As the scudding day passed overhead the dingy windows glowed and faded in ghostly retrograde. A car passed along the road outside, laboring in the sand, died away. Dilsey sat bolt upright, her hand on Ben's knee. Two tears slid down her fallen cheeks, in and out of the myriad coruscations of immolation and abnegation and time. ~William Faulker, from The Sound and the Fury
It started with a vegetable cart.That's not too difficult to imagine, especially if you reside in most major US cities where fruit vendors roam sooty streets, hocking sliced pineapple and kiwi guarded behind scratched plastic glass and bedded on ice chips.
It started as the people of Tunis shrugged off sleep and rolled from their beds or couches or cots, many of them headed to jobs for which they were over qualified, some of them looking forward to a day of worrisome unemployment, a few off to municipal jobs in the country that, on the World Democracy Audit, ranked number 133 out of 150 on “Freedom of Press,” a category more important than “Political Rights” and “Civil Liberties” combined; if the public doesn’t hear it, how does it make a sound?
It started on what was probably a typical December morning, probably bright and not without hope…
Except for Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old Tunisian street vendor who reportedly sold fruits and vegetables illegally out of a wheelbarrow that was confiscated by police on more than one occasion, but for the final time on December 17 of last year.
From this point, the truth of events depends on which story you believe.Either Bouazizi became ashamed because he lacked the funds to bribe police; or he was slapped and humiliated by a female officer and ignored by a local governor to whom he went to complain; or some combination of those convoluted accounts caused Bouazizi to logon to his Facebook page where he allegedly wrote the following (translated from Arabic):
"I'm traveling, mother. Forgive me. Reproach and blame is not going to be helpful. I'm lost and it's out of my hands. Forgive me if I didn't do as you told me and disobeyed you. Blame our time. Don't blame me. I am now going and I will not be coming back. Notice I haven't cried and no tears have fallen from my eyes. There is no more room for reproach or blame in the age of treachery in the People's land. I'm not feeling normal and not in my right state. I'm traveling and I ask who leads the travel to forget."
It's well enough written that I'm tempted to "Like" it on Facebook; I figure if someone has the keen sense of irony to write "Blame our time" in a suicide note posted on Facebook, that irony deserves to be acknowledged and "Liked."
Depending on which account you believe next, Bouazizi gathered gasoline or paint thinner, poured either over himself, asked Allah for a light and ignited his body.He went up in orange flames the same hue as Tunisia’s Corruption Perception on the 2010 Transparency International Index.He was hospitalized for two and a half weeks before his life expired, shortly after which the government of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali expired as well under protests incited by the sacrifice of Mohamed Bouazizi.
Bouazizi’s death was meaningful and, if we believe he wrote that Facebook status update, intended to be a public statement of reproach against the despotic government.After his death, Bouazizi’s brother, Salem, told reporters, “My brother has become a symbol of resistance in the Arab world. We suffered very miserable conditions but now we are very satisfied that after my brother's death, the dictator is dead.”
Bouazizi’s self-immolation has sparked numerous copycat acts across Northern Africa.On Monday, men from Egypt and Mauritania were the fifth and sixth in the region to burn themselves.“On Tuesday, security officials in Cairo said another man, seemingly inspired by events in Tunisia, set himself on fire outside the prime minister's office in Cairo, while another Egyptian, 25 years old and unemployed, did the same on the roof of his building in Alexandria. The Alexandria man, Ahmed Hashem El Sayyid, died of his burns after being rushed to a hospital in critical condition,” the New York Times reported.
The single act of self-immolation on December 17, 2010 has been a far more effective tool at incitingmassive government change (on top of years of oppression) than acts such as suicide bombing.Not only does it appeal to the pathos of citizens as the ultimate sacrifice (Bouazizi won’t get virgins in the afterlife; he’ll continue to burn) to inspire uprising, it does so with arbitrary frequency and location that governments cannot control.
The irregular occurrences cause a greater worry for those in places of power, those supposedly backed by EU and US money and aid.The ongoing unknown is much more terrifying than a frontal attack.
The idea is similar to what Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner write in Superfreakonomics when discussing how the terrorist attacks of 9/11 could have been much, much worse:
“Imagine that the nineteen hijackers…had instead spread themselves around the country, nineteen men with nineteen rifles in nineteen cars, each of them driving to a new spot every day and shooting random people at gas stations and schools and restaurants.Had the nineteen of them synchronized their actions, they would have effectively set off a nationwide time bomb every day.They would have been hard to catch, and even if one of them was caught, the other eighteen would carry on.The entire country would have been brought to its knees.”
I sat down to write this with a single question: why self-immolation?If you are rock-bottom, if the police took your livelihood, if you can’t feed your family, if you’ve been disgraced in public, why torture yourself before your death?When planning suicide, most people take the route that will be most painless.Not Mohamed Bouazizi.Not the at least ten copycat immolations since.
The conclusion has to be political.Bouazizi poured flammable liquid on to his body and set himself ablaze with the full intention that is actions would incite an uprising.Clearly this is conjecture.However, if that guess is truth, Bouazizi had enormous faith – not in a supreme being, but in his friends, his family, his neighbors.If that is truth, Mohamed Bouazizi had faith in his country.
Did you catch the show last night? Although he has continued to fiddle with the teleprompter in the garage and at the occasional White House Correspondents Dinner, President Barack Obama hasn't been on tour for over two years. But last night in Tuscon, he pretty much killed it.
Seriously a hell of a show. The University of Arizona's basketball arena, the McKale Memorial Center, in Tucson was an Octomom kind of gravid with so many fans, the University had to open their football stadium to accommodate those that couldn't get in to see the live show.
Everyone who's anyone in Arizona politics was there including: Secretary of State Ken Bennett, House Speaker Kirk Adams, Senate President Russell Pearce, and House Minority Leader Chad Campbell. Washington politicians from around the nation also flew in for the show, with the notable exception of Speaker of the House John Boehner, who had previously promised to get drunk.
The program was well planned. The t-shirts are awesome. The The Tucson Symphony Orchestra kicked things off before hand, warming the crowd up with a rendition of "Amazing Grace" and continued to perform during the event. On stage before the main act were Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who jammed about how the swift actions of congressional intern David Hernandez saved Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' life, and Hernandez himself took the stage to demur at the title of "Hero," giving the credit, instead to first responders at the horrific shooting in Tucson last Saturday, which killed 6 people and wounded 14.
"We must reject the title of hero and reserve it for those who deserve it," said Hernandez.
However, when the headliner President Obama took the stage, he refused to accept Hernandez's dismissal of bravery.
As reported by the White House transcript of the show (that honestly kept in the applause notes), the President riffed: "And, Daniel, I'm sorry, you may deny it, but we've decided you are a hero because - (applause) - you ran through the chaos to minister to your boss, and tended to her wounds and helped keep her alive. (Applause.)" Then there was a drum solo.
Obama finished in classic fashion, expertly nailing the anaphora to which we sold our hearts three years ago.
"If there are rain puddles in Heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on this Earth -- here on this Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and we commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit. May God bless and keep those we've lost in restful and eternal peace. May He love and watch over the survivors. And may He bless the United States of America."
Instant classic. Reminded me of the poignancy of his early work like "Democratic National Convention 2004."
The show was without encore, but if this President of the United States thing doesn't work out, Phish and Widespread Panic are going to have some serious competition in the vagabond fan area when Barack Obama gets the band back together, loads up the Greyhound and sets out on the tour fields of this great country.
I could stop there, and I will, but only with the concert review charade. No matter if you think President Obama's speech was too showy, too much like a pep rally, too exploitative, his message, not his presence and his performance, but his message was dead on.
He memorialized those that were lost during the tragedy. But then he flipped the switch to remind us what was important: a foundation. Were we to point fingers at parties or specific folks like Sarah Palin, we risk destroying that foundation. If comedy news shows want to blast republicans for their absurd behavior, they should equally blast the left for the recent shitballs of blame thrown at Sarah Palin.
As Obama said, we have no idea what were the motives of the disturbed 22-year-old man that caused the death and suffering last Saturday. If you think they were the maps with the crosshairs on the districts of congress members that voted for healthcare reform, you might be as insane as he; it doesn't make sense for someone in a demographic that largely supports Obama to attack support for a bill that will give him guaranteed health coverage under his parents for the next four years.
It's callous and absurd to hail recriminations. This tragedy, albeit political, shouldn't be used politically by anyone.
President Barack Obama held a press conference this week to talk about the agreement he’d come to with Republican leaders regarding the continuation of the Bush Tax Cuts, not just for the middle class, but also for Americans making over two-hundred and fifty grand a year. Towards the end of the conference, as he took questions, the President’s tone slipped from patience into incredulity when the press corps (and Democrats soon to follow) couldn’t, for some ungodly reason, comprehend why the agreement he’d made is what’s best for everyone – unemployment benefits would continue and the capital gains tax would remain low – politically, at least.
When a reporter asked if he was “rewarding Republican obstruction,” Obama threw up his hands in frustration, “I said before the middle class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high end tax cuts. I think it's tempting not to negotiate with hostage taker, unless the hostage gets harmed. Then people will question the wisdom of that strategy.” Obama even temporarily derailed, screaming at the journalists before him, “Blue Steel, Ferrari, The Tea Party? They’re the same thing! Doesn’t anyone notice this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”
That’s when I realized I’d sat on my remote and had changed the channel to TBS where they were running the movie “Zoolander,” starring Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell, and Obama had not actually said that at all.
Still, I thought, switching back to Fox News, the rant didn't seem out of place.
Everything throughout the next two days pointed to a bipartisan displeasure with Obama.Sarah Palin re-Tweeted @HeyTammyBruce who said, “Hey liberals, so many of you are criticizing Obama these days. When did you all become racist? #justwondering”. (In addition to Sarah Palin, this was re-Tweeted by 100+ others.)
On NPR, Marty Kaplan, a former speechwriter and a USC professor said, “I'm hoping [Obama] will become the person who ran in 2008.”
Whether Obama does or not, I certainly feel like I’m taking crazy pills because people (Democrat or Republican or Libertarian or Green or Tea or Green Tea) getting upset with Obama for compromising is like people getting mad at a janitor for borrowing a mop from a cross-town rival school to clean up spilled chocolate milk in the cafeteria.Just let him get the goddam milk off the goddam floor.
“This country was founded on compromise,” the President said near the end of his press conference. “My job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there; what is helping the American People live out their lives... At any given juncture, there are going to be times where my preferred option, where I am absolutely positive what is right, I can't get done... I'm keeping my eye on the long term and the long fight… Take a tally. Look at what I promised during the campaign. There's not a single thing that I said that I would do that I have not either done or tried to do. And if I haven't gotten it done yet, I'm still trying to do it.
“To my Democratic friends, let's make sure we understand this as a long game and not a short game. And to my Republican friends, I think this is a good agreement because I know they're swallowing some things they don't like as well.”
After that, the U.S. President left the podium to flashes and shouted questions whose askers knew they’d never get answers.One question bested all others for its abject illogical, untimely placement.
A reporter waited until everyone was quiet and the door was slowly swinging closed behind Mr. Obama before she erupted like she was announcing a Big Foot sighting. She screamed, simply, “JULIAN ASSANGE.” And the door shut.
The most accurate analogy wrought (and wrought by many) from the Wikileaks release of a quarter-million confidential U.S. cables to foreign countries is that which compares the compendium of correspondences to a veritable “burn book” and those at either end of the cables to players in the Tina Fey film “Mean Girls.”This proves a point I’ve been trying to prove for a while: you can take the high school cheerleader out of the diplomat, but you can’t take the diplomat out of the high school girl.
You also can’t take graduate America from the halls of the great High School of Liberty.Pay no attention to the lives that might be at risk by the release of confidential dealings.What about the lives that may be at risk when Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi finds out he’s know as “strange” and accompanied by voluptuous blonde Ukranian “nurse.”And Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan learns he pals around with “a cabal of incompetent advisors.”
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is “politically and physically weak” and has a hell of a lot of sex; French President Nicolas Sarkozy is “thin-skinned” and very rude (surprise, surprise);German Chancellor Angela Merkel is “rarely expresses emotions and generally arrogant” – which is socking since Germans are world renowned for their flashy smiles and demonstrative outpouring of sympathy.
We might as well just toss every familiar stereotype out there: Mexican President Felipe Calderón enjoys taking siestas and selling oranges at the intersection of La Brea and Wilshire; Naoto Kan, the Prime Minister of Japan is really good at math and the one to go to when you need to figure out the tip at the G8 dinner or cheat on your Federal Budget; the Australian leader, Julia Gillard, drinks a lot and starts bar fights at every state dinner; and South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak, is probably the nicest guy in the Eastern Hemisphere, but never ever let him borrow your car unless you’re insured up to your eyeballs.
Today CNN reported on a story that they titled, “Iran: No Friends?” in which the cable news channel explained, based on the information found in the Wikileak cables, the leaders of Arab nations simply do not get along.Someone high-up in the parliament in Jordan said that the dialogue with Iran will go nowhere, adding, “Bomb Iran or live with a nuclear Iran.”
Iran is such a dork.I don’t even know why they try to sit at our table at lunch.Don’t they know no one likes them?Why would they want to sit with people who don’t like them?They should probably just do everyone a favor and nuke themselves.I smell a killer episode of “Glee!”
I wonder who is going to guest star as “The Jester,” the hacktivist who threatened to attack Wikileaks claiming its leak of cables would endanger US troops.Probably Kevin Spacey; he’s been looking for an excuse to do a muscal number.
The leaks are entertaining for their gossip, but they at interesting because, read closely, it seems that the nations of the Middle East are not so much at odds with each other as they are at odds over how to keep the United States fighting.
Jon Stewart put it most aptly, and most over the heads of his audience on last nights Daily Show, “If we give them money for oil, that allows them to buy weapons from us, with a little left over to fund terrorist groups that we must then send our military over to fight, which costs a lot of money in fuel, which we buy from them.It’s like we’re the commissionless middleman in a war we’re waging on ourselves.”
For this, and other reasons, the leaks have cause a good deal of commotion and concern over the state of our national security – not just based on the information in the cables, but based on the fact that the U.S. government could not prevent them from being leaked.
The ever adept former Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, went so far as to point out over Twitter, “Inexplicable: I recently won in court to stop my book ‘America by Heart’ from being leaked,but US Govt can't stop Wikileaks' treasonous act?”
It’s presently unclear where Sarah Palin earned her law degree and so quickly, but it clearly was not at a school where they taught the difference between copyright infringement and international espionage – although, undoubtedly, Judge Judy handles both kinds of cases.
Truly, we should feel at ease knowing that our government knows quite a lot about what is going on in the region, even if they are, as it would seem, unwilling to take the steps that seem so obvious and necessary to those who read the out-of-context-semi-redacted cables for the first time.
What should concern us is that people will take the Wikileaks cables for more than what they are: entertainment.
Sometimes the right thing to say is nothing at all.Regardless of what the First Amendment grants, many responsible news agencies take care to withhold information that may (even if that chance is small) endanger government operations or lives.The New York Times, for example, reported, “After consultations with the State Department, [the paper] has withheld from articles and removed from documents it is posting online the names of some people who spoke privately to diplomats and might be at risk if they were publicly identified.
Wikileaks has no such ethics at its disposal, as a simple entity that is “dedicated to government transparency.”What the website is dedicated to is dedicated to is power.It’s important to remember.
Also, we should remember, as the White House said, that reports often include “candid and often incomplete information” whose disclosure could “deeply impact not only U.S. foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world.”
Just like that time when Lacey Chabert’s character called Amanda Seyfried’s character, but Lindsay Lohan’s character was also on 3-way and Amanda told Lacey what a bitch Lindsay was and it totally got blown all out of proportion and then Rachael McAdams’ character bombed Iran.
They taught you about Joe Camel.They taught you that he was a ploy to get kids into smoking, young kids, I suppose, since the irony of walking around with an ugly, inbred, cartoon human-camel amalgamation on your chest can only get you laid so many times.When I was in middle school they taught us that the cigarette companies were clever; not only did they place the warnings in the least noticeable place on the cigarette pack, they organized the words in such a way that linking smoking to unhealthiness at first glance was unlikely.
For example, in these labels,
the word “Smoking” was intentionally left on a different line than the action’s deadly effects.Further, what Stan Gantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco and a leading anti-smoking crusader, explains is that these labels are intentionally difficult to read; in fact, they take a high level of reading comprehension to even understand.Combine that with an effort to try to get kids addicted early and it’s like explaining in German the safety functions of an M-16 to an 8-year-old from Mobile, Alabama.
Federal health officials now seem to have a solution to this problem that mimics measures taken by other countries: shocking warning labels.
France and Canada have labels that are easier to read and cut straight to the point.They say, “FUMER TUE.” Smoking Kills.Other countries have implemented warnings that include graphic photos either of what smoking can do to a body or, the more theatrical and post-modern, body cavities actually used as ashtrays like this one from Brazil:
Today, heath officials unveiled a number of possibilities for their new warning labels.Everything from a person dying of cancer,
to a person in a coffin, presumably dead from smoking,
to an ashtray beside a baby’s pacifier, a lighter, a stack of magazines and what looks like cracker crumbs and the wet residue from a beverage that suggests, I suppose, this person exposes their baby to smoking, drinking, heroin addiction and rear-facing car-seats.
According to the Washington Post, “The new warnings, which will mark the first replacement of warnings that cigarette packs began carrying 25 years ago, will cover half the front and back of each pack and 20 percent of the top of each ad.”
Essentially, I find the new warnings to be a step in the right direction.Personally, I’ve never been tempted to smoke by advertisements nor dissuaded from smoking by warning labels.I take up no judgment when someone lights up in my presence.However, if we do want to attenuate or eliminate smoking in America, these warnings are not a large enough step in the right direction.
Perhaps this is a necessarily small effort now that will help the measure pass congress around pressure from the tobacco lobbyists.But, if we want smoking to cease, we need to either get where Brazil is, or further, or start punching people in the face as they bring a lighter or match to the white stick hanging from their lips.
Regardless, anything we have is better than India where, as Mr. Gantz tells us, they use a picture of a crab as a health warning on a pack of cigarettes.The crab, as good horoscope reader knows, is the symbol for cancer.So, smoke a pack of cigs and you’ll either cough up blood or enjoy a delicious appetizer from the raw bar.
President Barack Obama is spending all of our TARP and stimulus and social security and education funds gallivanting with 3,000 of his closest terrorist friends around East Asia.While in India, he will visit a mosque to pray to Allah and help plot the next attack on the country that provided him the opportunity to prosper with his family and the opportunity to help millions of his fellow citizens try to reach the same fortune. Before leaving from Japan to head back to Washington, the U.S. President will find time to burn down some playgrounds and perform a few puppy lobotomies to create a new strain of zombie puppies that will slowly spread their virulent zombie ways across the globe until the cute, cuddly, playful little creatures that we have grown to love in hole-punched cardboard boxes on Christmas morning leap from out their red and green and gold bow-covered packaging to gnaw at the face of capitalism as represented by our blonde eight-year-old, her excitement for this moment unable to be contained for even a breath before running, almost stumbling with anticipation down the stairs of our four bedroom, three-and-a-half bathroom suburban house, still dressed in her jammies, only to be the first victim of our Infidel Western Lifestyle mangled into unrecognizable horror by our American President and the new radical Muslim friends he made on his tax-payer funded trip to India, Indonesia and beyond.
Or so Rush Limbaugh, Michele Bachmann and the brain trust over at Fox News would have you think, as they hail incredulity into the American Political conversation.Bachmann went on AC 360 last week and expressed outrage that “the President of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day.He's taking two thousand people with him. He'll be renting out over 870 rooms in India. And these are 5-star hotel rooms at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. This is the kind of over-the-top spending, it's a very small example.”
(Talking Points Memo noted that the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel “only has 560 rooms including 44 suites, according to its website.”)
This claim, it might come as no surprise, is based on more or less nothing; Obama’s visit to Asia is highly secure, which would mean that very little even superficial information on travel plans, companions and itineraries would be made public.And, yet, here we are: listening to absurd claims that Obama is going to bankrupt the nation by taking a “vacation.”
The left is just as guilty as the right, it seems, in the politically absurd.Earlier this week, Sarah Palin swung back when a story in Politico cited anonymous Republican sources that suggested a 2012 Palin run at the presidency could end in disaster.
“I suppose I could play their immature, unprofessional, waste-of-time game, too, by claiming these reporters and politicos are homophobe, child molesting, tax evading, anti-dentite, puppy-kicking, chain smoking porn producers…really, they are… I’ve seen it myself,” Palin helpfully pointed out in a letter to the Daily Caller.“But I’ll only give you the information off-the-record, on deep, deep background; attribute these ‘facts’ to an ‘anonymous source’ and I’ll give you more.”
I’ve seen it to, but, to be fair, you can’t produce good porn unless you’re high on fags and insulting dentists at every opportunity.(Palin lives in a world where “Seinfeld” was a show about four socially inept friends living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan who, at some point or another, stopped being polite and started being real.Fantastic.)
Outrageous claims would be next to hilarious if they weren’t so dangerous.Did you hear the one about how Republican’s added 151,000 American jobs in October 2010, just three days after winning a majority in the House of Representatives and gaining six seats in the U.S. Senate?
Stop yelling.Ok.Fine.No one really claimed that…yet.But I don’t think the suggestion that they might, that in two years – although the Obama administration will have had worked tirelessly to get the unemployment rate down to something reasonable like seven percent following the financial disaster that began with Clinton, translated into Bush and peaked with the nadir of the housing market and the financial sector bust in 2007 and 2008 – certain Republicans will claw their ways to victory based on the work of their opponents and that we, we the gullible people, will believe, as reactively as we always believe, that things will be better, that the system will change if we swing back to the other side away from the porn producers and child molesters.
Unfortunately, the more entertaining politics becomes, the more insane politics becomes.Saying Obama is spending $200 million a day on a trip and abusing the protection of 34 Navy vessels, including an aircraft carrier is great television; but those bedtime stories aren’t helping industrial plants in Ohio stay open anymore than witchcraft helped Christine O’Donnell coast to victory in her senatorial campaign.
Fact is that we should look at Obama’s Asian invasion as an investment, no matter the cost.Not only could the nascent economy of the recently ravaged country prove to be key for future trade, the U.S. is in something of a war with China for the heart of the Indonesian people.
As Professor Dewi Fortuna Anwar, Deputy (Political Affairs) to Indonesia's Vice President, put it, “At the moment there are more Indonesian students studying in China than there're going to the United States...If the United States does not take care, they are going to lose a lot of social capital.”
If the goal in U.S. politics is to tell the craziest story that people will believe, we might as well tell the tale of how India had workers remove all of the deadliest coconuts from trees surrounding the city’s Ghandi Museum… Oh.Shit.Sorry.That one’s actually true.
It happened again last night, like it always does on election days.A six-foot, four-inch overweight gentleman with dark curly hair and a worn navy blue Dave Matthews Band tour t-shirt stood a warm stony breath behind my chair at Pineapple Hill pub in Sherman Oaks, California and leaned in to check out election coverage on MSNBC and tell all of the corner of the bar, through sloppy lips, that he watches Jon Stewart a lot and Jon said that this republican swing would happen and it isn’t as dramatic a change as everyone is frantically pretending it is.
There’s a theme here, I think, and one I’m not entirely comfortable embracing.This metaphorical mule of a man continues to lean over bars during election nights because we are in Los Angeles, an overwhelmingly Democratic area.Most people at the bar speak of the Democratic candidates in personal terms, like they’re speaking of the LA Lakers.
“We lost too many seats tonight to get anything done in the next two years.”
“They ran a dirtier campaign than we did.”
“We should be happy we at least won governor and that Boxer held on.”
Look for a dissenting Republican opinion in Los Angeles, and especially in this bar, and you will be looking long into the night before you find someone willing to stand toe-to-toe with the guy in the DMB t-shirt and argue that we need to crack down on illegal immigration over the Mexican border by beginning to deport more of those who are in California without permission.The fact is, those opinions are certainly out there in LA, but most Republicans around here are too fearful to share because, with the attitude being as obstinate as it is, the fight isn’t worth the energy.And I think that’s a shame.
It’s a shame the way that it’s a shame there is this tacit assumption that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a leftist program.Given, many of those who watch the show are, indeed, democrats – in fact, a recent poll commissioned by the Hollywood Reporter found that “Daily Show host Stewart's viewers were, no surprise, largely Democrats who watched MSNBC and AMC, drank beer and were most likely to be married and Catholic.”
Be that as it may, that doesn’t mean The Daily Show’s segments espouse only Democratic values or ideas.As Daily Show creator Lizz Winstead once said in a radio interview, the show addresses absurdity in politics with no regard for the political party that is acting absurdly.It just so happens (and she said that during the Bush Administration) that Republicans coincidently behave more inanely than do Democrats.
If Jon Stewart – or anyone for that matter – claimed what the guy in the DMB shirt said he claimed, that the results of yesterdays elections, the swing back towards the right in the House and the Senate is not as apocalyptic as some are suggesting, then he is a) not a leftist host of a leftist show, and b) he’s correct.
Although our voting system is far from perfected, when it comes to congressional elections the system at least allows for proportional representation, where, as John Stuart (different one!) Mill said back in the day, there is a “government of the whole people by the whole people, equally represented,” rather than “government of the whole people by a mere majority of the people exclusively represented,” which is what we have with presidential elections.(I wanted to leave this in as well because I found it amusing: an article in The New Yorker pointed out that Mill wanted proportional representation because he was concerned for the minority of “superior intellects and characters,” who would be overwhelmed as more citizens got the vote.)
If the swing, then, is not detrimental to the nation, “we” all can calm down about losing or gaining seats in the House and Senate.“We” can feel free to share our Republican opinions because “we” ultimately all want the same thing: a road back to prosperity on a bus that is driven by anyone but Christine O’Donnell.
"The gentleman says: Learning should never cease…If the gentleman studies widely and each day examines himself, his wisdom will become clear and his conduct be without fault." ~ Hsün Tzu, Chinese Philosopher, Third Century B.C.
Seven and a half years later, the good news is we’re still trying to learn, even if we started a little late. While that’s undoubtedly so, with the recent withdrawal over the past few months of more than 90,000 troops from Iraq, one hopes we haven’t been trying to learn the wrong lesson, or for the wrong reasons.
Everything that’s happened in Iraq last month is predicated upon the premise that an elevated level of American involvement in the country has run its course and it is time to have it end. We know, and no one has claimed that the war went to one side or another – mostly because there are too many sides to count, and because no one knows what anything means yet.
If we’re to stipulate the latter point, this very well might be the most honest ending to a conflict throughout American history. We like to think wars finish with treaties signed in Paris or Geneva, but, even if American soldiers aren’t side-stepping rubble in Berlin, there is still much work to be done – and that never really ends. We are admitting that fact with Iraq.
Iraq certainly wasn’t the most honest war at the beginning, as most of us know, built on falsified (or at least false) intelligence about uranium, weapons of mass destruction, as well as the conjuring of Nazi ghosts. The disingenuous re-entry into Baghdad in 2003 soured many people on the war’s legitimacy, and then the infamous human rights violations at Abu Ghraib the following year cut into, not just the legitimacy of the war, but the overall morality of the U.S. Armed Forces.
However, without those two egregious notes – and the fact that this was a counterinsurgency battle – the Iraq War was not longer or more bloody or more horrible that any of the other wars America has fought. The American Civil War remains our most fatal conflict, and not merely because Americans died on both sides. In "A People’s History of the United States," Howard Zinn writes: Six hundred thousand "dead on both sides, in a population of 30 million – the equivalent, in the United States in 1978, with a population of 250 million, of 5 million dead."
Although begun upon files of lies, the Iraq War was not terribly unlike any of the other wars in American History, many of which we hold in esteem. The Civil War "freed the slaves," but that is not why the Civil War was fought. Again Howard Zinn: "The northern elite wanted economic expansion – free land, free labor, a free marker, a high protective tariff for manufacturers, a bank of the United States. The slave interest opposed all that; they saw Lincoln and the Republicans as making continuation of their pleasant and prosperous way of life impossible in the future."
Abraham Lincoln fought for the rich people in the northern states, he did not wage war for those held in bondage. He replied in a letter to Horace Greenley, editor of the New York Tribune, in 1862: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it."
After the American Civil War ended, the conflict between the blacks and whites of all of the United States, not just the south, could begin. It was not pretty, but could have been worse had the government not stepped in at times. Similarly, we’ve spent seven years since the Mission was Accomplished, trying to remedy that Accomplishment. And it would have been worse, no matter what the ladies dressed in pink at the back of every C-SPAN broadcast say, had American troops not stayed in Iraq.
Before March 19, 2003, Col. Alan Baldwin predicted that the American invasion of Iraq would lead to a "rolling civil war." He was right. He is also right that it is good that we stayed: "We opened Pandora’s box," he told the New York Times. "Lots of bad things were flying out of there. But good things are there now too. It’s amazing we had the patience to be where we are today."
It’s amazing that politicians in Washington had the patience to listen to, eventually, American soldiers like Col. Baldwin and not American citizens like Cindy Sheehan, who became a well publicized anti-war activist after her son died in Iraq. That’s not to undercut her loss or his sacrifice in anyway. It is to say that sometimes an emotional reaction can lead us to making the wrong decision. Getting out of Iraq in 2004 or 2005 would have been the wrong decision.
In September, President Barack Obama’s approval rating hit 50 percent. The reason, some believe, is American’s approve of the way he is handling Iraq, and sticking to his timeline.
"Obama's decision to remove combat troops from Iraq is very popular," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Only three in ten Americans say that the U.S. should still have combat troops in Iraq, with 28 percent saying that this is the right time to remove them and another four in ten thinking that should have happened before now."
I’m happy those who came home safely are home. But I do not believe that they should have come home sooner. No matter if we like the reasons for the war, or for anything that happens, what happened happened. If we would have left the people of Iraq without a (semi) functioning government, police force and army (all of which we disbanded or destroyed), if we would have allowed learning to cease in Baghdad, that would have been a great loss for Iraq and a great obscenity for America.
Right now I’m doing exactly what Glenn Beck wants: writing about Glenn Beck. Knowing that gives me pause during these first few sentences; I don’t want to give crazy any more attention than crazy deserves; but I also feel as though crazy shouldn’t be ignored like a petulant child, particularly if it is crazy for crazy’s sake. It seems appropriate, in a way then, to handle Glenn Beck much as one would handle a specimen in a chemistry lab or a patient in a hospital: objectively, academically, through the looking glass, so to speak, in pure, curious observation. After all, we need to find out what causes behavioral changes in such a creature. Please, grab a lab coat (they’re on your left when you enter), and join me as we plod the halls of the asylum, me leading the way with a syringe loaded with haloperidol – just in case.
Glenn Beck wasn’t popular until the campaign of 2008, when a black man was more likely than not about to win the election for President of the United States. Beck became more popular after he called the President of the United States a racist. He then compared pretty much everything – Al Gore, the UN, the Obama administration, Barack Obama – to either Nazis, Nazi Germany or Adolf Hitler. And Beck got more popular.
Lewis Black sums this up nicely:
Beck has apologized for some of the remarks, such as calling Obama a racist, saying last week on Fox News Sunday: "Of course I do (regret using the term racist)... ‘Racist,’ first of all, it shouldn't have been said. It was poorly said. I have a big fat mouth sometimes and I say things. That's just not the way people should behave. And it was not accurate. It is liberation theology that has shaped his world view."
That was a change from July 2009 to August 2010; Obama went from being a racist to being a follower of liberation theology.
Now. I can accept someone apologizing for his remarks. However, I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. I think if you apologize for your remarks it doesn’t take you 13 months to realize your remarks were fucking insane and need clarification. It takes maybe a week. Glenn Beck is up to something else. Something fishy.
If you watch Glenn Beck’s show daily, God loves you. But more than that. You realize that it’s not a news show, it’s not a political show, it’s a religious show. Glenn Beck has mysteriously gone from talking about Nazis to talking about God at every jump.
Here is a diatribe from yesterday’s Glenn Beck in which he is going on about the dangers of investing in gold:
"You’re in a house that is coming down all around you and [gold] is your protection? But if this [gold door frame] doesn’t work, what’s here? What’s on the other side of the doorframe? (Glenn steps onto a bright red square with a large "?" pasted on its top.) Nobody knows… Look, these problems (stocks, bonds, real estate, treasuries) are so big, and this (gold) isn’t enough protection. That’s why I’ve said, ‘Before you get to gold, turn to god.’ Because the only one that can really solve all of these things and the only one that can really protect us is firm reliance on divine providence. It is critical that America wakes up. Millions are still investing everything back here (in stocks), while some, like (George) Soros, know what’s coming and they’re standing in this door frame."
Of course, not 15 minutes later, this advertisement appears after Glenn Beck throws to commercial:
Don’t invest in gold, invest in God. (Don’t worry, I have my haloperidol ready.) Clearly this is an insane idea, even metaphorically. Growing the country, getting the economy on solid ground again will not come with God. I’m neither a theologian nor an economist, so let me use an example from high school American History since religious zealots are so eager to cite our Founding Fathers: Roger Williams, who came to American from England in 1631, was probably the most devoutly, purely religious man in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In fact, he was kicked out because he was too religious; he turned down a teaching position at the colony’s church because there was no separation of church and state – in other words, he didn’t think the state-appointed governor (John Winthrop) and assistants would punish those who broke the Ten Commandments. For his life Williams stayed close to God, he invested in God. But he also invested in a trading post, where he traded furs with the Narragansett, Pequot and other tribes.
Glenn Beck is nuzzling up to religion. I find his relationship with God curious. I find it worth closer inspection. This is a man whose book, "The Overton Window," was supposed to be nonfiction but was so full of fabrication, his publisher chose to release it as a work of fiction. I want to know what Glenn Beck wants with God.
If his goal is money, book sales, show ratings, fine, that’s innocuous enough. If his goal is self-help, life instruction, that’s fair enough as well; there are plenty of former drug and alcohol addicts who "found God" exactly as Glenn Beck did later in life and think they’re qualified to help other lost souls do the same.
I hope what Glenn Beck wants from God is mentioned above because the alternative is much more nefarious, much more dangerous for America and, perhaps, the world. If Glenn Beck wants to run for political office, God help us.
He's killing God. The words were repeated throughout the evening, whenever someone would ask, within earshot of the blonde hostess, what book was I reading. "The End of Faith," by Sam Harris. He's killing God.
The blonde hostess has never read the book, discerning, correctly more or less, only from the title that it is a denouncement of religion and therefore a denial of the godhead present at the core of each of the world's religions. The book’s message can be neatly summarized by something William Durant said over 60 years ago, and something that Harris repeats in his book: "Intolerance is the natural concomitant of strong faith; tolerance grows only when faith loses certainty; certainty is murderous."
Harris, himself says: "The only angels we need invoke are those of our better nature: reason, honesty, and love. The only demons we must fear are those that lurk inside every human mind: ignorance, hatred, greed, and faith, which is surely the devil's masterpiece."
The bold author and speaker hits a truculent precipice along his secular highway when it comes to the proposed mosque at Ground Zero in Manhattan. Harris says that building the mosque is, indeed, a First Amendment right. However, there is a fundamental problem with tolerance in Islam today and moderate Muslims, above all others, should see that that problem persists and should also understand why building a mosque at Ground Zero, while a right, is in bad taste.
The Bad Taste argument has been proposed by other less-than-conservatives such as Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, who last week wrote, "While no one objects to Japanese cultural centers, the idea of putting one up at Pearl Harbor would be offensive." (There, in fact, exists a Japanese cultural center just up the road from Pearl Harbor in Honolulu; given, it’s not set on the submerged U.S.S. Arizona.)
Theses points are by no means invalid and therein lies the conundrum; President Barack Obama was not beyond all reason, either, last week.
"I understand the emotions that this issue engenders," said the President. "The Ground Zero is indeed a hallowed ground. But let me be clear. As a citizen and as president I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community centre on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances."
It is indeed a conundrum. One that I can only wrap my head around if I attack from a personal level, a perspective at which those who lost family members and friends on September 11, 2001 must be experiencing.
Say someone murdered my family at my childhood home and then he immediately killed himself. Five years later, I still live there. Would I be opposed to the murderer’s family moving in next door or starting a lemonade stand on the corner? Yes. Undoubtedly. I would fight with fire and blade to stop that from happening.
But that is not what is happening at Ground Zero.
A 15-story mosque at Ground Zero is not my family’s murderers setting up a lemonade stand next to the place of my family’s murder. Neither is it people who condone the murder of my family doing the same. It is people who like to listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd, just like the murderer of my family did, setting up that lemonade stand. And, as much as that makes me miss my family, as much as that makes me want to break the Sweet Home Alabama boom boxes in the lemonade pushers' rectums, as much as I never will and never should forget, within me, rationally within me, I know it is not only illogical to hate them and disapprove their nascent lemonade business, I know my condemnation is Wrong.
At this point we need tolerance. That is what Harris argues, as well. Harris wants an end to faith, an end to faith-driven causes such as religion – Islam, Christianity, whatever – because he aims for an end to intolerance. However, if we end intolerance by ending faith, then we have nothing to tolerate. There is no fun in killing God.
Harris is right in one respect: intolerance begets intolerance. What, then, begets tolerance…
That is why they should build the mosque.
By definition, the term "ground zero" is terrifically interesting, simultaneously meaning "where it all began" and "the point of detonation" – or, in other words, "where it all ended." I find it horribly appropriate for the site in Lower Manhattan. Let Ground Zero, New York City not merely be the tragic place where it all ended. Let it also become the place where we began again.
Wedding season just got a little more fashionable, little more fabulous and a little bit fiercer. And just in time. This year, it’s going to be the best wedding season ever – not for the open bars and conga lines and shirtless men, but for the reactions of people so adamantly opposed to something that, immediately and directly, does not affect them at all – only what they think are their values.
Today, Federal Judge Vaughn Walker has the opportunity to make his decision to overturn California’s ban on gay marriage official. From his conclusion on Wednesday:
Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
One thoughtful woman commented on the decision to NPR: "If not allowing gays to marry is unconstitutional, why has it not been brought up until now?" As if, for the last 222 years, since the U.S. Constitution was ratified (or 131 years since California’s current constitution was adopted), through slavery, suffrage, economic hardships and war, the legislative branch of the United States government had nothing better to do than to sit and ponder, "There really aren’t enough show tunes played at weddings; I wonder why that is…"
Others disapproved on a legal basis. Proposition 8 was not unconstitutional, a single federal judge overturning the will of the people in a legal vote, now that is. The problem with this logic is thick and deep. Were the United States to take a vote in 1860, five years before Amendment 13 said, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction," it is likely (based on my vast historical, social and anthropological knowledge) a proposition ensuring slavery for the next 300 years would have found overwhelming support among United States citizens who were allowed to vote.
Judge Walker addressed this, as well, in his decision: That the majority of California voters supported Proposition 8 is irrelevant, as "fundamental rights may not be submitted to [a] vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections."
Regardless, votes and polls are so close, it makes little sense to restrict liberty based on their results. A California Field poll of registered voters last month found 51 percent support legalizing gay marriage with 42 percent opposed. While, according to the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 47 percent of Americans polled favor gay marriage while 50 percent are opposed.
And others repeat, soullessly, their moral objection that marriage is the sacred bond between a man and a woman, that gay marriage will destroy the American family (such an upstanding convention as it is), that children in America will suffer from confusion and will opt for hedonistic sodomy and will cause a run on glitter at every corner craft store in the nation.
Judge Walker had this to say on moral disapproval: "Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians. The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples."
As usual, the best reaction came from Fox News. On Thursday, the organization posted a hard-hitting, in-depth investigative piece – on celebrity Twitter reaction.
Tongue stabbing far into cheek, Fox News reported: "I am ecstatic that proposition 8 has been overturned in the state of California. This is an incredibly exciting and historical day and a big step towards equal rights for all," [Portia de Rossi] told Pop Tarts in a statement. They went on to post tweets from Kim Kardashian, Ricky Martin, Adam Lambert, Paris Hilton – causing eye-rolls across America, from Alabama to Montana. Those silly celebrities are at it again!
Starting today, wedding season swings fully into freak mode. Grab your hair product and leave your shirt and home and let’s go! Before it’s too late; there are warnings that these gay old times won’t last forever.
"Let's not lose sight of the fact that this case is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court," said Maggie Gallagher, chair of the National Organization for Marriage, "where the right of states to define marriage as being between one man and one woman will be affirmed."