Welcome to Mac Diva's pantry.
This is an Aaron Hawkins fan site.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Politics: Ben & Jerry's rocks the vote
I signed up with Rock the Vote today. I did so by going to the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream site and signing a pledge to vote on November 2. I also agreed to contact at least five friends by email and encourage them to rock the the vote. But, hey! I have a blog, so why not let more people in on a good thing? If I were not already a registered voter, I would have gone to www.rockthevote.com and signed up.
Consideration? (You know how lawyers are, eh?) In return for joining Rock the Vote, I am getting a free download from the iTunes Music Store. I am competing in a contest to win a trip to Vermont to be a Ben & Jerry's Flavor Guru for a day, plus a new iMac and iPod from Apple, too.
The form is short and Ben & Jerry's will not sell your identifying information to marketers. So, there is no reason not to join. Go ahead. Rock it.
Monday, April 26, 2004
Analysis: New 'hero' symbolizes inequality
The Right blogosphere is as full of itself over in a casualty in Iraq as it has been since the reign of false claims about Pfc. Jessica Lynch. You recall that we were supposed to believe she went down fighting, and, was raped and tortured by Iraqis afterward. I was among the first bloggers to express doubt about that made for television version of events. The truth turned out to be that Lynch never fired a shot. The Iraqis who were accused of abusing her actually saved her life. One might believe people would learn something about the difference between fantasy and reality from watching the myth of Jessica Lynch disintegrate. Instead, we are privy to another round of myth making.
The new All American Hero is Pat Tillman, a white, middle-class former football player who is beng being embraced right and left by conservatives. (Well, not Left.) Tillman's 'heroic' act is being the only American casualty in a firefight in Afghanistan. An article that purports to give the details says his platoon pursued mujahedeen who ambushed them in rugged terrain.
[Lt. Col. Matthew] Beevers also gave a few more details about the firefight that cost the 27 year-old Tillman his life.
He said it occurred at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on a road near the village of Sperah, about 25 miles southwest of a U.S. base at Khost. After coming under fire, Tillman's patrol got out of their vehicles and pursued the attackers, then were ambushed. Beevers said the fighting was "sustained" and lasted 15-20 minutes.
He said Tillman was killed by enemy fire, but he had no information about what type of weapons were involved or whether Tillman died immediately.
Though the word 'heroic' should be saved for people who make a sacrifices for others, it is often misused. I will reserve it for soldiers who attempt to help or save comrades or civilians. A soldier who pursues his adversaries is just doing his job. Tillman is a soldier who died in the poorly conceived war on terror. I don't see any reason to elevate him over other people who have suffered the same fate.
My interest in the Tillman story is largely about what lurks beneath the surface. Tillman is being hailed partly for reasons of class and race. But, in a volunteer military, both his class and his race fail to carry their weight. People like Tillman, who have prospects in civilian society, largely eschew military service. Those who do not have better options, the poor and working-class, especially minorities, settle for the only jobs they can get. That has resulted in a military skewed toward a disproportionate share of America's least appreciated citizens. The Army has consisted of from 24 percent to 29 percent African-Americans over a twenty-year period. More than half of women in the Army are nonwhite. Hispanics are also disproportionately represented. The data from other branches reflect disproportions, as well. Nonwhites tend to be enlisted and relegated to low level jobs. Projections for coming years say the imbalance will continue unless there is government intervention. More legislators are questioning an unfair status quo.
Will Uncle Sam soon be calling? He might if some lawmakers have their way.
Some lawmakers said the United States should resume the military draft. Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel said our forces are being stretched too thin and our volunteer army isn't large enough.
Locally, Senator Neil Breslin said he's also in favor of reinstating the draft. Breslin said a large majority of the military is made up of minorities and working class citizens.
He said, "What the draft does is it spreads risk among all economic levels, and it brings it closer to home because right now, inner-city kids, blacks and Latinos and poor rural kids are dying on a daily basis in Iraq, and it's not fair."
. . .Legislation is pending in the House and Senate proposing the draft be reinstated as early as next June.
The Congressional Black Caucus has been aggressively involved in the movement to reconsider conscription. The National Catholic Reporter has been following the controversy.
At the beginning of this year, Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., along with Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., introduced the Universal Service Act 2003, a bill requiring two years of compulsory military or alternative civilian service from all American men, women and legal permanent residents ages 18-26. The president would determine the number of people needed and the means of selection. Deferments would be limited to those completing high school, up to the age of 20, with no exemptions for college or graduate students. The bill, introduced in the Senate by Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., remains in committee and is unlikely to come to a vote in the near future.
I am leaning in the direction of supporting reinstating the draft. Seeing the fuss being made of over Tillman makes me more sure that is a goal to be pursued. Working-class and nonwhite people make up a disproprortionate share of our armed forces. Yet, when America watnts to create a hero, it selects a Lynch or a Tillman. People such as Staff Sgt. Kendall Damon Watersbey, 29, one of the first wave of American casualties in Iraq, are ignored. It seems to me that the people who reap the most benefit from American society should be the ones most eager to defend it. That would be white middle and upper-class men. Instead, they shirk. There shoud be more Pat Tillmans in the military. If it takes reinstating the draft to end the imbalance, then that is what we need to do.
What's the art?
Kenneth Watersbey 10, is the son of an enlisted man killed in Iraq.
Friday, April 23, 2004
Opinion: Still irked by Indymedia
Recent events in Portland have led me to think about press bias. Most of the time that is a term I would apply to conservative publications such as the neo-Confederate overrun Washington Times and United Press International. My position in regard to the mainstream media is that it has somewhat of a conservative bias, but that most reporters don't weigh political impact when writing a story. I base that belief on both research and my own experience as a journalist. The press I'm annoyed with currently is Left, though I am not sure it even deserves to be called 'press.' Indymedia is again publishing dubious claims about a local event -- the second shooting of an unarmed African-American motorist in ten months. The impact of the biased coverage is to encourage people to confront the police. The outcome may be more violence deaths. These people are irresponsible. During my early days blogging I wrote an entry about Indymedia.
My newborn blog has already attracted critics. They hail from the environs of the advocacy and propaganda sites that form IndyMedia. The contretempts began with a comment I made at Atrios' house:
I don't like Indymedia and avoid it. They are not media, but propaganda producers. I no more trust what is reported there than I trust Moonie-owned UPI and the Washington Times. The mainstream media is imperfect, but propagandists of any political stripe are much worse.
Furthermore, as several people have pointed out, IndyMedia is very fringe. No intelligent person reading an IM story would mistake it for an even somewhat objective account. The advocacy and lack of professionalism is too obvious. Criticizing liberals for the sins of IndyMedia is just like criticizing us for being fellow travelers with ANSWER -- ludicrous.
The remark had been occassioned by an item about middle-of-the-road blogger Mark Kleiman's criticism of Left activists who interrupted a fundraiser for John Edwards in N.C. Mark wanted to know why liberals weren't criticizing an attack by leftists on one of their own. Were we cutting the Left slack that we wouldn't cut the Right? Atrios responded, in part:
Mark Kleiman wonders why I'm not all over the people who disrupted a John Edwards fundraising event. Mostly it's because I didn't know anything about it as I don't spend much time hanging out at Indymedia.
My comment above was made in regard to his reference to IndyMedia. An advocate for IndyMedia, one among several, said:
Mac Diva, you can not like Indymedia if you want to but that shouldn't mean that you misunderstand how it works. When you say "they are not media" who are the "they"? Anyone can post whatever they want on IMC. That kind of freedom has both an up and a downside but what you see there is not the result of a static "them" that excludes you.
A site or publication where one can post whatever one wants is not a newsgathering operation at all. The content is of little interest to me because it does not report facts and is not remotely objective. Call it advocacy. Call it public relations. Call it propaganda, but don't call it news. Is the mainstream media perfect? Far from it. And, as a veteran journalist I know that better than most people. However, I am looking for reportage better than what I can find in the mainstream media. What is available at IndyMedia is worse.
Another reason for my distance from Indymedians is I am a liberal, not a radical. As a full gauge liberal, I believe in reforming anything and everything that is wrong with our society. However, I don't believe the revolution will or will not be televised, because I don't believe there will be a revolution. The, I suspect, mainly youthful participants in and audience for IndyMedia, probably do believe that smashing a few store windows, blocking a few television cameras and disrupting a Democratic candidate's fundraiser will lead to the overthrow of the government. Silly rabbits. Don't they know tricks. . . .
The discussion of the altercation at the Edwards event has continued and spread to other blogs.
Based on what I've read, I don't agree with the disruption of Edwards' fundraiser. The disruptors seem very skeptical of electoral politics. That leads me to wonder if they are really Democratic voters or merely seeking the spotlight reflected by a mainstream candidate. However, I don't feel any particular need to chatise them. As I said in my comments at Atrios,' fringe Leftists do not represent the views of most liberals. We should not let ourselves be snookered into considering them our burden.
Some things change. Some things don't. The recent excesses of Indymedia irk me as much as that episode did. It may be 'indy,' but it is not credible media.
Thursday, April 22, 2004
Politics: Far Right targets Arlen Specter
The chubby Right Winger with attitude -- and twelve guns -- is at it again over at Tom's Nap Room. He is promoting the senatorial candidacy of an anti-abortion wacko in Pennsylvania. I hadn't been paying much attention to politics in the Keystone State, but when Tom Bux supports a cause there must be something awry. There is. Rep. Pat Toomey is seeking to unseat longterm incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter. He is the poster child of the far Right Christian fundamentalists and the 'disassemble the government' lobby. Among Toomey's supporters is the leader of Focus on the Family, an anti-abortion religious group that would like to limit the roles of women in society.
Pennsylvania's four-term senator, Arlen Specter, is facing a tough challenge in next week's Republican primary. Why? Some observers says it is because his opponent, U.S. Congressman Pat Toomey, has a strong pro-life, pro-family voting history that resonates with conservatives in The Keystone State. And Specter's chance for a fifth term in Congress may have taken another hit, now that a nationally-known pro-family spokesman has publicly endorsed Toomey.
Dr. James Dobson admits he seldom endorses political candidates. But the pro-family leader says it is "imperative" that Pat Toomey, a conservative Republican who has served three terms in the U.S. House, win the primary on April 27 against Specter. Speaking on behalf of his fellow conservatives, Dobson says in a letter dated March 22, 2004, that Specter opposes "nearly everything we hold dear."
For example, Dobson -- offering his endorsement solely as an individual and not as the representative of the organizations he leads -- describes the 74-year-old Specter as "a one-man roadblock" to the appointment of pro-family judges to the federal bench. And the four-term senator, he says, opposes a federal amendment that would protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Toomey, on the other hand, would be "a splendid pro-family, pro-life voice" in the Senate, he says.
"[Toomey] is a man of great courage to take on a sitting senator," Dobson states in the letter, "and the defeat of Arlen Specter would send a mighty signal that the days of waffling, devious, anti-family Republicans who are liberals in disguise is finally over."
The far Right has called out the troops on Toomey's behalf. Dobson is speaking at fundraisers for him. In additon, anti-abortion crusaders have targeted their activity to cities in Pennsylvania. Among them is The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR). One of its forms of interaction is to drive trucks with graphic photos of what it claims to be aborted fetuses through neighborhoods.
This time, CBR is showcasing billboard-size images of abortions on the sides of about six trucks traveling through downtown State College and on campus, a campaign that is continuing today.
. . .The images of aborted fetuses at different stages of development are displayed on the sides and back of the trucks and are accompanied by the word "Choice." The Web site www.abortionno.org is also included." [Link omitted.]
"People are going to see more and more of these. Our whole purpose is to bother the American people into doing something to stop the killing," said Mark Harrington, a director for CBR in California.
CBR targets areas with schools so that children and college students are exposed to its message.
Toomey's other major support comes from the ultraconservative Club for Economic Growth. The Club is said to be providing the money to finance his campaign while the religious Right provides manpower. People for the American Way has a site devoted to the Club.
Main agenda is promoting tax cuts and drastically reducing the size of the federal government.
CFG patterns itself after EMILY's List, a progressive group that raises campaign funds for pro-choice women. CFG encourages donors to mail in checks for favored candidates. By “bundling” these checks and sending them off to candidates, CFG can have a large impact on individual races while avoiding the rules that govern more traditional political action committees.
CFG has more than 9,000 members, dominated by Wall Street financiers and executives.
CFG’s president and founder Steve Moore has called for closing several government departments, including Education, Commerce, Labor and Agriculture. As always, CFG isn't afraid to take on Republicans who disagree with its policy goals.
CFG’s latest target is Sen. John McCain, an opponent of some of President Bush's latest tax cut proposals. According to Moore, CFG members “loathe” McCain and hope to find “a true, Reagan conservative” to face him in the 2004 primary.
Toomey is not just conservative; he is truly a reactionary. Even by far Right standards he stands out.
If it were up to the American Conservative Union, the decision would be clear: the ACU gives Toomey a 96 percent lifetime rating, and Specter a 43 percent rating. Republican Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania's other U.S. senator, has an 87 percent lifetime rating from the ACU.
Pollsters say Toomey is fast closing the gap in projected votes.
Fighting incumbency, an overwhelming financial edge and President Bush's endorsed candidate, U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey is within range of upsetting U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, new polls show.
Toomey's conservative challenge to the moderate four-term incumbent, and polls showing Specter's lead at only 6 percentage points, have turned Tuesday's primary into the nation's most-watched spring election.
I've never been fond of Arlen Specter. He is the kind of slippery politician I instinctively distrust. Furthermore, I will never forgive his shameful conduct during the Clarence Thomas hearings. But, faced with a choice between Specter and Toomey -- a shill for people who want to dismantle much of what is good about our government -- I must side with Specter. I am no longer a Pennsylvania voter. I hope folks who are reach the same conclusion.
Monday, April 19, 2004
Tech talk: Apple rejects Real
What if you invited a rival to become a friend and he said 'no'? Wired reports that is just what happened when RealNetworks, which has been expressing an interest in an alliance with Apple for weeks, tried to get a date. It says Apple rebuffed Real. Both of the parties have been around the block a few times. You would think they have mellowed enough to at least meet for discussion. But, that wasn't to be. One self-made man, and chief executive, said he wasn't interested in the other.
"Seattle-based RealNetworks said Thursday that Apple chairman Steve Jobs had declined an offer by RealNetworks' chief executive Rob Glaser to meet and discuss forming an online music alliance involving Apple's best-selling iPod portable players.
"He's in the neighborhood, but whatever meeting Rob wanted with Steve isn't happening," RealNetworks spokesman Greg Chiemingo said Thursday. "Steve just doesn't want to open the iPod, and we don't understand that.""
The New York Times has the details.
The offer to create a "tactical alliance" was made on April 9 by Rob Glaser, chief executive of RealNetworks, the Seattle-based Internet music and video service, in an e-mail message to Steven P. Jobs, Apple's chairman.
But if an alliance with Apple could not be struck, Mr. Glaser strongly hinted in the e-mail message that he might be forced to form a partnership with Microsoft to pursue "very interesting opportunities" because support for Microsoft's media-playing software seems to be growing.
Steve and Rob appear not to be destined for an excellent adventure -- or even lunch. So, who is zooming who? The interest in such an alliance for Real is clear. If it enters into an agreement with Apple, its customers will be able to transfer Real's heretofore proprietary content to the iPod, the most popular of digital audio players. However, Jobs apparently does not see a balancing interest in such an alliance for Apple.
In an interview earlier this week with The Wall Street Journal, Jobs said Apple has little incentive to open its popular digital music player to others.
"The iPod already works with the No. 1 music service in the world, and the iTunes Music Store works with the No. 1 digital-music player in the world," he said. "The No. 2s are so far behind already. Why would we want to work with No. 2?"
Observers do see a reason the two companies might merge their efforts against 800-pound gorilla Microsoft. Apple and Real both use Advanced Audio Coding format (ACC), a rival to Microsoft's Windows Media Audio format. If the two joined forces that could have a greater impact on attracting users to ACC. Currently, Apple prevents Real's ACC content from playing on the iPod. If the barrier was dropped, users would have the option of buying and playing content from both music stores.
Though Jobs is being coy about not needing to snuggle up with Real currently, I'm not sure the rebuff will be the end of the matter. If WMA sites become more competitive with the iTunes Music Store, Apple will have good reason to reconsider. Also, having been a rather coy gal who kept the guys calling in my youth, I don't believe Jobs is immovable. Perhaps Steve just wants Rob to beg.
Sunday, April 18, 2004
Internet: Writer limns race in cyberspace
Though writing about what participation in the Internet means is developing, it is still in its childhood. About ten years after non-academic, non-journalist Americans discovered the World Wide Web, perhaps 25 books that are worthy of being considered serious scholarship about life on the Net exist. To a list that includes classics such as Silicon Snake Oil, I am adding Race in Cyberspace. The book is the first to attempt to delineate how race, and sometimes gender, is rendered and received in virtuosity. It is a collection of essays about different aspects of race and the Web gathered from academics. The glue that holds the anthology together is that each paper was required to meet the one requirement of discussing race and life on the Net in some way. Because of the broad range of topics discussed, individual contributors deserve attention.
Among them is Tara McPherson, an Assistant Professor of Critical Studies in the Film School at the University of Southern California. McPherson wrote one of the most striking essays in the book, "I'll Take My Stand in Dixie-Net: White Guys, the South, and Cyberspace." As some of you know, I've long been a monitor of white supremacist hate groups, including the neo-Confederate movement. McPherson's is one of the first academic papers to delve into the Internet world of the virtually reconstructed Old South. The neo-Confederate movement, though grounded in wish fulfillment, plays an important role in American politics, especially in the South. There its members have caused the defeat of governors and is currently preventing the National Park Service from adding sites that served the freed slaves to its itinerary. McPherson does not explore the connection between neo-Confederate activity on and off line in her short article. However, she does bring the movement into the spotlight, and, provides some useful observations about it and the treatment of race on the Internet.
Early theorists of the Internet posited that being online allows people to remove themselves from 'place' in a geographic sense, and, allows them to develop broader personas or even multiple personalities. Neo-Confederates online do quite the opposite. McPherson realizes that neorebels online are engaged in constructing a very specific place, a South where white men of their type reign, much as the pre-Bellum Southern aristocracy did. Nor are they interested in multiplicity of identity. Instead, they seek to structure a very narrow identity that embraces a phantasmagoric perspective of history. That identity is pretty exclusively white and male. Cybertheory has also focused on being online as play. That viewpoint grew out of the use of the Net by gamers. It is said that the 'playfulness' has carried over into other online communities. McPherson notes, accurately, that there is nothing playful about the neorebel sites. The advocates for overturning Reconstruction behave as if their lives, or at least their idealized sense of self, is at stake.
I believe McPherson overstates the covertness of racism in cyber Dixie. Perhaps the rhetoric has become less subtle as the real life neo-Confederate movement has split into at least two factions, which was happening as Race in Cyberspace went to press in 2000. Though they attempt to be crafty, the secessionists at the League of the South and the Council of the Conservative Citizens no longer make much effort to disguise their white supremacist beliefs. And, tellingly, mutual membership among those two organizations and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which tries to market itself as more moderate, has increased. The leaders of the SCV are also the leaders of the LOL and CCC. Meanwhile, 'heritage' advocates who prefer to stick to decorating Confederate graves or who, mistakenly, try to paint the Confederacy as multiracial, are heard from less and less.
McPherson has observed "the faith in colorlessness is one of the great racist conspiracies of the late twentieth century, and a vision of a raceless future is a racist future." I believe that insight applies particularly well to the part of the Internet we call the blogosphere.
Race is largely a subject not to be discussed in the blogosphere unless two requirements are met.
•It must be in terms with which Right Wing commentators are comfortable. An example would be Dean Esmay's White Citizens Council -like pronouncements about racial issues. For example, he claimed that segregationist politician Strom Thurmond's treatment of his biracial daughter, Essie Mae Washington was "good." Thurmond disowned his daughter for decades, but sent her small amounts of hush money. Only someone to whom horrid treatment of African-Americans is just fine would Thurmond's treatment of Washington be good.
•It must be in terms that allow white 'liberals,' to cast themselves as the persons most capable of understanding race. Unfortunately, many of those same 'liberals' are a stone's throw from being overt racists themselves.
You will notice that no 'space' is left here for bloggers of color to do much expressing of thoughts about race themselves. That is intentional. As McPherson observes, not allowing discussion of race is in itself a form of racism. Since racism has played such an important role in the development of American society, it is the default setting. When voices that would interrogate racist assumptions are silenced, those assumptions carry the day.
Race in Cyberspace appeared before weblogs had any appreciable presence. But, I believe the cybertheories discussed by its authors are relevant to the blogosphere. Future writing about race in cyberspace will be enriched when the insights of bloggers unafraid to discuss issues of race are added to the mixture.
Friday, April 16, 2004
Opinion: Who gains from higher productivity?
On last night's Nightline, Ted Koppel talked to people we don't normally see on television. The episode was called "On the Edge" and the transcript should soon be available. The working poor described their experiences -- pay day loans with interest rates that would choke a giraffe, a rip-off income tax 'refund' program perpetuated by H.R. Block, working hard and never getting ahead.
Trish Wilson is interested in a recent column by Bob Herbert (pictured) that considers who benefits from increases in productivity. With productivity on the rise, the lot of workers should be improving, eh? Herbert says it isn't and explains why, with the support of a new study from Northeastern University. It turns out that the people who profit as a result of increased productivity are those who are already considerably more than solvent. Why aren't I surprised?
Trish Wilson's Blog: Productive American Workers Not Reaping the Benefits Of Their Labor
Bob Herbert's New York Times Op-Ed, We're More Productive. Who Gets the Money? (April 5, 2004), described the American worker treadmill that has resulted in more productivity. However, American workers are not reaping the rewards for their work. Corporations are - to the detriment of hard-working men and women.
American workers have been remarkably productive in recent years, but they are getting fewer and fewer of the benefits of this increased productivity. While the economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, has been strong for some time now, ordinary workers have gotten little more than the back of the hand from employers who have pocketed an unprecedented share of the cash from this burst of economic growth.
What is happening is nothing short of historic. The American workers' share of the increase in national income since November 2001, the end of the last recession, is the lowest on record. Employers took the money and ran. This is extraordinary, but very few people are talking about it, which tells you something about the hold that corporate interests have on the national conversation.
The situation is summed up in the long, unwieldy but very revealing title of a new study from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University: "The Unprecedented Rising Tide of Corporate Profits and the Simultaneous Ebbing of Labor Compensation - Gainers and Losers from the National Economic Recovery in 2002 and 2003."
Andrew Sum, the center's director and lead author of the study, said: "This is the first time we've ever had a case where two years into a recovery, corporate profits got a larger share of the growth of national income than labor did. Normally labor gets about 65 percent and corporate profits about 15 to 18 percent. This time profits got 41 percent and labor [meaning all forms of employee compensation, including wages, benefits, salaries and the percentage of payroll taxes paid by employers] got 38 percent."
The study said: "In no other recovery from a post-World War II recession did corporate profits ever account for as much as 20 percent of the growth in national income. And at no time did corporate profits ever increase by a greater amount than labor compensation."
In other words, an awful lot of American workers have been had. Fleeced. Taken to the cleaners.
Please recall that I had posted in both in the comments section of my earlier post about Bush's misleading rising jobs statistics that since the Great Depression and WWII, the U. S. has suffered a series of devastating deficits. Herbert writes that "the recent productivity gains have been widely acknowledged. But workers are not being compensated for this. During the past two years, increases in wages and benefits have been very weak, or nonexistent. And despite the growth of jobs in March that had the Bush crowd dancing in the White House halls last Friday, there has been no net increase in formal payroll employment since the end of the recession. We have lost jobs. There are fewer payroll jobs now than there were when the recession ended in November 2001."
The money from the strong economic growth Bush has boasted about has not gone to American workers. It was "used to boost profits, lower prices, or increase C.E.O. compensation."
Read the rest of Herbert's piece. And, drop by Trish Wilson's Blog. The proprietor has the blogger blues. Cheer her up.
The rare look at the real lives of America's least compensated workers on Nightline last night should have awakened anyone from torpor. We are usually told the poor deserve their poverty because they don't strive hard enough. However, the people profiled in the episode belie that rationalization in every way. Here's hoping agenda setters watched the program instead of changing channels.
•Learn more about low-wage workers who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
•Up by your bootstraps. Beneficent billionaires. Early to bed and early to rise. Perhaps it is time to debunk the American dream.
•One of the first contretempts I encountered as a blogger was when I wrote an entry lauding op-ed writer Bob Herbert. It set several of the Right blogosphere's least capable people after me. They followed me from around at comments on other blogs, name-calling and lambasting. At least one set up a hate page based on my praise of Herbert. Why does Herbert bother people like that so much? I believe it is because he is everything they aren't: very bright, an excellent researcher and an incisive writer. And something else, he is African-American. That shouldn't matter, but it does. The blogosphere is quite a haven for bigotry. Any person of color with ability and a mind of his or her own pays the price for that, whether as a blogger or as a source.
Thursday, April 15, 2004
News and analysis: Realities of war harder to hide
•Blogger doesn't hail the chief
Hal Pawluk, the dude at 'Tude, watched George W. Bush address the nation and was not knocked dead.
Bush on TV: Condi was better
President Bush opened his press conference last night with an18-minute "set piece" which disappointed.
This was largely a replay of his speeches in the weeks and days leading up to his unilateral invasion of Iraq, back in early 2003. A minor deviation was that Iraq, with the resistance and deaths increasing, is now "a theater in the war on terror" rather than "central to the war on terror."
I was particularly disappointed in the question and answer period.
The President asked a number of reporters who had previously been chosen (the "must calls" he mentioned) to read questions they had previously submitted (he complained about not have gotten one).
I would have expected him to take advantage of this opportunity to insert his vision, but again, the answers were formulaic. Clearly he had nothing to impart, and simply rambled on, repeating as much of his scripted responses as he could remember (there were long pauses, and responses that didn't seem to fit the questions).
There was little content - or comfort - in the entire presentation. He did not have an answer to the question of who Iraqi sovereignty was going to be handed over to on June 30th (now 77 days away), and waved the red herring of the UN as if it were the UN's responsibility. The 9/11 Commission got short shrift, too, with the President unwilling to take any responsibility.
Overall, it was a frightening performance when contrasted to what is happening in the real world, so my rankings are:
Style: 7, Substance: 0.
Speaking of death, this month marked the highest casualty rate for the occupying forces in Iraq since the invasion occurred. One difference I've noticed in the blogosphere is fewer entries extolling how happy the Iraqis are to have American troops there. But, can it last? Most conservative bloggers are reluctant to face reality. I suspect the usual bevy of entries pretending the war is going wonderfully will soon return.
•Newsman freed by hostage takers
The whereabouts of a kidnapped American in Iraq are still unknown. But, French newsman Alex Jordanov was released by the militants who had nabbed him yesterday.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A French television journalist, freed after four days in captivity in Iraq, said he was repeatedly interrogated by captors who accused him of being an Israeli spy and made him prove his nationality by drawing a map of France.
. . .Jordanov, 40, was freed Wednesday and taken to the French Embassy, where he collapsed from exhaustion and spent his first hours as a free man staring blankly at a ceiling.
. . .Jordanov, who works for Capa Television in Paris, was kidnapped Sunday while videotaping an Iraqi insurgent attack on a U.S. military convoy between Baghdad and Karbala, a city to the south.
`We got caught in a mass, mass, mass battle between the Mujahedeen and the Marines,'' Jordanov said. Many of the insurgents call themselves mujahedeen, or holy warriors.
During the chaos, Jordanov was separated from his cameraman, Ivan Ceriex. While Jordanov ran for cover, a car pulled up to him, four men jumped out, grabbed him and put a knife to his throat.
. . .Herve Chabalier, president of Capa, told LCI television that negotiations with Sunni Muslim clerics led to Jordanov's release.
Jordanov says physical abuse was minimal, but he was thoroughly humiliated.
The reporter did not say whether he intends to continue covering the occupation of Iraq. During the years I spent as a journalist, I was never assigned to a war zone. The most dangerous assignment I had occurred during rioting in an American city. If I had to make a decision about reporting from Iraq, I would find doing so daunting.
•Did 'Nice' Rice lie?
Richard Einhorn at Tristero brought my attention to this analysis of Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the 9/11 Commission. Tom Ball at the Daily News Online explains why he believes the perky Bush appointee was less than truthful.
Top 27 Pieces of Evidence that Show Rice Perjured Herself in Front of the 9/11 Commission: A Reference for Seekers of Truth
The August 06, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing, or PDB, has been declassified and released. "What this [PDB] says is, the White House knew what bin Laden was capable of planning, where he intended to do it, which was New York or Washington, D.C., how he was going to do it. There was only one thing missing, which was exactly when he was going to do it, which turns out to be September 11."
CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider
1) This memo, which was central to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's testimony, is the latest injection into the evidential warchest that targets the administration's 9/11 claims intended to shield itself from accusations of incompetence, apathy, misdirection and distraction.
Note that the citing of this memo is nothing new. On May 17, 2002, Bob Woodward wrote an article titled "Aug. Memo Focused On Attacks in U.S.":
"In earlier comments [made by] National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other administration officials, [they] stressed that intelligence officials were focused primarily on threats to U.S. interests overseas. But sources made clear yesterday that the briefing presented to Bush focused on attacks within the United States... Ari Fleischer told reporters [that] the headline on the document was, 'Bin Laden Determined to Strike the United States.' But sources who have read the memo said the headline ended with the phrase 'in U.S.'"
In sworn testimony to the 9/11 commission, Rice acknowledged that the title of the document said 'in' the US, but went on to insist that the memo was an 'historical document' rather than a warning of general strikes on American soil.
How can a document about what were current events be "historical"? That tidbit is just to prime the pump. The analysis is one of the best I've seen. And, you will love their handy color-coded chart. Read it.
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Confession: Portrait of an addict
Almost daily from my home supply. More days than not away from home. Usually during the day, but sometimes after dark. I drink alone and I drink with others. My nose isn't red. I've never had delirium tremens. My liver is fine.
I drink coffee. My pattern is a couple cups of the hard stuff, with cream and artificial sweetener, when I arise. Then, later, a tall latte or short cup of the house brew at Starbucks. If I feel tired, I make the latte a double. My limit is a double latte and a couple cups of brew per day. When night clubbing, I sometimes drink Irish coffees. Seems harmless. But, according to yesterday's The Wall Street Journal, I may have a drinking problem.
It isn't just the long lines and high prices that are outsized at Starbucks and other specialty coffeehouses. There's also the caffeine.
In pursuit of a bolder taste, coffeehouses typically brew their blends much stronger than a trusty cup of Folgers. But a powerful side effect is unusually high levels of caffeine, according to a national test of ready-made coffee run by a laboratory for The Wall Street Journal. House blends at Starbucks Corp., Gloria Jean's and other gourmet coffee chains have an average 56 percent more caffeine than samples tested at 7-Eleven stores and 29 percent more than at Dunkin' Donuts nationwide.
One of the strongest happens to be the most successful: The Starbucks house blend had 223 milligrams of caffeine on average per 16-ounce "grande," or medium, cup size. Starbucks says that on average, its array of coffee drinks contains even more — 320 milligrams in a medium cup. That's nearly double the caffeine in Folgers, the leading grocery-store brand.
The reporter observes that the extraordinary success of Starbucks and other specialty coffee house chains may owe some of its vigor to the fact the product makes customers "physically dependent," i.e., is addictive.
Researchers say that those of us who drink (coffee) have the same rejection characteristics as other 'habituated' persons. If we try to give the java up, we suffer headaches, drowsiness and inability to concentrate. They believe we crave that cup when we get up because we are in or about to go into withdrawal.
Other observations complete the portrait of an addict.
Gourmet coffeehouses have extraordinary customer loyalty. About 12 percent of coffeehouse patrons nationwide visit four or more times a week, according to Mintel International Group, a market-research firm. Starbucks says that its typical heavy user shows up 18 times a month. What makes these numbers more impressive is that coffee, of course, can easily be brewed at home. And 67 percent of regular coffeehouse customers recently surveyed by Mintel agreed that gourmet takeout coffee is too expensive.
I do go to Starbucks several times a week, but I want to believe part of the lure is WiFi. Yes, I'm wireless at home. But, lounging at a neighborhood coffee house lets me read and write without domestic distractions, and, talk with friends as well as browse the Web. Really.
The research sheds light on why, if it is convenient, I prefer a trip to Starbucks for a cup of theirs to brewing my own. I could also save at least a fiver each week by skipping a couple lattes at Starbucks.
I don't have any plans to quit. Though continual, my coffee habit does not compare to those of the heavy-hitters described in the article. I haven't experienced any noticeable side effects. Of most significance, I believe I've earned the right to good coffee. I began my working life at newspapers. The coffee we drank, whether during reasonable hours or while working news or copy at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., was a burnt tasting, sludgy substance that barely deserved the name. I've paid my dues.
Monday, April 12, 2004
Revisited: Conservatives for Kerry
Several bloggers are curious about the Conservatives for Kerry weblog I wrote about recently. They wonder if its proprietor, Jim Cook, is serious about opposition to the Bush regime. The entry that has us asking questions appeared after I had written about the site.
Another Alternative to Bush? Draft Roy Moore for President
A reader has alerted me to another alternative to George W. Bush for conservatives: Roy Moore is apparently considering a run for the presidency under the banner Constitution Party. Those of you who have been paying attention know Roy Moore as the judge who refused to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from his courthouse, and lost his job as a result.
If you can't stand thinking of voting for Bush, you're looking for someone else who is definitely conservative, and you're curious (and I must say I am, although I still lean to John Kerry), Click here to visit a clearinghouse of links to the budding Draft Roy Moore movement. [Link omitted.]
You may recall Mac-a-ro-nies broke the story that ultraconservative Moore might seek the presidential nomination in the blogosphere. And, was not sanguine about the prospect. No, I haven't changed my mind. If the entry supporting Moore had been on Conservatives for Kerry when I looked at it earlier, it would've given me pause. In subsequent examination, I wasn't able to find anything on the blog that implies Cook is not serious about his opposition to Bush. The links to other sites promoting Kerry are legitimate. Cook's opinions are consistent in regard to opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which seems to be his motivation for rejecting the likely GOP nominee.
However, CFK has done it again. 'It' being express support for a celebrity Right Wing religious, um, personality.
Another Conservative Against Bush - Pastor Chuck Baldwin
Thanks for the great link, Jim. . .I want to follow it up with another one, a resource called The Bush Record. It's compiled by conservative talk show host Pastor Chuck Baldwin, a true American patriot who I think speaks for a lot of Americans who believe that protecting America's heritage of freedom and decency is more important than letting the Republican Party bosses threaten us into giving them a party-line vote. [Link omitted.]
Thanks for putting this resource together, Pastor Baldwin, and keep up the good work!
That entry appeared April 1, but I don't think they're just fooling. Cook and Edward Plancke, a second person posting entries at the site, seem to have a weakness for the religious Right.
In addition to being anti-abortion and pro-theocracy, Chuck Baldwin is a supporter of the neo-Confederate movement. If anything, he is even a more unattractive choice than Moore and Bush. Among the links you will find at his site is justification of slavery, under the guise of defending the Confederate Flag, by a 'scholar' from the infamous Bob Jones University.
So, where are Cook and Plancke coming from? I still don't believe Conservatives for Kerry is an intentional mockery of opposition to Bush. Perhaps they don't see the inanity inherent in replacing Bush with a person who proposes establishing a race, gender and class-based theocracy to rule the nation, like neo-Confederate Baldwin. Maybe anti-war fervor has blinded them. Could be that they are supporters of everything reactionary except the invasion of Iraq.
The intrepid Brian Flemming presents us with a way out. We can wonder about Conservatives for Kerry and welcome its contribution to the movement to oust Bush simultaneously, he says.
. . .but, what the hell, they're making trouble for Bush, so I enthusiastically support Conservatives for Kerry.
Not that Brian is ignoring how very strange the situation is.
Hmm. . .let's see. . .John Kerry or Judge Roy Moore? Boy, that is a close call, isn't it? Almost as tough as choosing between, say, Dennis Kucinich and Pat Robertson. Six of one, six of the other, really. Also, I can't decide what to eat tonight -- spaghetti or a giant plate of ten-penny nails.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend. So, I may end up temporarily sharing a cause with people I would not otherwise give the time of day. Works for me!
No, we're not picking on Cook and Plancke. I would love to know their explanation, but efforts to locate an email address have proven fruitless.
Thursday, April 08, 2004
The news desk
•Rice testimony genial, unrevealing
Condoleezza Rice worked hard for her money today. The emphasis seemed to be on presenting the presidential advisor on national security as attractive and pleasant -- not substance. That is normally a good ploy for women seeking approval. But, the audience for hearings related to the most controversial issue in the world today, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, is not typical. Will being 'nice' be enough?
The Los Angelos Times covered Rice's testimony before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
National security advisor Condoleezza Rice today conceded that the nation was "tragically" not ready to fight a war with terrorists prior to 9/11, but she defended the Bush administration's terrorism policies in a high-stakes appearance before the independent investigative panel.
The three-hour hearing was punctuated by some contentious moments as Rice responded to questions about the White House and her response to intelligence data about terrorist activity in the months leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In an intense exchange with a commission member, Rice said a crucial presidential briefing memo issued a month before the attacks — titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States" — did not warn of a pending attack against New York or Washington, D.C., and lacked information that warranted immediate action.
. . ."There were some frightening things" in the Aug. 6, 2001, memo, Rice said in response to a question by commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, but there was "nothing actionable."
Some members of the audience, which included relatives of those killed in the attacks, broke out in applause as Ben-Veniste repeated his question to Rice as to whether she had told the president that there were Al Qaeda terrorist cells in the United States prior to the Aug. 6 memo. That information had been forwarded to Rice by the administration's former counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke.
"I really don't remember, commissioner, whether I discussed this with the president," Rice said.
Rice's evasive answers were presented in a careful, businesslike tone. The memo under discussion could be made public if she or her superiors agreed to release it. They have refused to.
It is unclear how the public will interpret evasions such as claiming the memo was not sufficient warning because it did not identify the cities attacked as targets, which, of course, is not even proven as long as the paper remains classified.
•Iraqi militants seize hostages
Iraqis continue to repudiate the claim they are pleased by the invasion and occupation of their country. Their latest form of repudiation -- in a week that has seen more backlash than any since the occupation -- is hostage taking.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Militants seized a number of foreign nationals as hostages in Iraq on Thursday, threatening to burn alive one group of three Japanese unless their country withdrew its troops.
Seven South Koreans, seized while doing missionary work on Thursday, were later freed unharmed, Seoul's foreign ministry said
But the three Japanese as well as two Israeli Arabs and a Briton were reported still to be hostages after being seized by militants. An Iranian television station said the two Israeli Arabs were kidnapped by the Ansar a-Din group, and the uncle of one of the men identified him as an employee of a U.S. aid agency.
Gunmen frequently stage hold-ups on Iraq's lawless roads but taking hostages would mark an escalation of the growing conflict between U.S.-led forces and Iraqis and foreign militants opposed to the occupation.
Some of us in the blogosphere questioned the presence of Christian missionaries in Iraq after a newspaper articledescribing their presence there March 18.
At least nine evangelical churches have opened in Baghdad in the last eight months, many supported by American organizations contributing up to $100,000 per church. More than 900,000 Bibles in Arabic — along with hundreds of tons of food and medical supplies — have been sent to Iraq (news - web sites). About 30 Christian evangelical missionaries are working in Baghdad, and 150 others have visited since last summer. Some Christian groups focus on offering aid and avoid proselytizing.
These missionaries' humanitarian and religious labors are fraught with peril. Four Americans affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention were killed and one was critically injured Monday after gunmen opened fire on their vehicle in Mosul, north of Baghdad. A spokesman for the International Mission Board said the Americans had been scouting locations for humanitarian and evangelical work.
An influential Shiite Muslim leader, Sheik Fatih Kashif Ghitaa, said, "Iraqis already see the American occupation as a religious war." Ghitaa said Shiite and Sunni clerics have discussed issuing a fatwa, or religious edict, against missionaries.
The missionaries — a mix of professional proselytizers and novices with little or no preparation — are buoyed by President Bush's evangelical bent, his oft-repeated biblical references and his vision of freedom spreading out from a saved Iraq.
We wondered if welcoming naive and unprepared persons with a religious agenda that most in Muslim culture consider insulting to the occupied country is counterproductive. Though the current seizure of captives does not include any American missionaries, militants taking them as hostages may be inevitable. Doing so will send a more direct message to the United
States -- that even a country as strong as it is vulnerable in some ways.
The Japanese received a chilling threat from the hostage takers.
"We tell you that three of your children have fallen prisoner in our hands and we give you two options -- withdraw your forces from our country and go home or we will burn them alive and feed them to the fighters," the group said.
"You have three days from the date of this tape's airing," it said in a statement, accusing Japan of betraying Iraqis by supporting the U.S.-led occupation.
Their response is mixed.
A Japanese government spokesman demanded their immediate release and said there were no plans to pull out troops. Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi urged Japanese civilians, including journalists, to leave Iraq immediately.
It will be interesting to see if the United States also curtails the presence of civilians in the war-torn country -- before American hostages are taken or killed.
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
News: Witnesses say police shot docile man
Eye witness accounts of the shooting of
James Jahar Perez, the second African-American killed in Portland by police in ten months, are consistent. They say he was not aggressive. Perez, who was unarmed, was shot and killed less than 30 seconds after two police officers stopped him for not signaling a turn. The Oregonian is investigating what happened.
Its reporters spoke with four people who had viewed the scene from different angles.
Two witnesses say Officer Jason Sery had his gun drawn when he approached James Jahar Perez's car for what Portland police have said was a routine traffic stop in broad daylight.
Within seconds, Sery and his partner were shouting at Perez, the witnesses said. Both heard someone scream, "Get out of the car," and Perez's question, "What did I do?"
One witness who said he had direct view into the driver's side of the car said he saw Sery's partner, Sean Macomber, briefly pull on Perez's left shoulder.
Moments later, according to four people who were present, Sery and his partner backed away from the car, with Sery firing three shots from a crouched stance in rapid succession. One witness recalls hearing one of the police officers shout, "Don't do it," shortly before the first shot rang out.
. . .The witnesses said they saw nothing that would explain why the North Precinct officer fired. Police have said Sery, 29, had the "subjective belief" that Perez had a gun. Perez did not.
The complication for three of the four witnesses described in the Oregonian today is that they have aspects of their lives that may damage their credibility. Two are convicted felons. One has settled a lawsuit again the PPD for use of excessive force in arresting him. Among the policemen cited in his suit was Sery, who fired the fatal shots.
Two of the four witnesses interviewed by The Oregonian have felony convictions. All four say they did not know Perez or either officer by sight. One of the witnesses, Martin Dennis, filed a 2003 lawsuit against the city charging excessive use of force three years go by several officers, including Sery.
"I've been on parole. I hope that doesn't make me an incredible (sic) witness. But my statement isn't going to change," said Kim Sundquist, 47, who was convicted of drug possession. "Whoever it hurts or helps, I want people to know the truth and not for any other reason."
All say they are willing to testify at an inquest or grand jury. Richard Brooks, who is on probation for a burglary conviction, was interviewed by police shortly after the shooting. He reported the contact to his probation officer the following day and underwent a urinalysis. But he has yet to be contacted by investigators.
Prosecutors, who are inclined to agree with the police anyway, will doubtlessly take the criminal records of the witnesses into account. The testimony of the pair will be discounted because of their own run-ins with the law. Though Griffin's arrest resulted in no charges, he will likely be treated as if his testimony is dubious, too. The same issue of credibility will arise if the two officers are indicted and a case actually goes to trial. Prosecution of police officers rarely occurs in such shootings.
Who comes forward as a witness in these situations impacts the outcomes, I believe. In the Kendra James shooting last year, the eye witness with the best view of what happened, her boyfriend, was also a convicted felon. Darnell White was in the car with James and saw all that occurred. James was shot and killed when she moved into the front seat of the car and tried to drive away. White disappeared after the shooting. He was taken into custody on unrelated charges later. His criminal record and shady behavior effectively undermined what he told investigators and a grand jury.
About 30 percent of Americans have had an encounter with the criminal justice system. I don't understand why the persons willing to testify in police misconduct cases seem likely to come from that demographic, which means they are less likely to be believed. Perhaps citizens who have not been arrested, or accused of a misdemeanor or felony themselves are indifferent about police abuse they witness or afraid to get involved.
The policemen involved in the Perez shooting may have violated departmental policy.
The witness accounts raise questions about the tactics chosen by Sery and his partner. In an ordinary traffic stop, Portland Police Bureau officers approach a car on either side with their guns holstered. In what police call "high risk" stops involving a potentially dangerous motorist, officers are trained to wait for additional backup, draw their guns, take cover and instruct occupants to leave the vehicle.
But, if the witnesses are dismissed as not to believed, their accounts of the encounter will not matter.
Tuesday, April 06, 2004
Analysis: Portland police shooting predictable
In Portland, we recently had the second shooting of an unarmed African-American in just 10 months. For the record, the black population of Oregon is about two percent. Less than 4,000 black men between 15 and 29 reside in the region. (And, nearly all African-Americans in Oregon live in Portland, Salem or Eugene.) Yet, despite the tiny population of African-Americans, police stops and arrests of persons of color are extremely common. There are good grounds for attacking racial profiling here.
I haven't written about the latest police shooting before for several reasons. One of them is that I feel like I would just be repeating myself in regard to the Kendra James shooting. You may remember that she was a young, drug-addicted mother of two who was shot to death by an incompetent cop.
I have been busy looking into a local news story. A young African-American woman was shot and killed early this morning by the Portland police. So far, what is known is that the woman, Kendra James, 21, allegedly tried to drive off in a car that had been stopped.
I've also learned the woman has a history of drug abuse and may have been trying to avoid a check for warrants. She was shot once in the chest. James appears not to have been armed.
The main issue is whether the shooting was justified. From what I am aware of, it appears doubtful James would have escaped even if force had not been used. There were several police vehicles blocking the exit route.
She is survived by two small children.
Deja vu all over again.
The latest victim of a police shooting is a man with an impressive record of felony convictions and drug use. James Jahar Perez, 28, had nearly toxic levels of cocaine in his system and baggies of the substance stuffed in his mouth and pockets when shot by the police -- 24 seconds after he was told to get out of his car. Since the shooting occurred eight days ago, the city's minority citizens have expressed both outrage and fear.
There is a good fact-based argument to be made that this shooting should not have occurred. There doesn't seem to have been probable cause to stop Perez. Less than 30 seconds is not very long to give a driver to get out of his car. The two policemen Tasered him for three minutes after shooting him. The manufacturers of the Taser say they have never heard of anyone using a Taser that long. (The blast is supposed to last a few seconds.) The cop who fired the shots has a record of pulling his weapon on unarmed people. His psychological profile says he was borderline mentally for being hired as a policeman.
Which brings us to a second reason I have not written about this episode until now. Exasperation. Both with the police and some civil rights activists. Some people protesting the shooting want to deny that Perez was anything but a choirboy. Instead of going with the legitimate argument that the police over-reacted, these people are trying to fit a halo onto a head where it doesn't belong. Some say the evidence Perez used illegal drugs, his lengthy criminal record and strange lifestyle (no visible means of support) are all made up. Yet, any reasonable person looking at his life story would disagree. Ignoring the facts that are inconvenient to a political argument one wants to make is dishonest and undermines one's position. The activists making these claims have turned what should be a sober assessment into a bad joke.
The Oregonian, in the course of covering the Perez story, published a feature about the day-to-dayl fear of the police many African-Americans live in. Among the people interviewed was a middle-aged bureaucrat who has probably been stopped by cops scores of times in his 50-plus years. Jimmy Brown says the first occurred when he was a high school student with his leg in a cast and on crutches. The police said they were looking for someone who had stolen a television. Things did not improve over the years. Tigard, Oregon settled a lawsuit with Brown last year after falsely arresting him, roughing him up and claiming he had been driving under the influence. Tests showed he had no alcohol or other prohibited substances in his system at all. This man is the kind of person one could put forward as an upstanding citizen. Perez is not.
Does that mean the police were right to shoot a poster boy for wrongheadedness like Perez? Based on the information I've seen, it does not. Scott McCollister, the cop disciplined for killing Kendra James, is not the only incompetent one on the force. But, the protests should focus on the wrongful actions of those policeman, not pretending James Jahar Perez was an asset to the community, or even to his family. He was not.
Monday, April 05, 2004
Reading: McLeod's The Star Fraction disappoints
Why do I read writers who frustrate me? I find Ken McLeod's novels flawed in execution and reasoning. So, why did I pick up The Star Fraction? Well, Borders was closing earlier than I realized it did and I didn't want to leave empty-handed. There was no Maureen McHugh in the sci-fi Ms. I espy a known name. Grab book. Race to checkout counter. When I get home and sit down in the oak rocking chair with the novel, I realize I've bought a book by a writer who has frustrated me in the past.
What McLeod attempts to do in his novels -- blend political theory and science fiction -- sounds enterprising. But, in my opinion, his schemes often fail. The worst of his attempts I have read so far is The Star Fraction. It is the first in the four books that make up a series about the theories of futurist and philosopher Jonathan Wilde. The book revolves around three ideas. Oops! I mean characters. Actually, the characters are more ideas than people. Moh Kohn is a security mercenary who has inherited more than he knows from his brilliant software engineer father. He represents libertarianism with socialist inflections. Jordan Brown is a youth who will escape the Christian fundamentalist enclave he has grown up in to become a leader of a more capitalist form of libertarianism. A research scientist who will take her belief in an unstructured, 'barbarian' society into space, Janis Taine, finishes the triumvirate.
The plot is simple, despite misleading twists and turns. A computer directed shadow government has been waiting to overthrow the regime that rules Britian and much of Europe for decades. Under the Settlement, control is in the hands of the Hanoverians, who follow a capitalist model we would recognize, but allow enclaves to opt out -- as long they don't challenge the larger power. There is an impasse in regard to space exploration. Though there are asteroid mining operations, access to space is strictly limited. Furthermore, big guns guard the skies from space, ready to wipe out both any computer-generated viruses that might threaten Space Defense or solid weapons that appear to be a threat. The goal of the Black Planner, an artificial intelligence, is to break the power of the Hanoverians and their allies all over the world. It also wants to end the reign of Space Defense. Those objectives will be achieved by using Moh Kohn as an interface between machine intelligence and the minds of men.
Kohn is so lacking in believable personality that he might as well be a machine anyway. McLeod substitutes macho derring-do for character in a doomed effort to humanize Kohn, but it doesn't work. But, most of all, Kohn is a carrier for his pedestrian beliefs about libertarianism. In McLeod's imagined world, Kohn and other characters reveal their freedom by smoking, drinking and drugging continually. Indeed, if people actually behaved as he describes, they would be dead by 25 from lung cancer alone. Another oddity of McLeod's libertarian world is that no one ever complains about the excesses of the air polluting free people. I am embarrassed for McLeod. This is the kind of pose one expects to see in the papers of college freshmen who believe they are being oppressed by laws that require them to wear motorcyle helmets, not in the works of a significant writer. The female character is mainly and adjunct to Kohn. Janis Taine carries out his orders and services him sexually. Jordan Brown, who is supposedly only seventeen, may be the fastest learning character in sci-fi. He is pressed into service whenever the plot needs to pan away from Kohn. Except for one act he performs, Jordan is redundant.
McLeod describes his intentions for The Star Fraction in an introduction to the novel. As is my habit, I skipped the front matter until after I had read the narrative. I like to form my own opinion of what a book is about before being influenced by its author.
. . .One constraint on the possible arrangements of a future society was indicated by the Austrian economist Ludwig Von Mises. He argued that private property was essential to industrial civilization: "without property, no exchange; no exchange, no prices; no way of telling if any given project is worthwhile or a dead lost." Given that every attempt to abolish the market on a large scale has led to the collapse of industry, his Economic Calculation Argument seems vindicated. Unforunately, there is no reason why the Economic Calculation Argument and the Materialist Conception of History [Marxism] couldn't both be true. What if capitalism is unstable and socialism is impossible?
The Star Fraction is haunted by the uncomfortable question.
McLeod's attempt to write a novel of speculative fiction that encompases that connundrum is not convincing. The societies he presents are too obviously ideological constructs to contain real people. Predictably, his characters fail to behave as anything other than pieces on a chessboard.
Furthermore, McLeod's acceptance of paleo-conservative Von Mises' critique ignores the Keynesian theory of equilibrium prices, which may be the answer to how prices can be set fairly in a mixed economy.
Another of McLeod's books that disappoints me is The Sky Road. It is too weighed down by more philosophizing about political theory. The Stone Canal also suffers from too much of the long-winded egoist Jonathan Wilde, but manages to be a readable novel anyway. I've been told the fourth book in the series, The Cassini Division, the only one I have not read, redeems Ken McLeod's vision somewhat. So, I guess I will be going, reluctantly, back to the stream for another drink.
Friday, April 02, 2004
Around the blogosphere
•Calpundit moves to Washington
The Washington Monthly, that is. Kevin Drum, the Calpundit, has moved again. Last year, he bid Blogger good-bye for Movable Type. Now, he has a new blog at the Washington Monthly. He says being a part of Big Media (well, middling media, really) will not cramp his style. For readers not familiar with the Calpundit, he focuses on politics, but also probes business and does his share of cat blogging.
Forwarding Address. . . As promised — assuming you take a generous view of "a day or two" — starting today I will be blogging for the Washington Monthly magazine's new blog, Political Animal. Here's the new address:www.washingtonmonthly.comI will probably still post a few personal items here occasionally, but basically my entire blog is being transplanted to the Washington Monthly's site. Nothing much will change, really, at least at first. It will still be me doing the same thing I do here, unedited and unplugged. We may add some guest bloggers in the future, but the details are a bit murky at the moment. We'll work it out as we go.
So please add Political Animal to your bookmark list, and if you're a blogger please add it to your blogroll. See you there!
NOTE: The link above is a direct link to the blog. It will be right smack in the middle of their newly redesigned homepage. It should become active around 7 am Eastern time on Wednesday.
UPDATE: Honest, I really am blogging over there now. Go read all the new posts. Go now!
And add Political Animal to your bookmarks. Just click on the link above with your right mouse button and then click "Add to Favorites. . . ." It's easy!
Long time readers of Mac-a-ro-nies know Kevin is one of the big dogs who led me to become interested in blogging and helped me become a good blogger. His address may have changed, but I am sure the quality of his blogging has not, I have updated my blogroll to follow Kevin to Political Animal. You should, too.
•Wolff has a beat
Phil Wolff has been actually getting out of the house or office and talkingto real live newsworthy people. One of those folks is the drafter of a new constitution for Iran.
Last week I dined with Pedram Moallemian who blogs the eyeranian. He wants a secular Iran. I asked him what he thought America's policy on Iran should be. He answered:
- Respect the right of self-determination for Iran and Iranians.
- Condemn any possible military action against the people who are doing a great job fighting tyranny by themselves.
- Acknowledge big mistakes were made on both sides in the past and choose to move on towards a better relationship.
Tyrants ruled Iraq and Afghanistan. There was no meaningful chance for reform, no hope for self-determination. Do the people of Iran, at home and in diaspora, have enough faith in the current system and the system's ability to change incumbents?
Pedram clearly does. He and others are drafting a new Iranian constitution. This is an ambitious exercise, imagining a new government that fits a whole people. It's an embrace of liberty worthy of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
Now, I'm feeling guilty about not getting out and talking to sources more often myself. The reporter in me wants to. But, the anonymous blogger says no.
Phil's weblog is A Klog Apart.
•Skippy, Condi and the plank
Does Condoleeza Rice's agreement to testify about her role in misleading the public about the invasion of Iraq have you dancing? You might want to sit down for a moment. Skippy the Bush Kangaroo has noticed something about the Bush administration's 'liberality.'
rice and white house make skippy's new poll awol to relevancy
now, we're not saying we had anything to do with it, but. . .
the day after we set up a new poll asking if condoleeza rice should testify before the 911 commission, the white house does the one flip flop we like to hear, and announces that dr. rice (and her uncle ben) will indeed testify publicly, and under oath, too!
however, there is a condition (and we're not talking about awol's skin blotches): the
atjoucon tells us:
the decision was conditioned on the bush administration receiving assurances in writing from the commission that such a step does not set a precedent and that the commission does not request "additional public testimony from any white house official, including dr. rice,'' white house counsel alberto gonzales said in a letter to the panel.
well, one hand, they apparently don't have a dictionary handy, because once you do something the first time, that's the very definition of "precedent."
on the other hand, this administration is never one to worry about precedents.
I have mulled what Rice's testimony would mean a bit. Not so much in regard to information, which she will try to divulge as little of as possible. But, in regard to mind games and group psychology. Rice would make a good sacrificial victim. You know, the person who gets thrown overboard as an offering to the gods when a situation becomes theatening. Her constituency is neglible and her support soft. Of course I am aware that conservatives like to cite her as a Negro they approve of. But, that kind of thing is always dubious. The support can be retracted at the blink of the eye since the supporters perceive the person as only a token. Support from the African-African community? Don't make me laugh. I do need to clarify that I use the term 'sacrificial victim' for convenience. Since Rice, proudly, is as responsible as the other architects of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, she is just as guilty as they are.
Visit Skippy, the blogger who posts big thoughts in small letters. Tell him you are sorry about his poll.
What's the art?
The picture at the top of this entry depicts the path a blog entry takes from its home blog to the broader Internet. John Lebkowsky blogged the topic at Weblogsky. Read his theory there.
Thursday, April 01, 2004
Politics: Conservative blogs for Kerry
Sometimes a weblog is memorable because it is different. I had to look at Conservatives for Kerry just because of its name. Did the proprietor mean something different by 'conservatives' than most of us do? Is he in Canada and therefore unable to vote? Is the sobriquet a hoax like all those far Right groups named to sound pro-civil rights, pro-environment or pro-sex?
The answer is 'no' on all counts. Conservatives for Kerry is a blog created by someone who leans to the Right in his politics, but does not support returning George W. Bush to the White House. He has decided to march to his own drummer, not to the beat of Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage. The weblog's introductory statement explains why it exists.
Conservatives have historically stood as guardians of America's moral heritage, civic standards and national resources. Recently, however, this proud tradition has been sullied by an administration that uses the word "conservative" but betrays fundamental conservative principles. We have concluded that John Kerry is our best hope for the reinvigoration of our national pride, security and prosperity.
Blogger Jim Cook believes Bush has broken faith with conservatives as well as liberals. He says Bush has violated conservative principles. Cook identiifies those principles as:
Focus on the Family
The weblog has existed for two months. Among current entries, topics featured include the Bush administration's betrayal of security expert Richard Clarke, its outright lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and a pearl about one of the reasons the GOP says Democratic hopeful John Kerry is not fit for the office he seeks.
GOP: Kerry has the Wrong Ethnic Heritage for the Presidency
Tuesday, March 23, 2004
I read this snippet at 2004 Reasons to Boot Bush, and I couldn't agree more:
"Bush's attack dogs at the Republican National Committee have dug up what they think is the ultimate dirt on John Kerry: he has a cousin who is. . . French! Do Bush and his cronies really want to argue that a man is unfit for the Presidency because of his family's ethnic heritage? Apparently, yes. (Source: Republican National Committee Briefing, "International Man of Mystery, March 8, 2004)"
In addition to a grounds for not supporting Bush's reelection, Conservatives for Kerry provides campaign information and grass roots organizing tips. It is a good resource for persons who might be reconsidering whether they will vote to return Bush to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.