Monday, July 31, 2006


From the Kansas City Star:

‘When the Levees Broke’

Spike Lee was in Venice, of all places, when the levees broke. Sitting in his hotel room in the submerged Italian city, where he was attending a film festival, Lee flipped back and forth between BBC and CNN, riding the roller coaster of emotions over what man and nature had wrought in New Orleans.

“I was really mad and sad,” Lee told TV critics during a session to promote “When the Levees Broke,” his upcoming HBO documentary. “I wanted to do something about it.”

Sad because, despite being a New York homeboy, Lee considers New Orleans America’s most distinctive city. Seeing it underwater broke his heart.

Mostly, though, Lee was, and is, angry at a country that let this happen, at a government that reacted indifferently to the suffering of black people in the Crescent City and at a short-attention-span culture that has already consigned Hurricane Katrina to the history files.

That’s how the celebrated director, who is not known for making nonfiction films about current events, decided to undertake what became a four-hour docu-opera, subtitled “A Requiem in Four Acts.” It airs in two parts, Aug. 21 and 22, repeating in full Aug. 29, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans.

Click here for the rest.

This is going to be great. It's probably also going to be hard to watch. I still get angry or sad, or both, if I think too much about it even today, nearly a year later, and I was only watching from the sidelines here in Baton Rouge. But I'm definitely going to watch it. Spike Lee is directing.

I don't think I've mentioned it here, but years ago my buddy Brian sat me down and made me watch Spike's Do the Right Thing. I've never looked back. Spike is on my short list for greatest American film director: in addition to the sense of social conscience he brings to virtually every film he directs, which makes him a Real Artist, he's also a great storyteller, creating engaging and complex characters and situations. His movies work the intellect as well as the emotions--they both teach and entertain. Really, Malcolm X is one of my favorite films, for all those reasons.

I think it's safe to say that nobody in the world is more qualified to tell the story of what happened to New Orleans than Spike Lee. Maybe I'll head down to the Big Easy to catch the sneak-premiere at the New Orleans Arena on the 16th. Tickets are free, apparently.


Sunday, July 30, 2006


From WorkingForChange:

"Calling it World War III is sound packaging," he said. "You've got to call it something and five years after 9/11 with Osama [bin Laden] still roaming free and Iraq an American quagmire, and the Republican Party in danger of losing control of Congress, this ploy makes marketing sense."

Click here for the rest.

God, "marketing" is sooooo right. There are numerous reasons, some of which are mentioned here, why the "War on Terror," which isn't even really a war, is not World War III. As Bush's psychotic foreign policy spins ever more out of control, it also becomes ever more incomprehensible. Looking to capitalize on what is to many Americans a totally confusing situation in the Middle East, Newt Gingrich and others are trying to popularize a convenient and easy-to-use meme in hopes of turning around the increasing distaste for the Bush Wars, and they just might have a shot at pulling it off.

Here's why:

Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan

John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima

George C. Scott in Patton

Charlton Heston and Hal Holbrook in Midway

Robert Wagoner, Henry Fonda, Charlton Heston and James Coburn in Midway

Sig Ruman and William Holden in Stalag 17

World War II was America's Golden Age, complete with mythic heroes, legendary villains, and an overwhelmingly accepted black and white understanding that the conflict was very much about good versus evil, and Americans were on the side of good. Of course, the reality is somewhat more complicated than that, but countless movies, with the biggest stars, about "the Big One" and our mythic role in it have deeply penetrated the American psyche--you simply can't be an American without believing that we were the heroes in the fight against fascism; it's part of who we are, the good guys who won WWII. It's not rational, especially because there's so much water under the bridge since then, but it is definitely a major aspect of who we believe ourselves to be.

When the conservative war-mongers start talking about "World War III," they're obviously trying to tap that part of American consciousness. That is, as linguist George Lakoff has repeatedly observed, the conservatives are playing a completely different rhetorical game than the one liberals are playing. They're trying to craft powerful myths; we're arguing about reality. Sadly, in this case at least, myth, when widely accepted, tends to trump reality in people's minds. If this "WWIII" frame catches on, it's back to the dark and repressive days of 9/11's aftermath, when you just weren't American if you didn't want to spill Muslim blood.

Personally, I think it's too late for this kind of tactic to succeed--the situations in Iraq and elsewhere are just too far gone for people to accept highfalutin bullshit like "WWIII," but, just to be on the safe side, the left had better start crafting a few myths of its own to better counter this latest right-wing rhetorical assault.



From Rascally Rob Salkowitz over at Emphasis Added, a comparison of traditional Southern cultural and political attitudes in post Civil War America with those of Palestinians in the occupied territories:

The Dixiecrats of Gaza

Despite losing on the battlefield, Southern culture did not accept defeat and embrace the modern values of its conqueror, as Palestinians today are being urged to do under similar circumstances. Instead, they turned to terrorism (in the form of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1870s and 80s), which was ultimately successful in exhausting the reformist will of the North and restoring some measure of autonomy and the reactionary status quo.

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th century, the profound cultural, economic and political degeneracy of the Southern states was a subject of constant concern in the rest of the country. Opposition to every modern reform (women’s suffrage, labor unionism, teaching of evolution) and support for every reactionary program (Prohibition, isolationism) found its strongest base in the former Confederacy.

Even within the nominal framework of self-government, the enfranchised citizens of the South made a conscious and deliberate choice of corrupt one-party rule (first Democrats, then Republicans), legalized discrimination against minorities, severe limits to their own economic, educational and cultural potential, and the most narrow and doctrinaire forms of religious fundamentalism, because to do otherwise, their leaders convinced them, would be to surrender to the alien values of the despised interloper. Like the Palestinians, most white Southerners chose to stand by their closed and backward system even when it clearly benefited only a few at the very top, because they valued their pride and honor above their material self-interest.

Click here for the rest.

Of course, I think Salkowitz's analysis misses some pretty hefty mitigating circumstances influencing Palestinian behavior, such as Israel's severe brutality when dealing with Palestinian civilians and politicians, the IDF enforced medieval conditions in many parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the fact that peace proposals for the last decade or so have been about creating an independent "state" which is non-contiguous, and without any political influence or economic viability, unacceptable Bantustans, when you get right down to it. But I think he's onto something here: it is extraordinarily difficult to force an entire culture to become something it is not without severe repercussions. The Palestinian sense of profound resentment rising from their utter and total defeat at the hands of mighty Israel is a palpable, real thing: this decades old conflict, despite the conventional wisdom here in the US, is most decidedly not being driven by Islamic religious lunacy, although that certainly plays a role; rather, legitimate grievances about the way their conqueror has treated them, as well as a deep cultural fear of non-existence as a people, motivate Palestine.

Until the West starts addressing these issues, expect the conflict to continue as is for decades to come.



the Nation, Jonathan Schell, author of the definitive history of the Nixon era, Time of Illusion, on why the neo-conservative dream of American empire is simply impossible in today's world:

Too Late for Empire

Very possibly, the United States, with all its resources, would have been the sort of globe-straddling empire that Joseph McCarthy wanted it to be had it risen to pre-eminence in an earlier age. It was the peculiar trajectory of the United States, born in opposition to empire, to wind up making its own bid for empire only after the age of imperialism was over. Though it's hard to shed a tear, you might say that there was a certain unfairness in America's timing. All the ingredients of past empires were there--the wealth, the weapons, the power, hard and soft. Only the century was wrong. The United States was not, could not be and cannot now be a new Rome, much less greater than Rome, because it cannot do what Rome did. It cannot, in a postimperial age, conquer other countries and lastingly absorb them into a great empire; it cannot, in the nuclear age, not even today, fight and win wars against its chief global rivals, who still, after all, possess nuclear arsenals. Even tiny, piteous, brutalized, famine-ridden North Korea, more a cult than a country, can deter the United States with its puny putative arsenal. The United States, to be sure, is a great power by any measure, surely the world's greatest, yet that power is hemmed in by obstacles peculiar to our era. The mistake has been not so much to think that the power of the United States is greater than it is as to fail to realize that power itself, whether wielded by the United States or anyone else--if conceived in terms of military force--has been in decline. By imagining otherwise, the United States has become the fool of force--and the fool of history.


The pattern is not the old Roman one in which military conquest breeds arrogance and arrogance stokes ambition, which leads to usurpation at home. Rather, in the case of the United States, misunderstanding of its historical moment leads to misbegotten wars; misbegotten wars lead to military disaster; military disaster leads to domestic strife and scapegoating; domestic strife and scapegoating lead to usurpation, which triggers a constitutional crisis. Crises born of strength and success are different from crises born of failure. Fulbright warned of the corruption of imperial ambition and the arrogance of power. But we need also to speak of the corruption of imperial failure, the arrogance of anxiety.

here for the rest.

I mentioned a few days back, I've been reading Time of Illusion. The whole experience has been really weird; history really does seem to be repeating itself in many ways. There are exceptions, of course, but the central principles are essentially the same, a quagmire of an imperial war coupled with increasing levels of executive corruption in the face of popular opposition which ultimately led to a very dangerous Constitutional crisis. I'm sure that I'll be absorbing Schell's lessons for the next two or three years--a lot of his ideas are new to me and I need to fit them into what I already understand; I mean, he's forced me to look at military and political power in ways that have never occurred to me, and they don't teach this kind of thing in high school government classes.

Anyway, coming upon this new essay of his is one of the biggest coincidences of my life. It's almost like a companion piece, connecting the dots between Time of Illusion and the current corruption of the Bush administration, and here it is right after I finished the book. For instance, he ends Illusion with an analysis of American power in the nuclear age. It's mostly a rebuttal to
Henry Kissinger's assertion that "limited war," that is, conventional proxy wars against Soviet client states instead of all out nuclear exchange with the USSR itself, in order to achieve "credibility," was the only way to advance US interests in the face of paralyzing fear of atomic annihilation. The faults with Kissinger's analysis are by now obvious: it's how we ended up stuck in Vietnam, and why we backed heinous military dictatorships in Central America in the 80s; generally, our proxy wars had little to do with the Cold War, and much more to do with local issues. And when it really did seem to have to do with the Soviets, in Afghanistan, we ended up funding and training the nucleus of what would eventually become Al Qaeda.

Despite the conventional wisdom, revisionist history more accurately, that these actions caused the Soviet Union to collapse, the reality is that they simply fucked up the world on a grand scale. The USSR actually fell because, you know, communism doesn't work.

But, as the essay observes, some of the principles of Schell's power analysis are still in play, despite the absence of our Cold War foe. The threat of nuclear war continues to exist, and it's potentially worse today, as first and second tier powers, scared shitless of a mighty American military machine in the hands of drunken cowboys, scramble to get the atomic weapons that have obviously cowed the US in its dealings with North Korea. As during the conflict with the Soviets, all out war with powerful nations is no longer an option. The stakes are just too damned high. Contrariwise, at the other end of the power scale, wars against weak but determined nations are also a losing proposition. Vietnam, and then later Afghanistan, showed the third world how to bring a superpower to its knees. Iraq has only driven the lesson home. In short, we now live in a world where our waging war won't really gain much for us. In fact, it's quite the reverse: when we go to war all that happens is that we lose young men and women, kill lots of civilians, and flush billions of dollars down the toilet. Oh yeah, we also piss off the rest of the civilized world.

It's not just that war is immoral, which it is. Rather, it's that war is just fucking stupid in this day and age. We can't win. Not in a big one, which would destroy the world, and not in a small one which would destroy our economy and souls. It is conceivable, of course, that in some few situations, war can successfully accomplish some concrete goals, like in the first Gulf War, or, maybe, in the Balkans conflict. But those wars had approval of virtually the entire world; they weren't imperial wars. Those two exceptions really only serve to prove the rule: diplomacy, real diplomacy, and not unilateral war with a sham "coalition," is the only option for the Global era.

Nobody, however, in either the US political class or the American corporate press, seems to understand this. Schooled by a thousand war movies, utterly in the grips of bygone myths of the glory of battle, politicians speak seriously of the "war" on terror, or of "World War III." But it's not like that at all. People are dying and shooting and wearing combat boots and fatigues, yes, but it's all ultimately a horrifying game. No good can come of it, for anybody, in this day and age. We are failing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and signs are starting to appear in Lebanon which suggest that Israel may be failing in its drive to destroy Hezbollah. If these conflicts were old school army versus army, we and Israel would have already won decisively. But this is new school.

Nobody wins.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Israel set war plan more than a year ago

From the San Francisco Chronicle courtesy of AlterNet:

Israel's military response by air, land and sea to what it considered a provocation last week by Hezbollah militants is unfolding according to a plan finalized more than a year ago.

In the years since Israel ended its military occupation of southern Lebanon, it watched warily as Hezbollah built up its military presence in the region. When Hezbollah militants kidnapped two Israeli soldiers last week, the Israeli military was ready to react almost instantly.

"Of all of Israel's wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared," said Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University. "In a sense, the preparation began in May 2000, immediately after the Israeli withdrawal, when it became clear the international community was not going to prevent Hezbollah from stockpiling missiles and attacking Israel. By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we're seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it's been simulated and rehearsed across the board."

More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to U.S. and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail. Under the ground rules of the briefings, the officer could not be identified.

Click here for the rest.

Okay, let's count the lies. First, Israel is not trying to get back it's two captured soldiers; rather, it had been waiting for a year for the right moment and pretense to launch an aggressive invasion of Lebanon. Second, the US does not support Israel's "right to defend herself;" rather, the US supports Israel's war of aggression against Lebanon--the Bush administration knows what's going on. Third, the mainstream US press is committing a lie of omission: they're aware of this report just as I am, yet they refuse to mention it, thereby keeping up the myth that Israel is simply "defending herself."

This shit makes me sick.


Much Worse Than Abu Ghraib, Israel's Facility 1391

I was reading a new post on Noam Chomsky's rarely updated blog earlier this evening and I was startled by a reference he made to revelations a while back about a secret prison used for years by Israel to incarcerate and torture countless Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. I'm pretty used to being in the dark about the vast majority of the Jewish state's misdeeds; after all, the American corporate media and US political class are notorious for heavily distorting reality on the subject. But this strikes me as a pretty big deal, the kind of thing that would merit at least a mention somewhere in, say, the New York Times. But no. I had to go to a 2003 story from the British press to get the goods.

From the Guardian:

Those who have been through its gates know it is no illusion. One former inmate has filed a lawsuit alleging that he was raped twice - once by a man and once with a stick - during questioning. But most of those who emerge say the real torture is the psychological impact of solitary confinement in filthy, blackened cells so poorly lit that inmates can barely see their own hands, and with no idea where they are or, in many cases, why they are there.

"Our main conclusion is that it exists to make torture possible - a particular kind of torture that creates progressive states of dread, dependency, debility," says Manal Hazzan, a human rights lawyer who helped expose the prison's existence. "The law gives the army enough authority already to hide prisoners, so why do they need a secret facility?"

Unlike any other Israeli prison, the International Red Cross, lawyers and members of the Israeli parliament have been refused access. One leftwing MP, Zahava Gal-On, describes Facility 1391 as "one of the signs of totalitarian regimes and of the third world". The Israeli government declines to discuss the secret prison other than to issue a standard response: "Facility 1391 is situated on a secret military base. The base is used by the security services for various classified activities and thus its location is kept confidential."


Probably the first prisoners at Facility 1391 were Lebanese. The prison is part of a military camp that is home to an army intelligence group, Unit 504, which specialises in interrogation. The unit has a hard reputation, and some of its members have badly blemished records. One has been accused of murder, another of spying. Unit 504's glory days were during Israel's 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon, interrogating captured Hezbollah fighters and running an extensive network of collaborators, some of whom are still being put on trial for their lives by the Lebanese authorities.

In the late 80s, Unit 504 went in search of another kind of prisoner; men who could be held hostage and exchanged for captured Israeli soldiers and airmen. In 1989, the Israelis seized Sheikh Abd al-Karim Obeid, a spiritual leader to Hezbollah. Five years later, they snatched Mustafa Dirani, a leading Shi'ite fighter. Both were taken directly to Facility 1391.

The soldiers who grabbed Obeid also abducted his bodyguards, members of his family and Hashem Fahaf, a young man who happened to be visiting the sheikh to seek his blessing and who found himself locked up for the next 11 years, initially at 1391.

Click here for the rest.

To the best of my knowledge, Facility 1391 is still in operation today.

A couple of observations. First, this revelation, when it happened, was easily as big of a story as the Abu Ghraib revelations in 2004. The US press should have been all over it--I mean, Israel is an enormous American ally, and we fund some twenty percent of their huge military budget. That I'm only just now hearing about it is evidence enough that the US establishment is in deep with Israel's many crimes, acting as tireless propagandists in order to keep the billions of dollars flowing their way without domestic political opposition. Second, thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, many of whom have absolutely nothing to do with Hezbollah or Hamas, a fact which is well known by their Israeli captors, have been cycling in and out of Facility 1391 for at least two decades--some of them never return, "disappeared" like so many Latin Americans did under the brutal dictators supported by the US in the 70s and 80s. How could the terrorized people of Palestine and Lebanon ever forget this? Many, I'm sure, have friends and loved ones there right now. It all makes the kidnapping of three soldiers, not civilians, seem tame in comparison.

And, yet, the standard American line is that Israel is simply "defending herself." Obviously, it's far more complicated than that.


Friday, July 28, 2006

Frankie and Sammy Go Rasslin'

Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging!


Thursday, July 27, 2006


Actually, the White House has been extraordinarily innovative in this area, producing dozens of brilliant ideas since 2003 about achieving utter failure over there, and surprising us all, again and again, with new ways to fail just when it appears they've hit their creative limits.

Here are some of their latest hits.

From the AP via Yahoo courtesy of AlterNet:

U.S. may send 5,000 more troops to Baghdad

Defense experts inside and outside the Pentagon worry that diverting U.S. troops to Baghdad could weaken their ability in other parts of the country. And they say the plan reverses an earlier effort to make Americans less visible and put Iraqi forces out front in the fight.


As part of the plan, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Thursday extended the tours of some 3,500 members of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team. It was scheduled to be leaving now, but instead, most of its 3,900 troops will serve for up to four more months.

Click here for the rest.

As the article notes, the redeployments are due to the deteriorating situation in Baghdad, which is yet another sign that the insurgency continues to not be in its "last throes," that there most definitely is a civil war going on, and that the Iraqi army is nowhere near being ready to stabilize the country by itself. That means, according to the standards Bush himself has set for withdrawal, that US forces will continue to occupy Iraq for some years to come. We're still looking for that corner to turn.

Anyway, this troop move may help to stabilize Baghdad for the time being, or not, but, because we're essentially out of reserves, all this does is rob Peter to pay Paul. Insurgents and sectarian fighters will simply move their operations to places the troops have abandoned, launching suicide bombers at the capitol city from the outside until things cool off on the inside. Or not. Beefing up the US troop presence in Baghdad may have no effect on the escalating violence at all.

I thought we had learned in Vietnam that conventional warfare fares badly against guerilla fighters. Guess not.

And what's this shit about tacking four more months onto these soldiers' tours of duty? Hasn't anyone in the Pentagon been reading about the super high rates of depression and PTSD among the troops? About US servicemen freaking out and murdering families and raping their daughters? About the spike in domestic violence among troops home on leave? This is a bad idea. Our guys are wildly overworked and stressed out over there. Nothing good can come of this.

But wait. Here's an oldie, updated for the summer.

From USA Today courtesy of the Daily Kos:

Equipment shortfalls hurt Army readiness

Up to two-thirds of the Army's combat brigades are not ready for wartime missions, largely because they are hampered by equipment shortfalls, Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday, citing unclassified documents.

In a letter to President Bush, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said that "nearly every non-deployed combat brigade in the active Army is reporting that they are not ready" for combat. The figures, he said, represent an unacceptable risk to the nation.

Click here for the rest.

This shit's been going on for a couple of years now. As soon as it was clear that we were facing a full blown insurgency, if I recall correctly, numerous stories about massive shortages of kevlar vests and armor plating for vehicles started hitting the headlines. The news seems to have died down since then, but the shortages, apparently, have only gotten worse. This is what comes from the sublime stupidity of starting a war while massively cutting taxes, which is probably the Sergeant Pepper or Abbey Road of Bush's Iraq failure discography, the greatest album of failure of all time.

Wait, scratch that. Invading on false pretenses gets the title for greatest all time failure in Iraq. You know, I opposed the invasion, and continue to oppose the disasterous occupation, but that doesn't mean that I want our soldiers out there unprotected. I mean, if they simply can't come home until Iraq has stabilized, then stabilize the damned country!!! Either get serious about winning the fucking war, or get the fuck out of there. Every day it continues is travesty.

I guess Bush thinks there are even greater failures that he has yet to achieve. Perhaps he's fashioning his magnum opus: a failure to end all failures, a.k.a. Armageddon.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Israeli airstrike hits U.N. observer post

From CNN courtesy of AlterNet:

An Israeli airstrike hit a United Nations post in southern Lebanon late Tuesday, killing at least two of the agency's observers, according to the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon.

The U.N. initially reported that four peacekeepers were dead, but later said there were two dead and two missing.


U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was "deeply distressed" by the "apparently deliberate" strike.

"This coordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long-established and clearly marked U.N. post at Khiyam occurred despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that U.N. positions would be spared Israeli fire," he said in a statement.

"Furthermore, General Alain Pelligrini, the U.N. force commander in south Lebanon, had been in repeated contact with Israeli officers throughout the day on Tuesday, stressing the need to protect that particular U.N. position from attack."

Click here for the rest.

It's REALLY difficult for me to believe that Israel didn't deliberately target this UN outpost. Here's some context. Traditionally, the UN, which has issued resolution after resolution for years in condemnation of the Jewish state's heavy-handed tactics, is not considered by Israel to be much of a friend. Fortunately for them, their best buddies in the world, the United States, have used their coveted seat on the UN Security Council, again and again, to quash by veto any real action that would give those resolutions any teeth. Nonetheless, I think there is definitely a perception among the Israeli political elite that the UN is on the side of the Arab world. Like what appears to be the deliberate targeting by the American military of journalists in Iraq perceived as hostile to US interests, it strikes me that it would be hard for IDF commanders to resist using the chaos of war to "accidentally" hit non-combatants who seem to stand in the way. Throw in the numerous reports that Israel is targeting fleeing civilians and Red Cross vehicles, while overall, apparently, doing very little damage to Hezbollah's fighting ability, and also consider that Israel is essentially tearing Lebanon's physical infrastructure to pieces, and it becomes excruciatingly clear that this invasion doesn't have a damned thing to do with rescuing those two captured soldiers. I'm not really sure what their real motives are, but my best guess is that they're trying to achieve a "final solution" for the Lebanon problem: ethnic cleansing. I think they're simply trying to turn their northern neighbor's southern half into a permanent wasteland.

And our tax dollars are funding the entire operation.



From the Houston Chronicle:

A Harris County jury has found Andrea Yates not guilty by reason of insanity during her second capital murder trial for the drowning deaths of her children in the family's bathtub in 2001.

The verdict upholding Yates' insanity defense comes after the jury deliberated more than 12 hours over three days. The decision also underscores the emotional debate on mental illness within the criminal justice system since Yates' first trial in 2002.


The jury's verdict means Yates, 42, will be sent to a state mental hospital for treatment, rather than be sentenced to life in prison. Yates and attorneys will return to Judge Belinda Hill's courtroom at 10 a.m. Thursday for a hearing, formalizing the details of Yates' hospitalization. She will go to a maximum security hospital initially.

Click here for the rest.

The legal standard in the United States for establishing the kind of insanity that results in a not guilty verdict for the accused is both hard to meet and completely divorced from what mental health experts define as insane: the defendant must be shown to have not known the difference between "right and wrong" when he committed his crime. Obviously, there are quite a few problems there, most notably the fact that intellectual knowledge of morality doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the uncontrollable urges or bizarre interpretations of reality that are associated with numerous forms of mental illness. So Andrea Yates had the deck stacked against her going into this second trial.

Compounding her long odds is the fact that her trial took place in Houston, and H-Town is not known for its compassion and understanding toward people who have committed murder. Indeed, even though I haven't looked at the numbers in a while, Houston has long had a reputation as "
Death Penalty Capitol of the World." Fortunately, Yates lucked out because the jury in her first trial, which convicted her, opted against capital punishment, and for some arcane legal reason, this meant she wasn't facing death in the second trial. Nonetheless, the jury pool she faced in both trials is, overall, pretty bloodthirsty, as are her prosecutors. Tough crowd.

Making matters even worse for Yates is the nature of her crime. Nothing, not Presidential intern sex, war, corporate fraud, murdering non-white people, or disco, drives Americans into a self-righteous frenzy like a mother killing her kids. A lot of people just can't think straight about the subject. They freak out. And, trust me on this one, there are a lot of freaks in Houston.

So that's why I'm very pleasantly surprised that this jury did the right thing and had her committed. Really, it's what should have happened the first time around. Never have I read about a case where it was so extraordinarily clear that the killer met the criteria for legal insanity. Her conviction was both heartbreaking and utterly reinforcing of my hometown's reputation for brutal-revenge-as-justice.

I hope this is the beginning of a trend for the city of bayous and petrochemical plants.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006


This article from the Houston Chronicle caught my eye yesterday:

A brush with history

A print of Norman Rockwell's The Problem We All Live With hangs in Lucille Bridges' Houston apartment. But until last week, the Katrina evacuee had never seen the original painting.

It showed the scariest day of her life: Nov. 14, 1960, the day she sent her oldest daughter, Ruby, to the all-white William Frantz Public School. U.S. marshals escorted Bridges and her 6-year-old into the New Orleans school, past an angry white mob.

The story made national news, but it's Rockwell's image — the cover of Look magazine in 1964 — that lingers in the American subconscious. In his painting, skinny first-grader Ruby Bridges wears a spotless white dress, white socks and white sneakers. Schoolbooks in hand, she walks purposefully between four burly marshals, oblivious to racist graffiti behind her. A splattered tomato drips down the same wall, its juice as red as blood.

For Lucille Bridges, now 72, the moment seemed long ago and far away until she arrived at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. A longtime resident of New Orleans, she relocated to Houston after the hurricane. Most days, she thinks more about her dog or her grandkids than she does about integration.

Click here for the rest.

My father worked for Southwestern Bell in Houston for 35 or so years before he retired back in the mid 90s. I've always had a great deal of respect for how he started out at the very bottom of the corporate ladder, as an electrician's apprentice, and worked his way into middle management without the advantage of a college degree. Today, I'm especially proud of the fact that my family, despite its late bourgeois trappings, is, and always has been, working class. My people do things. But that's ultimately neither here nor there. The point is that along with my old man's telephone work goes a bit of a family legend:

The day my father was hired by the phone company, 1957 or '58 I think, one of the last questions he asked his new boss was something to the effect of "how should I dress?" As the legend goes, his supervisor pointed to a Norman Rockwell print hanging in his office and told my dad to dress like that. Dad, still in his teens and wanting to make a good impression, went shopping and managed to recreate the look almost perfectly, a Rockwell painting come-to-life. Years later when I was a kid in the 70s my mom bought the same print, nicely framed, for my dad's birthday--it still hangs in my parents living room today. It's really a great picture, very life-like, but also theatrical in that, like virtually all of Rockwell's work, it strongly suggests some kind of story. Pretty quickly, I started to recognize the artist's trademark style, and intensely grooved to his work whenever I encountered it, which was quite a bit back in those days.

By the time I was a college student in the late 80s, however, I was dismissing the great illustrator's work as fluff. Indeed, his heartwarming images of small town America, obviously intended to reinforce pro-establishment attitudes, struck me as being much more a part of the problem than the solution. This is not to say that I ever stopped liking Rockwell's work. It's just that I had developed a taste for more intellectually challenging stuff. That's college for you.

Anyway, flash forward to a couple of years ago. Louisiana Public Broadcasting was running a Norman Rockwell documentary. That's where I learned of his more politically oriented work, or, more specifically, the painting mentioned in the excerpt above. It blew me away. It was as though Charles Schulz had decided to incorporate Malcolm X as one of his Peanuts characters. Well, okay, not quite like that, but I tend to think in terms of legends and mythology whenever I can, so I hope you get the idea. It was shocking, in a good way. The warm fuzzy man of my youth had some teeth after all. Kickass.

So then, yesterday, I just happened to click on this Chronicle story about Ruby Bridges' mother finally getting to see the painting in person. "Interesting," I thought as I read the first bit of the article, but then it got more interesting: this event immortalized in Rockwell's art took place just down I-10 in the city I love, New Orleans, which makes my connection to the story just a bit more personal. Even more personalizing for me is that the painting is now in Houston, my hometown, and Lucille Bridges is only there because she had to relocate after Katrina. To top it all off, Ruby Bridges, herself, came to Baton Rouge, where I now live and go to school, after the hurricane, and, according to Wikipedia, still lives here.

Pretty weird. There was just no way that I could go without posting the story.

But here's my bottom line. While writing this I've realized that my earlier dismissal of Rockwell was unfair, and I don't mean simply because late in his career he started to incorporate political themes in his pictures. The Americana portrayed by Rockwell wasn't propaganda. I think it would be idiotic to believe that the artist wasn't aware of America's shortcomings. After all, he lived through the Great Depression, one of the worst times in this country's history, and was born in an era when he was bound to have met people who had fought in the Civil War. Consequently, I've decided that, rather than being pro-establishment, Rockwell was trying to show the country what it ought to be, trying to provide inspiration and vision, pointing us in the right direction. That's worth something. That's Real Art.



From the Washington Post courtesy of Pandagon courtesy of Eschaton:

Two former executives of a failed Southern Baptist foundation were convicted here Monday in what prosecutors said was the nation's largest fraud ever targeting members of a religious group.

William Pierre Crotts, who was president of the Baptist Foundation of Arizona, and Thomas Dale Grabinski, the group's former chief legal counsel, were each convicted of three counts of fraud and one count of conducting an illegal enterprise in a scheme that lasted decades and cheated 11,000 investors across the country of about $585 million.

In a trial that lasted 10 months, prosecutors claimed that the executives were driven by shame to hide the foundation's mounting investment losses, bilking investors who were recruited in Southern Baptist churches and by Bible-quoting salesmen who visited their homes. Investors were told their money would help Southern Baptist causes, such as building new churches, and were promised above-market returns.

Instead, prosecutors said Crotts and Grabinski had designed a Ponzi scheme in which new investors were needed to pay off the secret mounting debt. Donald Conrad, an Arizona assistant attorney general, characterized Crotts and Grabinski during closing arguments as business failures who defrauded investors in part to "feed their financial fantasies" that they were savvy businessmen.

Click here for the rest.

Well, okay, I guess I can buy that as a motivation. I mean, these guys were totally small time, nothing like Ken Lay and the billions he was playing with. On the other hand, Ken Lay was also a self-styled man of God, described at his funeral by longtime associate Mark Seidl as being a "straight arrow--a Boy Scout, if you will--who lived by Christian-Judeo principles." I wonder when they removed "thou shalt not steal" and "thou shalt not bear false witness" from Christian-Judeo principles--I never got the memo. Anyway, I guess there are more similarities here than initially meet the eye.

Obviously, it doesn't really matter whether these Southern Baptist businessmen in Arizona were motivated by greed or motivated by keeping up appearances: they ripped off millions from lots of innocent people who believed their Bible-laced bullshit.

So there are a couple of lessons here. First, running around quoting the Bible doesn't make one trustworthy. (Yeah, I know, that's as plain as day, but it appears that many Americans are still pretty naive as far as the Jesus-talk is concerned.) Second, as I have observed on numerous occasions, fundamentalist Christians are extraordinarily adept at intellectually compartmentalizing contradictory thoughts. That is, I'm sure these guys, like Ken Lay, felt totally justified in committing their crimes, and their convictions, when they happened, came as a complete surprise--"But, but, I put my faith in the Lord!!!"

As the Bible says, "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven."

Heh. Book 'em Danno!

Former Baptist Foundation of Arizona president William P. Crotts is
led from a Phoenix courtroom. (By Tom Tingle -- Associated Press)


Monday, July 24, 2006

Soldiers Say Ordered to Kill Young Men

From the AP via My Way courtesy of AlterNet:

Four U.S. soldiers accused of murdering suspected insurgents during a raid in Iraq said they were under orders to "kill all military age males," according to sworn statements obtained by The Associated Press.

The soldiers first took some of the men into custody because they were using two women and a toddler as human shields. They shot three of the men after the women and child were safe and say the men attacked them.

"The ROE (rule of engagement) was to kill all military age males on Objective Murray," Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard told investigators, referring to the target by its code name.

That target, an island on a canal in the northern Salahuddin province, was believed to be an al-Qaida training camp. The soldiers said officers in their chain of command gave them the order and explained that special forces had tried before to target the island and had come under fire from insurgents.

Girouard, Spc. William B. Hunsaker, Pfc. Corey R. Clagett, and Spc. Juston R. Graber are charged with murder and other offenses in the shooting deaths of three of the men during the May 9 raid.

Click here for the rest.

Okay, I know the situation is crazy and chaotic over there, but "kill all military age males" sounds very much like the "free fire zones" and "search and destroy missions" in Vietnam that created the context in which atrocities like the My Lai Massacre took place. That is, the case described above may very well be murder, but the rules of engagement were such that gung-ho soldiers in the field might have easily misinterpreted them to mean, literally, "kill all military age males." But then, if those were actually the ROE, indiscriminately shooting any man you see, these soldiers weren't misinterpreting their orders. And if that's the case, it's pretty easy to assume that, as longtime British Middle Eastern correspondent Robert Fisk has asserted on several occasions, terrorism is official US policy in Iraq.

This leads to an important question: how is the US government any different from Al Qaeda?


The High Cost of Being Poor

From AlterNet, progressive writer Barbara Ehrenreich on how much it sucks to be poor in America:

A new study from the Brookings Institute documents the "ghetto tax," or higher cost of living in low-income urban neighborhoods. It comes at you from every direction, from food prices to auto insurance. A few examples from this study, by Matt Fellowes, that covered 12 American cities:

* Poor people are less likely to have bank accounts, which can be expensive for those with low balances, and so they tend to cash their pay checks at check-cashing businesses, which in the cities surveyed, charged $5 to $50 for a $500 check.

* Nationwide, low-income car buyers, defined as people earning less than $30,000 a year, pay two percentage points more for a car loan than more affluent buyers.

* Low-income drivers pay more for car insurance. In New York, Baltimore and Hartford, they pay an average $400 more a year to insure the exact same car and driver risk than wealthier drivers.

* Poorer people pay an average of one percentage point more in mortgage interest.

* They are more likely to buy their furniture and appliances through pricey rent-to-own businesses. In Wisconsin, the study reports, a $200 rent-to-own TV set can cost $700 with the interest included.

* They are less likely to have access to large supermarkets and hence to rely on the far more expensive, and lower quality offerings, of small grocery and convenience stores.

Click here for the rest.

So it's not simply that poor people have to make do with less money: it's that the economic deck has been stacked to make the poor literally pay more for everyday items and services than do people who are not in poverty. That is, because there is virtually no voice in government for low income Americans, the law favors predatory economic practices which victimize the poor. Throw into the mix the continual right-wing dismantling, by both Republicans and Democrats, of New Deal and Great Society programs that have historically greatly eased the burden of poverty, the permanent outsourcing of low skilled jobs that provide livable wages and benefits, the ongoing healthcare crisis, and the skyrocketing cost of college tuition and fees, and the concept of "upward mobility" becomes a sick and twisted joke.

The President recently spoke to the NAACP about how his "Ownership Society" is the best way to help out economically struggling African-Americans. Most of the audience simply rolled their eyes: they know as well as anybody that the economic barriers erected by the white power structure make joining Bush's "Ownership Society" all but impossible for blacks in poverty. And when I saw the President's remarks on television, I rolled my eyes, too. White Americans in poverty are obstructed by the same barriers.

I think I'd be much more willing to buy into the neoliberals' Horatio Alger myths about pulling oneself up by the bootstraps if the concentration of economic powers that run our country hadn't already foreclosed on the boots. The bottom line is that public discourse about poverty in this country is a sick fucking joke, and the situation is only going to continue its long decline until we can get some honesty into the conversation.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Group: U.S. military urged abuse in Iraq

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

The group Human Rights Watch said in a report released Sunday that U.S. military commanders encouraged abusive interrogations of detainees in Iraq, even after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal called attention to the issue in 2004.

Between 2003 and 2005, prisoners were routinely physically mistreated, deprived of sleep and exposed to extreme temperatures as part of the interrogation process, the report said.

"Soldiers were told that the Geneva Conventions did not apply, and that interrogators could use abusive techniques to get detainees to talk," wrote John Sifton, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The organization said it based its conclusion on interviews with military personnel and sworn statements in declassified documents

Click here for the rest.

This is what more than a few people have suspected for some time. Indeed, I've personally just assumed that all this bullshit was coming down from the top. The torture and abuse are just too widespread, too similar in manifestation, to be coming from just "a few bad apples." Furthermore, if torture wasn't official policy, why did White House lawyers spend so much time and effort drafting documents in anticipation of legal challenges? Why were the Geneva Conventions dismissed as "quaint," well before the scandals broke, by Bush administration insiders? Actually, one would have to be pretty stupid and naive, or willfully blind, to not suspect that this goes all the way up the chain to the Commander in Chief. It has amazed me how the corporate press hasn't chased down these obvious lines of reasoning, but then, I guess that's pretty much par for the course when it comes to our intrepid news media. But it sounds like a few public advocacy groups are on the case, and, hopefully, the truth will come out while the big Chimp is still in office. Then the GOP dominated House will have to explain why they won't impeach our Great White Father.



Goya's The Third of May 1808

From Wikipedia:

The Third of May 1808 is a 1814 oil painting by the Spanish painter Francisco Goya. It depicts a scene from the Spanish war of liberation when many innocent citizens were shot by Napoleon's troops.


The white of the victim's shirt represents the innocence and purity of the some 5000 Spanish civilians who were executed between May 2 and May 3. At the time of his death, the brave Spaniard becomes a martyr, raising his arms in a Christ-like fashion.

Click here for a bit more on the painting, here for more on Goya, and here for a much closer look at the painting.

This is what we're allowing Israel to do to Lebanon, and what the US has unleashed in Iraq and Afghanistan, by both encouraging sectarian division which is causing all kinds of violence and murder, and indiscriminately targeting, well, everyone. This kind of thing, wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians, was obviously understood to be insanely immoral in the 19th century, and it is obviously insanely immoral now. The sickness that I felt during the first few days of the US invasion of Iraq has returned to me bigtime as I watch every day on television Israeli tanks and planes, which were paid for and manufactured by the US, tear up a tiny nation that is, by and large, defenseless. I understand how Hezbollah is violent, too, and how Israel has a legitimate grievance, but destroying a defenseless nation, turning 500,000 people into homeless and destitute refugees overnight, is a crime against humanity, and our government bears no small part of the responsibility.

Like I said, I'm sickened.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Afghanistan close to anarchy, warns general

From the London Guardian courtesy of AlterNet:

The most senior British military commander in Afghanistan yesterday described the situation in the country as "close to anarchy" with feuding foreign agencies and unethical private security companies compounding problems caused by local corruption.

The stark warning came from Lieutenant General David Richards, head of Nato's international security force in Afghanistan, who warned that western forces there were short of equipment and were "running out of time" if they were going to meet the expectations of the Afghan people.

The assumption within Nato countries had been that the environment in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban in 2002 would be benign, Gen Richards said. "That is clearly not the case," he said yesterday. He referred to disputes between tribes crossing the border with Pakistan, and divisions between religious and secular factions cynically manipulated by "anarcho-warlords".

Click here for the rest.

In the post immediately below, I think it's pretty clear that the White House has failed utterly in the task of making this country safe from terrorists at home. I think this latest news from Afghanistan makes it pretty clear that Bush is failing utterly abroad as well. Even though I didn't agree with the invasion there in the first place, because terrorism really can't be ended without some hardcore diplomacy and a massive change in how the US treats the rest of the world, I have to admit that there was a much better case for going into the nation that was harboring Al Qaeda than there ever was for going after Saddam Hussein. I mean, if I understand correctly, Al Qaeda really did end up being totally disorganized, incapable, for the time being, of mounting the same kind of operation that freaked everybody out and killed thousands back in 2001. After that initial success, however, the White House started pulling out troops for the Iraq operation, which, many critics say, resulted in bin Laden's escape when he was cornered at Tora Bora. Then the Iraq invasion began, which diverted the world's attention, and the situation in Afghanistan started to deteriorate.

Now it appears that both Iraq and Afghanistan have become real life training grounds for the terrorists the President said he was going to get rid of, and the whole "flypaper" theory that we're fighting them there so they wouldn't attack elsewhere was proven stupid by the Madrid and London attacks. That is, Bush's wars have made things worse, not better. It would be amusing, if it weren't so damned sad and serious, that "close to anarchy" now describes
both of Bush's military adventures in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Lebanon burns.


"Much of the equipment could be useful to terroriststs"

From the AP via Yahoo courtesy of AlterNet:

Undercover government investigators purchased sensitive surplus military equipment such as launcher mounts for shoulder-fired missiles and guided missile radar test sets from a Defense Department contractor.

Much of the equipment could be useful to terrorists, according to a draft report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

In June, two GAO investigators spent $1.1 million on such equipment at two excess property warehouses. Their purchases included several types of body armor inserts used by troops in
Iraq and Afghanistan, an all-band antenna used to track aircraft, and a digital signal converter used in naval surveillance.


Thousands of items that should have been destroyed were sold to the public, the report said. Much of the equipment was sold for pennies on the dollar.

Click here for the rest.

You know, what with the crazed chainsaw murderer from Canada a couple of years back being allowed through border security with his weapon, bloodied, in his baggage, the virtual lack of protections at chemical plants throughout the land, chronically unexamined cargo containers coming into the country through the ports, the clusterfuck hurricane evacuations in Louisiana and Texas last year, the week that it took for the Department of Homeland Security to respond to the post-Katrina flooding disaster in New Orleans, the reappropriation of security dollars from New York and other obvious targets to venues such as petting zoos and stamp museums, and now this mind boggling sale of high tech military equipment for super-cheap to people without any sort of clearance, I'm really starting to wonder what, if anything, the Bush administration is doing here at home to keep us safe from the very real threat of global terrorism. It is an irony, indeed, that so many Americans in 2004 voted for Bush because, despite his total failure in Iraq, they felt safer with him at the helm. Of course, there isn't such a thing as irony anymore; the Republicans killed it shortly after 9/11. It was replaced by the simple maxim well articulated a while ago on the Senate floor by Vice President Cheney to Senator Patrick Leahy, "Go fuck yourself."

We've been lucky so far that there have been no terrorist attacks since the WTC was hit. But I'm sure it's bound to happen again eventually, especially because it appears that the White House's only strategy for homeland security is to violate civil liberties. That is, it's pretty hard for me to think that they don't want another attack. And when that happens, you can bet your booty that the Republicans will use it as an excuse to amass more power: "You see? We told you that terrorists are bad. Now line up to have your computer chip implanted."

Christ, it's like the whole fucking country's on acid.


Friday, July 21, 2006

Dan Quayle won't listen to John Mellencamp bash Bush

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

The former vice president, miffed about a comment made by Mellencamp about Pres. Bush's administration, walked out of the singer's July 14 show at Harvey's Lake Tahoe Casino in Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Mellencamp, unaware that Quayle was in the audience, introduced the song Walk Tall by saying, "This next one is for all the poor people who've been ignored by the current administration."

Click here for the rest.

Weird. Did Quayle wander into the wrong casino or something? What was he expecting? My estimate is that something like a third of all John Cougar's radio hits are laced with images and themes of a meaningless and desolate America, with its working class left behind by the winner-take-all economic policies of the Reagan era. That is, to anybody who has been listening for the last quarter century or so, Mr. Mellencamp is obviously no friend of the Conservative Movement. Hasn't Quayle ever heard "The Authority Song" or "Pink Houses" or "Jack and Diane?" I bet he doesn't listen to the lyrics, figuring JCM as some sort of greasier Elvis for the new millenium. But then, this is the guy who got all pissed about fictional TV character Murphy Brown having a child out of wedlock, the guy who spelled "potato" incorrectly on a chalkboard when speaking to some elementary school students. Yeah, he's still an idiot.

Here are the lyrics to one of my favorites:

Pink Houses

There's a black man with a black cat
Living in a black neighborhood
He's got an interstate runnin' through his front yard
You know, he thinks that he's got it so good
And theres a woman in the kitchen cleanin' up the evening slop
And he looks at her and says:
hey darling, I can remember when you could stop a clock

Oh but ain't that america for you and me
Ain't that america we're something to see baby
Ain't that america, home of the free
Little pink houses for you and me

Well there's a young man in a t-shirt
Listening to a rockin' rollin' station
He's got a greasy hair, greasy smile
He says: lord, this must be my destination
cuz they told me, when I was younger
Boy, you're gonna be president
But just like everyting else, those old crazy dreams
Just kinda came and went

Oh but ain't that america for you and me
Ain't that america we're something to see baby
Ain't that america, home of the free
Little pink houses for you and me

Well there's people and more people
What do they know know know
Go to work in some high rise
And vacation down at the gulf of mexico
Ohhh yeah
And there's winners, and there's losers
But they ain't no big deal
cuz the simple man baby pays for the thrills,
The bills and the pills that kill

Oh but ain't that america for you and me
Ain't that america we're something to see baby
Ain't that america, home of the free
Little pink houses for you and me

Check out the video here via YouTube.







Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging!


Employee Loyalty Is for Chumps

So it's been big news for a week or two, that famed telephone recording of a fed-up America Online customer trying unsuccessfully to cancel his account, but just in case you haven't noticed, here's some background.

From Philadelphia's

On Tape: Rep Won't Let Customer Quit AOL

An incredible video from CNBC shows an AOL customer trying to cancel his account, but a phone rep won't let him do it. What customer Vincent Ferrari got when he tried to cancel his account was a lot of frustration.

It took him 15 minutes waiting on the phone just to reach a real, live person.

And, what happened next was recorded by Ferrari on audio and lasted about four minutes


He recounts how the AOL representative - as a last resort even asked if his dad was home.

"I think I could've put up with everything, but at the point when he asked to speak to my father, I came very close to losing it at that point," said the 30-year-old Ferrari.

Ferrari then posted the call online, and the response was tremendous.

AOL sent him an apology and said the customer service rep was no longer with the company.

Click here for some segments of the call's transcript; click here for streaming video, including audio of same segments, with onscreen text.

Obviously, the caller was treated like total crap, which was the angle played up about the story in the news. Like I said, obvious. What's not so obvious is why anybody with a heart ought to have some sympathy for the sacked customer service guy. Implicit in AOL's apology and employee dismissal is the suggestion that AOL doesn't really do business that way, that this was all due to an overzealous phone rep, or a stupid phone rep, something like that. But that's just not true. That is how AOL does business. There's no need for me to go into my own personal experiences with the internet giant, but suffice it to say, AOL sucks, and lots of people know it. I feel pretty certain that stonewalling and railroading customers who make trouble, and by "make trouble" I mean "insist that AOL follows the terms of the service contract," is company policy. Consequently, the AOL phone guy was made a scapegoat for doing just as he was told.

So, there's a real lesson in all of this. In this corporate dominated era in which we live, in this time of "globalism," employees are completely expendable. As if the continued hemorrhaging from all this downsizing and outsourcing didn't make that plain already. Do your job wrong, get fired. Do your job right, get fired. We simply don't matter to them: why should they matter to us? Company loyalty is for chumps. All a worker owes his employer is the work for which he is paid. Nothing else. Not "hard" work, just work. Not excitement, not overtime, not trust, not a pleasant attitude, not friendship. Just the work. Believe me, that's their attitude toward you, and you're a fool if you think otherwise. You're not on "the team." You never were.

I didn't ask for this philosophy, and I don't really like having to live my life this way either. But I was never given a choice. Employee disposability was rammed down our throats years ago; it only seems natural for workers to devalue their employers in the same way.



First, a little bit on the comedian--you may have seen his show on HBO. From Wikipedia:

Ali G

Ali G is a satirical comic character invented and played by the British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.

Ali G first appeared on Channel 4's Eleven O'Clock show as the "voice of da youth". He interviewed various public figures in the United Kingdom, who, too scared to appear "uncool", were completely fooled by his idiosyncratic interview technique, based mostly on the simple stratagem of pretending to be stupid.

One particularly memorable interview was with a fashion designer. Ali G suggested that the Wonderbra should be banned as it misleads men into thinking that a woman's breasts are larger than they are; he retold a story of having been disappointed when a girl he had "pulled" proved to have been wearing a Wonderbra. He also asked his interviewee if he was pleased Gianni Versace was killed, because it meant less competition, and he suggested that he'd heard a rumour that Calvin Klein did it. (This was a clear satire on the feuding which followed the deaths of the american rappers Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G., where it was thought to be the work of rival music producer Suge Knight).


Ali G can also be seen as a commentary on the adoption of American black street culture by both non-Americans and non-blacks. Because Baron Cohen is a middle-class, Cambridge University-educated Jewish actor portraying a suburban, presumably middle-class Briton of undetermined extraction who is, in turn, styling himself on American street life, the show maintains a certain Victor/Victoria quality. To many critics, Ali G is not satirising black urban culture, but those non-blacks and non-urbanites who appropriate it. Ali G's behaviour and clothing also parodies the UK junglist subculture of drum & bass listeners, and has many similarities to hip-hop culture. There are indications that his portrayal also typifies the UK chav subculture.

Click here for the rest.

I dare say that drum and bass listeners have had this coming for years. But I digress.

This guy's pretty damned funny in both a Spinaltap and Andy Kaufman kind of way. That is, like the film This Is Spinaltap, his humor is improvised, so there's a guerilla theater aspect to his work, and his character is over-the-top stupid, which is always good for a few laughs. On the other hand, like Kaufman, Cohen's material absolutely depends on his victims having no idea what's really going on--Kaufman generally preyed on his audiences; Cohen assaults his interview subjects. I suppose that Candid Camera was really the first to do this kind of thing, but the people Ali G interviews appear to be carefully chosen for their fame and public esteem, unlike the ordinary people taken for a ride by Allen Funt--this, I think, tends to give his comedy a sort of class consciousness.

At any rate, he makes me laugh, and the multiple levels of meaning he plays with engage me intellectually. Go check out, via Throw Away Your TV, his utterly retarded discussion of linguistics with Noam Chomsky here.

Yo, respect!