Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Random Act of Kindness that Has Been My Life


That I had the incredible luck to be born into a country that has never known war or famine in my lifetime, a country insulated from the horrors of daily living endured by most of mankind. That I had the luck to be adopted into a comfortable middle-class family. The luck to go to school in safety, and not only graduate, but to be able to go past high school. The luck to meet a man who has been not only my great love, but my best friend, early in life, and to have lived almost my entire life with him in companionable equity, without fear of violence or enslavement or cruelty. To have had a child who is loving and forgiving and kind, and to have been able to raise her in safety, free of hardship and disease.

The luck that enables me to wake up every day without fear that I may be kidnapped, gang-raped, sold into slavery; to turn on a tap and get drinkable water, or turn on a stove and have cooking fire, instead of risking my life scrabbling for miles to find wood or a poisoned well. To take sanitation and sewerage for granted. To eat when I want. To be able to afford to live in a safe place. To be able to afford much more than this.

And thankful that I have the good sense to know that none of this has anything to do with my own deservingness as a human being, but rather the sheer random luck of the universe.

Because if we really got what we deserved, most of us would have a lot LESS, and for that reason alone we need to have "There but for the grace of God..." tattooed on each of our foreheads, and "Let he who is without sin..." on our chests---especially the Social Darwinists, Punishment-Heads, Christianist Dominionists, and Warmongers who have been trying so hard to transform my country into Afghanistan with advertising.

I'm thankful for things like forgiveness, and empathy, and inclusiveness, and love. And food. And drink. And for the internet, so I can share with you the menus created by Chef John Sharpe for his Native American Thanksgiving Feast.

Have a wonderful day.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Radical, Disguised

Revolutionary%20America,%201763-1783%20Button Via Angry Bear, and in, of all places, the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page, I discover that newly-elected Virginia senator Jim Webb has been nurturing the sentiments of a Eugene Debs:
The most important--and unfortunately the least debated--issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century...

This ever-widening divide is too often ignored or downplayed by its beneficiaries. A sense of entitlement has set in among elites, bordering on hubris. When I raised this issue with corporate leaders during the recent political campaign, I was met repeatedly with denials, and, from some, an overt lack of concern for those who are falling behind. A troubling arrogance is in the air among the nation's most fortunate. Some shrug off large-scale economic and social dislocations as the inevitable byproducts of the "rough road of capitalism." Others claim that it's the fault of the worker or the public education system, that the average American is simply not up to the international challenge, that our education system fails us, or that our workers have become spoiled by old notions of corporate paternalism.

Still others have gone so far as to argue that these divisions are the natural results of a competitive society. Furthermore, an unspoken insinuation seems to be inundating our national debate: Certain immigrant groups have the "right genetics" and thus are natural entrants to the "overclass," while others, as well as those who come from stock that has been here for 200 years and have not made it to the top, simply don't possess the necessary attributes...
He's raising the issues of racisim and discrimination here, at a time when government has been turning its back on the idea of affirmative action and even the idea that one social group remains at the bottom of the economic ladder because of, and solely because of, skin color and the historical baggage that color carries. Nowhere in our national dialogue on class have we been blinder, than to the obvious evidence that whites have been trying to escape blacks since the Southern Strategy, and that the resulting segregation has created an intractable economic and educational chasm between the races that continues to shame us all. And our history on this is so bowdlerized that we don't even know how advantage for whites at the expense of blacks was built into our most beloved entitlements from their inception in the 30's, 40's, and 50's. It takes a lot of courage for Webb to raise this issue in the current climate of Social Darwinism. But he knows that, to gain popular support, he must appeal to everone's bottom line ("this will hurt you, too!") before positioning it:
But the true challenge is for everyone to understand that the current economic divisions in society are harmful to our future. It should be the first order of business for the new Congress to begin addressing these divisions, and to work to bring true fairness back to economic life...
And now for the real coup de gras (bolding mine):
More troubling is this: If it remains unchecked, this bifurcation of opportunities and advantages along class lines has the potential to bring a period of political unrest.
He's talking about the ouster of political leaders, of course, but I think lurking in this statement is more: the possibility of real violence--mobs, riots, and tmass disregard for laws no longer seen as relevant. Most important and most amazing (for a machine political winner), Webb places this issue at the top of the American Hierarchy of Needs:
With this new Congress, and heading into an important presidential election in 2008, American workers have a chance to be heard in ways that have eluded them for more than a decade. Nothing is more important for the health of our society than to grant them the validity of their concerns. And our government leaders have no greater duty than to confront the growing unfairness in this age of globalization.
Like the shrewd union organizers of old, Webb knows that you can't overcome class barriers unless you overcome the divisive policies of an economic elite, and help people understand that their common interests as workers and human beings are more important than where they come from and the colors of their skin.

As Eugene Debs once said:
We are not going to destroy private property. We are going to establish private property -- all the private property necessary to house man, keep him in comfort, and satisfy his wants. Eighty percent of the people of the United States have no property. A few have got it all. They have dispossessed the people, and when we get into power, we will dispossess them. We will reduce the workday and give every man a chance. We will go to the parks, and we will have music, because we will have time to play music and desire to hear it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Planet of the Apes

God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages. ~Jacques Deval, Afin de vivre bel et bien

prbdI read Pride of Baghdad today, and had tears in my eyes when I fianlly put it down. I vaguely remembered the tale the book was based on, but it was so long ago that I'd forgotten most of it: in the earliest days of the American invasion of Iraq, 4 lions were driven from their cages when the bombing of the city destroyed the Baghdad Zoo. Mad with fear and hunger, they fled for days through that man-made hell before being discovered by American soldiers:
Tuesday, 22 April, 2003
US Troops Kill Baghdad Lions

Four starving lions which dug their way out of a Baghdad zoo have been shot dead by American soldiers, the military says.

Two of the big cats lunged for the US troops who then fired at them, one soldier said.

Sergeant Matthew Oliver said three lionesses and one male lion clawed their way out of their outdoor pen through a crumbling wall.
It's a beautiful book.
The depictions of the city in ruin are dreamily compelling. (UPDATE: The inestimable Elayne Riggs reminds me that I forgot to mention artist Niko Henrichon by name; this is his second work, but his future looks secure, judging by the quality of his work.)pride_65_72_colors
Writer Brian K. Vaughan made a deliberate decision to tell the story in the lions' voices as a way to get under the skin of a war-weary, atrocity-jaded audience:
What he wanted to do, Vaughan explains, was 'to tell a story about the suffering of Iraqi civilians'. But telling a realistic story about the suffering of Iraqi civilians would not, of itself, hit home sufficiently hard: 'It's weird. You can threaten and kill a baby in a movie, but put a dog in jeopardy and people will walk out. You make a more immediate connection to a giraffe than a person. It sounds psychotic, that you can feel more for an animal than a human.'
It doesn't sound psychotic to me. It sounds to me as if we have been excusing our torment of each other for so many thousands of years by dehumanizing each other, that we have finally arrived at a point where we can only feel pity for creatures that don't remind us of ourselves.

Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight. ~Albert Schweitzer

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Tell Donald It Was Only Business; I Always Liked Him


I’m listening to the vaunted press conference of George Bush that’s going on right now, and I’m guessing this will be remembered as one of the weirdest, most arrogant and bile-filled crankfests yet to spew out of the Whiner-in-Chief in the history of his presidency. Snark, snark, appreciative/nervous laughs from the gaggle, snark. Of course there’s the mandatory fake-humility of a call to bipartisanship, couched within a “fuck-you, Dems” remark about hanging on to his principles (as if he had any). His hubris and defensive bullying really knows no bounds.

But the real news is that this Yalie brat has finally given one of the architects of our poisonous foreign policy the heave ho, “after a series of thoughtful conversations”:
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the hard-driving and super-confident Pentagon boss who came to symbolize President Bush’s controversial Iraq policy, is resigning, President Bush announced today.
The president said he would nominate Robert Gates, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency and now president of Texas A & M University, to replace Mr. Rumsfeld.
While praising Mr. Rumsfeld as “a superb leader in a time of change,” Mr. Bush said both he and the departing secretary recognized the “value of a fresh perspective.”
Only days ago, Mr. Bush had voiced confidence in Mr. Rumsfeld, as he had consistently done since the start of his presidency. But Tuesday’s elections produced a furious reaction from the American public over a military campaign that has cost the lives of nearly 3,000 members of the armed forces and that many people of all political stripes have described as poorly managed.
Neither of these men has ever had a fucking “thoughtful conversation”. They’re both always too busy thinking about how to strong-arm their listeners into capitulation. But this albatross finally put on one too many extra pounds. The really delightful part is that it stands as a kind of victory for the much maligned and scapegoated CIA. The really amusing (in a gallows humor kind of way) thing about it is the number of false starts this professional suicide has had. In February 2005, after more than a year of demands, suggestions, and pleas from all corners that he resign, Rummy offered the revelation that he’d already tried twice to resign, in a scenario that was beginning to take on the Pacino-like flavor of The Godfather Part III:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says he twice offered President Bush his resignation during the height of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, but the president refused to accept it.
This didn’t settle the ingrate masses, who continued to demand somebody, somewhere, be held to account. So in April of this year, Bush had to step up and tell them to sit down and shutup:
"I have seen firsthand how Don relies upon our military commanders in the field and at the Pentagon to make decisions about how best to complete these missions" of fighting terrorists while simultaneously transforming the military, Bush said. "Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this critical period. He has my full support and deepest appreciation."
Full into the midterm elections, the noise of the great unwashed became so unbearable that Bush was forced into the hyberbolic frothing of the insane:
Now in its fourth year, the war in Iraq is the top issue in the election. Bush said he wanted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the top architect of the war, and Vice President Dick Cheney to remain with him until the end of his presidency.
"Both those men are doing fantastic jobs and I strongly support them," Bush said.
Fantastic! And this, right after the 3rd worst month for American war deaths since before mission accomplished! Not a good job, or a hard job, or the best job he can, but a fantastic job! Can a medal of freedom be far behind??

This is all just part of that lovable package we like to call George “Directions? We don’t need no stinkin’ directions!” W. Bush. The Chief Executive Screw-Up. The only leader of our country who was never a leader of our country. Why, it’s what he does! First it's:
...Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job.
Then it's:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Brown resigned Monday after coming under fire over his qualifications and for what critics call a bungled response to Hurricane Katrina's destruction.
You thought all that “stay the course” bushwa just meant he had a rod up his ass and not a clue. But really, he’s constantly adjusting…really.

After the fuckups.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Rocketship of Fools

foolsThis ran in the Times Online yesterday, and I haven't seen a whisper of it in the NYTimes:
THE SPECTRE of a nuclear race in the Middle East was raised yesterday when six Arab states announced that they were embarking on programmes to master atomic technology.

The move, which follows the failure by the West to curb Iran’s controversial nuclear programme, could see a rapid spread of nuclear reactors in one of the world’s most unstable regions, stretching from the Gulf to the Levant and into North Africa.

The countries involved were named by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. Tunisia and the UAE have also shown interest.

All want to build civilian nuclear energy programmes, as they are permitted to under international law. But the sudden rush to nuclear power has raised suspicions that the real intention is to acquire nuclear technology which could be used for the first Arab atomic bomb.
I blame the Bush administration for this. The casually arrogant way that Bush and his apparatchiks have castrated the American diplomatic culture, their blithe, hypocritical disregard of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaties, and their doofus stick-poking into Arab affairs masquerading as "policy" (hands off Lebanon, hands off Gaza, hands all over Iraq, rattle the swords at Syria as the CIA's latest disappeareds are dumped off in dungeons for some not-torture, and do a one-eighty on democracy when the result turns embarassing). I didn't need the NIE to tell me these long years of malfeasance and ineptitude were putting us, and the rest of the world, at greater risk.

In times like these, it's hard to invent anything as ridiculous as these real-life media vignettes building up to the perfect nightmare, but it's still possible (and desirable) to escape into fantasy.

Read the script of Dr. Strangelove:
Have you read much about the disarmament
talks, Major?

Well, I know they've been going on for
years, and they haven't gotten any place.

Not yet, Major. Not yet.

And I guess they won't until they agree to
let us inspect inside their country.

You're very naive, Major. Don't they say
they want disarmament?

Yes, sir. But so do we.

But we mean it because we are a peace-
loving country. Are they a peace-loving
country, Major.

I don't know, sir. But they're just as
anxious to avoid a nuclear war as we are.
War just doesn't make sense any more, for

But war doesn't make sense precisely because
the weapons can kill an entire country -- right?


(the prosecutor makes
his point)
Then don't you realize the Bomb gives us
Peace not War? And, if that's the case, I
ask you again: Why do they want disarmament?

Well, sir, like I said, for the same reasons
we do. I mean, all the experts say the most
likely way for War to start nowadays is by
an accident, or a mistake, or by some mentally
unbalanced person --
(lets his voice trail off)

MANDRAKE's discretion was unnecessary for it would never occur
to GENERAL RIPPER that anyone would think him mentally unbalanced.
Juxta, George Bush.


(Or: What's the Matter with Kansas, Part Infinitude)

best_caduceusHIPAA? We don't need no stinking HIPAA!!!
TOPEKA, Kan. - An abortion doctor plans to ask for an investigation of the state attorney general and Bill O'Reilly over comments by the Fox television host that he got information from Kansas abortion records, the doctor's attorneys said Saturday.

Dr. George Tiller said he will ask the Kansas Supreme Court on Monday to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and take possession of the records of 90 patients from two clinics.

Attorney General Phill Kline obtained the records recently after a two-year battle that prompted privacy concerns. He has said he sought the records to review them for evidence of possible crimes including rape and illegal abortions.
"Information"? No not just "information". We're not talking about faceless statistics; we're talking about individual women's and girls' medical records that O'Reilly is claiming to have specific knowledge of:
During a Friday night broadcast of "The O'Reilly Factor," the conservative host said a "source inside" told the show that Tiller performs late-term abortions when a patient is depressed, which O'Reilly deemed "executing babies."

O'Reilly also said his show has evidence that Tiller's clinic and another unnamed clinic have broken Kansas law by failing to report potential rapes with victims ages 10 to 15.
And how did this come to light? Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, a McCarthyesque witch hunter whose current re-election campaign seems to be floundering, was doing a little snorgling with one of the fascist megaphonies, no doubt in hopes that it might boost his sagging numbers:
Kline, an abortion opponent and Republican in a tight race with Democrat Paul Morrison, was interviewed by O'Reilly during the segment.

"Our information says that on almost every medical sheet - and obviously we have a source inside here - it says, 'depression,'" O'Reilly told Kline during the broadcast. "I don't know whether you have that information or not - I don't know - but that's what it says."
Whether or not the files in question were redacted, as the article indicates, does not mean that a reporter with a serious desire to find one of the patients couldn't do it with the information in the records. But with regard to liability:
It wasn't clear Saturday whether O'Reilly's source had broken state or federal laws by divulging patient information or whether O'Reilly or his staff had viewed any records themselves. A request to Fox in Washington to interview O'Reilly or someone associated with his show wasn't answered Saturday.
I'll bet. But this is what happens when the nation's power-mongers and state-religionists ally to demonize other people's morality. Still, according to my understanding of it, there has been a likely violation of HIPAA, and the patients whose confidentiality has been breached can fight back:
(NJ Superior Court's) Community’s decision determined that if a covered entity has failed to protect PHI, it may not then bring a lawsuit to defend the privacy rights of the affected patients. The opinion does not prevent covered entities from citing the privacy rights of patients when presented with demands for the disclosure of PHI. Nor does the decision preclude a covered entity from engaging in litigation or motion practice to defend the privacy rights of patients whose PHI remains confidential. The decision leaves intact the covered entity’s power to report wrongful disclosure or receipt of PHI to the government and to the patients whose PHI has been disclosed. The government may address the HIPAA violations via criminal penalties, and the patients may pursue civil claims to defend privacy rights.
Regardless of the state in which the injury occurred, the injured parties have the right to file a complaint with the Federal Office of Civil Rights. For the women in this case, that would be Office VII:
Region VII - IA, KS, MO, NE
Office for Civil Rights
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
601 East 12th Street - Room 248
Kansas City, MO 64106
(816) 426-7278; (816) 426-7065 (TDD)
(816) 426-3686 FAX
The on-line complaint form can be found here, and sent to As for private lawsuits, I'd guess any ACLU attorney familiar with HIPAA law would be happy to take down O'Reilly and Kline together.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Riggsveda Zeitgeist

Sick of the campaign blues:

And daily affronts on the street:

Surrounded by fools:

Yet blessed by the luck of the blissfully ignorant:

And grateful that things aren't worse:

Thursday, November 02, 2006

When Jokes Go Bad

MfA's Partisan JabMore than 2000 Americans died after Bush flubbed his little joke, and the American people voted him back into office. But somehow Kerry's remarks are on a par with child molestation or apostasy. This, in itself, seems a meta-joke so monstrous that it almost makes you believe there's a God. Funny folks, you fellow Americans of mine.

Thanks to Music for America for the video.


Samuel L. Jackson has had it with the Republicans, too:

What else is there to say? Vote 'em off the plane on November 7th.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Bush's Goat-People

America. It's what's for dinner. We wait with painful expectation for the next scandal (Kerry hates the troops! Democrats are terrorists!), the next lie to be manufactured, the next script to be written and the roles for us to be assigned. Tell us anything, and if you use the right buzzwords, we'll fall for it. Like these little guys below, we get whipped up into such a lather that we simply can't contain ourselves anymore, and flop! We go hooves up in a paroxysm of dither and ferment:

A week later we won't even remember who all the fuss was about, but for a few hours the scandal will be the only thing that matters, and the powers that be will have taken that momentary abdication of our power to work their will.

The goats, having served their purpose, are sold off for meat.

Barnyard Politics

"Education -- if you make the most of it and you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well," said Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat. "If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
To quote our whimsical Secretary of Defense, "Oh, Henny-Penny, the sky is falling!" Somebody told the truth. It's too bad he left out the punch line: "Just ask President Bush."

So now it's dogpile-on-Kerry time again:
Some Democrats defended the senator, but others privately cringed. An unnamed Democratic congressman told ABC News: "I guess Kerry wasn't content blowing 2004, now he wants to blow 2006, too."
Oh, bravo, sir! Displacement is so much more constructive than confronting the source of the problem.

So, keeping alive a completely meaningless cockfight, CNN wants to know "who should apologize" over the artificial horror engendered by John Kerry's clumsy comment on why kids should do well in school:
President Bush has called Kerry's comments "insulting" and "shameful" and said the Democrat from Massachusetts owes an apology to the U.S. military. Kerry said the president owes the troops an apology for misleading the country into the war in Iraq. What do you think? Does Kerry owe the nation's military an apology, or does Bush?
Rather beside the point now, since Kerry already apologized. We truly are a nation of fainting goats.
fainting goat
Here's what I told them:

Everyone knows--and you in the media have reported on it for years--that kids with fewer options and less money are not only more likely to enter the military for a chance at education and career-training, but the recruiters themselves focus their efforts on poor and minority candidates far more than on rich ones.

That doesn’t automatically mean that highly-educated and wealthier people don’t also join up (though they are far more likely to be officers)--and it doesn’t mean that the poor kids who do join aren’t doing it for patriotic reasons as well.

But come on…to deliberately ignore the fact that the infantry of this volunteer military is mostly made up of the working class is simply bad faith, the same bad faith in which that buffoon in the White House twists Kerry’s words to accuse him of disrespect for the troops. He gets up on the bodies of the “troops” to try to make some political hay, and you, you recorders of history; you let him get away with it. You sit there and allow Bush, a man who spent his entire so-called “military service” pulling strings and eluding responsibilities while his poorer contemporaries died like flies in the jungles of south Asia, accuse a real war hero of disrespect for the troops, and yet fail to question what standing he has to make such accusations? Bush has consistently laid out budget after budget cutting funds for veteran’s needs, and has sent billions unaccounted for into Iraq while failing to ensure the soldiers and their families got enough armor and enough pay to keep them out of the field hospitals and the food banks.

So tell me this---who disrespects the troops:
Kerry, who fought in war, who lost dear friends in front of his eyes and had the courage to speak out against it, who tries to impress on kids at a turning point in their lives that failing to take advantage of education reduces their options and pushes them towards the devil’s bargain of the volunteer service?
Or Bush, who has never spoken a single word about the “troops” that wasn’t steeped in opportunism and disingenuousness, and who has never experienced one minute of the terror and loss of war?
But forget all that. It's so much more fun to play the wounded ignoramus. Where are my smelling salts, Miz Liza?