Earth civics

An excerpt from Chellis Glendinning's "A Lesson in Earth Civics":
Full participation in the life and survival of the group is one of these social practices. In nature-based cultures, nearly everyone is an expert, or at least competent, in nearly every activity the people engage in. By contrast, few of us are competent, much less expert, at more than a few minor activities that contribute to the functioning of our society. To make things worse, as our technologies become more complex and our society increasingly fragmented, we become less competent. An astoundingly small percentage of us knows how to record a television program on a VCR, repair an electronic device, or decipher a Publishers Clearinghouse prize notification. "This is the plan for a B-1 bomber," Candice Bergen states on the 1993 Sprint television ad. "This is the plan for DNA, and this is a long-distance calling plan. What do they have in common? You can't understand any one of them!" Meanwhile, the only activities we seem to share are shopping, driving, and watching television. Such a predicament is not how humans evolved.

According to anthropologist Stanley Diamond, the average man of the hunter-gatherer-pastoral African Nama people is "an expert hunter, a keen observer of nature, a craftsman who can make a kit bag of tools and weapons, a herder who knows the habits and needs of cattle, a direct participant in a variety of tribal rituals and ceremonies, and he is likely to be well-versed in the legends, tales, and proverbs of his people." Diamond goes on to say, "The average primitive . . . is more accomplished, in the literal sense of that term, than are most civilised individuals. He participates more fully and directly in the cultural possibilities open to him, not as a consumer and not vicariously but as an actively engaged, complete person."(1)

Frances Harwood learned about such participation during her field work in the Solomon Islands in the early 1960s.(2) One day, she relates, an assemblage of villagers paid a visit to her hut. They sat down on grass mats on the floor and said to her, "Ever since you came here, you have been asking us a lot of questions. Now we would like to ask you a question." Harwood perked up in attention. "Please . . ." pleaded one tribesman as he picked up the glass she had brought with her. "How do you make this?" "Oh yes, well . . ." she sputtered, trying to bring together the right native words to communicate the process. "It's quite simple. You take sand and you heat it up with fire, and then you mould the glass." "Ah-ha!" the islanders responded, enthusiastically nodding their heads and passing the glass around the circle. "Then we'll meet you down at the beach tomorrow at dawn--and you'll show us how to make a glass."

Harwood was stunned. Already struggling to communicate in a language she had barely mastered, she now flailed as she attempted to describe such labyrinthian phenomena as industrial process, factory manufacturing, and division of labour. Her guests grasped none of what she said. They did, however, grasp her refusal to meet them on the beach. Thereafter, they let it be known among the villagers that Harwood's real purpose in coming to the islands had been revealed: she had been sent because she was an incompetent, incapable of doing the simplest things in her own culture.

Media Fast

Suppose that in our Western culture movies, radios, television, sports events and newspapers ceased to function for only four weeks. With these main avenues of escape closed, what would be the consequences for people thrown back upon their own resources? I have no doubt that even in this short time thousands of nervous breakdowns would occur, and many more thousands of people would be thrown into a state of acute anxiety, not different from the picture which is diagnosed clinically as 'neurosis.' If the opiate against the socially patterned defect were withdrawn, the manifest illness would make its appearance.
—Erich Fromm, The Sane Society, 1955


Misogynator II

During the gubernatorial debates in California, an apparently torqued-off Schwarzenegger told opponent Arianna Huffington, "I would just like to say that I just realized I have a perfect part for you in 'Terminator 4."' For context, recall that Terminator 3 included a scene where Arnie gives a she-Terminator a swirly in a toilet bowl. So either he wants Arianna dead or he wants to shove her head in the toilet? Nifty.

For a bit more context, an excerpt from an Entertainment Weekly article includes the would-be governor discussing his creative role in the flushing sequence:
"As we were rehearsing, I saw this toilet bowl," says Schwarzenegger, an impish smile crossing his face. "How many times do you get away with this--to take a woman, grab her upside down, and bury her face in a toilet bowl? I wanted to have something floating in there," he adds.

Apparently, he was vetoed. "They thought it was my typical Schwarzenegger overboard," he says. "The thing is, you can do it, because in the end, I didn't do it to a woman--she's a machine! We could get away with it without being crucified by who-knows-what group."
(Via Cursor)

Free Rushkoff e-book

Digital-age scholar Douglas Rushkoff, author of Coercion and others, has a new book coming out in the UK next month. Download the pdf of the very interesting Open Source Democracy: How online communications is changing offline politics.

Passing: Edward Said

Influential literary and cultural critic and Middle East scholar Edward Said has died.


. . . .

With so much flag-waving, so much flinging of now-loaded buzzwords like "freedom" and "liberty," I cringe at some of the definitions of patriotism I hear about these days. Tonight I stumbled upon a case where the word freedom felt right; it wasn't used to sell fried potatoes or Chevy trucks: the send-off party for the Freedom Riders in Powderhorn Park. A thousand immigrant workers from cities cross-country are now en route to Washington DC in a re-enactment of the Civil Rights freedom rides that began four decades ago. This time around, the ride focuses on the rights of a much-scapegoated part of society: immigrant workers. After stopping in some 100 cities, the rides will converge on DC on October 1-2.

. . . .

Why is it that, in this country of supposed free thinkers, criticism of the media is only exercised when the viewpoints don't jive with the status quo?

No one gives a fig if Bush distorted evidence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or Saddam's supposed links to al-Qaida, but it's easy to find critics who'll attack anybody who's anti-war, anti-gun, or anti-Bush. Case in point: recent criticism of Michael Moore's film Bowling for Columbine. Some of the big networks have been giving ample airtime to gripers who have undisclosed vested interests in taking Moore down a notch. One--a contributing editor of Gun Week magazine, a relationship not disclosed to CNN's viewers--asserted the film contained "so many falsehoods, one after the other, after the other, after the other." Another--a writer for Rev. Moon's rightwing Washington Times, who also served on the campaigns of Jesse Helms and Pat Buchanan (again, facts not disclosed on-air)--called it "one of the most dishonest films ever made." Trouble is, no lawsuits have been filed against the film, and not a single fact has been effectively disputed. Moore recently launched a website to debunk criticisms of the film, one by one. And he sticks by one assertion: every single fact is researched, legally backed up, and unquestionably true.


Uh... um...

"As a part of our public outreach programs, Language Removal Services has here created the first "language-free" political debate. It is our hope that this will allow you to better understand the true positions of the candidates. Below, we present language removals of the leading candidates to replace [California Governor Gray] Davis."


Bad karma.

Remember this phenomenon--Americans proudly driving Hummers to show solidarity with US troops in Iraq? (Rick Schmidt of the International Hummer Owners Group, IHOG, described the fuel-inefficient armored toaster on wheels as "a symbol of what we all hold so dearly above all else, the fact we have the freedom of choice, the freedom of happiness, the freedom of adventure and discovery, and the ultimate freedom of expression... Those who deface a Hummer in words or deed, deface the American flag and what it stands for.") As it turns out, Hummers are getting our guys killed in Iraq. These vehicles are too lightweight, don't have room to allow machine gunners to return fire, and have body panels of aluminum and fiberglass--far too thin to protect against the improvised bombs being set along Iraq's roadways. Realizing this GIs have begun retrofitting Humvees with cardboard and metal reinforcement and sand bags.

An autocentric new ad, as described by the travel blog World Hum: Travel Dispatches from a Shrinking Planet:
I was jazzed to see what appeared to be a Southeast Asian village on my TV last night during a series of commercials. Images of a colorful foot procession down a narrow street and locals in ornate headdresses filled the screen. The pictures took me right back to my trip to the region a couple of years ago. At the center of the procession was a woman being carried on a pedestal, her face obscured behind silky curtains. But the woman and the villagers weren't the stars of the commercial. A shiny new Range Rover SUV suddenly appeared, rolling into the middle of the procession, then stopping in its tracks. The camera studied the locals, then the truck's plush leather interior. The natives, who undoubtedly wouldn't make enough money in an entire lifetime to buy one of the gas-guzzling trucks, stared at it in awe. Finally, the woman on the pedestal waved the car through with a roll of her fingers. The kicker? "Respect. Range Rover. Land Rover. The most well-traveled vehicles on earth." The entire commercial is featured here.


Who's this Wesley Clark fella?

With a left(ish)-leaning, one-time NATO Supreme Allied Commander throwing his hat into the presidential race, people are understandably excited by Gen. Wesley Clark's candidacy. I mean, he's got more military clout than Kerry (and, needless to say, Bush), a convincingly presidential demeanor, a Dean-ish populist bent, and on-the-record progressive policy stances. With the right runningmate--Howard? Hillary? Al?--he'd make a formidable ticket. Even Michael Moore's atwitter over the possibility; his open letter to Clark enthuses:
1. You oppose the Patriot Act and would fight the expansion of its powers.

2. You are firmly pro-choice.

3. You filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of the University of Michigan's affirmative action case.

4. You would get rid of the Bush tax "cut" and make the rich pay their fair share.

5. You respect the views of our allies and want to work with them and with the rest of the international community.

6. And you oppose war. You have said that war should always be the "last resort" and that it is military men such as yourself who are the most for peace because it is YOU and your soldiers who have to do the dying. You find something unsettling about a commander-in-chief who dons a flight suit and pretends to be Top Gun, a stunt that dishonored those who have died in that flight suit in the service of their country.
Still, you've gotta cringe when in April he wrote of the "scent of victory" in Iraq, opining, "Can anything be more moving than the joyous throngs swarming the streets of Baghdad?" Or when he said that war with Iraq was the "right call." Is this really our anti-war candidate? And credible lefties like Wayne Madsen (who sees Clark's candidacy as part of a plot by neoconservative Democrats who really support Lieberman) and Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn (who, in 1999, called him a "vain, pompous brownnoser") have reservations about Clark in the Oval Office.

At the very least, it'll be interesting to see how Clark's candidacy affects Kerry and Dean and Kucinich--and to see the AWOL guardsman Bush shake in his boots a little.

Learn more:
Clark BBC bio
Official website


On a freeway overpass: "Dear America, Thanks for all the money. Sorry about your kids. --Hallliburton Oil"

What happens when TV is permitted in the world's last Buddhist theocracy? The Guardian on TV, Bhutan, and the erosion of culture.

Al Franken's comic, The Gospel of Supply Side Jesus.

Krugman on tax-cuts for the rich

Economist Paul Krugman, looking into today's rampant tax-cuts-for-the-rich ideology, writes an eye-opening history of the rise of Reagan-style supply-side economics and its more extreme proponents who currently advise the White House. Despite taxes that are lower than most developed countries, and income taxes half what they were for the highest bracket in the 1970s, today's rich and powerful think it's still too much. Their "starve-the-beast" mentality aims to reduce the size and influence of government. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, once said, ''I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.'' In another report he added, ''The goal is reducing the size and scope of government by draining its lifeblood." If Grover had his way, there'd be no Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. Writes Krugman:
Here's how the argument runs: to starve the beast, you must not only deny funds to the government; you must make voters hate the government. There's a danger that working-class families might see government as their friend: because their incomes are low, they don't pay much in taxes, while they benefit from public spending. So in starving the beast, you must take care not to cut taxes on these ''lucky duckies.'' (Yes, that's what The Wall Street Journal called them in a famous editorial.) In fact, if possible, you must raise taxes on working-class Americans in order, as The Journal said, to get their ''blood boiling with tax rage.''
You might think that you could turn to the administration's own pronouncements to learn why it has been so determined to cut taxes. But even if you try to take the administration at its word, there's a problem: the public rationale for tax cuts has shifted repeatedly over the past three years.

During the 2000 campaign and the initial selling of the 2001 tax cut, the Bush team insisted that the federal government was running an excessive budget surplus, which should be returned to taxpayers. By the summer of 2001, as it became clear that the projected budget surpluses would not materialize, the administration shifted to touting the tax cuts as a form of demand-side economic stimulus: by putting more money in consumers' pockets, the tax cuts would stimulate spending and help pull the economy out of recession. By 2003, the rationale had changed again: the administration argued that reducing taxes on dividend income, the core of its plan, would improve incentives and hence long-run growth -- that is, it had turned to a supply-side argument.

These shifting rationales had one thing in common: none of them were credible. It was obvious to independent observers even in 2001 that the budget projections used to justify that year's tax cut exaggerated future revenues and understated future costs. It was similarly obvious that the 2001 tax cut was poorly designed as a demand stimulus. And we have already seen that the supply-side rationale for the 2003 tax cut was tested and found wanting by the Congressional Budget Office.

So what were the Bush tax cuts really about? The best answer seems to be that they were about securing a key part of the Republican base. Wealthy campaign contributors have a lot to gain from lower taxes, and since they aren't very likely to depend on Medicare, Social Security or Medicaid, they won't suffer if the beast gets starved. Equally important was the support of the party's intelligentsia, nurtured by policy centers like Heritage and professionally committed to the tax-cut crusade. The original Bush tax-cut proposal was devised in late 1999 not to win votes in the national election but to fend off a primary challenge from the supply-sider Steve Forbes, the presumptive favorite of that part of the base.
The astonishing political success of the antitax crusade has, more or less deliberately, set the United States up for a fiscal crisis. How we respond to that crisis will determine what kind of country we become.

If Grover Norquist is right -- and he has been right about a lot -- the coming crisis will allow conservatives to move the nation a long way back toward the kind of limited government we had before Franklin Roosevelt. Lack of revenue, he says, will make it possible for conservative politicians -- in the name of fiscal necessity -- to dismantle immensely popular government programs that would otherwise have been untouchable.

In Norquist's vision, America a couple of decades from now will be a place in which elderly people make up a disproportionate share of the poor, as they did before Social Security. It will also be a country in which even middle-class elderly Americans are, in many cases, unable to afford expensive medical procedures or prescription drugs and in which poor Americans generally go without even basic health care. And it may well be a place in which only those who can afford expensive private schools can give their children a decent education.

But as Governor Riley of Alabama reminds us, that's a choice, not a necessity. The tax-cut crusade has created a situation in which something must give. But what gives -- whether we decide that the New Deal and the Great Society must go or that taxes aren't such a bad thing after all -- is up to us. The American people must decide what kind of a country we want to be.



When George W. Bush was running for President, he said, "I believe everyone should be held responsible for their own personal behavior." Perhaps he's glad that MoveOn has launched a website to provide a little accountability. Visit Misleader.org and see where W's actions get derailed from his words:
George Bush: "The tax relief is for everyone who pays income taxes...Americans will keep, this year, an average of almost $1,000 more of their own money."

The Truth: Nearly half of all taxpayers get less than $100. And 31% of all taxpayers get nothing at all.

George Bush: "Our first goal is...an economy that grows fast enough to employ every man and woman who seeks a job."

The Truth: Bush is the first President since Hoover to preside over an economy that has lost jobs, not created them - more than 2.9 million since 2001.

George Bush: "[My] Clear Skies legislation...mandates a 70% cut in air pollution from power plants over the next 15 years."

The Truth: The Bush plan will allow more than 100,000 additional premature deaths by 2020 than alternative legislation developed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The plan does not regulate carbon emissions and allows far more sulfur and mercury emissions.

George Bush: "[W]e achieved historic education reform - which must now be carried out in every school and in every classroom."

The Truth: Bush cut $8 billion from the promised funds for education.


Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the commen men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.
--Primo Levi


What can $87 billion buy?

For starters, Bush's bill for undoing the mess in Iraq could cover the budget deficits in ALL the states. It could cover two years' worth of unemployment benefits for 1.1 million Americans who are out of work. $87 billion is: twice as much as the US spends on Homeland Security, nine times as much as it spends on special education, ten times what it spends on all environmental protection efforts, and on and on. Fiscal conservative, my ass.

Blue in the USA

Perhaps I love his use of "crypto-human land whales" to describe the overweight, but James Howard Kunstler can write a gripping lead:
Having just returned from a week in England where, among other things, walking more than ten yards a day is quite normal, I was once again startled by the crypto-human land whales waddling down the aisles of my local supermarket in search of Nabisco Snack-Wells, Wow chips, and other fraudulent inducements to "diet" by overindulgence in "low-fat" carbohydrate-laden treats. And they did not look happy.
His point is a serious one: Have any reporters noticed how we actually live here in America?
With very few exceptions, our cities are hollowed out ruins. Our towns have committed ritualized suicide in thrall to the WalMart God. Most Americans live in suburban habitats that are isolating, disaggregated, and neurologically punishing, and from which every last human quality unrelated to shopping convenience and personal hygiene has been expunged. We live in places where virtually no activity or service can be accessed without driving a car, and the (usually solo) journey past horrifying vistas of on-ramps and off-ramps offers no chance of a social encounter along the way. Our suburban environments have by definition destroyed the transition between the urban habitat and the rural hinterlands. In other words, we can't walk out of town into the countryside anywhere. Our "homes," as we have taken to calling mere mass-produced vinyl boxes at the prompting of the realtors, exist in settings leached of meaningful public space or connection to civic amenity, with all activity focused inward to the canned entertainments piped into giant receivers -- where the children especially sprawl in masturbatory trances, fondling joysticks and keyboards, engorged on cheez doodles and taco chips.


Bush bucks

Oh my:
ROANOKE RAPIDS, N.C. -- Police are searching for a man who paid for $150 in groceries at a Food Lion grocery store with a $200 bill. The man walked out of the store with his groceries and $50 in change before the fake bill was discovered Sept. 6.

The bogus bill -- the U.S. Mint does not print a $200 bill -- bore the image of President George W. Bush on the front and had the White House on the back. It also included signs on the front lawn of the front lawn of the White House with slogans such as "We like broccoli" and "USA deserves a tax cut," Roanoke Rapids police said. Instead of being labeled a Federal Reserve note, the fake bill was marked as a "Moral Reserve Note." The bill bore the signatures of Ronald Reagan, political mentor, and George H.W. Bush, campaign adviser and mentor. Officials at the local Food Lion had no comment. Food Lion officials at the company headquarters in Salisbury could only say their normal policy is not to accept bills over $100.

Meanwhile, police in Roanoke Rapids arrested a man Tuesday who attempted to spend a $200 bill at a convenience store in August. Authorities say Michael Harris was jailed Tuesday night under $2,500 bond. Investigators say Harris is not the same person who passed a similar fake bill at the Food Lion grocery store, but police believe the two cases are connected.
Via Tom Tomorrow.

Chaos in Cancun

With some 10,000 indigenous Mexicans streaming into Cancun, and witnesses from around the world gathered, the WTO conference there is off to a queasy start: prominent antiglobalization activists have been under surveillance by the Mexican government (including Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Jose Bove), and others on the list, reports Leif Utne, "ran into a raft of logistical headaches in the weeks leading up to the WTO summit, including cancelled hotel reservations, new visa requirements, and delays processing their visas. Several were even blocked from entering the country, including Evo Morales, a Bolivian indigenous leader and recent presidential runner-up." In sad news, Kun Hai Lee, a South Korean farmer, committed ritual suicide during the WTO's opening day to protest the organization's agricultural policies. Standing in front of police lines, he said, "the WTO kills farmers," and then slashed himself to death with a blade.


Seen. Noted. Listed.

While Republicans in Congress would never stand for it, calls for Bush's impeachment are growing. The Santa Cruz, CA, city council just voted 6-1 to ask the House Judiciary Committee to consider impeachment proceedings against President Bush.

"Don't talk like a twit," urges Jonathan Rowe in an excellent piece in Yes! The Right embraces "a strong-father family. It values authority, discipline, individual enterprise, and personal responsibility. The Left, by contrast, favors the nurturing mother: support, assistance, care, cohesion, and the like." All fine, except that from time to time the Left would be well-served to "speak as though listeners matter, and that we attend to what listeners hear and not just what we want to say."
Often people are further along than we think; they just see the path in different ways. Christian conservatives, for example, have been involved in the fight to get commercial influences out of the schools—not because they hate corporations or capitalism, but because they oppose the way corporations are undermining parental authority. It’s a different way of getting to essentially the same place. There might be many such common places, if only we can speak in language that does not distance us from the people we need to reach.
Yes! also has a great interview with former Congressman and current General Secretary of the National Council of Churches Bob Edgar about the Win Without War coalition and the role of the faithful in progressive causes:
I think there are two ways to read the Bible. One is to read it with a focus on the parts that call for the Messiah to be the leader of a mighty military and separate the good from the evil. They see God as a God of judgment who will divide the good from the bad, and good people are going to survive and evil people are going to die.

The other way of reading the Scripture is to focus on the parts that teach love and justice, forgiveness and reconciliation. Even the early church had difficulty understanding Jesus when he talked about loving your neighbor, loving enemies, and caring about the least of these, the brothers and sisters on planet Earth. This other way of reading sees that nonviolent action, of the kind Martin Luther King Jr. practiced, is more powerful than violence.
More bad news for local news: Via Cursor, a disturbing story about the widespread use of video press releases or "canned news": with budget cuts and media consolidation, these preproduced sections are often passed off as local reporting when they have little to do with, and little value to, the local community. Is your local station using canned news?

One might laugh at New York's $166 million deal to let Snapple be its official beverage (the Big Snapple, get it?). But the deal also allows the juicemaker to immediately install vending machines in the city's 1,200 public schools. After January 1, machines will go into city-owned office buildings, police stations and other municipal sites.

And, to end with a little humor, the $87 billion figure Mr. Bush asked for in his address to the nation the other night is grossly underestimated--by about $55 billion.


Autodidacts, rejoice!

MIT has just begun putting their courses online, for free! Check it out at OpenCourseWare. By 2007, all of its courses should be online.


Continue fighting the FCC

The final showdown in the fight against media monopoly is here: it all comes down to how the Senate votes in the next two weeks. On the floor are initiatives that would roll back the FCC's June 2 media ownership rule changes that favor giant media megacorporations over the public interest.

If we can gather 100,000 signatures in conjunction with MoveOn.org by the end of the week, Senator Snowe (R-ME) and Senator Dorgan (D-ND) will host a crucial press event to submit this petition to their colleagues.
Because 2.3 million Americans — conservative and liberal — decried the FCC's lifting of media ownership caps, Big Media lobbyists are fighting back hard. We can't outspend Big Media, but if we can gather 100,000 signatures by the end of the week, we stand a good chance of winning on the Senate floor.
Sign the petition here, now.

The bogus terror-war

Former British MP Michael Meacher writes a chilling perspective on the "war on terrorism" and the neo-conservative agenda:
We now know that a blueprint for the creation of a global Pax Americana was drawn up for Dick Cheney (now vice-president), Donald Rumsfeld (defence secretary), Paul Wolfowitz (Rumsfeld's deputy), Jeb Bush (George Bush's younger brother) and Lewis Libby (Cheney's chief of staff). The document, entitled Rebuilding America's Defences, was written in September 2000 by the neoconservative think tank, Project for the New American Century (PNAC).

The plan shows Bush's cabinet intended to take military control of the Gulf region whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power. It says "while the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."

The PNAC blueprint supports an earlier document attributed to Wolfowitz and Libby which said the US must "discourage advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role". It refers to key allies such as the UK as "the most effective and efficient means of exercising American global leadership". It describes peacekeeping missions as "demanding American political leadership rather than that of the UN". It says "even should Saddam pass from the scene", US bases in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will remain permanently... as "Iran may well prove as large a threat to US interests as Iraq has". It spotlights China for "regime change", saying "it is time to increase the presence of American forces in SE Asia".

The document also calls for the creation of "US space forces" to dominate space, and the total control of cyberspace to prevent "enemies" using the internet against the US. It also hints that the US may consider developing biological weapons "that can target specific genotypes [and] may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool".

Finally - written a year before 9/11 - it pinpoints North Korea, Syria and Iran as dangerous regimes, and says their existence justifies the creation of a "worldwide command and control system". This is a blueprint for US world domination.
Read the full story.


A few more...

Groan: Some 70% of Americans believe it's possible Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9-11 terrorist attacks, according to a new poll. Seventy-one percent in a Time poll thought the US was doing a "good job" in Iraq since major fighting ended, and 52% of people still think George Bush is swell.

Despite that last statistic, there's hope to unseat Bush, according to a new CNN survey. They found that 41% of registered voters would "definitely" vote against Bush, regardless of the Democratic candidate.

Go Ted Go! Here's Nightline's Ted Koppel on the Patriot Act:
The men who drafted our constitution, who framed our civil rights and protected our various freedoms under the law would, I suspect, retch at some of the bone headed, self-serving, misinterpretations of their intentions that they so often use these days to undermine the very freedoms they pretend to safeguard. The miracle of American Law is not that it protects popular speech, or the privacy of the powerful, or the homes of the priviledged, but rather, that the least among us, those with the fewest defenses thoses suspected of the worst crimes -- the most despised in our midst, are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

That remains as revolutionary a concept now as it was in the 1780s. It makes protecting the country against terrorism excruciatingly difficult, but we cannot arbitrarily suspend the rights of one catagory of suspects without endangering all the others.
Dear Scrabble nerds: Scrabblog randomly generates seven tiles and squares each day; readers can post their highest-scoring combination. Whee. (Via A Welsh View.)

Art in war: New York artist Steve Mumford describes the cross-cultural difficulties of making art in Baghdad.
Drawing here takes a little getting used to. The Iraqis are intensely interested in most things western, so the presence of an American sitting on a stoop or at a cafe making a drawing always elicits an avid audience. Every brushstroke is watched, and people have many questions. The Iraqi sense of personal space is very different from a westerner's; here people crowd in so close they're touching me, and men feel free to stab at the paper to point out someone I've drawn whom they know.


Random bits.

Turns out an ultrafine, "nanoscale" powder of iron shavings can be used to help clean up contaminated water and soil.

Leif and a team from Utne will begin blogging from the World Trade Organization conference in Cancun on Sunday. Tune in here.

In politics, Estrada backs out, and the courts put the kibosh on the FCC's plan to relax media ownership rules. One account says Bush must be thrilled; the ruling will delay this hot-button issue til a non-election year.

Richard Reeves offers ten reasons why Bush can't win.

The Dalai Lama, in an exclusive Guardian interview, imagines a time when he might be able to end his exile and move back to Lhasa.

And, in closing, low-tech ninja ping-pong.


The Blind Prophet

Before the war, President Bush told us Iraq was a throbbing hub of terror. It wasn't, of course. But it is now.

(Under)dogged determination: Chand, Corbu and Chandigarh

I wrote the following for a magazine on the theme of "winners and losers," but they didn't end up using it. Since the themes of creative autonomy, persistence, reclamation, and "mastery" are so strong, I'd like to post it here.

In 1951, Nek Chand was hired as a roads inspector to help construct LeCorbusier’s master plan for the new capital city of Chandigarh in northern India. When not laboring in service of the great architect’s vision, Chand quietly carved out a secret legacy of his own in the jungle outside town—one that eventually trumped the great Corbu’s city of Chandigarh.

To give LeCorbusier a blank slate to design an entire 240-acre city, the shining symbol of a modernizing India, twenty villages had to be razed. Chand worked in a secluded clearing under cover of darkness for 18 years transforming scavenged materials from that rubble into mosaic-tile trees, monkeys, bears, men, women, walls, and waterfalls--all using the newest construction techniques he picked up during his day job. He created some 2,000 sculptures by the time his illegal Rock Garden--created without permission on government land--was discovered in 1972. Despite countless threats to destroy the garden--one in which a human wall prevented bulldozers from plowing a roadway through the park (when has "legitimate" art inspired this kind of passion?)—Chand’s work still stands, a symbol of his autonymous spirit.

John Maizels, editor of Raw Vision, a magazine dedicated to contemporary outsider art, wrote that Chand is "a self-taught genius whose use of spatial relationships on such a massive scale could compete with the greatest of architects." In fact, it can be argued that Chand not only competed with, but triumphed over Corbu. Criticized by Indians for its user-unfriendly designs, cold lines, and Western building materials ill-fit for India’s harsh elements, Chandigarh is considered Le Corbusier’s great failure. By contrast, Chand--whose kingdom was birthed from the discarded waste of LeCorbusier’s city--was relieved of his job as road inspector so he could work full time with pay on his dream city, a work now memorialized on one of India’s postage stamps.

In an "edict" summarizing his work in Chandigarh, LeCorbusier wrote: "The age of personal statues is gone. No personal statues shall be erected in the city or parks of Chandigarh. The city is planned to breathe the new sublimated spirit of art." Thankfully, it’s an edict Chand managed to ignore.


Quick musings

Civil war, world war. What are we doing in the Middle East? Certainly "stabilizing it" ain't the answer. The Taleban seems to be taking charge again in Afghanistan. With foreign fighters from Pakistan, Syria, Egypt and other countries streaming into Iraq and Afghanistan, we're apparently only succeeding in achieving a massive two-fer: we started a civil war in Iraq while simultaneously starting if not a world war, then a Middle East-wide conflict. Am I exaggerating? Maybe. But consider: with the bombing of a UN building in Baghdad two weeks back, it's clear even the UN isn't safe in Iraq. Then who is? Not Shiite Muslims who now find themselves warring against each other: Shiite supporters of the US-backed Iraqi government were the target of last week's mosque bombing, an act allegedly perpetrated by anti-US Shiites. The "Roadmap to Peace" is in shambles, with bloodshed continuing to occur in Gaza. On top of it, with the American economy floundering, we're pissing away almost $5 billion a month on a losing venture in the Middle East.

Get out the vote. Campaigns left and right--literally--will be spending untold fortunes on get-out-the-vote efforts. Looking to Howard Dean's grassroots methods of shoring up base support, Republicans, too, are trying to keep their traditional supporters in their sights. Thing is, too many people are pissed off: environmentalists, minorities, women, even American Muslims are working to make Congress hear their voices. I think there's great opportunity: the Muslim community, like Kucinich/Dean democrats, are making civil liberties a core issue--something Bush and the Republicans can never claim. Hopefully these progressive voter movements will gel across race and interest lines.

To get involved, check out William Upski Wimsatt's list of voter-rights groups from this month's issue of Yes:
NAACP National Voter Fund
Future 500
League of Women Voters
Youth Vote Coalition
Project Vote
Voces del Pueblo
Rock the Vote
and others.