Thursday, May 31, 2007

Newsflash: Another Rich Man Seemingly Devoid Of Sane Thought Enters Presidential Race

We seriously admonish you not to vote for Fred Thompson, a former Tennessee senator and retired movie actor.

Here are, in his own words and ours, four good reasons why we think Thompson will make, if not an immoral president, then at least an unhelpful one:


"Some people think that our planet is suffering from a fever. ... NASA says the Martian South Pole’s ‘ice cap’ has been shrinking for three summers in a row. Maybe Mars got its fever from earth. If so, I guess Jupiter’s caught the same cold, because it’s warming up too, like Pluto. This has led some people, not necessarily scientists, to wonder if Mars and Jupiter, nonsignatories to the Kyoto Treaty, are actually inhabited by alien SUV-driving industrialists who run their airconditioning at 60 degrees and refuse to recycle." -- March 22, ABC Radio.

Damage to the environment due to rapid climate change is both real and acknowledged as real by a vast consensus of scientists.

We're not sure how candidate Thompson plans to address environmental damage, but we firmly excoriate him for opting to mince words about such a vital problem, make silly suggestions about Jupiterian SUV-driving, and insinuate that the Bush administration's refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocols is somehow good for us.

If Mr. Thompson wins, we can only hope he will think more lucidly about the future of our planet.

(Or, if he has no interest in this increasingly hot, increasingly crowded, hurricane-riddled planet, he can move to another one. We suggest Mercury.)


"President John F. Kennedy was an astute proponent of tax cuts and the proposition that lower tax rates produce economic growth. Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan also understood the power of lower tax rates and managed to put through cuts that grew the U.S. economy like Kansas corn. Sadly, we just don’t seem able to keep that lesson learned." -- April 14, The Wall Street Journal.

While targeted tax cuts may indeed help some of us, some of the time (check out Bill Richardson's past and proposed cuts), the country overall is lucky to have not kept learned "that lesson" -- the lesson of taxing those who can afford to be taxed, so that we can build roads, keep schools open, etc.

A self-styled Federalist, Thompson plans to follow in George W. Bush's footsteps and make the rich richer and poor poorer. We doubt that this strategy is good for anyone.

(The rich can only spend so much money in their lifetimes. But perhaps Thompson's Jupiterian friends -- he also makes frequent reference to "dwarf planets," perhaps in an effort to make Jupiter feel bad about its size -- can find a way for the rich to continue their spending posthumously. Perhaps by buying up dwarf planets...)

Separation of Church and State

Thompson has concerns of federal judges deciding "social policy." "Many federal judges seem intent on eliminating God from the public schools and the public square in ways that would astound our founding fathers. We never know when a five to four Supreme Court decision will uphold them. They ignore the fact that the founders were protecting the church from the state and not the other way around." -- The National Review.

We stand by a government that is entirely, 100% divorced from expressions of any particular faith.

The various odious, gay-bashing, abortion-for-raped-teens-denying pseudo-religions espoused as Truth by so many conservatives (among them Fred Thompson) should have no greater or lesser standing, in the eyes of the state, than Islam, Judaism, Yazidism, Wicca, atheism, Scientology, Yo-ism, or subGenius-ism.

Courts do not need to post the ancient tenets of the Abrahamic God in sight of accused criminals who may or may not believe in them; schools needn't trespass on the minds of young capitalist, imperial Americans than they already do.

(Jupiterists, of course, should be burned at the stake, if we can only figure out how to tie-down their fifty undulant tentacles long enough to light the kerosene-soaked witch-sticks below them. Amen.)


"I doubt, for example, that our television networks have spent as much time exposing the horrors of life for millions of women in pre-liberation Iraq and Afghanistan as they've spent covering Abu Ghraib. For some reason, everyday atrocities such as the endemic beatings, honor killings and forced marriages of women just don't seem to be newsworthy." -- a Thompson essay for the American Enterprise Institute.

We feel that this statement is so obviously antithetical to good thinking, good government -- to sanity -- that it needs no further amendment.

Please vote; please don't vote for Fred Thompson.

It's Not Often That I Agree With Republican Senator Sam Brownback About Religion...

Compared to Fred Thompson (boo! hiss!) et al, this man is a shining beacon of good thought. He has considered his position, and he states his case well. I agree with him:

There is no reason that people of faith cannot or should not use reason and the scientific method as much as possible.

Science does not purport to verify or dismiss claims about God -- or any claims that cannot be addressed by hypothesis and experiment.

Likewise, the existence of God does not disprove evolution; if God exists, perhaps he created evolution. We can't know.

Sam goes off at the end about man being created in the "image" of something, and I tend to think that that idea, too, is untestable and unprovable, and probably not all that important.

After all, we are here, now, and we can create sweet robots in our own image.

More from Sam:

May 31, 2007, Op-Ed Contributor, "What I Think About Evolution," By SAM BROWNBACK:

IN our sound-bite political culture, it is unrealistic to expect that every complicated issue will be addressed with the nuance or subtlety it deserves. So I suppose I should not have been surprised earlier this month when, during the first Republican presidential debate, the candidates on stage were asked to raise their hands if they did not “believe” in evolution. As one of those who raised his hand, I think it would be helpful to discuss the issue in a bit more detail and with the seriousness it demands.

The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.

The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.

The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.

The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident. That being the case, many believers — myself included — reject arguments for evolution that dismiss the possibility of divine causality.

Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species. Yet I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation — and indeed life today — is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.

Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man’s origin, faith can do its part as well. The fundamental question for me is how these theories affect our understanding of the human person.

The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose.

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

Without hesitation, I am happy to raise my hand to that.

Sam Brownback is a Republican senator from Kansas.

See my THAT'S PLENTY post about the Creationist museum >>

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Trouble With Bottled Water

Man, I been said you shouldn't have to pay for water, at least not more than you already pay the city to filter it for you tap. I also think non-tap water tastes funny (not funny "ha-ha," but funny "annoying"), so I'm biased.

Too, NYC has some of the best drinking water in the world, and my friends go out an buy some oil-crafted Evian... but won't eat meat or touch my cat (who is, to be fair, kind of dirty because he likes to chew candles, and candles get MAD dusty).

Exploring the debate, as ever, are the Californians.

Here are a bunch of interesting snippets from the NYTimes: May 30, 2007, "Fighting the Tide, a Few Restaurants Tilt to Tap Water," By MARIAN BURROS:

The “eat local” movement first became popular in California, so it makes sense that “drink local” is catching on there as a way to reduce the environmental costs of manufacturing and transporting bottles of water, as well as the mountains of plastic that end up in landfills.

“Filling cargo ships with water and sending it hundreds and thousands of miles to get it around the world seems ridiculous,” Mr. Bastianich said. “With all the other things we do for sustainability, it makes sense.”

When Maury Rubin opened the first Birdbath Neighborhood Green Bakery in the East Village in 2005 and the second in Greenwich Village last month, banning bottled water was a no-brainer. “It was actually an easy decision,” Mr. Rubin said. “Bottled water is not great for the environment.”

Tom Colicchio, the chef and an owner of Craft restaurant and several spinoffs, was incredulous that restaurants would contemplate such a change. “This is the first I’ve heard of it,” he said. “Why would you do that — not from a money standpoint, but from a service and hospitality standpoint? Fifty to 60 percent prefer bottled water, especially sparkling.”

“The students were up in arms, but a year later no one says anything,” said Ann Cooper, director of the district’s nutrition services, who added, “We have been marketed to the point that children believe they can’t drink water out of the tap.”

“The rationale for buying bottled water is a fantasy that has a destructive downside,” Dr. Solomon said. “These companies are marketing an illusion of environmental purity.”

But Stephen Kay, the vice president for communications at the International Bottled Water Association, said eliminating bottled water would have “a negligible, nonexistent impact on protecting the environment.”

Some restaurants make a point of serving tap water but still provide bottled water on request. “Santa Monica is known for its terrible tap water,” said Anastasia Israel, an owner of Abode, which opened there a month ago. Patrons are reluctant to drink the tap water, but after servers explain the filtration process, 80 percent of them give it a try. Carbonation will follow soon.

Mr. Wolf, the consultant, said he is confident that if restaurants are pressed to eliminate bottled water, they will figure out how to do it. “No one is more adaptable than a restaurateur,” he said, noting that they whined when smoking was banned but “survived beautifully.”

Check out details courtesy Chris Sacca >>

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Failure Of The Democrats To Live Up To Their Mandate, Plain And Simple

As Julianne notes, there are few great pundits left in the world of televised news. (And perhaps, I add, there weren't that many to begin with.) But, in the spirit of Murrow and the fictional but all too realistically mad-as-hell newsman from Network, this Keith fellow has his heart and tongue in exactly the right spot. You should watch the video or, if not, read the transcript. Many of us at Culture Project strongly agree with Keith's view that the Democrats had no task other than to extract America from Iraq, and by extension from all the corruption of Bushismology, and that any compromise on this point is a sort of betrayal. We await the day true power--the power to make change--in politics returns to those on the side of the irenic, the rational, the anti-imperial.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Dick Cheney's bastard grandson

Oh joy! Lynne and Dick Cheney welcomed their 6th grandchild this morning. And looky at the picture that was given to the press and is currently residing on the homepage of Now, wait a minute.... you may be thinking to yourself, what's missing..... ?? Oh yeah - the baby's two mommies!!!

Nice that since Mary Cheney and her wife Heather Poe live in Virginia, poor Heather is not entitled to any parental rights whatsoever. She cannot ever even adopt little Samuel David Cheney. So let's all hope (and pray, of course) that some truck doesn't run over Mary, or Darth Cheney and the wicked witch of the West Wing Lynne will scoop up that poor child so fast it'll make Heathen, I mean Heather's head spin!

Wowee-Wow: Another Anti-Gay Religious Leader, I R Surprised

From the Times:

The archbishop of Canterbury sent out more than 800 invitations yesterday to a once-a-decade global gathering of Anglican bishops. But he did not invite the openly gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire and the bishop in Virginia who heads a conservative cluster of disaffected American churches affiliated with the archbishop of Nigeria.

The exclusions offended liberals and conservatives in the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has been threatened by schism since the election in 2003 of the bishop of New Hampshire, V. Gene Robinson, who lives with his gay partner.

...Bishop Robinson said he was extremely disappointed at his exclusion and asked in a statement, “At a time when the Anglican Communion is calling for a ‘listening process’ on the issue of homosexuality, how does it make sense to exclude gay and lesbian people from the discussion?”

LOL, I think I'm going to call up Hezbollah to hold a Quorum On Healing Society In Lebanon and not invite any secular Muslims, Christians, or Druze. Post-Falwell / pre-fixin stuff.

let's all stop throwing rocks! (literally and figuratively)

Joss Whedon is a feminist man, writing about the "honor killing" of seventeen year old Dua Khalil in Kurdistan and the deeply disturbing resemblance it bears to the trailer for a new film in the US, “Captivity” (or vice versa).

Last month seventeen year old Dua Khalil was pulled into a crowd of young men, some of them (the instigators) family, who then kicked and stoned her to death. This is an example of the breath-taking oxymoron “honor killing”, in which a family member (almost always female) is murdered for some religious or ethical transgression. Dua Khalil, who was of the Yazidi faith, had been seen in the company of a Sunni Muslim, and possibly suspected of having married him or converted. That she was torturously murdered for this is not, in fact, a particularly uncommon story. But now you can watch the action up close on CNN. Because as the girl was on the ground trying to get up, her face nothing but red, the few in the group of more than twenty men who were not busy kicking her and hurling stones at her were filming the event with their camera-phones.

There were security officers standing outside the area doing nothing, but the footage of the murder was taken – by more than one phone – from the front row. Which means whoever shot it did so not to record the horror of the event, but to commemorate it. To share it. Because it was cool.

I could start a rant about the level to which we have become desensitized to violence, about the evils of the voyeuristic digital world in which everything is shown and everything is game, but honestly, it’s been said. And I certainly have no jingoistic cultural agenda. I like to think that in America this would be considered unbearably appalling, that Kitty Genovese is still remembered, that we are more evolved. But coincidentally, right before I stumbled on this vid I watched the trailer for “Captivity”.

A few of you may know that I took public exception to the billboard campaign for this film, which showed a concise narrative of the kidnapping, torture and murder of a sexy young woman. I wanted to see if the film was perhaps more substantial (especially given the fact that it was directed by “The Killing Fields” Roland Joffe) than the exploitive ad campaign had painted it. The trailer resembles nothing so much as the CNN story on Dua Khalil. Pretty much all you learn is that Elisha Cuthbert is beautiful, then kidnapped, inventively, repeatedly and horrifically tortured, and that the first thing she screams is “I’m sorry”.

“I’m sorry.”

What is wrong with women?

I mean wrong. Physically. Spiritually. Something unnatural, something destructive, something that needs to be corrected.

How did more than half the people in the world come out incorrectly? I have spent a good part of my life trying to do that math, and I’m no closer to a viable equation. And I have yet to find a culture that doesn’t buy into it. Women’s inferiority – in fact, their malevolence -- is as ingrained in American popular culture as it is anywhere they’re sporting burkhas. I find it in movies, I hear it in the jokes of colleagues, I see it plastered on billboards, and not just the ones for horror movies. Women are weak. Women are manipulative. Women are somehow morally unfinished. (Objectification: another tangential rant avoided.) And the logical extension of this line of thinking is that women are, at the very least, expendable.

I try to think how we got here. The theory I developed in college (shared by many I’m sure) is one I have yet to beat: Womb Envy. Biology: women are generally smaller and weaker than men. But they’re also much tougher. Put simply, men are strong enough to overpower a woman and propagate. Women are tough enough to have and nurture children, with or without the aid of a man. Oh, and they’ve also got the equipment to do that, to be part of the life cycle, to create and bond in a way no man ever really will. Somewhere a long time ago a bunch of men got together and said, “If all we do is hunt and gather, let’s make hunting and gathering the awesomest achievement, and let’s make childbirth kinda weak and shameful.” It’s a rather silly simplification, but I believe on a mass, unconscious level, it’s entirely true. How else to explain the fact that cultures who would die to eradicate each other have always agreed on one issue? That every popular religion puts restrictions on women’s behavior that are practically untenable? That the act of being a free, attractive, self-assertive woman is punishable by torture and death? In the case of this upcoming torture-porn, fictional. In the case of Dua Khalil, mundanely, unthinkably real. And both available for your viewing pleasure.

It’s safe to say that I’ve snapped. That something broke, like one of those robots you can conquer with a logical conundrum. All my life I’ve looked at this faulty equation, trying to understand, and I’ve shorted out. I don’t pretend to be a great guy; I know really really well about objectification, trust me. And I’m not for a second going down the “women are saints” route – that just leads to more stone-throwing (and occasional Joan-burning). I just think there is the staggering imbalance in the world that we all just take for granted. If we were all told the sky was evil, or at best a little embarrassing, and we ought not look at it, wouldn’t that tradition eventually fall apart? (I was going to use ‘trees’ as my example, but at the rate we’re getting rid of them I’m pretty sure we really do think they’re evil. See how all rants become one?)

Now those of you who frequent this site are, in my wildly biased opinion, fairly evolved. You may hear nothing new here. You may be way ahead of me. But I can’t contain my despair, for Dua Khalil, for humanity, for the world we’re shaping. Those of you who have followed the link I set up know that it doesn’t bring you to a video of a murder. It brings you to a place of sanity, of people who have never stopped asking the question of what is wrong with this world and have set about trying to change the answer. Because it’s no longer enough to be a decent person. It’s no longer enough to shake our heads and make concerned grimaces at the news. True enlightened activism is the only thing that can save humanity from itself. I’ve always had a bent towards apocalyptic fiction, and I’m beginning to understand why. I look and I see the earth in flames. Her face was nothing but red.

All I ask is this: Do something. Try something. Speaking out, showing up, writing a letter, a check, a strongly worded e-mail. Pick a cause – there are few unworthy ones. And nudge yourself past the brink of tacit support to action. Once a month, once a year, or just once. If you can’t think of what to do, there is this handy link. Even just learning enough about a subject so you can speak against an opponent eloquently makes you an unusual personage. Start with that. Any one of you would have cried out, would have intervened, had you been in that crowd in Bashiqa. Well thanks to digital technology, you’re all in it now.

I have never had any faith in humanity. But I will give us props on this: if we can evolve, invent and theorize our way into the technologically magical, culturally diverse and artistically magnificent race we are and still get people to buy the idiotic idea that half of us are inferior, we’re pretty amazing. Let our next sleight of hand be to make that myth disappear.

The sky isn’t evil. Try looking up.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Book Worth Investigating, We Think; Wind Farms; & Carpet Conversions You Might Emulate

From the NYTIMES, May 22, 2007, Books of The Times, "Al Gore Speaks of a Nation in Danger," By MICHIKO KAKUTANI:

In “The Assault on Reason” Al Gore excoriates George W. Bush, asserting that the president is “out of touch with reality,” that his administration is so incompetent that it “can’t manage its own way out of a horse show,” that it ignored “clear warnings” about the terrorist threat before 9/11 and that it has made Americans less safe by “stirring up a hornets’ nest in Iraq,” while using “the language and politics of fear” to try to “drive the public agenda without regard to the evidence, the facts or the public interest.”

The administration’s pursuit of unilateralism abroad, Mr. Gore says, has isolated the United States in an ever more dangerous world, even as its efforts to expand executive power at home and “relegate the Congress and the courts to the sidelines” have undermined the constitutional system of checks and balances.

The former vice president contends that the fiasco in Iraq stems from President Bush’s use of “a counterfeit combination of misdirected vengeance and misguided dogma to dominate the national discussion, bypass reason, silence dissent and intimidate those who questioned his logic both inside and outside the administration.”

He argues that the gruesome acts of torture committed at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq “were a direct consequence of the culture of impunity — encouraged, authorized and instituted” by President Bush and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. And he writes that the violations of civil liberties committed by the Bush-Cheney administration — including its secret authorization of the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without a court order on calls and e-mail messages between the United States and other countries, and its suspension of the rights of due process for “enemy combatants” — demonstrate “a disrespect for America’s Constitution that has now brought our republic to the brink of a dangerous breach in the fabric of democracy.”

Similar charges have been made by a growing number of historians, political analysts and even former administration insiders, and President Bush’s plummeting approval ratings have further emboldened his critics. But Mr. Gore writes not just as a former vice president and the man who won the popular vote in the 2000 election, but also as a possible future candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 2008 race for the White House, and the vehemence of his language and his arguments make statements about the Bush administration by already announced candidates like Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton seem polite and mild-mannered in contrast.

And yet for all its sharply voiced opinions, “The Assault on Reason” turns out to be less a partisan, election-cycle harangue than a fiercely argued brief about the current Bush White House that is grounded in copiously footnoted citations from newspaper articles, Congressional testimony and commission reports — a brief that is as powerful in making its points about the implications of this administration’s policies as the author’s 2006 book, “An Inconvenient Truth,” was in making its points about the fallout of global warming.

This volume moves beyond its criticisms of the Bush administration to diagnose the ailing condition of America as a participatory democracy — low voter turnout, rampant voter cynicism, an often ill-informed electorate, political campaigns dominated by 30-second television ads, and an increasingly conglomerate-controlled media landscape — and it does so not with the calculated, sound-bite-conscious tone of many political-platform-type books, but with the sort of wonky ardor that made both the book and movie versions of “An Inconvenient Truth” so bluntly effective.

Mr. Gore’s central argument is that “reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions” and that the country’s public discourse has become “less focused and clear, less reasoned.” This “assault on reason,” he suggests, is personified by the way the Bush White House operates. Echoing many reporters and former administration insiders, Mr. Gore says that the administration tends to ignore expert advice (be it on troop levels, global warming or the deficit), to circumvent the usual policy-making machinery of analysis and debate, and frequently to suppress or disdain the best evidence available on a given subject so it can promote predetermined, ideologically driven policies.

Doubts about Saddam Hussein’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction were sidestepped in the walk-up to the war: Mr. Gore says that uranium experts at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee told him “there was zero possibility” that aluminum tubes acquired by Saddam Hussein were for the purpose of nuclear enrichment, but felt intimidated from “making any public statement that disagreed with the assertions being made to the people by President Bush.”

And the Army chief of staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki’s pre-invasion recommendation that several hundred thousand troops would be needed for a successful occupation of Iraq was similarly dismissed. “Rather than engaging in a reasoned debate on the question,” Mr. Gore writes, administration members “undercut Shinseki for disagreeing with their preconceived notion — even though he was an expert, and they were not.”

Moreover, Mr. Gore contends, the administration’s penchant for secrecy (keeping everything from the details of its coercive interrogation policy to its National Security Agency surveillance program under wraps) has dismantled the principle of accountability, even as what he calls its “unprecedented and sustained campaign of mass deception” on matters like Iraq has made “true deliberation and meaningful debate by the people virtually impossible.”

Mr. Gore points out that the White House repeatedly implied that there was a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, between the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and Iraq, when in fact no such linkage existed. He observes that the administration “withheld facts” from Congress concerning the cost of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, which turned out to be “far higher than the numbers given to Congress by the president.”

And he contends that “it has become common for President Bush to rely on special interests” — like those represented by the Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi before the war, and ExxonMobil on the climate crisis — for “basic information about the policies important to these interests.”


Much the way that the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” showed a more accessible Al Gore — at ease with himself and passionate about the dangers of global warming — this book shows a fiery, throw-caution-to-the winds Al Gore, who, whether or not he runs for the White House again, has decided to lay it all on the line with a blistering assessment of the Bush administration and the state of public discourse in America at this “fateful juncture” in history.

We applaud Mr. Gore's efforts: In an age of journalistic weakness, he has joined Lewis Lapham, a handful of bloggers, and too few others in his commitment to tell the truth -- even about the president, even about money -- even if the oil barons and CIA bunglers would prefer that the illusion of an omnipotent, universally and infinitely good-hearted American Government remain the only image that government casts.

More good news we recommend to you:

May 22, 2007, "An Old Steel Mill Retools to Produce Clean Energy," By DAVID STABA:

LACKAWANNA, N.Y., May 21 — Empty grain elevators and dormant railroad tracks line the Buffalo River to the east and Lake Erie to the west, interspersed with empty fields overgrown with gnarled shrubbery. Test wells that monitor decades of buried industrial waste dot the landscape. A passenger ship, rust overtaking its aqua paint, sits beside a decaying mill.

The road from Buffalo to this city to the south offers a stark reminder of the region’s faded past as a hub of industry and shipping.

Yet in the past few months, a different sight has emerged on the 2.2-mile shoreline above a labyrinth of pipes, blackened buildings and crumbling coke ovens that was once home to a behemoth Bethlehem Steel plant: eight gleaming white windmills with 153-foot blades slowly turning in the wind off Lake Erie, on a former Superfund site where iron and steel slag and other industrial waste were dumped during 80 years of production.

“It’s changing the image of the city of Lackawanna,” said Norman L. Polanski Jr., the city’s mayor and a former Bethlehem worker who lost his job when the company stopped making steel here in 1983. “We were the old Rust Belt, with all the negatives. Right now, we are progressive and we are leading the way on the waterfront.”

Christine Real de Azua, of the American Wind Energy Association, said Steel Winds, as this wind farm is known, is the largest to rise in a city, and according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, it is the first to rise on land overseen by New York’s brownfields program. (Brownfields are low-level toxic waste sites concentrated mainly around abandoned factories.)

“It’s a way to convert the Rust Belt to the Wind Belt,” Ms. Real de Azua said.


The greatest effect of the eight windmills, however, may have more to do with attitude.

“A community that has had difficulty moving forward has accepted a technology that leapfrogs other forms of energy generation,” Mr. Mitskovski said. “Decades of steel-making created this environmental legacy. But that also created the opportunity to take this fallow, contaminated land and reuse it.”

And once more, from Atlanta:

May 22, 2007, "Executive on a Mission: Saving the Planet," By CORNELIA DEAN

VININGS, Ga. — What Ray Anderson calls his “conversion experience” occurred in the summer of 1994, when he was asked to give the sales force at Interface, the carpet tile company he founded, some talking points about the company’s approach to the environment.

“That’s simple,” Mr. Anderson recalls thinking. “We comply with the law.”

But as a sales tool, “compliance” lacked inspirational verve. So he started reading about environmental issues, and thinking about them, until pretty soon it hit him: “I was running a company that was plundering the earth,” he realized. “I thought, ‘Damn, some day people like me will be put in jail!’ ”

“It was a spear in the chest.”

So instead of environmental regulation, he devoted his speech to his newfound vision of polluted air, overflowing landfills, depleted aquifers and used-up resources. Only one institution was powerful enough and pervasive enough to turn these problems around, he told his colleagues, and it was the institution that was causing them in the first place: “Business. Industry. People like us. Us!”

He challenged his colleagues to set a deadline for Interface to become a “restorative enterprise,” a sustainable operation that takes nothing out of the earth that cannot be recycled or quickly regenerated, and that does no harm to the biosphere.

The deadline they ultimately set is 2020, and the idea has taken hold throughout the company. In a recent interview in his office here overlooking downtown Atlanta, Mr. Anderson said that through waste reduction, recycling, energy efficiency and other steps, Interface was “about 45 percent from where we were to where we want to be.”

Use of fossil fuels is down 45 percent (and net greenhouse gas production, by weight, is down 60 percent), he said, while sales are up 49 percent. Globally, the company’s carpet-making uses one-third the water it used to. The company’s worldwide contribution to landfills has been cut by 80 percent.

“He bet his entire company,” said Bob Fox, an architect who specializes in “green” buildings and who, like Mr. Anderson, is a member of the advisory board of the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment. “It worked out probably better even than he hoped. He has set the mark for every other corporation in this country.”

And in the process, Mr. Anderson has turned into perhaps the leading corporate evangelist for sustainability. He had a head start, he acknowledges, because he ran his company and controlled its voting stock. But he can make the case effectively, he said, because his Interface experience teaches that sustainability “doesn’t cost, it pays” — in customer loyalty, employee spirit and hard cash. He says Interface sustainability efforts have saved the company more than $336 million since 1995.

In fact, sustainability has been such a successful strategy that Interface established a consulting arm last year, to market its methods to other companies.

As befits an evangelist, Mr. Anderson, a trim 72-year-old, has taken his message on the road, preaching the sermon of sustainability in at least 115 speeches around the world last year alone.

Since last year, when he turned operating responsibilities over to Dan Hendrix, his successor as chief executive, selling sustainability has been “pretty much my full-time job,” Mr. Anderson said, and several people on the company payroll work more or less full time on it too, handling his schedule and fielding inquiries. “I think he was a typical corporate executive: the bottom line was everything,” said Eric Chivian, director of the Harvard Center. “He really did not think about the impact of his work.”

But today, Dr. Chivian said, Mr. Anderson is “a model of creative thinking about sustainable business practices.”

When Mr. Anderson began his crusade, there were those who thought it was quixotic, and some in the company worried that he was a bit too intense about it. Others thought carpet tiles — squares of nylon pile glued ubiquitously underfoot in offices, classrooms, hospitals, airports and elsewhere — were an unlikely focus for an effort to change the way business does business.

“Well, he won us all over,” said Jo Ann Bachman, one of Mr. Anderson’s assistants.


So he put together the necessary financing and started Interface in 1973. Today, the company says it has about $1.1 billion in annual sales and 38 percent of the global market for carpet tiles.

But when it comes to the environment, he eventually realized, carpet “is a pretty abusive industry.”

Carpet makers use lots of petroleum and petroleum derivatives, both as components of synthetic carpet and to power its production. Dyeing carpet is water- and energy-intensive. And when people are finished with the carpet, “it goes into landfills where it lasts probably 20,000 years,” Mr. Anderson said. “Abusive.”

So he challenged his employees to find ways to turn all of that around. And he forestalled objections from his own stockholders, he said, by making the elimination of waste the first target. “We saved money from Day 1,” he said.

He acknowledges that some of the advances the company has made so far are relatively obvious and easy, and that some of its claimed progress relies on steps, like carbon credits, that are far from ideal. For example, the company pays to plant trees that, in theory, take up enough carbon to compensate for the greenhouse gas generated by airplane flights on company business.

“All you are really doing is inventorying the carbon for 200 years,” Mr. Anderson said of the company’s tree-planting efforts, which it subcontracts to a company in the carbon credit business. “It’s better than nothing, but it’s temporary.”

In the future, he said, progress will come “in a lot of little steps and a few very big ones.”

Developing recyclable nylon — “that’s a big step,” he said. (Whoever does it will get all his company’s business, he has said.) Substituting “carbohydrates” — using corn dextrose instead of petroleum — would be even bigger. Renewable energy at a reasonable price would be another big step. Transportation remains “a huge issue,” in spite of the carbon credits.

Even so, customers responded to the campaign, he said, noting that it was questions from customers that prompted the sales force to ask for his environmental views in the first place. “In the aggregate, our products are not costing any more,” he said, and customers do not seem to resist those that are more expensive. “Our profit margins are up, not down,” he said.


And after an argument with the landlord, Interface’s office space here is now illuminated with low-energy, long-life light bulbs.

Mr. Anderson is also proud to say that as a member of an advisory council at Georgia Tech, he persuaded the institution to modify its mission statement to proclaim the goal of “working for a sustainable society.”


After the speech, he said, “I heard the whispers, ‘Has he gone round the bend?’ ” Mr. Anderson recalls proudly how he confessed at once that he had. “That’s my job,” he said. “To see what’s around the bend.”

Monday, May 21, 2007


Gonzalez and the White House are proposing an intellectual-property law that could change your life! It's too complex a situation for me to describe but AMERICAblog does the job perfectly:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is pressing the U.S. Congress to enact a sweeping intellectual-property bill that would increase criminal penalties for copyright infringement, including "attempts" to commit piracy.... The Bush administration is throwing its support behind a proposal called the Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007, which is likely to receive the enthusiastic support of the movie and music industries, and would represent the most dramatic rewrite of copyright law since a 2005 measure dealing with prerelease piracy....

The IPPA would, for instance:

* Criminalize "attempting" to infringe copyright. Federal law currently punishes not-for-profit copyright infringement with between 1 and 10 years in prison, but there has to be actual infringement that takes place....

* Permit more wiretaps for piracy investigations. Wiretaps would be authorized for investigations of Americans who are "attempting" to infringe copyrights....

* Allow computers to be seized more readily. Specifically, property such as a PC "intended to be used in any manner" to commit a copyright crime would be subject to forfeiture, including civil asset forfeiture....

* Require Homeland Security to alert the Recording Industry Association of America. That would happen when CDs with "unauthorized fixations of the sounds, or sounds and images, of a live musical performance" are attempted to be imported.
Oh where to begin?

First off, what this legislation is really about: The Homeland Security department getting carte blanche authorization to fish through your computer and tap your phones with impunity, whenever they want, so long as they argue that they think you might have ever tried to download even a single song via Limewire or some of other music-sharing software, or have ever copied a photo off the Internet, or even watched a single clip from any TV show on YouTube. They're going to use this legislation to hunt for terrorists, and won't need search warrants, etc. That's what this is about.

Now to the specifics.

1. Why change the law to an "attempt" to infringe? Copyright law has been fine until now, why change it?

2. As mentioned above, they can wiretap anyone who may be "attempting" to infringe on copyright. That means if they suspect that you may have saved a copy on your computer of one of my orchid photos they can tap your phones, without a warrant I suspect. They can also tap your phone if they think your teenage daughter may be "attempting" to download a song online. They could also tap the phones of every YouTube user who has ever posted a clip from any TV show. Think about that.

3. They can seize your computer, forever, if you "intend" to copy even one song or one photo from the Internet. Not if you DO copy it. Just if you even just plan on it in your mind. And the religious right has a problem with hate crime laws? At least with hate crime laws you actually have to have committed a violent crime like murder or aggravated assault. And Bush is threatening a veto of that bill. But he has no problem with a bill that throws you in jail for just thinking of maybe downloading music or a photo or posting a copy of a Washington Post article to your blog or putting a clip from the Daily Show or South Park on YouTube (that too would permit Bush to tap your phones).

And finally, if Homeland Security doesn't have enough work to do already, and has the time to set up a hotline to the Record Industry Association every time little Suzie downloads a Christina Aguilera song, well, then we might as well just pack it in and put up a big welcome sign for Osama to hit us again.

Stupid News/Heavy News/Hip Hop News

Blockah-BLAM! Jimmy got 'im! That's my boy...

NYTimes, May 21, 2007, "White House Says Carter Criticism of Bush Is ‘Sad,’" By JIM RUTENBERG:

...Mr. Carter delivered a blistering critique of President Bush in two interviews released Saturday. And, on Sunday, the White House responded in kind, calling his comments “sad” and Mr. Carter himself “irrelevant.”

In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation that was broadcast on Saturday, Mr. Carter talked about Tony Blair, the outgoing British prime minister, and his relationship with Mr. Bush, calling it “loyal, blind, apparently subservient.”

In a telephone interview with The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published on Saturday, Mr. Carter said, “I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history.”

The deputy White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, responded Sunday while speaking with reporters in a middle school gymnasium near Mr. Bush’s home here.

“I think it’s sad that President Carter’s reckless and personal criticism is out there,” Mr. Fratto said. “I think it’s unfortunate, and I think he is proving to be increasingly irrelevant with these kinds of comments.”

Mr. Fratto said he could not say whether the president knew about Mr. Carter’s comments.

Oh he knew. Bush knew, and he cried about it, and then Snow-Man and his team of icy PR-bots stood up and told everyone that "sticks and stones, &c." but Bush is still Der Leader and will not be slowed, much less stopped, by an old Southerner with a conscience.

In other news, it's still okay to eat delicious things:

NYTimes, May 21, 2007, "Death by Veganism," By NINA PLANCK:

WHEN Crown Shakur died of starvation, he was 6 weeks old and weighed 3.5 pounds. His vegan parents, who fed him mainly soy milk and apple juice, were convicted in Atlanta recently of murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty.

This particular calamity — at least the third such conviction of vegan parents in four years — may be largely due to ignorance. But it should prompt frank discussion about nutrition.

I was once a vegan. But well before I became pregnant, I concluded that a vegan pregnancy was irresponsible. You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.

Indigenous cuisines offer clues about what humans, naturally omnivorous, need to survive, reproduce and grow: traditional vegetarian diets, as in India, invariably include dairy and eggs for complete protein, essential fats and vitamins. There are no vegan societies for a simple reason: a vegan diet is not adequate in the long run.


A vegan diet is equally dangerous for weaned babies and toddlers, who need plenty of protein and calcium. Too often, vegans turn to soy, which actually inhibits growth and reduces absorption of protein and minerals. That’s why health officials in Britain, Canada and other countries express caution about soy for babies. (Not here, though — perhaps because our farm policy is so soy-friendly.)

Historically, diet honored tradition: we ate the foods that our mothers, and their mothers, ate. Now, your neighbor or sibling may be a meat-eater or vegetarian, may ferment his foods or eat them raw. This fragmentation of the American menu reflects admirable diversity and tolerance, but food is more important than fashion. Though it’s not politically correct to say so, all diets are not created equal.

An adult who was well-nourished in utero and in infancy may choose to get by on a vegan diet, but babies are built from protein, calcium, cholesterol and fish oil. Children fed only plants will not get the precious things they need to live and grow.

Huzzah, Mz. ex-vegan. I am good friends with many vegans and vegetarians, and they rail against my carnal dietary habits with sometimes gusto, rarely logic, and mostly the deep, brain-scalding pathos of the We're Right Because, Come On, Just, ARGH.

Lastly, Kool Herc in the news, savin stuff:

NYTimes, May 21, 2007, "Will Gentrification Spoil the Birthplace of Hip-Hop?" By DAVID GONZALEZ:

Hip-hop was born in the west Bronx. Not the South Bronx, not Harlem and most definitely not Queens. Just ask anybody at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue — an otherwise unremarkable high-rise just north of the Cross Bronx and hard along the Major Deegan.

“This is where it came from,” said Clive Campbell, pointing to the building’s first-floor community room. “This is it. The culture started here and went around the world. But this is where it came from. Not anyplace else.”

O.K., Mr. Campbell is not just anybody — he is the alpha D.J. of hip-hop. As D.J. Kool Herc, he presided over the turntables at parties in that community room in 1973 that spilled into nearby parks before turning into a global assault. Playing snippets of the choicest beats from James Brown, Jimmy Castor, Babe Ruth and anything else that piqued his considerable musical curiosity, he provided the soundtrack savored by loose-limbed b-boys (a term he takes credit for creating, too).

Mr. Campbell thinks the building should be declared a landmark in recognition of its role in American popular culture. Its residents agree, but for more practical reasons. They want to have the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places so that it might be protected from any change that would affect its character — in this case, a building for poor and working-class families.


Preservationists doubted it would stop the building’s owners from leaving the subsidy program, since the landmark distinction would apply to the structure and not necessarily its use. And there is another obstacle: to be eligible for the National Register, a building normally has to be at least 50 years old. The Sedgwick building falls short of that by 12 years. Exceptions are made for extraordinary cultural significance.

“It is complicated when you try to preserve some other feature of a building besides its architecture,” said Lisa Kersavage, a preservationist at the Municipal Art Society of New York. “But this is a very important cultural touchstone for New York, and awareness should be raised.”


Curtis Brown, who was a teenager living a few blocks away during Kool Herc’s heyday, agreed. Mr. Brown went from being a fan to becoming Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers, an early and influential rap group.

“That place means everything,” he said. “You can look at it objectively and say it could have happened somewhere else. Maybe. But this is where it did happen.”

To him it is already a landmark.

“As far as government and what they consider important, who knows?” he said. “But for something that saturated the world culture, that went from one building to the world, I would want to hold on to the historical significance of that building.”

Word to preservation.

Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days, named after a work by Walt "Electric/Body" Whitman, features a near-future New York City that exists as America's well-preserved carnival themepark history-land. You can even get mugged in Central Park!

I wonder if the moment they (rightfully) bend the 50-year-rule for Kool Herc's old studio will mark the precise moment hip hop becomes Mainstream... or if that was way back when Masta P was popular and Puffy started selling slacks.

Word, regardless.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Oh my f%$^ing God!

I'm sorry to blaspheme on the occasion of the righteous death of Jerry Falwell (yeah, I said that right). I hesitated exactly one day to mark his passing. It may be unChristian to speak ill of the dead, but I think Jesus is on my side on this one. Jerry Falwell was a hateful bigot and there was absolutely nothing Christian about him. It has amazed me in the past couple of days how people on 'my' side of the political spectrum want to 'praise' the reverend for his 'faith' and 'conviction'. Even Al Sharpton had kind words to say about that fat prick, and that really pisses me off. Maybe Al forgets the early 80's when good ol' Jerry was begging his congegation to buy krugerrands to help prop up PW Botha's apartheid government. Or how he blamed Al, and me, and you, for 9/11. But perhaps his biggest crime, one that sadly just keeps on giving, is the inspiration he gave to bloodthirsty sickos like Ann Coulter. Here is Ann, today, in her column's eulogy of Larry Flynt's favorite motherfucker:

I note that in Falwell’s list of Americans he blamed for ejecting God from public life, only the blacks got a qualifier. Falwell referred to blacks who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle.

No Christian minister is going to preach that being a Negro is godly behavior, but Falwell didn’t add any limiting qualifications to his condemnation of feminists, the ACLU or People for the American Way.

There have always been colored people — even in the prelapsarian ’50s that Jerry Falwell and I would like to return to, when God protected America from everything but ourselves.

What Falwell was referring to are the black activists — the ones who kept sitting at lunch counters where they clearly weren’t welcome, blamed Wallace for segregation, and keep trying to teach small schoolchildren about “busing.”

Don't rest in peace, Jerry. Instead, enjoy the red hot pokers in hell that you so richly deserve. God willing you'll have Ann's company there real soon.

The Survival of America's Democracy

Al Gore has a book coming out. It's called The Assault on Reason. You can read an excerpt here. It's an intensely thoughtful look at the current state of Democracy in America. What a different world it would be if the Senator had taken the reins on January 20, 2001. It's almost too painful to think about.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jerry Falwell Deceased; Tinky Winky Alive And *Wink* Still A Good Dresser

Details >>

The brief lives of the intolerant and ineloquently spiritual pass with much fanfare but little substance. My personal Criswell predicts that, decades from now, we will still honor progressive thinkers such as William James, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Irshad Manji, but will have relegated the likes of Falwell to the dutifully beskipped endnotes of religious history.

To quote the AP:

In 1999, he [Falwell] told an evangelical conference that the Antichrist was a male Jew who was probably already alive.

Well, yes, whynot... And he lives in Clinton, NJ, and wears Pumas and loves sour cream. (Come on, Jerry, be specific. The shadow government you propped up through the Eighties didn't invest in that hope-powered JewFinder for nothing.)

In a statement, President Bush said he and First Lady Laura Bush were ''deeply saddened'' by the loss of a man who ''cherished faith, family and freedom.''

''One of his lasting contributions was the establishment of Liberty University, where he taught young people to remain true to their convictions and rely upon God's word throughout each stage of their lives,'' Bush said.

(The Reader ponders this latter nugget for herself.)

Goodnight, Mr. Falwell; we luminists and humanists and Sufis and hippies and mothers and siblings and average Joes bid you only the softest goodnight. And we hope you find yourself somewhere pleasant but challenging, or at least as challenging as fin-de-siecle America must have been for you. The secret of death is now in your hands. One only hopes you wield it with more grace than you so potently wielded your backward convictions in life.

Falwell is survived by his wife, Macel, two sons, and a daughter, Jeannie Falwell Savas. He was 73.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Craven indifference to the rule of law

This comes as no shock, actually - the Bush administration going beyond what is acceptable, or even moral and ethical, to get what they want. We haven't heard much lately about the illegal wiretapping, but James Comey, former Deputy Atty General, testified today about a hospital visit that Gonzalez made to (then) AG John Ashcroft, when he was barely conscious, to get him to sign off on the illegal wiretapping. I cannot do the story justice (ha!) so I will let Talking Points Memo relay the full story:

Comey Details White House Attempt to Force Approval of Secret Program

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey detailed the desperate late night efforts by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew Card to get the Justice Department to approve a secret program -- the warrantless wiretapping program.

According to Comey's testimony this morning, only when faced with resignations by a number of Justice Department officials including Comey, his chief of staff, Ashcroft's chief of staff, Ashcroft himself and possibly Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI, did the White House agree to make changes to the program that would satisfy the requirements of the Justice Department to sign off on it.

The events took place in March of 2004, when the program was in need of renewal by the Justice Department. When then-Attorney General John Ashcroft fell ill and was hospitalized, Comey became the acting-Attorney General.

The deadline for the Justice Department's providing its sign-off of the program was March 11th (the program required reauthorization every 45 days). On that day, Comey, then the acting AG, informed the White House that he "would not certify the legality" of the program.

According to Comey, he was on his way home when he got a call from Ashcroft's wife that Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card were on their way to the hospital*. Comey then rushed to the hospital (sirens blaring) to beat them there and thwart "an effort to overrule me."

After Comey arrived at the hospital with a group of senior Justice Department officials, Gonzales and Card arrived and walked up to Ashcroft, who was lying barely conscious on his hospital bed. "Gonzales began to explain why he was there, to seek his approval for a matter," Comey testified. But Ashcroft rebuffed Gonzales and told him that Comey was the attorney general now. "The two men turned and walked from the room," said Comey.

A "very upset" Andrew Card then called Comey and demanded that he come to the White House for a meeting at 11 PM that night.

After meeting with Justice Department officials at the Justice Deaprtment, Comey went to the White House with Ted Olson, then the Solicitor General to the White House. He brought Olson along, Comey said, because he wanted a witness for the meeting.

But Card didn't let Olson enter and Comey had a private discussion with Card. This discussion, Comey testified, was much "calmer." According to Comey, Card was concerned about reports that there were to be large numbers of resignations at Justice Department. Gonzales entered with Olson and the four had an apparently not very fruitful discussion.

The program was reauthorized without the signature of the attorney general. Because of that, Comey said, he prepared a letter of resignation. "I believed that I couldn't stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that Justice Department said had no legal basis."

At this point, according to Comey, a number of senior Justice Department officials, including Ashcroft, were prepared to resign.

When Comey went in on that Friday, March 12th to give the White House its customary morning briefing, Comey said that the president pulled him aside. They had a 15 minute private meeting, the content of which Comey would not divulge. But Comey did suggest at the conclusion of that conversation that the president speak with FBI Director Mueller. And so that meeting followed. Following that meeting, Comey said that Mueller brought word that the Justice Department was to do whatever was "necessary" to make the program into one that the Justice Department could sign off on.

Comey said that it took two to three weeks for the Justice Department to do the analysis necessary to have the program approved. During that time, the program went on without Justice Department approval. But following the Justice Department's suggested changes, the Justice Department (either Ashcroft or Comey) did sign off on the program.

More on this soon.

*Update: A commenter below rightly points out that, according to Comey, the call to Ashcroft's wife that Gonzales and Card were on their way to the hospital came from the president himself.

Update: Here's The New York Times' story last January first reporting word of Gonzales' bedside visit. Comey's, obviously, is a much fuller account.

Update: After hearing Comey's "shocking" account, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that it made him wonder anew how Gonzales could remain as the attorney general, since he evidently had so little respect for the rule of law.

Update: ThinkProgress has a transcript of Comey's testimony.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Lessons from The Exonerated

DNA evidence continues to land the guilty in the slammer (for better or for worse) and to set the innocent free (though often after years of incarceration). We applaud Governor Spitzer's foresight, determination, and plain good thinking regarding such evidence and its collection.

NYTimes, May 14, 2007, "New York Plan for DNA Data in Most Crimes," By PATRICK McGEEHAN:

Gov. Eliot Spitzer is proposing a major expansion of New York’s database of DNA samples to include people convicted of most crimes, while making it easier for prisoners to use DNA to try to establish their innocence.

Currently, New York State collects DNA from those convicted of about half of all crimes, typically the most serious.

The governor’s proposal would order DNA taken from those found guilty of any misdemeanor, including minor drug offenses, harassment or unauthorized use of a credit card, according to a draft of his bill. It would not cover offenses considered violations, like disorderly conduct.

In expanding its database to include all felonies and misdemeanors, New York would be nearly alone, although a handful of states collect DNA from some defendants upon arrest, even before conviction.

Mr. Spitzer is also seeking mandatory sampling of all prisoners in the state, as well as all of those on parole, on probation or registered as sex offenders.

That expansion alone would add about 50,000 samples to the database, at a cost of about $1.75 million, his office said. It did not provide an estimate of the cost of taking DNA samples in all future convictions.

“This legislation will help us bring the guilty to justice and exonerate those who have been wrongly accused,” Mr. Spitzer said in a statement. He plans to introduce his bill this week.

The bill would make it easier for prisoners and defendants to obtain court orders to have their DNA tested against evidence collected in their cases and to have that evidence tested against the entire database of DNA, aides to the governor said.

It also would allow prisoners who have pleaded guilty to seek DNA testing that might prove them innocent, the aides said; some judges now decline such requests.

Police officials and prosecutors nationwide have trumpeted DNA collection as one of the most effective tools in law enforcement. New York’s database, for example, now contains almost 250,000 samples and has produced matches in almost 4,000 cases, according to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services.

At the same time, DNA has become a useful tool for defense lawyers whose clients proclaim their innocence long after their convictions.

According to the Innocence Project, a legal clinic affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University in Manhattan, DNA testing has led to the exoneration of 23 people in New York who had been convicted of crimes, and more than 200 nationwide.

By addressing concerns about access for the wrongly convicted, Mr. Spitzer may have a better chance of gaining support among state lawmakers for an expansion of DNA collection, said Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat who is chairman of the Codes Committee, which deals with criminal justice.

“I’ve always been in favor of the expansion of the database to all crimes, but I want these protections to be put in place so that there’s a balance between protecting the innocent as well as prosecuting the guilty,” Mr. Lentol said. “I think the governor is on the right track doing it this way.”

Mr. Lentol acknowledged that his support for DNA testing in all convictions was not in line with his colleagues in the Democratic majority in the Assembly, who have repeatedly blocked bills passed by the Republican-controlled State Senate that would have expanded DNA collection. The Senate passed such a bill again this month.

Charles Carrier, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said he could not yet comment on Mr. Spitzer’s proposal.

He said that in the past, Assembly Democrats have been reluctant to approve wider DNA testing because of concerns about “the way evidence was cataloged and stored, handled and controlled and processed.”

Some civil liberties groups oppose broader collection of DNA samples, out of concerns about how they might be used beyond the justice system.

“Because DNA, unlike fingerprints, provides an enormous amount of personal information, burgeoning government DNA databases pose a serious threat to privacy,” said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “They must include strict protections to assure that DNA is collected and used only for legitimate law enforcement purposes, such as exonerating the innocent or convicting the guilty.”

John McArdle, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, said that Mr. Bruno had not seen the governor’s bill and would not comment on it until he had.

But Mr. McArdle said that Mr. Bruno supported the expansion of DNA collection to the perpetrators of all crimes, as well as another proposal Mr. Spitzer has included in his bill: giving prosecutors up to five more years to bring charges in cases where DNA evidence has been collected but not yet matched to a particular person.

New York has had a DNA database since 2000. Originally, it included samples from people convicted of sex offenses and only certain felonies.

But it has been expanded twice in the last three years to include all felonies and some misdemeanors, aides to the governor said.

Still, only about 46 percent of people convicted of crimes in the state are required to submit to the collection of a DNA sample, which now is usually done by swabbing the inside of the mouth.

Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat in his first year as governor, is not the first political leader in the state to call for such an expansion. His predecessor, George E. Pataki, a Republican, pushed for an “all crimes” bill.

Last year, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Republican, also campaigned for the testing of everyone who is convicted, saying that murderers and rapists also commit petty crimes and that mandatory DNA collection could lead to their convictions for the more serious offenses.

But Mr. Spitzer is wrapping his proposal for expanding the database together with ideas that are more likely to appeal to those who believe many defendants are wrongly convicted.

He is seeking to require that prosecutors notify the court if they learn that there may be DNA evidence that could exonerate a prisoner. Currently, state law does not obligate prosecutors to volunteer that information, a lawyer in the governor’s office said.

Mr. Spitzer’s proposal also calls for the creation of a state office that would be responsible for studying all cases that resulted in exonerations and looking for flaws in the system that led to those wrongful convictions. That office would not be an independent body, often referred to as an “innocence commission,” but a part of the Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Assemblyman Michael N. Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, is sponsoring a bill to create an “innocence commission,” which is part of a package of legislation relating to DNA testing that was introduced this month. The package includes a bill proposed by Mr. Lentol that would expand prisoners’ access to the DNA database.

Barry Scheck, the co-director of the Innocence Project, said that many of the people his organization had helped to exonerate would have been freed much sooner, or would not have been convicted at all, if the changes sought by Mr. Lentol and his colleagues had been in place.

Mr. Scheck and his co-director, Peter Neufeld, were not prepared to comment on Mr. Spitzer’s bill.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Interesting Story Concerning Theater and Conflict

May 7, 2007, NYTimes, "In Iraq, the Play Was the Thing," by HUSSAIN ABDUL-HUSSAIN:

IN 1982, our second-grade teacher at Baghdad’s Mansour school made the following announcement: “The year-end play is about our war with the Persian enemy. The top 20 students in class will play Iraqis; the bottom 20 will play Persians.”

This was at the height of the Iran-Iraq war, and during our first rehearsal the students assigned to play Persians — that is, Iranians — broke out in tears. Although many of the children were, like me, from Shiite families, they insisted that they were Iraqis first, that they loved their Sunni-led country and did not want to play the role of the enemy.

After some negotiations, the girls were spared and only the boys from the lower half were selected to play the roles of the “soldiers of Khomeini the hypocrite.” Their script was scrapped, and instead they were told simply to run across stage as the rest of us, playing the role of the Iraqi Army, mowed them down in battle.

But the play did not end when the curtain fell. Those of us from the Iraqi cast took to bragging and, in the tradition of schoolchildren everywhere, bullying the “Persians.” With tears in their eyes, they repeatedly had to beg the teacher to make us stop.

Now, a quarter of a century later, I called one of my classmates, Ayad, a Shiite who still lives in Iraq. I reminded him of the play, and of how he and I, the top two students in the class, got to play the roles of the Iraqi generals who would win the war against the Iranians. “It was the good old days,” he told me.

Ayad owns a hotel in the southern city of Karbala, home to two of Shiism’s most important shrines. His wife and two daughters wear veils. He believes that the violence in Iraq is a Sunni and American conspiracy against Shiites, and he argues that Iran is the best ally of Iraqi Shiites.

Ayad has two elder brothers. One was conscripted during the Iran-Iraq war and received medals for his courageous performance in battle. The other ran away when he was drafted and ended up living as a refugee in Iran. However, he was treated poorly there, living in poverty and under permanent suspicion, so after some years he fled to Beirut. After the Americans ousted Saddam Hussein, he returned to Iraq, and now works at Ayad’s hotel.

“We think America did a great thing by toppling Saddam,” Ayad told me, speaking for himself and his family. “But now they should hand us the country and leave.”

I asked him whether he fears that an American withdrawal might allow the Sunni insurgents to strike harder in Shiite areas. “We outnumber them,” he said. “And with the support of our Iranian brothers, we can take the Sunnis.”

“And then what?” I replied.

“Then the Shiites will rule Iraq.”

Ayad believes that there is no problem in establishing an Islamic government in Baghdad styled after that of the Iranian Republic. The Sunnis, he said, have “oppressed us since the days of the Prophet, and now it is our chance to hit back and rule.”

According to Ayad, a Shiite takeover in Iraq would set a good model for the Shiites of Lebanon, where they number about a third of the population, and Bahrain, where they are a majority.

“Perhaps the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia will act too, rid themselves of the Sunni oppression against them, and rule or at least separate themselves from Riyadh and create their own state,” my friend argued.

It is exactly this possibility that has made the Sunni Arab regimes fear a Shiite regional revolt and moved some to support the Sunni insurgency in Iraq or at least to voice their resentment of the Iraqi Shiite government, which is seen as being biased against Iraqi Sunnis. “But we are Iraqis,” I told Ayad. “We are Arabs. We have our cultural differences with the Persians. We don’t even speak the same language.”

Ayad insisted otherwise: “When we fought the Persians during the 1980s, we were wrong. We’re Shiites before being Iraqis. Sunnis invented national identity to rule us.”

At this point, I understood that it was pointless to argue further. When the Baathist regime collapsed, I initially felt that there was a good chance for national unity, that Sunnis and Shiites would band together in the absence of the dictator who had played them against each other. Talking to Ayad, I realized how wrong I had been.

To change the subject, I asked Ayad about his business. He told me he had just erected flags on top of the entrance to his hotel. He chose the flags of Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and Bahrain. When I asked why he chose the flags of these four nations, he said: “These are the countries where Shiites come from to do their pilgrimage in Karbala,” he said. “It is good for business.”

Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a media analyst, is a former reporter for The Daily Star of Lebanon.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Three Snippets Of Life On May 4, 2007

1. Ms. Rice gets a cookie for doing her fucking job, wtf. (Thanks, Nancy P.; you still my boo.)

From "U.S. and Syria Discuss Iraq in Rare Meeting," By HELENE COOPER and MICHAEL SLACKMAN, NYTimes:

The White House in April sharply criticized the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, for visiting Syria’s capital, Damascus, and meeting with President Bashar al-Assad, even going so far as calling the trip “bad behavior,” in the words of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Less than a month later, Ms. Rice walked through the cavernous hallways of a conference center in this desert resort town and into the “Sun” room to sit down with Mr. Moallem.

2. For those of you who imagined that America had miraculously transcended racism, there are better examples of its persistent existence than Don Imus's use of the word "ho." Case in point is the treatment of yesterday's rioters by police in California. Welcome to the new slave-empire: We pay you silly "Illegals" (sort of), so how can you blame us?

From "Action by Police at Rally Troubles Los Angeles Chief," By JENNIFER STEINHAUER and JULIA PRESTON, NYTimes:

LOS ANGELES, May 3 — Chief William J. Bratton of the Los Angeles Police Department said Thursday that the episode here in which police officers clashed with demonstrators and journalists on Tuesday at an immigration rally was the “worst incident of this type I have ever encountered in 37 years” in law enforcement.

3. Khalil Gibran--like Hafiz, Rumi, Augustine of Hippo, Basho, and many, many other poets who address spirituality in their works--is much worthier of a school's name than, say, the slave-owning George Washington et al.

And of all the none-American (i.e., non-English, non-Spanish) languages we should be teaching our youth, I can think of none better than Chinese, and, after Chinese, Arabic. These are major world tongues, and Arabs constitute a significant and growing minority in New York City and America at large.

What then is the problem with opening a new middle school in order to facilitate a better understanding of Arabic culture and language in New York? Well, let the New York Post explain! Of course the Post has a solid grasp on the logic behind its Frankenstein-inspired flame-adulation...

From "Plan for Arabic School in Brooklyn Spurs Protests," By JULIE BOSMAN, NYTimes:

Alicia Colon, a columnist for The New York Sun, wrote that Osama bin Laden must have been “delighted” to hear the news of the school. “New York City, the site of the worst terrorist attack in our history, is bowing down in homage to accommodate and perhaps groom future radicals,” she said. “I say break out the torches and surround City Hall to stop this monstrosity.”

Yick, how disturbing...

Thursday, May 3, 2007

This is outrageous!

The White House has asked the Press Corps to wear yellow cancer bracelets with "Tony Snow" on them. I can't even begin to formulate my disgust by this ridiculously inappropriate request. These people make me want to puke. They do nothing to protect people who suffer from diseases like cancer or Parkinson's or ALS, but they are always there with a meaningless gesture. I feel for the reporters being put in this "did you stop abusing your wife yet" situation. There is no winning for them.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Crock... Of... .... I Can't Even Think Of Something Foul Enough

The Times publishes yet another voice in the war against freedom of expression, art, and my sanity.

One wonders: Has Mr. White seen Old Boy? Does he like it?

Old Boy is certainly better written than School Of Rock, no offense to that fine work of moral certitude, but I haven't seen Year Of The Dog (which is about the death of a dog and obviously inspired my cat to run away last night), making any criticism of the author's own screen-endeavors premature.

I have a question for Mr. White, should you, sir, ever read this: I know the mutants in The Hills Have Eyes II inspired me to brush my teeth and eat granola yesterday morning, but did Ghostbusters II inspire me to order a chai tea latte instead of a house coffee this afternoon?

I was thinking Ghostbusters II has inspired me to many acts of madness and malice over the years, and you, sir, seem to have an uncanny finger on the pulse of which movies do what, exactly, for society.

Perhaps I languish in a world of ignorance, but I don't think Old Boy is to blame for anything except a good fucking time.

Decide for yourself:

May 2, 2007
"Making a Killing"

Los Angeles

THE first movie I ever made was called “Death Creek Camp.” It told the age-old story of a group of teenage guys who set out on a fun-filled wilderness excursion only to be stalked and murdered by a psychopath disguised in a hockey mask and a blue kimono. It was no masterpiece of cinema.

Most of the scenes played out the same way — one of the fresh-faced hikers would get separated from the group. He would hear a noise in the bushes. “Bob? Jerry, is that you? Charlie?” Suddenly, from behind a tree, the stalker would pounce and blood would fly.

Why the killer wore a blue kimono was never explained nor why he wanted these nice campers dead. He was a deranged monster and that’s what monsters do. As the filmmaker, I was more interested in how the ketchup would drip off the victim’s cheek and where to plunge the retractable knife. I was 12.

The inspirations for this home movie (and the centerpieces of many Saturday night sleepovers) were slasher films like “Friday the 13th,” “Halloween” and “Terror Train.” My friends and I would eat junk food, drink soda and watch these cinematic bloodbaths until we dozed off, visions of gore and mayhem dancing in our heads.

Even though we all came from religious families — my father was a minister — it was rarely questioned whether our adolescent minds should be exposed to this kind of gruesome material. And clearly, we were the intended audience. My parents never sat and watched, nor did my sister, for that matter. The movies were titillating, shocking and dumb — and we teenage boys thought they were so cool. We devoured them and they, in turn, juiced us up.

After the horrific events at Virginia Tech, the relationship between violence in our movies and violence in our realities is being examined once again. Was Seung-Hui Cho inspired by a movie (the South Korean revenge flick “Oldboy”) when he murdered 32 of his classmates and teachers? Was Mr. Cho a deranged predator in a horror film, or was he a lost kid who could have been reached?

Hollywood and defenders of violent films dismiss Virginia Tech as a “unique” event, arguing that Mr. Cho was profoundly alienated from our culture, not at all a product of it. They assert that there are law-abiding, sane American moviegoers who love the thrill of a visual bloodletting, and then there are mentally disturbed people like Mr. Cho, constitutionally wired to do damage — and never the twain shall meet.

These commentators insist there’s no point debating which came first, the violent chicken or her violent representational egg, since no causal link has ever been proven between egg and chicken anyway. Besides, violent images can be found everywhere — on the news, in great art and literature, even Shakespeare!

For those who believe that violence in cinema consists of either harmless action spectacles or Martin Scorsese masterpieces, I might suggest heading down to the local multiplex and taking a look at some of the grotesque, morbid creations being projected on the walls. To defend mindless exercises in sadism like “The Hills Have Eyes II” by citing “Macbeth” is almost like using “Romeo and Juliet” to justify child pornography.

The notion that “movies don’t kill people, lunatics kill people” is liberating to us screenwriters because it permits us to give life to our most demented fantasies and put them up on the big screen without any anxious hand-wringing. We all know there’s a lot of money to be made trafficking in blood and guts. Young males — the golden demographic movie-makers ceaselessly pursue — eat that gore up. What a relief to be told that how we earn that money may be in poor taste, but it’s not irresponsible. The average American teenage boy knows the difference between right and wrong and no twisted, sadistic movie is going to influence him.

My own experience as a teenager tells me otherwise. For my friends and me, movies were a big influence on our clothes and our slang, and on how we thought about and spoke to authority figures, our girlfriends and one another. Movies permeated our fantasy lives and our real lives in subtle and profound ways.

It’s true nobody ever got shot in the face in my backyard, but there were acts of male bravado performed in emulation of our movie anti-heroes that ranged from stupid to cruel. And there were plenty of places where guys my age were shooting one another all the time. There still are. Can we really in good conscience conclude that the violence saturating our popular culture has no impact on our neighborhoods and schools?

The calamity at Virginia Tech is unfortunately not as unique an event as we’d like to think, but the sheer number of victims has grabbed our attention and inspired some collective soul-searching. As responsible Americans put their heads down on their desks and reflect, should the scribes of popular entertainment be excused to the playground? We screenwriters may be overgrown teenagers who still want to be cool, but we aren’t 12 years old anymore. Maybe we’re not responsible for Mr. Cho’s awful actions, but does that abrogate our responsibility to the world around us?

Most of us who chose careers in this field were seduced by cinema’s spell at an early age. We know better than anyone the power films have to capture our imaginations, shape our thinking and inform our choices, for better and for worse. At the risk of being labeled a scold — the ultimate in uncool — I have to ask: before cashing those big checks, shouldn’t we at least pause to consider what we are saying with our movies about the value of life and the pleasures of mayhem?

Mike White is the screenwriter of “School of Rock” and, most recently, “Year of the Dog.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

National Priorities...

Just found this sobering site. It charts the real-time cost of the Iraq War and then calculates the cost to each community in various categories. Check out the link about setting up an LED display in your town. The first one went up in Northampton, Mass (a great old college town).