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4.30.03 - Sorry for the delay; the new job has my head (and schedule) in adjustment mode. I did manage to make myself a nice Salmon Steak with Orange Butter Sauce for dinner. That goddamn Web sure is delicious. I've got to stop forgetting how much I love to cook.
Another day or two should get me back up and running. Keep calling N.C. House Speakers Black and Morgan; they continue to play games with the scheduled vote on the Electoral Fairness Act. Thursday is the last day for bills to cross over to the State Senate; call early and often. [link]
4.28.03 - Why yes, as a matter of fact I am laughing my head off at the Rick Santorum/homosexuality hullaballoo. Am I the only person who sees pure comic gold in this thing? I guess so. More after I get off work today. For now, you'll have to be satisfied with some very nice posts from some very nice blogs I've never linked to before:
Happy scrolling. [link]
4.28.03 - If you live in North Carolina, please read this post and call Co-Speakers Black and Morgan before the Electoral Fairness Act finally comes to a vote tonight at 6pm. It's simple, really: if they each get 15-20 polite calls today, it'll almost certainly help pass the bill. [link]
4.25.03 - Soccer, sanctions, Iran, Iraq and you. Jesse Walker, associate editor of Reason magazine, nicely summarizes why Iran is more ready for democracy than Iraq in a USAToday op-ed. Unlike Iraq, Iran already has a strong, organized grassroots democracy movement. I like the incident Walker chooses to illustrate the point: a 1997 soccer celebration that resulted in "a brief but unstoppable disregard of tough Islamic restrictions on public behavior...Men and women openly danced in the streets, and some women removed their mandatory head scarves and let their hair down." It may seem minor, but it's quite a telling moment. Walker goes on:
In Iran, there are signs that, with time, the people may bring down the dictatorship. In 2000, Iranian voters swept in a nominally reformist government. Last year, huge demonstrations shook Isfahan, Tabriz and Tehran. Iran may well be more likely than Iraq to create and sustain a democratic government.
I'd bet on it, actually. The fight against the fundamentalist theocracy in Iran has been obvious for years now. It spawned a large Iranian weblog movement, pioneered by Hossein Derakhshan, whose Persian guide to blogging helped make Iran "one of the most blog-heavy Islamic countries." The government was so threatened it recently felt compelled to crack down, arresting one of the most prominent journalist bloggers in the country. Iranians are responding with more organizing. Another great resource for going beyond typical hawkish soundbites is Glenn Frazier's Iranian Liberty Index, which is full of thoughtful observations from someone who calls himself "roughly conservative." Frazier is one of a number of right-leaning observers who believe that the Iranian people need U.S. support, but who are not calling for an outside invasion.
It's too bad more folks couldn't see a similar solution for Iraq.
So why exactly is Iran is further along than Iraq in the democratic ferment department? Jesse Walker has a good theory:
One major difference between Iran and Iraq: U.S. sanctions against Iran are much less severe than the ones against Iraq. Except in the Kurds' northern zone, the sanctions rendered Iraq's citizens more dependent on Saddam's government, and thus — perversely — helped crush the independent institutions needed for a real revolution. The end result was symbolized when Saddam's statue came down. In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, jubilant crowds tore down the hated dictatorships' statues themselves. In Iraq, a much smaller crowd needed Uncle Sam's tanks.
This is the argument I've been making all along: We should have eased the sanctions on the civilian economy and patiently cultivated an Iraqi democracy movement without risking U.S. soldiers or killing Iraqi civilians. Instead of that sensible approach, U.S. policy actively prevented the Iraqi people from organizing against Saddam and repeatedly sold out rebel movements in order to keep Iraq "stable" under the dictator's iron rule. Then, in an urgent, inexplicable rush, Bush and Cheney had the unbelievable hubris to decide unilaterally that it was time to "liberate" the Iraqi people from the very dictator the U.S. had been propping up for decades. Bush ignored Iraqi resistance groups who asked for assistance to overthrow Saddam on their own, trashed international law, disrespected the people he claimed to be saving, killed soldiers and civilians unnecessarily and practically dared international terrorists to attack us again. His stupid, wasteful, arrogant strategy is a complete mess - a mess the rest of us will be cleaning up for years to come.
Over in Iran, a young, moderate majority is this close to getting rid of the fundamentalist Ayatollahs who are trying to rule them with an iron fist. It's madness to think that what the Iranian pro-democracy majority needs most right now is an oh-so-righteous invasion of U.S. soldiers.
And you know what? The same was true of Iraq. [link]
4.24.03 - Tons of great stuff going on this weekend, including a ten-band show tonight at Durham's Starlite Drive-In and Gun Shop and the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus finishing their Triangle mini-tour at Ringside, but the best bet tonight has to be the freaky underground L.A. hiphop at the Skylight Exchange. The Indy notes the transformation of the formerly alcohol-free bookstore/cafe into a hopping evening music spot, giving props to dedicated people like Isaac Trogdon, but doesn't mention anything about the coup of bringing the Mush Records tour - Busdriver, Radioinactive, Awol One and Andre Afram Asmar - to the area.
Sure, some folks don't like what they see as a "rhythmically challenged Caucasian geek" style of rapping, but more sympathetic critics see the style as "a syncopated giggle, sine-curve-scrambling words jockeying for position even as the foundation they springboard from disintegrates into nothingness," or just "awesomely pure, like the triumphant stink of a 12-year-old-boy's socks." My experience of Mush is fairly limited, but what I've heard is either hilariously smart and absurd or sweet, jazzy and beautiful [mp3s]. Songs like "Name Forgetter," with its mix of kids' records, scratching, chopped-up beats and loopy verbal flow, are even reminiscent of local experimenters like Silica Gel and the rest of N.C.'s Wifflefist crew. That's more than enough to get me out tonight. [link]
4.24.03 - Fact: North Carolina has some of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the country. It's harder for third party candidates like Ralph Nader or Harry Browne to get on the ballot in this state than almost any other. In 2000, it took 95,000 signatures to get an independent candidate on the ballot in NC - second only to California, even though NC comes in 11th in population. The vast majority of states require less than 10,000 signatures, by the way. Nearby Tennessee requires only 25 - yes, 25 - signatures.
Given the obvious insanity of North Carolina's ballot access laws, why did a bid to ease the state's ridiculously strict rules fail so miserably in 2001? Two words: Leo Daughtry. The House Minority Leader at the time rallied his fellow Republicans in what can only be called a pathetic attempt at undermining American democracy:
Every Republican, except one, voted against the bill, so it died, by a vote of 45-71...In debate on the House floor, Republicans expressed hostility toward voters who support minor party and independent candidates. Republican House leader Leo Daughtry said, "It is working well by having a Republican Party and a Democratic Party. I don't think having the most restrictive rule is a bad thing."
Can you believe that arrogance? Of course, the fact that some Democrats voted against the loosening also helped kill the bill, but it was Leo Daughtry who led the charge. Thankfully, Daughtry's charmingly egocentric personality appears to have alienated enough of his fellow Republicans to destroy his political career (goodbye, governor's office), which means that saner minds just might prevail this year. But not without your help. Now - as in TODAY - is the time to demand that your legislators vote in favor of House Bill 867, which will bring the state's ballot access laws closer to the national norm by reducing the signature requirement to 15,000 and loosening other rules. State Libertarians and Greens (scroll down) say the bill could come up for a vote as early as (ahem) TODAY. They strongly encourage you to contact your representatives immediately. So do I.
Update: A local Libertarian activist emailed to say the Electoral Fairness Act is scheduled for a vote before the N.C. House Friday, but it's actually scheduled for today. Call now!
Further update: A reporter on the scene emailed to say that co-Speaker Black skipped over HB 867 this afternoon. The N.C. Libertarian Party's ballot access coordinator confirmed the news; he emailed that the vote has been postponed until Monday "due to its potential for lengthy debate and the time." Apparently, some of our pols have to take the weekend to ponder whether they can afford to give up their stranglehold on state elections. Whatever. Keep calling and emailing co-Speakers Black and Morgan as well as your own Representative. My suggestion is to be polite but forceful as you ask why HB 867 isn't law yet and on what grounds anyone can possibly object to it. At this point, I'm almost disappointed to have former state ACLU head Deborah Ross - one of the bill's co-sponsors - leading my district. I'd love the chance to argue this one. [link]
"I think they'll sell themselves,
4.22.03 - Metafilter delivers nicely on the occasion of Nina Simone's death, but the Tryon Daily Bulletin - the paper of record in the world-famous singer's North Carolina hometown - has interesting details that probably didn't make it into more urban obits:
Simone’s musical genius did not go unnoticed; her mother’s employer, a Mrs. Miller, offered to pay the six-year-old girl’s music lessons for a year. The teacher chosen was an Englishwoman, Mrs. Muriel Mazzanovich, who lived in Gillette Woods with her Russian husband, a gifted painter. When Mrs. Miller could no longer provide lessons, Mrs. Mazzanovich organized a successful fund drive in Tryon to provide for “the little colored girl...”
Ironically, Tryon was both blessing and a wound to Simone’s soul...it was in Tryon that Simone’s deep anger about racial discrimination was born. When Simone was walking to Mrs. Mazzanovich’s for piano lessons, she would often stop in Owen’s Pharmacy for a grilled cheese sandwich, but unlike white patrons she had to eat it outside. She could not understand.
A more critical event occurred when Simone was ten. She was invited to give a concert at the Lanier Library. Her mother and father came with her. Arriving early, they settled into front row seats. However, as the white patrons arrived, her parents were asked to stand at the back. Simone was devastated.
[It's clear I screwed up in posting the next paragraph. I thought the absurd "buttocks fondling" remarks at the bottom would be a giveaway, but apparently I was too clever by half. Apologies for not making clear that the link below is a very racist take on Selma. The original paragraph follows.]
If you read only one Nina Simone-related page today, I strongly recommend this accessible summary of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march in the spring of 1965. It's short enough to absorb in a coffee break but includes enough detail to convey the horror, courage and absurdity of the U.S. during the 1960s civil rights movement.
Simone was right there, in the middle of the tear gas, beatings and killings, singing her heart out for 30,000 people risking their lives for the simple right to vote. I can't think of a better way to honor the composer of "Mississippi Goddam" than taking a few minutes to understand those five days in 1965. The All Music Guide suggests a "first-rate and essential collection" of Simone's music, too.
Amazingly, neither Tryon, NC's official site nor the Polk County tourism site mentions anything about Nina Simone. As someone who once went on a pilgrimage with my favorite photo-blogger to John Coltrane's birthplace in Hamlet, NC and Dizzy Gillespie's beautiful hometown of Cheraw, SC, I find the absence of an official state acknowledgement of Simone - who ranks high on any list of courageous, opinionated and talented people who came out of North Carolina in the last 100 years - to be very sad. [thanks to Matt for the heads-up on this one] [link]
4.21.03 - She is risen.
4.21.03 - So it's TV Turnoff Week again. Sure, it's a good idea, especially for kids (you won't find me arguing against a slogan like "More Reading, Less TV"). I'm also glad someone's pointing out the disgusting refusal of major networks to sell airtime to people who dare promote a more spiritual message than "Buy!Buy!Buy!" over the public airwaves. Commercials suggesting that citizens consume less are not allowed on national TV networks? What a completely horrifying exclusion.
That said, the simple on/off dichotomy of TV Turnoff Week has always bothered me. I say we replace it with a Make Your Own TV Show Week designed to turn people on to the global public access movement. Sadly, only 10-15% of communities in the United States provide public access channels, but cable companies can be forced to provide those channels as a condition of the franchise agreements the companies negotiate with individual towns. People just have to get off their asses and demand that their local leaders include public access channels in any agreement. It's worth noting that cable companies sometimes do all they can to weasel out of providing the service, including refusing to honor their own funding promises. It's also true that some pathetic city governments prefer to pocket the franchise fees rather than use the money to create democratic local media. But problems like those can be fought (and if local officials still won't wake up, there's always the Internet).
For what it's worth, I've been doing a weekly cable access show in Raleigh, NC for over four years now, focusing on local and national politics, media criticism, queer issues, music and art. I've used the show to organize debates between city council candidates, discuss the local school district's crappy sex ed curriculum, showcase friends' computer animation, mourn the death of my cat and lots more. I've invited the mayor, a local "ex-gay" minister and the editors of the local newspaper - to name just a few guests - onto the show to answer calls from viewers. They usually have a great time.
The point is this: It's easy and you can do it, too. Instead of turning off the TV. What are you waiting for? The mainstream media to do something stupid? [link]
4.18.03 - There's a funeral tomorrow in Raleigh for the casualties - human, economic and political - of the Iraq war. From the "Death of Democracy" organizers' email:
The "funeral" is a procession from Partnership Elementary to the state capitol with coffins and body bags representing the casualties of war on both the American and Iraqi sides. The artwork will signify the intensified war on the poor, civil rights, veteran's rights, funding for education, healthcare, benefits, Immigrant rights, and racial justice. Please wear black and bring appropriate props (signs in the shape of tombstones, musical instruments, etc).
I like this kind of theatrical protest - one of a number of peace events in North Carolina this weekend (N&O story) - because it can be effective as both theater for the cars driving by and as ritual for the participants themselves. Making art and mourning are both cleansing experiences. The funeral starts at the corner of Glenwood and Devereux (a block or two north of Peace Street) at 12pm and then heads to the capitol building. [link]
4.18.03 - Ladies and gentlemen and conservative bloggers, I present to you the planet's best bathroom reading: Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe, Volume III. The newest addition to Gonick's graphic oeuvre is a noticeable improvement over Volume II, mainly because Gonick's lettering doesn't look as rushed as it did last time. Amazing how that makes for a more pleasing read.
This dense, opinionated history is full of interesting linkages and eye-opening tidbits that will have you digging out your "real" books as soon as you pull up your pants. 9th century Nubian mansions had hot and cold running water? Gold from Mali funded the Italian Renaissance? Cordoba had a worker-run rebel government in 1023? The Crusades, the Mongol hordes, the roots of the Sunni/Shiite split, the original Slav trade, the plague, the "fullness" of China's Tang empire - it's all here in a deceptively breezy style.
But, you may be asking, how reliable a source is Gonick? Trust but verify, as they say. For what it's worth, when I used Volume I's discussion of the origin of life for teaching high school biology, I found it at least as accurate as any other intro text I've seen. Plus, the kids loved it.
Diehard religious folks won't like Gonick's brutally unspiritual version of the early history of Islam, or his description of the Christian-led slaughter of women and children that capped the First Crusade, but it sure is timely stuff for the rest of us. A glance at the book's cover is enough to show that Gonick anticipated a few furious reactions to his relentlessly materialistic approach. The cynicism does sometimes seem excessive, but at least it's applied across the board. In Gonick's world, everyone seems to act from the basest of motives.
Gonick's overemphasis on bloody conflict can also get a little redundant, not least because it comes at the expense of deeper looks at the heights of art and science achieved by more stable (and perhaps less exciting to draw) "golden age" societies. I know the book is aimed at both kids and adults, but it's still a bit of a shame that literature, art and language seem to get much less space than eye-gouging, beheading and mass slaughter. We'll call that a forgivable point.
Ok, I'll stop nitpicking now. The Cartoon History of the Universe, Volume III is wonderful, captivating bathroom reading. Is there better praise than that? One of the book's best aspects is the way Gonick draws the various histories together, linking Chinese culture to Mongol to Turkish to Byzantine to Christian to Muslim in ways that leave a powerful impression of, well, unity - despite all the bloodshed. Quite an achievement. [link]
4.17.03 - Following up the post below about Syria, I've tried to gather a few thoughts and links about Hezbollah. I was motivated by an astonishing quote from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in a syndicated op-ed piece in today's N&O. Armitage claims that Hezbollah may be the terrorist "A-team," while Al Qaida "may be actually the B-team." The jaw-dropping reversal flies in the face of so many facts it's difficult to know where to begin, except to marvel at the N&O's willingness to carry water for extreme hawks who want us to believe Syria must be the next stop on Bush's shock-and-awe tour.
The history of Hezbollah (a group you may recall from its local cigarette connection) is worth exploring here. The Shiite militant organization, also a political party, arose as a specific response to Israel's misguided 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Hezbollah was fueled by the horrific civilian massacres at Sabra and Shatilla and by the Israeli army's bungled handling of the local Shiite population, many of whom, believe it or not, intitially greeted the Israelis with support.
Is Hezbollah really more of a threat to the U.S. mainland than Al Qaida? Get real. Throughout its history, Hezbollah has focused primarily on a military campaign in and around Lebanon, although the Iraq invasion has led to new calls for action against Western troops in other Arab lands. Meanwhile, Al Qaida has repeatedly stated its intent to continue bringing terror to Western civilians in their own countries. Acknowledging the distinction may be gruesome Realpolitik, but that's how the hawk game is played, isn't it? Armitage is a fool if he believes Hezbollah is more of a threat to the United States than Osama's crew.
Sadly, Armitage has company. Florida Senator Bob Graham has been calling Hezbollah "the No. 1 threat" to the U.S. for months now, citing the 1983 suicide bombings that killed 260 Marines and 59 French paratroopers as proof that we need to send missiles into Hezbollah's Syrian training camps right away (look for John Edwards to begin espousing a similar hard line soon). Today's N&O op-ed also uses the 1983 bombings, but neither source bothers to mention that those horrible deaths were in part the result of a number of confused moves by Ronald Reagan's White House, which may have been deliberately manipulated by Ariel Sharon to force the Marines to take sides in a conflict in which they were supposed to be neutral. As if that wasn't enough, the Marines were given absurdly restrictive rules of engagement [search for the second occurence of "White Card"] and left as sitting ducks for terrorists already angry at outside invaders in their land. Don't believe me; here's Caspar Weinberger, Reagan's equivalent to Donald Rumsfeld, telling it to PBS' Frontline:
So you have a force that was almost a sitting duck in one of the most dangerous spots in the Mideast, and therefore one of the most dangerous spots in the world, unable to protect itself. It was a disaster waiting to happen. It didn't require any degree of prophecy on my part or others, but I felt very strongly that they should not be there...
Marines that are properly armed and have rules of engagement that allow them to defend themselves are quite a different thing than Marines who are forced to sit on a Beirut Airport and not do anything effectively. And that was proven, to the extreme unhappiness of everybody, to result in the kind of tragedy that did happen...
Beirut was an absolutely inevitable outcome of doing what we did, of putting troops in with no mission that could be carried out. There was no agreement on either side of the pullback. You didn't need a buffer force. There's nothing more dangerous than in the middle of a furious prize fight, inserting a referee in range of both the fighters, both the contestants. That's what we did.
Once again: Hezbollah arose after Israel 1) invaded Lebanon in what Israelis themselves call "a war of choice," 2) aided a group of thugs who "raped, tortured, mutilated and massacred" hundreds, if not thousands, of unarmed Palestinian civilians at Shabra and Shatilla, and 3) began treating the local Shiites like crap. And now people are suggesting that the United States should take on the job of dealing with the mess Israel created for itself? Absurd. [link]
4.17.03 - Three cheers for complexity. The Voice of America confirms what I posted Tuesday: Not only has Syria been torturing Al Qaida members on the U.S.'s behalf, it's also been helping the "war on terror" in other ways:
Despite U.S. accusations that Syria has allowed top Iraqi officials to cross its border, some U.S. officials are acknowledging that Damascus has been quietly cooperating with the United States in the international war on terror.
[Secretary of State Colin] Powell told AP that Syria "does not want to be a safe haven" for members of the fallen Iraqi government. He said many messages are being passed back and forth between Washington and Damascus through the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Theodore Kattouf, as well as Britain, France and Spain.
It gets better. Syrian President Bashar Assad actually got angry last June that Bush & Co weren't giving Syria enough credit for its contributions:
Assad told a visiting American delegation...that Syrian intelligence agencies had uncovered a major Al-Qa'ida plot earlier this year and passed the information to the US. Assad was angry, however, that American officials not only have refused to publicly acknowledge Syria's role in foiling the plot, but had told him that he could not speak openly about it. According to Abourezk, Assad threatened to break his silence and publicly take credit unless Bush administration officials stop referring to Syria as a terrorist state.
Fascinating. The key to understanding all this, of course, is that Syria sees Al Qaida as a serious threat while simultaneously seeing Palestinian militants as legitimate resisters of Israeli oppression. Apologists for hard-right Israeli government positions (hi, Mr. Wolfowitz) can't quite bring themselves to make that distinction publicly. Neither can folks like Glenn "I'm a freaking law professor" Reynolds, who spins a report that "Syria has functioned as a hub for an Al Qaeda network" into evidence that the Syrian government is actively in bed with Osama. Notice how Reynolds puts it: "Now if it's a Syrian connection to Al Qaeda that you're looking for, well, read this story."
It's a blatant distortion, of course. The story clearly states that investigators "have no evidence that the Syrian government was aware of the network or protected it, and that they hope to get help with the case from Syrian authorities." Oops. The best the story can do is note that Syria's intelligence services "would likely be aware" of the Al Qaida extremists. Apparently, the idea that Syria might be observing Osama's pals in order to foil another plot is beyond Reynolds' imagination. Dammit, he says, we have "a Syrian connection to Al Qaeda" here!
Maybe. But Terrorism Answers offers a smarter and more useful take:
Does the Syrian government have ties to al-Qaeda?
If you're thinking that the line between Al Qaida and Palestinian terror groups may have blurred in the last two years, good for you. Be sure to read this Time report (mentioned here in February) about the trouble Al Qaida has experienced as it tries to get cozy with Palestinian militants:
Al-Qaeda has plainly sought access to the most ideologically compatible of the Palestinian groups, but has for the most part been rebuffed — Hamas and Islamic Jihad are wary of being swallowed up in bin Laden's global jihad against America and seeing their national jihad against the Israelis eclipsed (a fate the Palestinian Islamists see as having befallen Egyptian Islamic Jihad once it made common cause with al-Qaeda).
Pay attention to this one, folks. The attempt to lump all terrorists into the Al Qaida camp is central to the argument that Syria should be the next target for a U.S. invasion. Meanwhile, the question of Syrian support for Palestinian militants is itself central to any solution of the Israeli-Palestinian war.
Update: Via Calpundit (who raises the pointed question, "doesn't practically every country in the Middle East have ties to al-Qaeda?) comes a link to Dan Drezner's thoughts, including a link to this Ha'aretz article which expends a lot of effort trying to draw a connection between extremist Muslim citizens of Syria and the current Alawite President Assad. Some of the evidence seems an awful lot like sleight of hand. Why, for example, does Ha'aretz mention the supposedly damning news that Syria "to this day" refuses to extradite a German-born Al Qaida member to Germany, but fails to mention that the United States has been submitting questions for the prisoner and has gotten useful information from the Syrian government's interrogation? If Human Rights Watch knew about the special arrangement, surely Ha'aretz could find out. For another example, take the bit about three Syrian Al Qaida members being arrested in Spain. One, Ha'aretz informs us, was a member of the Islamic Brotherhood in Syria! But wait a minute. Wasn't the Islamic Brotherhood an extremist sect that has historically opposed the Syrian goverment? Hasn't it been repeatedly and brutally crushed by the Syrian military in the past? "Syria's regime--dominated by a non-Muslim minority group-- wiped out one of its own biggest cities in 1982, killing between 10,000 and 30,000 people, to wipe out a center of radical fundamentalist supporters," as one site puts it.
Does it really make sense to attack the current Syrian President for Al Qaida links based on the mere existence of citizens who belong to fundamentalist groups the government has fought with? You tell me. From what I can gather, the clearest evidence of a link boils down to the fact that Syria allowed some Al Qaida members fleeing Afghanistan to settle in Lebanon even as it arrested others. It's fair enough to wonder what's going on there. But the fact that the Ha'aretz article includes information that's misleading at best doesn't boost my confidence in the conclusion it's attempting to draw. [link]
4.15.03 - "You make love. We make it legal." That's the title of tonight's open forum on sodomy laws at the Sheraton Capital Center in Raleigh. The free event is sponsored by Equality NC, the statewide gay rights PAC, and Lambda Legal, a national group that focuses its efforts on "test cases selected for the likelihood of their success in establishing positive legal precedents that will affect lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, the transgendered, and people with HIV or AIDS." The N&O story doesn't mention it, but the forum is part of a series of meetings in each of the 13 states that still have sodomy laws.
State Senator Ellie Kinnaird has introduced a "Sexual Privacy Act" that would limit NC's moronic "crime against nature" law to sex acts with animals. Despite the fact that sodomy laws are used today mainly as leverage against gay parents in custody cases, Kinnaird's bill is sure to face an uphill fight. Remember, this is a state whose Supreme Court yanked two kids out of their father's custody in 1998 simply because the father kissed his boyfriend in front of them and dared to let the kids into the room - gasp! - while the two men were in bed together. The Court, in its infinite wisdom, placed the kids in the custody of the mother who had left them and their father for another man seven years earlier. Interestingly, the NC Family Policy Council, which supported the mother in the case and provides a useful rundown of "family values"-related bills currently active in the House, has yet to mention Senate Bill 969 on its site. Stay tuned. [link]
4.15.03 - Say what you will about the Bush administration (I favor Kurt Vonnegut's description: upper crust C-students, not-so-closeted white supremacists and psychopathic personalities), but give it credit, at least, for providing us an excuse to learn more about world geography. As Wolfowitz conservatives begin to spread their version of Syria's place in the world, be sure to remind them of things like this from the Human Rights Watch report:
Syria secretly gained custody of Mohamed Haydar Zammar, a Syrian-born German national suspected of recruiting three of the September 11 hijackers. According to various press reports, Zammar was clandestinely arrested in Morocco and transferred to Syria with the knowledge of the U.S. government but without notification of German authorities. The Washington Post, citing one unnamed U.S. official, reported on June 19 that the U.S. did not have "direct access to Zammar" but "the Americans have been submitting questions for him to the Syrians, and some of the answers have helped gauge the credibility of detainees in U.S. custody."
Syria - not just the next stop on the Wolfowitz tour, but a fine torture partner as well. Visit soon! [link]
4.14.03 - Writing is weird.
Not weird in the sense of "unfamiliar;" writing's familiar enough. But the process of moving black shapes into tightly organized clusters sure does feel mysterious sometimes. Unsettling, even. I hope I'm not the only one who gets the feeling there's something a little freakish, if not downright magical, about all this reading and writing we do. Imagine what it must have been like to be part of a society exploring that feeling for the very first time. Who the hell were those writing pioneers? What were they thinking? Did they ever get scared of the power they saw unfolding in front of them?
The art of the Sumerian civilization...was one of enormous power and originality that influenced all of the major cultures of ancient western Asia. Their techniques and motifs were made widely available by means of cuneiform writing, which they invented before 3000 B.C...
Sumerian craftsmanship was of marked excellence from very early times. A vase in alabaster from Erech (c.3500 B.C.; Iraq Mus., Baghdad) shows a detailed ceremonial procession of men and animals to the fertility goddess Inanna, carved in four bands on an elegant vase shape. A major peak of artistic achievement is represented by a female head, called Lady of Warka (Erech) from about 3200 B.C. (Iraq Mus.). It is carved in white marble with simplicity and subtlety.
Sigh. Would it really have been that much trouble for the U.S. to station a dozen soldiers around the National Museum of Iraq? Imagine the public relations hay an intelligent U.S. administration could have made from a few days of guarding Iraq's astonishing archeological heritage. What a wasted opportunity. Pictures of coalition soldiers standing between looters and thousands of priceless artifacts would have been a perfect little plug for "Brand America" - surely better than the Britney Spears pablum the State Department has been producing. Instead, we're reading reports like this:
[Iraqi archeologist Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammad] said he found an American Abrams tank in Museum Square, about 300 yards away, and that five marines had followed him back into the museum and opened fire above the looters' heads. This drove several thousand of the marauders out of the museum complex in minutes, he said, but when the tank crewmen left about 30 minutes later, the looters returned.
"I asked them to bring their tank inside the museum grounds," he said. "But they refused and left. About half an hour later, the looters were back..."
What kind of political leader could fail to understand the public relations coup the U.S. just pissed away? What kind of military commander could allow his troops to simply leave one of humanity's most important collections of historical objects to a mob of looters circling nearby? Apparently, reminding troops in the field that the coalition had promised to take "extreme measures to protect cultural, religious, and archaeological sites" was a lower priority than pulling down a statue in front of the hotel where the foreign press was staying.
We're being led by Philistines. But you knew that already.
The absurdly bungled museum mess also has me wondering about the role of wealthy private collectors in all this. Some of them apparently want to dismantle rules that restrict their ability to own the world's antiquities for themselves (as if we needed another example of the increasing privatization of public resources).
Archeologists had repeatedly urged that "security personnel be posted throughout Iraq at its many archaeological sites and museum storage facilities as soon as possible to halt future thefts." So why wasn't anyone listening? How else to explain the curious absence of concern from coalition leaders, if not by money changing hands somewhere? [thanks to Sci-Fi Today for the third-to-last article] [link]
"The Iraqi people" show their feelings about Bush's strategy for ousting Saddam
4.10.03 - If you've been outspoken at all against the U.S. invasion of Iraq, you've surely heard by now from simplistic conservatives who've started using the U.S. victory as after-the-fact evidence that invading was an unequivocally good thing. Sorry, but it doesn't work that way. I probably get more than my share of these folks because of the TV show, but I'm sure lots of you know the type. Last night, for instance, a conservative viewer who likes telling me what to post sent the image of the flag-waving girl above in an empty email titled "please add this to your page."
Even better than the email (among the least obnoxious I've received, actually) was the guy who called the show last night as we were discussing NCAA basketball - including the hot topics of Roy Williams and UNC, sports media absurdities, and how college ball is stacked in favor of the marquee teams that make the most money - to suggest that I deliberately scheduled a sports show this week to avoid acknowledging the glory of today's U.S. victory. What a fucking idiot. I guess that means the all-skateboarding show we did on March 12 was designed to divert attention from the looming war and help Bush spread his lies, right? Regular viewers know we like to mix things up with shows on unexpected topics. We'd just done three "all-war" shows in a row. Do the math.
Underlying this kind of accusation, of course, is the insulting assumption that people like me who opposed a U.S. invasion are incapable of feeling happy that the war is over and Saddam is out of power. Jesus, what kind of jerk would think that? Memo to the clueless in the house: The left was trying to raise awareness about the horrible plight of the Iraqi people for the last 12 years, but you all were too busy trying to figure out if Bill Clinton's dick was crooked to care. The left also tries to stop its soldiers from being killed in unnecessary wars. You should try that sometime; it's useful work. So please spare us the insulting garbage about how much more concern you have for ordinary Iraqis - and how much more you support U.S. troops - than we do. And that notion that we're not happy the war's coming to a quick end? Try shoving it up your ass. And have a nice day.
Yeesh. Talking to those folks is like banging your head against a wall, isn't it? I've repeatedly offered direct evidence that both Bush I and Clinton actively worked to keep Saddam in power during the 1990s to maintain a bizarre, amoral idea of "regional stability." I've clearly documented the massive lying from the Bush administration necessary to sell this war. I've offered multiple links to articles about current Iraqi resistance groups that firmly opposed a U.S. invasion. I've repeatedly stated my desire to rid the world of tyrants like Saddam using the kind of slowly escalating, massive civil disobedience we know has worked in other countries. I've made the point again and again that we could have toppled that ridiculous iron statue without sacrificing a single teenage U.S. soldier, without U.S. bombs blowing the feet off a single Iraqi girl, without causing a single civilian to feel anything but joy at U.S. assistance, and without creating a single new terrorist. The fall of Saddam via a massive invasion changes nothing about the point I've been making for months: An Iraqi-led, U.S.-supported rebellion was a better option. It would have gotten rid of Saddam, kept important notions of international law and sovereignty intact, left the Arab world less angry at the U.S. and kept the U.S. safer from terrorism. No one has even come close to refuting that argument.
And yet here come the kneejerk conservatives, waving pictures of smiling Iraqi kids in our faces, sticking their tongues out and sneering, "Nyah, nyah!" What can you do but laugh at that kind of goofiness? I get a particularly big guffaw at the ones with the strange need to have their unnecessary brutality validated by fans of nonviolence. "What do you think now, eh? Bombings that kill children aren't so bad now, are they?"
Good lord. What's that all about?
Anyway, be sure to take time to rejoice in the fact that Saddam Hussein and his sons no longer have a police state, massive prisons, torture chambers and a captive people to abuse. As John Stewart noted on The Daily Show last night, only a complete ideological captive of the left wouldn't share in the joy of Iraqi civilians. But, he added, only a complete ideological captive of the right wouldn't feel horror and sadness at the cost of war.
4.10.03 - Speaking of The Daily Show, the segment with local bar owner (and Carrboro alderman) Mark Dorosin will be appearing tonight. This isn't another false alarm; they previewed the segment at the end of last night's show. It looks like Dorosin gives Stephen Colbert as good as he gets, which won't surprise anyone who knows Dorosin but is something I've never seen anyone do on the show before. Should be fun. [link]
4.9.03 - Gulf War Syndrome, take two. U.S. troops are already getting sick from toxic exposure to depleted uranium and other chemicals, says an article at TomPaine.com (great summary of the DU issue here). And once again, the Pentagon seems to be avoiding even the most basic data collection that would allow for a reasonably scientific examination of the issue:
Complicating efforts to understand any potential health impacts is the Pentagon's failure, acknowleged in House hearings on March 25, to follow a 1997 law requiring baseline medical screening of troops before and after deployment...
In 1991, Desert Storm Commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf asked [Dr. Doug Rokke, former director of the Army's depleted uranium (DU) project] to oversee the environmental clean up and medical care of soldiers injured in friendly fire incidents involving DU weapons. Rokke later wrote the DU safety rules adopted by the Army, but was relieved of subsequent duties after he criticized commanders for not following those rules and not treating exposed troops from NATO's war in Yugoslavia.
[Lobbying from Gulf War vets, including Denise Nichols, a retired Air Force Major now vice-chairman of the National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition] sparked Congress to pass a 1997 law requiring the Pentagon to conduct a physical and take blood samples of all soldiers before and after deployment. In a House hearing on March 25 on that requirement, Public Law 105-85, Pentagon officials said the military had not conducted those baseline tests for Iraq War soldiers, saying they asked troops to fill out a questionnaire instead...
"If you don't look, you don't find," Rokke said, commenting on the Pentagon's failure to assess soldiers' health. "If you don't find, there is no correlation. If there's no correlation, there's no liability."
Seems pretty clear the burden is now on those who are skeptical of DU injury claims - which come from civilians as well as soldiers, remember - to explain why the hell the Pentagon consistently scuttles attempts to collect even the most basic data that would help medical scientists understand the problem.. Personally, I don't need yet another example of the U.S. military lying to its soldiers about the health risks they'll encounter to be concerned about this one. If you still need convincing, here are lots of good links (and some horrifying pictures) that explore the state of current science on depleted uranium's potentially severe health risks. [link]
4.9.03 - Tonight on Monkeytime TV we're taking a break from war to discuss something more important to the Triangle: College basketball. CBS's pro-Duke bias, the hilarious press push to get Roy Williams at UNC, the meth-addicted baptist preacher who helped put the ACC on the map and more. [link]
4.8.03 - Looks like the police in some cities are forgetting what a democracy looks like. Since when is shooting wooden dowels at a crowd the proper way to disperse peaceful civil disobedience in a free society? Yeah, it's a hassle to arrest people, but isn't that exactly what we pay police to do?
“We gave our dispersal order, we gave them an order, we gave them ample time to disperse,” said Oakland police spokeswoman Danielle Ashford. “When we give our dispersal order, that’s pretty much it."
Er, no. When people fail to disperse - even if they're blocking something, so long as they're nonviolent - police in a democracy do not shoot wooden dowels at them. Not least because non-protesting bystanders were among those wounded. A police spokesperson was quoted saying cops shot at the crowd "because some people threw rocks and big iron bolts at officers," but at least one non-protesting bystander at the scene disagreed:
Steve Stallone, spokesman for the International Longshore
and Warehouse Union, said...a union arbitrator was evaluating the situation,
trying to determine whether the longshoremen should cross the protesters'
picket line and go to work, when police started firing.
I've seen enough protests to assume the innocent bystander's version is closer to the truth. If you disagree, fine, but surely we can agree that if the protest was in fact peaceful, it is not an acceptable option for police to start shooting "sting balls" and wooden dowels at citizens - in the back - simply because it takes too much time to remove them otherwise. If that's happening, we're not living in a democratic country any more. Non-lethal weapons were designed to stop riots, not reduce paperwork.
As marches and protests against a horrifically brutal war turn to creative civil disobedience, including actions that (uh-oh) target businesses' war profits, the rest of us had better start actively working to nip brutal police overreactions in the bud. Before we wind up like this. [link]
4.8.03 - Just got word that Carrboro Alderman Mark Dorosin - one of the owners of Hell - has apparently been interviewed by The Daily Show's Stephen Colbert for a segment on the town's announcement of April as French Trade Month (which made the BBC, you know). Look for it tonight or tomorrow. [link]
4.7.03 - Here's an update to this morning's post about God and religion in the United States. I found a nice, detailed summary of the church attendance polling debate for you. The argument was ignited by a 1993 study, "What the Polls Don’t Show: A Closer Look at U.S. Church Attendance," and grew quite heated in ecclesiastical circles. Further studies have tended to confirm a 20% national church attendance rate - far lower than the 40 to 50% that shows up in telephone polls by groups like Gallup. The meat is in this quote from one of the two original researchers:
Americans misreport how often they vote, how much they give to charity, and how frequently they use illegal drugs. People are not entirely accurate in their self-reports about other areas as well. Males exaggerate their number of sexual partners, university workers are not very honest about reporting how many photocopies they make. Actual attendance at museums, symphonies and operas does not match survey results. We should not expect religious behavior to be immune to such misreporting.
Here's my favorite quote - one that should give heart to those of us who are growing increasingly fed up with fundamentalist religion in our politics:
If attendance is at the 20 percent level, we are due for a thorough reassessment of long held views about the strength of organized religion in the United States.
Can I get a witness? The don't-miss summary ends with a look at "the persistence of claims of 40 percent or higher church-attendance rates" in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. Don't believe the media hype. When push comes to shove and it's time to lift the ass off the ol' couch, U.S. citizens turn out to be not so god-fearing after all. [link]
4.7.03 - Yesterday marked one year since accused "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla was placed in solitary confinement. Warblogging.com's George Paine has been counting the days and explains yet again why this astonishing detention without charges or access to counsel should have the attention of all U.S. citizens:
The problem here is that there is no legal distinction between Mr. Padilla and you or me. As far as the courts are considered, the only distinction between Jose Padilla and George Paine is that Attorney General John Ashcroft says that Padilla is a bad man who must be kept in solitary confinement indefinitely.
Hell, the longer Padilla remains in detention, the more I like the theory that he's actually John Doe #2 from the Oklahoma City bombing. Laugh all you want, but damn those pictures look similar (the point has been explored with varying degrees of thoughtfulness on both the left and right). Folks who prefer their conspiracies smaller might consider the possibility that the Padilla detention is a scare tactic designed to frighten non-terrorist dissidents into silence. It's not working, Mr. Attorney General. Now would you let this citizen talk to a lawyer already?
Findlaw columnist Julie Hilden has a somewhat more realistic take in "Rethinking the Right to Remain Silent: Why the Government is Afraid to Admit that American Citizen Jose Padilla has Constitutional Rights, and How its Dilemma Can be Solved." She suggests the detention is simply an attempt to deny Padilla his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination so the government can force him to divulge info about Al Qaida.
Well, it's certainly a nicer thought than "My President is insane." But Hilden's view is hard to reconcile with the fact that other suspected Al Qaida sympathizers - John Walker Lindh, the Lackawanna Six, even British "shoe bomber" Robert Reid and French "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui - were all charged and scheduled for trial in federal court. So why is a U.S. citizen like Jose Padilla being denied the same option? It doesn't add up. Government officials have even admitted the guy is probably a "small fish" with no ties to Al Qaida members in the United States.
Still, let's grant Hilden's point. While I don't much like her suggested remedy - allow Padilla his 6th Amendment right to an attorney while giving him only limited 5th Amendment protection so he can be deposed in front of a court reporter - it's obviously a far more intelligent and nuanced solution than the stomp-the-Constitution approach of Bush, Cheney & Company:
A federal judge has repeatedly ruled that Padilla must be allowed to meet with his public defender. The US government, however, has repeatedly refused to follow the order of U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey. They have twice been ordered to arrange meetings between Padilla and his attorney and twice refused.
Be sure to follow George Paine's links to information about other detentions, some of which were highlighted last night in a far-too-shallow 60 Minutes piece. As usual, Paine captures the heart of the matter beautifully:
If people in America are dangerous it's supposed to be up to a jury of their peers to determine their guilt or innocence. It's supposed to be up to a jury of their peers to determine their danger to society. The rule of law demands it. Freedom demands it.
Hard to argue with that. If you're curious about what North Carolina's Congressional delegation thinks of this dangerous and unnecessary violation of the Constitution, you could always try asking them yourself. I'm starting with Republicans like Walter "Freedom Fries" Jones and Richard "Karl Rove Loves Me" Burr (above right). And does anyone else think it strange that center/right-aiming Democrats like everyone's favorite NASCAR fan haven't made Bush's attack on civil liberties a cornerstone of their campaigns? After all, diehard conservatives and libertarians are right there with angry liberals pointing out the dangerous precedent being set in the Padilla case. The votes are there for the taking.
4.7.03 - Shallow understandings of both religion and science usually underly moves like this delightful bit of anti-evolution ignorance in Tennessee - as well as the furious reactions those moves sometimes arouse. I learned as a high school biology teacher that it's best not to jump down the throats of those who think that natural selection is necessarily incompatible with belief in a "god," so I'll take my time chewing on this article in a small Tennessee newspaper. But I have to correct one point I saw in a post at Calpundit.
"Why do they feel so angry, so suspicious, and so besieged?" Kevin Drum asks, noting the strange defensiveness of many religious people alongside a table showing U.S. church attendance at an all-time high (well, self-reported church attendance, anyway). It's a fine question. To me, the most plausible explanation for some believers' need for frequent, loud affirmations of theism lies in those folks' own, perfectly normal doubts about supernatural claims. Seems obvious that the sooner they learn to confront those doubts the sooner they'll deepen their faith. Maybe that's just me. But while I share Kevin's thoughts about the desperate faithful who see conspiracies against religion at every turn, I think his information is out of date when he claims "every poll I've seen indicates that no more than about 5% of the population is atheist."
That's a low estimate, according to an excellent summary page about changing U.S. belief patterns at Religioustolerance.org. Among the highlights, from the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey:
The United States appears to be going through an unprecedented change in religious practices. Large numbers of American adults are disaffiliating themselves from Christianity and from other organized religions. Since World War II, this process had been observed in other countries, like the U.K., other European countries, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. But, until recently, affiliation with Christianity had been at a high level -- about 87% -- and stable in the U.S.
A March 2002 USA Today story, "Charting the unchurched in America," offers a similar picture:
A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll in January also finds traces of this shift away from religious identity: 50% of Americans call themselves religious, down from 54% in December 1999. But an additional 33% call themselves "spiritual but not religious," up from 30%, and about one in 10 say they are neither.
ABC News confirmed the trend with a report of a different study that found a decline in adults who "identified with a particular religious group" - from 90% in 1990 to 81% in 2001. ABC also cited its own poll finding of 13% saying they "had no religion."
It can't be clearer that the number of unchurched and/or non-believers is growing. It's also a good bet that a lot of folks, er, lie like hell on surveys about religion, just as folks lie like hell when asked by pollsters if they voted in the last election (it's called "response bias"). Does anyone really believe that 43% of U.S. adults attended a church or synagogue in the last week? Puh-lease. And let's not forget that the category boundaries here are mushy, to say the least. Is someone who rejects organized religion but loves the personal spiritual kick he/she gets from a walk in the woods an "atheist" or a "believer?" You tell me. Then try writing a poll that captures that kind of complexity.
Like I said, I get Calpundit's larger point: This is a very religion-friendly country. But those of us who either make up our own "religion" or muddle through without any "religion" at all do seem to be on the rise. [link]
4.5.03 - I assume you've been hitting great weblogs like Hullabaloo while I've been away. Digby regularly writes articulate, passionate gems that put to shame just about every local columnist or op-ed writer. He also reminded me of Information Clearinghouse, a radically leftist site that collects international takes on the Iraq war (including this interesting column from Israel's Haaretz, whose first sentence would surely lead to outraged cries of "Anti-Semitism!" if it appeared in a U.S. paper). I've been particularly captivated by the translated reports from Russia's GRU military intelligence agency, which have an air of no-bullshit realism that's a nice counterpoint to the U.S. press. I'm taking them with a sizable grain of salt, of course (hell, they come from a military intelligence agency), but still find the dispatches interesting:
All indications are that the breakthrough by the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Division toward the Baghdad international airport, although a significant thrust forward, did not come as a surprise to the Iraqi command. The US units occupying the airport area did not encounter here any significant resistance (the airport was guarded by no more than 2-3 Iraqi companies without any heavy weapons) nor did they see any indication that the Iraqis were even planning on defending the airport...
The coalition claims of "completely destroying" the "Media" ("Al Madina al Munavvara") and the "Hammurali" Republican Guard divisions of the 2nd Republican Guard Corps received no confirmation. No more than 80 destroyed Iraqi armored vehicles were found along the coalition's route of advance, which corresponds to about 20% of a single standard Iraqi Republican Guard division.
It has been determined that only a few forward elements of the "Hammurali" Division participated in combat while the entire division withdrew toward Baghdad. A single brigade of the "Medina" division was involved in combat...
Equally unimpressive are the numbers of the Iraqis captured by the coalition. In four days of advance the US troops captured just over 1,000 people only half of whom, according to the reports by the US field commander, can be considered regular troops of the Iraqi army. There are virtually no abandoned or captured Iraqi combat vehicles. All of this indicates that so far there has been no breakthrough for the coalition; Iraqi troops are not demoralized and the Iraqi command is still in control of its forces. [link]
4.4.03 - Lots to do this weekend, from the always-great Hi Mom! Film Fest (Portastatic closes the event at the Cradle Saturday) to Raleigh's First Friday gallery hop. Be sure to check Andre Leon Gray's new mixed-media work at Sandspur, as well as Lump, Fish Market and all the rest. After the hop, my Jazz Anew friends are hosting a celebration of the absurd at Kings tonight - with some great N.C. DJs - in honor of Saint Stupid's Day. It's cheaper to get in if you look absurd. Saint Stupid, first seen in Philip K. Dick's book Valis, is the patron saint of the First Church of the Last Laugh. Boy is s/he having some fun now. Oh, and Joy Division, Television and Gang of Four are playing Kings tomorrow. Sort of. [link]
4.4.03 - Quick note for those who watched Monkeytime TV this week: Here's the link to the article about Bush I's decision to let Saddam mow down the 1991 Shiite uprising to keep Saddam in power and Iraq intact. Given that reality, I honestly don't see how you can use the failure of that uprising to claim that the Iraqi people couldn't have overthrown Saddam themselves now. The international community could have provided financial, organizational and moral support, but not U.S. teenagers to die over there, and not bombs to provide Arab satellite television with bloody victims of U.S. misfires. Can you imagine a world where U.S. television networks and Al Jazeera worked together to provide minute-by-minute coverage of a slowly escalating, six-month-long uprising against a brutal dictator like Saddam? I sure can. It would have been such a smarter strategic option than the moronic invasion planned by Rumsfeld and Co.
4.2.03 - Light blogging over the past two days due to illness. I'll pick up when the achiness subsides; I'm strangely drained right now - a rare feeling that I hope doesn't return soon. George Paine at War Blogging and Josh Marshall at Talking Points are great for current war analysis. Be sure to also check the list of war-related blogs I wrote for the Indy last week. In the current issue I've got a column that looks at embedded reporting from both local and national angles. I've also been researching an inspirational post about the most famous conscientious objector of World War II (hint: he was in one of the worst monkey movies ever). Stay tuned. [link]
4.2.03 - Oh no, not this stuff again. The American Association of Retired Persons just ranked Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill third - three notches above Charleston, S.C. and four above Asheville - on its list of the 15 top places for aging boomers to reinvent their lives. Durham gets singled out as "the most affordable and vibrantly diverse" town in the Triangle, a debatable contention that will surely please the defensive types at the Durham Chamber of Commerce. The "Think twice" warning about the area is something I'm sure a lot of Triangle-ites can relate to: "Salaries haven't kept up with rising housing costs." Other costs, too, I'd say. [link]
second half of February 2003
January and the first half of February 2003
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