Sunday, February 29, 2004


Both from Sunday's editorial section of the Houston Chronicle:

Fatty attitude precludes weight loss

Commercials proliferate. Huge portions of ribs and steak and fried potatoes (frozen, of course) are shown with the slogan, "It's good to be full." And real men supersize!

According to Eric Schlosser, who wrote Fast Food Nation (or Fat Food Nation), one fast-food chain purchases Coca-Cola syrup for approximately $4.25 a gallon. A medium Coke, too large for a car's drink holder, contains about 9 cents' worth of syrup, and costs about $1.30. But the LARGE size costs $1.50 -- 3 cents more syrup, but 20 cents pure profit. No wonder those arches are golden.

Market research also shows that small portions of fattening foods don't necessarily cut down on consumption. So-called "fun" sizes of candy bars and cookies are often consumed by the handful.

Barbara Rolls, Penn State researcher on hunger and satiety (fullness), says that portion sizes need more attention from manufacturers. Right! From the same people who know buyers believe that more portions mean more value. She says children need to learn the concept of fullness. Well, yes, they do, but not when every "kid food" sold has a snack attached, as if completion without high-fat, high-salt is like a day without sunshine.

Many public schools have pacts with fast-food companies -- promoting such sub-nutritional and dense delights as Burger King Whoppers on the sides of school buses and on posters in halls in exchange for money to use for computers and arts supplies.

It's really easy for me to make fun of fat Baptists. After all, fundamentalist Christians annoy me to no end. But it would be unfair for me to not recognize that there is an overall social context that makes obesity more than just an issue of "personal responsibility." Economics weigh heavily (pun intended) on our culture and behavior: there is, indeed, a corporate component to American fatness. It's not all the preacher's fault.

Click here for more.

Christianity's Silent Majority must be heard in the political arena

Indeed, the public perception of contemporary Christianity is most effectively and unfortunately incarnated in the person of George W. Bush. The president attends church regularly. He describes his life as being "rededicated to Christ." He is hailed as the answer to the prayers of the religious right.

His actions, though, are in direct conflict with the teachings of the New Testament. A rich man from a rich family, the president's policies most often benefit his wealthy peers in contradiction to Gospel tenets on responsibility for the less fortunate. As governor of Texas, he took pride in the state's record for capital punishment. In Iraq, he chose violence over diplomacy, all in contradiction to Christ's teachings on compassion, forgiveness and the sanctity of life.

Jesus set a standard for behavior that is almost impossible to attain but nonetheless inspiring. The authority figures of his time, both fellow Jews and conquering Romans, were threatened not just by his message but by the fact that he brought that message to the outer margins of society, embracing the men and women whom others ignored.

Click here for more.

Even though I tend to bash fundamentalists on a regular basis, I haven't forgotten that there are millions of people calling themselves Christians who truly aspire to the ideals espoused by Jesus in the Gospels, and, on some levels, are horrified by the loud mouthed hatred spewed by the fatty evangelists out there. I agree with the above linked essay: it's time for the real Christians to speak up and disavow their retarded, inbred country cousins.



Well, Aristide's out, but what does it all mean? As Atrios said over at Eschaton while explaining why he hadn't posted much about it, "...what the hell do I know about Haiti." Me too; I don't know much about it. I do know, however, that the tiny island nation falls into the category of countries in the western hemisphere that have been both historically unstable politically, and periodically invaded by the US. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that Haiti falls into the category of western hemisphere nations that have been consciously and continuously undermined by US foreign policy as part of the "Monroe Doctrine," that is, US hegemony over the Americas.

This latest coup d'etat seems to be in that tradition. From the Progressive:

The Bush Administration has been content to slowly strangle Haiti's economy by maintaining an international aid embargo against the country, an embargo that former Senator Jesse Helms helped initiate in the final months of the Clinton Administration.

Rightwing ideologues in the Bush Administration have done all they can to undermine Aristide. The Latin America team features Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega, his deputy Daniel Fisk, and White House adviser Otto Reich. All three "were proteges of ex-Senator Helms," notes the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "It was this group of zealots and hardliners who, off the record, let it be known to all concerned that the Bush Administration would countenance regime change in Haiti."

Click here for more.

The truth is that, within its sphere of influence, the US has never supported national sovereignty for nations that aren't Washington's (as they say) bitch. Just look back on the Bush administration's foolish support of the coup that failed recently in Venezuela, or the decade long not-so-secret war against Nicaragua, or the CIA backed overthrows of both Guatemala and Chile, or the US supported creation of Panama out of Columbian territory, or our President's daddy's invasion of Panama in order to capture former CIA operative Manuel Noriega. This list goes on and on, and it's really difficult to see what's happening in Haiti right now outside of that context.

Our foreign policy really needs an enema.



Ha ha ha! It looks like fundamentalists are starting to figure out that many of them are oink-oinks. From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

In the Bible Belt, fried-chicken fellowships and potbellied pastors are as much a part of the culture as NASCAR races and sentences that start with "Y'all." Churches traditionally have not worried much about waistlines.

As Autumn Marshall, a nutritionist at Church of Christ-affiliated Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., explained, most evangelical Christians don't drink, smoke, curse or commit adultery.

"So what do we do?" she said. "We eat."

Indeed they do. I remember back in my Baptist days how Sunday was a virtual pig-fest. We'd munch donuts at Sunday school. Then, after the worship service, we'd all head out to the Blackeyed Pea for chicken fried steaks with lard seasoned with salt and pepper on the side. Later, at youth choir practice, we'd have a "snack supper" of fatty sandwiches and chips. After the evening service, we would often have some sort of fellowship with still more eating.

Many fundamentalists gorge like this all week long.


Ferraro analyzed public records and surveys involving more than 3,600 people. Broken down by religious groups, Southern Baptists were heaviest, while Jews, Muslims and Buddhists were less likely to be overweight.

Emphasis mine. Still more:

He cited denominational statistics that showed 75 percent of Baptist pastors eat fried foods at least four nights a week and 40 percent snack two or more times a day on cookies, chips or candy.

Click here for more.

So, don't drink, smoke, or have wild, promiscuous sex, but do pig out on as much trash food as possible--this is yet another manifestation of fundamentalism's rank hypocricy. At least there's a movement to straighten this out.

Oh yeah, here's something for giggles:

Pastor John Hagee of Cornerstone
Baptist Church in San Antonio

Ha ha! That suit looks a bit small if you ask me! And is he about to eat that microphone or what?


Saturday, February 28, 2004


Princeton economist and good guy journalist Paul Krugman in the New York Times:

First and foremost, we need more jobs. U.S. employment is at least four million short of where it should be. Imports and outsourcing didn't cause that shortfall, but if the job gap doesn't start closing soon, protectionist pressures will become irresistible.

Beyond that, we need to do much more to help workers who lose their jobs. It didn't help the cause of free trade when Republican leaders in Congress recently allowed extended unemployment benefits to expire, even though employment is lower and long-term unemployment higher than when those benefits were introduced.

And in the longer run, we need universal health insurance. Social justice aside, it would be a lot easier to make the case for free trade and free markets in general if, like every other major advanced country, we had a system in which workers kept their health coverage even when they happened to lose their jobs.

The point is that free trade is politically viable only if it's backed by effective job creation measures and a strong domestic social safety net.

In theory, I agree with the economic notion that free trade is good for the economy in the long run; it's the ravaging effects of the mad corporate dash to maximize profits that I have a problem with--unrestrained corporate globalism has both hastened environmental degradation worldwide, and displaced, enhungered, and impoverished millions. Krugman offers some simple suggestions that would go a long way toward allowing us to have our cake and eat it, too. Capitalism can be a socially just, well functioning economic system, but only with lots of support from the government. Alas, the mood in Washington seems to rule out such a thought these days.

Click here for more.

Thanks to WorkingForChange for the link.



Last Monday or Tuesday, my Southern Baptist mother called me up and asked if I wanted to join her and my Dad at a screening of Mel Gibson's Passion. Her church (my former church) had bought up all the tickets and was selling them at a cut-rate price--apparently, this sort of church buyout of movie theaters in a mad dash to see some Christ gore is happening throughout the country as my buddy Bronze Johnson has observed. I told her that I wasn't really interested, but she persisted.

"Mom, I'm just not really into ultra-violent movies, and it's not what I like about Jesus, anyway."

"But Ron," she replied, "it happened! It's right from the Bible!"

I managed to gracefully extract myself from the conversation--actually, my mom is pretty good at backing off when the time is right--then I got off the phone. She made a pretty good point, however: Passion, from much of what I've read, seems to be straight out of the Bible. Her statements reminded me of what my buddy Shane wrote in Real Art comments about my "PASSION AND GIBSON FAMILY VALUES" post:

here's the thing, though. IT'S IN THE BIBLE. as far as i can tell, he's not misrepresenting or distorting, but depicting these things as described in the bible. is it antisemetic to avoid putting a PC gloss over what the gospel says, because they don't jibe with modern political sensibilites? there is plenty of scary shit in the bible. not all of it is nice and comfortable.anyone who think's it's all the jews fault, or all Pilot's fault, or all Rome's fault, should read it again. there is plenty of mob-mentality blame to go around.

However, if I understand correctly, a lot of Gibson's bloody carpenter epic is not straight out of the Bible. Seattle journalist David Neiwert provides a short list of Scriptural inaccuracies:

-- Satan in the Garden of Gethsemane? Where does that come from? It's not in any of the Gospels. Anne Emmerich, perhaps?

-- Jewish soldiers? As far as I know, the Romans permitted no such thing. The Gospels, notably Matthew, Mark and Luke, largely describe a gang of men, some of them from the high priest's office, who arrest Jesus. John's account mentions soldiers, but the clear implication was that these were Roman soldiers supporting the arrest.

-- The excessive brutality begins a mere 15 minutes into the film, when the Jewish soldiers who arrest Jesus wrap him in chains and throw him over the side of a bridge. Again, this appears nowhere in the Gospels.

-- It continues throughout. Violence is committed upon Jesus in nearly every scene, with any number of beatings for which there is no scriptural account. The Gospels, for instance, only mention that Jesus is beaten at the end of his ordeal before the high priests; but Gibson has him beaten throughout.

-- At every possible point, Gibson ratchets up the level of violence to nearly pornographic levels. When Jesus is flogged by the Romans, they don't merely whip him with the traditional lash. They get out torture instruments that are designed to dig in and gouge out chunks of flesh, which they proceed to do. One particularly memorable shot shows the meat flying out of his ribs. Later we are treated to a view of the exposed rib bones and surrounding meat. Again, there is simply no Scriptural basis for any of this, nor really any sound historical basis for it either.

Actually, this short list goes on to be kind of long, and there is an even longer list from which he derives his digest version. The point is that Gibson stretches his artistic license a long way. Furthermore, Neiwert also shows how Gibson very consciously chooses to emphasize some elements of the Gospels over others. That is, Neiwert places Passion right smack dab in the middle of Gibson's overall ouevre or film history. The film is yet another example of Gibson's standard action and vengeance themes:

So if we're going to get any insight into the meaning of Christ from this film, it's going to derive not from all those boring sermons he preached, but from the immense sacrifice he made for all mankind. And that meaning, in this telling, becomes very simple: Bad people brutalized Jesus beyond belief, and deserve to be punished for it.

It's a revenge melodrama -- without the satisfying catharsis of revenge.

Some people have said this film marks an odd career choice for Gibson. But it actually fits in rather neatly with his ouevre -- even from the very start.

Mad Max was the classic cheesy revenge melodrama. What made Max really mad, of course, was the cold-blooded murder of his wife and child, fleeing a pack of mad-dog motorcycle gangsters. Next thing you know, biker guts and eyeballs are strewn all over the highway, and another is given the choice between sawing his arm off or getting incinerated in a large explosion. He gets the latter. In The Road Warrior, (aka Mad Max II), which put Gibson on the cinematic map, Max has settled down to mere mercenary work, but he really goes off after the bad biker gang has beaten the holy crap out of him. This was, it appears, a mere warmup for The Passion.

Revenge melodramas have the certain appeal of a simple and clear storyline arc: First, the bad guys spend the first part of the story making life difficult, if not horrendous, for the protagonist. This finally culminates in some act of real horror. The protagonist then spends the rest of the story exacting a cathartic revenge upon the perpetrators.

Revenge has been an implicit and even explicit feature in the lion's share of Gibson's films. It pops up in the third Mad Max film, the Lethal Weapon films (especially the second, with that vivid shot of his drowned girlfriend), The River and The Patriot, and probably significantly affected his decision to try his hand at Hamlet (which, as "serious" films go, has more than a passing resemblance to The Passion).

It seemed that Gibson reached a real apex in the revenge-melodrama genre with his Oscar-winning Braveheart, a depiction of the bloody and violent life of Scottish hero William Wallace.

For more of Neiwert's insightful essay, click here.

It's like this: artists cannot get across a philosophical treatise. Artists deal with essences. They must choose particular concepts, images, and themes in order to get across an overall idea. Even when dealing with similar subject matter, different artists create different art. Marlowe's Doctor Faustus is not the same as Goethe's Faust. Valmont is not the same film as Dangerous Liasons. Picasso's women are not the same as Matisse's women. Sean Connery's 007 is not the same as Roger Moore's 007. Frank Miller's Batman is not the same as Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' Batman. And on and on.

The Passion of the Christ, according to all reports, does seem to present a slice of the Gospels, but it cannot help but simply be one man's artistic vision, just one artist's understanding of reality as he sees it. Unfortunately, it sounds like this particular artistic vision is closer to Frank Miller's brutal and angry Batman than to O'Neil and Adams' more approachable caped crusader. That is, Gibson's Passion sounds pretty damned negative, and this negativity seems to be at the expense of the overwhelmingly positive aspects of the Gospels that I like. Personally, I prefer to ponder Jesus' love, forgiveness, compassion for the poor and the suffering, and hope of redemption. Gibson, however, seemingly thinks that people should ponder the blood and gore. Well, whatever floats your boat.

One thing's for sure, as my mom pointed out to me: I don't really know what I'm talking about until I see the movie. All of my above analysis is really only looking at what people have written about it. So, perhaps I'm being unfair. Probably not, but just the same, I suppose I ought to see it. Ugh. I'm not really looking forward to the splattering meat...

Maybe I'll wait for the DVD.


Groups disband over Planned Parenthood furor

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Brownie Troop 7087 is no more, and another Girl Scout troop has only two members left after the other girls were yanked out by their parents.

A Christian radio station in nearby Waco aired ads for two weeks urging folks to boycott Girl Scout cookies.

Dozens of people in this deeply conservative Central Texas area have been protesting what they call a "cozy relationship" between the Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood, which provides various health services, including abortions.

"It's not that we're a bunch of activists. We're just a bunch of moms who care about their kids," said Lisa Aguilar, who took her 10-year-old daughter out of a Crawford troop. "For us, it's the morality. Where is Girl Scouts going?"

Oh, for crying out loud! But then what does one expect from Waco (a.k.a. "Jerusalem on the Brazos"), home of ultra Baptist Baylor University and the flamingly tragic Branch Davidian cult? Still, this sort of thing hurts my brain.

Click here for more.


Friday, February 27, 2004

Subpoenas aim to find DeLay role with PAC

From the Houston Chronicle:

John Colyandro, director of the fundraising committee commonly referred to as TRMPAC, was subpoenaed to appear last month and bring "all documents concerning TRMPAC's past, present or intended relationship with Tom DeLay." Colyandro has said that all of TRMPAC's activities were legal.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle is investigating whether TRMPAC violated state law in using corporate funds to help 21 Republicans win Texas House seats in 2002, giving the GOP a House majority for the first time since Reconstruction.

DeLay, speaking to reporters in Washington this week, lashed out at Earle, who he said was trying to "criminalize politics."


"Being called partisan and vindictive by Tom DeLay is like being called ugly by a frog," Earle said.

State law allows political action committees to use corporate funds for administrative expenses such as utilities or accounting fees, but it is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to use corporate money for direct political activities.

And being called ugly by Tom DeLay is also like being called ugly by a frog.

Click here for more.


Officer charged with selling drugs on duty

From the Houston Chronicle:

A Houston police officer was arrested Tuesday night and charged with selling a large amount of cocaine and marijuana while on duty and in uniform, according to Houston Police Department officials.

Gilberto Davila Zertuche, 42, is charged with delivery of a controlled substance and delivery of marijuana, said HPD spokesman John Leggio. Zertuche remained in the Harris County Jail on Wednesday night in lieu of $650,000 bail.

Internal affairs officers arrested Zertuche around 7:15 p.m. Tuesday outside an apartment in the 400 block of South Bender in Humble, where the drug transaction is alleged to have happened, Leggio said.

Well...I've always heard that cops get the best dope...that's what I hear...and boy I tell ya, Humble is a pretty rockin' guess I'm not so surprised.

Click here for more.


Wednesday, February 25, 2004


From the American Prospect:

It isn't 1964, of course, and the Democrats have painfully learned one of the chief political lessons of the '60s: The politically sustainable programs tend to be those that are universal, rather than race-specific or means-targeted, and those that reward individual initiative. Moreover, their neo-war on poverty comes inextricably intertwined with their war on middle-class stagnation. The candidates all call for a higher minimum wage, for comprehensive health insurance, for increasing funding as well as standards for troubled schools, for energy-efficient and job-generating public works, for community service in return for subsidized college tuition, for the re-legalization of a worker's right to join a union, for fairer international trade. More in the spirit of the New Deal than the Great Society, they advocate policies that would help not just the poorest 15 percent of Americans but the bottom 70 percent.

But in speaking as they do of specifically helping the poor, they have nonetheless broken a two-decade taboo of Democratic politics.

And yet the sky has not fallen, or even sagged.

This is a pretty interesting analysis of what now seems to be driving the once and future Democrats--clearly, the left wing of the donkey party has, as they say, revitalized itself and now appears to be calling some of the shots.

Maybe that'll make my voting for Kerry next November a little less malodorous. I hope.

Click here for more.


STDs likely to hit half of Americans by 25, studies say

From Reuters via the Houston Chronicle:

Half of all young Americans will get a sexually transmitted disease by the age of 25 either because they are ignorant about protection or embarrassed to ask for it, according to two reports issued Tuesday.

The reports, publicized by two nonprofit sexual and youth health groups, said there were 9 million new cases of STD among teens and young adults ages 15 to 24 in 2000.

They said the government's policy of preferring abstinence-only education would only increase those rates.

This isn't just speculation: this is hard numerical data conclusively showing that "abstinence based" sex education doesn't work. Sure, tell 'em to abstain, but give 'em some condoms for when they inevitably fail--most studies show that that's the best way to approach sex ed with teenagers. The fundamentalist Christian approach, on the other hand, is simply wishful thinking in the form of moralistic propaganda. It's time to end this crap; young Americans are paying for this right-wing social experiment with their health.

Click here for more.


Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Bush to back constitutional amendment banning gay marriage

From the Associated Press via the Houston Chronicle:

Jumping into a volatile election-year debate on same-sex weddings, President Bush today backed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage -- a move he said was needed to stop judges from changing the definition of the "most enduring human institution."

"After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization," the president said in urging Congress to approve such an amendment. "Their action has created confusion on an issue that requires clarity."

Bush, who has cast himself as a "compassionate conservative," left the door open for civil unions as an alternative to same-sex marriages.

Criticism was immediate for his call for amending the Constitution.

Democrats accused Bush of tinkering with a document that is the bedrock of American democracy to divert election-year attention from his record -- an allegation the White House denied. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who hopes to run against Bush in this year's presidential election, said: "I believe President Bush is wrong."

Click here for more.

Eschaton has a good post on the civil benefits of marriage that are denied to gay and lesbian lifetime relationships--it lets you know just what's on the line here. As for myself, I'm still waiting for a patient social conservative to explain to me exactly how gay matrimony would undermine the overall institution of marriage. I mean, would seeing all those homosexuals in committed relationships inspire me to cheat on my wife? Would gays get the upper hand and somehow manage to outlaw heterosexual marriage? Would the government violate the First Amendment and force churches to provide weddings for gays? Maybe I'm foolish, but I still don't see the threat here.

To be honest, I think this "threat" argument arises from plain, old-fashioned homophobia with a few five dollar words thrown in to make it all sound a bit more intellectual. Actually, this "threat" argument doesn't even rise to the level of intellectuality. It's just right-wing religious fear mongering.


CIA didn't follow up on German 9/11 tip

From the New York Times via the Houston Chronicle:

The incident is of particular importance because Shehhi was a member of the al-Qaida cell in Hamburg at the heart of the Sept. 11 plot. Close surveillance of Shehhi in 1999 might have led investigators to other plot leaders, including Mohammed Atta, who was Shehhi's roommate. A native of the United Arab Emirates, Shehhi moved to Germany in 1996 and was inseparable from Atta in their time there. Both men attended the wedding of a fellow Muslim at a radical mosque in Hamburg in October 1999 -- an event considered an important gathering for the Sept. 11 hijacking teams just as the plotting was getting under way. U.S. and European authorities believe that Shehhi played a critical role in the Sept. 11 plot and was actively involved in its planning and logistics.

Click here.

Unlike pre-war intelligence on Iraq which was a failure because of Oval Office intimidation and optimism, this really does appear to be a CIA screw up. One thing I want to know is how badly did the known Bush administration pre-9/11 downplaying of the Al-Qaeda threat affect ongoing US investigations of Islamic terrorism? In other words, was this intelligence failure made inevitable by the Bush White House? Hopefully we'll find out soon.

Ah, hell, I already think that Bush knew it was going to happen...


Monday, February 23, 2004


Dean's Rough Ride

From the Nation:

Dean's big mistake was in not recognizing, up front, that the media are very much part of the existing order and were bound to be hostile to his provocative kind of politics. To be heard, clearly and accurately, he would have had to find another channel.

For the record, reporters and editors deny that this occurred. Privately, they chortle over their accomplishment. At the Washington airport I ran into a bunch of them, including some old friends from long-ago campaigns, on their way to the next contest after Iowa. So, I remarked, you guys saved the Republic from the doctor. Yes, they assented with giggly pleasure, Dean was finished--though one newsmagazine correspondent confided the coverage would become more balanced once they went after Senator Kerry. Only Paul Begala of CNN demurred. "I don't know what you're talking about," Begala said, blank-faced. Nobody here but us gunslingers.

The party establishment, limp as it is, was correct to target Dean with tribal vengeance. From their narrow perspective, he represented a political Antichrist. The unvarnished way he talked. The glint of unfamiliar, breakthrough ideas in his speeches. His lack of customary deference to party elders (and to the media's own cockeyed definition of reality). What the insiders loathed are the same qualities many of us found exhilarating.

Click here.

Give Dean His Due

From the Progressive:

Still, he was by no means a perfect candidate. He had a penchant for off the cuff comments, his style could be brusque, and he at times bragged about things he had no claim on (such as when he said he was the only candidate who talked about issues of race in front of white audiences). He is partly responsible for his own undoing.

Nonetheless, he was right on the money when he said, in his withdrawal speech, that there is "an enormous institutional resistance to change." Ultimately, he could not overcome that resistance--especially from the mainstream media and the Democratic Party hacks.

The credit for Dean's success, as he himself acknowledges, lies not with the candidate but with the movement behind him. He did not drive this campaign. The people at the grassroots drove it, and they took him down a progressive, populist path he may not have charted himself.

I admire Dean's determination to keep his movement going: to, in his words, "continue the effort to transform the Democratic Party and to change our country."

Click here for more.


Pentagon opens criminal probe of Halliburton deal

From Reuters via the Houston Chronicle:

The Pentagon said today it opened a criminal investigation of fraud allegations against a unit of Vice President Dick Cheney's old company Halliburton Co. involving potential overpricing of fuel delivered to Iraq.

The investigation was focused on Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.

"The Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the criminal investigative arm of the Inspector General's office, is investigating allegations on the part of KBR of fraud, including the potential overpricing of fuel delivered to Baghdad by a KBR subcontractor," a Pentagon spokeswoman said.


You know, Cheney is still getting pay from Halliburton. Kinda makes you wonder. Click here for more.


Sunday, February 22, 2004

Is gay sexuality going back in the closet?

From an essay published in the Houston Chronicle:

In its 2003 decision striking down sodomy laws, the Supreme Court ruled that private consensual gay sex was constitutionally protected. But by the time the court ruled, gay sexuality had already moved beyond privacy; it had become invisible to the point of extinction. Both in terms of portrayals of gay men in the media and the rush to embrace traditional relationships as defined by heterosexual marriage, the gay community is discarding the very sexuality that the Supreme Court has validated.

Yet gay history is built on sexuality. In the 1970s, gay men purposefully alienated both straight Americans and lesbians by pioneering a culture of radical sexual abandon. Promiscuity and sexual experimentation were not merely tolerated, they were seen as political acts, crucial markers of gay male identity. That separatist era of sexual radicalism has now been dismissed as merely a period of excess leading to AIDS. In the current rush to assimilation, gay men have become ashamed of what is a vibrant legacy -- which, along with revolutionary movements like feminism and civil rights, played a valuable role in expanding American culture -- replacing the role of sexual provocateur with nonthreatening, nonsexual stereotypes.

This sexual disavowal is clearly seen in television shows such as Will & Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. These are essentially homosexual minstrel shows, in which gay men excel at being "the best friend" and "the style-maker" but are stripped of sexuality.

Click here for more.

For many years I have supported gay rights not simply because it is the right thing to do, but also because gay rights ultimately equal sexual freedom for everybody. When coupled with fundamentalist Christian attempts to puritanize America, the de-sexualization of gays in the popular culture spells bad news for heterosexuals. In short, virginal gays equal virginal straights.





From an essay published in the Houston Chronicle:

In California in 1954 -- the year the United States began to emerge from McCarthyism, the Korean War and legal segregation in the South -- Ginsberg began to shed his New York skin and cast himself as a wild West Coast poet. He wanted to write an explosive, apocalyptic poem befitting the Atomic Age. He would sing of himself and his country, with its "infernal bombs," "industries / of night" and "dreams / of war." Nothing would stop him, not his own "solitary craze" and certainly not the conformity of the times -- the Eisenhower era, the Cold War -- that seemed so antithetical to rebels with or without causes.

The first draft of Howl poured out of him. But for nearly a year afterward, Ginsberg revised, reorganized and reshaped it, section by section, word by word. When he was done, he knew he'd created the great American poem he'd set out to write. It was a personal coming-out, and to the hipsters of the 1950s it announced the liberation of an entire generation.

Howl was overtly antiwar and anti-capitalist. It mocked the FBI, condemned "scholars of war" and, at the dawn of the age of Hugh Hefner's suave playboy, celebrated the male sexual outlaw who made love in "empty lots & diner / backyards." It also challenged the conventional poetry of its day. It was boldly lyrical, intensely personal, ironic, ambiguous -- and very funny.

Click here for more.

I've been meaning to read Howl for some years. So I found it on the internet and read it; it's quite moving, even in 2004, perhaps especially in 2004. As the above linked essay says:

And in the age of the Patriot Act, weapons of mass destruction and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, Howl is just as subversive, seductive and irreverent as ever.

I would add to that list that we are also in the age of materialism, media dictated reality and conformity, sexual confusion, interpersonal distrust, and mass anxiety about an array of issues including health care, work, terrorism, and the deteriorating environment. Given this context and my obsession with it, Howl pretty much blew me away.

Ginsberg's anger resonates loudly fifty years later--I am angry, too.

Go read it; it's great:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz...

Click here for the rest.

Thanks to for the mood music.


Saturday, February 21, 2004


The Assassination of Howard Dean

What happened? How could Dean's insurgent candidacy, which had energized and excited voters in every state, come to such a screeching halt?

The pundits claim Dean's "rage" undid him, that voters took a "second look," etc. etc. Nonsense really. The answer is much simpler. Howard Dean was assassinated in broad daylight. Unlike Kennedy's "grassy knoll," Dean's killers are not hiding – it was the Democratic Party itself, and more specifically the Democratic Leadership Council, that successfully went after, and sabotaged his candidacy.

This also includes a pretty good digest version of the history of the DLC, corporate America's stealth organization within the Democratic Party--it's must reading, even if you don't buy the argument about Dean's demise.

Click here.

Remaking America in Wal-Mart's Image

The Safeway, Kroger and Albertsons chains and their subsidiaries claim underdog status, as they grind $10 an hour workers into the dirt. "Wal-Mart is coming, Wal-Mart is coming!" they cry, moaning that the non-union retail behemoth's labor costs are about 20 percent lower than industry norms. Yet, according to the June, 2003 issue of Forbes Magazine:

"The real problem the traditional grocery chains face is weak demand and an inability to raise prices in a deflationary environment – not Wal-Mart pricing pressure. Kroger and Safeway are gaining or maintaining share in about half or more of the top 100 markets where they have a presence. The only two big chains to suffer inroads from Wal-Mart in 2002 were Albertson's and Winn-Dixie..."

The truth is, Wal-Mart does want to take over the world – but so do the managements of its strike-provoking competitors, who swallowed schools of smaller fish to control 70 percent of grocery sales in the top 100 markets. Certainly, Wal-Mart is closing fast, with $53 billion in grocery sales and 1400 "supercenters" in 42 states, but the "real problem" is much deeper than the folks at Forbes can safely grasp without losing their capitalist minds. In the world they have created for themselves, in which corporate death is avoided only through constant increases in dividends, and having eaten nearly all of the smaller prey, the mega-grocers have no one to feed on but themselves – or their employees. They began chewing on the workers in the first week of October – all the while blaming it on Wal-Mart.

In reality, Wal-Mart was simply leading the way down a road that Safeway and Kroger would soon be traveling anyway.

What can I say? Wal-Mart continues to suck, and its suckiness is rubbing off on other retail giants.

Click here for more.



It's weird what can get to you sometimes.

Bush dog Spot put to sleep because of health woes

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

President Bush's dog Spot, the 15-year-old English springer spaniel who had remained eager to please despite increasing health troubles, died today.

Bush and his wife, Laura, went along with a veterinarian's recommendation to put Spotty, as the longtime Bush family pet was known, to sleep, according to White House spokesman Allen Abney. She had suffered a series of strokes recently, including one this week, he said.

"The president and Mrs. Bush and the entire Bush family are deeply saddened by the passing of Spot," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Saturday in a statement. "A loyal and loving companion, Spot was a beloved member of the Bush family for nearly 15 years. She will be missed."

For more, click here.

As much as I despise his presidency, today I feel sad for George W. Bush. He lost his dog. And he had to make the difficult decision to put her to sleep after watching her health slowly decline. I think that this experience can be much more difficult than many people realize. After all, as my buddy Lex put it even while he was losing a real human being who was very close to him, a pet's love is much more immediate, much more unconditional than that of another person. Losing a cherished pet can be like getting pounded in the face by a baseball bat.

Last Fall, I had to put to sleep my beloved cat Giskard (named for the loyal friend-robot character in Isaac Asimov's Robots of Dawn). He had been my pal and constant companion since his birth in the summer of 1989. Early last summer, I noticed a lump in his abdomen while I was petting him. The vet said this was it, no hope. The specialist at the Texas A&M vet school agreed: make him comfortable; love him; spoil him rotten because he doesn't have much time left. This just devastated me and it got worse. Watching him slowly wither away was almost more than I could stand--I often wished that he could just die and make this horrible sadness and anxiety end, and then I hated myself for thinking such a thing.

Trying to figure out when it was time to put him down was absolutely excruciating. His death, finally, was a release, but I still haven't completely gotten over it. I don't think I ever will. It's like I'm missing an arm or something.

Two years earlier, Giskard and I lost his hetero life-partner, Alec (named for actor Sir Alec Guinness), under similar circumstances, just not as drawn out. As with Giskard, I still hurt whenever I think about losing Alec. As with Giskard, I'm afraid I'll never have any sense of what they call "closure," and I also feel like a major part of myself is gone forever.

Losing a pet can suck really, really badly. So I send the first family my condolences for the loss of Spot. And I also offer these two pictures from happier times as a memorial for my lost loved ones:

Alec (1987-2000)

Giskard (1989-2003)



From the New York Times courtesy of Eschaton:

The latest edition, sent to Congress last week, questions whether fast-food restaurants should continue to be counted as part of the service sector or should be reclassified as manufacturers. No answers were offered.

In a speech to Washington economists Tuesday, N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, said that properly classifying such workers was "an important consideration" in setting economic policy.

Counting jobs at McDonald's, Burger King and other fast-food enterprises alongside those at industrial companies like General Motors and Eastman Kodak might seem like a stretch, akin to classifying ketchup in school lunches as a vegetable, as was briefly the case in a 1981 federal regulatory proposal.

But the presidential report points out that the current system for classifying jobs "is not straightforward." The White House drew a box around the section so it would stand out among the 417 pages of statistics.

Click here for more.

It's funny because it's true...

Obviously, this is a thinly veiled attempt by the Bush administration to fudge the statistics on US manufacturing jobs which have been hemorrhaging all over the third world for some years now--in fact, the loss of these jobs have been a tremendous drag on the economic recovery and have also squeezed the ranks of the middle class down to ever smaller numbers. What's shocking is that the White House still has the balls to attempt to pull a stunt like this: fast food jobs are crap jobs, "McJobs," with low wages and no benefits; manufacturing jobs are usually the opposite.

If Bush was really serious about helping working Americans, he would try to stop the long decline in the manufacturing job sector, or, at least, create some kind of safety net with lots of job training programs. Of course, Bush isn't really serious about helping working Americans.


Friday, February 20, 2004


From CounterPunch, 2000 Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader responds to a Nation editorial demanding that he does not run as an independent this year:

It doesn't seem that The Nation would disagree with the conclusions of George Scialabba, who wrote last year in The Boston Review, "Two-party dominance allows disproportionate influence to swing voters, single-issue constituencies, and campaign contributors; it promotes negative, contentless campaigns; it rewards grossly inequitable redistricting schemes, and it penalizes those who disagree with both parties but fear to 'waste' their votes (which is why Nader probably lost many more voters to Gore than Gore lost to Nader)":

"Don't run."

The Nation's open letter does not go far enough in predicting where my votes would come from, beyond correctly inferring that there would be few liberal Democratic supporters. The out-of-power party always returns to the fold, while the in-power party sees its edges looking for alternatives. Much more than New Hampshire in 2000, where I received more Republican than Democratic votes, any candidacy would be directed toward Independents, Greens, third-party supporters, true progressives, and conservative and liberal Republicans, who are becoming furious with George W. Bush's policies, such as massive deficits, publicized corporate crimes, subsidies and pornography, civil liberties encroachments, sovereignty-suppressing trade agreements and outsourcing. And, of course, any candidacy would seek to do what we all must strive for-getting out more nonvoters who are now almost the majority of eligible voters:

"Don't run."

The Nation wants badly to defeat the selected President Bush but thinks there is only one pathway to doing so. This approach excludes a second front of voters against the regime, which could raise fresh subjects, motivating language and the vulnerabilities of corporate scandals and blocked reforms that the Democrats are too cautious, too indentured to their paymasters to launch--but are free to adopt if they see these succeed:

"Don't run."

The Nation has rarely been a hostage to prevailing dogma and electoral straitjackets.

Click here for more.

Having posted this, I must admit that I've bought the Nation's argument for the most part, at least as far as my own voting is concerned. That is, I'm going to bite down and vote for the Democrat this year: I agree that Bush is so absolutely awful that he must be removed as soon as possible--the eventual Democratic nominee (probably Kerry, as most will agree), I'm sure, will annoy me a great deal, not to mention give me a great deal to write about here at Real Art, but a donkey-headed President will certainly be less destructive than what we've got now.

Of course, once a Democrat is in the Oval Office, it's going to be much more difficult to get the general party to oppose his kinder, gentler, more "liberal" brand of national and international destruction. After all, the party's going to want to support their President. Ironically, it may be harder to advance the causes of progressivism, at least on an ideological level, without Bush than with him.

But this does not change my mind that Bush needs to be removed, the sooner the better. This does not mean, however, that I think that Nader is evil for running, if he chooses to. I believe in democracy; in America, anyone who is eligible can run for public office--this is one of our strengths as a nation.

The kind of bullshit below, however, is evidence of the prevalent weird, liberal power of politically correct intimidation that got a lot of feminists tagged (fairly or unfairly) with the moniker "feminazi" by drug addict Rush Limbaugh in the 1990s. From Eschaton:

Ralph's Gonna Run

And, well, if people are stupid enough to vote for him either because they believe "BUSH=Democrat Nominee" or because they believe voting for him will help build a third party movement even though he's running as an independent or because they believe it will force the Democratic candidate to pretend to move "to the Left" during the campaign in order to get their votes even though they've already decided to vote for Ralph or because they believe Ralph could actually win...

well, go ahead. Nothing I can say is going to change your mind.

Click here to see the quote in its blog context and to access reader comments.

Actually these arguments, taken by themselves, without the loaded language, changed my mind--in fact, such a condescending tone was an impediment to my thinking at first, but, I generally try to be swayed by analytical arguments only, so I'm gonna vote for the Democrat this year. I really love Atrios and his Eschaton blog, but the whole anti-Nader wave that he and seemingly most of his commenters have been riding for a while now is just paranoid sour grapes: try to persuade people to vote for your favorite candidate, but trashing Ralph just for running is unAmerican and anti-democracy.


Thursday, February 19, 2004

The New Scopes Trials

From the Nation:

What if the research agenda of the University of Texas College of Natural Sciences were drafted not by the professors who actually conduct the studies but by, say, the alumni who funded the department? We might end up with research on the stickiness of Mr. Big's brand of glue instead of the development of an AIDS vaccine. Luckily, most research universities don't work that way. The federal government, however, occasionally does. In the Bush Administration, when the religious right or big business weighs in on a matter of science, politics usually prevails. So while this President may lack the powerful eloquence of William Jennings Bryan, in the world of science he's the modern equivalent of the Great Orator defeating the infidels of evolution in the Scopes Trial of 1925.

Scientific panels and committees have proven especially susceptible to political manipulation by the White House.

Click here for more.

This reminds me of how conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and others hire some of the .01% of scientists who believe that global warming isn't happening and then trumpet their utterly marginal views far more loudly than their minority status would validate. But this is on a much bigger scale. Bush and his buddies are trying to change science to fit their dangerous political views...and they're succeeding.

Creepy, huh?



I've been staying out of the controversy over Mel Gibson's pet project Passion, the film about the crucifixion of Christ which has been accused of being anti-semitic--I haven't seen it and I don't plan to, so for all I know Mad Max is getting a bum rap. However, I've just learned about where his father is coming from regarding Jews.

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Days before the release of Mel Gibson's film about the death of Jesus, which some critics say could fuel anti-Semitism, his father has told an interviewer that the Holocaust was mostly "fiction."

Steve Feuerstein -- host of Speak Your Piece! -- said he interviewed Hutton Gibson for a segment of his show to be broadcast Monday by the small Talkline Communications Network.

According to a transcript released by the network, Hutton Gibson said, "It's all -- maybe not all fiction -- but most of it is," when asked about his views on the Holocaust.

He added: "They claimed that there were 6.2 million (Jews) in Poland before the war and after the war there were 200,000, therefore he (Hitler) must have killed 6 million of them. They simply got up and left. They were all over the Bronx and Brooklyn and Sydney and Los Angeles."

Click here for more.

Certainly, my parents and I differ on many key issues, so it might be very unfair to judge Mel by his father's kooky statements. But I'd be a fool to believe that my family's thinking has not influenced my values, morals, and ethics: Mel Gibson was clearly raised in an anti-semitic home. I think that, given the criticisms of his film seen in the context of his father's Holocaust denial, the onus is on Gibson to explain why his film does not portray Jews in a negative way.

And maybe Jesse Jackson just slipped when he called New York "Hymietown."

And maybe David Duke really did stop being a racist when he quit the Klan in order to run for public office.

And I got some really great swampland in Louisiana to sell you for really cheap...


Wednesday, February 18, 2004


Okay...I am extending a big Real Art welcome to the so-called blogoshpere to my buddy Chris (a mean bass player with an Arthurian surname) and his new blog: BRONZE JOHNSON, the official blog of Bronze Johnson!

So far Chris seems to be going for a sort of humorous stream-of-consciousness recounting of his life, which is amusing at the very least, but if I know my pal, pretty soon he'll be linking to weird and cool news--Chris has been emailing me links to strange and interesting sites and stories for years now, some of them have even found their way to Real Art. Chris, or perhaps I should say Bronze, is a most welcome presence in cyberspace, and I look forward to leeching onto his content and treating it as my own.


Thanks to another buddy, Kevin, for the pic link.


Letter to a Non-Wealthy Republican

From BuzzFlash:

I have often heard Democrats accuse Republicans of being selfish. That's nonsense. The economic policies of the Bush Administration have dramatically benefited only the wealthiest two percent of Americans. There are a lot of Republicans nowhere near that level of wealth. To my mind, most people who have voted Republican have not been selfish enough. I encourage everyone to vote their economic self-interest.

By voting Republican, you are voting for higher taxes. The vast majority of President Bush's tax cuts have gone to corporations and the extremely wealthy. What tiny cuts other people have received have been more than made up for by hikes in state and local taxes and fees. By closing loopholes for corporations and asking the super-wealthy to continue to pay their share, it would be possible to significantly reduce taxes on those who actually have trouble paying them -- that is, most of us.

And it gets better. Click here for more.

Frankly, I'm still not sure why so many people vote Republican against their own interests. Perhaps they all think they're going to be rich someday. Or, better, they identify with the Republican badass persona. At any rate, maybe they'll get it if the left keeps talking sense to them.

Anything could happen, right?


(in a thick German accent) You haff your papers?

A tale of civil rights gone bad courtesy of Eschaton:

Meet Dudley Hiibel. He's a 59 year old cowboy who owns a small ranch outside of Winnemucca, Nevada. He lives a simple life, but he's his own man. You probably never would have heard of Dudley Hiibel if it weren't for his belief in the U.S. Constitution.

One balmy May evening back in 2000, Dudley was standing around minding his own business when all of a sudden, a policeman pulled-up and demanded that Dudley produce his ID. Dudley, having done nothing wrong, declined. He was arrested and charged with "failure to cooperate" for refusing to show ID on demand. And it's all on video.

On the 22nd of March 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether Dudley and the rest of us live in a free society, or in a country where we must show "the papers" whenever a cop demands them.

For more click here.

I watched the video (scroll down to the bottom of this page for a link), and at some points Hiibel is practically begging to be arrested, but the basic facts mentioned above are true: this old cowboy got busted because he didn't show the cops his "papers."

Well, I'm outraged; how about you? I mean, sure, if Hiibel didn't want to go to jail he probably should have kissed the cop's ass, but does this mean that we are now required to carry legitimizing documents as did the citizens of Nazi Germany? This is pretty creepy when you get right down to it.


Tuesday, February 17, 2004

9/11 Families Valentines Letter to President Bush

From Common Dreams courtesy of my buddy Chris:

Dear President Bush,

Two years ago today, family members of 9/11 victims lost at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on Flight 93 launched a group called September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. We chose Valentine¹s Day as a symbolic reminder that the American ideals of peace, justice and reconciliation remain vibrant, and did not die with our loved ones.

On that day, we held up a large heart containing a valentine letter to you. In the letter we asked to meet with you to discuss the creation of a fund to assist innocent victims of war in Afghanistan. We felt that it was not only a decent and moral response to those accidental deaths, but also a practical opportunity to demonstrate the same compassion that 9/11 family members received from all over the globe.

You chose not to meet with us, but since that day two years ago, the members of Peaceful Tomorrows have worked to display the best of America's ideals to the rest of the world. We secured congressional funding to assist Afghan civilians affected by the war. We connected with others around the world who have been similarly affected by terrorism and war. We stood with millions across the globe against the war in Iraq and for the cause of peace. And our group has grown as more 9/11 family members have found healing by turning their grief into action for peace. In contrast, you declared it was an 'us versus them' world, and pursued unilateral and unpopular policies that turned that world against the United States and made us less secure. And worst of all, you often used the deaths of our family members as an excuse to pursue that agenda.

Two years later, we ask you to stop exploiting the tragedy of September 11 for political gain and to join us in responding to that tragic day in a manner that brings about genuine healing and peace for Americans and the rest of the world.

Click here for more.



Both from the New York Daily News:

GOP fest may get G.I. patrol

Federal officials have discussed bringing in U.S. troops to boost security at this summer's Republican National Convention - but the NYPD doesn't think it needs them.
"With 37,000 police officers, the Police Department does not anticipate the need for federal troops," said Paul Browne, the top NYPD spokesman.

Sources familiar with planning for the August convention said officials at a recent briefing discussed the possibility of using the same security model used in Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics, where more than 5,000 troops augmented that city's small police force.

The number of troops mentioned during the briefing was in the thousands, sources said, adding that officials have discussed a similar strategy for the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July.

I've got a better idea: put troops at the polls on election day! That way, we can all be reminded of the war on terror and how Bush has worked so hard to protect us from the "evil doers." Either that or we can all be intimidated into voting Republican...

Click here for more.

Hustling up Bush charges

Now the incorrigible Larry Flynt says he plans to market a Bush abortion story as genuine - in a book to be published this summer by Kensington Press.

"This story has got to come out," the wheelchair-bound Hustler magazine honcho told the Daily News' Corky Siemaszko. "There's a lot of hypocrisy in the White House about this whole abortion issue."

Flynt claimed that Bush arranged for the procedure in the early '70s.

"I've talked to the woman's friends," Flynt said. "I've tracked down the doctor who did the abortion, I tracked down the Bush people who arranged for the abortion," Flynt said. "I got the story nailed."

What? Our "pro-life," fundamentalist President once took his girlfriend to get an abortion? With his family's support? Before Roe v Wade so it was illegal? Great Caesar's Ghost!

Click here.


Monday, February 16, 2004

A Brief History of Wal-Mart
and Disability Discrimination

From ZNet:

Wal-Mart was recently busted for disability discrimination in hiring - again. In January the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed lawsuit against the retail giant for discriminating against Steven J. Bradley, when he applied for a job at Wal-Mart in Richmond, Missouri. Bradley has cerebral palsy and uses crutches or a wheelchair as mobility aids.

Wal-Mart refused to reach a settlement so the EEOC filed suit using the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) seeking lost wages and benefits, compensatory and punitive damages and a job for Bradley.

It was just back in 2001 that Wal-Mart and the EEOC reached a $6.8 million consent decree which resolved 13 lawsuits the commission had pending against the corporation in 11 states, including Missouri.

Click here for more.


Bush Family Values

The Nation on former Republican strategist Kevin Phillips' new book American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush:

Of the old-school financiers, Phillips says that they "also diverted--one should not think they deserted--to Midland, the Ivy League beachhead in a boom-flushed state where the larger oil and oil service firms still had major ownership ties to Wall Street and the East." Midland was one of the two main towns (along with Odessa) in the Permian Basin, which, Phillips writes, "represented one of the century's great American wealth opportunities, which nobody knew better than the New York capitalists." (In a footnote, Phillips points out that by the year 2000 Alaska was the only state to produce more oil and gas than the Permian Basin.) This is where the "entrepreneurial" Bushes planted themselves. Phillips points out the nexus between oil profits and tax shelters, on which the industry is heavily dependent for profits, and asserts that investment bankers kept bailing out Bush fils. And Bush père's brothers and sons--all but George W.--went into the investment business. As for George W.'s business career, Phillips writes, it "was spent primarily in obtaining new financing or lining up rescuers for his unsuccessful oil and gas ventures," and he quotes one wag as observing that every time George W. "drilled a dry hole...someone always filled it up with money for him." At Yale, Phillips notes, Bush the son wanted to be a stockbroker who amassed great wealth. He didn't become a stockbroker, but he did amass great wealth.

Click here for more dirt on the Bush family and their crony capitalism successes.


Sunday, February 15, 2004

Faith-Based Fanatics

From CounterPunch:

As we watch Pat Robertson's version of the news on the 700 Club, and listen to him "forgive" George his sins of omission in not telling the American people that he was manufacturing the truth about Iraq's WMD and connections to Osama, and hear him extol God's purpose in placing George in the President's throne at this moment in time the better to ensure that God's prophecies be fulfilled, we have an unsettling realization that this man, and others of like cloth--Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Benny Hinn, Hal Lindsey, Pastor Hagee--influence thousands upon thousands who wallow in their righteousness and leave the Cornerstone Church secure in belief that God speaks to these men just as He talks to Pat assuring him that George will be reelected by a huge majority.

Must these men bear no responsibility for the meaningless deaths of more than 535 American soldiers, the pain and suffering of thousands mutilated in missile and bomb attacks, the continuing agony of those sick unto death with DU poisoning, not to mention the wanton destruction of innocent Iraqi civilians, estimated now in excess of 10,000?

Click here for more.

Thanks to J. Orlin Grabbe for the link.


The truth about the Reagan deficits

From the Houston Chronicle, Linda Bilmes, who was an assistant secretary of commerce in the Clinton administration, and teaches budget and financial management at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government opines on the folly of Bush's insane tax cuts and spending:

The Bush budget announced recently shows revenue falling some $500 billion short of projected spending. Is this a cause for alarm, or is it true that, as Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly asserted, "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter"?

Fans of Reaganomics note that former President Reagan's spending spree followed a formula similar to President Bush's: tax cuts combined with a major boost in defense spending. The current Bush deficit is equal to 4.5 percent of gross domestic product. The Reagan deficits grew beyond 5 percent. The aftermath in the 1990s was not a fiscal train wreck but rather a sustained economic boom that enabled President Clinton to balance the budget and even to generate a surplus by 2000. Bush is hoping the nation will outgrow its recent deficits as we did last time around.

Unfortunately, history is not about to repeat itself. The ability to recover from the 1980s deficits was the result of three historical "flukes" that happened at the same time: a huge demographic bulge, an extremely strong dollar and a sudden peace dividend.

Click here.


US teens celebrate 'purity day'

From the BBC via Eschaton:

Thousands of teenagers across the US are celebrating a "Day of Purity" to promote sexual abstinence.
High school students are wearing white t-shirts and encourage classmates to remain virgins until they are married.

The conservative US Christian group Liberty Counsel, which organised the day, said US teenagers should make a "public demonstration" of purity.

It said the day offered teenagers a chance to stand in opposition to "a culture of moral decline".

Click here for more.

Fundamentalist Christians take advantage of capitalist sexual exploitation by loudly and forcefully offering teenagers an irrational bipolar alternative. That is, the fundamentalist position on sexuality is just as extreme as the corporate media's position, only in reverse. Alas, given the billions of dollars and unholy host of political connections involved, exploitation and puritanism are the only two philosophies that seem to be given any standing in the public discourse: exploitation, I think we can all agree, is pretty awful by any rational standard; "purity," however, takes a wee bit of explaining to see why it's such a screwed up concept.

Linguistically associating the concept of abstinence with the concept of "purity" makes sex out to be impure or dirty. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but sex is simply something that human beings do. Eating, breathing, working, socializing, laughing, crying, and having sex are all vital parts of human existence. Certainly, depending on the circumstances, these aspects of human existence can be bad sometimes, but none of them, as ideas, are impure or dirty by themselves.

I have no problem with tolerating opinions with which I disagree--if you want to be celibate, go right ahead; it's really none of my business. But this "Day of Purity" can only be seen in terms of the overall politically powerful and well-funded fundamentalist cultural push to puritanize American society: this is a battle for the conventional wisdom, and, frankly, the terms of the debate are royally fucked (sorry for the naughty word; I just couldn't resist the pun).

As a debate, corporate media driven sexual exploitation versus fundamentalist driven "purity" totally ignores any discussion of scientifically derived ideas about sexual health, both psychological and physical. Humans have sex--this is an inescapable fact. Most Americans do it before marriage; this includes fundamentalists. Most people end up having more than one partner when all is said and done. Making teenagers feel dirty or fearful of what is natural (that is, screwing with their minds) and pushing "abstinence based" sex-ed programs that leave them open to unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases when they finally give in to the inevitable is, quite simply, dangerous to society.


Abstinence plan lacks evidence

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

The Bush administration is proposing to double spending on sexual abstinence programs that bar any discussion of birth control or condoms to prevent pregnancy or AIDS despite a lack of evidence that such programs work.

A study by researchers at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of declining birth and pregnancy rates among teenagers concludes that prevention programs should emphasize abstinence and contraception.

"Both are important," said Dr. John Santelli, the lead author of the study, which has not been published.

In Minnesota, a study found that sexual activity doubled among junior high school students taking part in an abstinence-only program.

The independent study, commissioned by the state's health department, recommended broadening the program to include more information about contraception.

Independent researchers who are studying abstinence-only programs for the federal government said in their first report two years ago that no reliable evidence exists whether the programs work. They are expected to issue an update soon.

Click here for more.

I forget who said it, someone writing in the Nation a while back I think: believing that teaching kids about condoms causes them to have sex is like believing that teaching about seatbelts causes people to drive.

Here and here are a couple of posts I made last May about "abstinence based" sex-ed.



From the Houston Chronicle:

The records failed to directly confirm Bush did any service in Alabama, where, according to some critics, he shirked his Guard duty in the United States during the Vietnam War.

Some documents did provide a partial explanation of why Bush did not begin performing duties in Alabama until months after he left a Texas Air National Guard unit in Houston to work on a U.S. Senate campaign. The papers show officials overruled an initial Alabama assignment for Bush, potentially pushing back the date he began service in the state.

The documents provided no obvious explanation for why Bush neglected to take a physical examination in 1972, resulting in loss of his status as a pilot.

Democrats said Friday the issue of Bush's Guard service had not been laid to rest.

"Each revelation of material from the Bush White House has raised more questions than it has answered. It remains to be seen if these newest documents will provide any answers," said Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Debra DeShong.

Click here for more.


Friday, February 13, 2004

Billboards urge Christians to quit perusing porn

There are lots of good reasons to oppose the pornography industry. It's sexist. It's exploitative. It's just plain sleazy. But this is silly.

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

"It was like a double life," said Anderson, 33, who pastors Seventh-Day Adventist churches in DeSoto and Waxahachie near Dallas. "The most powerful thing about it is that it's a secret. Nobody knows but you ... so you're just kind of fighting yourself."

If national surveys are any indication, it's a personal battle waged by millions of Christians.

Almost 18 percent of people who called themselves born-again Christians admitted visiting Internet porn sites, according to a 2000 survey of 1,031 adults by the evangelical group Focus on the Family. In a 2002 survey, more than 50 percent of responding pastors reported viewing pornography in the previous year.

"It's definitely the church's dirty little secret," said Mike Foster, co-founder of the anti-porn site, which hosts online support groups for Christians trying to kick the habit.

Click here for more.

Here is a link to another fundamentalist anti-porn site mentioned in the article.

And just in case you're getting the urge, here is a link to some nudie art.

Thanks to my buddy Chris for the billboard pic link.


The Real Man

The New York Times' Paul Krugman on AWOL Bush:

I don't know what he's hiding. But I do think he has forfeited any right to cite his character to turn away charges that his administration is lying about its policies. And that is the point: Mr. Bush may not be a particularly bad man, but he isn't the paragon his handlers portray.

Some of his critics hope that the AWOL issue will demolish the Bush myth, all at once. They're probably too optimistic — if it were that easy, the tale of Harken Energy would have already done the trick. The sad truth is that people who have been taken in by a cult of personality — a group that in this case includes a good fraction of the American people, and a considerably higher fraction of the punditocracy — are very reluctant to give up their illusions. If nothing else, that would mean admitting that they had been played for fools.

Click here for more.

Thanks to Eschaton for the link.


Thursday, February 12, 2004

W as in AWOL: Case Not Closed

From the Nation:

This new material did bolster Bush's defense. But it hardly resolved the issue. Nor did it address the most damning elements of the case against Bush. Most notable of these is the May 2, 1973, annual performance review--signed by two superior officers, who were friends of Bush--that noted, "Lt. Bush has not been observed at" his home base unit in Houston for the past year. Bush has said he spent about half of that period reporting to a Guard base in Alabama, while he was temporarily living there. The new records do not explain why the commander of that unit and his administrative officer say they never saw Bush. Nor do they explain why the Bush campaign in 2000 failed to keep its promise to produce the names of people who had served with Bush in Alabama. Nor do these records explain why Bush, who had been trained as fighter pilot, failed to take a flight physical during the year in question and was grounded. Nor do they back up the 2000 Bush campaign's explanation that Bush did not take a flight physical because he was living in Alabama and his personal doctor was in Houston. (Flight physicals are administered by military physicians, and there were flight physicians at the base in Alabama where Bush says he served.)

The records hailed by the White House only demonstrate that Bush received payments and credit for a modest amount of days. They do not show what he did and where he did it. Those sorts of records detailing Bush's service should exist, according to military experts. But that is not what the White House handed out. Is it possible Bush received payment and credit for days of service that did not happen? Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, who served in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, recently wrote that he was routinely paid for Guard duty he never did. Given the other evidence, these pay records are not end-of-story proof.

Click here for more, plus an update on the newly released Presidential dental records!


Ex-workers say Halliburton overcharges routine

From the Houston Chronicle:

Halliburton, which as a government contractor is supposed to keep a lid on costs, selected embroidered towels when ordinary ones would have cost a third as much and leased cars, trucks SUVS and vans for up $7,500 a month, the would-be whistleblowers said.

Indeed, the motto at Halliburton was "Don't worry about price. It's cost plus," one of the ex-workers told lawmakers.

That's a reference to a type of government contract in which a company like Halliburton would be reimbursed for the cost of providing a service, plus receive an additional percentage as profit.

Halliburton is, of course, Vice President Dick Cheney's former firm which is now raking in the cash from federal contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq.

Click here for more.


Wednesday, February 11, 2004


From the Progressive:

Hospitals are increasingly resorting to brass knuckle tactics to collect overdue bills from indigent patients. Take the case of Martin Bushman, an intermittently insured mechanic with diabetes who, as reported in The Wall Street Journal, had run up a $579 debt to Carle Hospital in Champaign-Urbana. When he failed to appear for a court hearing on his debt rather than miss a day of work, he was arrested and hit with $2,500 bail. Arrests for missed court dates, which the hospitals whimsically refer to as "body attachments," are on the rise throughout the country.


To compound the sufferings of the sick and sub-affluent, hospitals now routinely charge uninsured people several times more than the insured. The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports that one local hospital charged an uninsured patient $29,000 for an appendectomy that would have cost an insured patient $6,783. According to the Los Angeles Times, in one, albeit for-profit, California hospital chain, the uninsured account for only 2 percent of its patients, but 35 percent of its profits. The explanation for such shameless gouging of the poor? Big insurance companies and HMOs are able to negotiate "discounts" for their members, leaving the uninsured to pay whatever fanciful amounts the hospital cares to charge, such as, in one reported case, $50 for the use of a hospital gown.

Being poor sucks. Being poor and sick sucks even worse, and it may just get you thrown in jail.

Click here for more.



From the New York Times via AOL News:

But in recent days, there has been an uptick in criticism of Mr. Bush from those quarters, underscoring strains between him and the Republican base that has so faithfully defended him in the past.

For example, Peggy Noonan, the Reagan speechwriter, had this to say on Sunday in about Mr. Bush's "Meet the Press" interview: "The president seemed tired, unsure and often bumbling. His answers were repetitive, and when he tried to clarify them he tended to make them worse."

George Will, the conservative columnist, wrote in his syndicated column on Sunday, "It is surreal for a Republican president to submit a budget to a Republican-controlled Congress and have Republican legislators vow to remove the 'waste' that he has included and that they have hitherto funded."

While most conservatives remain squarely behind Mr. Bush, the united front has not been quite as united.

Conservatives may hate liberals for being weak pansies, but they hate weak, pansified conservatives even more--increasingly, Bush is looking like he's losing his once invincible strength in the political realm. It sounds like the sharks are smelling blood in the water. Click here to see a feeding frenzy preview.



At this point, Bush's appearance on NBC's Meet the Press last Sunday has been blasted by many sources, including, surprisingly, lots of conservatives, so I'm going to hit on just one segment of the interview that addresses a comment I made on January 25th:

One of the things that made it clear to me that Iraq was not a threat to the US was how we handled North Korea. Iraq insisted, again and again, that they had no WMDs. North Korea, however, proudly proclaimed that they had nuclear weapons. Iraq gets invaded; North Korea gets diplomacy. That struck me as a wildly odd contradiction.

The President finally spoke out on this:

Russert: But there are lots of madmen in the world, Fidel Castro …

President Bush: True.

Russert: … in Iran, in North Korea, in Burma, and yet we don't go in and take down those governments.

President Bush: Correct, and I could — that's a legitimate question as to why we like felt we needed to use force in Iraq and not in North Korea. And the reason why I felt like we needed to use force in Iraq and not in North Korea, because we had run the diplomatic string in Iraq. As a matter of fact, failed diplomacy could embolden Saddam Hussein in the face of this war we’re in. In Iraq — I mean, in North Korea, excuse me, the diplomacy is just beginning. We’re making good progress in North Korea.

For the rest of the transcript, courtesy of Eschaton, click here.

Now, if I recall correctly, at the time that North Korea announced that it has nuclear weapons, the UN had inspectors on the ground in Iraq: meanwhile, the North Koreans were kicking their own weapons inspectors out. Given that context, how the hell can Bush assert that "we had run the diplomatic string in Iraq" but that "diplomacy is just beginning" in North Korea? Obviously, Bush gave a bullshit answer. Of course, Russert, often called a "Republican shill" by his detractors, gave the chimp a pass.

Nothing in American politics surprises me anymore.



From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

American's Flight 34 was headed from Los Angeles to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport on Friday when the pilot asked Christians on board to raise their hands, Wagner said.

The pilot, whose name was not released, told the airline that he then suggested the other passengers use the flight time to talk to the Christians about their faith, Wagner said.

Passenger Amanda Nelligan told WCBS-TV of New York that the pilot called non-Christians "crazy" and that his comments "felt like a threat." She said she and several others aboard were so worried they tried to call relatives on their cell phones before flight attendants assured them they were safe and that people on the ground had been notified about the pilot's comments.

Man, them fundamentalists are gettin' uppity...

Click here for more.


Monday, February 09, 2004


I'm back. I'll make a short post in a few days relating some of my trip's highlights. For now, I have a couple of links courtesy of J. Orlin Grabbe:

Broward students ousted in drama
competition for flag-cutting scene

From south Florida's Sun-Sentinel:

The play praises patriotism, but the judges only saw teens cutting up an American flag.

It was enough to disqualify Archbishop McCarthy High students from a competition early this week for their performance of The Children's Story. In the play, first published in 1963 by Shogun author James Clavell, third-graders in a classroom in a United States that has been defeated by a powerful enemy, presumably Communist, cut the flag into pieces. Their new teacher tells them if the flag is so good, everyone should get a piece and tells them to hand out the shreds. It's a message about the dangers of mindless political indoctrination.

This story gets even more outrageous because one of the judges cited a Florida anti-flag desecration law as a reason for the disqualification: as I hope you know, the US Supreme Court ruled a decade ago that flag desecration is considered to be Constitutionally protected speech. Only in America.

Click here.

When Neocons Investigate Themselves

From AlterNet:

President George W. Bush's choice to co-chair his commission to investigate intelligence failures prior to the Iraq war is a long-time, rightwing political activist closely tied to the neoconservative network that led the pro-war propaganda campaign.

Federal appeals court judge Laurence Silberman, who will chair the panel with former Virginia Democratic Senator Charles Robb, also has some history in covert operations. In 1980, when he served as part of former Republican president Ronald Reagan's senior campaign staff, he played a key role in setting up secret contacts between the Reagan-Bush campaign and the Islamic government in Tehran, as part of what became known as the "October Surprise" controversy. Rewarded with his appeals court judgeship several years later, Silberman helped advise rightwing activists during the '90s on strategies to pursue allegations of sexual misconduct by then-Democratic president Bill Clinton.

I'm sure that Silberman's history means that this investigation will be conducted with the highest level of integrity.

Wait, I don't mean that at all--what I meant to say was that this is the same old, slimy bullshit that Bush has been handing us for years. Figures.

Click here.


Thursday, February 05, 2004


With an aching in my, da, da, da...

San Francisco to be more precise. The people from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia (near LA) will be there watching hundreds of actors auditioning to get into their school. I'm trying to get into their MFA acting program and I'm nervous as hell about it. So, wish me luck, or tell me to "break a leg" as we say in the theater. (For some reason, telling somebody "good luck" is considered to be bad luck in the theater, but I digress.) My audition is on Saturday at 1:30 PT--send out your prayers or good vibes; any little bit will help.

Anyway, no blogging until Monday most likely. Until then, I'm posting my statement of purpose for graduate school. Most master's degree programs require an essay of some sort which gives the lowdown on who you are and why you want to go to grad school. I labored on mine for weeks. I hope you like it (I also hope it helps get me in).

Here it is:

A Statement of Purpose

Acting teacher Sanford Meisner used to say, “it takes twenty years to become an actor.” This makes a lot of sense to me: twenty years ago, as a high school freshman, I started taking myself seriously as an actor. When I was a child, seeing Neil Simon’s The Goodbye Girl started a process that would eventually result in my investing much personal identity in a romanticized concept of “actor.” It wasn’t until my first high school play, however, that I encountered others who focused more on the work than on themselves. That was when I first began to understand that acting is about creating great shows, rather than self-aggrandizement. Indeed, this sense artistry in theater, of professionalism, is what now drives me to seek a Master of Fine Arts in acting.

A few years ago, while watching a television series on the history of jazz, I had a realization. Trumpeter Miles Davis was attempting a comeback in the late 1950s following personal troubles that had sidelined him for a while. During this time, he saw Joe Louis box: Louis’ no-nonsense, professional approach to boxing greatly impressed Davis—this experience inspired him to treat his own career as a musician in the same way. That is, Davis was revitalized, achieving greater artistic heights, because he focused thoroughly on the work, no distractions, no fooling around. Davis’ newfound philosophy of consummate professionalism rekindled my excitement about acting: seeing his resuscitation gave me the wherewithal to overcome the cold feet that had steered me away from pursuing an acting career when I was younger. It made me want to be a professional actor.

I’ve always loved acting. I’ve spent my years since college finding ways to be on stage, working with the theater people I love. In situations with untrained actors, I’ve tried to use my own training to set an example. Indeed, I’ve been fortunate enough to work recently with two other trained actors in a local amateur company; the three of us have set a standard of artistry that has helped to improve the company’s work overall. I have also been teaching high school theater for the last five years. The job has provided unexpected rewards: gradually, I have gained a firm intellectual mastery of acting basics that I first learned when I was getting my BFA—developing and using multiple strategies to explain such fundamentals has forced me to ponder these ideas in ways that I would not have otherwise.

Twenty years after my first high school play, I have come full circle. That is, as a student, I first began to explore the artistry of acting; as a teacher, I continue that exploration. However, I think I’ve learned as much as I can in that realm: now I want to go to graduate school.

Indeed, the Cal Arts MFA acting program offers learning opportunities that could result in my becoming a great actor, a true theater artist. I am excited about the school’s emphasis on the individual-as-artist; after five years as a high school teacher, I now believe that authority impedes creativity: to be seen by the faculty as a colleague rather than an apprentice is a refreshing thought. I am also excited by Cal Arts’ emphasis on interdisciplinary work—the socially constructed barriers between the arts, the rigid specializations within the arts, have frustrated me since I was a teenager. Finally, because in addition to studying acting, I have also studied television production and film criticism, I am excited about the Acting for the Camera course, which offers the chance to extend my understanding of those media. Truly, Cal Arts can give me the skills, environment, and knowledge to prepare me to attain what I so very much want, to be a professional actor.

Cue the Real Art theme song: "Solfeggio" go.