Saturday, February 19, 2005
The Da Vinci Code on trial
The "trial" is being held in Vinci, Italy, and an opening statement was made by Alessandro Vezzosi, director of a Leonardo Da Vinci museum, on Friday.
"Leonardo is misrepresented and belittled," he said beforehand.
No-one will represent the book but many fans are expected to attend. The book has sold 7.5 million copies worldwide.
Many readers assume the story, linking Da Vinci with a secret society that has held the secret of the Holy Grail for centuries, is completely true.
Author Dan Brown has said: "All of the art, architecture, secret rituals, secret societies, all of that is historical fact."
But the book has sparked heated debate among historians, many of whom have dismissed Mr Brown's version of events and his central claim that Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail is their bloodline.
The "trial" is taking place at the Palazzina Uzielli in Vinci, near Florence, Da Vinci's hometown. The town's vicar, Monsignor Renato Bellini, said the book gave an inaccurate view of Catholic society Opus Dei.
"This book depicts the movement as a mysterious centre of political and economic power that tries to hide the historical truth on Jesus and Magdalene, which is absurd," he said.
A representative of Opus Dei would take part in the mock tribunal, he added.
Mr Vezzosi, director of the Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci in the town, said he would produce documents and photographs to prove many of the claims about the legendary artist were false.
"His importance is misunderstood, he was a man full of fantasy, inventions and genius," he said.
As well as the original novel, published in 2003, another 10 books have been written to debunk its claims and a booming tourist industry has sprung up around its sites in France and the UK.
Hmm, neat idea. Of course it can not claim to be a real trial without a defense team. By the way, Dan Brown's genius is in taking a rather thin adventure story and using to cloak a non-fiction conspiracy novel. It doesn't hurt that he has made Opus Dei squeal.
Nota Bene. I have noticed that one of my standard writing foibiles is the use of the phrase "of course".
The art history of hubble pictures
Hubble's raw images are carefully processed to produce the stunning colour representations that appear on the front pages of newspapers.
Elizabeth Kessler says the scientists who do this often make choices that suggest geological features on Earth.
She presented her ideas at a major science conference in Washington DC.
"The aesthetic choices made result in a sense of majesty and wonder about nature and how spectacular it can be, just as the paintings of the American West did," argued Ms Kessler.
Of course the original article has pretty pictures (here).
Controversial new intelligence chief
This an example of British understatement. Here is the orginal article.
Here is a other view of the murderous bastard.
Hawks make love, not war
Pale Male and Lola, two loved-up red-tailed hawks, have been observed mating "five times a day" on the exclusive Fifth Avenue's rooftops.
The racy pair have been rebuilding their nest after residents, unhappy at their mess, evicted them in December.
And all evidence suggests that the couple are starting a new family. (more)
The club in Boise, Idaho, charges $15 (£8) for a sketch pad, pencil and dance performance, in what is billed as an "Art Club Night", Reuters agency says.
A city law passed in 2001 forbids complete nudity in public unless the display has "serious artistic merit".
The law was meant to provide an exemption for plays and art classes. (more)
Quote - Reasons for war
"Certainly, the neoconservatives never bothered to sell the rest of the country on the real reasons for occupation of Iraq—more bases from which to flex U.S. muscle with Syria and Iran, better positioning for the inevitable fall of the regional sheikdoms, maintaining OPEC on a dollar track, and fulfilling a half-baked imperial vision. These more accurate reasons could have been argued on their merits, and the American people might indeed have supported the war. But we never got a chance to debate it." (more)
A collection of arcitcles
The reality of red-state fascism
Hunger for dictatorship
Today's conservatives are fasicsts
Identifying a culture of fasicsm
In spite of some fuzziness regarding the difference between various historical forms of fascism, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.
* * *
1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.
Traditionalism is of course much older than fascism. Not only was it typical of counterrevolutionary Catholic thought after the French revolution, but is was born in the late Hellenistic era, as a reaction to classical Greek rationalism. In the Mediterranean basin, people of different religions (most of the faiths indulgently accepted by the Roman pantheon) started dreaming of a revelation received at the dawn of human history. This revelation, according to the traditionalist mystique, had remained for a long time concealed under the veil of forgotten languages -- in Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the Celtic runes, in the scrolls of the little-known religions of Asia.
This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, "the combination of different forms of belief or practice;" such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a sliver of wisdom, and although they seem to say different or incompatible things, they all are nevertheless alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.
As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth already has been spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.
If you browse in the shelves that, in American bookstores, are labeled New Age, you can find there even Saint Augustine, who, as far as I know, was not a fascist. But combining Saint Augustine and Stonehenge -- that is a symptom of Ur-Fascism.
2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism.
Both Fascists and Nazis worshipped technology, while traditionalist thinkers usually reject it as a negation of traditional spiritual values. However, even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements, its praise of modernism was only the surface of an ideology based upon blood and earth (Blut und Boden). The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a rebuttal of the capitalistic way of life. The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.
3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action's sake.
Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Hermann Goering's fondness for a phrase from a Hanns Johst play ("When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun") to the frequent use of such expressions as "degenerate intellectuals," "eggheads," "effete snobs," and "universities are nests of reds." The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.
4. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism.
In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.
5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity.
Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.
6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration.
That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old "proletarians" are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.
7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country.
This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the United States, a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson's The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.
8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies.
When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers of Ur-Fascism must also be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.
9. For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.
Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare. This, however, brings about an Armageddon complex. Since enemies have to be defeated, there must be a final battle, after which the movement will have control of the world. But such "final solutions" implies a further era of peace, a Golden Age, which contradicts the principle of permanent war. No fascist leader has ever succeeded in solving this predicament.
10. Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak.
Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people in the world, the members or the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. But there cannot be patricians without plebeians. In fact, the Leader, knowing that his power was not delegated to him democratically but was conquered by force, also knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler.
11. In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero.
In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. It is not by chance that a motto of the Spanish Falangists was Viva la Muerte ("Long Live Death!"). In nonfascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.
12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters.
This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons -- doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.
13. Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say.
In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view -- one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.
Because of its qualitative populism, Ur-Fascism must be against "rotten" parliamentary governments. Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell Ur-Fascism.
14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak.
Newspeak was invented by Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, as the official language of what he called Ingsoc, English Socialism. But elements of Ur-Fascism are common to different forms of dictatorship. All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.
* * *
14 signs of fasicm
This is an excerpt from an article in free inquiry magazine. It attempts to identify 14 signs of fasicsm in politics. I was thinking of putting something similar together but why write when you what you what already exists, and is probably better than what you were about to write.
1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia.
2. Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people’s attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice—relentless propaganda and disinformation—were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite “spontaneous” acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and “terrorists.” Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.
4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism. Ruling elites always identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure that supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, and increase the power and prestige of the ruling elite.
5. Rampant sexism. Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses.
6. A controlled mass media. Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats. The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power elite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes’ excesses.
7. Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting “national security,” and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous.
8. Religion and ruling elite tied together. Unlike communist regimes, the fascist and protofascist regimes were never proclaimed as godless by their opponents. In fact, most of the regimes attached themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling elite’s behavior was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the illusion that the ruling elites were defenders of the faith and opponents of the “godless.” A perception was manufactured that opposing the power elite was tantamount to an attack on religion.
9. Power of corporations protected. Although the personal life of ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability of large corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised. The ruling elite saw the corporate structure as a way to not only ensure military production (in developed states), but also as an additional means of social control. Members of the economic elite were often pampered by the political elite to ensure a continued mutuality of interests, especially in the repression of “have-not” citizens.
10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated. Since organized labor was seen as the one power center that could challenge the political hegemony of the ruling elite and its corporate allies, it was inevitably crushed or made powerless. The poor formed an underclass, viewed with suspicion or outright contempt. Under some regimes, being poor was considered akin to a vice.
11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts. Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression associated with them were anathema to these regimes. Intellectual and academic freedom were considered subversive to national security and the patriotic ideal. Universities were tightly controlled; politically unreliable faculty harassed or eliminated. Unorthodox ideas or expressions of dissent were strongly attacked, silenced, or crushed. To these regimes, art and literature should serve the national interest or they had no right to exist.
12. Obsession with crime and punishment. Most of these regimes maintained Draconian systems of criminal justice with huge prison populations. The police were often glorified and had almost unchecked power, leading to rampant abuse. “Normal” and political crime were often merged into trumped-up criminal charges and sometimes used against political opponents of the regime. Fear, and hatred, of criminals or “traitors” was often promoted among the population as an excuse for more police power.
13. Rampant cronyism and corruption. Those in business circles and close to the power elite often used their position to enrich themselves. This corruption worked both ways; the power elite would receive financial gifts and property from the economic elite, who in turn would gain the benefit of government favoritism. Members of the power elite were in a position to obtain vast wealth from other sources as well: for example, by stealing national resources. With the national security apparatus under control and the media muzzled, this corruption was largely unconstrained and not well understood by the general population.
14. Fraudulent elections. Elections in the form of plebiscites or public opinion polls were usually bogus. When actual elections with candidates were held, they would usually be perverted by the power elite to get the desired result. Common methods included maintaining control of the election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising opposition voters, destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a last resort, turning to a judiciary beholden to the power elite. (more)
Scandal and religon
Greece's Orthodox church, buffeted by sex and corruption scandals, met in emergency session yesterday amid lurid claims that have included one newspaper publishing photographs of a 91-year-old bishop naked in bed with a nubile young woman.
Scrambling to resolve the worst crisis in the church's modern history, the embattled spiritual leader, Archbishop Christodoulos, convened the rare meeting as allegations of skulduggery, sexual improprieties, trial rigging, drug and antiquities smuggling engulfed the institution.
"I humbly ask for forgiveness from the people and the clerics who, for the most, honour... the cassock they wear," he said addressing the 102-member Holy Synod, the church's ruling council.
"There is a lot that must be done to put our house in order," he conceded before proposing a series of reforms.
Greeks have watched dumbfounded as allegations of their priesthood's dissolute lifestyle have unfolded on their television screens. (more)
The battleground in the (american) culture war
JOE BAGEANT, DISSIDENT VOICE - The working class people in my town [of Winchester, VA] are angry, but not especially angry at Queer Eye For the Straight Guy, or unseen fetuses. I think working class anger is at a more fundamental level and that it is about this: rank and status as citizens in our society. I think it is about the daily insult working class people suffer from employers, government (national, state and local), and from their more educated fellow Americans, the doctors, lawyers, journalists, academicians, and others who quietly disdain working people and their uncultured ways. And I think working class anger is about some other things too:
It is about the indignities suffered at the hands of managers and bosses -- being degraded to a working, faceless production unit in our glorious new global economy.
It is about being ignored by the educated classes and the other similar professional, political and business elites that America does not acknowledge as elites.
It is about one's priorities being closer to home and more ordinary than those of the powerful people who determine our lives.
It is about suffering the everyday lack of human respect from the government, and every other institutional body except the church.
It is about working at Wal-Mart or Home Depot or Arby?s wearing a nametag on which you do not even rate a last name. You are just Melanie or Bobby, there to kiss the manager?s ass or find another gig.
It is about trying to live your life the only way you know how because you were raised that way. But somehow the rules changed under you.
It is about trying to maintain some semblance of outward dignity to your neighbors, when both you and the neighbors are living payday to payday, though no one admits it.
It is about media fabled things you've never seen in your own family: college funds set aside for the kids, stock portfolios, vacation homes...
It is about the unacknowledged stress of both spouses working longer, producing more for a paycheck that has been dwindling in purchasing power since 1973.
Yes, it is about values. It is about the values we have forsaken as a people -- such as dignity, education and opportunity for everyone. And it is about the misdirected anger of the working classes toward those they least understand. You. And me.
By the way, the working people I am talking about are not entirely unhappy with life, just angry to a certain degree at this point (and bound to be angrier when the Bush regime finally runs the nation's economy off the cliff). They simply resist change because for decades change has always spelled something bad -- 9/11, terrorism, job outsourcing -- always something bad headed toward worse.
It is one helluva comment on the American class system that I get paid to speak, write about and generally expose to liberal groups the existence of some 250 million working Americans who have been fixing America's cars and paving its streets and waiting on its tables from day one. As a noble and decent liberal New York City book editor told me, "Seen from up here it is as if your people were some sort of exotic, as if you were from Yemen or something.". . .
God, gays and guns alone do not explain the conservative populism of the 2004 elections. College educated liberals and blue-collar working people need to start separating substantive policy issues from the symbolic ones. Fight on the substance, the real ground zero stuff that ordinary working people can feel and see -- make real pledges about real things. Like absolutely guaranteed health care and a decent living wage. And mean it and deliver it. (more)
A little rebellion
JENNY LACOSTE-CAPUTO, SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS - Mia Kang stared at the test sheet on her desk. It only was practice. Teachers call it a "field test" to give them an idea of how students will perform on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
But instead of filling in the bubbles and making her teacher happy, Mia, a freshman at MacArthur High School, used her answer sheet to write an essay that challenged standardized testing and using test scores to judge children and rank schools.
"I wrote about how standardized tests are hurting and not helping schools and kids," said Mia, who looks and acts older than her 14 years. "I just couldn't participate in something that I'm completely opposed to."
Mia isn't boycotting just the practice tests. The straight-A student said she'll refuse to take the state- and federally-mandated tests Texas teachers begin administrating next week.
The decision isn't a popular one. When Mia refused to take the practice test, two school guidance counselors came to the classroom to try to change her mind. . .
Mia is the latest in a growing number of students nationwide who are showing their opposition to high-stakes testing by putting down their pencils. These young people say the "drill and kill" mentality of test preparation is destroying their thirst for knowledge and creating a generation of students who are missing crucial lessons in critical thinking, creativity and discovery.
Frustration also grips teachers, but at least in Texas, it's students who are making their voices heard. A fifth-grader in Edinburgh also is refusing to take the test this year. And two years ago, Kimberly Marciniak, then a freshman at the North East School of Arts at Lee High School, received national attention for her decision to boycott. Students in Massachusetts and New York also have participated in organized boycotts.
Kind and gentle people
You know what I really hate? When the computer crashes and you get that annoying blue screen for absolutely no reason at all. The people who invented Windows 98 are a bunch of pronovalent imbeciles who wouldn't know stability and efficiency if they both did a triple backsault right in front of them wearing nothing but a rat-skin singlet. They also probably have some neurotic insecurity which in some way relates back to their mothers, who, incidentally, are probably grotesquely overweight fishwives who spend all their time watching daytime soaps and Oprah, whilst wearing curlers and possibly a tent shaped sundress.
Speaking of fishwives, I really wish they wouldn't drag their screaming, obnoxious children into the discount store where I work, only to spend all their time trying to make me give them everything at half the advertised price, then complaining about the quality of the store and merchandise. It's a DISCOUNT store, you fools! And while they're doing this, all their snotty nosed children are draping themselves over everything that was, until they arrived, relatively clean and tidy, knocking things off the shelves and generally being a hazard to the health and wellbeing of everyone around them. If it weren't for the customers, my job would be pretty good.
Speaking of children, however, the type I really hate are those silly little teeny bopper twelve year olds, who pretend they're much older than they are, wearing ludicrously short skirts over their non-existent hips. Then they waltz around being appallingly rude to complete strangers (ie. me), completely ignorant of everyone else in the universe, except perhaps Orlando Bloom, or whoever the pre-teen heartthrob is this month. Well, just keep walking around in that Barbie pink skirt, you ignoramuses (or is the correct word ignorami?); you'll all be fishwives someday. Then you'll be fat and miserable, spending your time watching daytime TV and terrorizing shop assistants, while being the cause of your children's' psychotic problems, who then go on to work in the lowest paying job possible for Microsoft, which becomes the bane of everybody else's existence. If the world lapses into anarchy because of too many disgruntled computer users, it will be all your fault!
If anyone reading this happens to fit into the category of Microsoft employee, teeny bopper or fishwife, please keep in mind that I am normally a very sweet and mild mannered young woman, who means you no harm, despite the fact that your continued existence also happens to be the bane of my own.
Idea for a TV series
I swear you could make a episode from each one of these points.
My personal favour (from the suplementary list) is this one.
If I have children and subsequently grandchildren, I will keep my three-year-old granddaughter near me at all times. When the hero enters to kill me, I will ask him to first explain to her why it is necessary to kill her beloved grandpa. When the hero launches into an explanation of morality way over her head, that will be her cue to pull the lever and send him into the pit of crocodiles. After all, small children like crocodiles almost as much as Evil Overlords and it's important to spend quality time with the grandkids.
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Sincerely thought it would help
Four years ago, while visiting a small urban charity, President Bush launched the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. He called it "one of the most important initiatives" of his administration.
It was hard evidence of the "compassionate conservatism" that Texas Governor George Bush embraced in his first major policy speech of the Presidential campaign, "It is not enough for conservatives like me to praise [compassionate] efforts. It is not enough to call for volunteerism. Without more support and resources, both private and public, we are asking them to make bricks without straw." That day a conservative Texas governor promised more than $8 billion during his first year in office to help social service organizations better serve "the least, the last, and the lost." More than $6 billion was to go for new tax incentives that would generate billions more in private charitable giving. Another $1.7 billion a year would fund faith-based (and non-faith-based) groups caring for drug addicts, at-risk youth, and teen moms. $200 million more would establish a "Compassion Capital Fund" to assist, expand and replicate successful local programs. Legislation would ensure that reported government discrimination against faith-based social service organizations would end. A new White House Faith-Based Office would lead the charge.
It was more than a bunch of promises. It was a new political philosophy of aggressive, government-encouraged (but not controlled) compassion that simultaneously rejected the dollars-equal-compassion equation of the "War on Poverty" mindset and the laissez-faire social policy of many conservatives. It was political philosophy of the heart as much as the head. (more)
Life on Mars redux
The scientists, Carol Stoker and Larry Lemke of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, told the group that they have submitted their findings to the journal Nature for publication in May, and their paper currently is being peer reviewed.
What Stoker and Lemke have found, according to several attendees of the private meeting, is not direct proof of life on Mars, but methane signatures and other signs of possible biological activity remarkably similar to those recently discovered in caves here on Earth. (more)
Real fake news
The prayers of those hoping that real television news might take its cues from Jon Stewart were finally answered on Feb. 9, 2005. A real newsman borrowed a technique from fake news to deliver real news about fake news in prime time.
Let me explain.
On "Countdown," a nightly news hour on MSNBC, the anchor, Keith Olbermann, led off with a classic "Daily Show"-style bit: a rapid-fire montage of sharply edited video bites illustrating the apparent idiocy of those in Washington. In this case, the eight clips stretched over a year in the White House briefing room - from February 2004 to late last month - and all featured a reporter named "Jeff." In most of them, the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, says "Go ahead, Jeff," and "Jeff" responds with a softball question intended not to elicit information but to boost President Bush and smear his political opponents. In the last clip, "Jeff" is quizzing the president himself, in his first post-inaugural press conference of Jan. 26. Referring to Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton, "Jeff" asks, "How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?"
If we did not live in a time when the news culture itself is divorced from reality, the story might end there: "Jeff," you'd assume, was a lapdog reporter from a legitimate, if right-wing, news organization like Fox, and you'd get some predictable yuks from watching a compressed video anthology of his kissing up to power. But as Mr. Olbermann explained, "Jeff Gannon," the star of the montage, was a newsman no more real than a "Senior White House Correspondent" like Stephen Colbert on "The Daily Show" and he worked for a news organization no more real than The Onion. Yet the video broadcast by Mr. Olbermann was not fake. "Jeff" was in the real White House, and he did have those exchanges with the real Mr. McClellan and the real Mr. Bush.
"Jeff Gannon's" real name is James D. Guckert. His employer was a Web site called Talon News, staffed mostly by volunteer Republican activists. Media Matters for America, the liberal press monitor that has done the most exhaustive research into the case, discovered that Talon's "news" often consists of recycled Republican National Committee and White House press releases, and its content frequently overlaps with another partisan site, GOPUSA, with which it shares its owner, a Texas delegate to the 2000 Republican convention. Nonetheless, for nearly two years the White House press office had credentialed Mr. Guckert, even though, as Dana Milbank of The Washington Post explained on Mr. Olbermann's show, he "was representing a phony media company that doesn't really have any such thing as circulation or readership."
How this happened is a mystery that has yet to be solved. "Jeff" has now quit Talon News not because he and it have been exposed as fakes but because of other embarrassing blogosphere revelations linking him to sites like hotmilitarystud.com and to an apparently promising career as an X-rated $200-per-hour "escort." If Mr. Guckert, the author of Talon News exclusives like "Kerry Could Become First Gay President," is yet another link in the boundless network of homophobic Republican closet cases, that's not without interest. But it shouldn't distract from the real question - that is, the real news - of how this fake newsman might be connected to a White House propaganda machine that grows curiouser by the day. Though Mr. McClellan told Editor & Publisher magazine that he didn't know until recently that Mr. Guckert was using an alias, Bruce Bartlett, a White House veteran of the Reagan-Bush I era, wrote on the nonpartisan journalism Web site Romenesko, that "if Gannon was using an alias, the White House staff had to be involved in maintaining his cover." (Otherwise, it would be a rather amazing post-9/11 security breach. (more)
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Methods of control
A prominent Iraqi politician in the Shia coalition told the New Yorker in January that the US had quietly told the parties before the election that there were three conditions for the new government: it should not be under the influence of Iran; it should not ask for the withdrawal of US troops; and it should not install an Islamic state.
One important but neglected issue is the steady re-Ba'athification of the security forces under US direction. This re-Ba'athification is hotly rejected by the majority Shia coalition, and is therefore a key issue for the new government.
The British mass media, as elsewhere, has concentrated on the division of power between the Sunni, Shia and Kurdish communities, and on how power may be shared between the different elements of the 'winning' Shia coalition. What has not been examined is the framework within which the newly-elected National Assembly, and the soon to be appointed 'Iraqi Transitional Government', must operate.
What has been off the agenda, due to a colossal act of media self-censorship, is the division of power between the elected Iraqi National Assembly and the unelected US-led occupation. There are several levers of power that the US has created to retain control. (more)
This question is logical
Answer: Yes, and not only giraffes. Game, stock, humans and trees all get struck with varying frequency and effect. Some of the planet's highest lightning strike frequencies have been recorded in parts of southern Africa, and loss of stock or human life is not particularly unusual. Giraffes are good targets, but there are not many of them and their remains are often quickly consumed by scavengers, destroying evidence of the strike.
Even in the Bushveld, a low-lying area where thunderstorms are common, lightning is not a leading cause of giraffe death. There seems to have been no evolutionary selection for specific avoidance behavior â€”cowering giraffes are not a sensitive predictor of thunderstorms. It is rumored, however, that llamas and their relatives in the Andes lie down in storms, heads together, and that one bolt sometimes kills a whole herd. If true, sheltering in this way must offer some protection, despite the occasional disastrous strike. - Jon Richfield, Dennesig, South Africa
Exposure to chemicals is bad for you
"Cancer is a disease of accumulated genetic damage, and this new finding shows this process can begin in utero," said Dr. Frederica Perera, director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health at Columbia University.
Earlier research found that urban air pollutants could stunt fetal growth, but the new study provides the first proof that they can also alter chromosomes in the womb, said Perera.
"Now that we have evidence that the process begins so early . . . we can be more aware of the risks," she said.
She called on "policymakers at the federal, state and local levels to take appropriate steps to protect children." (more)
Let's steal this gadget
Break and enter
NEW RIEGEL, OH - The village police chief was surprised when he woke up in the middle of the night to find a man inside his home playing Beethoven on the piano. New Riegel Police Chief Steve Swartzmiller said he grabbed his gun and went to investigate the noise in his house. He found 19-year-old Shawn Chadwell playing the piano. Chadwell was drunk and looking for a friend's house when he mistakenly wandered into the wrong place early Monday, Swartzmiller said. . . Swartzmiller said his house was the only one around that had lights on and it probably attracted Chadwell. The chief added that Chadwell played perfect Beethoven.
Mexico's reading problem
"The fundamental problem is that there are few readers," says Jose Angel Quintanilla, president of the National Chamber of the Mexican Publishing Industry, which is holding meetings between publishers and booksellers to establish price controls. . .
Despite having three times the population of Argentina, Mexico produces about 2,000 fewer titles each year. There are roughly 500 bookstores in Mexico, which translates into one for every 200,000 Mexicans, compared to a ratio of one to 35,000 in the US and one to 12,000 in Spain, according to the Mexican Booksellers Association. A recent UNESCO study revealed that Mexicans read on average just over two books per year, while Swedes finish that many every month. The Mexican government has made great strides, reducing illiteracy to less than 8 percent, compared with around 20 percent two decades ago, placing it leagues ahead of Central American countries and even beyond Latin America's other economic powerhouse, Brazil. Yet it has had little success encouraging active reading. Reading-stimulation programs have mostly failed. An experimental library in the Mexico City subway last year was shuttered after most of the books were stolen.
"Mexico simply has never had a culture favorable to reading," says Elsa Ramirez, a library-studies researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
The visible effect of climate change
Guniness record saves village
When the tsunami roared into the coast of southern India on 26 December many villages and towns were crushed as the giant waves swept across open beaches.
But the people of Naluvedapathy in Vedaranyam district, south of the Tamil Nadu's worst affected areas around Nagapattinam, remained almost unscathed.(more)
Teflon and Canaries
Currently we are faced with a deplorable example of how dangerous it is to ignore a fallen canary. Soon after Teflon-coated cookware was introduced more than five decades ago, bird owners discovered that the fumes from a scorched Teflon-coated pan were deadly to their pets. Today, most books about taking care of birds warn that they should not be kept in a kitchen if Teflon cookware is in use.
Because Teflon's manufacturer, DuPont, insisted that Teflon, even scorched Teflon, was non-toxic to humans, the death of some unfortunate birds were largely ignored, until recently, when it has become apparent that one ingredient of Teflon causes cancer in rats, and is associated with prostate, testicular, and pancreatic cancer in exposed DuPont workers. Most disturbingly, recent studies have shown 90 percent of people in the United States have some of that ingredient (which is not known to occur naturally) in their blood. Perhaps if the deaths of the birds had been fully investigated, the ingredient's toxicity would have been discovered in time to prevent it from becoming ubiquitous.
Origin and author unknown--somewhere in the Keys...
President Bush was invited to address a major gathering of the American Indian Nation last weekend in Arizona. He spoke for almost an hour on his future plans for increasing every Native American's present standard of living. He referred to his career as Governor of Texas, how he had signed "YES" 1,237 times - for every Indian issue that came to his desk for approval.
Although the President was vague on the details of his plan, he seemed most enthusiastic about his future ideas for helping his "red brothers." At the conclusion of his speech, the Tribes presented the President with a plaque inscribed with his new Indian name - Walking Eagle. The proud President then departed in his motorcade, waving to the crowds.
A news reporter later inquired to the group of chiefs of how they came to select the new name given to the President.
They explained that Walking Eagle is the name given to a bird so full of sh*t that it can no longer fly.
Where to send Creationists
Evolution and Creationism
- This is a excerpt from Dave Neiwert's In God's Country, which chronicles the rise of Idaho's hate crime law, which was on of the earliest in the US. Idaho state law is not a area of specific interest for me be the political campaign to institute new legislation is.
- The threats and intimidation came to a head in September 1982, thanks largely to one of the more troublesome hooligans attracted to northern Idaho by Butler’s church: an ex-convict named Keith Gilbert. He had moved to the region after doing time at California's San Quentin prison for having 1,500 pounds of dynamite at his Glendale home, which he later claimed was intended to assassinate Martin Luther King at a 1965 appearance in Los Angeles. Gilbert had been a follower of Butler’s in California, but shortly after moving to Idaho they had a dispute, and Gilbert attempted to set up his own white-supremacist organization. Gilbert, who later admitted responsibility for distributing the "running nigger" targets, then began his own campaign of threats and intimidation.
His chief target was a Coeur d'Alene family headed by a white woman named Connie Fort who had been married for several years to a black man and had three mixed-race children. Gilbert began by walking up to the eldest boy and spitting on him, saying: "Your life is condemned. You shall be served in front of the devil." Having discovered where Fort's family lived, Gilbert began driving by the home and shouting threats and obscenities at the children. He mailed an envelope containing a death threat for "race traitors" who engaged in "miscegenation." Another mailing contained a news clipping about the corpse of a black man found floating in Spirit Lake, shot through the head.
Police were initially hesitant to charge Gilbert, partly because Idaho law made racial slander only a misdemeanor. But as the threats escalated, he eventually was charged and convicted of misdemeanor assault, and fined $300 with a 45-day jail sentence. Gilbert merely laughed it off.
The rest of the community, however, did not. Local churches circulated petitions in support of Connie Fort's family and managed to gather hundreds of signatures. And Fort herself decided that something had to be done about the failure of Idaho law to adequately address this kind of hateful harassment. The previous year, a coalition of church leaders, city and law-enforcement officials, and businessmen from throughout the county had already formed, calling itself the Kootenai County Human Relations Task Force. As Fort's story gained publicity in the local press, the KCHRTF took up the task of gaining public support for changing the law. It organized town-hall meetings to discuss the issue, and found that its support was deep and broad; at a panel discussion set up by the Idaho Human Rights Commission in 1982, other participants included the Justice Department, the American Civil Liberties Union, and law-enforcement officers.
Out of those discussions, the Human Rights Commission composed legislation -- similar to a law just passed in Washington state, also largely in response to the activities emanating from the Aryan Nations -- that would make it a felony to intimidate or harass another person because of their race or religion, either with physical assault or with threatening words. The bill was introduced in the Idaho Legislature's 1983 with considerable fanfare, and its advocates claimed the support of over a hundred voluntary organizations in the state that supported its passage.
However, the bill encountered considerable opposition among legislators from the state’s notoriously conservative southern half. Many voiced concern that the law would trample on constitutional rights to religious freedom and free speech. Others accused the sponsors of secretly supporting the United Nations genocide convention. Richard Butler testified against it: "This bill would take away sovereign, inalienable rights of white Christians," he told legislators.
The tide slowly turned in the bill's favor, however, as the breadth of support for it became apparent. Kootenai County Prosecutor Glen Walker -- a conservative Republican -- traveled to Boise and patiently explained to lawmakers why the law was needed, particularly as a tool for dealing with a kind of crime they all recognized had deeply corrosive consequences for their community. Walker also shepherded several compromises to the legislation, including a clause that would specify it was not intended to imply support for the United Nations.
The coup de grace, however, was delivered by Keith Gilbert himself. He created a phony "Anti Defamation League" lobby, concocted a letterhead and a nonexistent leader named "Rabbi Schechter," and sent letters to all members of the Legislature under "Schechter's" signature voicing full support for the bill. Gilbert assumed that such "Jewish" support would inspire legislators to oppose the measure -- but his ruse was discovered and publicized instead. Angered by his brazenness, legislators rushed to support the bill, and it wound up passing handily.
Kyoto's next big meeting is in Montreal
The conference will take place in Montreal, in the city's Palais des Congres convention centre, from November 28 to December 9, in response to an offer from Canada, the UNFCCC, which is Kyoto's parent organisation, said in a press statement.
It will be the first "Meeting of the Parties", or MOP, since Kyoto took effect, and is expected to broach some of the toughest political issues on the climate-change agenda.
The protocol's framework was agreed in 1997, but it took nearly four years of arduous negotiations to complete its complex rulebook, and three years after that for the deal to be ratified and turned into an international treaty.
The accord requires industrialised countries that have signed and ratified it to trim their pollution of carbon-based "greenhouse" gases, emitted mainly by fossil fuels, that are blamed for global warming.
The Montreal talks will launch debate on the outlines of the next pact after the first Kyoto commitment period runs out in 2012.
One of the big questions will be how to entice the United States, which has rejected the present format as too costly for its economy, back into the multilateral fold.
Another issue is whether fast-growing, big-population countries like China and India should join industrialised countries in having fixed targets for emission controls.
Under the present Kyoto format, developing countries are excluded from having to make specific cuts in their emissions because of the burden this would impose on their economies.
Although the United States has refused to ratify Kyoto, it is allowed to attend meetings because it is a member of the UNFCCC.
In a statement issued from its secretariat in Bonn, the UNFCCC added that a seminar of government experts would be held in the former West German capital on May 16 and 17.
That meeting will seek to "develop responses to climate change and to review the policies and measures adopted to implement the (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol," it said.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
The Democrats are learning
Iraqi Election Map
The effect of blogs
Your cost is Five Hundred Dollars a Shot.
You thing of noise and flame and power,
We feed you a hundred barrels of flour
Each time you roar. Your flame is fed
With twenty thousand loaves of bread.
Silence! A million hungry men
Seek bread to fill their mouths again.
P. F. McCarthy.
The fire bombing of Dreden
THAT THE media's exculpation of the Allied carpet bombing of places like Dresden and the lumping of its critics with neo-Nazis amounts to Orwellian revisionism can be seen by reading Mike Davis' 2002 book, Dead Cities. In it, Davis writes:
During the early days of the Second World War, tens of millions of American voters of German and Italian ancestry were reassured that the Army Air Force would never deliberately make a target out of "the ordinary man in the street." Americans were officially committed to the clean, high-tech destruction of strictly military or military-industrial targets. The Eighth Air Force sent its crews in daylight "precision" raids against visually identified targets, in contrast to its Blitz-embittered British allies, who saturation-bombed German cities at night by radar, hoping to terrorize their populations into flight or rebellion. The extraordinary technologies of the B-17 and the Norden bombsight allowed the United States to bomb "with democratic values."
Then, along came Operation Thunderclap. Churchill's science advisor, Lord Cherwell, argued that "the bombing must be directed essentially against working-class houses. Middle-class houses have too much space around them and so are bound to waste bombs." Even before the Battle of Britain, Churchill himself had called for an "absolutely devastating, exterminating attack."
General George McDonald, the director of Air Force intelligence, privately shared their revulsion against "indiscriminate homicide and destruction." General Cabell, another "precisionist," complained about the "same old baby killing plan of the get-rich-quick psychological boys."
Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Chief of Staff George Marshall also quietly struggled to maintain a moral distinction between the Nazi leadership and the German working class. (Stimson, not wanting "the United States to get the reputation of outdoing Hitler in atrocities," equally opposed the fire-bombing of Japan.) . . .
Key Air Force leaders were disturbed by the unsavory character of Thunderclap. Major General Laurence Kuter protested to colleagues that "it is contrary to our national ideals to wage war against civilians." Intelligence chief McDonald railed against a plan that "repudiates our past purposes and practices . . . [and] places us before our allies, the neutrals, our enemies and history in conspicuous contrast to the Russians whose preoccupation with wholly military objectives has been as notable as has been our own up to this time."
The British close to Churchill had a different idea:
The British clung to the belief (or dementia, as many Americans saw it) that Berlin could be bombed out of the war. . . They assumed that intolerable civilian suffering would inevitably produce a proletarian revolt in the heart of the Third Reich. . . Air power, according to this logic, would bomb industrial centers, creating mass unemployment and panic, especially among the working classes, who in turn would overthrow the government. In short, air attack against populations would cause workers to rise up against the ruling classes.
And then the American came on board:
Roosevelt's endorsement of Thunderclap, which paved the way for US complicity in Dresden, was a moral watershed in the American conduct of the war. The city burners had finally triumphed over the precision bombers. By committing the Air Force to British doctrine in Germany, Thunderclap also opened the door to the Zoroastrian Society alumni who wanted an unrestricted incendiary campaign against Japan. The hundred thousand or so civilians whom the Eighth Air Force burnt to death in the cities of eastern Germany during the winter of 1945 were but a prelude to the one million Japanese consumed in the B-29 autos-da-fÃ© later that spring.
Thus, the Washington Post strongly inferring that those who question the morality and wisdom of the Dresden bombings are neo-Nazis is not only historically incorrect, it is a libel.
The US acts over drug scares
American regulators yesterday tried to restore confidence in the battered drugs industry by announcing the formation of an independent board to monitor the safety of drugs on the market. The move comes on the eve of a crucial hearing to investigate certain painkilling drugs.
The Food and Drug Administration appears to be restricting the information that will be presented at the three-day hearing, beginning today, into the safety of arthritis drugs such as the withdrawn painkiller Vioxx.
The FDA said the proposed Drug Safety Oversight Board would keep medicines under review and alert doctors and patients to emergent risks. It is an important change to the industry, as the US has around half the world drugs market. (more)
Not every movie promotion is this interesting
From the fourth-floor restaurant, where waiters serve grilled fish as a jazz saxophonist plays, guests at the refurbished Hotel des Mille Collines enjoy a panoramic view of Rwanda's tree-studded capital, Kigali.
But memories are not erased as easily. "There were people sleeping everywhere," the concierge, Zozo, recalled. "There was no water. It was filthy here. In the city, guns were shooting - boom, boom - and there was smoke rising."
In 1994, as genocidal violence swept Rwanda, the four-star hotel became a sanctuary for 700 Tutsis whose lives were saved largely by the guile of the manager, Paul Rusesabagina.
The remarkable story of the Mille Collines, where not a single life was lost during the 100 days of slaughter, is now an Oscar-nominated Hollywood film starring Don Cheadle as Rusesabagina. It opens in the UK next week. (more)
Reality TV sucide
Najai Turpin, a boxer from Philadelphia, shot himself in front of his girlfriend just three weeks before The Contender, a US reality series in which he featured, is due to start.
NBC, which is broadcasting The Contender, offered its condolences to Turpin's girlfriend and their two-year-old daughter, who also appear in the series, but said the show would go ahead as planned.
"Nothing changes. I'm not even going to make any edits because it's real," said the show's producer and US reality TV guru Mark Burnett.
Twelve of the scheduled 13 episodes have already been filmed, meaning that Turpin will appear in at least one episode posthumously. (more)