economy grows. You've got plenty of money in your pocket, and when you spend it, it drives the economy forward. So what would you like to eat?

Q Right behind you, whatever you order.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm ordering ribs. David, do you need a rib?

Q But Mr. President --

THE PRESIDENT: Stretch, thank you, this is not a press conference. This is my chance to help this lady put some money in her pocket. Let me explain how the economy works. When you spend money to buy food it helps this lady's business. It makes it more likely somebody is going to find work. So instead of asking questions, answer mine: are you going to buy some food?

Q Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, good. What would you like?

Q Ribs.

THE PRESIDENT: Ribs? Good. Let's order up some ribs.

Q What do you think of the democratic field, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: See, his job is to ask questions, he thinks my job is to answer every question he asks. I'm here to help this restaurant by buying some food. Terry, would you like something?

Q An answer.

Q Can we buy some questions?

THE PRESIDENT: Obviously these people -- they make a lot of money and they're not going to spend much. I'm not saying they're overpaid, they're just not spending any money.

Q Do you think it's all going to come down to national security, sir, this election?

THE PRESIDENT: One of the things David does, he asks a lot of questions, and they're good, generally.
(Thanks, Ben.)

1.27.2004

Dear Friends, I'm swamped. Until I'm not, may I direct you to the excellent news portal Cursor?

1.25.2004

Media Concentration 101: Free Press runs a series of articles on the three ways corporate media concentration affects our lives: by determining our political fate, bombarding us with violence, and shrinking the number of stories we see.

War Profiteering 101: The Institute for Southern Studies runs an excellent series on the wonderful business opportunities the war in Iraq has brought to a select few companies. Don't miss "OCCUPATION, INC.," on the "reconstruction racket."

Logo Design 101: Graphic Design USA runs down the list of trends in corporate logo design, from Monsanto and BP's green approach to interlocking droplets a la Cingular.

Get Your War On! The State of the Union edition.

1.24.2004

Appointocracy not democracy: The White House's plan for transferring power to the Iraqis gives lip service to democracy but, as Naomi Klein writes, is essentially an appointocracy: "Iraqi sovereignty will be established by appointees appointing appointees to select appointees to select appointees. Add the fact that Bremer was appointed to his post by President Bush and Bush to his by the US Supreme Court, and you have the glorious new democratic tradition of the appointocracy: rule by an appointee's appointee's appointees' appointees' appointees' selectees." What she thinks the administration's aims are really about? "For the White House, the only way for its grand economic plan to continue is for its military occupation to end: only a sovereign government, unbound by the Hague and Geneva conventions, can legally sell off Iraq's assets."

"I don't think they ever existed." David Kay, the just-resigned CIA official who led the hunt for Saddam's WMDs, now admits that a significant chemical and biological weapons program probably never existed in Iraq in the 1990s, casting the legitimacy of the war into even further doubt. But what about "weapons of mass destruction–related program activities" Bush talked about in the State of the Union?

1.23.2004

Howlin' Howard: Howard Dean's infamous yearrrgh-rich concession speech in Iowa is making good fodder for cut-and-paste artists. Here's a site sampling said sound collages, plus a remix of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" to include Dean's war-whoop.

Isn't war great? Emphasizing that he's not a war monger, US General Peter Schoomaker says that war is "useful": "There is a huge silver lining in this cloud [the attacks of September 11]. War is a tremendous focus... Now we have this focusing opportunity, and we have the fact that [terrorists] have actually attacked our homeland, which gives it some oomph."

Deserter: Michael Moore called George W. Bush a deserter for leaving his post for 12 months as a Guardsman in Texas in 1972-73. During a recent interview with Wesley Clark, Peter Jennings called such a claim "reckless" and asked Clark if he was going to distance his campaign from the filmmaker, despite the fact that no one has produced evidence to the contrary. Clark's admirable response: "Well I think Michael Moore has the right to say whatever he feels about this." Hopefully, the exchange will resurrect an issue the press hasn't mentioned since it first surfaced in the Boston Globe in 2000.

1.21.2004

Statements on the State of the Union: The New York Times reports that, about Bush's speech to the nation last night, "unsurprisingly, he gave himself  high marks." A glance at the editorial pages of major papers around the region seems to say otherwise. A quick rundown:

The New York Times: "The president's domestic policy comes down to one disastrous fact: his insistence on huge tax cuts for the wealthy has robbed the country of the money it needs to address its problems and has threatened its long-term economic security. Everything else is beside the point."

The Washington Post: "Mr. Bush offered deserved tribute to the sacrifices of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen in Iraq. But he provided no accounting of his mistaken or exaggerated allegations about Iraq's weapons in his State of the Union address one year ago. Instead he tried to cover the gap between what he described and what has been found with a brief and tortured reference to 'weapons-of-mass-destruction-related program activities.' ...In the face of record deficits, a costly new prescription drug program, and mounting costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was as breathtaking as it was unsurprising that Mr. Bush repeated his call to make the tax cuts permanent."

The Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Bush didn't tell it straight. The state of the union is weaker than it should be and certainly weaker than it was when he took office. His wrongheaded foreign and domestic policies are to blame...This administration entered office enjoying the prospect of unprecedented federal surpluses totaling almost $6 trillion. It proceeded to waste those surpluses on tax cuts hugely larger than anything required for economic stimulus. The cuts weren't designed with stimulus in mind at all. They were crony capitalist raids on the federal treasury to benefit the very wealthiest Americans."

The Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin: "But a president whose tenure has made America and the world a more dangerous place, and whose administration has presided over the loss of more than 2.3 million American jobs, is not in a position to ask Americans to stay the course."
Franken's co-host named: When Al Franken takes the mic at the new liberal radio venture to be launched by Progress Media this spring, a familiar co-host will share the airwaves: Minnesota Public Radio's Katherine Lanpher. (Via Cursor.)

1.20.2004

FactCheck.org: When I saw the unflappable Brooks Jackson--director of Annenberg Political Fact Check and veteran journalist for the AP, Wall Street Journal, and CNN--on NOW with Bill Moyers this week, I knew this was the guy who could answer a pressing question. So I emailed him:
George W. Bush recently told Ken Auletta of the New Yorker, "No President has ever done more for human rights than I have."

Is that a fact?

Thanks,
Paul Schmelzer
Minneapolis
His reply:
I think Bush forgot about Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation.

--Brooks Jackson
Visit his site, FactCheck.org, for other facts he's debunked (or bunked).
Peace at 66° S, 65° W: An 8-person team of amateur Palestinian and Israeli mountain climbers have successfully scaled a previously unclimbed peak in Antarctica. The coalition, called Breaking the Ice, issued this statement at the top: "We have proven that Palestinians and Israelis can cooperate with one another with mutual respect and trust. We hereby declare that our peoples can and deserve to live together in peace and friendship." Read their expedition weblog here.

1.19.2004

Stump of the Union: The State of the Union speech this year, to air Tuesday night, will serve the secondary function of, you know, illustrating the state of the union. But primarily, it's a campaign speech, according to administration insiders. Specifically scheduled one day after the results of the Iowa caucuses, the strategy is to distract from the Democrats' news in Iowa: "What you achieve by doing it quickly is to get people to focus on the president's positive agenda after two weeks of people beating his brains in and criticizing every aspect of his policies," an unnamed Republican said in the NY Times.

Big Box Lockdown: Wal-Mart's 15-year-old policy of locking in its overnight workers has a plausible enough rationale: keeping burglars out and employee theft down. But what happens when an employee breaks an ankle, goes into labor, or has a heart attack and can't get out?
Daily chuckle: George W. Bush tells the New Yorker, "No President has ever done more for human rights than I have."

Copywriting homonyms: Microsoft is suing a Vancouver 17-year old for trademark infringement. His crime--using his name, also a homonym for Microsoft, as his web address: www.mikerowesoft.com.

Approvals slipping: Bush has lost ten approval points since December 22, according to a CBS poll. His current ratings of 50% approving of his work and 45% disapproving is the worst he's fared during his presidency.

1.18.2004

Resegregation trend continues: A new study by the Harvard Civil Rights Rights Project shows that schools today are as segregated as they were in 1969, a year after Martin Luther King's assassination. "Most schools in this country are overwhelmingly black or overwhelmingly white," said Elise Boddie of the NAACP. "We have still not committed ourselves as a country to the mandate of Brown versus Board of Education. If these trends are not reversed, we could easily find ourselves back to 1954."
State-sponsored vandalism? A controversial artwork in Stockholm, Snow White and the Madness of Truth, consists of a pool of blood-hued water and a small boat floating in it, bearing the photo of Palestinian suicide bomber Hanadi Jaradat, who blew up herself and 21 others in October. Intended to "call attention to how weak people left alone can be capable of horrible things," according to Israeli-born artists Gunilla Skold Feiler and Dror Feiler, the work was vandalized by Israel's envoy to Sweden. Angered by what he perceived as anti-Semitism, Zvi Mazel disconnected cables supporting a spotlight so the lights came crashing down on the work. As Mazel was being escorted out, museum director Kristian Berg told him, "You are a diplomatic person, you should know how to behave." Berg later told a Swedish news agency, "He pulled out the plugs and threw one of the spotlights into the fountain, which caused the entire installation to short-circuit and made it totally life-threatening."

Ariel Sharon phoned Mazel to thank him for his actions, assuring that "the government stands behind him on this issue."

Read the text that accompanies Snow White and the Madness of Truth.

1.17.2004

Latest stats from Iraqometer.com:
Civilian deaths 8,200
Bombs dropped 39,750
Wounded GIs 2,835
Coalition fatalities 599
Dead Iraqi soldiers 11,000
US troops in Iraq 143,000
Billions spent $109 billion
Old news in Iraq: American commanders in Iraq have admitted that they've been relying on World War I-era reports, compiled in 1918 by the then-ruling British, to understand the network of tribal sheikhs and reach out to the Shias. As the Independent writes, "The revelation is not likely to improve confidence in the ability of the US to sort out the deepening muddle over how it means to relinquish political power to the Iraqi people by this summer." Also: the US death toll hits 500.

Changing the tone: Dana Milbank and David Broder write of the death of civility in the nation's capitol, despite the president's promise 37 months ago to "change the tone in Washington, D.C. I believe things happen for a reason, and I hope the long wait of the last five weeks will heighten a desire to move beyond the bitterness and partisanship of the recent past. Our nation must rise above a house divided."

Go Bob! U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat, is suing the state's secretary of state and Palm Beach's county supervisor to require electronic voting machines to print out paper receipts that ensure tamper-free voting.

No Logo: At the World Social Forum, now going on in Mumbai, George W. Bush isn't the only one unwelcome: so are multinational brands such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The no-logo event geared toward finding solutions for a fairer world refused funding from the Ford Foundation, and made sure all computers were run on Linux, an open-source alternative to Microsoft.
Big-government Republicans: Six high-profile conservative groups--including the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth--have harshly criticized the Bush administration and Republican-controlled Congress for spending like "drunken sailors." Paul M. Weyrich, national chairman of Coalitions for America, says, "The Republican Congress is spending at twice the rate as under Bill Clinton, and President Bush has yet to issue a single veto. I complained about profligate spending during the Clinton years but never thought I'd have to do so with a Republican in the White House and Republicans controlling the Congress." Paul Beckner, president of Citizens for a Sound Economy, warns that if Bush doesn't begin showing some fiscal restraint, "there's a real chance the Republicans' voter base will not be enthusiastic about turning out in November, no matter who the Democrats nominate."
Bush honors MLK by appointing racist judge: Last year, George W. Bush commemorated Martin Luther King Day by filing a brief intended to end affirmative action at the University of Michigan Law School. This year, his celebration includes sidestepping Congress to appoint a former segregationist to the federal appeals court. Democrats filibustered the nomination of Judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi in October, but Bush pulled a fast one, appointing the judge when Congress isn't in session, a move that means Pickering need not be confirmed by Congress and will have a seat on the bench until at least January 2005. "The president's recess appointment of this anti-civil rights judge the day after laying a wreath on the grave of Martin Luther King is an insult to Dr. King, an insult to every African-American, and an insult to all Americans who share Dr. King's great goals," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy. "It serves only to emphasize again this administration's shameful opposition to civil rights."

Plus: Pickering's record on race, and the lies he told about his record.

1.16.2004

When Are Nazi Comparisons Deplorable?
An Action Alert from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting:
The controversy over comparisons between George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler in two ads submitted to the anti-Bush ad contest run by the online activist group MoveOn.org says less about the state of left discourse than it does about the double standards at Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

News Corp's Fox News Channel started the controversy on January 4, airing Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie's complaint about the Bush/Hitler comparison. "That's the kind of tactics we're seeing on the left today in support of these Democratic presidential candidates," Gillespie charged, calling such tactics "despicable."

The whole next day (1/5/04), this was a major story on Fox News Channel. John Gibson asked, "What about the hating Bush movement, the MoveOn.org and George Soros sponsoring these ads that compare Bush to Hitler?"--before being corrected that the ads were not sponsored by MoveOn (or Soros, a funder of the group), and were taken down in response to complaints.

Sean Hannity accused a guest: "You guys on the left are going so far over the cliff. You're making comparisons to the president and Adolf Hitler." Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway said on Hannity's show, "This is the hateful, vitriolic rhetoric that has become the Howard Dean Democratic Party." Bill O'Reilly cited the ads as evidence that "right now in America the Democratic party is being held captive by the far, far left."

It should be noted that however hyperbolic, comparisons to Hitler and fascism are not unknown in the American political debate. Rush Limbaugh has routinely called women's rights advocates "femi-Nazis," and references to "Hitlery Clinton" are a staple of right-wing talk radio. Republican power-broker Grover Norquist on NPR (10/2/03) compared inheritance taxes to the Holocaust.

Closer to home for Fox News, on the very same day that Gibson, Hannity and O'Reilly were talking about the Hitler/Bush comparison as evidence of the left's extremism, a column ran in the New York Post that described Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean as a follower of Josef Goebbels, referred to him as "Herr Howie," accused him of "looking for his Leni Riefenstahl," called his supporters "the Internet Gestapo" and compared them to "Hitler's brownshirts."

The New York Post, like Fox News Channel, is part of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch's conservative media empire. And this piece wasn't just put up on the Post's website as part of a contest--it was written by a right-wing commentator who frequently appears in the Post's pages, Ralph Peters, and selected for the op-ed page by the Post's own editors. So it's more than a little embarrassing that these blatant Nazi comparisons were being made in the Post while the paper's corporate sibling was denouncing such comparisons as a sign of derangement.

So what did the Murdoch organization do? Fox appears to have completely ignored the Post's own Nazi analogies--there's no reference to the column whatsoever in the cable channel's transcripts. And the New York Post seems to have sent the column down the memory hole--clicking on a link that used to go to Peters' story gives you a "page not found" message, and the text isn't found in the Nexis media database. (Ironically, in light of this Orwellian disappearing act, the column also compared Dean to Big Brother.)

In the interview that started the brouhaha, the RNC's Gillespie was asked if he would oppose similar attacks on Democrats. He replied: "If they stoop to the kind of despicable tactic like morphing a candidate into Adolf Hitler, yes, absolutely, I will tell you right here on the air. Have me back if any organization does that, I would repudiate it."

The same organization that interviewed him did that, through another of its branches, the very next day. So far, Fox News hasn't had him back on to condemn the New York Post.

ACTION: Please ask the New York Post whether it stands by the column it published describing Howard Dean as a Nazi, or if it owes Dean an apology. And ask Fox News Channel why they didn't criticize that column, even though its hosts repeatedly condemned such analogies that same day--when they involved George W. Bush.

CONTACT:
Fox News Channel
1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036
Phone: 1-888-369-4762
comments@foxnews.com

New York Post
1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 100036
Phone: 1-212-930-8000
letters@nypost.com
Back of the bus: Bush visits MLK grave amid protests
When African Americans and peace activists protested Bush's visit to the grave of Martin Luther King yesterday, law enforcement responded with an unfortunate symbol: they moved buses to separate the president from the crowds. Perhaps not the best way to woo the black vote. "We question the integrity of the timing of [Bush's visit] because last year at this time he took a stand against affirmative action, the Michigan case, which is part of Dr. King's legacy," said Sheriee Bowman, from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

But race wasn't all that was on people's minds. "For President Bush to come to Martin Luther King Jr.'s crypt is the height of hypocrisy," said Reverend Tim McDonald of Concerned Black Clergy. "President Bush's policies have, with deliberate intent, reversed decades of progress and increased racial inequality, job loss, poverty rates and global insecurity." Holding "Peace not war" signs, others protested the continued entanglement in Iraq, citing the work King did for nonviolence in the last years of his life.

Also: New from Alternet, re-mixing King for the hip-hop generation.

1.15.2004

The mystery of Mingering Mike: A flea market troller in Washington DC, posting his experience on a forum at Soulstrut.com, tells of an amazing find: "35 or 40 hand-drawn and hand-painted album covers made between 1969 and 1976, some complete with fake cardboard records inside them. Apparently some guy who called himself "Mingering Mike" put together all of these albums as if he were the musician... the covers are complete with hand-drawn barcodes, track listings, lyrics, drawings of the band(s), and in some cases, liner notes. He did soul and funk albums and blaxploitation soundtracks (for movies that never existed), and even a Christmas album!" (Via BoingBoing.)
Media watchdog blames Bush: When US troops killed two journalists when they fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in April it was the result of "criminal negligence," according to a new report by Reporters Sans Frontieres. Calling for the reopening of an investigation into the mishap, RSF said that George W. Bush is partly to blame for the shelling of the hotel where journalists were known to be lodging.

Republicrat: Georgia Sen. Zell Miller, technically a Democrat, has agreed to campaign for George W. Bush in his reelection campaign. Naturally. He'll be a "top surrogate for the president this year," said a Bush spokesperson.

The haloed halls of government: Free Press International compiles photos of world leaders photographed by the mainstream press to look like they're angels.

1.14.2004

The wrong leap for mankind
There's a joke going around the internet that tells of George W. Bush proposing an ambitious mission to colonize the sun. When an advisor warns that a solar landing would result in a fiery disaster, Bush answers, "That's OK; we'll do it at night." Bush's new fixation on a mission to the moon is so peculiar, so wildly out of touch with the needs and ambitions of America today, that you can't help but consider it a joke. Especially when you hear his anachronistic statement at NASA today: "We will build new ships to carry man forward into the universe, to gain a new foothold on the moon and prepare for new journeys to the worlds beyond our own." (When I envision him giving this speech, he's decked out in a shimmering silver Buck Rogers unitard and bubble helmet.)

But it's not that funny: an expensive mission to the moon isn't a case of boldly going where no man has gone before--we've already been there!--but it is a giant leap for mankind. In the wrong direction.

The pricetag for setting foot on the moon by 2015 and Mars after that is estimated at as high as $500 billion--roughly the same amount as our, er, skyrocketing, national deficit. And that figure is sure to balloon if the accounting for our other flirtation with Mars--the god of war, that is--is any indication.

Marian Wright Edelman, of the Children's Defense Fund, says, "This is the wrong priority for America at a time when its children are facing so many challenges and our federal deficit is reaching record high levels." Even conservatives aren't keen on the plan: Stephen Moore from the Club for Growth criticized, "It's just a total fiscal absurdity. Bush has been spending money like we've got money to burn, and we don't." We'd have money for kindling if Bush hadn't insisted on such generous tax cuts--totalling $1.7 trillion over ten years.

Of course, people at NASA, the agency that almost a year ago saw seven astronauts killed when the Shuttle exploded, seem to think it's a worthwhile expenditure. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said Bush's initial plan--a $1 billion bump in NASA's $15 billion budget over five years, plus the reallocation of $11 billion from other areas within the agency's $86 billion 5-year budget--compares the impact for taxpayers to "the cost of a monthly cable television payment," about fifty bucks a month.

Needless to say, some of us can't afford cable. Or food or shelter or... defending our borders? A late November report showed that New York remains the number-one international target for terrorism, yet homeland security spending there, per person, ranks among the lowest in the US. Of $900 million New York City officials say they need for counter-terrorism measures, they've received only $84 million. If put toward more immediate needs, NASA's cash could help prevent another September 11, yet the president, worried more about "the vision thing" that ended his dad's career than life on planet Earth, doesn't seem interested. There is certainly merit in the notion that "mankind belongs in space, and Americans, long the optimists of the frontier, must lead the way," as an editorial in the Washington Times (published, coincidentally, by Rev. Moon) put it. But with so many frontiers before us--jobs, an economic slump, terrorism--the next time the Eagle lands, I hope it'll be right here.
Broken-faith–based initiative: Sen. Edward Kennedy in a speech today said the Bush administration is "breathtakingly arrogant" and that they're convinced "they know what is in America's interest, but they refuse to debate it honestly." He added that the administration "has broken faith with the American people, aided and abetted by a congressional majority willing to pursue ideology at any price, even the price of distorting the truth... We knocked al Qaeda down in the war in Afghanistan, but we let it regroup by going to war in Iraq... War in Iraq was a war of choice, not a war of necessity. It was a product they were methodically rolling out."
Gray Missing: Swimming to Cambodia monologuist Spalding Gray has disappeared. According to Playbill, Gray has been depressed ever since a car accident in 2001 and has twice tried to commit suicide. He was last seen at home in TriBeCa on Saturday, but is reported to have left--without his identification, wallet, or medication--and boarded a ferry shortly thereafter.
A Question of Priorities: So, despite denying it on Monday, George W. Bush now admits that ousted Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was right--that plans to attack Iraq were underway from his first days in office, long before September 11 provided a plausible excuse. A big scandal becomes no big deal. Just like the all-but-forgotten Nigerian uraniam error in the State of the Union, just like the Halliburton deals, a presidential campaign bankrolled by top donor "Kenny Boy" Lay, and the Bush family's cozy entanglements with the bin Ladens. Forget what this means: the president unapologetically concedes that the toppling of a despot's impotent regime is more important than bringing to justice the terrorists who murdered nearly 2000 Americans in 2001. And his priorities haven't changed.

While presidential candidate Wesley Clark recently picked up on this--he called Iraq a "distraction" from capturing bin Laden and urged the launching of an investigation into why Bush sought war--the American mainstream press seems to have set its priorities elsewhere, too. "Bush still trusts his teflon" reads a UPI headline for a story that, instead of examining O'Neill's claims and their implications, opines that recent events "ought to be major embarrassments, yet none of them seem to have cost him any political ground." An opinion piece at MichNews.com, headlined "Bush Soars Ahead," begins, "Already the former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's complaints about the Bush administration are fading quickly." I wonder why. The mainstream media seems less interested in investigating O'Neill's allegations than in breathlessly reporting on the spanking the administration is giving him--a fellow Republican--for speaking his mind.

1.13.2004

Art of shaved meat: A curious gallery of Chicago's hand-painted gyros signs. I'm not sure why.
Krugman writes of the O'Neill/Suskind book:
The question is whether this book will open the eyes of those who think that anyone who criticizes the tax cuts is a wild-eyed leftist, and that anyone who says the administration hyped the threat from Iraq is a conspiracy theorist.

The point is that the credentials of the critics just keep getting better. How can Howard Dean's assertion that the capture of Saddam hasn't made us safer be dismissed as bizarre, when a report published by the Army War College says that the war in Iraq was a "detour" that undermined the fight against terror? How can charges by Wesley Clark and others that the administration was looking for an excuse to invade Iraq be dismissed as paranoid in the light of Mr. O'Neill's revelations?

So far administration officials have attacked Mr. O'Neill's character but haven't refuted any of his facts.

1.12.2004

Don't-talk radio: A conservative radio host--voted Man of the Year by his Republican county in 1988, Army Commendation Medal winner, and a Speakers' Bureau member touting Reagan's SDI--gets yanked from his primetime spot on a Phoenix radio station. Why? "The answer lies hidden in the oil-and-water incompatibility of these two seemingly disconnected phrases: 'Criticizing Bush' and 'Clear Channel.' The other part of the answer: he opposed the war in Iraq.

Criticism within the ranks: A new report by the Army War College blasts Bush for the Iraq war and a "global war on terror" that's unsustainable. Among the criticisms: with troops spread so thin "the Army is at its breaking point"; the anti-terrorism campaign "is strategically unfocused, promises more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate U.S. military resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security"; and that the war on Iraq was "a war-of-choice distraction from the war of necessity against al Qaeda."

The Price of Loyalty indeed: CNN reports that, in the Administration's investigation of who leaked the identity of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame to the press, it's "likely that no charges will be filed when the investigation winds down." Yet, when former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill tells 60 Minutes that Bush sought war with Iraq long before the pretense of 9/11 arose, the Administration nimbly launches a punitive investigation into whether O'Neill leaked documents marked "secret." It seems the creaky wheels of bureaucracy just got some selective oiling. Update 9/13: as Josh Marshall writes, it took one day for the adminstration to launch its investigation into O'Neill but 74 days from the outing of Valerie Plame in the newspaper to the announcement of an investigation.

Year of the Fake: Naomi Klein writes that 2003 "was the year when fakeness ruled: fake rationales for war, a fake President dressed as a fake soldier declaring a fake end to combat and then holding up a fake turkey. An action movie star became governor and the government started making its own action movies, casting real soldiers like Jessica Lynch as fake combat heroes and dressing up embedded journalists as fake soldiers. Saddam Hussein even got a part in the big show : He played himself being captured by American troops. This is the fake of the year, if you believe the Sunday Herald in Scotland, as well as several other news agencies, which reported that he was actually captured by a Kurdish special forces unit."

Not fake: 495 US soldiers have been killed so far in Iraq. In Afghanistan, the US death toll just broke 100.

1.11.2004

Web Zen: News got you down? Or perhaps you're finding Eyeteeth too heavy? Take solace in the amazing virtuosity of smily, 3-year-old North Korean xylophone savant Mo Kin. (Large Quicktime file.)
A whopper of a culture jam: Someone's been hacking into the wireless frequency used by the drive-up counter at a Burger King in Troy, Michigan. According to police, one customer, after placing an order, was told "You don't need a couple of Whoppers. You are too fat. Pull ahead."
The Bush-Hitler Thing: Conservatives--who would never run a populist contest like MoveOn's "Bush in 30 Seconds" and thus would never end up in the kind of hot (lukewarm?) water progressives are in--are still worked into a lather over two submitted commercials that liken Bush's tactics to those used by a young Hitler. While it's true that Bush has never orchestrated genocide, here's another take: a survivor of Hitler's Germany, who lost family members to the Nazis and endured occupation, writes in to TruthOut.org that "So far, I've seen nothing to eliminate the possibility that Bush is on the same course as Hitler."

An ominous point, but as Alexander Cockburn points out, the Hitler/Bush analogy, whether true in essence or not, distracts from real issues that should be on the table this election cycle. "The central political issue this year is the absolute corruption of the political system and of the two parties that share the spoils. Wherever one looks, at the gerrymandered districts, the balloting methods, the fund raising, corruption steams like fumes from a vast swamp. To rail about Bush as Hitler is to blur what should be the proper focus."
No need for war? CBS News reports what the alternative press has been saying for months: the Bush administration drew up plans to invade Iraq within days of his inauguration, not eight months later (after the attacks of 9/11) as was widely reported. In related news, Colin Powell admitted that, despite his UN testimony to the contrary, he saw no concrete evidence of links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. (For more, tune into tonight's edition of 60 Minutes to hear fired Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill discuss Bush's fixation on attacking Iraq. "It was all about finding a way to do it. ...The president saying 'Go find me a way to do this.' For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do, is a really huge leap.")

Brothers in arms: He survived the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu (inspiration for the movie Black Hawk Down), then testicular cancer, but he didn't survive Iraq. Thirty-two year old Aaron Weaver was among the nine GIs killed near Falluja when a US helicopter was shot down; now his parents are urging the Pentagon to shift their other two sons' deployments away from the front lines so they don't meet the same fate.

Lunacy: Amid war, unprecedented anti-Americanism abroad, and a record-shattering national debt, Bush's dream to send manned missions to Mars and the moon seems like little more than a distraction plan: "Hey, look up there!" When Bush's father proposed the same program the pricetag was some $500 billion--cash that could go a long way for domestic security, tracking down Osama, environmental preservation, or a slew of other neglected programs.

During last week's excitement over the Mars probe's photos of the red planet, artist Oliver Kellhammer compared two shades of orange:
Jim Bell of Cornell University and member of NASA's Mars probe team told a press conference he was "in shock and awe" over the quality of the images delivered by Spirit's panoramic camera. The orange tinted picture, shows a desolate plain full of small boulders and dust. It was eerily reminiscent of another kind of picture that we have been seeing a lot of lately. It seems sad, while humanity mounts its most determined effort ever to see if life once existed on the planet named for the god of war, that back here on earth life has never been cheaper. The picture on the right appeared on the ElectronicIraq.net site last March 27 and shows the aftermath of American cluster bombs dropped on a farm, just outside Baghdad. Four people were killed and many others gravely injured. The journalist recounted: "Even the farm animals were killed. We were told that yellow cylinders landed in their yard, and when they and the animals crept closer to investigate, the bombs detonated."

One eyewitness describes the aftermath: "The sky took on colors I've never seen before in my 43 years. Every Iraqi I've talked to says they've never seen anything like it."
(Thanks Ruth.)

1.08.2004

Drear Diary,

And now some bad news:
A new study published in the journal Nature predicts that a quarter of known land animals and plants--nearly a million species--will go extinct in the next 50 years due to global warming, from 45% of the species in Brazil's savannah the Cerrado to all but three varieties of Europe's 400 butterfly types.

Who wins in Iraq? Eight people died when a US helicopter was shot down in Iraq today. Another US soldier was killed and 34 more were injured in a mortar attack on a military camp yesterday. Meanwhile Iraqi citizens are accusing the US of human rights violations for the wrongful imprisonment of nearly 10,000 Iraqis and the indiscriminate bombing of personal property.

An old epithet has been revived in Iraq just for US occupiers, "Ulooj." The ancient term from Arabic literature can be translated various ways: pigs of the desert, foreign infidels, little donkeys, medieval crusaders, bloodsuckers and horned creatures.

Here at home, the Bush administration reasserted its broad authority to declare American citizens to be enemy combatants yesterday.

The record-breaking US debt--last year at $374 billion, expected to exceed $400 billion this year--threatens the stability of the global economy, according to a report by the International Monetary Fund. Questioning the wisdom of Bush’s tax cuts, the IMF warns that our financial obligations to other nations ("an unprecedented level of external debt for a large industrial country") could hurt the value of the dollar and international exchange rates, as well as inflate global interest rates and slow global economic growth.

A bit of economic critique from today's edition of the comic strip, The Norm:
Dear Editor:
Recently downsized, I’m sitting at home reading your optimistic story on the "economic recovery." Ironically, your reporter quoted several employed experts, but no one like me. Maybe it’s time for an employee evaluation.

Sincerely,
T. Norman Miller
The illusions of choice: With so many consumer choices in America--a typical grocery store stocks some 30,000 distinct items--why are Americans so unhappy? Author Barry Schwartz looks into it in his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less: "As a culture, we are enamored of freedom, self-determination, and variety, and we are reluctant to give up any of our options. But clinging tenaciously to all the choices available to us contributes to bad decisions, to anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction - even to clinical depression."

Colonoscopies for book titles: At my day job, we rely on the trusty colon--the punctuation, I mean--to separate a catchy title from a meaty, explanatory subtitle. The Chronicle of Higher Education weighs in on the matter, asking whether this convention has become a cliche...

(Both links via Arts & Letters Daily.)

1.07.2004

Bloggies: Voting for the Fourth Annual Weblog Awards, the 2004 Bloggies, is now taking place. Vote here in categories like best tagline, best-kept secret, and a slew of others.

1.06.2004

Populist, shifty-eyed, tree-huggin' pinko: As Cory at BoingBoing comments, a new conservative attack ad running in Iowa borders on self-satire:
In the ad, a farmer says he thinks that "Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading ..." before the farmer's wife then finishes the sentence: "... Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs."

1.05.2004

Contradictions: Just as the White House is working to reshape Bush's image as a man of peace in the midst of a brutal, unprovoked war, so does the president fancy himself a champion of freedom while at the same time repressing free speech in this country like never before.

Fiscal conservatism? Bush seems to be running this country just the way he did his four failed business ventures: into the ground. Total federal revenues have declined three years in a row, and the goverment faces another record budget deficit--expected to exceed last year's unprecedented $374 billion shortfall. "Guess who gets to pay? According to the New York Times, "the president's proposed budget for the 2005 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, would control the rising cost of housing vouchers for the poor, require some veterans to pay more for health care, slow the growth in spending on biomedical research and merge or eliminate some job training and employment programs."

1.03.2004

Wrong formula: The Hungarian government is sponsoring a Formula One racecar driver to the tune of $4 million. As Ezster at Crooked Timber blogs, "If this happened in a country with adequate social services and few people living in poverty then perhaps one could contemplate its legitimacy. But in a country with as many social problems as Hungary, I find it hard to swallow." The same logic seems to apply at Starbucks: a cup of coffee at the chain's two new cafes in Peru costs two-thirds of the country's daily minimum wage.

Johnny of the Cross: Listening to a drunk buddy extoll the virtues of Johnny Cash's alternately murderous and redemptive music into the wee hours New Year's morning, I found Peter Candler's essay in First Things: The Journal of Religion and Public Life apropos. He wrote of an acquaintance whose "musical tastes tend toward dark, brooding Germanic bands with wicked-sounding names like Einsturzende Neubauten and Godspeed You Black Emperor. He has little use for religion, except as it pertains to Egyptian archaeology. Over a whiskey in the bar at the Hilton Hotel in Wilmington we chatted about music. Eventually the conversation turned to Johnny. At one point he raised his hand, pointed his finger at me for emphasis, and said, 'If I were going to believe in God, I would believe in the God of Johnny Cash.'" (Via Arts & Letters Daily.)

Free Speech 101: Scoring one for the artists, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a lower court's decision that artists using the image of Barbie aren't infringing on the maker's copyright. "Mattel cannot use trademark laws to censor all parodies or satires which use its name," Judge Harry Pregerson wrote.
Insurgents ramping up violence: As the Defense Department's tally of fallen GIs grows shockingly long, new reports indicate that five more US soldiers were killed in two separate attacks in Baghdad, just a day after a military helicopter was shot down, killing one. David Hackworth, of Soldiers for the Truth, asks, "So at the end of this turbulent year, we must ask ourselves: Was the price our warriors paid in blood worth the outcome? Are we any safer than before our pre-emptive invasion?"

Dean on defense: "We've lost 10 more troops and F-16s are escorting foreign passenger jets into our air space because we're now more worried than we were before," Howard Dean said today, citing the heightened terror alert following Saddam Hussein's capture. "I can assure you it's not Saddam who's threatening to bomb airplanes. It's al-Qaida. We've not paid attention to al-Qaida. We've spent $160 billion, lost over 400 servicemen, and wounded and permanently maimed over 2,000 people because we picked the wrong target."

Also: a new Time/CNN poll shows Dean pulling within 5 points of Bush if the election were held today.
"God" speaks:
Pat Robertson on the 700 Club:
I think George Bush is going to win in a walk... I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout election in 2004. ...The Lord has just blessed him. I mean, he could make terrible mistakes and comes out of it. It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad, God picks him up because he's a man of prayer and God's blessing him.
Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State:
I predict that Pat Robertson in 2004 will continue to use his multimillion-dollar broadcasting empire to promote George Bush and other Republican candidates. Maybe Pat got a message from Karl Rove and thought it was from God.

1.02.2004

Heil vs. Hola: Who photoshopped Fidel Castro's photo on the front page of the Communist Party newspaper to make him look like Hitler?
Genocide vs. window dressing: This morning, just a few days after the anniversary of the government's brutal attack at Wounded Knee, the Star Tribune ran a lengthy fluff piece--on the OpEd page, no less--about the amazing and tragically overlooked legacy of L. Frank Baum's window decorating skills. ("You must arouse in the observer the cupidity and a longing to possess the goods you sell," Baum, creator of the Wizard of Oz, wrote in his book The Art of Decorating Dry Goods Windows.) What's the connection? My letter to the editor:
On December 29, Native Americans commemorated the 1890 battle at Wounded Knee, where some 300 unarmed Lakota (Sioux) indians were massacred by US troops. On January 2, the Star Tribune ran Stuart Culver's "'Oz' author also knew of window wizardry." While "Wizard of Oz" creator L. Frank Baum's masterful holiday window displays might (arguably) merit a 24-column-inch tribute, running it so close to the Wounded Knee anniversary is, at best, insensitive: following Wounded Knee, Baum publicly championed the genocide of the Sioux. Ten years before authoring "Oz," as editor of The Aberdeen (SD) Pioneer, Baum wrote of the Wounded Knee slaughter that "our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth." Spectacular Christmas windows and a beloved family film are rightfully Baum's legacy, but so is the often unheard history of his genocidal beliefs.
What I didn't address is why a major metropolitan newspaper would waste so much space (plus a photo) on the Opinion page to wax poetic about window artistry. Isn't there anything else in the world these days begging for comment?
Spoilers from the inside: My fear with the Democratic primaries is this: Kerry, Dean, Sharpton, and perhaps even Edwards are all a tad left of center, while Kucinich is honorably far left; the continued candidacy of each of these guys may factionalize progressive voters, splitting the vote four or five ways and leaving more centrist voters with only one candidate to flock to--Lieberman. Pro-free trade, pro-Israel, unabashed hawk Joe Lieberman is a better choice to lead the country than Bush, for sure, but barely. (Eric Alterman writes that "Joe Lieberman is currently more likely to get the Republican nomination than the Democratic one.") So, while I think all these men would be an immense improvement over W, it's fast becoming time for them to respectfully bow out. As Paul Krugman writes this morning in "Who's Nader Now?", "Most Democrats feel, with justification, that we're facing a national crisis — that the right, ruthlessly exploiting 9/11, is making a grab for total political dominance. The party's rank and file want a candidate who is running, as the Dean slogan puts it, to take our country back. This is no time for a candidate who is running just because he thinks he deserves to be president."  

Also: Will Nader run as an independent?

Progressive pinups? Why make a politically incorrect Babes Against Bush Regime Change Countdown Calendar? "Because hot chicks hate him too."