Friday, May 05, 2006

You talking about killing? Hmm? Y'all experts? Y'all know about killing?

I've been hesitant to link this Flash video Bravery which is set to James Blunt's moving song.

A word of warning if you haven't seen it: it's pretty graphic with quite a bit of blood. Personally I have a strange mixed opinion with regards to the presentation of graphic images of war from death to torture. I can't stomach it myself yet I also think it ought to be broadcast as widely as possible. People are too fucking removed from the decisions they make at the ballot box and how that has an effect on real people's lives.

Yep, just a little bit of pixie dust. Now, think of the happiest things. It's the same as having wings.

This piece by Robert Farley on the conservative penchant to push the Tinkerbell Theory of geopolitics is worth reading. Farley is a man after my own heart as he spreads liberal quotes from Goodfellas, The Usual Suspects and The Godfather throughout in making his point.

All of it's great but what struck me was this aspect of Farley's argument:

Recall also Michael Corleone's comment at the end of Godfather II, about how history has shown that anyone can be killed. In Apocalypse Now, Colonel Kurtz demonstrates that only a Will to commit atrocity is necessary to defeat the Viet Cong. The Will explanation extends to athletics, as well. How often does a commentator explain a team's victory through their commitment, courage, and Will rather than through the fact that it plays better and is more talented? As noted above, this explanation is attractive precisely because it is so lazy; the Yankees win games because they have talented players, not because they have Will. Nevertheless, pop culture evocations of the importance of Will are extremely common. Will plays better as a story than a sober analysis of things like capability, skill, or talent. Will is dramatic and surprising in a way that capability is not.

I wish he'd taken the time to flesh that point out a little more. It's not just Will as an aspect of popular culture but also as an underlying theme to the culture of business which has become predominant over these last 30 years. Business celebrates the importance of Will at the corporate level all the way down to the Zig Ziglers and other motivational speakers. Sheer determination can shape reality and wipe out the comptetition.

The conservative belief in the power of Will, it's "triumph" if you will, reminds me of another political movement who valued the power of positive thinking over objective reality. I believe Leni Riefenstahl made a little film about that movement:

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I don't know if I can explain it to you. It's not only against the law, it's wrong!

President Bush has achieved infamy through his judicious use of Presidential signing statements or "fingers crossed no take backs" as we use to call them on the playground.

In reading up on his signing statements so far I came across some of his more famous signing statements including his stab in the back to John McCain who had just pushed through an anti-torture bill:

Law signed on Dec. 30, 2005: US interrogators cannot torture prisoners or otherwise subject them to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Bush's signing statement: The president, as commander in chief, can waive the torture ban if he decides that harsh interrogation techniques will assist in preventing terrorist attacks.

But I was surprised at the pettiness of some of his lesser known signing statements:

Law signed on Dec. 30: When requested, scientific information ''prepared by government researchers and scientists shall be transmitted [to Congress] uncensored and without delay."

Bush's signing statement: The president as God's Chosen One has final say and jurisdiction over reality and, by extension, science. Congress can request scientific information be transmitted to them just as congress is also free to request that pigs fly- for as much good as it will do them.


Bill signed on Aug. 5: The military cannot add to its files any illegally gathered intelligence, including information obtained about Americans in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches.

Bush's signing statement: Only the president, as commander in chief, can tell the military whether or not it can use any specific piece of intelligence. Also- the president doesn't like the word "intelligence." Henceforth secrets obtained by agencies of the defense department will be referred to as "super-secret spy stuff."


Bill signed on Dec. 23, 2004: Forbids US troops in Colombia from participating in any combat against rebels, except in cases of self-defense. Caps the number of US troops allowed in Colombia at 800.

Bush's signing statement: The president has declared Columbia a terrorist nation since they charged him more than $0.01 for CDs and sent him some CDs he didn't order.

Texmam? Well, tell me Texmam, are you in show business?

One last post on Colbert and then I swear I'll drop the subject. Via Atrios' wanker award I was led to this article by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post. Cohen makes the typical "Colbert just wasn't funny" argument and goes on to argue that Colbert also wasn't really all that brave because he didn't face execution or being thrown in a dungeon or something and people insult the President all the time without repercussion. It's a fascinating redefinition of what speaking truth to power has meant in the history of this country that completely discards the insular nature of wealth and power.

Here he hammers that home:

On television, Colbert is often funny. But on his own show he appeals to a self-selected audience that reminds him often of his greatness.

See- the President is a regular guy who is set-upon all the time by guys that insult him but Colbert is out of touch because of the hand-picked audience that does nothing but suck-up to his greatness.

Cohen, being rich and powerful, can't conceive that he himself is out of touch so how could we expect him to conceive that the most powerful man in the world is oblivious to the greater world around him?

Wanker indeed.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Awfully decent of you to drop in today. Do you realize our army is facing disastrous defeat? What do you intend to do about it?

Via the Chicago Tribune I am reminded that the President's fine performance at the Correspondent's Dinner has been lost in all the chatter about Stephen Colbert:

• Liberals are attacking the New York Times and other outlets for ignoring or underplaying Colbert's monologue, and instead focusing on the president's gentler, self-deprecating interplay with a Bush impersonator. "It's insane journalism not to write about Colbert's appearance," playwright Christopher Durang wrote on Huffington Post. Seems to me a complete story would have given ample play to both. Colbert is clearly what everyone was talking about. Bush and his friend deserved coverage because, well, just about every public act the president commits is newsworthy, whether it's funny or not.,0,2112129.story?coll=mmx-home_bottom_hedsh2o

By all means let's not forget that the President of the United States in the midst of his ruinous war in Iraq, record budget deficits and a complete breakdown of the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans, took time out of his schedule to practice a comedy routine for a bunch of self-important hacks.

I was worried his priorities where out of whack or something.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

I will motivate you, Private Pyle, if it short-dicks every cannibal on the Congo.

Yes, I've seen the Steven Colbert White House Press Correspondent's Take Down. I just haven't written anything on it because I really had nothing else to add to the number of observations around the net that the press doesn't like being the object of ridicule, the President (and conservatives in general) don't have an inkling of the sense of humor they seem to think they have and that Colbert has balls somewhere the size of cantaloupe other than to point out that the reason the conservatives and press corps have reverted to pearl-clutching mode and progressives are standing up and cheering Colbert's routine has very much to do with absurdity of the current relationship between the press and the President.

The White House Correspondent's Dinner was BUILT on the adversarial relationship that has traditionally existed between the Executive branch and the Fourth Estate. The idea was that for one night a year they would drop the daggers and come together to laugh and share the things they have in common (disdain for the little people.)

That adversarial relationship doesn't exist under this President. Period. What's the point of putting the knives away when they're not out to begin with.

Colbert showed the Press (under the guise of comedy) what they should be doing on a daily basis.

Monday, May 01, 2006

A dream that became a reality and spread throughout the stars.

I was sad to hear about the death this weekend of economist John Kenneth Galbraith. I was exposed to Galbraith at a fairly young age by my father who had all manner of Galbraith's books in his big collection of political stuff. Galbraith, probably more than any other economist, was someone who made economics digestible to the average palate. Perhaps even more importantly; Galbraith presented a case that capitalism was best served when it functioned to benefit all elements of society.

The Affluent Society, probably his greatest work, shook the world when it came out in the 50's. In that book Galbraith argued that the measure of the wealth of society could not solely be sized in terms of personal wealth but also through the level of commitment to fighting poverty, public safety and infrastructure. It amounted to nothing less gauntlet drawn across the face of western society, particularly the United States. Galbraith challenged us to do better.

Just before I read of Galbraith's death I had been searching around looking for an article I'd read from Parade sometime in the late 80's. The late, great astronomer Carl Sagan had written a piece proposing a joint manned Mars mission between the United States and the U.S.S.R. The benefits to such a mission were pretty self-evident; increased cooperation between the superpowers, joint scientific advancement, etc. but what really struck me about the idea and what's stayed with me to this day is Sagan's earnest belief that man as a species is coded to find a challenge to surmount, a new world to explore. A mission to Mars would be the ultimate challenge.

While I couldn't find that article I did find this piece by Sagan published in 1992 in The Planetary Report. Sagan summarizes man's exploration of our world and ties into a call to explore other worlds but recognizes that much of the spark of imagination that focused our nation towards these goals has all but disappeared from from public policy.

But since that time, something has soured. The anticipation of progress has been supplanted by a foreboding of technological ruin. I look into my children's eyes and ask myself what kind of future we are preparing for them. We have offered them visions of a future in which--unable to read, to think, to invent, to compete, to make things work, to anticipate events--our nation sinks into lethargy and economic decay; in which ignorance and greed conspire to destroy the air, the water, the soil and the climate; in which, with over 50,000 nuclear warheads still in existence, we permit a nuclear holocaust. The visions we present to our children shape the future. It matters what those visions are. Often they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Dreams are maps.

I do not think it irresponsible to portray even the direst futures; if we are to avoid them, we must understand that they are possible. But where are the alternatives? Where are the dreams that motivate and inspire? Where are the visions of hopeful futures, of times when technology is a tool for human well-being and not a gun on hair trigger pointed at our heads? Our children long for realistic maps of a future they (and we) can be proud of. Where are the cartographers of human purpose?

One of the oldest running disagreements between Mrs. Wormer and myself is over the financial cost of our national space program. Mrs. Wormer, being the bleeding-heart softy that she is, feels the dollars that go into the NASA budget are obscene and would be applied much better to poverty or jobs programs. I'm hugely sympathetic to this point but I don't quite see it the same way. I don't see it as either/ or. I see both as necessary. I see both as challenges. I dream that one day we'll end poverty AND reach for the stars.

The overwhelming thing that seperates men like John Kenneth Galbraith and Carl Sagan is that they look at the world as it is, not as they'd like it to be, and see the huge problems facing mankind yet see those problems as challenges; things to be conquered while other men turn away. There is a hairbreadth's difference between man conquering space and man conquering poverty or hunger. Both are the equivalent of the effort to circumnavigate the globe, or climb Everest or fly across the Atlantic. Both will take the application of enormous resources and imagination. Both offer hope.

To get there we'll need realize that we need to have leaders again that recognize that dreams are maps.

Are you kidding, baby? I put the "grrrr" in swinger, baby! Yeah!

If Josh Bolten keep's making comments like these I might not have to work so hard to come up with quotes to match the articles --

WASHINGTON -- It's time for the White House to go on offense and "get our mojo back." Josh Bolten said Sunday in his first interview since taking over as the president's chief of staff.

They never had any mojo to begin. They just pretended they did and the Press went along for the ride.

Here's a thought for getting this Presidency on track: competent policy rather than photo ops. Yeah, right. Fat chance.